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Wednesday, 28 November, 2001, 13:43 GMT
Tracking down Bin Laden
Tora Bora mountains
Anti-Taleban forces have moved in on Tora Bora

As anti-Taleban forces, aided by US planes and special forces, make their way through the complex of caves at Tora Bora, it seems increasingly likely Osama Bin Laden has tried to escape.

Reports from the region around Tora Bora suggest that Bin Laden and the remaining al-Qaeda fighters may have moved higher up the White Mountains to try to cross into Pakistan.

Once inside Pakistan, the argument goes, they would be received by Pashtun tribesmen sympathetic to their cause, and be spirited away from the border area.


A wounded animal can be dangerous...They can escape across borders and regroup then plot to strike again

Donald Rumsfeld
US Defence Secretary
The frontier is difficult to police, although US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Tuesday that Pakistan had deployed "a large number of battalions" to cut off any escaping al-Qaeda fighters.

Meanwhile, US forces and anti-Taleban fighters are trying to gather as much information as possible from local people - or possibly captured Taleban fighters - on where Bin Laden could be hiding.

To encourage information, radio broadcasts and leaflets dropped from US planes are telling Afghans about America's offer of a $25m cash reward for Bin Ladder┐s capture.

Interview

The last confirmed contact with Bin Laden, more than a month ago, put him somewhere north of Jalalabad, where he is thought to have had several training camps.

Journalist Hamid Mir, editor of the Dawn newspaper in Pakistan, was wrapped in a blanket and driven for five hours from Kabul before interviewing Bin Laden.


Mr Mir recalled colder temperatures and the sound of anti-aircraft fire, which could mean he was driven north from the capital as it came under attack from US planes and anti-Taleban forces.

But Mr Mir said that, by holding the interview in the north, Bin Laden may have trying to draw attention away from his bases elsewhere in the country.

Underground bunkers

In another earlier attempt to locate the fugitive al-Qaeda leader, a geologist traced the rock formations seen in a video released by Bin Laden to the region of Khost in Paktia province.

Deep underground bunkers in the area, built during the war against the Soviet Union, are large enough to hide tanks.

In 1998, the Taleban showed the BBC what they said was a camp in Khost run by Bin Laden.

It had been attacked by US cruise missiles in retaliation for bomb attacks on embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Speaking at the Pentagon on Tuesday, Mr Rumsfeld said the whereabouts of Bin Laden were a "mystery", but warned:

"A wounded animal can be dangerous...They can escape across borders and regroup then plot to strike again."

As the hunt goes on, US officials are said to be on the point of releasing a video which they say offers proof that Bin Laden was at the very least aware of the 11 September attacks.

See also:

26 Nov 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden's fortress caves
11 Oct 01 | Americas
Guide to 'bunker-busting' bombs
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Who is Osama Bin Laden?
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: What next for al-Qaeda?
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