Video: Hunt for bin Laden

updated 3/4/2004 1:17:52 PM ET 2004-03-04T18:17:52

Pakistani forces have moved into targeted areas of the country’s long border with Afghanistan, after satellite telephone intercepts indicated that members of al-Qaida were hiding there, security officials told the Associated Press on Friday.

Though officials insist there was no indication that Osama bin Laden was involved in the conversations, which took place last year, participants discussed a man called “Shaikh” — which is believed to be a code name for the al-Qaida leader.

The operation was based in part on information gleaned from satellite telephone intercepts from the United States and local intelligence data, the security officials said on condition of anonymity.

“Some people who were speaking in Arabic have been heard saying Shaikh is in good health,” one security official told the AP.

It was not immediately clear when the United States shared its data with Pakistan.

No hard evidence of bin Laden whereabouts
U.S., Pakistani and Afghan officials have long suspected that bin Laden has been hiding out in the remote border region. There has been no confirmation or any hard evidence of his whereabouts in more than two years.

American counterterrorism experts were meeting with their counterparts in Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad to discuss combatting terrorism, said Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Rauf Chaudhry. The delegation will visit Pakistan for two days.

The border operations came before a sweep in the town of Wana, about 190 miles west of the capital, Islamabad. The Wana operation ended earlier this week with the arrest of 25 suspects, though there was no indication that any senior al-Qaida leaders were among them.

Some of the suspects arrested were foreigners, though most appeared to be local tribesmen who live in a region that is home to inhabitants linked by language and culture to Afghan Pashtuns, the ethnic group that was the Taliban’s power base.

Pakistan officials said that security forces were chasing leads from the suspects. Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed did not comment on any deployment, but said the rapid reaction forces were always on alert.

“They are ready to take any action,” he said.

Operations adjusted in response to fresh intelligence
Though the troops have been in the tribal regions for more than two years, the security officials say they are being adjusted to suit fresh intelligence data. It was not immediately clear precisely where the forces were placed — or how many were involved.

“We are not close to capturing Osama, but all efforts and operations are directed at finding clues about his whereabouts,” a senior government official told AP. “It is a tiring and long process.”

The tribal regions have a centuries-old history of autonomy, but Pakistani forces have been slowly beefing up their presence since the Sept. 11 attacks. That presence has increased even more in recent months.

Pakistan has so far confirmed only the operation near Wana, but officials told AP they are also “quietly operating” in other “marked areas.” Bin Laden remains the ultimate target.

“We are after him, because his capture will help eliminate terror threat in the region,” one official told AP.

Rumsfeld plays down expectations of bin Laden capture
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sought Thursday to downplay rumors that bin Laden would be caught soon, stopping short of predictions by the American military that the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks will be detained before this year is out.

“It will happen when it happens, and I don’t believe it’s closer or farther at any given moment,” Rumsfeld told reporters during a one-day visit to Afghanistan.

Pakistan has launched four operations in the tribal areas since the Sept. 11 attacks. But Pakistani security officials say that earlier operations lacked the support of the local population.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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