In A Cave Or In The City, Where Is Osama Bin Laden?

Osama bin Laden could hide more easily in a city than a remote tribal region, a former Pakistani intelligence chief said on Tuesday, challenging the notion that the al Qaeda leader is probably holed up in a mountain cave.

Lieutenant-General Asad Durrani, former head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), said news of outsiders' presence travels fast in the tribal areas and it would be hard to keep it secret for years.

"In the countryside or in tribal areas ... it's difficult to hide yourself because there people live ... and operate in a manner in which finding out about unusual presence is very important," Durrani told Reuters in an interview in London.

He said it was true that tribal customs placed great value on showing hospitality and not betraying a guest. "In the tribal code, anyone who seeks your protection has to be defended, if necessary with your life."

However, he added: "I am not sure over a period of four, five or six years that it would be possible even for the tribesmen to keep his presence under wraps."

Such information would have traveled or been divulged, given the incentives, Durrani said in a reference to the $25 million US bounty on bin Laden's head.

"My conclusion therefore is it's extremely unlikely that he is around that place."

On the run

In the six years since the September 11 attacks on the United States and subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan, Western intelligence officials have frequently said they suspect he is hiding somewhere in the inaccessible mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

"This is a man on the run in a cave who is virtually impotent other than his ability to get these messages out," White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend said last month when bin Laden issued his first new video for nearly three years.

Durrani said an urban centre could provide a better refuge.

"Why not a big city? Anywhere in Pakistan, Afghanistan. Anywhere outside the region where it is easier to keep cover," he said. "These are the places where you can hide yourself much better."

Other top al Qaeda figures associated with the September 11 attacks have been captured in Pakistani cities -- alleged plotter Ramzi Binalshibh in Karachi in September 2002 and self-confessed plan mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Rawalpindi in March 2003.

Pakistan has seen an upsurge in violence since July, when militants scrapped a peace deal with authorities in the tribal region of North Waziristan and army commandos stormed a radical mosque in the capital, Islamabad. US intelligence officials fear al Qaeda is using the tribal areas as a safe haven in which to rebuild its strength.

Durrani said he was concerned that next week's expected court ruling on the whether President Pervez Musharraf is eligible for re-election and the return of exiled opposition leader Benazir Bhutto could provide a focus for further attacks.

"She (Bhutto) will have to take extraordinary security measures," he said.

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Wreckage Of Missing Plane Found In Central Washington

Ground searchers following the smell of fuel found the wreckage of a plane that crashed in the rugged central Washington Cascades, but neither the pilot nor nine skydivers aboard appeared to have survived.

Jim Hall, director of Yakima Valley Emergency Management, said all on board were believed dead, and that their families were notified.

Seven of the 10 on board "have been found deceased," Yakima County Sheriff Ken Irwin said in a statement, which also said recovery efforts had been suspended for the night but would resume Tuesday.

The aircraft was found about 7:40 p.m. PDT and searchers were able to verify by serial number that it was the missing aircraft, said Yakima Valley Emergency Management spokeswoman Tina Wilson.

The Cessna 208 Grand Caravan left Star, Idaho, near Boise, Sunday evening en route to Shelton, Wash., northwest of Olympia.

The plane was returning from a skydiving meet in Idaho when it crashed.

One man at a Red Cross center at White Pass said his 30-year-old son was aboard the plane. He displayed a family photo of the young man skydiving with a brother and sister.

"He worked hard and he played hard — we just want to find him," said the father, who did not give his name.

When members of the Tacoma Mountain Rescue Team came upon the wreckage they found that the tail section was separated from the rest of the plane, Wilson said. It has not been located.

The names of those aboard have not been released.

Based on radar transmissions and a hunter's report of seeing a plane flying low Sunday evening and then hearing a crash, the search was focused on a steep, densely forested area near White Pass, about 45 miles west of Yakima.

The search was centered in a relatively small area of 5-10 square miles along the north fork of the Tieton River.

Elaine Harvey, co-owner of the skydiving company Skydive Snohomish, told The Seattle Times that nine of the 10 aboard were either employees of her business or else licensed skydivers who considered Snohomish their "home drop zone."

Skydive Snohomish operates a training school and offers skydiving flights at Harvey Field in Snohomish County, about 20 miles north of Seattle.

Skydive Snohomish had nothing to do with the flight to Idaho or the event held there, Harvey said.

"These people were beloved friends," she told the Yakima Herald-Republic.

Harvey did not return telephone messages from The Associated Press seeking additional comment.

The plane was registered to Kapowsin Air Sports of Shelton, south of Seattle near Olympia.

Geoff Farrington, Kapowsin's co-owner, said the family-owned company had never before lost a plane. He also said the plane had never experienced mechanical problems.

The single-engine plane was built in 1994, according to FAA records.

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