debkafile Exclusive: Pakistani forces backed by US special units are closing in on al Qaeda’s No. 2 Ayman Zawahiri and possibly also Osama bin Lade

Our counter-terror sources report exclusively that a frantic effort by al Qaeda and Taliban to head off the pursuit set afoot the bloody battle in Islamabad’s Red Mosque, the attempts to shoot down President Pervez Musharraf’s plane and the suicide attacks on Pakistani military convoys, which cost 68 lives Saturday and Sunday, July 14-15.
Until the middle of last week, Zuwahiri sheltered with the local Pashtun tribes in Bannu, a town in the northwest Pakistan tribal federation of North Waziristan. The approach of Pakistani and US intelligence and special forces caused him to switch hiding places and move to Tank or Tang, a town 120 km south of Bannu.
On Saturday, two soldiers were injured by a bomb explosion in that town, having just missed their quarry.
Musharraf meanwhile decided last week to storm the Red Mosque on a tip-off from his own Inter-Service Intelligence that two of Zawahiri’s closest lieutenants, Majid Hassan al-Tawil and Mohammad Othman, were inside.
They were reported to be preparing a mega-attack in Islamabad and other important Pakistani towns to disrupt the combined Pakistani-US operation to capture their master.
At that point, Pakistani intelligence turned up a lead to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden himself.
The Pakistani army imposed a blackout on the identities of the victims of the Red Mosque battle, estimated at around 100 dead, and the detainees captured there. Even the names of the women and children claimed to have been held hostage were not disclosed. debkafile‘s sources report that Pakistan intelligence, which had hoped to capture the two al Qaeda operatives alive, has not found them. They are still trying to establish if they were among the dead or managed to escape.
An oblique reference to the operation came from the US president’s national security adviser Stephen Hadley Sunday night, July 15, when he spoke on ABC television about the US fully backing a Pakistani military crackdown on hotbeds of al Qaeda and Taliban activity. “It has not worked the way he wanted. It has not worked the way we wanted it,” he said.
According to our sources, the intense pursuit continues despite the setbacks which Hadley suggested.
The Pakistan military death toll climbed Sunday when pro-Taliban Islamists killed at least 31 in two attacks in North Waziristan. Two suicide bombers and a roadside device hit a 40-vehicle police-army convoy near the Afghan border killing 14 soldiers. In another incident, 17 police officers and new recruits died when a bomber detonated explosives at a police HQ in the town of Dera Ismail Khan.
debkafile‘s sources disclose that the US Senate’s decision to double the bounty for bin Laden’s capture, killing or information leading to his death or capture to $50 million, was recommended by President George W. Bush after he received an urgent message from Musharraf. The Pakistani president reported his people had picked up the trail of bin Laden’s trail in their pursuit of his deputy, but the tribal chiefs with knowledge of where the elusive al Qaeda leader was hiding were holding out for an exorbitant sum for their collaboration.
He said that Pakistani intelligence had also laid out a large sum for the information about Zawahiri’s two aides’ arrival in the Red Mosque.
His former sanctuary of Bannu is situated 150 km as the crow flies from the South Afghan town of Gardiz which is a hub of al Qaeda-Taliban activity. The connection between the two towns is a twisting road of 400 km through Parachinar in Pashtun tribal land. According to debkafile‘s counter-terror sources, al Qaeda and Taliban leaders do not travel from place to place by road or vehicle but on horseback by night piloted by local guides.

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