- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Police announced yesterday the discovery of video images linking a band of militants arrested this week to Osama bin Laden, providing a rare bright spot in the hunt for terrorists and their supporters in Pakistan.

Days after Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, called for taking the search for al Qaeda into the countries bordering Afghanistan, Pakistani authorities remain sensitive to U.S. participation in the search for terrorists on its territory.

Police yesterday denied reports that the FBI had provided assistance or intelligence contributing to the arrests in Peshawar on Wednesday of 11 Pakistanis and an Afghan from a banned organization usually linked to the struggle against India in Kashmir.

Three video discs with recordings of bin Laden and the collapse of the World Trade Center, along with time bombs, Kalashnikov rifles and explosives, were found in the basement of the group's hide-out, police revealed yesterday.

"No U.S. or FBI agent participated in the raid or provided intelligence. This was entirely a Pakistani police operation based on tip-offs from Pakistani intelligence agencies," a police spokesman told the French news service Agence France-Presse.

U.S. assistance is even less welcome in the mountainous tribal areas along the Afghan border where hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban stragglers perhaps including bin Laden himself are believed to have fled last fall.

A weeklong sweep on the Afghan side of the border by 2,000 U.S. troops and Afghan allies had turned up just 10 suspects and a few small-weapons caches when it ended Monday, fueling the suspicion that most of the terrorists had crossed the line.

Gen. Franks on Sunday called for taking the search to Afghanistan's neighbors, a remark that was thought to apply mainly to Pakistan. Lt. Gen. Dan McNeil, head of the U.S.-led operation in Afghanistan, estimated that up to 1,000 al Qaeda militants were in Pakistan. There is repeated speculation that bin Laden himself is here, though U.S. military authorities say there have been no sightings that they consider definitive.

Pakistani officials insist the number of al Qaeda in the country is much lower, and are unlikely to let U.S. troops into the border area a region populated by fiercely independent Pashtun clans that even Pakistani troops would not enter before last fall.

Traders told AFP this week that the residents in one tribal area had decided in a traditional jirga, or council, to welcome the Pakistani troops into their region but not to accept any Americans.

"They will blockade the routes, they may create hindrances in their way, they may attack them with rocket fire, maybe missile fire, and they may carry out hit-and-run [attacks], hide and seek," one trader said.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, the legions of bin Laden admirers are keeping their sympathies to themselves, making it harder to locate the unknown number of al Qaeda operatives who have taken refuge in Pakistani cities.

Books on the terrorist movement are displayed prominently in bookstores patronized by the intelligentsia, but no posters or pictures are found in the slums, where any sign of support is likely to attract the attention of Inter-Services Intelligence, the military spy agency said to be leading the search.

Clerics, who broadcast their sermons over public-address systems every Friday, avoid any mention of al Qaeda or bin Laden or even the word "jihad."

Student clerics, wearing skullcaps and newly sprouted beards, keep their heads down and avoid talking with lay people in public places.

It was startling then, to see police in the hill resort of Ayubia slouching indifferently last week when a local cleric called in his Friday sermon for a holy war.

Whether the ISI and other spy agencies were giving the cleric some leeway to draw out al Qaeda supporters or terrorist recruiters, the authorities were not saying.

It was from these regions north of Islamabad that firebrand Pashtun cleric Maulana Sufi Mohammed raised a ragtag army of 10,000 volunteers who seized the Karakorum Highway for four days last fall and later drove into Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Almost all were killed or captured, but some 900 prisoners are to be returned soon to Pakistan under a deal reached with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah on a visit to Islamabad this week.

U.S. officials worry that some of these battle-hardened jihadis will return to terrorism, though Pakistani authorities insist all the prisoners are being interrogated thoroughly and that only those who are not a threat will be released.

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