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The sustained US bombing in Afghanistan is killing innocent people

RIYADH/LONDON, 15 October ó Interior Minister Prince Naif stated yesterday that Saudi Arabia was unhappy that the sustained US bombing in Afghanistan is killing innocent people. "We wish that the United States had been able to flush out the terrorists in Afghanistan without resorting to the current action.... because this is killing innocent people," he said.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Austrian President Thomas Klestil, Prince Naif said the US-led military campaign should focus on the terrorists and their supporters. "We are not at all happy with the situation. This in no way means that we are not willing to confront terrorism," he added.

The interior minister said that precautionary measures were in place to prevent any attack on US nationals or US interests in the Kingdom. "We will not tolerate such attacks. We will deal with them with resolve and force," he said.

Referring to the allegations that Saudi Arabia was lukewarm in preventing the flow of funds to Osama Bin Laden, Prince Naif said: "The opposite is correct. We have prevented the flow of funds to such organizations and requested the United States, Britain and other European countries to cooperate with us in this respect. But we did not get any cooperation. We would also like to receive evidence of our culpability before being targeted. They are talking about donations to Islamic societies and charities, but we have always seen to it that these funds filter down to the people who deserve them," he added.

On the Saudi suspects, linked to the hijacking, listed by the FBI, Prince Naif said: "I donít believe the list is clear. There were more than 600 passengers on the four hijacked planes. We are still wondering why they have singled out Arabs, especially Saudis. We are against all terrorists...But we still have not received any confirmation from US authorities about the involvement of Saudis in the attacks. Prince Naif, however, said that Saudi Arabia and the United States share strong political and economic relations.

Meanwhile, intense US airstrikes on Afghanistan yesterday were concentrated on the Taleban stronghold of Kandahar, Kabul and three other cities and the scale of casualties was "very high," the Taleban said yesterday.

Residential areas were hit in the bombing, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported.

AIP said civilian populations were hit in Kabul and Jalalabad also in overnight bombing.

It identified Qala Mir Wais and Qala Wakil as the civilian areas hit in the bombing of Kabul airport.

A senior Taleban military official, who did not want to be identified, told AFP that US forces had struck the militiaís military base at Qeshla Jadeed, about four kilometers from the center of Kandahar. He did not know if any troops had been at the base when it was hit.

The cityís airport was again pounded and US warplanes had also struck targets in the surrounding mountains, he added.

Planes dropped at least three bombs on a Taleban Army division and other military installations near Bagram, 50 kilometers north of Kabul, the AIP said.

Newsweek magazine reported US special forces may enter Afghanistan as early as this week to gather intelligence about Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network.

In Kabul, the airport, a defunct television transmitter on a hill near the center of the city which is known as TV mountain, and the Qargha area in the west of the city were hit.

The officer insisted that there had been large numbers of fatalities in both the Jalalabad and Kandahar areas because of US attempts to target the training camps of Osama Bin Ladenís Al-Qaeda network.

"In the countryside the scale of casualties is very high," he said. "It seems that the Americans believe every village in the mountains is a training camp."

An Afghan village that was wiped out in US strikes last Wednesday night has no survivors to say what happened to the village in eastern Afghanistan.

Reporters who visited the village found scenes of devastation and angry residents who said around 200 of their relatives and neighbors had perished in a misdirected attack.

"Believe me, whenever thereís a raid my children start crying. Last night even I cried with them," said Muhammad Nabi, 41, an auto spare parts salesman in the Qwaee Markaz area of Kabul.

"When women and children scream in the middle of the night, that is terrifying enough in itself."

As in Kabul, many inhabitants of the southern city have fled to the surrounding countryside. Residents reported yesterday that the latest bombing had cut the cityís electricity and water supplies.

A major part of the Afghan capitalís communication links with the rest of the world has been cut after overnight US bombing, Taleban officials said.

Abdul Rasool, 40, said his was one of the dozens of homes destroyed. His wife, whose name he did not want to give, and three sons, Satik, six, Turial, 10 and Pardes, 15, were all killed.

