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Taliban spiritual leader addresses nation

Nic Robertson
Nic Robertson  

The Taliban's spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has made a nationwide speech in Afghanistan about the possible repercussions of the terrorist attack on the United States. CNN's reporters are the only journalists who remain in Afghanistan, and CNN International's Tumi Makgabo spoke by videophone to Nic Robertson in Kabul.

Q. Please tell us about Mullah Mohammad Omar's address.

A. It was a 17-minute radio address -- there is no television here in Afghanistan. It was very much a speech about rallying in the face of adversity. He started by saying that he was addressing the speech not only to Afghans but to all Muslims. He went on to say that Afghanistan in the past had been invaded by several superpowers. He mentioned that in the 19th century, the British empire had invaded twice. He pointed out that at that time there was no Taliban, and no Osama bin Laden. And he questioned why were they invaded then.

He pointed out the had been invaded by Russia in the 1980s. And he pointed out that people should not be afraid of what might happen next. He said they should be strong, that they should believe in Allah and be strong, that they should believe in their own power and strength and that their faith should be strong and guide them through the coming days.

He said he wasn't afraid of dying himself, and he wasn't making the speech to the people in any way to save his own life or to keep him in position as leader. He said that he was doing it for all of Islam and it was important for people to understand that. He said Afghanistan and Afghans had been through much adversity in the past and that people should be ready for it in the future.

He also said Muslims should be ready if necessary for a Jihad (Holy war). He reminded people of what Afghans had been through in the 1980s expelling the 10-year Soviet occupation. But it was in tone very much a spiritual message -- he is the spiritual leader of the Taliban. And it was very much a rallying call to the population to be ready for adversity -- that the Taliban leadership really does expect to come their way fairly soon.

Q. We have been hearing about ordinary people feeling afraid, with many fleeing the country in case of an attack by the United States. What is the feeling among the people?

A. Well people here are certainly are afraid of what might happen next, but 85 percent of the almost 20 million Afghans who live in this country live in rural areas, with only 15 percent in cities. Very many of them have been through the 22 years of conflict and have little money, they are very poor. For many people it is a struggle just to put food on the table at the end of the day. We talked to some people who said they couldn't afford the fare to get a car to get them out of the city.

So although the city is apprehensive, and although the streets are a little quieter these last few days, many, many people here are really trying to go about their daily lives as normal and to wait and see what happens next. And it was really those people who Mullah Omar was addressing in the radio address this evening. He was trying to reach out to those people to tell them to trust their religion, to put their faith in Allah, and through that they will find strength.

People have been trying to leave, those with money we understand have tried to get their families out of the city, certainly a lot of people moving to relatives if they can in the rural communities. But it's very much a population here without the resources to do much about their own destiny.

Q. What is the Taliban doing to prepare for any possible attack?

In any situation like this, when a country prepares for war, the operational details will not be discussed -- particularly with journalists from overseas, so those kind of details we are not privy to, but it's certainly clear the Taliban leadership are very aware of what could happen and have been fighting a sustained war here for the last seven or eight years and would certainly be very aware of what would be necessary to defend themselves. One can safely assume they are taking the preparations they believe to be necessary.

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