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Taliban say bin Laden under their control

Zaeef: "We want to solve this problem through talks."  

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden is under the control of the Taliban and cannot move around freely, but he will not be turned over to the United States unconditionally as American officials have demanded, the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan said Sunday.

In an interview with CNN, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef said Taliban security officials have bin Laden under their control, although his precise location is constantly changing.

"We have said that we don't know exactly where he is. That doesn't mean that we're not aware of his whereabouts," he said. "The location is shifting all the time, but we know where he is."

"He cannot move around freely. Wherever he goes, there are people assigned to him, and he cannot move around without their permission," Zaeef said. "He's under the control of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and only security people ... know where he is."


A translator speaks for Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, telling reporters that the Taliban is keeping Osama bin Laden's location secret for "his safety and security."

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Zaeef said the United States must supply the Taliban with evidence that bin Laden was involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks and enter into negotiations before the Taliban will consider turning him over to U.S. officials.

"We've made clear what needs to be done with him, and it's time for them to act," a Bush administration official told CNN on Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Like we've said, it's not time for negotiations," the official said. "There is ample proof that Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network were behind previous acts of terrorism and every indication is that they are responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11."

"We want to solve this problem through talks," Zaeef said. "If there are no talks, then obviously the two sides are not going to sit down and negotiate, and there is nothing to negotiate. But we think there is. If the talk is only that we have to surrender him, then we are not going to do that as long as we are alive."

Zaeef said the final decision on what to do with bin Laden would be up to Afghan courts, which could turn him over to the United States or impose their own punishment.

"We are not defending Osama, but we are defending Islam," he said. "If according to Islam they bring us evidence and he's guilty, we'll deal with him like a guilty party."

President Bush demands the Taliban turn over bin Laden, all those linked to the al Qaeda network, and any other terrorists operating in Afghanistan. Bush also wants the Taliban to shut down all terrorist camps in the country.

Attorney General John Ashcroft on Sunday dismissed calls for evidence of bin Laden's complicity, noting that bin Laden already has been indicted for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa.

"This is not a situation where the Taliban sits in ignorance and says, 'We've got him but we think he's innocent.' This is a time for them to say, 'Yes, we'll deliver him to you, and yes, we'll deliver his network, and we'll make it available, and we'll expose it.' Because this network of terrorism is a threat. It's a current threat to the United States as well as the rest of the world," Ashcroft said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also discounted the Taliban ambassador's comments on Sunday.

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"It was just a few days ago that they said they didn't know where he was," Rumsfeld told NBC's "Meet the Press." "So, I have no reason to believe Taliban representatives."

Even if the ambassador's account is true, Rumsfeld said, "I doubt they'll do anything about it. They've been rather adamant that they wouldn't do anything about it."

Rumsfeld also cautioned that the war on terror would continue unabated even if bin Laden were captured or killed.

"He's got dozens of key lieutenants," he said of bin Laden. "He's operating in 50 or 60 countries. It is wrong to particularize the thing to one person or even a single network."

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," White House chief of staff Andrew Card reiterated the administration position that the United States would not engage in talks with the Taliban.

"Well, first of all, the president has said we're not negotiating," Card said. "We've told the Taliban government what they should be doing. They've got to turn not only Osama bin Laden over but all of the operatives of the al Qaeda organization."

Asked what would happen if the Taliban regime does not comply with U.S. demands, Ashcroft replied, "Well, obviously, the United States is going to respond."

Pakistan's president, meanwhile, said he saw little reason to believe the Taliban would meet U.S. demands, saying "hope is very dim" for bin Laden's demanded extradition.

"One can carry on engaging with [the Taliban], and there is a little bit of flexibility being shown," Gen. Pervez Musharraf said in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "But the signals that have come out are certainly not very encouraging."

-- CNN Correspondents Major Garrett and Tom Mintier contributed to this report.


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