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Taliban say Omar safe, deny strike hit leadership compound

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- The Taliban on Wednesday denied that U.S. airstrikes had hit a leadership compound a day earlier and said the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, was safe and unharmed.

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Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, also said Osama bin Laden is not in Taliban-controlled territory and that his whereabouts are unknown.

He spoke to the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) and confirmed his quotes to CNN.

Zaeef's comments came a day after U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said U.S. warplanes had launched an air attack on a leadership compound southeast of Kandahar, the Taliban's last stronghold in Afghanistan, striking "two known Taliban facilities."

Pentagon sources said the strikes were ordered shortly after the United States received intelligence information that Omar was inside one of the buildings.

The extent of casualties was not immediately known, and one U.S. official said it could be a day or two until the full extent of damage is known.

"It was neither a Taliban nor al Qaeda center," Zaeef said. He added that neither Omar "nor any other Taliban official" was there.

"Mullah Mohammed Omar ... is safe and sound," he said.

Kandahar is one of two locations U.S. forces are searching closely for leaders of the Taliban and al Qaeda, including terrorist mastermind bin Laden. Zaeef said the Taliban does not know where bin Laden is.

"We don't know about his whereabouts," Zaeef said. "He is not in our territory."

Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, said the United States is continuing to "tighten the noose" on the Taliban and al Qaeda, helped by the recent arrival of U.S. Marines who are setting up a forward base south of Kandahar.

On Tuesday, Rumsfeld told reporters of the strike on the compound near Kandahar.

"Whoever was there is gonna wish they weren't," Rumsfeld said.

Pentagon sources said the attacks were carried out by an Air Force F-16, which dropped a laser-guided bomb, and a B-1 bomber, which dropped a 2,000-pound satellite-guided bomb, or JDAM.

Rumsfeld was returning from a visit to Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, when he commented to reporters. Pentagon sources said the order to strike the compounds in Afghanistan was made while he was at MacDill.

U.S. officials said they believe at least one compound hit belonged to Wafa, an Islamic charity organization that allegedly funnels money to al Qaeda. The officials said most of the leaders of Wafa are al Qaeda members.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon said it had received "credible reports" suggesting that Mohammed Atef -- one of al Qaeda's top aides to Osama bin Laden -- was killed in an airstrike south of Kabul.

Rumsfeld said at the time he could not confirm Atef's death but that "the reports I've received seem authoritative." He said the information he received indicated Atef was killed by an airstrike.

Atef -- whose daughter is married to one of bin Laden's sons -- has been among the top three in al Qaeda since 1996, according to U.S. officials.

He is considered al Qaeda's military chief and bin Laden's likely successor. The other man in the top three, Ayman al Zawahiri, is considered the brains of the terrorist operation.

Atef is on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist list and the United States is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.


• U.S. Central Command

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