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Religious Council Suggests That bin Laden Leave Afghanistan

United States Not Satisfied with Act

By Tyler Marshall
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- ISLAMABAD, Pakistan

A decree issued Thursday by a religious council that encouraged terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden to leave Afghanistan voluntarily is viewed in the region as an important step forward, though it was swiftly dismissed by the Bush administration. Political analysts and diplomats in Islamabad, described the Afghan council’s edict as a significant softening of the ruling Taliban’s resolve to shelter the Saudi exile.

Bin Laden has been labeled by the Bush administration as the prime suspect in last week’s attacks. The wording of the edict was elliptical but constituted a shift of position for Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban movement, analysts said.

In Washington, the Bush administration was quick to reject the council’s move as insufficient. It demanded, as it has previously, that the fundamentalist Islamic regime quickly surrender bin Laden and break up his militant al-Qaeda organization. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, “It’s time for action, not words. And the president has demanded that key figures of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, including Osama bin Laden, be turned over to responsible authorities and that the Taliban close terrorist camps in Afghanistan.

The obligation to shelter someone seeking protection is so central to Afghan culture that some observers even hailed the edict as a possible opening that might avert the prospect of a U.S.-led military strike on Afghanistan designed to capture bin Laden, bring down the Taliban regime or both.

As tensions build, demands grew louder in Pakistan for the United States to make public the evidence it has against him. At the White House, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was pressed Thursday for specific evidence linking bin Laden to last week’s airplane hijackings but declined.