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Taleban Continue to Defend bin Laden - 2001-09-14

Afghanistan's Taleban Islamic movement is defending Saudi born dissident Osama bin Laden against accusations that he masterminded the attacks on the United States.

Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is insisting the Saudi fugitive is innocent. He says that neither Osama bin Laden nor Afghanistan has the capacity to train the suicide pilots who crashed hijacked planes on U.S. buildings.

Taleban Ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, read his leader's statement at a news conference. "Osama has no pilots and where did he train them," the ambassador asks. "Training of pilots is the work of a running government and only such a government has the capacity to do so."

The statement from reclusive Taleban leader Mullah Omar is the first he has made since Tuesday's devastating terrorist strikes. The Taleban is sheltering Saudi fugitive bin Laden, the prime suspect in the horrific attacks on New York and Washington.

Meanwhile, possible U.S. retaliation on neighboring Afghanistan is causing rising tension in Pakistan. The authorities closed Islamabad airport to commercial flights for nearly three hours and tightened security at other airports. Officials are declining to comment on reports the action was meant to move military equipment.

U.S. officials are seeking Pakistan's cooperation in gathering information about the terrorist attacks on U.S. buildings. Pakistan is the main supporter of the ruling Taleban movement and is the only country that has an embassy in Kabul.

The United States has reportedly asked Pakistan to close its border with Afghanistan and provide airspace in the event of a U.S. attack on Afghan targets.

Pakistani officials would not disclose details of the U.S. requests. But the country's military leader, General Pervez Musharraf, has promised the United States full cooperation in its fight against terrorism.