Mullah Omar: US in Afghanistan Doomed
Fri May 17, 5:17 PM ET
By SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) is alive and the future of the United States in Afghanistan (news - web sites) is "fire, hell and total defeat," fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was quoted as saying by a pan-Arab newspaper Friday.

"We don't consider the battle has ended in Afghanistan ... The battle has begun and its fires are picking up. These fires will reach the White House, because it is the center of injustice and tyranny," Omar was quoted as saying by the London-based Asharq al-Awsat.

"As for the United States' future in Afghanistan, it will be fire and hell and total defeat, God willing, as it was for their predecessors - the Soviets and, before them, the British," Omar reportedly said.

"The sheik (bin Laden) is, thank God, still alive and this hurts (President) Bush who promised to his people to kill Osama," Omar reportedly asserted.

Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, editor-in-chief of the paper, said Omar answered questions delivered by reporter Badie Qorhani to the mullah's media adviser in northern Pakistan. Omar's responses were recorded on tape and returned to the reporter, the editor said.

Al-Rashed told The Associated Press his newspaper ran the story only after a Taliban official confirmed the tape's authenticity in an e-mail. The Taliban said on its official Web site that the interview was Omar's "first with an Arab newspaper after his pullout from Kandahar."

The authenticity of the quotes could not be independently confirmed. The language in the quotes mirrored that of leaflets circulated in Afghanistan and some earlier statements by the Taliban.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he had no "current information on the whereabouts or even the existence" of bin Laden or Omar.

"We continue to see scraps of information" that claim "they are alive or they're dead or they're sick or they're hiding or they're running," Rumsfled said. "But none of it seems to prove out."

State Department official said he would have no comment, including whether the interview was genuine, but said it provided no new information.

Omar, who led the Taliban between 1994-2001, has been a fugitive since a U.S.-led force overran his stronghold of Kandahar, Afghanistan, in December. Authorities want to know, among other things, what support the Taliban gave to bin Laden's al-Qaida network, the prime suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Asked if he denied that bin Laden was behind the attacks, Omar said, "Those who carried out the operation ... had a clear goal and this goal was dearer to them than their lives, and they achieved it. Asking about them, who they are, is not important."

The interview, illustrated with a blurred archive photo of Omar, ended with a message to the Palestinians.

"I tell my brethren in Palestine: be patient and continue your blessed struggle .... We did not forget you. We are still healing another wound in the Muslim nation, which is the occupation of our land by the Americans. Your battle and ours are one and the same," Omar was quoted as saying.


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