Friday, November 8, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Laden paid $ 15 m to buy freedom
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 7
Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden is learnt to have coughed up a whopping amount of $ 15 million (nearly Rs 75 crore) to buy freedom from his entrapment in Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan late last year.

The money could have been paid to Afghan warlords, known for being hardcore mercenaries, and was enough to facilitate his safe and clandestine escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

According to information available with the Atal Behari Vajpayee government here, Laden’s perceived deputy and an Egyptian medico Ayman Al Zawahri was also part of the select group which safely traversed the distance from Tora Bora mountains to an unknown destination in Pakistan in a few days.

Zawahri has been in close proximity of Laden for medical as well as operational reasons. Bin Laden is known to be suffering from a kidney ailment. Besides, Zawahri has consolidated his position as the Al Qaida’s number two, even though Laden’s eldest son, Saad, is believed to be taking keen interest in the outfit’s operations.

According to these reports, Amin al-Haq, a senior Al-Qaida leader, was also the part of Laden’s group that escaped into Pakistan from Tora Bora mountains which were under seige by the US-led forces for weeks. Al-Haq reportedly returned to Afghanistan later.

Laden is believed to be in an execution phase of launching a terrorist attack bigger than September 11 and the target countries could be the USA, Britain, Australia and Germany.

Mr George Tenet, Director of the CIA had recently told the Congress that the Al-Qaida was in an “execution phase” of operations.

It is understood that the CIA has revised its assessment about Laden’s life and the agency now believes that the most wanted man on earth is alive and about to kick. The CIA is learnt to have changed its assessment about Laden’s fate after analysing a handwritten letter, purportedly written by the Al-Qaida chief to his supporters. The CIA analysts reportedly concluded that the handwriting and words were those of Laden’s.

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