4 Dec 2009

Bin Laden seen earlier this year - claim

5:01 pm on 4 December 2009

A member of the Taliban currently being detained in Pakistan says the world's most wanted man, al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, is hiding in eastern Afghanistan.

The man, who claims to have met Bin Laden numerous times before 9/11, told the BBC that at the beginning of this year he saw a trusted contact who had met Bin Laden 15 to 20 days earlier across the border in Afghanistan.

"In 2009, in January or February I met this friend of mine," the Taliban detainee says. "He said he had come from meeting Sheikh Osama, and he could arrange for me to meet him."

According to the detainee, who cannot be named for legal reasons, his contact is a Mehsud tribesman responsible for getting al Qaeda operatives based abroad to meetings with Bin Laden.

"The sheikh doesn't stay in any one place. That guy came from Ghazni, so I think that's where the sheikh was."

The province of Ghazni in eastern Afghanistan has an increasingly strong Taliban presence. Large parts of the province are no-go areas for coalition and Afghan forces.

Call for 'extraordinary' story to be investigated

The detainee's claim cannot be verified but a leading American expert, former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel, says his story is plausible and should be investigated.

"The entire Western intelligence community, CIA and MI6, have been looking for Osama Bin Laden for the last seven years and haven't come upon a source of information like this," Mr Riedel says.

"So if it's true - a big if - this is an extraordinary and important story.

"We know Osama Bin Laden is alive. We know that he is living somewhere in the badlands along the border with Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"What is extraordinary about this story is we have someone who has come forward and said, really for the first time, 'I met with Osama Bin Laden and I had the opportunity to met him again in the recent past'."

He's not in Pakistan - prime minister

Earlier, Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said he did not believe Osama Bin Laden is in his country.

Speaking after talks in Britain, Mr Gilani said the United States had provided no "actionable" intelligence on the al Qaeda leader's whereabouts.