- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

A massive manhunt for Osama bin Laden in the rugged mountains of southwestern Pakistan has turned up no new leads or information on his whereabouts as U.S. authorities continue to question al Qaeda's top attack planner captured March 1 near Islamabad.
U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement authorities confirmed yesterday that searches for bin Laden in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, had been fruitless, but said the effort was being intensified.
The hunt follows the arrest of al Qaeda operations chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who told Pakistani security forces, the CIA and the FBI conflicting stories on whether bin Laden is alive, and on meetings he purportedly had with bin Laden after the September 11 attacks.
Pakistani intelligence officials, in an unusual briefing for foreign journalists this week, said Mohammed acknowledged during three days of interrogation at a "safe house" after his arrest that he met with bin Laden in December, though he did not say where.
The officials also showed an eight-minute video of Mohammed's arrest, though his head was covered by a black hood.
U.S. intelligence officials said Pakistani military forces, assisted by the CIA, FBI and U.S. Special Forces personnel, have pursued leads in Baluchistan province, between Quetta and the Iranian border looking for bin Laden and other al Qaeda terror suspects and Taliban loyalists.
They said a secondary search area had been established along the North West Frontier province, near Balikot, 120 miles north of Islamabad.
In Washington, Ashraf Qazi, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, told a forum at George Washington University that officials in his country could be closing in on bin Laden.
"There is reason to believe that hopefully in the future we might even have some bigger fish captured and hopefully we will get on top of this problem of terrorism as such," he said, adding that Pakistan had taken "the major role in tracking down and arresting and detaining and handing over large numbers of suspects."
During Mohammed's initial interrogation by Pakistani security forces, he praised bin Laden and described him as being in good health.
A Pakistani intelligence official said, "He said proudly, 'The sheik [bin Laden] is a hero of Islam and I am his tiny servant. Life, family, money, everything can be sacrificed for the sheik.'"
Mohammed, 37, described as al Qaeda's No. 3 leader, was captured in a house in Rawalpindi owned by Ahmed Abdul Qadoos, a member of Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious party that holds the third-largest voting bloc in Pakistan's parliament.
Rawalpindi is home to Pakistan's military headquarters, and many residents are former military officers.
In addition to the September 11 attacks, Mohammed has been tied to the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, an attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, and a mid-1990s scheme in the Philippines to blow up 12 U.S. airliners over the Pacific Ocean. Since September 11, he has been linked to an attempt by Richard C. Reid to blow up an airliner with explosives in his shoes and fatal bombings in Indonesia and at a synagogue in Tunisia.
He also has been identified in the January 2002 slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi.
The State Department had offered a reward of $25 million for information leading to Mohammed's arrest. He was among 22 terrorists posted last year on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list.
U.S. agents took custody of Mohammed after his arrest and the CIA is questioning him at an undisclosed location outside Pakistan.
CIA and FBI agents continue to scour computers, disks, cell phones and documents found at the arrest house for information on terrorist plots and the identify of other al Qaeda terrorists. Mohammed is believed not only to have planned al Qaeda's major operations but also to have vetted all its recruits.

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