- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 7 (UPI) — The White House said Friday it could not confirm reports from Pakistan that two sons of Osama bin Laden were wounded and possibly arrested in an operation by U.S. and Afghan troops in Afghanistan.

"We have no information to substantiate that report," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters. But he said it was "only a matter of time" before bin Laden and other al Qaida leaders are found.

Earlier, a provincial minister in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan told reporters two sons of bin Laden were among several al Qaida suspects recently arrested in Afghanistan. Balochistan borders Afghanistan's Kandahar province where the disbanded Taliban movement had its headquarters.

Balochistan's Interior Minister Sanaullah Zehri identified the two sons as Saad and Hamza bin Laden.

Saad, 23, is bin Laden's eldest son and is also on the American most-wanted list and has been said to be a rising star in the terror network. The al Qaida leader is believed to have up to 23 sons by several wives.

Zehri said some al Qaida operatives were also killed in the operation near the Pakistani border.

But later the chief military spokesman in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, and a spokesman for the Afghan government in Kandahar, which borders Balochistan, denied Zehri's claim that bin Laden's sons had been arrested.

"It is absolutely incorrect. His sons have not been arrested," said Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, the chief spokesman for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Bin Laden is believed to be the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and heads the al Qaida terrorist network.

On March 1, authorities in Pakistan arrested a senior al Qaida official believed near the top of the al Qaida operational leadership for many years and the primary coordinator behind the Sept. 11 attacks. U.S. intelligence officials said the house in which Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was arrested contained several laptops and a significant amount of documents. Mohammed was believed to be taken to the U.S.-controlled Bagram Air Base in neighboring Afghanistan for interrogation.

Special operations forces were reportedly sent Wednesday to Pakistan's northwest portion, near its porous border with Afghanistan, in a renewed effort to track down bin Laden. The Washington Post, quoting U.S. officials, reported Friday that the deployment came after information captured in Mohammed's arrest.

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