Rasool escaped because, as he has done every day of his adult life, he had risen before dawn to attend morning prayers. He was on his way home, at around 5:00 a.m., when the bomb struck." I heard a huge bang and I ran to my house but there was nothing I could do. It was completely destroyed," he said.

The reporters were also taken to Jalalabad hospital to see children and elderly Afghans the doctors said had been injured in Kadam.

Villagers sifting through the rubble of houses pulverized by the attack from the sky downed their tools and chanted "Down with America" at the sight of foreigners. One old man deferentially removed his turban as he spoke.

"We are poor people, donít hit us," he said. "We have nothing to do with Osama Bin Laden. We are innocent people."

In another development, Taleban Foreign Minister Maulawi Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil arrived in Pakistan last night which observers said possibly indicated a division within the ruling Afghan movement.

The United Arab Emirates official news agency WAM said Muttawakil "might represent separatists within the ranks of the Taleban after a dispute with the Taleban leader Mulla Omar". The report could not be confirmed in Islamabad.

Meanwhile, an informed source close to the Revolutionary Guards told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that three of the 22 terrorists wanted by the United States had spent months in Iran before the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The source said Imad Mughanniya, one of the suspects wanted by the FBI, had left Iran voluntarily after an official of the Al-Quds forces told him that his presence would not be in the interest of Tehran and that his security could not be guaranteed.

The source said a number of persons wanted by the US were Shiites who had their education at religious schools in the Iranian city of Qom. Some of them had undergone military training before Khatami came to power, the source pointed out.

Taleban said yesterday it might be willing to extradite Bin Laden to stand trial in a neutral country outside US or Taleban influence. However, Maulani Abdul Kabir, the governor of Jalalabad, also told a group of visiting international journalists that the United States must first provide concrete evidence of Bin Ladenís involvement in last monthís terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

"If proof is provided, a third country could be chosen, which is neither under the influence of the United States, nor the Taleban," Kabir said.

But White House spokeswoman Anne Womack said, "The president has made it clear there will be no negotiations."

A Taleban spokesman said that despite the militiaís inability to respond to US airstrikes, the "real war" will start when ground troops enter the country, in an interview with NBC television.

"America is technologically more advanced," said Suhail Shaheen from Islamabad. "We are not equal to America. The real war will start when ground troops enter Afghanistan."

Taleban leader Mulla Omar pledged in an interview printed yesterday that the Taleban will teach the United States "a much more bitter lesson" than that taught to the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

"Itís true that we have not started our real battle against the United States because of their technological superiority," he told Al-Watan daily in a telephone interview.

He reiterated the Talebanís total refusal to hand over Osama Bin Laden saying: "We have said if Washington has the evidence proving his (Bin Ladenís) involvement and is confident of that, why donít they give us this evidence and we are ready to try him in Afghanistan or by a committee of Islamic scholars from three countries.

In another development, the intelligence chief of Taleban rulers said yesterday his movement wanted opposition commanders to join them to fight US-led attacks on the country, the Afghan Islamic Press said.

Qari Ahmadullah was quoted by the AIP as saying that Taleban leader Mulla Muhammad Omar had issued orders not to seize weapons from opposition fighters who joined hands with the Taleban.

"We will forget the past problems with those people who join us because now it is the question of our religion and country," the AIP quoted him as saying in an interview. But, Afghan opposition commander Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum said anti-Taleban forces were preparing a "fierce offensive" in the key northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

The US airstrikes have yet to target the large concentration of Taleban forces north of Kabul, which are blocking the advance of the opposition Northern Alliance.

The opposition Northern Alliance said its forces would not advance against the ruling Taleban in the capital, Kabul, without a political solution in place. Asked on CNN television if the opposition was in a position to move toward Kabul, Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said: "Moving toward Kabul will need a political as well as a military solution."

In Washington, US Attorney General John Ashcroft said yesterday that some of the people responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks were likely still in the country.

"I believe that it is very unlikely that all of those individuals who were associated with or involved with the terrorism events of Sept. 11 and other terrorism events that may have been prepositioned and preplanned have been apprehended," Ashcroft told NBCís "Meet the Press" program.

Source: Arab News



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