TEHRAN, Iran – Pentagon and Pakistani officials on Saturday denied an Iranian state radio report that Usama bin Laden (search) was captured in Pakistan's border region with Afghanistan "a long time ago."
The claim came as Pakistan's army hunted terror suspects in a remote tribal region along the border, believed to be a possible hiding place for the Al Qaeda's (search) leader.
The director of Iran radio's Pashtun language service, Asheq Hossein, said the report was based on two sources — one of whom later told The Associated Press he was misquoted.
The report said bin Laden had been in custody for a period of time, but that President Bush was withholding any announcement until closer to November elections.
"Usama bin Laden has been arrested a long time ago, but Bush is intending to use it for propaganda maneuvering in the presidential election," the radio report said.
Pakistani officials have denied knowing bin Laden's exact whereabouts, although there have been reports that military forces believe they know his general location and had him encircled.
The state radio report, quoting an unidentified source, said U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's (search) visit to the region this week was in connection with bin Laden's arrest.
Larry Di Rita, the chief Pentagon spokesman who traveled with Rumsfeld this week to Afghanistan, denied the report. "I don't have any reason to think it's true," he said Saturday.
Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, also said he had no information to suggest bin Laden had been caught.
"Things are going well, and we believe we will eventually catch all the leaders of Al Qaeda, but I know nothing of that report," he said.
Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed called the report "baseless." "We have neither arrested Usama nor we have any information about him," he told AP.
Pakistani Army spokesman Gen. Shaukat Sultan also said the report was not true. "That information is wrong," he said.
Speaking to AP in Tehran, the radio director identified one of the sources for the report as Shamim Shahed, whom was identified as editor of the English-language Pakistani newspaper The Nation. Hossein said Shahed told him Friday night that bin Laden was arrested "a long time ago."
But Shahed, who is The Nation's Peshawar bureau chief and not its editor, denied telling Iranian radio that bin Laden had been captured.
"I never said this," Shahed said in a telephone interview with AP's Islamabad bureau. "But I have for the last year been saying that he is not far away. He is within their (the Americans') reach, and they can declare him arrested any time."
"I have been misquoted. On this matter, we never talked, the last two months. I'm angry, because they've misquoted me," Shahed said in a separate interview with AP Radio.
Hossein said he had a second source for the report but declined to identify him other than as "a man with close links to intelligence services and Afghan tribal leaders."
The report was carried by Iran radio's external Pashtun service, which is designed for listeners in Afghanistan and Pakistan where the language is widely spoken.
Iran state radio's main news channel — the Farsi-language service for Iranian listeners — did not carry the bin Laden report, nor did Iran state television.
The Iranian news agency IRNA was first to report the capture of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. IRNA also carried the state radio report about bin Laden's capture and said it had contacted a radio announcer at the Pashtun service who confirmed the news.