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Taliban considers warning over bin Laden

Musharraf
Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has pledged his country's cooperation with the United States.  


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghanistan's supreme leader, who was warned by Pakistani officials to either turn over suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden or face a U.S. attack, said on radio Monday that Afghanistan's top Islamic clerics will meet Tuesday and "they will decide."

In the Radio Shariat broadcast, Mullah Mohammed Omar did not directly mention bin Laden, but he made the statement after meeting with the Pakistani representatives.

It was not clear whether Omar would make a recommendation to the clerics.

However, sources told CNN that despite the growing prospect of U.S. military action, the Taliban were unlikely to surrender the millionaire Saudi dissident.

Pakistani envoys met Monday first with the Taliban foreign minister and then with Omar and demanded that Afghanistan hand over bin Laden or face an attack from the United States.

Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, chief of Pakistan's intelligence services, and Aziz Khan of the Pakistan Foreign Ministry spent more than an hour with the foreign minister of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, Wakil Ahmed Mutawakel.

They then went to an undisclosed location to meet with Omar.

"Time is short, and you (the Taliban) should solve this problem," Khan told the Taliban foreign minister.

He said all indications were that the origin of attack on the United States came from Afghanistan, and he stressed Pakistan was intent on obeying international law on matters of terrorism.

In Pakistan, the Pakistani military said there were "unusual movements" of Taliban troops and Scud missiles near the Pakistan border. The officials would not elaborate further.

In northern Afghanistan, the field commander of the Northern Alliance, the group which has been fighting the Taliban, said his group welcomes possible military action and wants to play a role.

The official told CNN Correspondent Steve Harrigan the Northern Alliance has been fighting the Taliban for five years. The group says it has about 15,000 fighters.

The meeting with Omar is considered remarkable because the Muslim cleric who heads the Taliban government rarely meets with anyone outside his inner circle of advisers.

In the past, the Taliban have given no indication they are willing to turn over bin Laden to anyone else.

Bin Laden denial

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Afghans are bracing themselves for an attack from the United States but still show loyalty to the ruling Taliban. CNN's Nic Robertson reports (September 17)

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Bin Laden, who was stripped of his Saudi citizenship because of Saudi Arabia's concern over his activities, has been living as the "guest" of the Taliban.

He has been identified by U.S. authorities as the “prime suspect” in last Tuesday’s attacks in Washington and New York and is also thought to be linked to previous acts of terrorism.

Last week, the Taliban government said if the United States has evidence bin Laden was involved, it should turn over that evidence so the matter could be handled by Afghanistan's judicial system.

The Taliban also said bin Laden could not have been involved in the terror attacks because there is no flight training school in Afghanistan and because the Taliban have cut off bin Laden's communications with the rest of the world.

In a statement issued Sunday, bin Laden denied he was behind the attacks.

"The U.S. government has consistently blamed me for being behind every occasion its enemies attack it," according to the statement, read on Al Jazeera, the Arabic television news channel. "I would like to assure the world that I did not plan the recent attacks, which seems to have been planned by people for personal reasons," bin Laden's statement read.

Taliban threat

Meanwhile, the mood in Kandahar remains defiant.

At a meeting Sunday of Afghanistan's Ulemas (religious scholars) and Spingerays (tribal elders), Taliban leaders denounced the terrorist attacks but vowed to fight any American attack on Afghanistan.

The Taliban government Saturday also threatened to attack any neighboring country that allowed the United States to stage an attack against Afghanistan.

However, after a three-hour meeting with his Cabinet and security council Saturday, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, announced that the government had unanimously voted to help the United States fight terrorism and pledged its full cooperation

"Pakistan has taken very serious note of the threat that has been hurled against Pakistan," Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar told CNN from Islamabad.







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