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Afghanistan's Taleban Defends bin Laden, Warns Against Retaliation - 2001-09-14


Afghanistan's Taleban rulers are defending Osama bin Laden and warning the United States not to retaliate for Tuesday's terror attacks in New York and Washington.

In Kabul, Taleban clerics urged the world's Muslims to unite against the United States. Speaking after Friday prayers (at Wazir Akbarkhan Mosque) the clerics also warned of revenge "by other means" if the United States attacked their country.

Earlier, the Taleban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, commented on the attacks for the first time in a statement issued through The Taleban ambassador to Pakistan.

The reclusive Taleban leader said neither Osama bin Laden nor Afghanistan itself had the capacity to train the suicide pilots who crashed hijacked planes into landmark buildings in New York and Washington.

The Taleban is sheltering Osama bin Laden, who has been named by Washington as a prime suspect responsible for Tuesday's attacks.

Meanwhile, tensions are mounting in Pakistan in anticipation of a possible U-S retaliatory strike on Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities closed Islamabad airport to commercial flights for nearly three hours today (Friday). Officials did not to give a reason for the closure, but news reports say it was designed to move military equipment.

U-S Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke by telephone Thursday with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, who made a general commitment to fully cooperate with Washington in efforts to fight terrorism. Observers say the United States would like Pakistan to use its military intelligence to help identify terrorist networks and their support bases. Washington may also ask Islamabad to cut off fuel supply to Afghanistan and seek permission to overfly Pakistan for military purposes.

Earlier Thursday, Mr. Powell identified Osama bin Laden as a prime suspect,. the first time a senior administration official U-S had publicly linked the Saudi exile to Tuesday's attacks.

Pakistan is one of only three countries that recognize Afghanistan's Taleban leadership that has been sheltering Osama bin Laden for five years.

Meanwhile, Indian news reports say New Delhi is prepared to allow U-S forces to use its facilities if Washington decides to launch military strikes against Afghanistan in retaliation for the U-S attacks.

The Times of India newspaper says the decision was taken Thursday at a meeting of India's Cabinet Committee on Security.

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