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Monday, 17 December, 2001, 13:28 GMT
Bin Laden's hiding places
Card featuring Osama Bin Laden
The US has been dropping cards offering a reward
As US officials admit that the trail of Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan has gone cold, attention is focusing on where the al-Qaeda leader may have sought refuge.

According to US intelligence sources, Bin Laden's voice was detected last week at the Tora Bora cave complex, which is reportedly now under opposition control.

Possible destinations
Pakistan's tribal region
Central Asian republics
Iraq
Somalia
Sudan
Yemen
But a prisoner who surrendered in the area said Bin Laden had fled to Pakistan, adding to a series of reports that he has sought refuge in the northern tribal region.

A senior al-Qaeda leader Abu Jaffar told the British Daily Telegraph newspaper that Bin Laden had crossed the border with the help of Pashtun tribesmen.

Dozens of al-Qaeda fighters have reportedly crossed via mountain passes in the country in recent days, and some analysts suggest Bin Laden could be among them.

Crackdown

Pakistani authorities, who have sent 4,000 troops to the region backed up with helicopter gunships, say they have arrested 30 al-Qaeda suspects.

Tunnels belonging to Mullah Omar
Bin Laden could remain holed up elsewhere in the country

The rugged frontier is difficult to police, and is an autonomous zone within Pakistan.

Security matters are usually left to the local tribes, many of who are sympathetic to al-Qaeda.

A BBC regional analyst says Bin Laden could be on the move in the area with a small group of hardened fighters who are unquestioningly loyal to him.

Other options for Bin Laden could include the central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyztan and Tajikistan.

The Agence France Presse agency speculates that Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan militants, who are believed to operate secret routes from Afghanistan to the Ferghana valley, may be sheltering Bin Laden.

All three countries were targeted by Islamic militants last year in a wave of attacks aimed at destabilising the region, allegedly backed by al-Qaeda and the Taleban.

Anti-Taleban fighters and Tora Bora mountains
The border mountains offer many hiding places

Some analysts have suggested Iraq as a possible destination for Bin Laden, based on allegations that one of his closest aides led a scouting party to Iraq three years ago to inspect possible sites for future bases.

But Baghdad has strongly rejected claims of ties to al-Qaeda, and has publicly distanced itself from Bin Laden.

Sudan, where Bin Laden was based before Afghanistan, and Yemen, where al-Qaeda also reportedly has bases have also been suggested as possible hide-outs.

Somalia and Chechnya, both countries where sympathetic Islamic militant groups are believed to operate, could also offer Bin Laden sanctuary.

Death rumours

However, last week Pakistan's al-Akhbar newspaper reported that Bin Laden and Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar were shot by their own consent in Kandahar the day the city fell to anti-Taleban forces.

This unconfirmed story was brought to Karachi by Afghan families fleeing to Pakistan, the newspaper said.

The BBC regional analyst also says that Bin Laden probably has no intention of being taken alive and put on trial.

"He seems ready to die, in the firm belief that after him will come other Bin Ladens to continue the struggle," he said.

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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