As US airstrikes pound Tora Bora, a top Al Qaeda aide says the leader has fled.
TORA BORA, AFGHANISTAN
Osama bin Laden escaped the embattled Tora Bora base to Pakistan 10 days ago with the help of tribesmen from the Ghilzi tribe, according to a firsthand account yesterday by a senior Al Qaeda operative and Saudi financier.
Abu Jaffar, who spoke from an Afghan village still sympathetic to Mr. bin Laden and his fighters, says that several days later, bin Laden sent his 19-year-old, married son Salah Uddin back to act on his behalf. He is now the only bin Laden family member inside the Tora Bora terror base.
"Osama bin Laden traveled out of Tora Bora two times in this Ramadan holy month. He left to meet Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar about three weeks ago and stayed with him near Kandahar," Mr. Jaffar says. "He left again just over a week ago and was headed to Pakistan, where he was helped across the border by Pashtun tribesmen."
This account of bin Laden's movements is the first detailed evidence that the Saudi national has escaped the nightly inferno of US bombing raids on Tora Bora.
The account also matched earlier accounts of bin Laden's movements from his arrival in the White Mountains two days before the departure of the Taliban from Jalalabad and his lengthy dealings with sympathizers in the Pakistani town of Parachinar.
American and Afghan officials, who have been insisting that bin Laden is in Eastern Afghanistan, have sounded less certain in recent days about their own accounts of the movements of the world's most wanted man.
The interview with the Saudi financier and religious scholar, Mr. Jaffar, was conducted through an Arabic-speaking reporter and interpreter in a remote village at the base of Tora Bora.
Jaffar had stayed in the village for one night, after his foot was blown off by a stray cluster bomb. He had stepped on the bomb after exiting his family's cave amid heavy bombing to look for injured persons. He was traveling yesterday with his Egyptian wife, a daughter, and a 13-year-old Yemeni orphan boy. The four, who had been brought four hours on foot from inside the embattled Al Qaeda base, intended to leave clandestinely in the morning for Pakistan.