KABUL: Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is living comfortably in a house in northwest Pakistan close to his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, CNN on Monday quoted a NATO official as saying.
The Saudi-born militant wanted for the September 11 attacks on the United States nine years ago was being protected by local people and "some members of the Pakistani intelligence services," CNN said.
It also said that the Al-Qaeda number two, the Egyptian-born Zawahri, was living close to him.
"Nobody in Al-Qaeda is living in a cave," the unnamed senior NATO official is quoted as saying in a report datelined Kabul.
"The official also confirmed the US assessment that Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, has moved between the cities of Quetta and Karachi in Pakistan over the last several months," said the report on CNN’s website.
Pakistan’s mountainous North Waziristan region, which borders Afghanistan, is believed to be a vortex of Afghan, Pakistani and Arab militants, and long held to be a possible hiding place for bin Laden.
Pakistani authorities have denied they are providing protection for the terror mastermind, who has a 25 million dollar US bounty on his head.
"It is a baseless assertion, we reject it," a Pakistani foreign ministry official told AFP.
"The report has not been substantiated by any evidence and has just been put out to malign Pakistan," the official said on condition of anonymity.
He said that Pakistani security forces are present in North Waziristan and other tribal areas and if they had known that senior Al Qaeda members were nearby, "we would have taken action immediately."
A NATO spokesman said the alliance had no immediate comment.
Bin Laden is believed to have escaped to the area from Afghanistan’s Tora Bora region, which was a Taliban stronghold during the US-led invasion of late 2001 that unseated the Islamist regime that had provided him with safe haven.
The invasion was launched to punish the Taliban for allowing Al-Qaeda to train and plot the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington that killed around 3,000 people.
The militants soon regrouped to launch an insurgency their brutal insurgency that is being fought by more than 150,000 US and NATO troops.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, predicted in an interview earlier this month that bin Laden and Zawahri — who also has a 25-million-dollar price on his head — would eventually be hunted down.
In August, the US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, said bin Laden was "far buried" in the remote mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan and that capturing him remains a key task.
Bin Laden was last heard of in two purported audiotapes issued in early October in which he called for aid for flood victims in Pakistan and for action against global climate change.
Zawahri, believed to be the main strategist and key ideologist in the Al-Qaeda hierarchy, has appeared more frequently in video and audiotapes, most recently in a recording issued four days after this year’s anniversary of 9/11.