Published on Monday, September 6, 2004 by Agence France-Presse
Pakistan Says US Claim That bin Laden Near Capture is Politicking
PAKISTAN - Pakistan rejected as pre-election politicking a US official's weekend claim that Osama bin Laden was close to being captured.
"He can say this but we have no sound information. This is a political statement," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told AFP.
The US State Department official in charge of counter-terrorism affairs, Joseph Cofer Black, told local Geo television on Saturday that the forces pursuing the Al-Qaeda chief had got closer to him in the past two months.
"If he has a watch, he should be looking at it because the clock is ticking. He will be caught," Black, who headed a US delegation to Islamabad for bilateral anti-terrorism talks, said in the television interview.
"What I tell people, I would be surprised but not necessarily shocked if we wake up tomorrow and he's been caught along with all his lieutenants. That can happen because of the programs and infrastructure in place."
Rashid however said no new information had come to light despite a series of high-profile Al-Qaeda arrests which began in mid-July.
"I think there is no confirmed information about him. We have no knowledge. Maybe he (Black) has. We exchange our information but we have no new information," the minister said.
"There has been no change (in the information) since then."
Bin Laden is believed to be hiding somewhere along the mountainous 2,450 kilometer (1,500 mile) frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where conservative Pashtun tribes hostile to the United States are sympathetic to Islamic extremists.
He was last known to be in the Tora Bora mountains on the Afghan side of the border in December 2001, where US-led forces staged one of their final offensives in the campaign to topple the five-year Taliban regime.
US President George W. Bush has made the US-led toppling of the Taliban and the capture of several bin Laden close aides a key plank of his re-election campaign in the leadup to November presidential polls.
Pundits have predicted that the capture of bin Laden, who has eluded a massive military manhunt for almost three years, could propel Bush to victory.
Pakistan has arrested a series of Al-Qaeda suspects in a fresh crackdown in cities since mid-July.
The capture of Tanzanian US embassy bombing suspect Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani and Pakistani computer communications expert Naeem Noor Khan led to terror alerts in the US, the arrest of an active Al-Qaeda cell in Britain, and the discovery of fresh terror plots in Britain, Pakistan and the US.
© 2004 Agence France-Press