No Sign Of Al Qaeda No. 2 Man

Ayman al-Zawahri Zawahri pakistan afghanistan crosshairs
CBS/AP
Officials are backing off previous claims that al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, was encircled by Pakistani troops in a remote mountainous region near the border with Afghanistan.

Officials said Pakistani forces had discovered a mile-long tunnel leading from a besieged mud fortress, and suggested that the tunnel may have allowed top al Qaeda suspects to escape toward the Afghan frontier.

But the Washington Post reported that the man in charge of the operation, Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussein, believes that no major al Qaeda figure was in the group that Pakistani troops surrounded. The fresh assessment was based on interrogations of fighters who were caught trying to flee the area, the newspaper said.

Separately, the New York Times reported that Pakistani troops were battling Uzbek fighters who belonged to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a Qaeda-affiliated group that favors guerrilla fighting over terrorism.

According to the newspaper, Afghan officials have been saying for a year that Uzbek fighters were operating in the area.

Last week, three senior Pakistani officials told The Associated Press that they believe al-Zawahri may have been at the site. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Thursday that a "high-value" target was likely involved.

The Pakistani military has clamped a 20-square-mile cordon around Kaloosha and several other tribal towns in South Waziristan, and say they are confident nobody has escaped the area.

But the cordon did not exist at the disastrous start of the operation March 16, when Pakistani forces who thought they were going to arrest local tribesmen were surprised by a ferocious barrage from within the compound walls. Fifteen soldiers and 26 militants died in the initial assault; the military sent in thousands of reinforcements over the following two days.

Pakistan's military said it was conducting DNA tests to identify six suspected foreign terrorists killed in the fighting, but would not elaborate on whether they included any important terror figure.

Five bodies of what appeared to be 25- to 30-year-old men were displayed to journalists late Sunday at a military mortuary in Rawalpindi, a city near the capital Islamabad. Al-Zawahri, an Egyptian surgeon, is 52 years old.
clothes.

Military officials said they were all foreigners, but it was impossible for journalists to determine their nationalities. They said the sixth body had decomposed and that it would have been inhumane to show it.

"At this moment, whatever information we have about the tests we would not like to give out until we are 200 percent sure who they are," army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan told a press conference.

Forces first found a tunnel connecting the heavily fortified compounds of two tribal elders — Nek Mohammed and Sharif Khan — who have been leading supporters of some 500-600 foreign terrorists, said Brig. Mahmood Shah, chief of security for the tribal areas.

From that passage, they found the mile-long tunnel running under the town of Kaloosha, about nine miles from the Afghan border, to a dry stream bed on the edge of the craggy, treacherous mountains that straddle the frontier.

"There is a possibility that the tunnel may have been used at the start of the operation," Shah told journalists in Peshawar, the provincial capital.

Three senior officials have told The Associated Press that they believe al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri may have been at the site, though the government has repeatedly said it does not know who is inside. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Thursday that a "high-value" target was likely involved.

The tunnel, which undoubtedly took months to construct, was another indication an important fugitive was in the area at some point. South Waziristan is considered the most likely hideout for al-Zawahri and his boss, terror chief Osama bin Laden.

The Pakistani military has clamped a 20-square-mile cordon around Kaloosha and several other tribal towns in South Waziristan, and say they are confident nobody has escaped the area.

But the cordon did not exist at the disastrous start of the operation Mar. 16, when Pakistani forces who thought they were going to arrest local tribesmen were surprised by a ferocious barrage from within the compound walls. Fifteen soldiers and 26 militants died in the initial assault; the military sent in thousands of reinforcements over the following two days.

Pakistan's military said it was conducting DNA tests to identify six suspected foreign terrorists killed in the fighting, but would not elaborate on whether they included any important terror figure.

Five bodies of what appeared to be 25- to 30-year-old men were displayed to journalists late Sunday at a military mortuary in Rawalpindi, a city near the capital Islamabad. Al-Zawahri, an Egyptian surgeon, is 52 years old.

The bodies were laid out on stretchers and in open coffins in bloodied clothes.

Military officials said they were all foreigners, but it was impossible for journalists to determine their nationalities. They said the sixth body had decomposed and that it would have been inhumane to show it.

"At this moment, whatever information we have about the tests we would not like to give out until we are 200 percent sure who they are," army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan told a press conference.