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Taleban warns U.S. of revenge

It says the United States should be wary of attacking Afghanistan.

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2001

It says the United States should be wary of attacking Afghanistan.

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The ruling Taleban threatened revenge Friday if the United States attacks Afghanistan for shielding suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

"If a country or group violates our country, we will not forget our revenge," Taleban spokesman Abdul Hai Muttmain said in telephone interview with the Associated Press.

There are fears in Afghanistan that the United States is planning a military attack to force the Taleban to hand over the exiled Saudi millionaire, who is suspected in the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

In a radio address Friday, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taleban's reclusive leader, urged Afghans to prepare for a U.S. assault and stand steadfast "against the enemy."

"Death comes to everyone. We must stand proud as Afghans in the defense of Islam," Omar said. "Believe in God, for with the grace of God, the American rockets will go astray and we will be saved."

Bin Laden has been living in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taleban since 1996. The hard-line Islamic militia refuses to hand him over until Washington provides convincing evidence of guilt.

In a written statement Friday, Omar said U.S. investigators were trying to link bin Laden to this week's attacks "without any reason." He said the attacks point to bin Laden's innocence "because Osama has no pilots" and because there is no pilot training in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials have said the some of the hijackers aboard the jets that struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were trained as pilots in the United States.

Muttmain, meanwhile, said a U.S. strike would fail to flush out bin Laden.

"Their missiles cannot find an individual," he said.

"The Soviet Union destroyed this country, but they could never accomplish their goals. The United States will also fail," said Muttmain, referring to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1991.

Meanwhile, Pakistani military sources said Friday that Omar had been moved to a new hide-out in Afghanistan. He normally is thought to live in secret locations in Kandahar, where Pakistani reports said the militants have reinforced security.

Pakistan, which has been Taleban's closest ally, is thought to have the best intelligence on Afghanistan and the Taleban.

In his radio address, Omar said he would die rather than back down.

"I am not afraid of death or of losing power. I am willing to give up power and my seat, but I'm not willing to give up Islam," he said. "We shall be victorious."

This week's terrorist attacks have put the Taleban in a difficult position: if they hand over bin Laden, they risk alienating thousands of foreign radicals who are indispensable in their war against a northern-based alliance.

The United Nations and many international aid organizations have withdrawn their foreign workers from Afghanistan, fearing an attack. Foreigners have been ordered to leave, and the Taleban have stopped issuing new visas.

As the foreigners left, war-weary Afghans resigned themselves Friday to the possibility of more bloodshed. Since the 1970s, the country has been wracked by successive disasters: a Soviet invasion, civil war, the rise of the radical Taleban, a devastating drought and famine.

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