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Report: Bin Laden sought new hiding place Tuesday

Within minutes of the attacks, Osama bin Laden moved without saying where he was going or where he had been.

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 2001

Within minutes of the attacks, Osama bin Laden moved without saying where he was going or where he had been.

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Osama bin Laden moved to a new hiding place within minutes of the terrorist attacks in the United States, refusing to tell anyone where he was going or where he had been when the attacks occurred, the Associated Press reported Thursday, citing officials in Pakistan's intelligence service.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity. Pakistan is one of only three countries that recognize Afghanistan's Taleban government and is considered to have good intelligence on Islamic militants operating there. A U.S. official, also speaking anonymously, confirmed the Pakistani report.

Bin Laden, a major suspect in Tuesday's attacks, dropped out of sight in August 1998 when the United States fired cruise missiles into eastern Afghanistan after the terrorist bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

In a statement carried on Taleban radio, Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar accused U.S. investigators of focusing on bin Laden, a wealthy exiled Saudi, "without any proof but because he is so well known."

"Does Osama have planes to train pilots? Where did they get their training? Who trained them? Are they former pilots? From which country? This is the job of a government. In Afghanistan this kind of training is not possible," Omar said.

Bin Laden was last seen in public in February, at his son's wedding in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

Kandahar is the Taleban militia's headquarters. Witnesses say that near Kandahar's airport is a sprawling housing compound accommodating 300 so-called "Afghan Arabs" -- foreign volunteers who came to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet army in the 1980s and ended up in bin Laden's Al-Qaida (The Base) group.

Bin Laden is known to travel in small convoys, often in a plain white jeep accompanied by his closest bodyguards and only Arab nationals like himself. Taleban commanders who know bin Laden say he rarely stays in one place for more than two days.

In his travels, Bin Laden is usually accompanied by Ayman Al-Zawari, who was convicted in absentia and sentenced to death for the 1981 assassination of Egypt's President Anwar Sadat.

Bin Laden is known to run training camps in eastern Afghanistan's Paktia, Kunar, Nangarhar and Kandahar provinces, where mountain caves offer limitless hide-outs.

The Taleban leaders condemned Tuesday's attacks, and many Afghan citizens are expressing outrage.

The Taleban foreign minister, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, said bin Laden has been denied communications equipment and does not have the facilities to carry out such an assault.

However, the Foreign Ministry was quick to deny rumors that bin Laden was under house arrest, and Muttawakil refused to say where he is.

When asked during an interview at a hotel in Kabul three hours after the terrorist attacks, he would only say: "Well, he's not in this hotel."

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