Taliban leader demands U.S. leave Gulf

Monday, September 24, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- The leader of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia demanded Monday that the United States withdraw its forces from the Persian Gulf and end its "bias" against Palestinians if it wants to eliminate the threat of terrorism.

In a statement faxed to news agencies from his headquarters in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Mullah Mohammed Omar said the death of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden would do little to remove the threat against the United States.

"If Americans want to eliminate terrorism, then they should withdraw their forces from the Gulf and they should put an end to the biased attitude on the issue of Palestine," Omar said.

Mullah Omar claimed the United States had "made Islam their hostage" and that it should avoid interfering in Muslim affairs.

"America wants to eliminate Islam, and they are spreading lawelessness to install a pro-American government in Afghanistan," Mullah Omar said. "This effort will not solve the problem, and the Americans will burn themselves if they indulge in this kind of activity."

The brief statement appeared aimed not only at warning the United States against military action against the hardline Taliban but also at encouraging other Muslim nations to distance themselves from Washington's efforts to build an international coalition to combat terrorism.

The United States has identified bin Laden, who has lived in Afghanistan since 1996, as the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, which were believed to have killed more than 6,000 people.

The Taliban has rejected U.S. demands to hand over bin Laden, claiming the Americans have provided no conclusive proof of his involvement in the attacks.

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