Taliban defector says...Al Qaeda nerve center in disarray since US strikes began

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Newsweek: Taliban Defector Says Bin Laden, Taliban Linked 'Like Head And Body'

Says Al Qaeda Nerve Center In Disarray Since U.S. Air Strikes Began

NEW YORK, Oct. 21 /PRNewswire/ -- Major Mohammad, an Afghan helicopter pilot who recently deserted after transporting foreign terrorists and ``holy warriors'' in and out of the Kandahar region, tells Newsweek in the October 29 issue (on newsstands Monday, October 22) that Osama bin Laden and the Taliban are linked ``like head and body, all riding around in black cars and not allowing anyone to talk to them.'' Mohammad, (not his real name), tells Beijing Bureau Chief Melinda Liu, on assignment in Pakistan, that much has changed in the two week's of U.S. air strikes. Al Qaeda's nerve center in Afghanistan is in disarray, suggesting that if the terror network is to continue to be a threat, it may be up to its ``sleeper'' cells worldwide. And he says he believes morale is low among Al Qaeda's Taliban hosts. At least half of the 50 pilots and technicians in his unit have deserted.

The helicopter pilot says that for half a decade his passengers were mainly Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks, Pakistanis, Tajiks and occasionally Taliban leaders like Mullah Omar. He was forbidden to talk to them, but knew they were heading for Al Qaeda training camps in the area. Mohammad recalls that in the heyday of the camps, the terrorists often looked down on native Afghans and the Arab mujahedin flaunted their bankrolls, rented costly villas in Kabul, and sometimes treated their hosts impatiently. ``The Arabs and Central Asians had more money than anybody,'' he says.

He also talks about a job he took on seven months ago, when he was brought to a residential complex in Kandahar known simply as ``Osama's compound'' to help repair a wall. He went through three separate security checks to get in and once there saw bin Laden with ``many, many bodyguards,'' presiding over the wedding of one of his sons. Mohammad overheard guests talking about terrorist camps and conducting assassinations, including how to shoot rockets from moving motorcycles.

Since his defection after the air strikes began, Mohammad, now in Pakistan, still fears for his life. ``I have so much more that I can tell you about the Taliban,'' he claimed. ``But first I need to feel safe, far away from Pakistan.''

-- Swissrose (cellier3@mindspring.com), October 22, 2001

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