ABC Exclusive: Pakistani President on bin Laden and Hunt for Terrorists

ByABC News via logo
July 21, 2005, 7:49 AM

July 21, 2005 — -- Terror mastermind Osama bin Laden is probably still alive, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf told ABC News in an exclusive interview. But, he added, if bin Laden is in Pakistan, agents from other countries will not be allowed in to capture him.

"I don't know if he's in Pakistan," Musharraf told ABC News' Cynthia McFadden. "My gut says he is somewhere in the border regions [between Pakistan and Afghanistan]."

Responding to a recent statement by CIA Chief Porter Goss that the United States has an excellent idea where bin Laden is, but will have a difficult time bringing him to justice because of sovereignty issues, Musharraf said that he would not let other countries into Pakistan, if bin Laden is indeed there.

"We are capable of doing it," Musharraf added. "If we get intelligence, we will do it ourselves."

Asked whether Pakistan would turn bin Laden over to the United States if he was found in Pakistan, Musharraf said he would "have to see what happens."

"We hope he's found in Afghanistan by the Americans," he said, adding later, " I would much prefer that somebody else handled him."

He said Pakistani intelligence agents have been working closely with their American counterparts.

"Our intelligence is very well coordinated," he said.

Musharraf insisted he is cracking down on extremism in his country. After recent bombings on London's transportation system, British Prime Minister Tony Blair turned his attention to Pakistan, calling on Musharraf to crack down on terrorist elements. Hundreds of arrests have been made in Pakistan in the last few days.

Musharraf, however, noted that the London bombers were Britons.

"The problem is not in Pakistan but in England," Musharraf said. "Their hatred has been spread in London and nobody has moved against them. So why are they blaming Pakistan?"

He said England had been slow to react to growing extremisim within their own borders, including not acting upon a fatwah he said had been issued against him.

"What did England do about this [the fatwah]?," he asked. "Have they banned these organizations? Have they arrested the person who has done that? No, nothing. Nothing. In the name of human rights, in the name of liberty, human liberty, freedom of speech, this is going on. So why blame us? Please set your own house in order. Everyone has to do something."

Musharraf said there was "no credible intelligence" tying the London bombers to Pakistan, despite reports that three of the four had spent time there.

With recent polls showing that some 50 percent of Pakistanis support bin Laden, Musharraf rejected the idea that his countrymen support terrorism.

Musharraf says it's not terrorism his people support, but anti-U.S. policy.

"I think exactly that they are opposed to U.S. policy, and they see him [bin Laden] as a person who is fighting the policies of United States," he said. "But if you were to take a poll on are they in favor of terrorist attacks anywhere in the world like 9/11 or London, I am reasonably sure the poll will indicate otherwise."

Musharraf said Americans have a distorted sense of Pakistan, seeing it a nation full of extremists.

"[T]he vast majority is moderate," Musharraf said. " the U.S. must understand that the vast majority here are moderate. If they were extremists I wouldn't be popular here."