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White House Does not Believe Taleban Claim on bin - 2001-09-23


The White House says it does not believe reports that ruling Taleban officials in Afghanistan do not know the whereabouts of suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

In a televised interview today (Sunday), National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice said the United States will not be deterred by the claim. She warned Afghan rulers they will face the wrath of a growing international coalition if the Saudi fugitive is not surrendered to the United States.

Osama bin Laden -- an official guest of the Taleban government -- is wanted in connection with the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center New York and the Pentagon. More than six thousand people are reported dead or missing in the attacks which also included the crash of a hijacked plane in (the U-S state of) Pennsylvania.

Earlier today, the Taleban said Mr. bin Laden could not be found, after first telling the Afghan Islamic Press news agency that U-S demands for the suspect are unacceptable and would not be met.

The spokesman said there has been no change in the Taleban's refusal to surrender Mr. bin Laden or his associates. He is quoted as saying the Taleban "cannot depart from (its) religious ways."

On Saturday, Pakistan's English-Language Karachi Dawn newspaper quoted Afghan sources as saying Mr. bin Laden had gone into hiding with his family and scores of supporters in Oruzgan province -- a mountainous region 100 kilometers north of Kandahar in central Afghanistan.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan there are reports of Taleban forces preparing for war -- building bunkers, installing anti-aircraft batteries and distributing weapons in border areas to defend against possible attack.

Reports from both Kabul (the capital) and Kandahar say weapons are being distributed to civilians in several southern provinces.

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