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Ranking Taliban officials claim they and al-Qaida regrouping
PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Two former high-ranking Taliban talk of reorganizing their militant religious movement and describe a recovering al-Qaida -- all while they sit secretly inside Pakistan, Washington's front-line ally in the war on international terrorism.
In an interview with The Associated Press, they said the Afghan-Pakistan border can't be sealed to stop the movement of militants. Even more advantageous, they said, is the split within Pakistan's powerful spy agency between those who share the Taliban's ideology and those who support Pakistan's alliance with America.
One of the two, Fazul Rabi Said-Rahman, was the Taliban army corps commander for eastern Afghanistan. During the last six months of Taliban rule he was chief of police in Paktika province, an area still considered by the U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition to be harboring fugitive Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.
The other man, Obeidullah, was an assistant to the Taliban's intelligence chief Qari Ahmadullah, who was killed by a U.S. bomb in January in eastern Afghanistan.
Speaking in Pashtu through an interpreter, they said the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, and al-Qaida's leader, Osama bin Laden, are both alive, but offered no specifics on the Saudi dissident who leads al-Qaida. They said that they had met with Omar within the last two months."
They did not claim to have seen bin Laden or explain how they knew he was alive. "He is waiting for the next big attack and then he will show his body," Obeidullah said.
Suicide attacks planned
Both men warned of suicide attacks on the United States and Britain in retaliation for the war in Afghanistan, but again offered no specifics.
In an earlier meeting with AP, Obeidullah had made a similar vague warning about a suicide attack. He said at the second meeting that he was speaking of the May 8 bus bombing in Karachi that killed 14 people, including 11 French engineers who were in Pakistan to build an Agosta submarine for the Pakistani navy.
"Before the Karachi attack I said something was being planned, something would happen in Pakistan," Obeidullah said.
He said the attack was staged by al-Qaida and Pakistanis opposed to President Pervez Musharraf's support for the United States.
Said-Rahman said some Pakistani groups are working with al-Qaida against the coalition and against Musharraf.
"Everyone is working together -- Harakat-ul Jihad, Harakat-ul Mujahedeen, al-Qaida," he said, referring to two Pakistani-based Islamic extremist groups that have been outlawed by Musharraf. "People are angry with Musharraf because he is allowing the kafirs (non-Muslims) to destroy everything in Afghanistan. Muslims everywhere are angry."
In recent days, reports have surfaced in the United States about possible targets of terrorist attacks.
Said-Rahman said the reports were true, but wouldn't elaborate or say where he got his information.
"We have information that there will be some big suicide attacks in the United States," he said. "We know it will happen. We have information. We know the situation. The Americans and the British are the big enemies. They have destroyed Afghanistan."
Last Wednesday, the British Embassy in Islamabad ordered most of its staff to leave because of fears of a terrorist attack and in less than 48 hours dozens of British nationals were evacuated.
During the weekend the German and Australian Embassies decided to send their non-essential staff home, again out of fears of terrorist assaults. Both the United States and Canadian missions have evacuated all but essential staff.
Both Taliban officials said Omar is overseeing a reorganization of the religious movement, which Said-Rahman said was being renamed Al Emarah Islamia Afghanistan or Islamic State of Afghanistan, which was the name previously used by the Taliban for their country. Now Said-Rahman said it will also identify their movement.
He said Omar had issued orders appointing Mullah Usmani, the Taliban's former Kandahar corps commander, as his replacement should he die. Usmani was chosen "because right now, ours is a military battle and Usmani is a military man," Said-Rahman said.
He said the Taliban's former finance minister, Aga Jan Mohtasim, had been named to lead the movement's ideological revival.
Obeidullah said Omar has been in contact with Taliban warriors in their mountain hide-outs in Afghanistan and has addressed small shuras, or councils, in several provinces at secret locations.
Without offering any details, Said-Rahman said al-Qaida also is slowly recuperating with an emphasis on a military and financial resurrection.
The al-Qaida terrorist network is trying to establish a safe haven in Pakistan, the U.S. Army's second-in-command Gen. John M. Keane told the troops in Kandahar on Saturday.
"They are trying to establish another safe haven now in Pakistan, and we will deal with that. When the time is right, we will deal with that one as well," Keane said during an address to members of the 101st Airborne Division based at Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan.
Obeidullah said Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, has a hard time tracking Taliban and al-Qaida operatives.
"We know the ISI has problems of its own," he said. "There are some who are with us and some who are against us. Those who are with us are having a hard time."
Musharraf has purged some Taliban supporters from the agency, intelligence sources have said.
The most significant removal was Mahmood Ahmed, the agency's chief who was fired in October. Ahmed was a staunch Taliban supporter, and he was a backer of Islamic guerrillas fighting in the portion of Kashmir controlled by India, a conflict that has Pakistan and India on the edge of war.
Anwar Sher, a retired Pakistan army general who worked closely with Afghan insurgents during their war with an occupying Soviet army in the 1980s, said low-level intelligence agents may be the ISI's weakness in trying to track down Taliban and al-Qaida members.
"The higher-ups get their information from the lower-level operatives. There they may share ideologies, and also money may exchange hands," he said.