This is from the end of Lawrence Wright's new book, The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf 2006). Wright is discussing an event in March of 2002, when Al Qaeda is regrouping in the mountains near Khost, Afghanistan. As Wright notes: "The fighting had narrowed down to the Shah-e-Kot valley on the ragged eastern edge of Afghanistan. Regional warlords had been bought off, the borders supposedly sealed, and the al-Qaeda fighters were under constant bombardment. Yet a band of horsemen rode unhindered to Pakistan."
These horsemen come to the village of a local milita leader named Gulla Jan. One man is dressed in a white turban and sunglasses. He is very polite, very friendly, and asks about the American and Northern Alliance troops. "We're afraid we will encounter them," he tells Jan. "Show us the right way."
Jan has a poster dropped by American airplanes. He is quite sure the man he is talking to is Zawahiri, the leader of al-Jihad and ideological leader of al-Qaeda. Wright describes Zawahiri's departure this way, in the last words of his book:
The man he now believed to be Zawahiri said to him, "May God bless you and keep you from the enemies of Islam. Try not to tell them where we came from and where we are going."Zawahiri's whereabouts, as of the time of the publication of Wright's book, are unknown.
There was a telephone number on the Wanted poster, but Gula Jan did not have a phone. Zawahiri and the masked Arabs disappeared into the mountains.
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