- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 18, 2002

CAIRO Osama bin Laden is alive and the future of the United States in Afghanistan is "fire, hell and total defeat," fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was quoted as saying by a pan-Arab newspaper yesterday.

"We don't consider the battle has ended in Afghanistan. The battle has begun, and its fires are picking up. These fires will reach the White House, because it is the center of injustice and tyranny," Mullah Omar was reported as saying by the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat.

"As for the United States' future in Afghanistan, it will be fire and hell and total defeat, God willing, as it was for their predecessors the Soviets and, before them, the British."

"The sheik is, thank God, still alive, and this hurts [President] Bush, who promised to his people to kill Osama."

Abdul Rahman Rashed, editor-in-chief of the paper, said Mullah Omar answered questions delivered by reporter Badie Qorhani to the mullah's media adviser in northern Pakistan.

Mullah Omar's responses were recorded on tape and returned to the reporter, he said.

Mr. Rashed told the Associated Press that his newspaper ran the story only after a Taliban official confirmed the tape's authenticity by e-mail. The Taliban said on its official Web site that the interview was Mullah Omar's "first with an Arab newspaper after his pullout from Kandahar."

The authenticity of the quotes could not be independently confirmed. The language in the quotes mirrors that of leaflets circulated in Afghanistan and earlier statements by the Taliban.

Mullah Omar, who led the Taliban between 1994 and 2001, has been a fugitive since a U.S.-led force overran his stronghold of Kandahar, Afghanistan, in December. Authorities want to know, among other things, the extent of support lent by the Taliban to bin Laden's al Qaeda network, the prime suspect in the September 11 attacks.

Asked whether he denied that bin Laden was behind the attacks, Mullah Omar said, "Those who carried out the operation had a clear goal, and this goal was dearer to them than their lives, and they achieved it. Asking about them, who they are, is not important."

The interview, accompanied by a blurred archive photo of Mullah Omar, ended with a message to the Palestinians.

"I tell my brethren in Palestine: Be patient, and continue your blessed struggle . We did not forget you. We are still healing another wound in the Muslim nation, which is the occupation of our land by the Americans. Your battle and ours are one and the same."

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