Osama bin Laden on Sunday denied any involvement in last week's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
"The US is pointing the finger at me but I categorically state that I have not done this," Bin Laden said in a statement faxed to the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) news agency.
"Those who have done it, they have done it in their personal interest," Bin Laden said in the statement, which AIP said had been sent to them by Bin Laden aide Abdul Samad.
It was the first time that Bin Laden had issued a personal denial of any involvement in the attacks.
Previous denials have been issued by unidentified aides or by officials of the Taliban, the Islamic militia which controls most of Afghanistan.
Bin Laden said he did not have the means to organise terrorist attacks because of restrictions placed on his contacts with the outside world by Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
"I'm living in Afghanistan. I'm a follower of Amir Ul-Momineen [Omar] who does not allow me to participate in such activities," the statement, written in Bin Laden's native language, Arabic, said.
AIP is a private news agency but has close contacts with the Taliban.
The United States has identified Bin Laden as the prime suspect in the investigation into last week's attacks, which left more than 5,000 people dead.
Bin Laden, the millionaire son of a Saudi Arabian construction magnate, moved to Afghanistan in 1996 after being forced to leave Sudan.
The Taliban, which regards him as an honoured guest, has refused repeated demands to extradite him for trial in connection with a string of terrorist attacks on US interests, including the 1998 bombing of two embassies in Africa in which more than 200 people died.
US President George W. Bush Saturday declared that United States was "at war" with the "barbarians" responsible for the terror strikes and called Bin Laden a "prime suspect."
He promised "sweeping, sustained, and effective" retaliation for the attacks and issued a direct warning to Bin Laden.
"If he thinks he can hide and run from the United States and our allies, he will be sorely mistaken," Bush said.
The tone of Bush's rhetoric has been seen as an attempt to prepare the nation for the possibility of deploying ground troops in Afghanistan in a bid to eliminate Bin Laden and topple the regime that has harboured him.
The US is rallying an international coalition in support of whatever action it decides to take. On Saturday it won a pledge of backing from Afghanistan's neighbour Pakistan, whose logistical support would be crucial for any attack -- ISLAMABAD (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)