CIA 'close' to nabbing bin Laden?

Leon Panetta, Director of CIA. Photo Courtesy: AFP.
Leon Panetta, Director of CIA.

The CIA says it believes that al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden is alive and still hiding in Pakistan and the US spy agency hopes to close on to him as Taliban and other militant groups shielding him crack under pressure of Pakistan army offensive.

US intelligence chief Leon Panetta said the information his agency had, indicated Laden was in Pakistan and finding him remains one of CIA's top priorities.

For the hunt for Laden, labelled world's most wanted man, Panetta, who was talking to reporters after a speech in the Congress, said CIA had increased the number of officers, agents and local informants to provide information in Pakistan.

"We have number of people and assets on the ground in Pakistan who are providing us information that we need to go after bin Laden," the CIA director said.

Bin Laden has eluded a US manhunt since the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, but appears on issued audio and videotapes over the years demonstrating he is still alive.

"Our hopes is that the Pakistanis move in militarily, combined with our operations, we may be able to have a better chance to get him," Panetta said.

He also said al Qaida "remains the most serious security threat" to the United States and its leaders.

Panetta said Washington was aware that if the crackdown by Pakistani army makes progress, al Qaida leaders like Bin Laden and his deputy may have their sights set on new safe havens in Yemen and Somalia, which have large ungoverned territories.

The CIA's chief affirmation that the hunt for bin Laden was still on comes as other top leaders of al Qaida in Afghanistan have reportedly said militants are short of food, weapons and other supplies needed to fight foreign forces there.

On a website used by top al Qaida leaders and other militants to post statements, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid said: "In Afghanistan, we have a severe supply deficit."

Panetta's assertion that Laden is alive runs contrary to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's belief. Zardari had recently said that Pakistan believed bin Laden was dead and not hiding on Pakistani soil.
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