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Osama prefers death to disguise

Singapore, March 3 (Reuters): Bearded and of towering stature, the world’s most wanted man is unlikely to stoop to radical disguise to escape capture by the agents who netted his operations chief, say some who have met Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden may have to shift hiding places, but would prefer to die a martyr rather than face arrest or shave his trademark luxuriant beard grown in keeping with Islamic practice, Pakistani Afghan expert Rahimullah Yusufzai said.

Bin Laden must be nervous after the weekend arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks, captured when Pakistani security agents with Kalashnikovs burst into the house in a middle-class area of the teeming central Pakistani city of Rawalpindi where he was sleeping.

“The arrest of Mohammed is definitely going to give us a better fix on Osama bin Laden,” said Uday Bhaskar, deputy director of the Institute of Defence Studies in New Delhi.

“Whether, first of all, he is alive or not; if alive, is he hurt, does he pose the threat or danger that is perceived'” Bin Laden is not the only person who will be worried by Mohammed’s arrest. For Pakistan, it may be a mixed blessing.

“The Pakistan authorities will now be very concerned that the leaders (of al Qaida) are spread out over the country,” said Yusufzai. “The fact that the top three al Qaeda to be arrested were all found in urban areas of Pakistan means there will be more pressure on Pakistan to find others.”

Yusufzai, among the few journalists to interview bin Laden, places the elusive leader of the al Qaida network and the man blamed as the inspiration for the attacks of September 11, 2001, on New York and Washington, somewhere in Pakistan’s heartland. President Pervez Musharraf dismisses such suggestions, saying bin Laden is in Afghanistan and would have been tracked down or turned in for the $25 million reward on his head if in Pakistan. “I am not at all sure that he is in Afghanistan,” said Amin Saikal, head of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies in Australia.

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