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Taliban detainee claims his contact met Osama in Afghanistan

December 04, 2009 14:40 IST

A Taliban detainee in Pakistan has claimed that one of his contacts met Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan earlier this year. "In 2009, in January or February I met this friend of mine. He said he had come from meeting sheikh Osama, and he could arrange for me to meet him," the detainee said.

"The sheikh (bin Laden) doesn't stay at any one place. That guy (the contact) came from Ghazni, so I think that's
where the sheikh was," the detainee told BBC. He said his contact met bin Laden 15 to 20 days prior to their meeting.

The detainee, who was not named for legal reasons, said his contact is a Mehsud tribesman responsible for getting Al Qaeda operatives based abroad to meetings with bin Laden. The contact helps "Al Qaeda people coming from other countries to get to the sheikh, so he can advise them on whatever they are planning for Europe or other places," the detainee said.

He also claimed to have met bin Laden numerous times before the 9/11 terror attacks. The province of Ghazni in eastern Afghanistan has a strong Taliban presence. Large parts of it are "no-go" areas for foreign and Afghan forces. But the detainee said militants were avoiding Pakistani territory because of the risk of US drone attacks. "Pakistan at this time is not convenient for us to stay in because a lot of our senior people are being martyred in drone attacks," he said.

The detainee's claims about the whereabouts of the world's most wanted terrorist cannot be verified, BBC reported. However, former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel said his story is plausible and should be investigated. "The entire Western intelligence community, CIA and MI6, have been looking for Osama bin Laden for the last seven years and haven't come upon a source of information like this," Riedel said.

"So if it's true – a big if – this is an extraordinary and important story. We know Osama bin Laden is alive. We know that he is living somewhere in the badlands along the border with Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said. "What is extraordinary about this story is we have someone who has come forward and said, really for the first time, 'I met with Osama bin Laden and I had the opportunity to met him again in the recent past'," Reidel said.

A Pakistani security official said the detainee has close ties with Taliban leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan and was involved in kidnapping and fundraising operations. BBC was given access to the detainee twice in November in the presence of a Pakistani interrogator. Amidst pressure from Western powers to do more to trace bin Laden and to take action against Al Qaeda elements, Pakistan has maintained that the terrorist leader is not on its soil.

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