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Last Updated: Friday, 7 March, 2003, 17:47 GMT
Bin Laden sons' arrest denied
Osama Bin Laden
Bin Laden: 'Not in Pakistan'

Pakistani and US officials have denied reports that two of Osama Bin Laden's sons have been wounded and captured in a clash on the Afghan border.

As he emphatically dismissed the claim, Pakistani Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat also denied reports that Osama Bin Laden was hiding inside Pakistan.

His denial was echoed by an official in Washington who, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that claims about the sons' arrests were untrue. "We have absolutely no information to substantiate that," the official said.

Earlier, Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, the Home Minister of Balochistan - the region at the centre of the search in Pakistan - told the BBC US forces were engaged in operations across the border in Afghanistan.

Mr Zehri said he had been informed by intelligence agencies that Bin Laden's sons had been captured in the town of Ribat, in the south-east of Afghanistan, near where the Iranian and Pakistani borders meet.

The search for Bin Laden is focusing on areas bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to US officials quoted by American media.

Pakistani special forces are reported to have poured into the area bordering Afghanistan following fresh leads obtained from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged al-Qaeda chief of operations who was arrested in Pakistan on Saturday.

The BBC's Paul Anderson in Islamabad says reports from Balochistan province claim that two military aircraft with special forces on board landed at an airfield south of the provincial capital, Quetta.

Helicopters were buzzing the area and leaflets were dropped reminding locals of the $25 million reward on Bin Laden's head.

American troops were also said to have stepped up patrols on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Attacks threat

However, a spokesman for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, General Rashid Qureshi, said there was no indication of any likely catch in the near future.

General Musharraf told American television that, since his arrest in Rawalpindi, Sheikh Mohammed had been giving "varying statements" about his contact with Bin Laden.

Sheikh Mohammed seen after his capture
Sheikh Mohammed 'has warned of new attacks' by al-Qaeda

After being interrogated in Pakistan, Sheikh Mohammed is in US custody.

It is believed he is now being questioned at Bagram air base in Afghanistan.

He is reported to have warned Pakistani interrogators that US forces in the Gulf would be attacked, according to the Washington Post.

"Let the Iraq war begin, the US forces will be targeted inside their bases in the Gulf," a Pakistani official quotes Sheikh Mohammed as saying.

"I don't have any specific information, but my sixth sense is telling me that you will get the news from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait."

'In contact'

Sheikh Mohammed is thought to be al-Qaeda's chief operations planner and the mastermind of the 11 September attacks - his capture has been seen as an important blow against Bin Laden's network.

Investigators believe he kept in contact with Bin Laden through e-mails and hand-delivered messages and may have an idea where he is hiding.

But Pakistani Information Minister Rashid Ahmed said on Thursday there was no confirmation that Sheikh Mohammed had physically met the al-Qaeda leader recently.

Bin Laden is believed to have escaped from Afghanistan's mountain region of Tora Bora into Pakistan in December 2001, after surviving a massive US bombing campaign.

Since then he has managed to elude a manhunt by thousands of US troops in Afghanistan and Pakistani forces in Pakistan's tribal areas near the border.

The BBC's Mike Sergeant
"The claims are hotly denied by the US"

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