February 18, 2009 / 7:32 PM / 10 years ago

Two professors theorize on bin Laden hideout

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After all these years, where is Osama bin Laden? Two college geography professors think they know.

A video grab from an undated footage from the Internet shows Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden making statements from an unknown location. REUTERS/REUTERS TV

Professors Thomas Gillespie and John Agnew of the University of California at Los Angeles use satellite-imagery analysis and elaborate geographic methods to theorize that bin Laden is in the city of Parachinar in the mountains of northwestern Pakistan.

Parachinar is about 12 miles from Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. The professors believe bin Laden might be in one of three walled compounds in the city.

The elusive al Qaeda leader has been hiding out since the September 11 attacks, occasionally surfacing in taunting video recordings released by his supporters. He has resisted all efforts to find him, even with a $25 million U.S. reward posted for information about his whereabouts.

“We believe that our work involves the first scientific approach to establishing his current location. The methods are repeatable and can be updated with new information obtained from the U.S. intelligence community,” the professors wrote in the MIT International Review.

Gillespie and Agnew used bin Laden’s last reported whereabouts, the mountains of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, and employed “theories that predict how plants and animals distribute themselves over space and over time.”

They deduced that Parachinar fits as a likely refuge. It is a place where the al Qaeda leader could have electricity, physical protection, personal privacy and a small number of body guards, while remaining protected from aerial view.

Residing near or in a large city should reduce the risk of his being found in a military raid, they said. The risk would be higher in a small city or an isolated structure, they said.

What is more, they wrote, “Parachinar has a long history of housing mujahideen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, so it most likely contains a large number of Taliban soldiers who cross over from here into Afghanistan.”

Gillespie and Agnew said they did not believe bin Laden was holed up in a cave, a popular view fostered by then-President George W. Bush, who launched an invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to punish al Qaeda and the Taliban for the 9/11 attacks.

“A cave would have to have a sealed entrance, be heated and ventilated, and have supplies transported to the cave monthly or annually. We feel that most of these requirements would have physical manifestation that might easily be seen from space, and that the cave hypothesis is unlikely but could be tested,” they said.

U.S. military and intelligence officials have conceded they do not know where bin Laden is, but they believe he and other top al Qaeda figures are somewhere along the Pakistani-Afghan border.

The mountainous area near Parachinar has not gone unnoticed. Just on Monday, a suspected U.S. missile strike killed at least 26 people and many were reported to be Taliban militants.

Editing by David Storey

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