Osama Bin Laden is probably in north-west Pakistan, the CIA says
The CIA says Osama Bin Laden is isolated from the day-to-day operations of al-Qaeda, but that the organisation is still the greatest threat to the US.
CIA director Michael Hayden said the Saudi militant was probably hiding in the tribal area of north-west Pakistan.
Gen Hayden said that Bin Laden was « putting a lot of energy into his own survival » and that his capture remained the US government’s top priority.
But he warned that al-Qaeda continued to grow in Africa and the Middle East.
In a speech to the Atlantic Council on Thursday, Gen Hayden said: « [Bin Laden] is putting a lot of energy into his own survival, a lot of energy into his own security. »
CIA director Michael Hayden discusses Osama Bin Laden
« In fact, he appears to be largely isolated from the day-to-day operations of the organisation he nominally heads. »
However, Gen Hayden added: « If there is a major strike on this country, it will bear the fingerprints of al-Qaeda. »
The CIA believes progress has been made in curbing al-Qaeda’s activities in the Philippines, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
However, Gen Hayden said other areas were showing an increase in activity, including:
East Africa: « Al-Qaeda is engaging Somali extremists to revitalise operations… al-Qaeda could claim to be re-establishing its operations base in East Africa »
The Maghreb: Attacks have worsened since the merger in 2006 of al-Qaeda and the Algerian militant group, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). The GSPC has renamed itself al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
Yemen: Saw an « unprecedented number of attacks » in 2008, and could become a launch-pad for attacks in Saudi Arabia
Pakistan: Safe haven has allowed al-Qaeda to train a « bench of skilled operatives »
Nevertheless, the CIA chief said the hunt for Bin Laden remained the top priority of the US security forces.
« His death or capture clearly would have a significant impact on the confidence of his followers – both core al-Qaeda and unaffiliated extremists throughout the world, » he said.
Gen Hayden was appointed in May 2006 by President George W Bush but it remains to be seen whether he will retain his job when President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January.