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Bin Laden's hideout in wilds of Pakistan

Authorities have pinpointed a 20-square-mile zone, but many obstacles to bringing in Al Qaeda chief remain.

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The dirt road that connects Pakistan's remote town of Wana with Afghanistan is lined with walled compounds. They form the outermost ramparts for Osama bin Laden's hideaway of forests, mountains, and ravines, local residents and officials say.

The compounds are believed to be part of the concentric circles of defense that insulate senior Al Qaeda leaders, giving them plenty of early warning in the event of a ground assault here.

Although US officials say they have set their sights on a 20-square-mile section within this northwestern region of South Waziristan, they face a number of obstacles to going after America's Enemy No. 1.

The terrain here is as treacherous politically as geographically. Government control is tenuous in this fiercely conservative district of Pakistan's tribal belt, where tribesmen share the Taliban's Pashtun ethnicity.

Local residents and officials recently gave a reporter a tour of the zone near Wana, the district capital, which they described as "infested" with Al Qaeda members.

Authorities in Wana say eight people have been gunned down in the tiny hamlet of Angoor-ada on suspicion of being US informants, leaving local residents terrified to cooperate. They believe the heavily armed tribesmen hosting the Al Qaeda leadership are too loyal, too well-paid, or too terrified to give information on the Saudi fugitive they are believed to be hiding.

A video of bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, aired by the Arab TV network Al Jazeera on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary unfolded in a mountainous landscape. It showed the two men picking their way down a rocky slope, past thick pine and cedar trees, dressed in the style of Pashtun tribesmen. It was not clear, however, when the video was filmed, though an audio track released with the silent video refers to recent terror attacks in Iraq.

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