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Archive for Monday, October 1, 2001

Pakistan says bin Laden handover prospects dim

October 1, 2001

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— Pakistan's president said it was unlikely the Taliban would hand over Osama bin Laden, despite the fact that the hard-line Islamic militia admitted knowing the location of the No. 1 suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States.

The Taliban said publicly for the first time Sunday that they know where bin Laden is, and that he is under their control. Previously, they had said they didn't know the Saudi millionaire's location, but they could deliver messages to him.

In Afghanistan's beleaguered capital, Kabul, meanwhile, the first World Food Program convoy since the start of the crisis arrived Monday. Eight trucks carrying 218 tons of wheat made it through to the city after a bone-jarring journey over rutted roads, WFP spokesman Khalid Mansour said in neighboring Pakistan.

Word on bin Laden's status came from the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef. He also left open the door to talks--an offer rejected by Washington, which said bin Laden's handover is not negotiable.

Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader, denied any role in the terrorist attacks and blamed them on unspecified U.S. policies in an interview with Taliban-run Kabul Radio. He repeatedly warned the United States to "think and think again" about attacking Afghanistan, which drove out Soviet invaders with U.S. assistance in the 1979-89 war.

"Americans don't have the courage to come here," he said.

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, told CNN in an interview aired Sunday that hopes that the Taliban will hand over bin Laden and accede to other U.S. demands are "very dim."

Musharraf confirmed the United States had asked Pakistan to share its intelligence on the Taliban and bin Laden and had requested permission to use Pakistani air space and logistics facilities.

The Pakistani leader also said he was confident about the security of his country's nuclear facilities, saying "there is no chance of these assets falling into the hands of extremists."

Pakistan has lent its backing to the United States in the confrontation over bin Laden, but outbursts of anti-American sentiment have the government worried. At a rally near the volatile border city of Peshawar on Monday, a prominent Pakistani cleric told hundreds of followers to kill any American they can find if Afghanistan comes under attack.

The Taliban, meanwhile, cracked down on any of their own citizens thought to sympathize with the enemy.

Taliban authorities, in a statement distributed by the Afghan Islamic Press, said six men were arrested for distributing pamphlets supporting the United States and Afghanistan's exiled king--a crime that could be punishable by death. Top clerics from three provinces also issued an edict Sunday saying any Afghan believed to sympathize with the United States or the former king should be heavily fined and have their house burned down.

Fighting continued in the north of Afghanistan, with one district whose capture the opposition alliance had reported on Sunday apparently changing hands again. Taliban officials quoted by the private Afghan Islamic Press, a private news agency close to the Taliban, said their fighters had retaken the district of Qadis in northeastern Bagdis province.

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