ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A top provincial police official said Friday that seven Al Qaeda members were killed and eight wounded, including two sons of Usama bin Laden, in an operation in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. U.S. counterterrorism officials disputed the claim that bin Laden's sons had been captured.
Sanaullah Zehri, who as home minister of Baluchistan province is the area's top security official, said the raid was carried out by "allied forces" including U.S. forces near Rabat, an area of Afghanistan where the borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan converge.
He told AP in a second interview that the wounded Al Qaeda men had been taken to the hospital in Rabat.
"This is what my information is. This is what I have been told, but our soldiers were not involved. There were no Pakistanis involved. I am getting my information from my sources and this is what I have heard," Zehri said in Quetta, the Baluchistan provincial capital. He would not say how he got the information or whether he had been able to verify it himself.
Nafaas Khan, deputy inspector of police in Afghanistan's Nimroz province where Rabat is located, said U.S. helicopters were seen over the town earlier Friday. He said he had no information about bin Laden's sons.
U.S. counterterrorism officials in Washington strongly disputed the claim. They said they had no information that would suggest any of the sons had been detained.
"We, in fact, think it's wrong," a U.S. official said.
At the Pentagon, two senior officials said they could not confirm that sons of bin Laden had been arrested. They said they did not know if the report was correct, but that there was no indication of U.S. military involvement in such an operation.
Col. Roger King, a U.S. military spokesman at Bagram Air Base, could not confirm bin Laden's son's had been captured and said U.S. and other coalition forces were not involved in any operation in Rabat.
"As far as I know there is no involvement of any forces belonging to CJTF-180," King said. "As far as I know we don't have anybody operating in that vicinity (Rabat)." CJTF-180 is the military acronym for coalition joint forces in Afghanistan.
The British Broadcasting Corporation Web site quoted Zehri as saying he received his information from intelligence agencies, without specifying their country of origin.
The Afghan military commander in Rabat, Haji Eid Mohammad, denied the arrest.
"No. That is not correct," said Mohammad. "My people are patrolling with the Americans and for a long time there has been no large American military operation here."
Searches for bin Laden and other Al Qaeda operatives have intensified since the capture last weekend near Islamabad of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the No. 3 man in Al Qaeda and planner of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Pakistani intelligence and security officials say joint U.S. and Pakistani forces have been scouring Baluchistan province chasing down leads from Mohammed. There were also reports of search missions being conducted in northwestern Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan to flush out Al Qaeda.
However, Pakistan's Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed denied that joint operations are being carried out on Pakistani soil. Islamic political parties in Pakistan are stridently opposed to U.S. presence in Pakistan.
Pakistani journalists who tried to get to Rabat earlier Friday were stopped by Pakistani security officers at Noshgi, about 240 miles from Rabat. They were not allowed to move beyond that point.
Zehri had announced the capture of two of bin Laden's sons on the privately owned Geo television and to AP in an interview.
His claim was not confirmed by other Pakistani officials, including those in the interior ministry, information ministry, and frontier constabulary -- a paramilitary force along the border.
Afghanistan's Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammed Daoud said he was unaware of the arrests.
"We have no information on this," he said in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Saad, believed to be 23 years old and bin Laden's eldest son, is also on the American most-wanted list and has been said to be a rising star in the terror network.
The Al Qaeda leader is believed to have as many as 23 sons by several wives.
Zehri said the operation took place in the Rabat area in Afghanistan, in the extreme southwest of Afghanistan's Nimroz province. Zehri spoke from his home in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Baluchistan province.