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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 15:25 GMT
Bin Laden 'evaded Pakistani raid'

By Andrew North
BBC correspondent in Afghanistan

Troops patrol the Afghan-Pakistan border
Pakistani soldiers patrol the border with Afghanistan
A local official in eastern Afghanistan says he has received credible reports that Osama Bin Laden escaped the recent Pakistani operation to catch him.

Speaking to the BBC, a district governor said he passed the details to Afghan intelligence staff.

It comes amid reports of stepped-up American military operations aimed at capturing al-Qaeda's leader.

Bin Laden is believed to be hiding in the mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Haji Abdullah, the governor of Pachir-Agam district in Nangarhar province, said he heard the report about al-Qaeda's leader three days ago.

'Alive and well'

He said he had met a former member of the Taleban who had received a fax referring to "the Sheikh", the term often used for Osama Bin Laden by his supporters.

The fax reportedly said the Sheikh was alive and well and that he had escaped a recent attempt by Pakistani forces to catch him on their side of the border.

However, the governor rejected recent reports that American forces are focusing on the Tora Bora hills which overlook his compound, in their search for Bin Laden.

There is no sign of any US activity in these rugged hills and peaks.

US build-up

But local residents and officials in the nearby district of Chaprihar said there had been a build up of American forces in the area earlier this week and that some had stayed for several days.

A US military spokesman said he had no knowledge of any major operations in the Tora Bora area now.

He also said he had not heard about the district governor's report about Bin Laden's alleged escape.

It is a surprising claim that has to be treated with caution, given that US intelligence is likely to be keeping a close eye on all electronic communications.

But the governor said he had passed the information on to Afghan authorities in the region.

The BBC's Andrew North
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