Pakistan has no information on where Osama bin Laden could be hiding, a Cabinet minister said Monday, following the broadcast of a new audio tape purportedly from the al-Qaida chief.
Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao refused to comment on the tape, broadcast Sunday by Arab news network Al-Jazeera. But he said Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism were not focused on just trapping bin Laden, long suspected to be hiding in Pakistan’s tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.
“It is not to arrest one particular person but to curb terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” Sherpao told The Associated Press.
“We have no information on his whereabouts,” he said, adding that he would not speculate on bin Laden’s presence at the border “unless we get credible information.”
In the tape, bin Laden issued new threats and accused the United States and Europe of supporting a “Zionist” war on Islam by cutting off funds to the Hamas-led Palestinian government. Bin Laden also urged followers to go to Sudan, his former base, to fight a proposed U.N. peacekeeping force.
No embrace from Sudan
In Sudan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jamal Eldin Mohammad Ibrahim said the country was “not concerned with such statements” and would not host any terrorist groups, according to the Al Sahafa newspaper.
In the tape, bin Laden called on “mujahedeen and their supporters, especially in Sudan and the Arab peninsula, to prepare for long war again the crusader plunderers in Western Sudan. Our goal is not defending the Khartoum government but to defend Islam, its land and its people.”
The government has been accused of unleashing Arab tribal militia known as the Janjaweed against civilians in a campaign of murder, rape and arson — a charge it denies. At least 180,000 people have died — many from hunger and disease — and 2 million people have been displaced.
Negotiators are trying to broker a peace deal between warring factions by an April 30 deadline. Members of the African Union have agreed in principle to hand over peacekeeping duties to the United Nations this fall.
“Sudan will cooperate with the international community and we are committed to the international charter, and we will not host any terrorist,” Ibrahim was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
Hamas distances self as well
Al-Qaida is not believed to have direct links to Hamas, which is an outgrowth of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri was quick to distance the group from bin Laden, declaring that “the ideology of Hamas is totally different from the ideology of Sheik bin Laden.”
The groups do, however, share an anti-Israel ideology that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. And recent reports in Middle East media have said al-Qaida is trying to build cells in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon and Sudan. Israel has indicted two West Bank militants for al-Qaida membership.
Israeli government spokesman Raanan Gissin said it appeared bin Laden decided to issue the tape to deflect growing Arab animosity toward al-Qaida.
The intelligence community in the United States informed the White House on Sunday that it believed the latest bin Laden tape was authentic, said presidential spokesman Scott McClellan.
“The al-Qaida leadership is on the run and under a lot of pressure,” McClellan said.
80,000 troops in border area
The rugged Afghanistan-Pakistan border has been regarded as the likely hiding place of bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, since they fled Afghanistan in late 2001 when a U.S.-led military campaign ousted the Taliban regime that had granted them sanctuary.
Pakistan — a key U.S. ally in the war against terrorism — has deployed about 80,000 troops to its border tribal regions to track down militants and says it has arrested more than 700 al-Qaida suspects. Most of the top figures it has captured, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, were trapped in major cities.
Last week, the government said it killed a senior Syrian operative, Marwan Hadid al-Suri, 38, alleged to be behind attacks on U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan and against Pakistan’s security forces. He also allegedly distributed money to terrorists and their families. He was shot to death in a gunbattle with Pakistani agents near the Bajur tribal region.