LONDON – Usama bin Laden is alive and hiding in the Kunar province of Afghanistan, possibly under the protection of a warlord, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview published in London Thursday.
“It’s not a hunch,” Musharraf said in an interview with the Times of London.
Musharraf suggested a possible bin Laden link with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Afghan warlord who fought alongside the Al Qaeda founder against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Hekmatyar returned from exile to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban.
“Kunar province borders on Bajaur Agency" Musharraf said, adding that "We know there are some pockets of Al Qaeda in Bajaur Agency.
“In Kunar province it is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who is operating. There must be some linkages."
The claim came as Musharraf came under fire over a leaked British intelligence document that accuses Pakistan's intelligence agency of indirectly supporting terrorist groups including Al Qaeda.
The British Broadcasting Corp. quoted a leaked British intelligence document as saying that Pakistan was coming under "closer and closer" international scrutiny because of the intelligence agency's support for the country's hard-line opposition Islamic coalition Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, also called MMA.
Musharraf, who was scheduled to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair later Thursday, told the BBC that he rejected the assessment and would raise the matter with his counterpart.
"ISI is a disciplined force, breaking the back of Al Qaeda," Musharraf told the broadcaster, claiming his intelligence service had secured the arrests of 680 suspected terrorists.
The BBC declined to identify the author of the document but said the person was linked to MI6, the British secret intelligence service. The broadcaster's "Newsnight" television program said it had been passed a copy of the document, which it said was collated as part of a private British review of efforts across the world to combat terrorism.
The BBC quoted Britain's Ministry of Defense as saying the document was part of academic research and did not represent the views of either the ministry or Blair's government.
"To represent it as such is deeply irresponsible and the author is furious that his notes have been willfully misrepresented in this manner," said a defense ministry spokeswoman, on customary condition of anonymity.
"Indeed, he suspects that they have been released to the BBC precisely in the hope that they would cause damage to our relations with Pakistan."
Musharraf traveled to London after talks Wednesday in Washington with President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Musharraf said he and Karzai decided to increase cooperation in fighting terrorism, including developing better intelligence coordination and interaction.
"The meeting that I held with President Bush and Hamid Karzai last night was very good," Musharraf said in comments aired live on Pakistani TV. "It was decided that we should have a common strategy. We have to fight terrorism. We have to defeat it, defeat it jointly."
It was a stark departure from the recent criticisms he and Karzai have lobbed at one another in recent days. Karzai has accused Pakistan of not doing enough to curb Islamic schools that produce militants, while Musharraf said the Afghan leader was ignoring large sectors of his war-ravaged country's population.
The Associated Press and the Times of London contributed to this report.