'America can't get me alive,' boasts bin Laden

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The Independent Online

Osama bin Laden has defiantly declared: "America can't get me alive.

"I can be eliminated but not my mission," Mr bin Laden told Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist, in the second part of an interview published yesterday. "We'll fight along with [the Taliban leader Mullah Muhammed] Omar until the last drop of our blood."

Mr bin Laden denied he had anything to do with the anthrax crisis, as more spores were found in the offices of three American senators. The FBI has indicated it believes the source behind the outbreak could be domestic rather than international.

In an interview with Mr Mir, from the the Urdu-language Pakistani newspaper Ausaf, Mr bin Laden said he had no knowledge of the deadly anthrax crisis, which has terrified America over the past month. He laughed and said: "We don't know anything about it."

But in the first instalment of the interview published on Saturday, he did warn that his al-Qa'ida organisation had nuclear and chemical weapons. "I wish to declare that if America used chemical and nuclear weapons against us, then we may retort with chemical weapons. We have the weapons as a deterrent," he said. When asked where he got the weapons, Mr bin Laden replied: "Go to the next question."

He told Mr Mir that he believed America had already used chemical weapons in Afghanistan "because bodies of mujahedin found from a site in Kabul had all turned black".

Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, said yesterday that Mr bin Laden did have some nuclear material. "We are certainly aware that he has some nuclear material that could contribute to a nuclear weapon. We are not convinced at this stage that he is capable of producing a nuclear bomb."

Mr Mir has described how he obtained the first interview Mr bin Laden has given to anyone since the attacks of 11 September. He said that after being blindfolded, wrapped in a blanket and put in a jeep last Wednesday night in Kabul, he was taken on a bone-jarring five-hour journey to meet the man deemed by President George Bush to be the "prime suspect" in the attacks against America.

The journalist believes he was taken north of Kabul and that the jeep climbed high into the mountains where it was extremely cold.

When the blindfold was removed, he found himself in a mud-floored house, "arranged temporarily for the interview".

He wrote in yesterday's edition of Ausaf: "At regular intervals one could hear anti-aircraft guns, so it was not difficult to judge that it was close to the front line."

Mr bin Laden turned up with about a dozen bodyguards and Ayman Zuwahiri, his confidant and the man sometimes described as the mastermind of al-Qa'ida. Mr Mir said Mr bin Laden "looked confident, healthy and fresh".

Meanwhile, on a video that has been circulating among his followers, Mr bin Laden comes as close to admitting responsibility for the attacks of 11 September as it is possible to come without spelling it out in so many words.

In the course of the recording Mr bin Laden says: "The twin towers were legitimate targets, they were supporting US economic power. These events were great by all measurement. What was destroyed were not only the towers, but the towers of morale in that country."

He adds: "If avenging the killing of our people is terrorism, then history should witness that we are terrorists. Yes, we kill their innocents, and this is legal, religiously and logically."