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Fugitive Taliban leader Mohammed Omar is regrouping the “ranks of the warriors of the [Taliban] movement,” while sources close to Taliban remnants claim the capture of 18 U.S. service personnel, according to one of Italy’s leading news dailies, La Stampa, citing Arab news sources.

Photographs of the supposed captured American soldiers have not been released due to a “prohibitive situation in the zone where they are detained,” La Stampa’s sources claimed.

Omar is operating in the Afghani province of Khost, bordering on Pakistan, while seeking to reorganize his forces, stated La Stampa, citing an Arab press report.

The Taliban’s close ally, Osama bin Laden, who may still be alive, reportedly has constructed “a grand plan” for the “struggle with America.”

In an interview with one of bin Laden’s wives, La Stampa reported that she stated that she heard one of bin Laden’s close friends and al-Qaida strategist, Abu Hafs, (also known as Mohammed Atef), declare the group’s “determination and patience” to continue the fight with the U.S.

Hafs was later killed during the bombardment of terrorist positions in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden “is still alive,” his wife told La Stampa, because his death would be an event “one would not be able to hide.”

La Stampa articles indicating the continued strength of al-Qaida, as well as Osama bin Laden’s survival, find support from several sources.

Local villagers near the area attacked during Operation Anaconda claim that the al-Qaida base was damaged but not destroyed, and that the terrorist headquarters included satellite phones, maps of major U.S. cities and information about bridges.

Bin Laden may have spoken to al-Qaida personnel at the base by satellite phone, and the terrorist organization’s second in command, Egyptian physician Ayman al-Zawahiri, may have been present at the base, according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor.

Gen. Paul Mikolashek, commander of U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan, stated that the war in Afghanistan was still in progress and that the Taliban and al-Qaida remain dangerous, according to an article in The Times of India.

Mikolashek, however, remained confident regarding America’s ultimate victory over his Afghan foes. “They are on the run. Their infrastructure has been clearly disrupted,” Mikolashek stated.

The degree of the danger still posed by al-Qaida was dramatically demonstrated in Rome immediately prior to Operation Anaconda, which was launched on March 2.

On Feb. 24, the Italian news daily La Repubblica reported that the Italian police had uncovered a cyanide gas attack plot directed against the U.S. embassy in Rome, which also could have affected much of central Rome.

Later reports quoted Italian police officials as confirming that the group planning to attack the U.S. embassy was part of the al-Qaida network, had succeeded in smuggling various weapons into the country, operated in conjunction with other cells in other nations in Europe and had ample financial support.

The U.S. remains concerned about a nuclear strike by al-Qaida. On March 3, the Washington Post reported that the Bush administration was “alarmed” by the possibility that bin Laden’s terrorist network could acquire atomic weapons and directed the elite Delta Force commando unit to remain on standby alert to confiscate any detected nuclear devices.

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