J.L. Pino  /  AP file
Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, shown in 2002, said he believes Osama bin Laden is on the run.
updated 10/15/2004 2:24:06 PM ET 2004-10-15T18:24:06

Osama bin Laden is unable to order operations from his hideout near the rugged Pakistani-Afghan border and spends all his time trying to evade capture, one of Europe’s top anti-terrorism officials said Friday.

Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, who has indicted 41 suspected al-Qaida members, also told a conference on crime that the threat of terrorism has not dissipated despite bin Laden’s isolation and even harder-line groups have emerged that can direct attacks on their own.

Garzon did not offer proof that bin Laden, mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, was unable to direct terror operations, but said all indications pointed that way for the world’s most hunted man.

“As things stand today, with the pressure being exerted against this person and the leadership of al-Qaida, it would be hard to believe that he could still be operational and capable of giving orders,” Garzon said.

Believed to be along Afghan-Pakistan border
Bin Laden went into hiding during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. He is believed to be among sympathizers in Pakistan’s rugged tribal areas along the Afghan border, where Pakistan has deployed 70,000 troops to pursue him and his followers.

Al-Qaida has spawned other groups and no longer needs to direct everything, Garzon told the 6th Annual Conference on Transnational Crime in Monaco, comparing the other groups to al-Qaida franchises.

“Al-Qaida converted itself into an ideology, and became a reference point, a franchise for other groups that no longer need its instructions,” Garzon said.

Some of the 41 suspects Garzon indicted in Spain were accused of providing financing and logistics for the suicide airliner attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Spain, France mount joint investigation
Last month, Spain and France agreed to create a joint police team to investigate al-Qaida financing in Spain — a staging ground for the Sept. 11 attacks scene of a deadly train bombing in March by militants linked to bin Laden’s organization.

Garzon said he was somewhat optimistic that law enforcement agencies and nations would meet the challenges of terrorism, stating that they have made great strides in recent years.

But French anti-terrorism Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere said the threat of terrorism was “accelerating at a staggering pace. Iraq is only one example. And I’m not sure our political leaders have really grasped what is at stake.”

In what appeared to be a swipe at the United States, Bruguiere said that a successful war on terror cannot be waged without each country realizing that it could not face the terrorist threat alone.

“No country, not even the most powerful on the planet, has the capacity to do this alone,” he said.

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