- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

Captured al Qaeda operations chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has told CIA and FBI agents conflicting stories on whether Osama bin Laden is alive, although U.S. intelligence officials said that if bin Laden survived the Afghan war he may be hiding in the rugged mountains of southwestern Pakistan.
The area, known as the Baluchistan province, borders Afghanistan and Iran and, according to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement authorities, has become the focal point of an intensified manhunt by U.S. and Pakistani forces.
U.S. authorities said several raids were carried out this week in the area, based on information from Mohammed and several documents and other material found at the time of his arrest six days ago.
The wide-ranging search through the mountainous region proceeded amid rumors that bin Laden had been captured, although officials in Washington and Pakistan said it was not true. Several Taliban militants and al Qaeda terrorists have been arrested in the area recently.
The Kuwaiti-born Mohammed's conflicting tales came during separate interrogations in Rawalpindi, Pakistani, after his pre-dawn arrest Saturday in that central city and during questioning at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan, where he had been taken after his arrest, U.S. authorities said.
His interrogation by the CIA and FBI is continuing with "all appropriate pressure," the authorities said.
Meanwhile, the FBI continued yesterday to search through a treasure trove of documents, telephone records and computer files found during Mohammed's arrest in an effort to identify members of "sleeper cells" now in the United States and plans for terrorist strikes.
More than a dozen terror suspects have been identified from the records, according to U.S. authorities. All of the suspects already were under surveillance. Investigators are trying to determine whether al Qaeda terrorists in this country might try attacks in the wake of the Mohammed arrest, according to an FBI alert issued this week to law enforcement agencies nationwide.
During Mohammed's initial interrogation in Pakistan, he reportedly told investigators he met with bin Laden in Rawalpindi using a complicated system of runners, intermediaries and cell phones. Pakistani intelligence officials said he reported that bin Laden, the world's most wanted fugitive, was healthy.
"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,'" said one Pakistani intelligence officer familiar with the Rawalpindi interrogation.
Pakistani intelligence officials have since questioned the accuracy of Mohammed's contention of having met with bin Laden, calling it "incorrect" and "sheer conjecture." They said Mohammed arrived in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, a few hours before his capture and they discounted the possibility of a meeting with bin Laden.
But the Pakistani officers acknowledged that Mohammed had been in Baluchistan in February, during which he narrowly escaped a raid on an Egyptian al Qaeda suspect's hide-out.
U.S. intelligence officials believe that bin Laden, if alive, moves nightly through the tribal areas of southwestern Baluchistan, guarded by highly armed aides and using runners and intermediaries to deliver messages instead of easily intercepted satellite telephones.
Mohammed, 37, described as al Qaeda's No. 3 leader, was captured in a house 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 of the 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, an attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, a scheme in the Philippines to blow up 12 U.S. airliners over the Pacific Ocean, 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, under the Rewards for Justice program, had offered a reward of $25 million for information leading to Mohammed's arrest. He was among 22 terrorists listed last year on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list.

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