Bin Laden son probably killed, Taliban leader lives
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* Son of bin Laden probably killed, according to NPR report
* Swat commander alive, unhurt, says Taliban spokesman
* Holbrooke sees Pakistan securing Swat, attack Mehsud later
* Pakistan and NATO cooperating closely, says Holbrooke
By Simon Cameron-Moore
ISLAMABAD, July 23 (Reuters) - One of Osama bin Laden's sons was probably killed by a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan earlier this year, U.S. National Public Radio reported, citing U.S. intelligence sources.
A U.S. counter-intelligence official said it was "80 to 85 percent" certain that Sa'ad bin Laden, who was in his twenties, had been killed.
The official said the son of the al Qaeda leader was not a major figure, and would not have been important enough to target but "was in the wrong place at the wrong time".
It was unknown whether Sa'ad was anywhere near his father when he died, NPR said. A U.S. intelligence official said in January that Sa'ad was freed from custody in Iran and probably went to Pakistan.
The United States believes Osama bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan. While intelligence agencies have had near misses tracking his deputy Ayman al Zawahri in Pakistan, the hunt for bin Laden went cold several years ago.
While al Qaeda often releases audio-taped messages from bin Laden, the last time a video-tape was released was two years ago, and there is constant speculation that he might have died.
TALIBAN COMMANDER ALIVE AND UNHARMED
The difficulties of confirming kills of al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in the badlands of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border was underlined by a surprise telephone call to Reuters from a spokesman for the Taliban in the Swat valley, where the army launched an offensive almost three months ago.
The Pakistani military said earlier this month that an air strike had probably wounded commander Fazlullah, but his spokesman Muslim Khan said his leader was alive and unhurt.
"All of the Taliban leadership is okay," the spokesman, Muslim Khan said before playing what he said was an audio recording of Fazlullah's recorded on Wednesday.
"Pakistani rulers and generals have carried out suppression on Pashtuns and the people of Malakand division (of North West Frontier Province) to please the United States," Fazlullah said, though it was not possible to verify the authenticity.
U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke told journalists in Islamabad the Pakistan army's priority was securing the Swat and Buner valleys, to make them safe for some 2.5 million people to go home.
The United Nations said almost 400,000 people had returned, which Holbrooke said was "good news" before cautioning that they needed security.
"Northern Swat is still insecure and the leadership, like Fazlullah, has not been captured, so there's a long way to go," the envoy said at the end of two days of meetings with the Pakistani political and military leadership.
Holbrooke said this was the likely reason why the army was delaying an all-out assault further west against the stronghold of Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud in the remote South Waziristan tribal region.
"They've got to make sure when the refugees come back that they have security, so maybe they're delaying the offensive," he said, adding that he did not know the timing or nature of the looming action against Mehsud.
Although Mehsud has helped provide fighters for the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, and trained suicide bombers to attack Afghan and Western forces, most of his focus has been on attacking the Pakistani state.
The United States has put a $5 million bounty on Mehsud, who has been blamed for the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.
"I think Baitullah Mehsud is one of the most dangerous and odious people in the region and the United States had paid insufficient attention to him until recently," he said.
Although Pakistan is focused on its own enemies first, Holbrooke stressed the increasingly tight cooperation between the Pakistani and U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has moved forces to Baluchistan to patrol the southwest province's border with Helmand, the southern Afghan province where U.S. forces began an operation against the Taliban earlier this month. (With additional reporting by Kamran Haider; Editing by Sugita Katyal) ((email@example.com; +92-51-281-0017; Reuters Messaging; firstname.lastname@example.org))
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