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Taleban: Attack Over bin Laden Could Result in Jihad Against US - 2001-09-21

A meeting of Afghan religious scholars has recommended that Osama bin Laden, accused of terrorism by the United States, be encouraged to leave Afghanistan for a country of his choosing. But the United States has rejected the proposal on the grounds he would be moved from one safe harbor to another. The U.S. position is that he should be turned over to responsible authorities.

A meeting of some 1,000 religious scholars in Kabul expressed sorrow for the Americans who died in the terrorist attack. They hoped the United States would not attack Afghanistan but would exercise patience until its investigation of the incident is completed.

In an interview with VOA, Taleban education minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said the scholars also addressed the question of Osama bin Laden. "In order to prevent any conflict and to remove any suspicions, this major council of scholars recommends to the Islamic Emirate [the Taliban] that Osama bin Laden be encouraged to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible and find another place to live," he said.

In the event of war, the scholars say they would expect help from other Muslim countries. Any Muslims who aid the enemy will become enemies themselves.

It is not certain how the Taleban leader Mullah Omar will react to the scholars' decision and to the U.S rejection of it. There are indications some of the Taleban leadership would like to solve the bin Laden issue and avoid a conflict with the United States. They say that once this crisis passes, they would like Americans to inspect the camps that are considered to harbor terrorists. They say they want to join the U.S. war on terrorism.

This more moderate position, of course, does not always prevail among the Taleban. Despite the objections of those with more contact with the outside world, the famed Buddha statues in Bamian province were destroyed last February.

This group says a favorable reaction to the scholars' proposal from other nations, especially Muslim ones, would help.

In his interview, Taleban education minister Muttaqi says he hopes the scholars' decision will at least begin to solve the urgent problem of Osama bin Laden and spare the country war.