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Laden, Al Zawahiri safe: Taliban

March 19, 2004 13:01 IST

A Taliban spokesman on Friday said that Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri are safe in Afghanistan.

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Speaking on a satellite phone from southern Afghanistan, Abdul Samad dismissed reports that Al Zawahiri had been surrounded by Pakistani troops somewhere in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan.

A senior Pakistani official has told AFP that the 'foreigner' seen fleeing a siege near the Afghan border in a bullet-proof landcruiser may not be Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

However, the level of resistance put up by several well-armed and trained militants indicated that he could be an important Al Qaeda functionary, possibly second-in-command Ayman Al Zawahiri.

"We cannot think of another Al Qaeda leader who could have such high protocol and such sophisticated tight defence," he said adding a contingent of 50 troops was 'virtually wiped out' with 15 dead, 22 injured and 13 missing.

The incident occurred in Kalushah village in south Waziristan, about 20km from the Afghan border.

Troops continued the assault on Friday morning but the official indicated that the 'foreigner' may have made good his escape.

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