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Saudi Arabia severs Taliban ties
Associated Press WriterISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic links with the Taliban on Tuesday, leaving Pakistan as the sole country with formal ties to Afghanistan's hard-line leaders. Osama bin Laden's organization, meanwhile, threatened attacks against "Americans and Jews."
"Wherever there are Americans and Jews, they will be targeted," said a statement faxed to news organizations in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, in the name of al-Qaida's chief military commander, Naseer Ahmed Mujahed. "We can defend ourselves. The holy warriors are fully prepared."
"Wherever there are Muslims, they should prepare for jihad (holy war), and by the grace of God, the victory will be Islam's," added the statement, warning against any American-led retaliation for the catastrophic Sept. 11 suicide attacks in New York and Washington.
Pakistan, Afghanistan's neighbor, has joined in the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism -- a move that was praised Tuesday by a high-level European Union delegation.
The EU promised $18 million in emergency aid to help the country cope with an anticipated flood of refugees if the United States attacks Afghanistan, and the delegation stressed that the anti-terrorism campaign was not directed against the entire Islamic community worldwide.
"Pakistan has shown it can and is willing in very difficult circumstances to take up its responsibility as a member of the international community," Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel told a news conference after meetings with Pakistani officials.
In northern Afghanistan, where an opposition alliance is battling Taliban troops to try to take strategic areas north of the capital, Kabul, an opposition spokesman reported intense fighting Tuesday.
Reached by telephone from Kabul, spokesman Mohammed Ashraf Nadeem claimed the opposition had captured several villages in the Sangcharak district, killed six Taliban soldiers and captured weapons including artillery, tanks, mortars and rocket launchers. Several alliance soldiers were wounded, he said.
No Taliban official was immediately available to comment on the claims.
Outside assistance to the Afghan opposition is already causing unease in some quarters. Pakistan's foreign minister, Abdul Sattar, called it a "recipe for great suffering" for the Afghan people.
He did not specifically mention either Russia, which said Monday it was ready to provide the opposition alliance with weapons and military equipment, or the United States, which has increased its contacts with the opposition in recent days.
Saudi Arabia, severing its diplomatic links with Afghanistan, accused the Taliban of providing haven to terrorists who carry out attacks "defaming Islam and defaming Muslims' reputation in the world." Bin Laden has sheltered in Afghanistan since 1996, and the Taliban have rebuffed calls to hand him over in the wake of the attacks.
Without citing the Saudi-born bin Laden by name, the Saudi government said in a statement carried by the official news agency that the Taliban are using their land to "harbor, arm and encourage those criminals in carrying out terrorist attacks which horrify those who live in peace and the innocent, and spread terror and destruction in the world."
Pakistan said Tuesday that it would maintain diplomatic relations with the Taliban, although the government pulled its 12 diplomats from its embassy in Kabul over the weekend. A Taliban embassy remains in operation in Islamabad.
The United Arab Emirates also broke diplomatic relations with the Taliban over the weekend.
In Kabul, about 500 people staged a noisy anti-U.S. demonstration, shouting "Death to America!" and "Long live Osama bin Laden!" The Taliban-run Persian-language Anis newspaper said senior Taliban minister had told people not to worry about possible U.S. strikes, because "fresh holy warriors are volunteering to join the militia."
Meanwhile, intelligence officials said a U.S. Defense Department delegation was sharing evidence with Pakistani authorities implicating bin Laden in the terror attacks on New York and Washington.
The officials said the delegation, led by Air Force Brig. Gen. Kevin Chilton, Pentagon director of strategic planning for the Near East and South Asia, was also outlining plans to use Pakistani airspace and military facilities and to exchange intelligence in support of a possible attack on Afghanistan.
Pakistan has agreed to close its 1,560-mile border with Afghanistan and to permit U.S. military flights over Pakistani territory.
The meetings began Monday and were continuing Tuesday. Pakistani defense and intelligence officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the talks were focused on finding a common strategy to hunt down bin Laden and his alleged terrorist network in Afghanistan.
Despite fierce opposition at home from Islamic militants, Pakistan has pledged "full support" for Washington's war on terrorism. But like many other governments, it has said it would like to see hard evidence against bin Laden. The intelligence sources said another high-level U.S. delegation was expected to arrive in the coming days.
Also Tuesday, the U.N. World Food Program said it was resuming food aid shipments to northern and western Afghanistan for the first time since Sept. 11. The Rome-based food agency said it would start trucking food into Afghanistan from U.N. warehouses in neighboring Turkmenistan and Tajikistan on a trial basis.