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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 March, 2003, 21:08 GMT
Bin Laden 'slips away'
Osama Bin Laden
Bin Laden: The world's most wanted man

Osama Bin Laden was in southern Afghanistan shortly before a recent US arrest operation in the area, a former Taleban diplomat has said.

The al-Qaeda leader was in the southern province of Nimroz just days before US forces launched an operation in nearby Helmand Province, Naseer Ahmed Roohi told Reuters news agency.

"Bin Laden, along with a few companions, shifted to an unknown area," he said, quoting "reliable sources".

Mr Roohi said the al-Qaeda leader, who is suspected of masterminding the 11 September attacks on the US, had been in the Siakoh mountain range - which straddles Nimroz and Helmand - as well as Pakistan's Baluchistan Province.

The Pentagon has denied reports that two sons of Bin Laden were injured or captured in fighting in the region.

However, aircraft have been dropping leaflets in the region offering money for information on the al-Qaeda leader's whereabouts.

Speculation that security forces were close to locating Bin Laden rose during the week after the arrest in Pakistan of a man believed to be a close aide, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Bin Laden has not been seen since he appeared in a November 2001 videotape, but several audio recordings purporting to be from him have been released in recent months.

'Terror plot'

US special forces had earlier seized seven people in the Spin Majid area of Helmand, on suspicion of plotting attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan.

A US military spokesman in Afghanistan, Colonel Roger King, said that special forces had acted on intelligence reports that there were plans to attack coalition forces.

He said material found in the detainees' possession led the US to believe the information it had was true.

Leaflet offering a reward for information on Osama Bin Laden
The US is offering locals money for information on Bin Laden

The spokesman did not identify the men, nor indicate whether they were suspected of being al-Qaeda members or supporters of the former Taleban regime.

In another development, an official in the east Afghan province of Konar has reported that about 60 US soldiers were deployed in two districts there on Saturday.

The official said the troops came to Barikoat district and Chapa-dara district and were clearly seen patrolling Chapa-dara on Sunday.

He said American troops had come to the area before but he regarded this deployment as unusual.

Konar borders the North West Frontier province of Pakistan.

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