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Taliban: ' We Have bin Laden' – U.S.: 'We Doubt It'

Sunday, 30 September 2001 12:00 AM

In Islamabad, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, indicated Sunday that his government would allow U.S. ground troops to use Pakistani bases for operations into Afghanistan if Washington asked him to do so, adding that he thought hopes of the Taliban turning over bin Laden were "very dim."

However, Musharraf, during an interview on CNN, ruled out the possibility of Pakistani troops entering Afghanistan.

Military action against Afghanistan has been widely expected since four airliners were hijacked over the United States on Sept. 11. Two of these jets were crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and one into Pentagon building outside of Washington. A fourth airliner crashed in Pennsylvania. More than 6,000 people are missing and presumed dead.

President George W. Bush and his national security team have identified bin Laden - leader of the Muslim extremist organization al Qaida - as their prime suspect in the terror attacks, and said he is being harbored by the Taliban, who control nearly 90 percent of Afghanistan.

But the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance rebels, largely penned in a small corner of the mountainous country, received a boost Sunday with that news that Afghanistan's former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, was expected to urge the Afghan people to rise up against the Taliban within the next 48 hours.

The Northern Alliance said Sunday that it captured a key district in western Afghanistan from the Taliban forces. Mohammed Habeel, an alliance spokesman, told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press that the opposition forces seized Qadis district in western Baghlan province in heavy overnight fighting. More than 30 Taliban fighters were captured and 130 deserted to the Northern Alliance, he said.

The alliance is trying to persuade the former king to return to Afghanistan and help form a broad-based government, which he would head as a constitutional monarch while the real power would rest with a president or a prime minister to be elected by a loi jirga, or grand assembly of tribal elders.

The king expects to return to the country he left 27 years ago as a constitutional monarch with the help of the United States and the Northern Alliance, his grandson Prince Mustapha Zahir Shah told ABC television on Sunday.

"The king will be making a very important statement in the next 48 hours," said Shah when asked if his grandfather was to make a formal declaration that the Afghan people should rise up and remove the Taliban from power.

In Islamabad, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan refused to disclose bin Laden's whereabouts, saying "only security people know the location of bin Laden." Pakistan is the only country that recognizes the Taliban as Afghanistan's legitimate government.

Abdul Salam Zaeef told a news conference in the Pakistani capital: "Osama is at a secret location in Afghanistan. It is important to keep it secret for his safety and security. He is under our control."

In Washington, U.S. officials reacted with caution and skepticism to the comments.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he doubted the truthfulness of the Taliban's surprise announcement.

"Just a week ago they said they didn't know where he was," Rumsfeld told NBC television. "I have no reason to believe anything the Taliban representative would have said."

The White House said its demands have not changed that the Taliban turn over bin Laden and other terrorists who the United States says are being harbored in Afghanistan.

"The president was exceptionally clear in his speech outlining his demands. Those have not changed," White House spokesman Ken Lisaius told United Press International.

"We've told the Taliban government what they should be doing," said White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card on Fox News Sunday. "They have got to turn not only Osama bin Laden over, but all the operatives of the al Qaida organization ... And it is not negotiable."

The ambassador also said bin Laden has received, but not responded to, an edict that a council of 600 Taliban clerics issued two weeks ago asking the exiled Saudi millionaire to leave Afghanistan voluntarily. Speaking earlier on Sunday to CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Musharraf said he had not received an operational plan from the U.S. government and that it also has not yet provided him evidence of bin Laden's involvement. But he added that he expected to be briefed soon.

"We have indication that parts of the evidence, which are not confidential, could be shared with us," he said.

"I really don't know what the confidential part of this evidence, so if there is confidentiality in it, in the interest of justice, we certainly would understand that. But those parts which would facilitate (a) better understanding of the people at large should be shared, I would say." Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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In Islamabad, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, indicated Sunday that his government would allow U.S. ground troops to use Pakistani bases for operations into Afghanistan if Washington asked him to do so, adding that he thought hopes of the Taliban turning over...
Sunday, 30 September 2001 12:00 AM
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