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Taleban Meeting Postponed - 2001-09-18

A meeting of Taleban Islamic clerics to decide the fate of Osama bin Laden has been postponed for at least one day because a large number of participants could not reach Kabul Tuesday. The suspected terrorist is "wanted, dead or alive" in the United States for his alleged role in terrorist attacks on U.S. cities.

A Pakistan-based Afghan news agency (Afghan Islamic Press) says the meeting of Islamic clerics from across Afghanistan will be held Wednesday to formulate a response to what officials in Kabul say are threats of an assault on their country for terrorist attacks against U.S. cities.

The agency quotes a Taleban spokesman as saying the council of nearly 1,000 Afghan scholars is expected to make a final decision about whether to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States or to a third, neutral country.

Meanwhile, a diplomatic mission from neighboring Pakistan is in Kabul trying to persuade the Taleban to surrender the Saudi fugitive. A Taleban official said the delegation held "positive" talks with authorities, Tuesday. He says the council of clerics will take a final decision on all the issues emerging from the attacks on New York and Washington. He refused to give further details.

Pakistan and Taleban officials said it is possible the delegation from Islamabad may attend or be briefed on results of the "Shura" or grand assembly. Pakistan is a main supporter of the Taleban administration in Kabul and is the only country that has an embassy there. Riaz Mohammad Khan, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, said "the purpose of the delegation was not negotiations but to impress upon the Taleban leadership the gravity of the situation. This is an effort as a friend of Afghanistan ,as a well wisher of Afghanistan, as a country which has stood with Afghanistan in very difficult circumstances to convey to the Afghan leadership our assessment of the situation and our view as to what needs to be done. What the international community is expecting from them."

The head of Pakistan's main intelligence agency, General Mahmood Ahmed, is heading the delegation. The team spent Monday meeting Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar in his southern stronghold, Kandahar, telling him that he should surrender Osama Bin Laden or risk a devastating U.S. assault.

Pakistan has agreed to fully cooperate with Washington in case it decides to attack targets in Afghanistan. A U.S. delegation is expected in Islamabad to discuss details of the cooperation deal. For siding with Washington, the Pakistani government is facing a threat of attack by Afghanistan as well as pressure from hard-line, pro-Taleban Islamic groups at home.

Separately, Pakistani spokesman Khan says his country is worried that a large number of Afghan refugees heading for its border in fear of a U.S. strike. He says restrictions have been tightened to prevent illegal crossings to Pakistan.

Taleban leaders have urged Afghans to prepare for a "holy war," or "jihad," in case of an attack on the country. But they say the authority to declare the war rests with the council of Islamic clerics. The Taleban says Osama bin Laden is innocent of terrorism charges, but Washington has named him as a prime suspect in last week's attacks on U.S. cities.