- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

U.S. intelligence sources believe Osama bin Laden has been wounded during the war in Afghanistan and is never too far from his top aide, Egyptian physician Ayman al Zawahiri.
Senior intelligence officials said bin Laden, the world's most wanted fugitive, likely was wounded twice during intense American bombings in eastern Afghanistan.
"He may have been wounded more than once," one official said. The official said an assessment that bin Laden was wounded had become a "firm belief" by some military analysts.
Intelligence officials say most recent reports put bin Laden somewhere in eastern Afghanistan or just over the border in the generally lawless northwest frontier region of Pakistan. They say he is provided safe passage by friendly Pashtun tribesmen who have supported the Taliban and bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist army.
"Where bin Laden is depends on what Pashtun tribes he's with since he's been on both sides of the border," an official said.
The sources say evidence points to Zawahiri briefly staying in the Shah-e-Kot Valley, shortly before U.S. Central Command mounted a major ground and air assault there on al Qaeda cave hide-outs. The officials said he apparently left the area and might have crossed back into Pakistan before the offensive began on March 2.
A senior U.S. official said he could not confirm Zawahiri's location. "The attack was not based on the presence or absence of any senior individuals," the official said. "Zawahiri's modus operandi has typically been to stay pretty close to bin Laden."
On reports that bin Laden was wounded during the war, this official said, "Some people have speculated on that due to his left arm [which seemed immobile in the most recent bin Laden videotapes that became public]. I think it's just speculation, not evidence of that."
CNN yesterday quoted bin Laden's half-brother, Ahmad Mohammed, as saying their mother, Hamid al-Attas, received a phone call three weeks ago from a source who reported her son was alive and well. The half-brother did not give the caller's identity. "He said they believe the phone call was credible, that Osama is alive," the CNN correspondent said. The mother resides in Saudi Arabia.
The whereabouts of bin Laden, whom Washington accuses of masterminding the September 11 attacks on America, is one of the central questions in President Bush's declared war on global terrorism. Officials publicly say they still believe bin Laden is alive and is on the run somewhere in eastern Afghanistan, an area notorious for its support of al Qaeda and the Taliban, the former rulers of Afghanistan.
The first public indication that bin Laden was wounded came in late December, when one of his homemade videos was broadcast on the Arab-language Al Jazeera television station based in Qatar. During his 33-minute anti-Western diatribe, bin Laden's left arm remained motionless. In previous tapes, the terror leader freely used the arm to accent his verbal attacks.
Bin Laden likely made the tape in early December, at which point U.S. air strikes for two months had targeted suspected al Qaeda houses and cave hide-outs.
At the time, The Washington Times quoted a senior military official as saying bin Laden's arm might have been wounded during a Thanksgiving weekend bombing raid north of Kandahar. "We think we got a lot closer than we thought we had," the source said.
Sources yesterday said intelligence analysts, based on evidence they declined to discuss, believed bin Laden in fact had been wounded and perhaps more than once.
In January, intelligence sources said the "activities of close associates" led them to believe bin Laden remained alive.
Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Vice Chairman Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, said Sunday on CNN they believed bin Laden remained at large.
Mr. Graham said nabbing bin Laden is a major prize. "He is not only the symbol of the terrorism against which we're now waging war, he also represents some particular and unique personal characters," the senator said. "The fact that he is a relatively charismatic person. He has been able to draw people to al Qaeda.
"The fact that he's a wealthy person [means] he has been able to initiate operations without having to pass the hat to get funds. And he has become a rallying point for much of the Arab world. So bin Laden is not just another terrorist leader," Mr. Graham said.
Mr. Bush said last week that while bin Laden remains on the loose, the war has made him less important.
"He's just a person who has now been marginalized," the president said. "His host government has been destroyed. He's the ultimate parasite who found weakness, exploited it, and met his match."
Mr. Shelby agreed to that statement on the military front, but not in the political wars. "He is still … a political force, someone that's looked up to by a lot of people in the Islamic world," the senator said. "I don't know if he's alive or dead. I suspect that he's alive, but I believe if he's alive, he will show himself. He always does. And we will find him."

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