09 Sep 2007

Where is Osama?

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James Gordon Meeks explains that he has probably not been moving around very much, and that his hideout is not a cave.

Osama Bin Laden isn’t hiding in caves. He’s almost certainly living in a cozy compound in Pakistan guarded by a few loyal fanatics, a dozen terror experts and intel officials told the Daily News.

The group of veteran Bin Laden hunters say the cave-dwelling myth is one of many tall tales about the Al Qaeda kingpin, including reports that the renegade Saudi is dying of kidney disease.

Six years after the 9/11 attacks, many Americans don’t understand why he’s so hard to find and kill. Frustrated agents say he skulks across some of the most hostile terrain in the world and that Pakistan refuses to let U.S. troops chase him there.

The futility of efforts to permanently silence Bin Laden was brought home Friday when he released his first video message since 2004, a 26-minute, anti-U.S. diatribe.

In the jagged peaks of the Afghan-Pakistani border, a good Bin Laden hideout typically would be a simple adobe house surrounded by a high mud-brick wall – perfect for defending a monster.

“He’s probably not living in a cave,” said Robert Grenier, the ex-CIA Pakistan station chief who helped topple the Taliban after 9/11 and chased Bin Laden afterward.

“He’s probably living in a fairly comfortable, though Spartan, compound somewhere in northern Pakistan,” Grenier said.

All of those interviewed by The News – including several top intelligence officials with the highest security clearances – agreed. …

..since he escaped his Tora Bora mountain lair in late 2001, experts say Bin Laden likely has stayed put in a new hideout with a tiny band of die-hard bodyguards, not an army of them.

“He’s probably not moving a lot – if ever,” Grenier said.

“If and when he moves,” a senior U.S. intelligence official told The News, “it’s with a handful of people to keep the footprint small and not attract attention.” …

here also is a consensus that he’s protected by Pakistani tribesmen or government agents in tribal areas and communicates by courier, using “cutouts” who don’t read the message or know its author. Years ago, Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri “handed out cash to tribal elders” to protect Bin Laden’s thugs, said Robert Pelton, who wrote about the hunt for the pair in the 2006 book “Licensed to Kill.”

Recent fighting in Afghanistan with foreign fighters pushed out of Pakistan suggests Al Qaeda has run out of payoff money, he said.

One of Bin Laden’s likely protectors is famed mujahedeen Jalaluddin Haqqani, a Pashtun ally and Taliban military genius. Haqqani maintains the outer ring of his security while loyal Arabs make up the inner ring, a counterterror agent in Afghanistan told The News.

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Hat tip to Stephen Frankel.

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