Sunday, November 25, 2001

JALALABAD, Afghanistan The locals whisper that Osama bin Laden lurks in the hills outside of town with thousands of Arab fighters to protect him.
“They live in the mountains, in the caves. If we were to go there, they would kill us,” said Amanullah Miakhil, 22, an engineering student.
Bin Laden, wanted in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States, may or may not be in the area. But his footprints remain in Jalalabad, the hub city of eastern Afghanistan and the surrounding Nangarhar Province.
This is where bin Laden’s al Qaeda organization trained its fighters, who came from throughout the Arab world, Chechnya, Somalia and even Western Europe. The training took place in a network of camps around Jalalabad where Muslim militants took up bin Laden’s call for a global “jihad” against the West.
Arabs from Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Persian Gulf nations brought families and took over entire neighborhoods and apartment blocks.
A tricycle lying outside a now-deserted town house luxurious by local standards shows a middle-class side of thousands of professional “jihadis” or “holy warriors.”
Prior to September 11, tribal chiefs in the area welcomed bin Laden the same tribal chiefs that recently cut bin Laden loose and ousted his Taliban hosts.
The Arabs were never popular. They bullied their way around town. But when the U.S. air strikes began Oct. 7, they became even less popular. “Everyone here was afraid because all the Arabs lived here in Jalalabad,” said Ahmad Shah, 24, a medical student.
He said he once saw the bin Laden motorcade, consisting of a sports utility limo with dark glass and an escort of dozens of Toyota pickup trucks that were badly overloaded with armed fighters.
At least six of bin Laden’s guerrilla training camps lie within a 20-minute drive of Jalalabad, as does bin Laden’s summer home.
It consists of a modest collection of apartments around a central courtyard, presumably to separate each of his three wives and their respective families.
A brick walled fortress surrounds the compound, with barracks capable of holding a small army. Little remains of the bin Laden training camps, apart from giant craters from U.S. bombs, crumbled buildings and the occasional pile of grenades or machine gun bullets that testify to a hurried exit.

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