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Walter Rodgers: Radicals believe in bin Laden

Walter Rodgers in Islamabad
Walter Rodgers in Islamabad  

(CNN) -- Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar has asked his people to prepare for a "holy war" against the United States, just a day after Taliban leaders indicated they want to negotiate with the United States over the American demand to turn over Osama bin Laden.

The United States accuses the Taliban of harboring bin Laden, the prime suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

CNN's Walter Rodgers is in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he gave the following report.

RODGERS: Yesterday... the Taliban was calling for negotiations with the United States and its allies, to try to head off a military confrontation with Afghanistan. Today the Taliban is playing a different tune. Mullah Mohamed Omar is now calling for a holy war again. By the way, this is not the first time he's called for a holy war.

But this time he has called on Muslim businessmen around the world to contribute money to this holy war against the West, against the United States. He has called on young Muslims to enlist and fight what he called the oppressive powers.

Increasingly in this corner of the world, we are seeing the attempts by radical Islamist leaders, like Mullah Omar, to try to cast this as a confrontation between Islam and the United States. Of course, President Bush has repeatedly said that is not the case. Mr. Bush has spoken admiringly of the spiritual qualities of Islam as a religion. Mr. Bush's problem, of course, is that the radical Islamist, like this Pakistani cleric, simply do not believe the U.S. president.

HAFEZ NASSEE AHMED, Muslim cleric (through translator): We do not believe him (President Bush). He is now attacking Muslims without restraint or evidence. His bombs will not hit rocks, they will kill Muslims. It is my belief the life of one Muslim is worth more than the lives of all Americans. I am well within my rights to hold this opinion.

RODGERS: That sort of hard-line rhetoric from radical Islamist clerics in this part of the world, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, is of course designed to martial public support on the streets against the United States, and now against the Pakistani government, which has developed a new and warmer relationship with the United States.

The main issue in this part of the world, of course, continues to be a demand from the streets, from the Islamic streets, that the United States obviously does not have proof of complicity between Osama bin Laden and the events in New York and Washington last month, the terror attacks. Muslims here say, if indeed the United States had proof, it would have presented it by now.

When I raised a point with one Muslim cleric on this issue, I said to him, but there have been purported evidence produced that suggest that the kamikaze pilots, the Muslims who crashed those airplanes in the United States, in fact were trained in Afghanistan.

He said it is pure fabrication. Every time you presented a shred of evidence to them, or shred of purported evidence, they say that it was fabrication, it was lies. Osama bin Laden just wouldn't do that.

They don't want to believe bin Laden is involved, at least not the radicals.

CNN: (There are) reports out of Islamabad indicating the British Prime Minister Tony Blair may make a visit to Pakistan. If so, what would a visit entail?

RODGERS: Well, the foreign minister here in Pakistan has confirmed, or the Foreign Ministry has confirmed, that Mr. Blair is indeed coming on Friday. I think the British prime minister's mission is similar to that of the U.S. Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld who is going to the Middle East and to central Asia. They are trying to shore up support in this part of the world for whatever military offensive the United States and its allies launch in the near future.

As I say, this is a shaky and political fragile part of the world. On the streets, there is a good deal of opposition to any American retaliation here. Mr. Blair is going to shore up some of that support he's hoping to get from Pakistan...(and) President Bush hopes to get.


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