Taliban call for 'holy war'

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The Independent Online

Warning of a possible US invasion, Taliban leaders urged Afghans to prepare for a jihad, or holy war, against the United States, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported on Tuesday.

Throughout Afghanistan on Monday, the Taliban leaders were sending a message to their people: "Stay united and prepare for jihad against US invaders," the Taliban news agency said.

The Taliban are also reported to have set conditons for the handover of Osama bin Laden, demanding that he be sent to a neutral Islamic country to face trial.

Taliban leaders have said that bin Laden, who took refuge in Afghanistan years ago, has been wrongly implicated in the deadly terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.Bin Laden, who also is wanted by the United States in connection with the 1998 bombings of two US Embassies in East Africa, is the prime suspect in last week's airborne assaults in on New York's Trade Center twin towers and The Pentagon in Washington.

"The accusations against Osama bin Laden are baseless and a pretext to attack Afghanistan," the state-run news agency said.

Within hours of the terrorist attacks in the United States, the Taliban's foreign minister, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, condemned the violence and said that it would have been impossible for bin Laden to carry out the assaults because he doesn't have the facilities for such an elaborate operation.

Since then, the Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, who also has declared himself Amir-ul-Momineen, or head of the Muslims, has defended bin Laden and accused the United States of pointing the finger in his direction because its investigators have been unable to come up with a real suspect.

Bin Laden has been living in Afghanistan since 1996 and is accused by Washington of running a global terrorist network from his bases inside the war-ruined Central Asian nation.

The Taliban have been placed under economic sanctions twice by the United Nations to press an earlier US demand that they hand over bin Laden for trial on terrorist charges.

The Taliban have consistently refused, calling bin Laden a "guest" and saying that to hand him over to non-Muslims would betray a tenet of Islam. Since taking control of most of Afghanistan in 1996, the Taliban have declared holy wars against the northern-based anti-Taliban alliance, Russia and Iran, but never the United States.

On Tuesday, in the beleaguered Afghan capital, dozens of Islamic clerics were meeting to apparently decide whether bin Laden could be handed over to the United States in line with a request being made by a top Pakistani delegation, which is currently in Kabul.

The Pakistani team, led by the head of the country's powerful secret service, met on Monday to deliver a blunt warning to Taliban: Either hand over bin Laden or be sure to be attacked by a multinational military force, led by the United States.

Omar deferred the decision to the council of Islamic clerics, which was to convene later Tuesday in Kabul.