US forces in Afghanistan came so close to discovering Osama bin Laden in the winter of 2004-2005 that his supporters were on the verge of killing him to prevent his capture, a US magazine reported Sunday.
Bin Laden’s entourage, ordered to kill the Al-Qaeda chief and themselves to avoid capture, were about to take the drastic action using a special code word when nearby US troops moved off in a different direction, Newsweek magazine said in its latest issue on sale Monday.
“If there’s a 99 percent risk of the sheikh (bin Laden) being captured, he told his men that they should all die and martyr him as well,” Newsweek quoted Egyptian Al-Qaeda operative Sheikh Said as telling Taliban official Omar Farooqi.
The near-miss by US forces occurred on the lawless border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the magazine reported.
In its cover story on the six-year-old search for bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, Newsweek also said the intense US search for him has made little progress in several years.
“There hasn’t been a serious lead on Osama bin Laden since early 2002,” Bruce Reidel, a retired CIA South Asia expert, told the magazine.
“What we’re doing now is shooting in the dark in outer space. The chances of hitting anything are zero,” said an unidentified intelligence official.
The publication also reported that US security officials believe Al-Qaeda is still planning dramatic attacks on the West comparable to 9/11.