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The BBC's Susannah Price in Islamabad
"The speakers pledged their support for Taleban and blamed Western conspiracies for discord amongst Muslims"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 11 April, 2001, 03:19 GMT 04:19 UK
Bin Laden message mystery
Osama bin Laden
Bin Laden is wanted in the US
Confusion surrounds a statement allegedly issued by Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, who is wanted on terrorism charges in the United States.

Delegates at an Islamic conference in Pakistan said a message from bin Laden, calling on the Muslim world to support the Taleban, was read out to them.

But the organisers of the rally denied this, saying the Saudi dissident had not been invited to attend the meeting, which is being held in Peshawar near the Afghan border.

Deoband followers
The conference has a strongly anti-Western theme
"There are only rumours about Osama... but there has been no message from him," a conference spokesman, Mohammad Rahim Haqqani, told Reuters.

The only message received from Afghanistan, they said, was one from Taleban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The recorded statement said to be from the Saudi dissident was played to tens of thousands of Muslims who had gathered for a the rally near town of Peshawar.

In it, bin Laden apparently told them that Afghanistan was the only country in the world with a real Islamic system, and that all Muslims should show loyalty to the Afghan Taleban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.

He is also said to have urged the gathering to influence young people to go to Afghanistan for military training.

The Taleban have been sheltering bin Laden in defiance of demands by the US for his extradition to face charges in connection with bomb attacks on US embassies in East Africa.

'Unity needed'

Meanwhile, the military government of Pakistan denied showing favouritism towards Islamic groups by allowing the huge three-day gathering, despite a ban on rallies.

A government spokesman said it was a purely religious gathering and these were permitted.

During the conference, Mullah Omar attacked the United Nations as a Western tool and urged resistance from a united Muslim front, state radio reported.

"The infidel world is not letting Muslims form a government of their own choice," he was quoted as saying in a message to the conference.

"They want to resist Jihad [holy war] and destroy the Islamic system," he said. "Therefore, under the present critical situation, Muslim unity is needed."

Organisers of the conference pledged their support for Taleban and blamed Western conspiracies for discord among Muslims.

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See also:

26 Jan 01 | South Asia
Anti-UN protests in Pakistan
21 Jun 00 | South Asia
Pakistan province bans cable TV
20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Who is Osama bin Laden?
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