Where's Osama bin Laden?
By Wolf Blitzer
CNN Wolf Blitzer Reports
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The hunt for the world's most wanted man continues full speed ahead. It seems the more we see of Osama bin Laden on this latest Al Jazeera videotape, the more the mystery of his whereabouts intensifies. Based on what he says on the most recently-released tape, it's clear that he was alive at least in late November.
Like you, I have heard all the various speculation. Some "experts" in and out of government insist he's still hiding out inside Afghanistan. Others insist he's fled to neighboring Pakistan where he's supposedly found a sympathetic hideout. And yet others claim he managed to board a ship in the Arabian Sea and by now may be long gone, perhaps in Somalia or Yemen where Al Qaeda has active cells. The bottom line from all this speculation: we simply don't know where he is. We don't even know whether he's still alive.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he's hears at least half a dozen speculative reports a day. "We've stopped chasing them," he says, referring to the reports.
Peter Bergen, the CNN terrorism analyst who met with bin Laden in 1997, firmly believes the Al Qaeda leader is still in Afghanistan. "I think he just knows that country so well," he tells me. Why wouldn't he try to sneak into Pakistan? Bergen notes that Pakistan has a history of finding wanted terrorists and handing them over to the United States. Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, was found in Pakistan and sent to the U.S. for trial. Mir al-Kamzi, who killed people outside the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia in 1995, was extradited from Pakistan to the United States for trial. "So Pakistan wouldn't have a moment's hesitation in terms of handing over bin Laden to the United States," Bergen says.
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In some of his recent statements, bin Laden has gone on the offensive in attacking the Pakistani government of President Pervez Musharref. He has charged that the Pakistani government is not really Islamic. And as Peter Bergen points out, Musharref is going to go all out to try to capture or kill bin Laden. The same, by the way, goes for the new leader of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai.
But specialists recognize that neither Musharref nor Karzai is in complete control of every part of their respective countries. Karl Inderfurth, the immediate past Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, notes that there are areas in the north of Pakistan where the government has less control. "These are the so-called tribal areas," he tells me. "These are the ones that have been very supportive of the Taliban and sympathetic to bin Laden. But the Pakistani military and intelligence operate in those areas. And again, they will be looking for bin Laden."
In other words, he says that if bin Laden is already in Pakistan, "I think he ought to keep going because there are a lot of Pakistani paramilitary that are looking for him." And like Bergen, Inderfurth cites the fact that the Pakistanis have handed over other terrorist suspects to the United States. Beyond that, there's also the $25 million reward the U.S. is making available. Inderfurth's bottom line: "He does have sympathy in that area, in the tribal areas. But I think that he will be spotted and somebody will turn him in or somebody will kill him."