The Washington Post reports that with U.S. forces closing in around bin Laden's refuge in the Tora Bora mountains in late 2001, a Moroccan bodyguard named Abdallah Tabarak took the terrorist mastermind's satellite phone and split off from his boss.
Bin Laden believed the U.S. was using the phone signal to trace him.
He was apparently right. Tabarak had the phone when he was captured, and bin Laden got away.
"He agreed to be captured or die. That's the level of his fanaticism for bin Laden," A Moroccan official told the Post. "It wasn't a lot of time, but it was enough. There is a saying: 'Where there is a frog, the serpent is not far away.'"
Even when he was captured, the newspaper states, U.S. officials still did not immediately realize Tabarak's significance, even though he was holding bin Laden's phone. His role became clear when U.S. and Moroccan authorities reviewed the phone records and talked to other captives.
Tabarak is now in custody at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where officials say he has become a leader of the al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners. The men maintain fasts on his orders in an effort to maintain command structure and resist cooperating with their captors.
The Post reports the charismatic Tabarak has earned the prisoners' respect because he was close to bin Laden and the well-known story of how he engineered bin Laden's escape.
The U.S. military has come under fire for failing to capture bin Laden when he was apparently pinned down in the mountains of Tora Bora, weeks after the Taliban regime fell, pounded by B-52 bombers and surrounded by U.S. troops and their Afghan allies.
American intelligence intercepted a radio message the sounded like Osama bin Laden on Dec. 10, 2001, in the Tora Bora area. Some have said U.S. war planners waited too long to put enough troops into action to contain bin Laden there.
Bin Laden's current whereabouts are unknown. Some intelligence officials believe he may have been killed, but his voice was identified on a tape recording released in November. If he is alive, many believe he is hiding somewhere in the lawless area of Pakistan near the Afghan border.
The al Qaeda leader is the FBI's most wanted criminal. A total of $27 million in reward money has been offered for his capture for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
Whether alive or dead, bin Laden's terror network continues to be active.
It is suspected of a role in the December attack on American missionaries in Yemen, the deadly November bombing of a hotel in Kenya, the October bomb blast at a Bali nightclub that killed 180 people, and an attack on a French tanker off Yemen.
U.S. intelligence officials have identified approximately 15 cargo freighters worldwide that have links to bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network, some of which are believed to be bringing in profits for the group.
The United Nations reports the terror group has re-opened terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. Both Canada and Israel have, in recent months, voiced concern that elements of al Qaeda may be operating in their territory.