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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 January 2007, 15:51 GMT
Afghan warlord 'aided Bin Laden'
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
The interview was conducted in Afghanistan nearly three weeks ago
Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar says his fighters helped al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden escape a US offensive five years ago.

Bin Laden was moved to "a safe place" when the US assault on the Tora Bora mountains began in late 2001, the Hezb-e-Islami leader told Pakistani TV.

Mr Hekmatyar said Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's second-in-command, was also taken to the undisclosed location.

The rare interview was broadcast on Thursday by the private Geo TV network.

The authenticity of the interview could not be independently confirmed, but interviewer Saleem Safi told Reuters news agency it was conducted in Afghanistan nearly three weeks ago.

Mr Hekmatyar, who served as Afghan prime minister in the early 1990s and was in exile in Iran in 2001, was speaking in Pashto.

He said that when US troops surrounded the cave complex at Tora Bora, his followers decided to help the al-Qaeda leaders, as they had helped the mujahideen defeat the Soviet troops.

"We helped them get out of the caves and led them to a safe place," he said.

Only fragments of the interview were audible under a voiceover translated into Urdu, Pakistan's main language.

Although US forces have been unable to locate the two al-Qaeda leaders since the 11 September, 2001 attacks, they are believed to have come closest to trapping Bin Laden after he retreated to a complex of caves in the mountainous Tora Bora region near the Pakistani border in 2001.

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