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Page last updated at 09:33 GMT, Friday, 12 June 2009 10:33 UK

Bin Laden 'is still in Pakistan'

Osama Bin Laden (centre) with Ayman al-Zawahiri (left) in 2001
Osama Bin Laden is believed to be hiding in tribal areas of Pakistan

Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden is still hiding in Pakistan, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Leon Panetta has said.

Mr Panetta reiterated that finding Bin Laden remains a top priority for the US, adding that he hoped the chances of locating him were now improved.

"We have a number of people on the ground in Pakistan who are helping us provide targets," he said.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's army continued to target militants across the north-west.

A military operation is continuing in the Swat valley where the Pakistani army has made a number of gains in recent weeks as it attempts to dislodge Taliban insurgents from their strongholds in the area.

Mr Panetta told reporters that as the Pakistani military closes in on Taliban militants, there will be a better chance of locating Bin Laden.

He emphasised that the al-Qaeda network remained the most serious threat to the US and that the group was still plotting attacks from their hide-outs.

In recent days the Pakistani army has targeted militant strongholds in the semi-tribal areas adjacent to Waziristan. There were reports of aerial bombardment around the Orakzai tribal region on Friday.

Militant sanctuaries

Waziristan has been described by US officials as "the most dangerous place on earth" and many analysts believe the area could harbour some of the world's most wanted men - including Osama Bin Laden.

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The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says that both the US and Afghan governments have long believed that the entire al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership is hiding in one of the militant sanctuaries to be found Pakistan's tribal areas.

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has also said that key militant leaders "may be hiding somewhere in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region."

But Pakistan has always tended to reject categorical statements about their whereabouts, saying that there is never specific information about it, our correspondent adds.

Mr Panetta's statement comes just over a week after a statement made in Islamabad by US special envoy Richard Holbrooke that the US intelligence community did not know where the al-Qaeda leadership was hiding.

On 3 June an audio recording purporting to be of the al-Qaeda leader was aired just as US President Barack Obama arrived in Bin Laden's native Saudi Arabia at the start of a Middle East tour.

The tape accused President Obama of of fuelling hatred of America in Pakistan.

Mr Holbrooke recently returned from a tour of the camps housing those displaced by the fighting in north-west Pakistan. He said he was struck by the swing in public opinion against the Taliban.

He promised much more aid for Pakistan to help them deal with the humanitarian crisis unfolding in their overstretched camps.

On Thursday, the US House of Representatives voted to triple non-military aid to Pakistan.



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