Friday, September 21, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Clerics ask Laden to leave Afghanistan
USA rejects call, begins positioning fighter planes

Washington, September 20
The USA tonight began positioning a formidable array of over 100 air force planes and a 14-ship naval task force for possible military operations against Afghanistan after rejecting a call by Taliban clerics for Osama bin Laden to leave the country voluntarily.

A video grab shows Afghan clerics boarding a bus.
A video grab shows Afghan clerics boarding a bus in Kabul on Thursday. A meeting of Afghanistan's senior Islamic clerics on Thursday issued an edict recommending Osama bin Laden  should be persuaded to leave the country whenever possible. — Reuters photo

The Taliban appeared to have softened their defiant stand with a 1000-strong grand council of Islamic scholars, which met in Kabul, asking the Saudi fugitive, wanted dead or alive by the USA for last week’s terror attacks, to leave “of his free will and choice.” The final decision was to be taken by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

In a swift reaction to the Taliban’s move, the White House demanded that Bin Laden be handed over “to responsible authorities” and said the clerics’ edicts did not meet Washington’s requirements.

“It’s time for action not words,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said recalling President George W. Bush’s demand that Bin Laden be handed over and terrorist camps in Afghanistan be closed down.

The clerics also issued a fatwa (edict) to all Muslims to launch a jehad against the USA if it attacked Afghanistan.

As Taliban wavered and tested Washington’s patience, nearly 100 US air force planes were dispatched to bases in the Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the central Asian republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Army units had also been ordered to deploy overseas as part of the campaign to route out the terrorist network behind New York and Washington attacks.

“We are ready to sustain land combat operations ... across our force structure — heavy, light, air mobile and air borne special operations, and combat support,” Army Secretary Thomas White told reporters.

Among the planes deployed by the order of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were F-16 and F-15 fighters, B-1 bombers, AWACS radar planes and E-8C Joint Stars ground surveillance planes, a senior defence official added.

Planes heading to the Indian Ocean island base of Diego Garcia, controlled by Britain, included B-1 and B-52 bombers, said the official, who declined to give his name.

F-15E Strike Eagle fighter-bombers were to operate out of Uzbekistan, which, along with Tajikistan, bordered Afghanistan, where Bin Laden, was believed to be hiding.

The planes were part of a deployment that also included a launch yesterday of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt from Norfolk, Virginia, which led a 14-ship naval task force, including amphibious assault ships carrying some 2,000 combat Marines capable of conducting special operations.

Reacting to the edict, a Taliban minister said Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar would act on the ruling by the clerics asking Bin Laden to leave Afghanistan but his departure would take “sometime”.

Meanwhile, Taliban deputy ambassador in Islamabad has said Bin Laden was ready to stand trial if Washington provided the evidence of his involvement in the attacks.

Mr Suhail Shaheen said Bin Laden could be tried in Kabul or in another Muslim country.

“Once we receive an authoritative version we will be in a position to understand its implications,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Riaz Mohammad Khan told a news conference.

No communication: Pak
A Pakistani spokesman said that Pakistan had not yet received any official communication of the Afghan Shoora requesting the government to ask Osama bin Laden to leave Afghanistan.

The spokesman further said it would not be advisable for him to comment on the matter before the official communique reached Pakistan.

Briefing newsmen here this afternoon, the spokesman said that Afghans had their own peculiar way of administration and tradition of functioning. He added that no official statement had yet reached Pakistan either from the Afghanistan Embassy here or the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul, which had only a skeleton staff there.

Asked if Pakistan had suggested Afghans to take the decision, the spokesman said Pakistan was a friend of Afghanistan and had already performed its duty of explaining to its leaders the gravity of the situation and what the international community expected from them.

In answer to a question the spokesman said, the demands of the United Nations included handing over Bin Laden and closing of the camps allegedly being run by him in Afghanistan and added that there was room for discussion on these aspects. Agencies


Doubts over identities of hijackers

Washington, September 20
US officials are investigating whether some or all of the 19 hijackers on the four hijacked aircraft used in last week’s terror attacks used stolen identities, possibly complicating efforts to link them to Osama bin Laden.

The doubts started to emerge when at least four men with names matching those on an FBI list of the hijackers turned up alive in Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, according to newspaper reports.

An unnamed senior US official told the Washington Post that there was now uncertainty over the list of names. “There may be some question with regard to the identity of at least some of them,” he said.

The Chicago Tribune spoke to an unnamed Justice Department official who said “the names on the list are the best information that we have, (but) we are investigating the possibility of identity theft and false identification”. AFP


Another suspect held near Boston

Washington, September 20
A person suspected of having aided the hijackers who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks, Nabil Marabh, was arrested today near Boston, a Boston FBI spokesman said. Marabh “was arrested near Boston. He was on the FBI watchlist,” one of more than 100 persons wanted for questioning in conjunction with the attacks. AFP

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