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Wednesday, 12 September, 2001, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
UN evacuates Afghanistan staff
Aid workers leave Kabul
The decision to leave is a difficult one
The United Nations is moving up to 80 foreign staff out of Afghanistan in the wake of terrorist attacks on America.

The UN fears that the US might launch attacks if it suspects that the Saudi militant Osama Bin Laden was behind the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

It's a precaution

UN spokesperson Marie Heuze
Mr Bin Laden is living in Afghanistan under the protection of the ruling Taleban.

The US targeted his training camps in cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan in 1998 after two US embassies were blown up in Africa.

'A precaution'

The UN said the move to evacuate staff was "due to circumstances prevailing internationally", and was temporary.

"It's a precaution," said spokeswoman Marie Heuze.

The UN has foreign staff based in the capital Kabul, Jalalabad, Mazar, Kandahar, Herat and Faisalbad and hopes to keep its operations running with the help of its Afghan colleagues.

For aid workers, leaving Afghanistan is a difficult decision, says BBC correspondent Kate Clark.

Aid workers attacked

Millions of Afghans are facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, trapped between civil war and the worst drought in living memory.

But they also remember the murder three years ago of an Italian colleague.

He was reportedly shot by a Pakistani militant who was incensed by the US cruise strikes on Mr Bin Laden's training camps.

Since then, aid workers have come under increasing attack.

They have been spat at and threatened, especially by Arabs and Pakistanis, and women have been abused.

Fighters flee

The evacuation move follows reports of an attack on Kabul's airport by opposition forces' helicopter gunships, hours after the attacks against the United States.

Early reports had suggested that this was an attack by the United States, but the US denied it was responsible.

Ahmed Shah Masood
Retaliation for attack on opposition commander Masood
Plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the area as Taleban soldiers sealed off approach roads.

The Afghan opposition said it was retaliating for an assassination attempt on their commander, Ahmed Shah Masood, as well as Taleban attacks on their forces in northern Afghanistan.

Mr Masood was attacked by a suicide bomb on Sunday and it is still not clear if he survived that attack.

The Taleban rejected the claims of an attack, saying the explosions were the result of a fire at an ammunition dump.

However, moments after the explosions, Taleban fighter jets could be heard taking off to what the Taleban called a "safe place".

The BBC's John Simpson
"They must be anticipating a really big... American or international strike"
The BBC's Kate Clark, in Islamabad
"The Taleban say they cannot hand over a guest to his enemies"
See also:

12 Sep 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden denies blame
11 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghan opposition leader 'still alive'
12 Sep 01 | Americas
Who might have done it?
02 May 01 | South Asia
Refugee chief urges Afghan ceasefire
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