Al Qaida's leaders are holed up in Pakistan, says US


Mar 28, 2006
Al Qaida's leaders are holed up in Pakistan, says US

Washington & Islamabad:
Al Qaida's leaders are holed up in a secure hide-out in Pakistan, from which they are revitalising their bruised but resilient network, US intelligence chief John Negroponte said on Thursday.

But Islamabad responded on Friday saying the United States had not given it any information about the presence of Al Qaida leaders.

"We have no such information nor has any such thing been communicated to us by any US authority," Pakistan's military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan told reporters.

In an unusually direct statement on the whereabouts of the militant group's top echelon, Negroponte told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that Pakistan is the centre of a web of Al Qaida connections that stretches across the globe into Europe.

"Al Qaida is the terrorist organisation that poses the greatest threat to US interests," the US director of national intelligence said in his annual assessment of worldwide threats against the United States and its interests.

"They are cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders' secure hide-out in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe," he said.

It appeared to be the first time in congressional testimony that Negroponte has singled out Pakistan as the locale for the headquarters of the network. It is accused of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington that killed about 3,000 people in 2001.

Up to now, US officials have said that Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden and his second-in-command Ayman Al Zawahri are hiding somewhere along the rugged mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Negroponte did not cite Bin Laden or Al Zawahri by name and did not say where in Pakistan US intelligence believes al Qaeda leaders are hiding.

Negroponte, who became US intelligence chief in April 2005 and will soon leave to become deputy secretary of state, told the same panel a year ago that Al Qaida's leadership posed a threat to the United States from bases in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.

"We have captured or killed numerous senior Al Qaida operatives, but Al Qaida's core elements are resilient. They continue to plot attacks against our homeland and other targets with the objective of inflicting mass casualties," he said on Thursday.

US officials have long complained about Islamist militant activity in Pakistan, which has been blamed as a source of increasing Taliban and Al Qaida attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.

"Pakistan is our partner in the war on terror and has captured several Al Qaida leaders. However, it is also a major source of Islamic extremism," Negroponte said in written testimony submitted to the panel.

"Eliminating the safe haven that the Taliban and other extremists have found in Pakistan's tribal areas is not sufficient to end the insurgency in Afghanistan but it is necessary."

He noted the political problems facing Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf due to a potential for tribal rebellion and a backlash by Islamic political parties opposed to the US military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"With elections expected later this year, the situation will become even more challenging for President Musharraf and for the US," Negroponte said.

Pakistan has always contended that Osama Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman Al Zawahri could be either side of the rugged, porous border with Afghanistan.

Many security analysts suspect that Bin Laden is likely to be hiding in Pakistan's tribal regions or neighbouring districts of North West Frontier Province.

There has also been speculation that he may have died, though intelligence agencies say they have not picked up any supporting evidence.

A half-dozen audio tapes of bin Laden were circulated in the first half of 2006, but the Al Qaida leader last appeared in video tape in late 2004. Subsequent tapes released were identified as old footage.

Al Zawahri, meantime, has had several tapes released. On January 5, an audio-tape was posted on the Web by Al Qaida's media arm Al Sahab, exhorting Somalian Islamists to attack Ethiopia. The authenticity of the tape could not be verified, but correspondents familiar with Zawahri's voice said it was his.

In January last year CIA-operated drone aircraft carried out a missile strike on Pakistan's Bajaur tribal region based on information that Al Zawahri might be there.

The strike on Damadola village did not kill Zawahri, though it possibly eliminated a handful of Al Qaida militants. It killed 18 villagers.

Last October, around 80 men, some of them young boys, were killed in a missile attack on a madrasa in Bajaur, though this time the Pakistan military said it carried out the operation.
I'm sure the intellegence community has a good idea of the senior Al Quaida where abouts but it first has to find all exits and prevent them from getting away. Until it's fool proof it is only a speculation.

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