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World News

July 22, 2002

How bin Laden's huge convoy gave American forces the slip

Afghans still marvel that 1,000 cars and lorries escaped in the night
AMERICAN officials seeking to understand how Osama bin Laden’s closest advisers escaped Kabul last November are being urged to go to the town of Logar, at the centre of a rich farming district south of the Afghan capital.

Locals still talk of the night-time escape, past the Bala Hissar fortress and south through the Logar Valley, when the advisers escaped US airstrikes.

Mohammed Rahim, a local businessman, said that the al-Qaeda convoy arrived between November 1 and 15.

“We don’t understand how they weren’t all killed the night before because they came in a convoy of at least 1,000 cars and trucks,” he said. “It was a very dark night, but it must have been easy for the American pilots to see the headlights.”

The next evening the convoy moved on. “The main road was jammed from eight in the evening until three in the morning. When the road cleared, Mrs Rahman (the wife of Abu Abdul, a high-ranking al-Qaeda intelligence planner) and her children were gone.”

The exodus is also thought to have included Ayman al-Zawahiri, considered to be the policy and strategy chief of al-Qaeda, and Muzzamil, another senior leader, who uses only one name.

The al-Qaeda link with Logar began after the American airstrikes last September, when Abu Abdul bundled his American wife and their six children out of Kabul to a friend’s farm. Despite the drought, farmers in the Logar Valley used their underground water supplies to nurture their orchards.

Mr Rahim was not clear when the last al-Qaeda leader had left, but one man listening to his account said that he had taken charge of an abandoned Japanese Prada four-wheel-drive vehicle, which he believed had been left by a senior al-Qaeda commander before he took off on foot in the direction of Gardez, on the way to the Pakistan border.

Other cars used by Taleban or al-Qaeda loyalists and their families were found further down the same road, but the Prada was the most expensive of the abandoned vehicles. It is now part of the motor pool used by local Governor.

In the boot the locals discovered a sheaf of documents that are now being passed around the Logar souk. They include what could have been propaganda. Two large maps are drawn in thick black ink. One with accompanying descriptions scribbled in Arabic shows the Philippine islands with a large ship near Luzon.

The other map depicts what seems to be an American city. The main street near a clearly labelled “shopping centre” has a McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut next to each other.

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