GONE AL QAEDA HUNTING: Driving to Kashmir from Peshawar, Pakistan, was easier said than done, says reporter Philip Smucker. "We drove seven hours and then hit landslides. We had to abandon our jeep and walk. There was a scary moment when we passed a madrassah [religious school] with a sign painted "Fundamentalist Islam and Proud of it!" At that moment, an Arab came out and started speaking to us in Arabic. We nodded and continued on our trek.
We were in Kashmir to find out if there was an Al Qaeda connection (page 1). At first, locals wouldn't say much. It wasn't until we asked a runner to fetch a lamb from the next valley for a feast, that the locals really loosened up and started wagging their tongues about Al Qaeda. Some said they were sure bin Laden was there. That would jibe with what a few Afghan intelligence agents had been telling us in Jalalabad."
The problem is that such reports, says Philip, are mostly hearsay. "Many Muslims in the region actually like the notion of living somewhere near Osama. One thing is sure, he could have waltzed into Kashmir at any time. I drove with my Afghan friend into Kashmir and we didn't cross a single checkpoint.
INDELIBLE IMPRESSION: The Monitor's Danna Harman says that she meets so many people with touching, sad stories in Africa that "I have become somewhat immune. But there was something about the three boys I met on the 30-hour detour-filled flight between Sierra Leone and Nigeria, which got to me (page 7)."
"As the hours stretched on during this flight, I began feeling more and more responsible for them. I helped them fill out the various immigration forms. I got them sandwiches, and I kept explaining to them what was going on: why we were stopping in these airports, and why we had to sleep in Ghana instead of Nigeria," she says.
"We finally parted ways after arriving at the airport in Lagos. But then I began dreaming about them. It haunted me to think of these sweetheart kids alone in such a difficult place. I kept calling the number of their relative I had copied down, but the line had been disconnected. Did they make it to their relatives? Will they get to Angola? Or will they get stuck at some Lagos intersection, choking on car fumes, selling rolls of toilet paper, and forever dreaming of diamonds?"
David Clark Scott