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Taliban condemns attack, deny bin Laden's involvement

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Associated Press WriterKABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghanistan's hardline Taliban rulers condemned the devastating terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on Tuesday and rejected suggestions that Osama bin Laden could be behind them.

"We never support terrorism. We too are targets of terrorism," Abdul Hai Muttmain, the Taliban's spokesman in the southern city of Kandahar, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

After the attacks, a London-based Arab journalist said followers of bin Laden warned three weeks ago that they would carry out a "huge and unprecedented attack" on U.S. interests.

Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, said he received a warning from Islamic fundamentalists close to bin Laden, but did not take the threat seriously.

"They said it would be a huge and unprecedented attack but they did not specify," Atwan said in a telephone interview in London.

"We usually receive this kind of thing. At the time we did not take the warnings seriously as they had happened several times in the past and nothing happened. "This time it seems his people were accurate and meant every word they said."

Atwan, who interviewed bin Laden in 1996 and has since maintained contacts with his followers, said he believed the attack on the World Trade Center in New York was the work of "an Islamic fundamentalist group" close to bin Laden.

But Muttmain, who is the spokesman for the Taliban's reclusive leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and one of the most senior Taliban officials, dismissed allegations that bin Laden could be behind the attacks in the United States.

"Such a big conspiracy, to have infiltrated in such a major way is impossible for Osama," said Muttmain. He said bin Laden does not have the facilities to orchestrate such a major assault within the United States.

Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, who espouse a harsh brand of Islamic law, have resisted U.S. demands to hand over bin Laden, indicted in the United States on charges of masterminding the bombings of two U.S. Embassies in East Africa in 1998 that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.

After the attacks in East Africa, Washington retaliated with a blistering missile attack in August 1998, sending more than 70 Tomahawk cruise missiles into eastern Afghanistan apparently targeting training camps operated by bin Laden.

The attacks killed about 20 followers of bin Laden's but the exiled Saudi millionaire escaped unhurt. Since then he has been forced by the Taliban rulers to stop giving interviews and making statements.


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