Al Qaeda's Winter Headquarters

U.S. intelligence sources tell ABC News they are "dismayed and alarmed" by published reports that nine men arrested last year during a raid on "al Qaeda's winter headquarters" have been released. 

The nine men are family members of a local cleric, who is wanted by Pakistan for providing "extensive help and protection" to al Qaeda's No. 2 man, Ayman al Zawahiri, intelligence sources tell ABC News. 

Pakistani intelligence officials believe Zawahiri is hiding somewhere in a 40-square-kilometer area of Bajaur, near the Afghan border.


"Al Qaeda's winter headquarters" was a high-walled compound located near the village of Shin Kot, about eight miles from the Afghan border, U.S. and Pakistani sources tell ABC News.

A U.S. intelligence source said CIA and special forces had the compound under such close surveillance, "We could see their children playing soccer in the courtyard."

According to that source, al Qaeda's operational commander, Abu Faraj al Libbi, was among those staying at the house.  He was captured elsewhere in May 2005.

The CIA and the Department of Defense decided not to raid the compound, fearing civilian casualties and harm to U.S.-Pakistani relations.

The "winter headquarters" compound was later burned to the ground by Pakistani officials.

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