Osama bin Laden is alive and well and living comfortably in a house in the north-west of Pakistan protected by local people and elements of the country's intelligence services, according to a senior NATO official.
The latest assessment contradicts the belief that the al-Qa'ida leader is living roughly in underground bunkers as he dodges CIA drones.
"Nobody in al-Qa'ida is living in a cave," an unnamed Nato official told CNN.
He added that Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's second in command, was also living in a house close to the border regions.
Pakistani officials repeated their denials yesterday that the Saudi-born terrorist mastermind was being given a safe haven. However, the NATO official said bin Laden was thought to have ranged from the mountainous Chitral area to the Kurram Valley, which borders Afghanistan's Tora Bora -- a former Taliban stronghold.
North Waziristan, in particular, has become a nexus for Afghan, Pakistani and Arab militants as they plot attacks against NATO in Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, a leaked White House report accused Pakistan of playing a double game by avoiding "military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or al-Qa'ida forces in North Waziristan".
A senior Pakistani security official denied that bin Laden was being protected and said the latest allegations were designed to put pressure on Islamabad ahead of talks in Washington this week.
"Every time something important is happening then things like this keep creeping out," the security official said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)