White House: Afghan bomb `not our work'

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The Independent Online
THE US denied that it was behind a huge explosion which yesterday shook the Afghan city of Kandahar, the capital of the ruling Taliban movement.

America has been seeking the extradition from Afghanistan of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile whom it claims was responsible for last year's African embassy bombings. It has also threatened the Taliban, the ultra- religious group which rules much of Afghanistan and is locked in violent civil war. "The notion that any explosion there might be related to a US attack on suspected hideouts [of bin Laden], that's baseless,'' an unnamed US official said.

The southern Afghan city was rocked by a massive blast just after 10.30pm local time. A Taliban spokesman said it was "definitely an explosion" but said it was not a rocket or a missile blast. No serious injuries were reported.

US-based analysts speculated the explosion could have been at an ammunition store. The fact that the explosion appeared to be in the area of the residence of the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, alarmed residents, news agency reports from the region said. One resident said that the explosion was "definitely a bomb". Mr Omar was apparently unhurt.

Kandahar is one of the locations where Washington believes that Mr bin Laden has been staying. It has on several occasions reconnoitred for missions against Mr bin Laden, but has apparently concluded that the risks are too high. Last year after the bombings it launched missiles against a camp in Afghanistan where it believed Mr bin Laden was staying, and a factory in Sudan which it claimed was producing chemical weapons for Mr bin Laden. It produced no evidence to support this claim and the owner of the factory said it was a legitimate pharmaceutical plant.

"If the US attacks Afghanistan to hunt bin Laden, it will be seen as a war against the Muslims," said Mullah Mohammed Rabbani, another Taliban leader. "We want the United States to settle the issue of bin Laden through negotiations," he said last week in a statement issued to mark the 80th anniversary of Afghanistan's independence from British rule.

There has been constant speculation America might mount an operation but the risks involved are considerable.