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2001-09-19

The First Reporter to Interview the Head of the Taliban, and the Last to Interview Osama Bin Laden

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Today, the leader of Afghanistan’s Taliban movement appealed to the United States for patience in its call for Osama bin Laden to be handed over as a prime suspect in attacks on New York and Washington last week, and asked to see proof in the case. The United States has warned Afghanistan to surrender the Saudi exile, whom Washington believes is behind the attacks that left nearly 6,000 people dead and missing.

"Anyone who is responsible for this act, Osama or not, we will not side with him," said Afghanistan’s interiorminister. But in talks with the delegation from Pakistan, the Taliban said they needed "proof" before they wouldconsider turning the millionaire exile over for trial in an Islamic country.

In a speech read out to a meeting of hundreds of clerics gathered in the presidential palace in Kabul, the spiritualleader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar said, "We want America to gather complete information and find theculprits." Omar said that international pressure over bin Laden had another goal, destruction of the Islamic state.He told the clerics, "The enemies of this country look on the Islamic system as a thorn in their eye and they seekdifferent excuses to finish it off," he said. "Osama bin Laden is one of these."

Pakistani officials left Afghanistan yesterday after trying to convince the Taliban that if they do not hand over theSaudi-born militant their turbaned fighters will face the full wrath of the world’s most powerful military force.Evidence could be submitted to the Afghan Supreme Court or to clerics of three Islamic nations, he said. The US saythe grand council of clerics, or shura, could decide on what to do about bin Laden and whether to back the call ofthe Taliban leader for a jihad, or holy war, against the United States if the country is attacked.

A U.S. team of intelligence and military officials is expected this week to visit Pakistan, one of just three nationsto recognize the Taliban government, to discuss what Bush has described as the first war of the 21st century.

The U.S. ambassador to Islamabad on Wednesday held out the prospect of a broad aid plan for Pakistan in talks overbasing U.S. troops on Islamabad’s territory for retaliatory attacks.

As tensions mounted in the region, the Taliban asked U.S. news channel CNN to remove its correspondent fromAfghanistan. The British High Commission in Islamabad told diplomatic dependents and nonessential staff to leavePakistan.

Rahim-Uooah Yusufzai, a former BBC correspondent for Pakistan, is the editor of the News, a Peshawar-basedEnglish daily. He is the last reporter to interview Osama bin Laden. In 1999, bin Laden spoke to Yusufzai at a smallencampment in the Afghan desert, which was published in Time magazine. Yusufzai is also the first and onlyreporter to interview Mullah Mohammed Omar, head of the Taliban. The reclusive, one-eyed leader, is considered achief protector of bin Laden. Yusufzai spoke to Omar shortly after he founded the Taliban in 1994. When Yusfzai spoketo Omar in 1994, he had never agreed to be interviewed before.

Guest:

  • Rahim-Uooah Yusufzai, editor of News, an English Daily in Peshwar, Pakistan.

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