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Sources: bin Laden wounded in Tora Bora battle

Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri
Bin Laden, right, appeared with top deputy Ayman Al-Zawahiri, in an undated videotape aired Monday on Qatar's Al-Jazeera network.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Captured al Qaeda fighters say Osama bin Laden was wounded in Tora Bora last year and ordered his lieutenants to disperse in various directions from the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, according to high-level anti-terror coalition intelligence sources.

However, the al Qaeda prisoners contradicted each other when interrogated about bin Laden's possible injuries and whereabouts, and there is no independent confirmation that he was wounded in the battle.

The FBI Web site describes bin Laden as left-handed. But a videotaped statement from him released in late December -- after the Tora Bora battle -- shows bin Laden gesturing with only his right hand. His left arm never moves and his left hand is never seen in the video.

U.S. military officials said several al Qaeda detainees who have been questioned independently each told the same story -- that bin Laden was in the Tora Bora mountains in early December, talked with his al Qaeda fighters and then slipped out of the area with the help of local sympathizers.

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But the Pentagon considers the stories suspect. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Wednesday he has not seen enough "solid evidence" that bin Laden escaped.

"We have seen repeated speculation about his possible location, but it has obviously not been verifiable," Rumsfeld said. "Had it been verifiable, one would have thought that someone might have done something about it."

Rumsfeld said it was "entirely possible" that bin Laden was in Tora Bora when U.S. forces began their air assault there last December, but "in terms of any solid evidence, there wasn't any. There isn't now." In addition, he said, "We have had three or four or five different stories from the same detainees in any number of instances."

CNN reported in March that intelligence gathering and reconnaissance intercepts indicated bin Laden escaped from the Tora Bora region late last year. U.S. officials have acknowledged the report prompted a change in strategy, pushing American troops to the forefront of the fighting to replace local fighters who may have had some loyalty to bin Laden.

Some senior Pentagon officials have said those fighters may have allowed bin Laden to slip across the border into Pakistan as the U.S. military began its air assault in the region.

Rumsfeld questioned how such a conclusion could be reached.

"My view of the whole thing is that until the lessons learned are known, I wouldn't be able to answer a question like that and it impresses me that others can from their pinnacles of relatively modest knowledge," he said.

U.S. forces continue trying to track bin Laden and al Qaeda loyalists in the rough terrain along the southeastern border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Officials said they believe the al Qaeda leader may be alive and moving across the border.


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