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Arab journalist: Taliban 'panicking'

Atwan says bin Laden told him he wants to die soon, and as a "martyr."  

(CNN) -- The relationship between Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and exiled Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden has been the subject of speculation ever since last month's terrorist attacks, which U.S. officials say were backed if not devised by bin Laden.

Abdel Barin Atwan, the Editor-in-Chief of the Palestinian-based newspaper "Al Quds," talked with CNN's Leon Harris on Monday about what the Taliban and bin Laden are thinking and what they may do next.

HARRIS: Let me begin by asking you about the Taliban's flip-flop this morning -- over the weekend, insisting that they did not know where Osama bin Laden is, and now saying that they do have him but they want to negotiate with the United States. How do you read that?

ATWAN: Actually, it means many things. First, we are not dealing with sophisticated government that has a structure (and) departments like everybody else. We are dealing with a movement -- radical movements that belong to the Middle Ages.

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Secondly, I believe the Taliban are panicking now. They don't know what to do. They can see there is a huge coalition building against them. They can see a huge superpower, aircraft carriers, a massive military mobilization, so they are panicking Sometimes they say, "Look, you know we have Osama bin Laden." Sometimes they say, "We don't know where he is."

The third thing is, I believe there is a split in Taliban. There are two schools of thought. The radical one (has) the upper hand and (is) headed by Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban. Those people believe that they should protect Osama bin Laden. They believe it is anti-Islamic to surrender him to a foreign power , America in particular.

And then there is the part of this camp that doesn't believe that. They (say) we have had enough fighting, let us look at the future -- maybe we can get a commission from the United Nation or from the United States, get money, rebuild our country, have a truce and have some peace.

So we don't know which camp will prevail in the end. Maybe these messages saying "We do have Osama bin Laden," maybe these are from Taliban moderates sending messages in the hope there will be a negotiation.

But the radical (faction), at the same time, look at it as useless ... The American administration is refusing to talk to us, so it is meaningless to surrender him. So let us fight, let us declare a holy war against America.

HARRIS: Having said all that, do you actually believe the Taliban have bin Laden in their custody?

ATWAN: I believe they definitely know where he is. I don't believe any other country will welcome bin Laden to actually come to them, and to stay and face the punishment and face the isolation from the United States and the other members of the coalition. So I believe he definitely is still in Afghanistan.

And definitely, if he's still in Afghanistan the leadership of the Taliban knows where he is, where he is hiding.

HARRIS: I've heard a lot of other analysts speculating over the weekend that perhaps this is some sort of a stalling tactic. Do you believe that? And if so, what could they possibly -- they being the Taliban -- be stalling for?

ATWAN: They are buying time they want to reorganize their troops, they want to actually make contact with other Muslim countries, and they want to see what the reaction (will be) to any war that could erupt soon.

So they are buying time and they are panicking at the same time. They were taken by surprise by this mobilization -- a massive military mobilization. I believe they're trying to create some sort of a split or a crack in the coalition by buying time.

It is a tactic they are using, but I think it is too late for them.

HARRIS: I find it absolutely fascinating that the Taliban actually would turn over bin Laden. If that were to happen -- and many people don't believe it ever would -- what would happen inside Afghanistan?

ATWAN: You know, I believe they wouldn't turn over Osama bin Laden. And even if they do, I don't believe Osama bin Laden will be peaceful in this case. He would definitely resist. I don't believe that he is the type of person -- I interviewed him, I studied his character -- I don't believe this man actually will say to the Taliban, yes, surrender me to the American administration.

HARRIS: You think he would fight the Taliban?

ATWAN: Oh yes, definitely he would fight them. I don't believe he will actually surrender. This man, he told me that he'd lived long enough and he would like to die as soon as possible. He would like to die as a martyr. He would like to go on to the eternal life, to paradise, so I don't think he will accept the humiliation of being surrendered and tried in the United States or any other part of the world.

Even if the Taliban would like to capture him, he will resist. His people will resist, and they will be killed. Maybe they will surrender him as a dead man, but I don't believe they will surrender him as a live man.

HARRIS: If he felt as though he was cornered -- (if it) got to the point where either the Taliban ... was after him or there were actually forces on the ground from the coalition there, they were closing in on him, what do you think he would do?

ATWAN: He would fight if he would be cornered, he wouldn't be alone -- he would be cornered with other people and definitely they will exchange fire with the Taliban troops who are trying to capture him.

HARRIS: There have been so many rumors and bits and pieces of information about what (bin Laden) has available to use, the biological weapons and chemical weapons. [Do you think there are] any other terrorist plans he may actually have in place? Do you think he would enact any of those things if he were cornered?

ATWAN: If he's cornered, I don't believe he will have these biological or chemical weapons in his pocket. Maybe he will indicate to his followers, if they've got these kinds of weapons, to use them in the right time and the right place.

But if he is cornered, he has his gun and his people. The people around him also have their guns and they've got missiles (and) they definitely will use these traditional weapons and light weapons. I don't think he will use biological weapons against the Taliban.

If the Americans actually attacked him, and they spot where he is the same thing will happen -- he will fight until he drops dead. It is expected from him. As I said, he told me personally he would like to die as a martyr and he'd lived enough and he regretted that he wasn't killed during his fight against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan.


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