Taliban holding out for clear evidence

Lack of photos, sea burial raise group’s doubts

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By Rahim Faiez and Heidi Vogt
Associated Press / May 4, 2011

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KABUL — The Taliban cast suspicion yesterday on the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death, saying they would not believe the Al Qaeda leader was dead until they had seen proof or received confirmation from sources close to him.

Though US officials have said they confirmed bin Laden’s identity both with face-mapping software and DNA tests, the lack of photos of the body and its burial at sea have raised doubts in Afghanistan and Pakistan that the man who evaded American detection for so long has actually been killed.

“This news is only coming from one side, from Obama’s office, and America has not shown any evidence or proof to support this claim,’’ Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement e-mailed to journalists. “On the other side, our sources close to Osama bin Laden have not confirmed or denied the news.’’

“Until there is news from sources close to Osama bin Laden it will be too early to provide any reaction,’’ the statement said.

Afghans have reacted with emotions ranging from joy to fear that the head of Al Qaeda has finally been eliminated. Some have voiced hope that this will make it easier to bring the Al Qaeda-allied Taliban to the negotiating table. Others have worried that it may mean the United States will leave Afghanistan before the fight against the insurgency is over.

On Monday, Afghanistan’s president pointed out that the successful strike on bin Laden in Pakistan shows that he was right all along to urge Americans to focus more of their military might in the neighboring country. President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly criticized international forces for putting their energy into trying to route militants from Afghan villages when the leaders of the insurgency are residing in Pakistan.

In Kabul yesterday, few Afghans doubted that bin Laden was dead, but some echoed Karzai’s sentiments.

“Osama bin Laden was found by Americans in Pakistan and poor people are getting killed by bombings in Afghanistan,’’ said Samiullah Khan, a shopkeeper in the capital. “The government should ask, when the terrorist was found in Pakistan, why NATO is bombing places in Afghanistan.’’

Others said they did not expect bin Laden’s death to change anything about their long-running war.

“The situation here is not related to Osama’s death,’’ said Sayed Karim, 50, a retired teacher. He argued that the Taliban’s goal is to bring strict Islamic rule to the country, and any change in their relationship with Al Qaeda would not alter that.

There were, however, fears about reprisal attacks in a country where suicide bombings and roadside explosives have become commonplace. A district police commander in Kabul said the city is on alert.

“The Kabul city police are ready to react and stop any possible activities by Al Qaeda or other enemies of this country to disturb the security,’’ said General Farooq Hassas, chief of police for Kabul’s district four.

US officials and their Afghan counterparts have said that there is still a powerful terror network to fight in Afghanistan even after bin Laden’s death and that their military strategy remains unchanged.

And the war in Afghanistan has continued uninterrupted.

NATO forces yesterday launched an airstrike against a group of private security guards who were contracted to protect military supply convoys along an eastern Afghan highway, killing one of the guards, Afghan police and the company said.

A police official in Ghazni Province said the strike killed one guard. A representative for the private security company, Watan Risk Management, said five others were wounded.

Also yesterday, a NATO service member was killed in a predawn bomb attack in the east. There were no further details.

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