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Taliban told US it would give up Osama: report

Reuters | June 6 2004

United States and Taliban officials met secretly in Frankfurt almost a year before the September 11 attacks to discuss terms for the Afghans to hand over Osama bin Laden, according to a German television documentary.

No agreement was reached and no further negotiations took place before the suicide hijackings in 2001, which bin Laden subsequently hailed in a videotape as the work of his Al Qaeda network.

ZDF television quoted Kabir Mohabbat, an Afghan-American businessman, as saying he tried to broker a deal between the Americans and the purist Islamic Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, who were sheltering bin Laden.

He quoted Taliban foreign minister Mullah Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil as saying: "You can have him whenever the Americans are ready. Name us a country and we will extradite him".

A German member of the European Parliament, Elmar Brok, confirmed that he had helped Mr Mohabbat in 1999 to establish initial contact with the Americans.

"I was told [by Mohabbat] that the Taliban had certain ideas about handing over bin Laden, not to the United States but to a third country or to the Court of Justice in The Hague," Mr Brok said.

"The message was: 'There is willingness to talk about handing over bin Laden', and the aim of the Taliban was clearly to win the recognition of the American Government and the lifting of the boycott," he said, referring to the international isolation of the Taliban.

Mr Brok said he was not in a position to judge how credible the offer was but he passed it to the US ambassador to Germany, John Kornblum.

He said Mr Mohabbat was then summoned to Washington to be interviewed by US officials.

This led in turn to the German meeting, which ZDF said took place between Taliban ministers and US officials in a Frankfurt hotel in November 2000.

The documentary, broadcast on Thursday evening, said the Afghans put forward "several offers" and there was talk of holding further negotiations at the US embassy in Pakistan on where and when bin Laden would be handed over.

In fact, no more talks took place before September 11.

But negotiations did resume five days after the attacks, in the Pakistani city of Quetta, ZDF said. This meeting has been previously reported in US media.

Mr Mohabbat said the Americans pressed in Quetta for the handover of bin Laden within 24 hours, but the Taliban were unable to meet that demand.

Within weeks, US-led forces intervened in Afghanistan to drive the Taliban from power and kill, capture or disperse Al Qaeda fighters based in Afghan training camps.

Bin Laden still has not been captured.

Mr Brok said he had not personally taken part in either of the reported meetings between the Taliban and the United States but believed there had been a "political decision" not to pursue negotiations after the one in Frankfurt.

He told ZDF: "I have to say that I consider this offer [on bin Laden's handover] very much more seriously with hindsight than I did at the time".

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