Rebels seek revenge after leader's death

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Fierce fighting raged across northern Afghanistan yesterday as opposition forces took advantage of the threat of American strikes against the Taliban to avenge the assassination of their leader.

The opposition Northern Alliance, headed by Burhanuddin Rabbani, reported the capture of several Taliban outposts and dozens of villages in the Samangan province.

Meanwhile the leader of Afghanistan's Uzbek minority, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, was said by his aides to have concentrated a "huge" force in the north, with the aim of capturing the main town in the region, Mazar-i-Sharif.

The fighting is in response tothe killing of the opposition leader Shah Ahmad Masood, who was fatally wounded by suicide bombers on 9 September, two days before the attacks on New York and Washington.

Yesterday Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, which is one of only three countries to recognise the Taliban government, rejected the US demands to hand over Osama bin Laden, wanted for his alleged role in the US attacks, without evidence. Mr Zaeef said he had no information on Mr bin Laden's whereabouts, although the Taliban leadership is able to keep in touch with him through radio communication with his accompanying Taliban security personnel.