Report: Bin Laden Disappears
Wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden has disappeared somewhere inside Afghanistan, the ruling Taliban militia said Sunday, according to the Afghan Islamic Press.
"Osama bin Laden is missing. We are searching for him," Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmaen was quoted as saying by the Pakistan-based private news agency which has close contacts with the Taliban.
He said Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had endorsed a fatwa or edict from Afghanistan's religious elders last week asking the militia to persuade bin Laden to leave the country voluntarily.
But Taliban officials had been unable to find the Saudi-born dissident to inform him of the decision.
"We are still making efforts to locate him. When he is found the edict will be delivered to him. Then he will decide whether to leave Afghanistan or not," Mutmaen said, indicating bin Laden was still in the country.
Bin Laden, wanted in connection with the September 11 terrorist atrocities in the United States, has been living under Taliban protection in Afghanistan since 1996.
The radical Islamic militia, which rules most of the country, has refused to hand him over without solid evidence of his guilt.
Washington responded swiftly to Mutmaen's remarks, with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice insisting that the United States was "not going to be deterred" by Taliban reports that he had disappeared.
The United States has ruled out negotiations and demanded the instant and unconditional hand-over of bin Laden, as well as the closure of all alleged terrorist camps in territory under Taliban control.
US forces capable of dealing a massive attack have been building up in the region surrounding Afghanistan, but Taliban officials Sunday reiterated that they would never give bin Laden to his enemies under threat of war.
The militia has claimed to have Bin Laden under tight controls which make it impossible for him to organize terrorist strikes abroad.
But bin Laden is known to have hideouts around Afghanistan, as well as a small army of mostly Arab soldiers, and it is unclear to what extent the Taliban are able to control his movements -- ISLAMABAD (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)