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Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Taleban demand proof on Bin Laden
The Taleban call Bin Laden their guest
The leader of Afghanistan's Taleban regime has said Osama Bin Laden - the chief suspect in the attacks on New York and Washington last week - will not be extradited without evidence.

We assure the whole world that neither Osama nor anyone else can use Afghan territory against anyone

Mullah Mohammad Omar
Mullah Mohammad Omar told hundreds of the country's Islamic clerics that Bin Laden did not have the communications links or resources to organise the attacks - and the US should search for what he called the real culprits.

However, Mullah Omar also reportedly said he was ready to hold talks with the US on the issue.

This offer was bluntly dismissed by the Americans. "The president's message to the Taleban is very simple - it's time for action not negotiations," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Mullah Omar has accused Washington of using the allegations against Bin Laden as a pretext to attack the Taleban.

The Americans have threatened to attack if the Taleban allow him to remain in Afghanistan.

Decision delayed

Mullah Omar told the clerics, meeting in the capital, Kabul, to decide on Wednesday whether to hand Bin Laden over, according to the Taleban's official Bakhtar news agency.

However, after several hours of talks, the session ended without any firm decision. A Taleban minister said the meeting would resume on Thursday.

The Taleban leadership says it will abide by the clerics' decision.

However, observers say that religious leaders at such meetings usually fall in line with the Taleban's thinking, and so far there does not appear to be any radical shift in that.

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Afghanistan’s neighbours: Regional fears

The Taleban have consistently refused to extradite Bin Laden, saying the US must provide proof of his part in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on 11 September.

And they have said that if the US attacked them they would launch a jihad, or holy war, against the US.

Military build-up

As well as blaming Bin Laden for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, the United States also believes Bin Laden has played a role in a number of other attacks, including the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in East Africa in which 231 people were killed.

Click here to see refugee movements

Pakistan, until now the ruling Taleban's main backer, has been trying to persuade them to give Bin Laden up.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry said a delegation had delivered a message from President Musharraf to the Taleban emphasising the seriousness of the situation.

Afghan refugees in Pakistan
Thousands who fear US strikes are leaving Afghanistan

There were signs of a continuing US military build-up in the region, as the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt prepares to join two others in the Gulf.

And the United Nations Security Council has renewed its call for the Taleban authorities in Afghanistan to hand over Bin Laden immediately and unconditionally, and to close his training camps.

But a leading figure in the anti-Taleban Afghan opposition, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, now based in Iran, has told the BBC that the Americans would have no justification for attacking Afghanistan and, if they did, his group and others would unite to fight them.

Afghan civilians trying to flee the capital Kabul in fear of a US attack, say the Taleban have imposed a blockade on the city, allowing people to leave but not take their possessions out.

Aid agencies are increasingly worried about the humanitarian situation inside the country, particularly since the main supplier of food aid, the World Food Programme, stopped importing wheat.

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The BBC's Adam Mynott
"The decision may not come for another day"
The BBC's Louisa Lim
reports on support for Bin Laden amongst militant Muslim groups across Southeast Asia
Emal Pasarly from BBC World Service
says the supreme leader of the Taleban will have the final say
Islamic expert Abdel Haleem
explains what a fatwa is and who can issue one
See also:

18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Profile: Mullah Mohammed Omar
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan - a tough military option
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghan exodus gathers pace
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
Kabul checkpoints stem refugee exodus
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