Taliban say bin Laden in Afghanistan under their 'control'
Associated Press Writer
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ A Taliban envoy said Sunday the Afghan militia has Osama bin Laden under its control at a secret location for his own safety and is willing to negotiate with the United States if Washington provides evidence bin Laden was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The offer to negotiate was rejected by Washington.
The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef said bin Laden was in an undisclosed place for ``his safety and security.''
``He's in Afghanistan,'' Zaeef told reporters. ``He is under our control, Wherever he is, he's in a secret place but that doesn't mean that he is out of the control of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. He's in a place which cannot be located by anyone.''
Zaeef spoke in the Pashto language, and his English interpreter added the phrase ``only security people know where he is.''
The Taliban envoy criticized the United States for failing to provide evidence linking bin Laden to the attacks.
``The position of the two countries is very different,'' he said. ``They are thinking of direct attacks. We are thinking of negotiation. They have provided no evidence but they want the man.''
White House chief of staff Andrew Card quickly rejected any negotiations.
``The president has said we're not negotiating,'' Card said on Fox News Sunday. ``We've told the Taliban government what they should be doing. They've got to turn not only Osama bin Laden over but all of the operatives of the al-Qaida organization. They've got to stop being a haven where terrorists can train.''
President Bush has demanded the Taliban turn over bin Laden unconditionally and without negotiation. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on NBC's Meet the Press that he questions anything the Taliban says.
Zaeef said that if the United States talked to the Taliban and produced evidence, ``we will respect their negotiations and that might change things. If they attack without any evidence or unless this case goes through the proper court process, any attack will be a terrorist attack. We condemn terrorist attacks throughout the world.''
Zaeef's statement was the first time that a Taliban official has publicly admitted that bin Laden is under their control since the September attacks. First the Taliban claimed bin Laden was missing, and then later said they had delivered a message to him from the Afghan clergy asking him to leave the country voluntarily.
However, the previous statements did not make clear whether bin Laden was under Taliban control or simply hiding out somewhere with his thousands of followers in the al-Qaida terrorist organization.
The Taliban did not indicate bin Laden's whereabouts, nor did they say whether he is in custody.
However, sources with knowledge of the Taliban said there were ``indications'' that he was in Bagran district of Helmand province, about 100 miles northwest of Kandahar a few days after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The area is lined with mountains, easily defended and close enough to Kandahar, the seat of the Taliban authority, to enable the religious militias to keep in touch with bin Laden.
Meanwhile, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said hopes that the Taliban will hand over bin Laden and accede to other U.S. demands are ``very dim.''
``We haven't been able to succeed in moderating their views on the surrender of Osama bin Laden,'' Musaharraf said Sunday in an interview with CNN. Pakistan has sent delegates to Afghanistan twice in an effort to persuade the Taliban to hand over bin Laden.
Musharraf said a call from Afghanistan's Muslim clerics for bin Laden to leave left some room for hope, but added, ``The signals that come out (of Afghanistan) are certainly not very encouraging.''
Earlier this month, about 1,000 Islamic scholars met and recommended that bin Laden leave the country voluntarily at a time of his own choosing. The United States said that fell short of its demands.
The Taliban have said bin Laden is aware of the clerical request but Zaeef said ``we have had no response'' from the Saudi exile.
Musharraf also said that the United States has not given his country any evidence that bin Laden was behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. ``Frankly we haven't been _ there's no evidence that has been shared with us as yet, so therefore, all that I know is from the television,'' he said.
Pakistan has been trying to convince the hard-line leadership that it risks its very survival by refusing to surrender bin Laden, a move the Taliban say would conflict with Afghan customs and their interpretation of Islamic tenets.