Islamabad, March 7 (Reuters): Two sons of Osama bin Laden were wounded and possibly arrested in an operation by US and Afghan troops in Afghanistan which killed at least nine suspected al Qaida members, a Pakistan official said today.
But the governor of Nimroz, the Afghan province where the action was reported to have taken place, swiftly denied there had been any arrests, clouding an already confused picture.
“The American forces are there in Ribat (a remote area bordering Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan) but I totally reject the report made by the Pakistan minister about the arrests of two of (bin Laden’s) sons,” governor Abdul Karim Barawi said.
Earlier, Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, home minister of the western province of Baluchistan had said: “We have information that two sons of Osama bin Laden were injured. The people killed belonged to al Qaida. We have heard that they (the sons) may have been arrested. But our information may not be 100 per cent true,” he said.
It was not immediately clear whether the operation was linked in any way with a hunt for al Qaida members which Pakistani military sources said was being carried out by Pakistani and some US forces on the Pakistani side of the border today.
The minister, who was speaking during a visit to Karachi, said he had no information that bin Laden had been in the Ribat area at the time of the raid.
A US official in Washington could not confirm the report of bin Laden’s sons’ capture. “We don’t have any information to substantiate that,” the official said.
Pakistani presidential spokesman Rashid Qureshi and information minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed both said they had no information. “I have no information what’s happening across the border,” the information minister said.
In Washington, President George W. Bush warned bin Laden and his top aides today that they had nowhere to hide.
“The President’s message to all al Qaida, whether it’s Osama bin Laden or any of his other lieutenants, is that there is no place to hide,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. “They will be caught whatever length of time it takes.”
Baluchistan residents said leaflets were dropped there yesterday offering rewards for the capture of bin Laden and other al Qaida leaders.
Officers of Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps said Pakistani forces had launched an operation yesterday, also involving a few Americans, in pursuit of al Qaida suspects in the Ribat region. But Pakistani and US officials rejected reports that a new operation was under way targeting bin Laden.
“I categorically say there is no operation going on in Pakistani territory anywhere,” Ahmed said. “There is no search. We know nothing about Osama. The international media is creating panic all over the country that we are going to catch him in two days or three days. This is totally wrong.”
Not in Pakistan
Earlier, President Pervez Musharraf said Osama bin Laden seemed to be alive but was unlikely to be in Pakistan, where suspected September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was arrested at the weekend.
The arrest raised hopes that interrogators could get leads on the location of the world’s mostwanted man.
Thousands of US troops have been deployed in Afghanistan for more than a year, concentrating their activities in the Pakistan border region in the hunt for bin Laden. “He wouldn’t be hiding alone or with one person, he seems to be alive,” the Pakistani President told CNN in an interview broadcast today.