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Report: Bin Laden not in Afghanistan
( 2002-08-12 14:21 ) (7 )

Osama bin Laden escaped Afghanistan on horseback last December under US fire and rallied Taliban troops from an Afghan stronghold in February, Newsweek magazine reported.

Citing two accounts by current and former Taliban members, the magazine reported in its Aug. 19 issue that the al-Qaida leader fled the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, where U.S. forces were bombing, with 28 people through the rugged White Mountains. The entourage traveled in to Pakistan and back to the Afghan mountain stronghold of Shahikot over five days in December, the magazine said.

A former Taliban official and professional guide told the magazine he led bin Laden's group on the journey, sometimes through heavy snow. The guide, who the magazine did not identify, said bin Laden rarely dismounted during the trip.

A Taliban soldier named Ali Mohammad told Newsweek that he saw bin Laden accompanied by 15 bodyguards in mid-February in Shahikot, where Taliban troops were preparing for an American attack.

Bin Laden rallied the troops, the soldier said, urging them to keep their morale up and "take care of the injured and be confident that God will award you on Judgment Day."

U.S. officials have said they don't know whether bin Laden is dead or alive.



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