Foreign Minister: bin Laden could be in Caucasus
PARIS - Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Friday he has not
ruled out the possibility that Osama bin Laden could be hiding in the
northern Caucasus, in an area reputed to be a gathering point for
"Where is bin Laden?" Ivanov asked at a news conference. "Some rule
out the possibility that he is in the northern Caucasus. Maybe that
seems sensational to some, but why not?
"We have other information that militants that we know that have fled
Afghanistan ... that there were Chechens, Arab mercenaries who sought
a place to flee to. Some are in Georgia in the Pankisi Gorge..."
The gorge is an area of Georgia that borders Chechnya and is
reputedly home to Chechen rebels.
In response to Ivanov's comments, a spokeswoman for Georgia's
Security Ministry, Vika Chubinidze, said: "There are no grounds to
consider that bin Laden may be in the Pankisi Gorge."
Ivanov's remarks came at a news conference with his French
counterpart, Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, in response to a
general question about Chechnya.
The two also discussed Iraq and the Middle East conflict in their
U.S. officials have become increasingly concerned that parts of
Georgia may become a haven for terrorists. U.S. charge d'affaires
Philip Remler told a Georgian newspaper that several dozen terrorists
from Afghanistan are now operating in the region, and some are
staying in the Pankisi Gorge.
Georgian Security Minister Valery Khaburdzania also acknowledged
recently that some Arabs and Afghans who have fought in Chechnya
might still be hiding in the region. /The Associated Press/