Sun, Feb 26, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Afghan president claims Taliban leader in Pakistan


Afghan President Hamid Karzai has handed intelligence to Pakistan that indicates Mullah Mohammed Omar, supreme leader of the ousted Taliban regime, and key associates are hiding in Pakistan, a senior Afghan official said on Friday.

The intelligence was shared during a visit by Karzai to Islamabad last week, and comes after a wave of suicide attacks that have fueled Afghan suspicions that militants are operating out of Pakistan.

Afghanistan also provided information about the locations of alleged terrorist training camps along the border and in Pakistani cities, said the official, who is familiar with the information shared with Pakistan. He declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Omar has been at large since the Taliban was ousted by US-led forces in late 2001 for sheltering al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The US government has offered a US$10 million reward for information leading to Omar's capture.

Pakistan, a key US ally in the war on terrorism, renounced its support of the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, and denies offering a haven for Taliban leaders or fighters.

Earlier this week, Pakistan's interior minister, Aftab Khan Sherpao, confirmed that Afghanistan had handed over information about Taliban suspects. On Friday, he declined to comment.

He said, however, that Pakistan would capture them "if they are here."

Militants from the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other groups are all believed to operate along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Officials on both sides have often claimed that fugitives are likely hiding on the other's soil.

"We have passed on the intelligence that we have about Mullah Omar and a number of his close associates to Pakistan," said the Afghan official. "The intelligence is about those members of the Taliban leadership who we believe are in Pakistan."

The official said other suspects believed to be in Pakistan include Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban's head of operations in southern Afghanistan and Ahktar Mohammed Usmani, a former commander in Kandahar. The official refused to give details about where in Pakistan they were thought to be hiding.

A Pakistani intelligence official said that during his visit, Karzai had mentioned that Omar could also be hiding somewhere in Pakistan as he keeps changing his location along the border. But he said Karzai gave no details on Omar's whereabouts.

A senior Pakistani Interior Ministry official said it was easy to make the allegation, but asked, "Do they have any evidence?"

The alleged presence of Taliban militants in Pakistan has become a source of tension in its relations with Afghanistan.

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said that Afghanistan had shared with Pakistan "whatever we considered was credible intelligence. They promised they would look into it."

He declined to give more details, other than that the information included "the presence of Taliban leaders, the presence of training camps and other security-related issues."

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