1,000 Arabs Hiding in Eastern Afghan Mountains
Around 1,000 Arabs are based in rugged mountains near eastern Afghanistan's Tora Bora cave complex where terror suspect Osama bin Laden has a hideout, a report said Wednesday.
The Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) quoted local police chief Hazrat Ali as saying the Arabs, supporters of bin Laden's al-Qaeda organisation, were hiding in the hills and forests of Melawa district near Pakistan.
"The Arab nationals are in the mountains and around 1,000 of them are hiding in Melawa," Ali told AIP.
Melawa lies about 10 kilometres (six miles) northwest of Tora Bora, a narrow, sparsely inhabited valley surrounded by high peaks which are honeycombed with caves.
The area lies some 40 to 50 kilometres (25 to 30 miles) south of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, a known stomping ground for Saudi-born bin Laden before he went underground after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
US and Afghan officials say bin Laden may have hundreds of fanatical fighters holed up in the caves, which were developed into a military-style bunker system during the 1979-89 Afghan guerrilla war against the Soviets.
Ali, the Jalalabad police chief, said a local militia force of around 2,000 soldiers was prepared to attack the Arabs in the area over the next 24 hours.
He said some of the local fighters had already moved into the Tora Bora area but had met no resistance.
He denied the presence of American troops in the province, although this has been confirmed by US officials and helicopters have been seen landing at Jalalabad in recent days.
US warplanes continued to bomb the area Wednesday, after unconfirmed reports that top al-Qaeda lieutenants had been killed or wounded by the relentless air raids.
Ali said Tuesday that 10 al-Qaeda officials had died in a raid on the village of Wouchnow, near the Tora Bora complex, but he gave no details.
Nangarhar military commander Haji Mohammad Zaman said, however, that 18 people had been killed in the attack, including bin Laden's financial manager Ali Mahmud.
Zaman said Ayman al-Zawahri, the number two man in al-Qaeda who is believed by some to be the real brains behind the network, was wounded and possibly killed by the US bombs.
The death of al-Zawahri, an Egyptian medical doctor, would be a major blow to the al-Qaeda network blamed for orchestrating the September 11 atrocities in New York and Washington.
None of the reports have been independently confirmed and there has been no official reaction from the Pentagon – Islamabad (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)