Taliban responds to Saudi demand on Bin Laden
Date: 09-10-1998 :: Pg: 17 :: Col: c
By Kesava Menon
The Hindu Online
MANAMA (Bahrain), Oct 8.
So there is at least one Government, that of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which Afghanistan's Taliban militia will listen to. In a rare instance, the Taliban has indicated that they will respond to a stricture passed by another Government against the alleged terrorist leader, Mr. Osama bin Laden. But it is not at all certain that the Saudi Government will be satisfied with the offer on the terms in which it has been presented.
The Arabic newspaper Al Hayat, quoting Afghan sources in Islamabad, has reported that the Taliban will put Mr. Bin Laden on trial if the families of those who died in the 1996 bomb attack on a US military facility in Al Khobar (Saudi Arabia) made a formal request. Nineteen US servicemen were killed in the attack when a truck loaded with explosives was blown up outside a residential complex. It has long been suspected that Mr. Bin Laden and associates were involved in that incident and the U.S. authorities are reportedly in the process of indicting them.
A few months prior to the incident, there was a bomb attack on another U.S. military facility in Riyadh in which two Indians and five Americans were killed and suspicion has been directed at Mr. Bin Laden in connection with this incident as well. However, the reported offer from the Taliban, apparently, does not make any reference to this incident.
According to the agency reports on the Al Hayat story, the Taliban has made an alternate proposal to hand over Mr. Bin Laden to a third party provided that he is not then passed into the custody of the U.S. This offer should be the more attractive one as far as the Saudi authorities are concerned because their main interest is in getting their hands on Mr. Bin Laden who has campaigned against the Saudi Government on the grounds that they were not Islamic enough. The hard-line fundamentalists, with whom Mr. Bin Laden is believed to be associated, have often castigated the Saudi ruling family for various supposed `offences' including their hosting of the U.S. military forces on their soil. These fundamentalist groups pose a threat to the Saudi monarchy and the authorities of the Kingdom have an incentive to act against them irrespective of any pressure from the U.S.
It is difficult to fathom what the Saudi authorities would do to Mr. Bin Laden if he were to come into their custody. There were reports which appeared in the U.S. media about two months ago that Saudi intelligence officials had met Mr. Bin Laden in Afghanistan and obtained a promise that he would not attack the Kingdom's interest. This magazine report also noted that Mr. Bin Laden's family, one of the biggest contracting firms in Saudi Arabia, had continued to obtain Government contracts though Mr. Bin Laden has been proclaimed an offender against his country and has been deprived of Saudi citizenship.
These reports had, however, appeared at about the time of the bomb attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Therefore, it is possible that the supposed deal, if indeed there was one, was struck before these attacks were carried out. A Taliban spokesman is now reported to have told AFP that the Saudis had requested the militia to hand over Mr. Bin Laden before the U.S. launched missile strikes against his bases in Afghanistan.
While the Saudis would be interested in getting Mr. Bin Laden in their custody so that they can interrogate him on conspiracies against the monarchy would they also be prepared to allow U.S. investigators to question him on matters of more direct concern to them. Unless some change has taken place in Saudi practice and policy, consequent to the bomb attacks in Africa this would appear unlikely. One point in contention between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia over the past many months has been the fact that the Saudis have not provided U.S. investigators with access to suspects held in connection with the Al Khobar and Riyadh blasts.
However, it is not clear whether this alternate offer has been formally presented to the Saudi authorities by the Taliban. The AFP has quoted the Taliban official as having said on Tuesday that the militia had rejected a Saudi demand that Mr. Bin Laden be handed over and had proposed the setting up a committee of Afghan and Saudi religious figures to discuss the issue.
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