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Taleban to Let Clerics Decide Whether to Turn Over bin Laden - 2001-09-17


Afghanistan's Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar says he will let the country's Islamic leaders decide whether to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United states.

The council of Islamic cleris is scheduled to meet in Kabul on Tuesday. The Taleban radio announced the decision after a three-hour meeting between Mullah Omar and a high-level Pakistani delegation that visited him in Kandahar. Pakistan's diplomatic mission was believed to be a last-ditch appeal to the Taleban to expel Saudi fugitive bin Laden, and thereby avoid a possible U.S. retaliation on Afghanistan.

The Afghan Islamic Press news agency quotes a Taleban spokesman as saying the two sides "exchanged views" on the situation emerging from Tuesday's terrorist attacks on U.S. cities. He said the discussions were positive, but refused to elaborate.

The United States says Osama bin Laden is the prime suspect in Tuesday's devastating terrorist attacks in New York and outside Washington. The Saudi exile denies any involvement. The Taleban has said it will continue to protect him as a guest, and has threatened to attack any neighboring country that assists a U.S. military effort in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has had close ties to Afghanistan and is one of only three countries that recognizes the Taleban government. It agreed to cooperate with Washington to help bring Osama bin Laden to justice, despite expected domestic opposition by Islamic fundamentalist and militant groups. Pakistan placed its military on heightened alert Monday.

The United States is expected to send a diplomatic team to Pakistan in the next few days to discuss details of their cooperation agreement, which could include the use of Pakistani airspace to reach neighboring Afghanistan.

Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.

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