Anti-Taliban militia leader believes bin Laden hiding in eastern Afghanistan

Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2001

JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- A senior anti-Taliban commander here said Saturday he believes Osama bin Laden is nearby, moving by night on horseback and sleeping in caves during the day.

Hazrat Ali, security chief in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, said he received reports from trusted informants that bin Laden was seen as recently as Wednesday at an al-Qaida and Taliban mountain base called Tora Bora.

''He is riding at night on horseback, during the days he stays in caves,'' Ali said. ''He goes to a different place every night.''

There was no way to confirm Ali's claims.

Ali said 500 to 600 Taliban and al-Qaida fighters have holed up in Tora Bora, 40 miles southwest of Jalalabad, which is near the Pakistani border. He said he used the base himself when he was fighting the Soviet army, and that it is virtually impossible to capture.

U.S. planes have been bombing the mountain redoubt regularly.

Bin Laden used Tora Bora as a base before the United States began its bombing campaign in Afghanistan on Oct. 7. The campaign began after the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden, the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Ali said bin Laden had more than 3,000 specially trained fighters to protect him before the bombing began, but that the Saudi exile was now moving around the mountains with just a few men.

Explaining how he got his information, Ali said: ''We are Afghans, and Afghan people do not want foreigners in our country. When the villagers see bin Laden, they tell us.''

He claimed almost everyone in the country knows of the $25 million reward the United States is offering for information leading to bin Laden's capture.

The Taliban claimed last week they are no longer in touch with bin Laden and do not know where he is.

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, said Saturday he did not believe bin Laden had slipped across the border into Pakistan. He said Pakistan had sought the cooperation of tribal leaders along the 1,344-mile frontier to ensure that bin Laden does not sneak in.

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