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Karzai: Bin Laden alive and still in region

Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is alive and may be hiding along the Afghan-Pakistan border, Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, said Saturday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Osama bin Laden is alive and may be hiding somewhere along the Afghan border, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Saturday.

Also, a statement purportedly from fugitive Taliban chief Mullah Omar accused the U.S.-backed Afghan government of destroying Islamic values in Afghanistan and said the hard-line movement soon would triumph over U.S forces.

“The spell of American oppression will be broken to pieces,” said the statement, which was faxed Saturday to The Associated Press in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar by Taliban spokesman Hamid Agha.

It was not possible to independently confirm the authenticity of the statement, delivered ahead of the start of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice.

In his comments about the al-Qaida leader, Karzai said optimism among the U.S. military that he will be caught soon means bin Laden is probably still in the region — maybe along the rugged Afghan-Pakistan border.

“His exact location is not known,” Karzai told reporters at his Kabul palace. “Inside or outside the (Afghan) border, it is not clear.”

Karzai said recent videos showing bin Laden demonstrated that he was still alive. “Everyone can see those videos,” he said.

U.S. planning a spring offensive
The U.S. military said this week it is confident of catching bin Laden, as well as Mullah Omar, by the end of the year.

Defense officials in Washington said this week that the Pentagon is planning a spring offensive against Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts.

More than 80 people have died in Afghanistan in violence in January alone, much of it blamed on holdouts from the hardline Islamic regime ousted by a U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.

The U.S. military has said it will try to improve security in the troubled south in time for national elections slated for June. Karzai, who enjoys strong support in Washington, is favored to win the presidency.

Mullah Omar criticizes Karzai government
Mullah Omar has been at large since a U.S.-led force ousted his hard-line Islamic regime from Afghanistan in late 2001 for harboring bin Laden, blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks.

In the statement, Mullah Omar accused the U.S.-backed Karzai government, which replaced the Taliban, of “throwing dust into the eyes of the people” by adopting a new constitution and planning elections.

“The only target of this is to destroy the unity of Afghanistan and eliminate its Islamic values. Their leader America wants to justify its illegal occupation,” it said.

Mullah Omar, who is believed to be in hiding some place along the rugged border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan also accused the Afghan government of stalling on democracy.

“The American, shaky transitional government in Afghanistan has completed its two years but so far it has not achieved anything,” Omar said. “Where is the democracy that was to accompany peace, freedom, human rights and reconstruction?

“For Muslims, that fraud democracy is bringing the gifts of killings, bombings, destruction of homes, the spread of obscenity and imposition of infidelity that you see in the country’s capital and its provinces,” he said.

A persistent insurgency by Taliban remnants and their allies against Afghan government targets, aid workers and international forces — that include thousands of U.S. soldiers — has recently become more bloody.

Two suicide attacks killed two international peacekeepers from Britain and Canada in the capital Kabul in the past week. Another Taliban spokesman had claimed responsibility for the blasts, and said it was the start of a bombing campaign across the country.