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Ben Wedeman: Al Qaeda financier may help bin Laden search


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- U.S. intelligence officials are hoping a man who turned himself in Tuesday at the airport in Kandahar, Afghanistan, will provide a break on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman, reporting from Kandahar, spoke Thursday with CNN anchor Paula Zahn.

ZAHN: Can you give us an update as to the extent of these conversations so far, Ben?

WEDEMAN: What we are hearing from sources here at the Kandahar Airport is that this man is cooperating with investigators, and the investigators are finding what he has to say to be very interesting.

Now, while it's worth noting that this man showed up at the base on Tuesday morning at the front gates of the airport, voluntarily, unannounced, he wasn't on the list of most wanted members of the Taliban or the al Qaeda. He's not one of the 320 detainees here. He is here apparently cooperating fully with the investigators. However, the precise details of the information he is providing is not available here on the base.

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One officer I spoke to said that what he says is very interesting, but they don't want to overstate the case that this man has not yet been described, for instance, as a gold mine of information. But he certainly seems to have more information than the other detainees who are currently being held at the airport.

ZAHN: They describe the information so far as interesting, and yet, obviously they don't want to overplay the value of what he's told them. But just based on what we know about this informant, what kind of information would he actually have access to that would be of any help at all to these investigators?

WEDEMAN: Well, what we know is that he was some sort of financier for the Taliban, possibly also for the al Qaeda movement, and that he was, according to one source here, involved in the fairly big and bustling drug business. So he must have had good contacts with Taliban and possibly al Qaeda officials, and therefore, he may have some sort of information regarding the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. But we really don't know much more beyond that, but he clearly was a man very well informed and very well connected.

ZAHN: There is a front page story in "The New York Times" suggesting this morning that Pashtun tribal leaders are expressing reluctance to help U.S. Special Forces go in for cave-to-cave searches. Can you add anymore information to those reports this morning?

WEDEMAN: What we know is that obviously these Pashtun tribal leaders, south of Kabul, the capital, have a long history of involvement and connections, and in fact, membership in the Taliban movement. And therefore, they may not want to be particularly forthcoming in terms of information.

We also know that, for instance, from Tora Bora, where I was for quite a while, that the Pashtun tribal fighters are reluctant to go in there and search these caves, in some cases, simply because they are trying to get as much money as possible, as many supplies as possible from U.S. forces to cooperate. So that may be really what's going on. They just want to be paid higher fees .




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