NEW YORK, Aug 31: The Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden convened a “biggest terror summit since Sept 11 at a mountain stronghold in Afghanistan” and told the gathering that he is working on serious projects, says Newsweek, quoting senior Taliban officials in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The meeting was convened by Osama in April after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq in which he reportedly said he was working on “serious projects” and, “his priority is to use biological weapons,” said the magazine quoting Taliban and Al Qaeda sources.

“The question is only how to transport and launch them,” the source told Newsweek. The source insisted he doesn’t know any further details, but bragged: “Osama’s next step will be unbelievable.”

The weekly in an exclusive report said: “Bin Laden seems to be in good health, according to both a former Taliban deputy foreign minister and an Afghan named Haroon, who claims to have visited the Al Qaeda leader in June.”

Three of Osama bin Laden’s sons are said to be with him, sworn to kill their father rather than let him be captured alive. Two of his wives are said to be living nearby in the mountains, but not with him; he visits them when security allows, Newsweek reports. Taliban sources told the magazine reporter that the Al Qaeda leader communicates with his friends and followers via handwritten letters and computer disks delivered by relays of messengers. Each carrier knows only where to find the next link in the chain. The system is slow, but it keeps the Americans from using electronic intercepts to find him.

The plan to use biological weapons was reportedly delayed and revised after the March capture of Al Qaeda’s operations chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Rawalpindi,

The senior Taliban officials contacted by the magazine’s reporters said that Osama bin Laden remains directly engaged as a strategist and financier for Al Qaeda, the Taliban and related groups. One man, named Khan Kaka, who lives in Afghanistan’s remote Kunar province, tells Newsweek that since 1996 his son-in-law, an Algerian named Abu Hamza al Jazeeri, has been a special bodyguard to Osama.

Every two months or so, al Jazeeri comes down from the mountains to visit his wife and three sons, who live with Kaka. “He appears and disappears like lightning,” Kaka tells Newsweek. “I never know when he’s coming or going.”

The magazine also recounts former Taliban foreign minister Haroon’s journey to see Osama. Haroon, the magazine said, was active in the Taliban’s anti-US resistance, and he had guided Osama bin Laden from the besieged cave complex at Tora Bora to safety in the Shahikot Valley during the US bombing in late 2001.

The month after sending his request to see Osama bin Laden, Mr Haroon got a message directing him to a place in the mountains north of his home in Paktia province. From there, he was taken higher into the mountains by a series of guides, each one greeting the next with a whispered password. After three days he was turned over to a group of Arabs. They strip-searched him, placed his ring, watch and shoes in a bag and closely inspected the buttons on his shirt, Newsweek reports.

He spent the night barefoot in a nearby cave. At sunrise two armed Arabs, their faces covered by scarves, escorted him to an old mud-and-rock house and told him to sit there and wait. Mr Haroon says he felt afraid. Suddenly Osama bin Laden arrived and spoke in Arabic, slowly and quietly, urging the young man to keep fighting. “The deserts of Afghanistan are being irrigated with the blood of Mujahideen,” he told Mr Haroon. “But the jihad will never dry up.” After about 15 minutes the visit ended. “Please don’t try to see me again,” Osama bin Laden was reported as saying by the magazine.

“We don’t know where he is,” US Army Col. Rodney Davis, spokesman for America’s forces in Afghanistan, told the weekly. “And frankly, it’s not about him. We’ll continue to focus on killing, capturing and denying sanctuary to any anti-coalition forces, whether they are influenced by Osama bin Laden or not.”

Some US officials speculate that life on the run has made it impossible for Osama bin Laden to communicate with his followers, effectively turning him into a figurehead. “Bin Laden’s operational role is not as important as it was to Al Qaeda and Taliban,” says a senior US diplomat in Kabul. “But symbolically he is still very important.”

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