Pakistan denies US claim that Bin Laden, al-Qaida camps in Pakistan

Pakistan on Wednesday rejected the U.S. intelligence chief's claims that Osama bin Laden and his deputy are hiding in the country, and that al-Qaida is setting up camps near the Afghan border.

New U.S. intelligence chief Mike McConnell told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Monday that al-Qaida is trying to set up training camps and other operations in Pakistan tribal areas near Afghanistan.

McConnell had also said U.S. intelligence officials believe bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, are hiding in northwestern Pakistan and trying to establish an operations base there.

"We deny it," Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao told The Associated Press, referring to McConnell's remarks.

Sherpao said there are no al-Qaida training camps in Pakistan, and that the U.S. officials had not shared any such intelligence with Pakistani authorities.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, visiting Pakistan on Monday, had met with the country's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to seek his help to foil an anticipated spring offensive by the Taliban and al-Qaida against coalition forces operating in Afghanistan.

"Cheney expressed U.S. apprehensions of regrouping of al-Qaida in the tribal areas (of Pakistan) and called for concerted efforts in countering the threat," Musharraf's office said.

Musharraf, however, told Cheney that Pakistan is already doing its utmost against the militants.

Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in its campaign against terrorism, but U.S. officials complain that al-Qaida and Taliban still operate from Pakistan's rugged border areas to launch attacks in Afghanistan.

Sherpao said that Pakistan was a front-line state in the war on terror, and that it is "fighting the scourge of terrorism in the best interest of Pakistan."

He asked Washington for "solid intelligence" on the whereabouts of Bin Laden, al-Zawahri or any al-Qaida camps, reports AP.

"We will act on any such intelligence, but so far they have not done it (provided any)," he said.

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