Reporters on the Job

TRACKING OSAMA BIN LADEN: Reporter Philip Smucker spent three days trying to get today's story on the whereabouts of the leader of Al Qaeda (page 1). A local Afghan took Phil, an Afghan reporter, and a British reporter to a village near the base of the Tora Bora cave and tunnel network in the White Mountains. The village chief agreed, for a fee, to allow them to meet with Al Qaeda Arabs escaping through the village on their way to Pakistan. "It's the start of an underground railroad out of Tora Bora for important Arabs and their family members," says Phil.

But the next day, his local guide got cold feet. He refused to take them back. "I think he suspected a trap," says Phil. Lufti, a former Kabul Times reporter, working with Phil agreed to go in alone, because the chief seemed upset by the presence of foreigners during Phil's visit the day before. Lufti took a taxi to the village and was told to go to the market. Three men with AK-47s met them and blindfolded them. The driver, not knowing what he was getting into, resisted, and was struck with a rifle butt.

Lufti persuaded him to go along, and they were taken to another village where the chief met him. " 'Why didn't you bring the American?' the chief demanded. He told Lufti the driver would have to stay there until he returned with me. They were looking for a hostage, I think. But Lufti paid him $200 and the chief left. Lufti spent five or six hours talking with the wounded Saudi and his wife," says Phil. Yesterday, the two were escorted back to the market and let go.

THE STREETS OF SOMALIA: After a day of interviews in Mogadishu, three of Mike Crawley's colleagues went out to have a look around the city. It wasn't Mike's first time in the city, so he stayed at the hotel. Before long, his colleagues were back, breathless.

"They said they'd been shot at while looking around a destroyed cathedral near the former "Green Line" that divided north from south at the height of the battle for Mogadishu. Our half-dozen bodyguards - who accompanied us everywhere, mainly to deter kidnapping attempts - shot back at the gunmen and apparently hit one of them," he says.

A few days later, the bodyguards hired by Mike and his colleagues returned to the scene, paid the other gunmen some money for the wounded man, and shook hands. "It's unclear why the shooting started, but it gives a sense of how dangerous it still is for foreigners in Mogadishu, despite the creation of the new government," says Mike.

David Clark Scott

World editor

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