Pakistani Taliban ready to shelter bin Laden
Apr 20, 2007 - 8:25:26 PM

Islamabad, April 20 - A Pakistani Taliban leader, who recently joined government forces to crush foreign militants near the border with Afghanistan, said Friday he would shelter al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, if he requested help.

'I have never met bin Laden but if he comes to this area and seeks protection, we will help him according to the tribal laws and customs,' Mullah Mohammed Nazir told reporters in the town of Wana in South Waziristan where hundreds died in fighting in the past month.

Saudi-born bin Laden is accused of sponsoring the hijacked airliner attacks of September 11, 2001 on the United States, which killed more than 3,000 people. US intelligence suspects he may be sheltering in Pakistan's remote tribal areas together with other al-Qaeda leaders.

However, Nazir said he viewed bin Laden as an oppressed Muslim and was therefore obliged to provide refuge, despite his apparent support for the Islamabad government's efforts to expel foreign fighters from the area.

His comments will not please Pakistani authorities that cite the drive against the Uzbek and Chechen militants as proof that peace deals reached with local tribes to contain foreign fighters and al-Qaeda elements are yielding results.

More than 300 foreign militants were killed by armed locals with help from Pakistani government forces, according to President Pervez Musharraf. Around 75 tribesmen also died.

However, some analysts say the hostilities that broke out on March 19 stemmed mainly from the wish of local Taliban leaders to gain full control of the area rather than helping the Pakistani government establish its authority there.

Hundreds of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters fled to Waziristan from Afghanistan after the US-led invasion in late 2001 and are now believed to operate training and logistics bases there with the help of local sympathizers.

Pakistan's government is under increasing US pressure to review the controversial peace deals and take other measures against the militants, who use alleged 'safe havens' in Waziristan to mount attacks on Afghanistan.

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