U.S. and Pakistan troops continue joint effort in hunting for Osama bin Laden, other Al-Qaida

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – Pakistani and American forces intensified the search for Osama bin Laden along a southwestern stretch of the border with Afghanistan and carried out raids this week based on information from a newly captured al-Qaida deputy, Pakistani intelligence and military officials said yesterday.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, thought to be the No. 3 figure in the terror network, told interrogators he met bin Laden just weeks ago in a rendezvous set up through a network of phone calls and intermediaries, an intelligence official said.

At least two raids have been carried out in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan region based on information from Mohammed since his capture last weekend, another Pakistani intelligence official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. There were no major arrests from the raids, the official said.

Telephone numbers taken from Mohammed’s mobile phone are being tracked. The phone contained numbers inside and outside Pakistan, said a government official.

“The people he contacted in Pakistan have naturally been put under surveillance and we suspect the American agencies are doing the same,” the official said.

Since Mohammed’s arrest, joint Pakistani and U.S. forces have both been searching for bin Laden and his son, Saad, along the 350-mile stretch of border from the Baluchistan town of Chaman to the Iranian border, a Pakistan military source said.

Villagers contacted in Dal Bandin, 170 miles south of the Baluchistan capital of Quetta, said two military aircraft landed at their small airstrip and American forces got off. There was no confirmation from the U.S. or Pakistani military.

The activity apparently generated rumors that bin Laden had been captured, but officials in Washington and in Pakistan said it was not true.

Since the weekend, residents in Chaman said U.S. aircraft swarmed overhead, dropping Pashtu-language leaflets on both sides of the border reminding them of the $25 million reward for bin Laden.

U.S. special forces and Pakistani soldiers are also farther north along the border, trying to flush out Taliban and al-Qaida fugitives in South Waziristan, in the North West Frontier province.

Mohammed’s meeting with bin Laden took place somewhere in Baluchistan or farther north along the border, a Pakistani intelligence official told The Associated Press.

The official was one of a team of Pakistani and CIA agents who interrogated Mohammed for hours after he was nabbed in a pre-dawn raid in Rawalpindi on Saturday.

The intelligence official quoted Mohammed as saying of bin Laden, “The sheik is a hero of Islam and I am his tiny servant. Life, family, money, everything can be sacrificed for the sheik.” The official did not reveal what Mohammed and bin Laden discussed.

Mohammed told his interrogators he didn’t know bin Laden’s exact whereabouts, but that he was in the remote border region.

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