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05 November 2001 Monday 18 Shaban 1422

'Taliban agreed to hand over Osama in '98'

DUBAI, Nov 4: Saudi Arabia's former intelligence chief, Prince Turki al-Faisal, said on Saturday the Taliban had twice agreed to hand over Osama bin Laden to the kingdom but reneged after the United States bombed Afghanistan in 1998.

Prince Turki also told the Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC) in an interview that he believed that Osama was behind the Sept 11 suicide attacks, saying those who felt otherwise were "turning a blind eye to the facts".

The prince, who served as intelligence chief for 24 years until August, said spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar pledged at a meeting in June 1998 to turn Osama.

Taliban envoy Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, now the movement's foreign minister, had reiterated that vow during a visit to Saudi Arabia in July 1998.

"I asked Mullah Omar when I met with him and he agreed. He said: 'We are ready'," Prince Turki said of the June meeting, when he had first asked the Taliban to surrender the man Washington now accuses of ordering the September 11 attacks.

But that changed three months later, after the United States had carried out air strikes on Afghanistan in response to bomb attacks in August 1998 on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

"In September I found Mullah Omar with a complete change. He even used abusive words against the (Saudi) kingdom and the people of the kingdom so I interrupted the meeting," he said.

Prince Turki said that the Taliban had also promised to prevent Osama, who had been stripped of his Saudi nationality in 1994 for acts against the royal family, from launching any attack against Saudi Arabia.

ENVOY TO TALIBAN: The prince, a senior member of the Saudi royal family, had visited Afghanistan frequently as an envoy for King Fahd until he was replaced as head of the oil-rich kingdom's intelligence apparatus by Prince Nawaf, a brother to the monarch.

His unexplained departure has led to speculation in Western media about his close ties to the Taliban.

In the hour-long interview, Prince Turki never mentioned Osama by name. But he criticised the Taliban, saying they were to blame for the US attacks on Afghanistan because they continued to reject Western calls to hand over Osama bin Laden.

"Unfortunately, the Taliban government is the one that put itself in this predicament," he said, adding that if they were unable to deal with Osama they should let others do so.

"If they could not do it, they should step down and let those who are capable solve this problem."

Asked who was in charge, Osama or Mullah Omar, who is reported to be married to one of Osama's daughters, Prince Turki, a brother to Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said:

"I don't know. It seems to me that there is harmony between the two...The two use the same rhetoric."

Osama's ambition, he said, was to "fight the whole world because he sees it as an infidel, corrupt world and he will not stop until he is terminated".-Reuters

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The DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2001