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Bin Laden cornered in Pakistan's northwest
Updated: 2004-02-22 09:44

US and British special forces have cornered Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a mountainous area in northwest Pakistan, near the Afghanistan border, it was reported.

Quoting "a US intelligence source," the Sunday Express newspaper said bin Laden and "up to 50 fanatical henchmen" were inside an area 16 kilometres (10 miles) wide and deep "north of the town of Khanozai and the city of Quetta".

"He is boxed in," the unidentified source was quoted by the tabloid as saying, adding that US special forces were "absolutely confident" that he could not escape.

According to the source, bin Laden moved into the area, "in the desolate Toba Kakar mountains," about one month ago from another area 240 kilometres to the south, the Sunday Express said.

Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is believed to be with bin Laden, it said.

The area is under surveillance from a geostationary spy satellite while US and British special forces await orders to move in, the newspaper said in its early edition, received late Saturday.

Al-Qaeda is held responsible for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed nearly 3,000 people in 2001. More recently, it has been suspected of supporting insurgent attacks on US forces in Iraq.

On Thursday, General Richard Meyers, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said US forces were engaged in "intense" efforts to capture bin Laden, but held back from saying where he might be hiding.

"There are areas where we think it is most likely he is, and they remain the same," said Meyers, who was speaking to reporters in Washington. "They haven't changed in months," said Myers.

Asked whether the Al-Qaeda leader was believed to be in Pakistan, the general replied: "Don't know that. We think in that border region somewhere. We don't know where it is precisely."

The Sunday Express said it was also told in London by "a senior Republican close to the White House and the Pentagon" this past week that bin Laden had been located.

"They have found bin Laden," the source -- described as an "intimate" of the family of US President George W. Bush -- was quoted as saying. "They now know where he is within a manageable area which can be watched and controlled."

The Sunday Express said bin Laden's whereabouts had been discovered from "a combination of CIA paramilitaries and special forces, plus image analysis by geographers and soil experts".

"They studied the background in bin Laden's last video and matched it to rocks in the Toba Kakar region," the newspaper said.

"A two-man special forces surveillance unit them infiltrated the area," it said, adding that they picked up their first clues that bin Laden was in the area within a week.

"Other teams then slipped in," the Sunday Express quoted its source as saying. "To avoid any alert, helicopters were not used."

The last known video tape from bin Laden was aired in September by the Arabic all-news television station al-Jazeera. Three audio tapes followed, in October, December and January.

A graphic published alongside the Sunday Express report indicated that the area in which bin Laden is supposedly hiding is immediately to the north of the Pakistani towns of Khanozai and Murgha.

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