Air strikes target suspected Taliban hideout

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The Independent Online

US warplanes have bombed a suspected hideout of Taliban and al Qaida leaders, it has emerged, as the US said it had detained alleged members of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

US Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the compound south–east of Kandahar "clearly was a leadership area", although it was unclear whether the people targeted had been hit.

"Whoever was there is going to wish they weren't," he said of the site, which was pounded with precision–guided weapons from F–16 jets and B–1B bombers.

The compound was thought to hold key figures from the Taliban, the al Qaida organization and Wafa, a Saudi aid organisation that was among several groups named by the US as alleged money conduits for bin Laden and his network.

But senior Taliban representative Abdul Salam Zaeef said their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was "safe and sound", the Pakistan–based Afghan Islamic Press reported.

He claimed the US strikes had hit the house of a local Taliban leader in Kandahar's Dand area, but it was not an al–Qaida or the Taliban base.

Meanwhile, a number of al Qaida operatives are among the 603 people currently being held by the US government in its investigation into the September 11 attacks, according to US Attorney General John Ashcroft.

He declined to give more details about the individuals, saying: "I am not interested in providing, when we are at war, a list to Osama bin Laden and the al Qaida network of the people we have detained that would make any easier their effort to kill Americans," he said.

Talks in Germany between rival Afghan factions aimed at setting up an interim administration for the war–torn country were entering a second day.

Yesterday all sides taking part in the UN–sponsored negotiations expressed a commitment to work for peace, and today they were due to hold a joint session with mediators.

The talks include the Northern Alliance, exiles backing former King Mohammed Zaher Shah and two smaller exile groups, representing all major Afghan ethnic groups, including the Pashtun from which the Taliban draws most of its support.

US experts were investigating more than 40 sites across Afghanistan where al Qaida could have made weapons of mass destruction.

General Tommy Franks, commander in charge of US operations in Afghanistan, said no chemical, nuclear or biological weapons were found but a number of samples were being tested.

British and US special forces "advisers" yesterday helped Northern Alliance troops to quell a bloody three–day uprising of pro–Taliban foreigners at a fort near Mazar–e–Sharif.

US Marines also went into combat near Kandahar, seizing an airport near the city to provide a base for operations in southern Afghanistan.

It emerged yesterday that six bank accounts in the UK containing £7.6 million, which are linked to outlawed organisations including bin Laden's al Qaida network, have been frozen since the September 11 attacks.

Accounts have now been frozen in 130 countries, blocking £43.1 million of terrorist funds, US Treasury Deputy Secretary Kenneth Dam said on a flying visit to London.

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