Osama Bin Laden was actually spotted in the flesh just a few days ago - according to counter terror sources with the DEBKAfile. Between October 17 and October 19, an Indian air force reconnaissance plane picked him up in the Tibet-Laddakh region close to the North-Eastern corner of Pakistan bordering India and China.
Additional surveillance aircraft were called in and identified the al Qaeda leader on the move with a 10-vehicle convoy of black Japanese minivans. Four of the vehicles turned up again on Friday, October 22 heading east towards the Chinese border. Debkafile sources maintain that the rumored sightings of bin Laden on the Lingzi Thang Plain on the Tibetan border in June may have been true then, but are now outdated. In any case, he was not at the time in Pakistani Waziristan or the Afghan-Pakistani border as was suspected.
The agents hunting the al Qaeda leader are working on the premise that he has decided to wait out the winter months in one of two regions: Hunza province in the Northern Frontier tip of Indian Kashmir or Little Pamir, where fanatical Tajik tribes have never allowed any Kabul government - whether Taliban or led by Karzai - to secure a foothold. Little Pamir is wedged between Tajikistan where Russian special forces taking part in the bin Laden dragnet are deployed and China.
Before launching the Sept.11 attacks, bin Laden and his deputy Ayman Zawahiri, prepared snug havens in the caverns that riddle the towering 5,000-8,000 mountain peaks.
In the 1970s, the Russians converted the Little Pamir cave warren into subterranean silos for nuclear missiles pointing towards China. But even the Russians found the cold and harsh conditions unendurable and by the mid-1980s the bases were abandoned.
Nothing on Osama bin Laden's new tape released Friday, October 29, 2004 gave away information on the his whereabouts. Even though it was dropped in Islamabad a few hours prior at the gate of Al Jazeera’s Pakistan bureau chief, Pakistan was quick to deny the fugitive was hiding in that country. “He cannot be in the tribal areas because of the presence of so many troops,” said interior minister Aftab Khan Sherpao. In Afghanistan, the US military suggested he was somewhere near the Afghan-Pakistani border.
All the intelligence agencies involved in the hunt for the elusive bin Laden - American, Indian, Pakistani and Russian – are reported by DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources to have narrowed down his hiding places fairly closely. They are convinced that, after he gave orders for the tape’s release, he headed out to his winter hideout in the Himalayas or Little Pamir and will stay there until the spring thaw.
This is not the first time al Qaeda interfered in a Western election. On March 11, 2004, al Qaeda operatives carried out a series of bombings on Madrid trains that left 200 dead shortly before the vote.
On Sunday, October 24, a senior FBI agent, briefed first in Pakistan, flew from Islamabad to New Delhi to meet Indian security bosses and examine the aerial shots of the bin Laden convoy.
Debkafile intelligence sources report that, after the American agent studied the data and questioned the Indian intelligence officers who saw the terrorist chief leave his minivan several times, he relayed Washington’s request for the Indian government to put its security forces in the North Western region on red alert and round up troops for combing operations in the region before the snowfall.
New Delhi complied the next day and also stepped up its vigilance on the Kagil-Leh Highway and along the Tibetan border.
But before bin Laden disappeared in his mountain fastness, he not only had the videotape posted to al Jazeera, but left with his men precise instructions defining the political circumstances and timing for the next al Qaeda terrorist attack in the United States.