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Taleban Leaders Meet in Kabul - 2001-09-17

Afghanistan's ruling Taleban movement says Islamic scholars from across the country will decide Tuesday whether to expel alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden to avoid a possible U.S. attack for last week's terror strikes on the United States.

Taleban leader Mohammad Omar has called a grand assembly of "ulema," or Muslim scholars, from across the country in Kabul Tuesday.

A Taleban spokesman, quoted by Afghan Islamic Press, says the meeting will formulate a response to U.S. threats of an assault on Afghanistan for the terror strikes on U.S. cities. He says the participants will also make a final decision about the fate of alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden, who is living in Afghanistan as a guest of the Taleban.

The statement comes after a three-hour meeting between Mullah Omar and a delegation from neighboring Pakistan that visited him in Kandahar. Taleban officials are describing the three-hour meeting as positive, but refuse to elaborate.

The Pakistani delegation has now arrived in Kabul, where the country's prominent Islamic scholars are scheduled to meet. Pakistan's diplomatic initiative is believed to be a last-ditch appeal to the Taleban to expel Saudi fugitive Mr. bin Laden and thereby avoid a possible U.S. retaliation on Afghanistan.

The United States has named Osama bin Laden as a prime suspect in the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. President Bush has promised a "comprehensive" assault on terrorism, including punishing those nations sheltering terrorists.

So far, the Taleban has refused to surrender Mr. Bin Laden, saying he is innocent of the terrorism charges. It has threatened to attack any neighboring country that assists a possible U.S. military retaliation on Afghanistan.

Pakistan, which has close ties with the Taleban, has agreed to cooperate with Washington in case it decides to launch an attack on targets in Afghanistan. The government in Islamabad is expected to face domestic opposition by Taleban supporters in the country. Officials say "extraordinary security measures" have already been taken to counter a pro-Taleban backlash.

Among other things, the United States has asked Pakistan to allow the use of its airspace in case Washington decides to launch air strikes against Afghanistan. An American delegation is due in the Pakistani capital within a few days to discuss details of a cooperation agreement.