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Al Qaeda bosses, fighters quitting Pakistan?

Dozens of Al Qaeda fighters and a handful of the terrorist outfit's leaders are leaving their main haven in Pakistan's tribal areas for Somalia and Yemen, the New York Times reported on Friday quoting American officials.

world Updated: Jun 12, 2009 20:47 IST

Dozens of Al Qaeda fighters and a handful of the terrorist outfit's leaders are leaving their main haven in Pakistan's tribal areas for Somalia and Yemen, the New York Times reported on Friday quoting American officials.

In communications that are being watched carefully at the Pentagon, the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the terrorist groups in all three locations are now communicating more frequently, and apparently trying to coordinate their actions, the Times quoted the unnamed officials as saying.

They are leaving Pakistan due to the intensified drone attacks against Al Qaeda operatives in that country, according to some aides to President Barack Obama.

Among other possible explanations, the chief is the growth of the jihadist campaigns in both Somalia and Yemen, which may now have some of the same appeal for militants that Iraq did after the American military invasion there in 2003, the Times noted.

The number of fighters shifting, however, is still small, perhaps a few dozen, and there is no evidence that the top leaders - Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri - are considering a move from their refuge in the Pakistani tribal areas, according to more than half a dozen senior administration, military and counterterrorism officials the Times interviewed in recent days.

“There are indications that some Al Qaeda terrorists are starting to see the tribal areas of Pakistan as a tough place to be in,” an American counter-terrorism official was quoted as saying.

“It is likely that a small number have left the region as a result. Among these individuals, some have probably ended up in Somalia and Yemen, among other places. The Al Qaeda terrorists who are leaving the tribal areas of Pakistan are predominantly foot soldiers.”

While officials would not comment on the record on this matter due to the sensitivity of the issue, CIA Director Leon E Panetta said in Washington on Thursday that the US must prevent Al Qaeda from creating a new sanctuary in Yemen or Somalia.