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Powell: Taliban may pay price for supporting terrorists

Secretary of State Colin Powell said governments will be held accountable for providing support to terrorist groups.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell issued one of his strongest messages yet to Afghanistan's Taliban rulers Friday, saying the regime may soon pay the price for the "support" and "inspiration" of suspected terrorists such as Osama bin laden.

"To the extent that, governments, such as the Taliban government in Afghanistan, support such things," Powell said, "you need to understand you cannot separate your activities from the activity of these perpetrators."

Powell said the United States has yet to identify bin Laden as the "direct perpetrator" of Tuesday's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, but "evidence is mounting, which will allow us to determine in the near future" who masterminded the attacks.

Officials estimate thousands died Tuesday when two hijacked airliners slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, destroying them. Another hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon, while a fourth went down in rural Pennsylvania.

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U.S. officials have worked in recent days to mount an international campaign to rally support for a possible military campaign.

Powell said governments will be held accountable for providing support to terrorist groups, which he said are "attacking civilization" and "killing innocent people."

"In our response, we will have to take into account not only the perpetrators, but those who provide haven, support, inspiration -- financial and other assets -- to the perpetrators," Powell said.

In the Afghan capital of Kabul on Friday, the supreme leader of the Taliban government, Mullah Mohammed Omar, maintained that bin Laden could not have been behind the attacks. In a radio address to his people, Omar said they should not be afraid but should be prepared for a holy war.

Powell said that the United States is not threatening countries such as Pakistan but did not disagree that the United States has basically said to a number of countries that you are either with "us or you aren't."

He said the United States is still awaiting a response from Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to a list of requests.

Powell said the United States will examine if a country serves as "a haven or is a well-known supporter of this kind of activity and they are simply unresponsive, and we deem that unresponsiveness to be contributing to additional terrorism or the fertile ground in which terrorism thrives, that will certainly affect the kind of relationship we will have with them in the future.

"I am not threatening so much as saying this is a new benchmark, a new way of measuring the relationship and what we can do for you."

In another development, President Bush received "a very strong letter of support" from Syrian President Bashir Assad, Powell said.

"We have had a mixed relationship with Syria over the years," said Powell, who added he would "pursue the spirit of the letter" when he talked to Syria's foreign minister.

Powell also said he wants Israeli and Palestinian officials to meet and hopes "the conditions will present themselves soon." But the timing is up to the parties, he said.

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