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Bin Laden in Pakistan, source claims

As US airstrikes pound Tora Bora, a top Al Qaeda aide says the leader has fled.

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The Saudi financier's Egyptian wife cried throughout the two-hour interview. "I've seen my sweet brothers and sisters killed by fire from the sky. Alas, I've begged them to leave, and they have refused. They want to die there for the sake of Allah."

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Jaffar says that most of the family of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor known as the right-hand man of bin Laden, have been killed by the US bombing. He says that earlier reports - mostly Afghan - of Mr. Zawahiri's own death had proved false. This account matched an obituary for Zawahiri's family, but not for himself, in an Egyptian newspaper last week.

Only yesterday, one of two senior Afghan warlords said that only bin Laden and his top 22 deputies should be brought to justice. "The rest will be able to go free," says the regional security chief, Hazrat Ali, who has been working closely with persons he refers to as "US military advisers" on the ground.

Most Al Qaeda fighters inside Tora Bora had been prepared to give themselves up after the departure of bin Laden.

But when Al Qaeda loyalists were informed a week ago that "scores of British and American commandos" had entered the region at Jalalabad, a decision was taken by the fighters to stand and "fight the infidels," Jaffar says.

Jaffar, who characterized himself as a moderate among the hundreds of hard-core fighters still inside Tora Bora, says that Chechen and Algerian fighters had resisted surrender more than Saudi, Yemeni, or Egyptian nationals.

The Saudi financier, who left the Tora Bora camp only Tuesday afternoon, says that the idea of a "surrender" was now only acceptable to a small segment of the remaining Al Qaeda fighters.

"I was involved in the discussions about a peaceful surrender," he says. "We had agreed to send two men to discuss the issue, including our demands for amnesty and safe passage out of Afghanistan."

He says that Chechen fighters, who are manning heavy machinegun posts, are the most resistant to the idea of surrendering.

Both Jaffar and his wife provided the first detailed account of how bad life has become inside the Tora Bora base. The partial siege of the base by Western-backed Afghans and US Special Forces has depleted food supplies and left many Al Qaeda members looking for a way out.

Egyptian and Afghan sources close to Al Qaeda say that 120 Al Qaeda fighters inside Tora Bora have been killed by US air raids in the past three weeks.

But the Arabs and Chechens inside Tora Bora still have a functioning hospital, according to Jaffar. His leg was amputated there. He says that most Al Qaeda members do not leave their elaborate cave complex unless they have to relieve themselves.

Jaffar also says that for two weeks, scores, if not hundreds, of Arabs have been safely spirited out of the Tora Bora camp. He says that some senior members in the current Jalalabad government are aware of the Al Qaeda members' movements, and that the journeys have been paved with hard cash.

Most of the Arabs escaping to safety are women children and old people. Wounded soldiers and some young men have also been permitted by bin Laden's son to leave the embattled base.