- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of global terrorism, has a score of remote places in Pakistan where he would be welcome and protected from authorities, former Pakistani army and intelligence officers said yesterday.
[Other intelligence sources said that if bin Laden leaves Afghanistan in response to a request from the ruling Taliban, he could seek the protection of supporters in Somalia, Chechnya or a Central Asian republic.]
Speaking not for attribution, a former Pakistani intelligence chief said: "All Osama bin Laden has to do is cross over into Pakistan anywhere along a largely mountainous and unguarded 1,300-mile border and turn himself over to any sardar [tribal chief] and request his protection.
"It is both custom and tradition among the Pathan tribes that straddle both sides of the border to extend both hospitality and security for the uninvited guest.
"The Pakistani central government's writ does not run through these regions. The tribal chiefs are in charge and they are fiercely independent and deeply religious."
The Pathan mountain tribes that live in both Pakistan and Afghanistan also are known collectively as the Pashtun.
A former army corps commander, who did not wish to be identified, said if bin Laden sought refuge in a frontier tribal area, "he would become a great embarrassment to the Pakistani government. The U.S. would demand that he be found, arrested and extradited.
"But this would be mission impossible, like finding a needle in a haystack. Bin Laden is a hero to millions of fundamentalists everywhere. And in the present situation, it wouldn't take much to cause a national explosion."
[U.S. intelligence officials told The Washington Times yesterday there were signs that bin Laden will flee to Somalia. Supporters in that country appear to be making unspecified preparations to receive bin Laden and his family, the officials said.
[Other reports say the Taliban has been in contact with rebel leaders in the Russian territory of Chechnya about a new sanctuary for bin Laden since the bombings of two U.S. embassies in east Africa in 1998.
["If he leaves at all, he will go to Chechnya. He has already established a network there," a Pakistani source who has met bin Laden told the French news agency Agence France-Presse.
[In Egypt, Diaa Rashwan, a Cairo-based specialist on Islamic activism, told the Associated Press that bin Laden already may have left Afghanistan, secretly fleeing to a nearby Central Asian republic such as Tajikistan, where his terror network has established cells.]
Religious zealots have convinced themselves that Israel's Mossad intelligence agency organized the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in order to provoke the United States into a war against Islam. They now are hoping for some kind of U.S. military intervention in the region in order to trigger a general Muslim uprising against the American "infidel."
Mass demonstrations and a nationwide strike have been called for today in Pakistan by a coalition of 26 religious parties. Yesterday, several thousand demonstrators in Peshawar, Islamabad and Karachi burned President Bush in effigy and set fire to U.S. and Israeli flags.
Also yesterday, the Mariott Hotel in Islamabad, where 227 journalists from all over the world were staying, installed a metal detector at the entrance following rumors of a plot to blow up the establishment.
A Muslim radical buttonholed the hotel manager in the middle of the lobby and told him in a threatening voice, "I hear you have even given your roof to American journalists who are anti-Pakistani for a mere $2,000 a day."
Unfazed, the manager replied, "No, it's $6,000." He was referring to the space occupied by U.S. TV crews.
Retired Pakistani generals who are knowledgeable about the Taliban regime do not believe bin Laden is the mastermind of a global terrorist network.
"Something much bigger than bin Laden is at work here," said the former intelligence chief. "Bin Laden is a figurehead hero for jihadis everywhere" he added, "but there is a global underground that is bent on the destruction of global capitalism.
"So far, they've accomplished their mission beyond their wildest expectations. From their standpoint, a global recession is a major victory. The shadowy leader or leaders of such an enterprise remain to be determined."
Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, a former Pakistani army chief, said in an interview: "The clash of civilizations is not a threat. It is today's reality. Washington should understand that the fuse has been lit.
"The U.S. should also realize that the palpable hatred you are witnessing today was generated to a large degree by ill-guided policies, especially in the Middle East, and by a string of broken U.S. promises to Pakistan.
"My own university-educated 32-year-old son shares the sense of indignation and anger that has seized the masses. He sees 17 percent of university graduates jobless and most of them say U.S. sanctions against Pakistan are to blame."
Gen. Beg said that all of the U.S. aircraft carriers, fighter bombers and precision-guided bombs "won't make a particle of difference." Their use against targets in a Muslim country would guarantee a trail of death and destruction in a general jihad.

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