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Wednesday, 30 May, 2001, 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK
Analysis: Osama bin Laden's protectors
A poster of Bin Laden in Lahore
Osama bin Laden is portrayed as a hero of the Islamic holy war
By Kate Clark in Islamabad

During the New York trial which convicted four men of carrying out the American embassy bombings in East Africa in 1998, the name of one man was constantly evoked.

Osama bin Laden is alleged to be their leader, but he remains a shadowy figure at large in Afghanistan.


Critics of the Taleban say he is too valuable to be handed over

The Saudi dissident has been indicted in America on charges related to the bombings. He is on America's "Most Wanted" list with $5m on offer to anyone who helps in his arrest.

However, Osama bin Laden is under the jurisdiction of the Taleban in Afghanistan and they have refused to hand him over for trial.

Taleban hero

The Taleban say that Mr bin Laden is a hero of the jihad against the armies of the Soviet Union which occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Wreckage of the US embassy in Nairobi
More than 200 people were killed in the bombings
Even though he first found refuge in Afghanistan before the rise of the Taleban, they say he is a guest in their country and it would not be Islamic to hand him over to his enemies.

Critics of the Taleban say he is too valuable to be handed over.

They allege that he supplies the Taleban with Arab fighters and money for use in the continuing Afghan civil war.

Concessions

The Taleban have suggested what they feel are compromises - that the US hand over evidence so that he can be tried in Afghanistan or that a panel of three Islamic judges be convened to judge whether he should be extradited.

They have also offered to allow international monitors to go to Afghanistan to supervise his actions.

These suggestions have been rejected as insufficient by Washington.

It has imposed its own economic sanctions against Taleban-controlled Afghanistan and led efforts in the UN Security Council to impose sanctions.

American pressure

Two rounds of sanctions - imposed in December 1999 and strengthened in January 2000 - are intended to force the Taleban to hand over Mr bin Laden.

They include bans on senior Taleban travelling abroad, an international flight embargo, and a one-sided arms embargo on the Taleban but not on the opposition.

US Attaché helicopters in Saudi Arabia in 1990
Osama bin Laden objected to US forces in Saudi during the Gulf War
Directly after the American embassy attacks, Washington also bombed military camps in eastern Afghanistan where Mr bin Laden helped train foreign Islamic militants.

No measure has dented Taleban support for Mr bin Laden.

However, they have largely stopped him speaking to the media since 1999 when he made public calls for a jihad against Americans in which US civilians were legitimate targets.

Former allies

During the Cold War, Mr bin Laden and the Americans were on the same side.

He was part of the Afghan and foreign mujahideen effort to oust the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, an effort which received millions of dollars of arms and aid from Washington.

The allies became enemies when US forces were stationed on Saudi soil in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Mr bin Laden regards the presence of non-Muslim forces in the land which holds the two most sacred shrines in Islam - at Mecca and Medina - as a crime against Islam and hence his call for a jihad against Americans.

See also:

30 May 01 | Americas
Embassy bombers face death penalty
29 May 01 | Americas
US embassy bombing four convicted
03 Jan 01 | Americas
Embassy bombings trial begins
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