Wellington: A noted Pakistani journalist, Rahimullah Yusufzai, who had interviewed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden twice in 1998, has said that he believes that the world’s most wanted man is alive.
Yusufzai, who described Osama as a ‘shy’ and ‘polite’ man said the 9/11 mastermind is alive despite several claims that he has succumbed to injuries sustained during US air raids or some kind of kidney disease.
Yusufzai, 56, said there is no evidence to prove that Osama is dead, and moreover al Qaeda would never hide its chieftain’s death.
“I have seen through experience that al Qaeda always admits the death of its members, always. If OBL (Osama bin Laden) dies, they will concede it. Such news couldn't be kept hidden - they will chatter, they will talk, or post on a website somewhere. It's their policy that whenever somebody important dies, they always concede it. They don't concede cause, but they want to celebrate martyrdom,” The NZHerald.co.nz quoted Yusufzai, as saying.
The veteran Pakistani journalist, who has been reporting on Pakistan and Afghanistan since the 1980s, said Osama is most likely to be along Afghanistan's lawless, 2,500km-long border with northwest Pakistan.
Yusufzai, who has also interviewed top Taliban commander Mullah Mohammed Omar 13 times between 1995 and 2001, described Osama as a man who respected others.
“He is very polite and gives you respect, and is willing to embrace you, and shake hands.
Those hands are soft, reflecting his wealthy background,” Yusufzai said while recalling his first encounter with the warlord.
“He also had a sense of humour. I said: ‘I know you have three or four wives but I don't know about the number of children you have. He looked at me and said, I have lost count and laughed,” he said.
Yusufzai said that during his last interview with Osama in December 1998, the al Qaeda chief appeared to be ill.
“I videotaped bin Laden entering, leaning on a stick and looking unwell. Al-Zawahri, Laden’s second in-command, said that he (Osama) had back pain, an injury or something to the spinal cord, and said that although he loved horse riding and soccer, he could no longer do either,” he said.
Yusufzai also claimed that the US, which has boosted the number of troops to more than 100,000 to dismantle and destroy al Qaeda and the Taliban’s network in Afghanistan, have ‘no clue’ regarding Osama’s whereabouts.
He said that while the Taliban in Afghanistan may have suffered some setbacks in the ongoing ‘war on terror’, the outlawed outfit would bounce back to fight the foreign forces led by the US.
“The Taliban may suffer setbacks in certain places and become weak in places where big US-led offensives are being launched, but I think the Taliban would survive and bounce back in due course,” Yusufzai said.
First Published: Saturday, April 03, 2010, 14:34