A research team led by geographer Thomas Gillespie of the University of California-Los Angeles used geographic analytical tools that have been successful in locating urban criminals and endangered species.
Basing their conclusion on nighttime satellite images and other techniques, the scientists suggest bin Laden may well be in one of three compounds in Parachinar, a town 12 miles from the Pakistan border. The research incorporates public reports of bin Laden's habits and whereabouts since his flight from the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in 2001.
The results, reported in the MIT International Review, are being greeted with polite but skeptical interest among people involved in the hunt for bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader behind 9/11. Bin Laden's whereabouts are considered "one of the most important political questions of our time," the study notes.
"I've never really believed the sitting-in-a-cave theory. That's the last place you would want to be bottled up," Gillespie says. The study's real value, he says, is in combining satellite records of geographic locations, patterns of nighttime electricity use and population-detection methods to produce a technique for locating fugitives.