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Pakistani Officials: Senior al-Qaida Member May be Cornered - 2004-03-19


Pakistani officials say fierce fighting continues between government troops and heavily armed gunmen in a remote tribal region, where a top member of the al-Qaida terror network is believed to be cornered.

Military officials say troops are facing stiff resistance from gunmen well entrenched in several fortress-like mud-and-brick compounds in the mountainous South Waziristan region that borders Afghanistan.

Pakistani President Pervez Mushrraf told a U.S. television (CNN) Thursday the intensity of resistance indicates the gunmen are protecting "a high value target." General Musharraf did not elaborate.

But Pakistani officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the trapped man is believed to be Osama bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, and that he might be wounded.

U.S. officials have not commented on the reports.

The Pakistani military actions coincide with a continuing U.S. -led operation on the Afghan side of the border, aimed at hunting down supporters of the ousted Taleban regime and al-Qaida fighters. The U.S. military believes Osama bin Laden may also be hiding somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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