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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 17:01 GMT
US probes Afghan missile strike
Bin Laden (centre) with al-Qaeda aides
Hi-tech equipment is being used in the hunt
US forces in Afghanistan are trying to determine who was killed when an American missile struck suspected al-Qaeda leaders in a remote mountainous area.

US military officials say evidence has been recovered from the scene and DNA tests are being carried out.

The best intelligence is he [Bin Laden] is still alive, but where he is continues to be a question mark

US Senator Bob Graham
A missile fired from a pilotless CIA plane last Monday reportedly hit a group of senior al-Qaeda members near the Zhawar Kili caves in south-eastern Afghanistan.

A US official said the missile appeared to have killed a tall man who was "clearly someone who was senior", fuelling speculation that the victim could have been Osama Bin Laden, who is thought to be about 1.93 metres (6ft 4in) tall.

'Innocent locals'

US television networks said evidence found at the scene could be compared with DNA samples provided by relatives of Bin Laden, who is suspected of masterminding the 11 September suicide attacks on New York and Washington.

However, Afghanistan's Deputy Border Affairs Minister, Mirza Ali, said the victims were in fact "hungry" villagers gathering scrap metal.

Predator drone
Unmanned spy planes can attack targets if instructed

"They were collecting metal - bits of exploded bomb - when they were attacked. As far as we know, and according to the locals, they were innocent," Mr Ali said.

The site is 15 kilometres (10 miles) from the Pakistan border.

About 50 US soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division had been working at the site of the strike, but have since left, army spokesman Major A C Roper said.

"The forces on the ground have found significant evidence that will be turned in for analysis," Mr Roper said.

Evidence at the site is made up primarily of bits of skin, bone or hair, US officials have said.

'Question mark'

Monday's edition of the Washington Post quoted Zhawar Kili villagers as saying that the missile killed three Afghan civilians, including Mir Ahmad, a man known for his height.

The paper said US troops prevented its correspondent visiting the site of the missile strike and the nearby village of Gorboz.

Senior members of the US Senate Intelligence Committee said on Sunday that intelligence suggested Bin Laden was still alive.

"The best intelligence is he is still alive, but where he is continues to be a question mark," said Democrat Senator Bob Graham, the committee's chairman.

See also:

07 Feb 02 | Americas
CIA missile 'hits al-Qaeda leaders'
22 Nov 01 | Americas
Spy plane hunting Bin Laden
18 Jan 02 | World
Global raids target al-Qaeda
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Al-Qaeda's origins and links
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