- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Osama bin Laden has called on Muslims to join a holy war against "the American crusade," and the United Nations said yesterday that Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia has virtually shut down its humanitarian operations by threatening to kill its remaining staff.
In a statement provided yesterday to Qatar's Al-Jazeera satellite channel, bin Laden the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks in Washington and New York said: "We are steadfast on the path of jihad [holy war] with the heroic, faithful Afghan people."
Bin Laden also expressed sorrow for the deaths of pro-Taliban Pakistanis killed for protesting "the aggression of the American crusade forces and their allies on Muslim lands in Pakistan and Afghanistan."
He called them martyrs in the statement, which the TV station said was signed by bin Laden and dated Sunday.
In other developments, the Taliban's leader said yesterday that the United States should withdraw its forces from the Persian Gulf and end its "bias" against Palestinians if it wants to eliminate the threat of global terrorism.
The United States is gearing up for military strikes on Afghanistan because of the Taliban's refusal to hand over bin Laden and his lieutenants. Bin Laden has used Afghanistan as headquarters of his al Qaeda terrorist network since 1996.
Faced with the prospect of attack, the Taliban said it was dispatching 300,000 fighters to defend Afghanistan's borders as fighting increased in the north of the country with a coalition of opposition forces.
Despite the threat, the Taliban was defiant.
In a statement faxed to news agencies here, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar said eliminating bin Laden would do little to remove the threat of more terrorism against the United States.
"If Americans want to eliminate terrorism, then they should withdraw their forces from the Gulf and they should put an end to the biased attitude on the issue of Palestine," Mullah Omar said from his headquarters in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
"America wants to eliminate Islam, and they are spreading lawlessness to install a pro-American government in Afghanistan," Mullah Omar said. "This effort will not solve the problem, and the Americans will burn themselves if they indulge in this kind of activity."
The Taliban also has cracked down on the remaining U.N. relief workers in Afghanistan, threatening to kill staff members who use computers or other communications equipment, U.N. officials in Islamabad said yesterday.
The militia began raiding U.N. offices in Afghan cities over the weekend and sealing their satellite telephones, walkie-talkies, computers and vehicles to bar them from further use, said Stephanie Bunker, the chief U.N. spokeswoman in Islamabad.
"They warned our staff that if they use these things, they will face execution," said Gordon Weiss, spokesman for UNICEF.
The threats nearly shut down the relief work of Afghan staffers who were left behind when all foreign U.N. workers were withdrawn from Afghanistan as a safety precaution.
"The U.N. has ordered its staff to obey the Taliban directive to avoid risking their lives," Miss Bunker said in an interview yesterday. "This will have a very serious impact on our operations."
With tensions mounting, Pakistan pulled its 12 diplomats from its embassy in Kabul, the Afghan capital, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Riaz Khan said. However, relations between Pakistan and the Taliban have not been severed, and a Taliban Embassy remains in operation in Islamabad.
Over the weekend, the United Arab Emirates broke diplomatic relations with the Taliban, leaving Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as the only countries maintaining formal ties.
Pakistan has agreed to support the U.S. military campaign against bin Laden and his Taliban allies. A Pentagon team is in Pakistan to discuss details of Pakistani cooperation in any campaign.
In northern Afghanistan, meanwhile, heavy exchanges of artillery fire were reported overnight and early yesterday in the Panjshir Valley and in Balkh province between the Taliban and opposition forces, who control about 5 percent of the country.
The opposition has offered to cooperate with the United States in trying to drive the Taliban from power.

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