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Osama most likely hiding in Pakistan, says scientific study

Source: PTI
February 17, 2009 22:09 IST
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The world's most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden could be hiding out in a walled compound in Parachinar, a town along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, according to a unique satellite-aided geographic analysis released on Tuesday.

Basing their conclusion on night-time satellite images and other techniques, a research team led by geographer Thomas Gillespie suggested that the 52-year-old fugitive may be in one of three compounds in Parachinar, a town 12 miles inside the Pakistan border, the USA Today reported.

Gillespie of the University of California-Los Angeles and his team used geographic analytical tools that have been successful in locating urban criminals and endangered species.

The research incorporates public reports of Laden's habits and whereabouts since his flight from the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in 2001.

The results, reported in the MIT International Review, are being greeted with polite but sceptical interest among people involved in the global hunt for Laden, the Al-Qaeda mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the report said.

Laden's whereabouts are considered "one of the most important political questions of our time," the study notes.

"I've never really believed the sitting-in-a-cave theory. That's the last place you would want to be bottled up," Gillespie said. "The study's real value is in combining satellite records of geographic locations, patterns of night- time electricity use and population-detection methods to produce a technique for locating fugitives," Gillespie added.

"Essentially, the study generates hiding-place location probabilities. It starts with distance decay theory, which holds that the odds which are greater that the person will be found close to where he or she was last seen," the report said.

"The island biographic theory, which maintains that locales with more resources--palm trees for tropical birds and electricity for wealthy fugitives --are likelier to draw creatures of interest," the report added.

"Island biographic theory suggests Laden would end up in the biggest and least isolated city of the region," Gillespie said, "One among about 26 towns within a 20-mile distance of Tora Bora," he added.

"To really improve the model, you would need to include intelligence data from 2001 to 2006," he said

"It has been eight years. Honestly, I think it is time to be more open. This is a very important issue for the public," Gillespie noted. The study also makes assumptions that Laden might need medical treatment, requiring electricity in an urban setting.

The study also assumes that Laden is being protected by a few bodyguards and he might be living in isolation that requires a walled compound. It also takes into account that his hiding place should have tree cover to shield outdoor activities from aircraft.

"Of course, it all depends on the accuracy of the information on most recent whereabouts," Gillespie said.

"It's important to think outside the box, and this is an innovative idea worth more pursuit," said geographic- profiling expert Kim Rossmo of Texas State University in San Marcos, who has worked with the military on adapting police procedures for finding criminals to counter terrorism.

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