ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan's interior minister said Tuesday that Usama bin Laden (search) could be hiding in southeastern Afghanistan, but he denied the Al Qaeda (search) chief was in Pakistan (search).
"It is my assessment that the writ of the government is not so strong in the southern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan," Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao told reporters. "Those are Taliban-dominated areas and there could a possibility of his presence."
The whereabouts of bin Laden, architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri (search) and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar (search), are unknown. But they are suspected of hiding along the rugged Afghan-Pakistani border.
The rugged and remote mountains of eastern Afghanistan is where an elite four-member U.S. commando team was operating when it went missing on June 28. A transport helicopter sent to rescue the team was shot down, killing all 16 Americans aboard. One of the U.S. troops was rescued, the bodies of two others were recovered and the fourth remains missing.
The former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad (search), told a news conference in Kabul last month he did not believe bin Laden or Omar were in Afghanistan, though he did not say where he thought they were.
On Monday, Sherpao told the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan news agency that Omar and al-Zawahiri may also be in southeastern Afghanistan. He said Tuesday: "We don't have any evidence that Usama is in Pakistan."
Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in the war against terrorism and its security forces have captured more than 700 Al Qaeda suspects including several top figures in the terror network.