Defiant Taliban hit back as clerics stand by Bin Laden : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Tuesday, September 18 8:09 PM SGT

Defiant Taliban hit back as clerics stand by bin Laden

KABUL, Sept 18 (AFP) -

Afghanistan's ruling Taliban Tuesday told their people to be ready for a holy war as Islamic scholars gathering to decide Osama bin Laden's fate made it clear they would not hand over the man wanted "dead or alive" by the United States.

The Islamic regime's army also unleashed a fierce offensive against their last opponents within the country in a bid to pre-empt US moves to strengthen them.

The display of defiance from the Taliban came as their supporters in Pakistan mounted the biggest anti-American demonstration yet, heightening fears that any US attack on Afghanistan will have devastating implications for the stability of its neighbour.

"Of course if there is an invasion of an Islamic country, there will be jihad against the invaders," a senior Taliban official told AFP as hundreds of Islamic clerics, or ulema, streamed into Kabul. "After the invasion jihad will be the only alternative and that is the obligation of Muslims."

The ulema are expected Wednesday to begin a meeting which will consider whether to extradite bin Laden, who is suspected of orchestrating last week's terror attacks on New York and Washington and has been indicted in New York for the 1998 bombing of two US embassies in Africa.

The Taliban have previously hinted they might give bin Laden up for trial in a neutral, preferrably Muslim, country. But the clerics arriving on Tuesday were in no mood for compromise. "Even if the whole of Afghanistan is devastated we won't hand him over until there is a solid proof against him," Mullah Mohammad Hassan, a representative of Paktika province told AFP.

Another scholar, Mawlawi Abdul Zahir from the Bagram district of Kabul, added: "We are ready for to defend ourselves if the Americans attack us. "We have already defeated and taught a lesson to their British grandfathers and their Russian brothers," he said.

In their biggest offensive in months, Taliban forces launched an attack in the northeastern province of Takhar in a bid to cut their opponents' key supply lines from neighbouring Tajikistan. Fierce fighting was still raging Tuesday, an opposition spokesman told AFP.

The onslaught represents an attempt by the Taliban army to exploit last week's death of the opposition's charismatic commander Ahmad Shah Masood and cut their supply lines before the mountainous region's harsh winter sets in. If they succeed, the opposition forces could be eliminated before they have time to reap the benefit of an anticipated surge in support from the United States in the wake of last week's terror attacks.

Ordinary Afghans were fleeing the main cities in fear of a US strike, with thousands massing near the Pakistani border. Those who stayed behind were becoming increasingly anxious over possible civil unrest or conflict between rival factions of the ruling Islamic militia.

In neighbouring Pakistan, a crucial US partner for any attack on Afghanistan, hundreds of police and paramilitaries had to be deployed in the teeming port of Karachi to prevent more than 5,000 radical Islamic students marching on the US consulate. It was the largest anti-US demonstration in the current crisis and also the biggest since military ruler Pervez Musharraf seized power two years ago.

Troops remained on alert but there was no movement out of barracks pending the outcome of the talks in Kabul, which Pakistan is desperately hoping will produce some sort of compromise.Pakistani radicals have vowed to join any Afghan jihad and warned the government that helping the US in any attack will mean civil war.

Pakistan President Musharraf has promised his "unstinting cooperation" with any US action. But political leaders have warned him that this must stop short of letting Pakistan be used as the launching pad for an attack. "If the government agrees to let American ground troops into Pakistan there will be a hell of a reaction," a former senior army officer, retired Lieutenant-General K.M. Azhar, told AFP.

The meeting of the ulema in Kabul had been due to start Tuesday but was delayed because many scholars had not been able to get to the city in time. The unexpected decision to seek a ruling from the scholars was announced by Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar after a high-level Pakistani delegation visited him Monday in the southeastern city of Kandahar, where bin Laden is also based.

The ulema includes many non-Taliban scholars who could be prepared to countenance some sort of deal -- although any decision, or fatwa, will have to be approved by Omar, who is married to bin Laden's eldest daughter. A team led by the head of Pakistan's intelligence services, the Taliban's main backers, gave Omar a blunt warning Monday that the country could be bombed back to the stone age if bin Laden is not handed over.

US President George W. Bush has warned that Americans will not rest until they secure justice. "There's an old poster out west that says, as I recall, 'Wanted dead or alive'," he said during a visit to the Pentagon, a target in last week's suicide attacks along with the World Trade Center in New York.

The Taliban consider bin Laden an honored "guest" and have repeatedly rejected his extradition in the past, despite UN sanctions following the twin US embassy bombings in East Africa in 1998 which he is accused of masterminding. The last Afghan jihad was issued against the Soviet Union after its 1979 invasion of the country and resulted, a decade later, in the Red Army beating a humiliating retreat.

-- Swissrose (, September 18, 2001

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