Karachi, March 6 (Reuters): Documents seized in the arrest of alleged September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed suggest Osama bin Laden is alive and that they were in recent contact, a senior Pakistani security official said today.
The documents, found at a house in Rawalpindi where authorities say Mohammed was arrested on Saturday, provided an important insight into bin Laden’s al Qaida network, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“(The documents)... indicate Mohammed may have been in contact with Osama bin Laden recently,” the official said.
He did not give any details on what the documents contained that suggested bin Laden was still alive, but said there were other indications the al Qaida leader had survived a massive US bombing campaign against al Qaida and Taliban forces in Afghanistan in late 2001.
He said one of these was an audio tape purportedly from bin Laden that had been aired recently by the Qatar-based, Arabic-language al Jazeera television station. US officials said earlier this week they believed bin Laden was hiding in the rugged border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The US hailed the arrest of Mohammed as the biggest catch in US President George W. Bush's war on terror.
U.S. HOLDING MOHAMMED
Pakistan said this week it had handed Mohammed over to U.S. custody and that he was probably in neighbouring Afghanistan, where Washington has had a military presence since helping to oust the hardline Islamic Taliban government in late 2001.
Kuwaiti-born Mohammed was arrested at the house of a family associated with Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan's largest Islamic party.
Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told a news conference officials had seized weapons, computer discs and papers during the raid that netted Mohammed but said there had been no confirmation he had met bin Laden recently.
Ahmed said, however:“Nowadays to have a meeting, you do not need to be present personally. This meeting can take place via computer, and there are many ways of meeting.”
The senior security official said Pakistani security forces had intensified operations in the southwestern province of Baluchistan since Mohammed's arrest after reports of an al Qaeda presence, but did not elaborate.
Several Taliban and al Qaeda militants have been arrested in the region in the past.
The official denied reports that letters from bin Laden had been found in Mohammed's possession.
But he did say a letter had been obtained some time ago that was thought to have been written by bin Laden. He declined to say where it was seized or what it contained.
Rashid Qureshi, spokesman of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, said he had no information that any letter from bin Laden had been recovered from Mohammed.
”I asked my own people about this and they said they don't know about this. I am telling you that neither the Americans nor our people would reveal these details,” he said.
”They say they cannot reveal details of the interrogations until they are completed, otherwise it would harm the case.”