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Taliban ambassador calls bin Laden 'creation of the United States'

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Taliban ambassador at large, Sayed Rahmatullah Hashmi  


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The United States has not provided any evidence of suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden's complicity in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, a Taliban leader said Wednesday, calling the exiled Saudi millionaire "a creation of the United States."

Speaking via videophone to an audience of international journalists at CNN's World Report Conference, Sayed Rahmatullah Hashmi, Taliban ambassador at large, dismissed the convictions of four followers of bin Laden, who were found guilty by a federal jury in New York of their roles in the 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

He questioned the role two defectors from bin Laden's group, al Qaeda, played as informants in the trial, saying they are liars. "So for us, it is not acceptable," he said of the trial.

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At the same time, Hashmi condemned as "terrorists acts" the embassy bombings, which killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured more than 4,000 others. He said that anybody in Afghanistan found guilty of the bombings would face capital punishment.

Wanted by the United States, Bin Laden lives in Afghanistan, a point Hashmi did not dispute.

"Well, Osama bin Laden, first of all, is not our creation," Hashmi said. "He was a creation of the United States itself. Such people were instigated to come to Afghanistan and fight the Soviets in the 1970s and 1980s. And these people were called heroes of independence. ... All of a sudden they have turned into terrorists. We don't know as to what is the definition of terrorism in the United States."

Hashmi said the United States had "first tried to kill him and now they want to convict him."

Hashmi did not directly answer when asked if bin Laden would remain a guest in Afghanistan but said the United States has not provided any compelling legal grounds for turning him over for prosecution.

"We have not been given any kind of evidence by the United States," he said of terrorism allegations against bin Laden.

The Taliban, a conservative Islamic regime, control up to 90 percent of Afghanistan but are not recognized as a legitimate government by the international community.

Hashmi said the regime had been demonized by the West.

"We have a different society with different religion, different tradition and different culture," he said. "And we will preserve that. And we can live with the world, provided that the world talks to us and lives with us. We don't have any problem with people provided as long as they don't interfere into our affairs."

Hashmi defended the Taliban's treatment of women. The Taliban have restricted work and education opportunities for women in their country.

Hashmi said his country had "other priorities" but added that the Taliban "will have education for women" and said women can find jobs in various government ministries, although he conceded there are some restrictions.

"The perception in the United States or the West as a whole is that it is like Taliban has come from the space and has occupied Afghanistan and are beating the hell out of the women there," he said. "It is not like that."

He said the Taliban do not want women to be "objects of decoration for advertising" as they are in the West.

Hashmi also defended a Taliban proposal to require Hindus to wear badges. Critics have compared that plan to Nazi Germany's singling out of Jews, persecuting them because of their religion.

Hashmi rejected that comparison, saying the badges -- which have not yet by been approved -- would be for the "convenience" of Hindus.

Some laws, he said, such as those requiring beards for men and prayer five times a day, apply only to Muslims. By identifying Hindus, Hashmi said, authorities would know such laws would not apply to them and they would not be harassed.







RELATED STORIES:
RELATED SITES:
• Osama bin Laden profile
• U.S. District Court: Southern District of New York
• Terrorism Research Center
• U.S. State Dept: Patterns of Global Terrorism, 1999

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