Pakistan Muslims urged to rise up

Bin Laden calls for holy war against `crusade' led by U.S.

September 25, 2001|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Osama bin Laden, suspected of orchestrating terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, called yesterday on Muslims in Pakistan to join a holy war "to push the American crusade forces from invading Pakistan and Afghanistan," according to a statement broadcast in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar.

The statement was sent by facsimile yesterday to Qatar's Al-Jazeera satellite channel and made no mention of the events at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. It focused on anti-American protests last week in Pakistan, where three demonstrators died. The station said it was confident that the statement was authentic.

"We hope that these brothers are among the first martyrs in Islam's battle in this era against the new Christian-Jewish crusade led by the big crusader Bush under the flag of the cross," the statement said.

It continued, "I announce to you the good news, my loved brothers, that we are steadfast on the path of jihad for the sake of Allah."

Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, in statements of its own, said its forces have ample weapons for fighting the United States. It said 300,000 experienced mujahadeen -- holy warriors -- were guarding Afghanistan's borders.

The Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, meanwhile, called on the United States to withdraw troops from the Persian Gulf region and accused it of waging war against Islam.

"America wants to eliminate Islam, and they are spreading lawlessness to install a pro-American government in Afghanistan," Omar said in a statement sent by facsimile to news agencies from the Taliban's headquarters in Kandahar, Afghanistan. "This effort will not solve the problem, and the Americans are igniting a fire that will burn them if they indulge in this kind of activity."

The Taliban also closed the offices of humanitarian agencies yesterday, said a United Nations spokeswoman here. The spokeswoman reported that militia members had begun entering U.N. offices in Afghanistan and threatening the workers with death unless they stopped using their communications equipment.

The move hampers the desperately needed relief work being done by Afghan staffers who were left behind when all foreign U.N. workers were recently withdrawn from Afghanistan for their own safety.

Pakistan confirmed yesterday that it had pulled out all of its diplomats from the Afghan capital of Kabul.

"In view of the abnormal situation and the security of our personnel, they were withdrawn over the weekend. So they are in Pakistan," Mohammed Riaz Khan, the foreign ministry spokesman, said.

Pakistan is the only remaining country with diplomatic relations with the reclusive Taliban regime after Saudi Arabia cut all ties with the Taliban government early today.

The United Arab Emirates severed ties last week with Afghanistan because the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden.

In another development, the three members of a U.S. military delegation began meeting with their Pakistan counterparts to discuss a possible U.S.-led military strike on Afghanistan. Led by a two-star general, the delegation plans to talk with Pakistani military officials about issues such as transportation, intelligence and staging areas for U.S. ground forces, Defense Department officials said.

Pakistan shares a 1,500-mile border with Afghanistan, and its military and air bases may be crucial to support ground troops involved in an invasion. But suggestions of such cooperation have sparked violent protests among many Islamic political groups in Pakistan.

U.S. and Pakistani officials have declined to reveal the identity of the delegation members who arrived in Pakistan on Saturday night.

"We want to know what the Americans are interested in," said Khan. "This is a preliminary kind of delegation. The other delegation that we were expecting we do not have any information about."

Officials of the Taliban government said yesterday that bin Laden had been missing for the past three days and may not be in the country. The Taliban sent emissaries to bin Laden last week to inform him of a decision by the country's Muslim clerics that he should leave Afghanistan, if he were willing. The messengers, however, have been searching unsuccessfully for him, according to the Taliban.

"I don't know exactly where he is right now," Ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef told more than 100 reporters yesterday at a news conference at the Afghanistan Embassy in Islamabad. "All of a sudden he is lost. ... He is missing in Afghanistan."

U.S. officials have dismissed the Taliban's claims and are swiftly mobilizing American planes, weapons and troops.

Despite the threats to security in Afghanistan and reports of thousands of refugees moving toward the Pakistani border, the Taliban said yesterday that the country remained, according to its own terms, relatively stable.

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