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Conflicting Reports on Bin Laden's Whereabouts

Aired December 27, 2001 - 10:29   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: More now on these conflicting reports we are getting out of Afghanistan, out of Pakistan about the possible whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. Let's bring in our John Vause who is standing by in Kabul.

John, first the report that Osama bin Laden had actually escaped across the border to Pakistan and was under the protection of a radical Islamic leader. But as we said, that leader coming into CNN and saying, sorry, he has no idea about where Osama bin Laden might be.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, what we're getting here is reports on the news wires, on the agencies. They are quoting a defense spokesman here in Afghanistan, in the Kabul, a spokesman for the new interim defense, General Fahim (ph). That spokesman, Mohammed Abeel (ph), he is in fact claiming that Osama bin Laden is the guest, if you like, of that leader, the JUI (ph) Islamic Party in Afghanistan, a general by the name of Milana Kazum Rahim (ph). He says that in fact bin Laden is his guest.

Now just to put the JUI in some perspective, the JUI Party organized some of those very large political pro-Taliban demonstrations that we saw in the very early stages of the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan. The JUI is a religious party with political ambitions, very pro Taliban, organizes all of the very large demonstrations across Pakistan, which seemed to fizzle several weeks after the bombing campaign.

Now as far as the JUI is concerned, a spokesman for Mr. Rahim, he was contacted by our people in Pakistan, he says the reports are a joke, nonsense, untrue -- quote, unquote. He says, "I did not know where Osama bin Laden is. If you want it know, ask the new government in Afghanistan." We are trying to do that now. As I said, those agencies are quoting a spokesman of the new interim defense minister here.

So that's basically where we are at this stage. We have reports that people who are meant to be harboring bin Laden are denying they have anything to do with that at this stage, and I guess we can chalk this up to another bin Laden sighting -- Daryn.

KAGAN: All right, John Vause in Kabul. We're going to continue our coverage here. We are going to bring back in Major General Don Shepherd, who's been helping with our coverage from Tucson, Arizona. General, what do you make of these conflicting reports? You have an Afghan government spokesman saying, oh yes, we think he's in Pakistan under the protection of this Islamic radical leader, and then that actual man comes out and says, I don't know what you are talking about.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPARD, (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, very understandable, Daryn.

Until we confirm that bin Laden is dead or alive and have specific information to prove that can prove that, I think these reports will continue springing up all over the world. It'll be the Elvis syndrome, where we're pretty sure he is dead, but we're not real sure, and then you get these tape that spring in reports all over the world.

So I think this is natural early reports of speculation by people that don't really know. We certainly do not know on the American side, or if we do, it only happened in the last few minutes, where he is, nor whether he is dead or alive, Daryn.

KAGAN: Of course there is an intense desire to find Osama bin Laden, and it is, wouldn't you say, general, it is possible he could have gone across the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan. For a long time there, very porous.

SHEPPARD: Absolutely, it's possible. He could have left his fighters on the field and escaped himself, gone into Pakistan. There is radical Islamic groups in Pakistan that are providing problems for President Musharraf. But if he is in Pakistan, General Franks feels confident reportedly, and President Musharraf has already said that they will find him, and they will hand him over. If the United States special forces, or other elements wanted to capture him in Pakistan, they would have to have concurrence of General Musharraf or the Pakistan military to coordinate and operate in their country. So, quite frankly, we hope he is not there. By the way, we are also looking for Mullah Omar at the same time.

KAGAN: Absolutely, the search goes on for both men.

General Don Sheppard, thanks for the additional insight. Appreciate it.

SHEPPARD: Thank you.

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