The US forces in Afghanistan came close to getting Osama Bin Laden in a hideout along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in the winter of 2004-05 and his supporters were on the verge of killing the Al-Qaeda chief to prevent his capture, a media report said on Monday.
The anxiety level of the bin Laden's entourage was so high that they were close to using a special code word to kill the Al-Qaeda chief and commit suicide when a sentry spotted a patrol of US soldiers who seemed to be heading straight for Laden's redoubt, Newsweek reported Monday.
"If there's a 99 per cent risk of the Sheikh's (Bin Laden) being captured, he told his men that they should all die and martyr him as well," the magazine quoted Sheik Said, a senior Egyptian Qaeda operative as telling Taliban official Omar Farooqi.
According to Said, Bin Laden had decreed that he would never be captured.
The secret word was never given. As the Qaeda sentry watched the US troops, the patrol started moving in a different direction. Bin Laden's men later concluded that the soldiers had nearly stumbled on their hideout by accident.
In its cover story on the six-year-old search for Laden, the magazine said the hunt for the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks has made little progress in several years.
Since Bin Laden slipped away from Tora Bora in December 2001, US intelligence has never had better than a 50-50 certainty about his whereabouts.
"There hasn't been a serious lead on Osama Bin Laden since early 2002," Bruce Riedel, who recently retired as a South Asia expert at the CIA, told the magazine.
"What we're doing now is shooting in the dark in outer space. The chances of hitting anything are zero," he said.