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Robertson: Al Qaeda renews threats

(CNN) Correspondent Nic Robertson was among a group of journalists escorted by Taliban authorities on Sunday to the village Koram in Afghanistan. Robertson viewed what the Taliban says is damage caused by U.S.-led bombing raids.

Robertson reported seeing a large number of houses that had been destroyed, as well as a number of injured people.

Then, before heading back to Peshawar, Pakistan, Robertson says he met with representatives of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda movement, blamed in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

ROBERTSON: The latest is, just before we left Jalalabad, about a hundred miles west of here inside Afghanistan, I met with the representatives of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda movement. I asked them how Mr. bin Laden was, what his situation was. They said they had seen him in the last two days and he was well. I asked them what his view was on the current situation. They said that he was confident he would win this war.

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They also said that Osama believes he has successfully defined the terms of this conflict. They said that he believed he defined this as a battle for saving Islam, and that the allied forces are fighting against Islam. They also said that the United States and Great Britain, according to Osama bin Laden, would now suffer huge economic and political downfall because of their involvement in this.

They said the only way that the conflict could go on, the only way it could end and the United States could avoid having its economy or political situation ruined was if the United States removed its troops from Saudi Arabia. This is what al Qaeda movement and Osama bin Laden has been saying all along. They also said that it was necessary for the United States to disengage in the situation in Israel.

However, bin Laden's representatives did say that Mr. bin Laden had a special message at this time, and that message was that if the homes of Afghan people are destroyed then there would be consequences for that action. Now of course, the Taliban took us into Afghanistan in the last couple of days to show us just that. The Taliban wanted to show international reporters what they said were homes of civilians (that were bombed) as part of the allied bombing campaign, and to that end, they took us to a village in the mountains and we were able to see a village where a large number of the houses had been destroyed and a large number off the people still there who told us that American bombers had bombed their village.

CNN: You said the representative told you that Osama bin Laden is confident he will win this war. Did they describe to you what he thinks would constitute a win?

ROBERTSON: They said they were confident at this time because clearly they were already beginning to win because they said the economy of the United States had been affected. In fact, they said the economy of the world would be affected at this time and also it would have a politically de-stabilizing effect not only on the United States, but on Britain. They also singled out the British leader, Prime Minister Tony Blair, saying his involvement in this would mean problems for the United Kingdom.

CNN: You also said that he issued a threat that if civilian homes were destroyed that there would be consequences for those actions. Was there a more specific threat made, or was that it?

ROBERTSON: No, the message was and they described this as a special message; they were very clear about that that if Afghan homes were destroyed, that there would be serious consequences. But they didn't outline what those consequences might be. But there was an implied threat that if these homes of Afghan civilians were destroyed then there would be consequences.

CNN: I know the Bush administration has been telling us for days that they believe Osama bin Laden is alive, but I guess there's no proof of that. How confident are you of this information that this representative gave you?

ROBERTSON: He seemed very confident, in all honesty. I asked him how he could be sure that bin Laden was well, and he said because he had actually met with him two days before, so he knew where he was or knew where he had been. And this representative was introduced to me by someone else as being a representative of al Qaeda. And it seemed to me from my interaction with this gentleman and another of his colleagues from al Qaeda that they were genuine representatives of al Qaeda, and they were certainly very convincing in their arguments about putting forward al Qaeda's views and they were very convincing in saying that they did know Osama bin Laden and had recently met with him.

CNN: What is their reaction to the news that President Bush says, 'Absolutely no negotiations. We won't allow Osama bin Laden to be turned over to a third country?'

ROBERTSON: Well, I asked a leader of the Taliban, 'Now, what happens if you get this evidence? Will you turn Osama bin Laden over?' He said, 'Osama bin Laden is in Afghanistan and therefore he has to abide by the rules and regulations of Afghanistan. And if we tell him he would have to be turned over, then he would have to be turned over, likely to a Muslim country.'

Now when I asked the al Qaeda representative, 'Would Mr. bin Laden go along with this?' They were less clear in their answer there. I did not get a clear yes or no that they would surrender bin Laden to the Taliban.


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