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Iran closes border with Afghanistan

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iran ordered its border with Afghanistan closed Saturday amid concerns its neighbor could be the target of U.S. retaliation for Tuesday's terror attacks on New York and Washington.

The Islamic Republic News Agency reported that Iran would post additional military and police forces along its 562-mile (900-kilometer) border to prevent Afghan refugees from entering the country. The Interior Ministry said officials in its border provinces should continue cooperating with international relief organizations trying to help Afghans already in Iran.

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Iran already houses nearly 2 million refugees displaced by two decades of war and famine in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is considered a possible target for any retaliation because Islamic militant leader Osama bin Laden reportedly operates from the Afghan mountains. President Bush on Saturday branded bin Laden as the "prime suspect" in the attacks.

Bush has repeatedly threatened to strike out against terrorism and any nation that supports or harbors terrorists, and large numbers of Afghans are reportedly fleeing the country in fear of potential U.S. retribution.

The United States launched cruise missile strikes on bin Laden's Afghan bases in 1998 after he was blamed for deadly bomb attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Many residents of the Afghan capital, Kabul, have begun evacuating the city. Most aid workers, reporters and diplomats have already left, with the United Nations pulling out its entire international staff Thursday. Newspapers in Pakistan said the number of people arriving from Afghanistan had risen considerably in the last two days, swelling already-crowded refugee camps along the border.

In a rare 15-minute radio address Friday night, Mullah Mohammed Omar -- the Taliban's supreme leader -- urged Afghans not to fear a U.S. attack and to put their faith in Allah. He noted that Afghanistan had defeated British and Russian invaders before.

"Now, the third empire of the world wants to impose an attack on us," he said. "As you know better, it is not because of Osama. This is the demonization of Islam."

Afghan officials have said bin Laden is a "guest" of the ruling Taliban, and they insist he lacks the resources and the communications to carry out such an attack. The Islamic fundamentalist Taliban vowed to wage war against anyone helping Washington launch attacks on the country and urged Muslims to fight to the death.

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