Bin Laden dead, says Musharraf

The hunt
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Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said there was a strong possibility that Osama bin Laden had been killed in American bombing of the Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountains.

In an interview broadcast on Chinese state television yesterday, General Musharraf said he was "reasonably sure" that bin Laden has not escaped from Afghanistan into Pakistan and that there was "great possibility" that the al-Qa'ida leader was already dead.

The Pakistani President, who is on a visit to China, said his forces were maintaining a close watch on its border with Afghanistan and that if bin Laden was found he would be handed over to the Americans.

"He's not in Pakistan, of that we are reasonably sure. But we can't be 100 per cent sure. We have sealed the borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan," Musharraf said. "Maybe he is dead because of all the operations that have been conducted, the bombardment of the all the caves," General Musharraf said. "There is a great possibility that he may have lost his life there."

American forces' intense bombardment of the Tora Bora area over the last month devastated the last Afghan stronghold of bin Laden's al-Qa'ida terrorist network. Hundreds of al-Qa'ida fighters were reported to have fled towards the nearby Pakistan border and some were arrested by Pakistani security forces. There has been no sign of bin Laden, and interrogated prisoners have claimed they last saw bin Laden days before the end of the bombardment of Tora Bora.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said that a potential treasure trove of intelligence information had been left behind by al-Qa'ida in Tora Bora.

He said US troops had begun searching the cave network in the mountains and that more US and allied forces would be sent to hunt for guerrillas and intelligence over the next few days.

General Musharraf earlier criticised India as high-handed after New Delhi called home its ambassador from Pakistan amid a worsening row over terror attacks. India announced the sanctions on Friday after blaming Pakistan for 13 December suicide attack.

Pakistan has denied responsibility and condemned the New Delhi attack.

Musharraf didn't comment on a call Friday by US President George W Bush for Pakistan to clamp down on one of two Islamic militant organisations accused by India of carrying out the attack.

However, he said Islam was a peaceful religion and that Muslims "don't believe in any violence".