Two men interviewed by Newsweek gave plausible accounts of having seen Usama bin Laden alive last winter, one as late as mid-February, the magazine reported.

The first source, described as a former Taliban official and professional guide, said bin Laden escaped Afghanistan on horseback last December under U.S. fire, Newsweek reported in its Aug. 19 issue.

The Al Qaeda leader fled the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, where U.S. forces were bombing, with 28 people through the rugged White Mountains, the former Taliban official told Newsweek. The entourage traveled into Pakistan and back to the Afghan mountain stronghold of Shahikot over five days in December, the magazine reported.

The official told the magazine he led bin Laden's group on the journey, sometimes through heavy snow. The guide, whom the magazine did not identify, called bin Laden an expert rider and said he rarely dismounted during the trip.

The second source, a Taliban soldier named Ali Mohammad, said he saw bin Laden accompanied by 15 bodyguards in mid-February in Shahikot, where Taliban troops were preparing for an American attack.

Bin Laden rallied the troops, the soldier said, urging them to keep their morale up and "take care of the injured and be confident that God will award you on Judgment Day."

U.S. officials have said they don't know whether bin Laden is dead or alive.