Clerics urge bin Laden to leave Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON (Reuters)–Afghan clerics on Thursday recommended Osama bin Laden leave their country–but Washington rejected the overture and demanded the prime suspect in hijack attacks that left nearly 6,000 dead or missing be turned over to responsible authorities.

“It does not meet America’s requiremen’s,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. “This is about much more than one man being allowed to leave voluntarily–presumably–from one safe harbor to another safe harbor.”

An Afghan government official said bin Laden’s departure could take time and his destination was uncertain.

But Fleischer said: “It is time for action–not words.

“The president has demanded that key figures of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization–including Osama bin Laden–be turned over to responsible authorities and that the Taliban close terrorist camps in Afghanistan and the United States stands behind those deman’s.”

As U.S. President George W. Bush prepared to address a Joint Session of the Congress on Thursday on the global “war on terrorism,” U.S. Army units were ordered to deploy for possible military operations.

Bush on Thursday night will tell the U.S. military to “be ready” to retaliate for the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington and will tell governmen’s: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”

The White House released excerpts from Bush’s speech to a joint session of Congress scheduled for 9 p.m. “We are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom,” Bush said.

“We will direct every resource at our command — every means of diplomacy–every tool of intelligence–every instrument of law enforcement–every financial influence and every necessary weapon of war — to the disruption and defeat of the global terror network,” Bush said.

Bush is to outline who attacked the United States–“why they hate us–and how we will fight and win the war on terrorism,” the White House said.

He will make clear that the fight is with “terrorist extremists” and not those who practice the Muslim faith–will call on the U.S. military to “be ready,” urge Americans to be “calm and resolute,” and ask governmen’s around the world to choose: “Either you are with us–or you are with the terrorists.”

The Sept. 11 attacks–in which hijacked airliners reduced the World Trade Center in New York to rubble and badly damaged the Pentagon near Washington–also wreaked havoc across global financial markets by raising the twin specters of recession and war.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday the U.S. economy “ground to a halt” after the attacks–but that recovery was assured.

U.S. airlines–which announced this week they would lay off more than 50,000 workers–have been hardest hit.

Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill–appearing at the same session–agreed. “Our economy — our prosperity–will not be destroyed,” he said.

On Thursday–stocks and bonds fell across Europe–and in New York the Dow Jones industrial average continued to spiral downward. It had fallen more than 3 percent by midday. The NASDAQ composite index was down about 2.8 percent.

The U.S. launched “Operation Infinite Justice” to move military equipment and personnel into place should military action be needed to roust the Saudi-born bin Laden. The government said it would put up to 500 U.S. warplanes within striking distance of Afghanistan and on Thursday ordered U.S. Army units to deploy for possible operations.

The edict–or fatwa–issued by the Afghan clerics said bin Laden should be “persuaded to leave whenever possible,” but stopped short of ordering the expulsion of the 44-year-old multimillionaire–wanted by U.S. President George W. Bush “dead or alive.”

His departure was necessary–the edict said–“to avoid the current tumult and also future similar suspicion.” The edict threatened a “jihad” or holy war agains the U.S. if Afghanistan is attacked and also criticized Bush for offending Muslims by referring to his campaign as a “crusade.”

Bin Laden–who has denied responsibility for the attacks–has been living as a “guest” of the Taliban and–according to the United States–using his fortune to direct anti-U.S. attacks from his Afghanistan hideout.

Education Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said in a Kabul news conference that Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar would likely accept the clerics’ edict for bin Laden to leave the mountainous nation whenever possible.

“It will take time,” Muttaqi said when asked when bin Laden would leave. He said he did not know how he would leave or where the world’s most wanted man would go.

While the prosperous West fretted over its stock prices–the situation in Afghanistan was much more dire–said the World Food Program–a United Nations agency.

It said at least one million Afghans face starvation if it cannot return staff members evacuated last week because of the crisis over bin Laden. Thousands of Afghans have fled their cities fearful of U.S. attacks.

The attacks also have touched off regional tensions in Asia–where Pakistan’s military ruler–Gen. Pervez Musharraf–said his country faced its gravest crisis in 30 years now that it had backed the U.S.-led hunt for bin Laden.

The edict from Kabul issued a blunt threat to Pakistan. “If in the time of an American attack–any Muslims–be they Afghans or non-Afghans–cooperate with the infidels–accomplices or spy–that person also is punishable to death like the foreign invaders,” it said–adding such enemies also faced holy war.

Iran has launched a diplomatic drive to head off U.S. strikes against Afghanistan–fearing a humanitarian catastrophe and hardening of Islamic opinion against the West.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi telephoned European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the foreign ministers of Italy–Pakistan–India and EU presidency holder Belgium to press the point–the IRNA news agency said on Thursday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told Reuters Iran would not let the United States use Iranian airspace for an attack on Afghanistan.

While the White House pushed ahead on the diplomatic front–the FBI and other agencies continued their roundup. A former cab driver–on a list of about 190 suspects and possible witnesses wanted for questioning about the attacks–was arrested outside Chicago on previous assault charges–the FBI said.

In New York–rescue workers dug away at the massive pile of rubble that was once the World Trade Center in an increasingly unlikely search for survivors. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said 5,422 people were still missing and many may never be found.

The city–in its biggest push to return to normality since the catastrophe–partially reopened the historic Brooklyn Bridge and sent thousands of schoolchildren back to class.

Pilots for the nation’s airlines told a Senate committee on Thursday that new locks should be put on cockpit doors and security netting strung up as immediate measures to prevent future hijackings. The government has said that 19 men hijacked four jetliners using only knives and boxcutters.

Two of the jets plowed into the World Trade Center–a third into the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in rural western Pennsylvania.


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One Comment;

  1. Asley Larke said:

    I was a hawk on the Vietnam War but slowly learned that you can not win a war that the home folks, them and us, are not in favor of. As General Maxwell Taylor said during the Vietnam Hearings on the possibility of China entering the conflict, “yes we can whip them but then what?” I think VP Biden is right, retire to the outskirts and bomb the hell out of them if they threaten us. Bring our sons home now!