ISLAMABAD, Pakistan A delegation of senior Pakistani officials will go to Afghanistan on Monday to demand that the ruling Taliban militia hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States, a top government official said.
The delegation, which is traveling to the Taliban's headquarters in the southern city of Kandahar, will issue an ultimatum to the religious militia: either deliver Bin Laden, the leading suspect in the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, or risk a massive retaliatory assault, the official said Sunday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The Taliban will be told that the international community has been mobilized to attack Afghanistan if the Taliban, a devoutly Muslim militia that rules roughly 95 percent of the country, refuse to turn over bin Laden, the official said.
There was no indication that the Taliban would be given a deadline to decide.
Bin Laden, the exiled Saudi millionaire already indicted in the United States on charges of masterminding the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, has been living in Afghanistan since 1996. The Taliban have steadfastly refused to hand him over despite two rounds of U.N. sanctions that have cut off funds to the national airline and isolated Taliban leaders.
The Taliban say bin Laden is a guest. The Taliban's reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, has said in the past that delivering bin Laden to non-Muslims would be akin to betraying a tenet of Islam.
Also Sunday, the Taliban called an "urgent" meeting of clerics from throughout Afghanistan. At that meeting the clerics voiced their support for the Taliban, condemned the United States and demanded proof of bin Laden's involvement in the airborne attacks on the World Trade Center's twin towers and the Pentagon.
In Pakistan, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf was meeting with politicians and Islamic clerics to get their support for Islamabad's promise to give "full support" to the United States to retaliate for the attacks, which could include the deployment of international troops in Pakistan. It could also mean the use of Pakistani airspace.
Already some of Pakistan's religious leaders have been approached by the army-led rulers here to use their influence with the Taliban to get them to hand over bin Laden.
They have refused.
"We told the government that we're very sorry but we can't do that and we don't have that kind of influence over the Taliban," said Amir-ul Azeem, a spokesman for Pakistan's best-organized religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, or Party of Islam.
Word of the delegation's trip came a day after Pakistani military and diplomatic officials said Pakistan has agreed to a list of U.S. demands for a possible attack on Afghanistan, including a multinational force to be based there.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who joined President Bush and other officials at Camp David, Md., thanked Pakistan on Saturday for its willingness to cooperate in any military action the United States may take in the region.
Powell said the United States is winning support for a global anti-terrorism coalition. The State Department urged foreign envoys to impose travel bans on terrorists and cut off their money channels.
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