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Militia chief vows to back Al Qaeda in Afghanistan

CAIRO -- An Afghan militia leader wanted by the United States declared support for Osama bin Laden in a videotape shown yesterday, indicating his Islamic faction would be willing to shelter Al Qaeda leaders.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former Afghan prime minister, controls a wide network in eastern Afghanistan, and assistance from his Hezb-e-Islami group would be valuable to Al Qaeda's leaders, who are Arabs and don't speak the myriad of Afghan languages.

''We hope to participate with them in a battle that they lead. They hold the banner and we stand alongside them as supporters," Hekmatyar said in the tape, which was shown on Al-Jazeera.

The tape appeared less than two weeks after bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda leader in Iraq, issued messages in quick succession, accusing the United States of waging a war on Islam.

Hekmatyar, whose Islamic militant group fought invading Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, was prime minister from June 1993 to June 1994 and was one of Afghanistan's most prominent militia leaders during the 1992-96 civil war.

His group has been blamed for several recent attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan.

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