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Friday, 21 September, 2001, 18:11 GMT 19:11 UK
Bin Laden's options
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If Osama Bin Laden decides to leave Afghanistan there are other places beyond the reach of western military power where he might conceivably find refuge, writes BBC News Online's Chris Horrie.

His options include war zones and "collapsed states" where central authority is weak, or where local warlords might share his hatred of the US and its allies and - most importantly - his money would buy power and protection.

Such zones exist in Asia, Africa and South America.

Terrorists seek refuge in 'swamps' where government control is weak or governments are sympathetic. We seek to drain these swamps

US State Department

Many of Bin Laden's closest potential havens lie within the former Russian territories of Central Asia - a vast, inaccessible region stretching from Turkey to China.

Tajikistan - which borders Afghanistan and and is close to Pakistan - is on the brink of famine and the secular government faces a determined Islamist opposition. Parts of the country are also effectively in the hands of bandits and drug traffickers.

The war in Chechnya, meanwhile, where some of the Chechen guerrillas are believed to be sympathetic to Bin Laden, has overrun the North Caucasus region with 150,000 desperately poor refugees.

The US State Department, in a report published before the New York attack, said that "terrorists seek refuge in 'swamps' where government control is weak, or where government is sympathetic".

Anti-American demonstrations in Pakistan
It would be easy enough for Bin Laden to hide among the refugee population in this region, with its inaccessible terrain.

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An all out attack on the Chechen camps - designed to "smoke out" Bin Laden - would mean siding with the Russian military action against the Chechens - already condemned by the United Nations.

Any such attack would also run the risk of inciting the millions of Muslims living in a string of economically devastated former Soviet republics such as Kyrgyztan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and in western China - where Bin Laden might also find refuge.

Last year the US State Department warned American citizens to avoid Albania saying "organised criminal gangs are endemic to all regions; gangland-style assassinations and street fights can erupt without warning".

The State Department has also identified Albanian organised crime as major players in global heroin trafficking.

This means that the gangs, who are the effective power in large parts of the country, have networks for moving money, people and goods around the world.

But the proximity of US and Nato forces in this region of Europe, the government's recent record of co-operation with the West and the lack of a militant Islamic tradition in the country make Albania an unlikely option.

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South America:
A still less likely possibility is that Bin Laden might move to a country or region under the control of drug-funded rebel groups who see themselves, like Bin Laden, as being at war with the US.

The US State department says declining state support for terrorism in countries like Syria, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan and Iran has caused rebels and guerrillas terrorists to turn to "other forms of funding including narco-trafficking, private sponsorship and illegal trade".

In October 1999, Albanian authorities expelled two other individuals with suspected ties to terrorists, who officially were in the region to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees. Albanian authorities suspected the two had connections to Osama Bin Laden

US State Department on Albania

Large areas of Colombia and Peru are under the control of anti-American guerrillas whose organisations overlap with drug gangs and who are evidently funded by drug money.

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Parts of South East Asia - centred on the secretive anti-western regime of Burma - are likewise in the hands of armed drug lords and act as no-go zones for western authority.

The Kurdish regions of Turkey and Iraq are another region swamped with refugees who might be attracted by Bin Laden's money, religious extremism or both.

Law and order collapsed as a result of the Gulf War and its aftermath and two Kurdish towns, Biyar and Tiwal, are reportedly in the hands of Bin Laden's supporters. Much of the region lies within Iraq - the regime thought most likely by the US to be supporting Bin Laden.

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The Libyan regime has a long record of sheltering or supporting anti-Western terrorist and propaganda organisations.

Weak government - 50m guns in Yemen
But in contrast to other possible Bin Laden hiding places Libya is a highly organised police state. It is possible that Libya might form a temporary bolt-hole in an emergency - one option for him to simply keep on the move - but the country is unlikely to provide anything like a permanent base.

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Algeria would provide a similar mixture of political instability and widespread anti-western feeling to that which has evidently served Bin Laden well in Afghanistan.

The Algerian Government is co-operating with the US, but faces a well-organised, secretive and violently anti-western Islamist opposition responsible for a wave of terrorist killings this summer.

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Within the Arab world Bin Laden might feel at home in Yemen, where the central government is co-operating with the US.

But the Yemeni authorities are weak and anti-western Islamists have been welcomed in the recent past. There are an estimated 50 million guns in the hands of the country's few million citizens.

Africa is afflicted with a series of catastrophic civil wars and offers many hiding places, not least war-torn Somalia which has been reduced to near-chaos.

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If Bin Laden made it to the vast and remote area of Muslim western China he would, at least, be safe from the Americans, who would not be able to launch any military action there to catch him.

Desperation: The ruins of Chechnya's capital Grozny
But it is unlikely that China would welcome him. The regime is worried about the prospect of an Islamic uprising among its millions of Muslim citizens.

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