- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan Taliban forces in hiding and some Afghan officials said yesterday that the audiotape with the purported voice of Osama bin Laden proves what they believed all along the Islamist leader lives and plans to strike again.
Some went so far as to suggest bin Laden is not only alive but traveling with Mullah Mohammed Omar, the deposed Taliban leader also wanted by the United States.
"I can say with full confidence that they are still active and are launching anti-government and anti-U.S. activities," said Gen. Said Agha, Afghan commander of the border security forces in eastern Nangarhar province.
According to a former Taliban diplomat, both men met recently with Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Usmani, a Taliban commander reputedly named by Mullah Omar as his successor. Mullah Usmani reported back that the two were safe, the source said.
"May God keep them safe and sound and curse those people who want to kill these leaders," said the diplomat, who asked that his name and location not be identified.
Bin Laden, prime suspect in the September 11 attacks on the United States, went into hiding shortly afterward. The audiotape appears to be the first hard evidence in nearly a year that he survived the U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan. It surfaced Tuesday on Al Jazeera, the Arab TV station based in Qatar.
Yesterday, a U.S. official familiar with the tape said the audiotape was probably authentic.
Gen. Agha, the Afghan commander, said it's possible bin Laden is traveling with Mullah Omar. The mountain peaks that run like a spine between Pakistan and Afghanistan would be a perfect hiding place for the two men, he said.
"They could be together. They disappeared about the same time. There are mountains here where they could hide for years," he said.
Others say they suspect bin Laden is in Pakistan, either in the tribal belt along the border or in a large city such as Karachi.
The two top al Qaeda men in U.S. custody Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi Binalshibh were arrested in Pakistan. Zubaydah is considered the terrorist organization's No. 3 leader, and Binalshibh is one of the planners of the September 11 attacks.
While the new tape may be a revelation for Western intelligence agencies, few Afghans ever subscribed to the theory that bin Laden had died either of poor health or from U.S. bombs.
"I am 100 percent confident that Osama bin laden is alive," said Haji Mohammed Zaman, who fought alongside U.S. Special Forces in December in the mountains of Tora Bora near the Pakistan border.


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