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US builds anti-terrorist coalition

A Northern Alliance fighter sits atop sandbags in Afghanistan as pressure mounts on Taliban

(swissinfo.ch)

The United States is building its anti-terrorism coalition as it prepares to take on Osama bin Laden, who the US has called the chief suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has severed ties with Afghanistan's Taliban regime, which is accused of harbouring bin Laden.

The Saudi authorities dropped their recognition of the Afghan leadership because, according to the official Saudi Press agency, "The Taliban government did not pay attention to all the contacts and attempts by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to persuade it to stop harbouring criminals and terrorists."

Pakistan is now the only country that still recognises Afghanistan's Taliban government, and it has reduced its representation in the country.

Meanwhile, United Nations workers in Afghanistan have been threatened by the Taliban, which has warned it will execute any UN employees who use key communications equipment in their offices in Afghanistan, UN officials said on Monday.

The militia raided UN offices in the capital, Kabul, and Kandahar, where the Taliban leadership is based, and sealed satellite telephones, computers and other equipment, the UN said.

"They warned our staff that if they use these things they will face execution," said Gordon Weiss, spokesman for UNICEF in Islamabad.

Following terrorist attacks in the United States, the UN removed foreign staff in Afghanistan for their safety but left behind local Afghan employees to continue crucial relief agency work and mine-clearing operations.

World Food Programme spokesman Khaled Mansour says the Taliban has seized 1,400 tonnes of food and closed the food programme offices in Kandahar.

"This is a serious development which could disrupt, if not completely stop, our food distribution," Mansour said.

According to UN spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker, Afghanistan has actually taken over the UN office in the southern city of Kandahar, and has locked up the UN communications equipment in Kabul,.

Pakistan withdraws diplomats

Pakistan pulled its diplomatic staff out of Kabul and closed its embassy as the threat of a possible military attack by the United States mounted.

The Pakistani foreign ministry said officials were concerned about a possible US strike on Afghanistan following the terror attacks, which left nearly 7,000 people in the US missing or presumed dead.

"They were withdrawn over the weekend. They are all in Pakistan," said Mohammed Riaz Khan, spokesman for the foreign ministry, about the diplomatic staff.

Pakistan's relations with Kabul deteriorated after Pakistan announced that it would cooperate with the United States in its "campaign" against Afghanistan.

Bin Laden "statement" reported

Meanwhile, Qatar's al-Jareeza television channel has broadcast what it claims are words by bin Laden, who has denied involvement in the attacks, urging Muslims to help "destroy the new Jewish Crusade campaign."

"We incite our Muslim brothers in Pakistan to give everything they own and are capable of to push the American crusade forces from invading Pakistan," he was quoted as saying.

Al-Jareeza also quoted him as calling for a jihad, or holy war, by saying: "I assure you that we are steadfast on the path of jihad for the sake of Allah."

Even though the statement's authenticity could not be confirmed, an editor at the television station, which interviewed bin Laden two years ago, considered it genuine. The statement did not indicate bin Laden's whereabouts.

Bush signs financial order

Meanwhile president George W Bush signed an executive order freezing the assets of 27 individuals and organisations, calling it a "strike on the financial foundation" of terrorists.

According to Bush, the organisations include suspected terrorist groups, and individuals who serve as a front for terrorism.

Bush said the list was just the beginning. "To follow the money is a trail to terrorists," he said and called the list "the financial equivalent of law enforcement's most wanted list."

Taliban leader speaks out

Despite the mounting pressure the Taliban remained defiant regarding the US request to hand over bin Laden. Mullah Mohammed Omar, leader of the Taliban, said in a statement that eliminating the suspected terrorist would not remove the threat to the US.

"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," he said from his headquarters in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

He said America wanted to eliminate Islam and that their efforts to spread lawlessness in order to create a pro-American government in Afghanistan would not solve the problem.

The Taliban leadership still denies any knowledge of the whereabouts of the Saudi-born bin Laden, including whether he remains in Afghanistan.

swissinfo with agencies

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