Taliban Leader Calls Americans Cowards

Americans are cowards, the leader of the Taliban said Sunday, and the Afghan people have nothing to fear from U.S. threats of military attacks if the Islamic militia does not give up wanted terrorist Usama bin Laden. 

"Americans don't have the courage to come here," Mullah Mohammed Omar said in an interview broadcast on Taliban-controlled Kabul Radio. The reclusive one-eyed cleric, who is related to bin Laden by marriage, also asked his people to stay calm and go about their business in the cities, likely targets of American air strikes. 

Omar also warned the United States to "think and think again" about attacking Afghanistan, which drove out Soviet invaders with U.S. assistance in the 1979-1989 war. 

"If you attack us, there will be no difference between you and the Russians," Omar said, adding that "whatever the Americans are facing is the result of their policies." 

A different prediction was made in neighboring Pakistan, where President Gen. Pervez Musharraf told the BBC that "it appears that the United States will take action in Afghanistan, and we have conveyed this to the Taliban." Asked if the Taliban's days are numbered, he replied: "It appears so." 

Until the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, in which bin Laden is the prime suspect, Pakistan was the Taliban's staunch ally. Pakistan still recognizes the Islamist movement as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, the only country to do so now that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have broken off relations. 

Bin Laden has denied any role in the attacks, and Afghan authorities say the United States has offered no proof to back up its allegations against the exiled Saudi dissident. The Taliban said Sunday that bin Laden in under their "control" in a secret location and offered negotiations with the United States, which Washington refused. 

"The president has said we're not negotiating," White House chief of staff Andrew Card said on Fox News Sunday. "We've told the Taliban government what they should be doing. They've got to turn not only Usama bin Laden over but all of the operatives of the Al Qaeda organization. They've got to stop being a haven where terrorists can train." 

Musharraf, in an interview with CNN Sunday, said the prospects of that happening were "very dim." He confirmed that the United States had asked Pakistan for intelligence information and use of its airspace and facilities, but stated that no American troops had arrived in his country. 

He also said he was not worried about Pakistan's nuclear weapons, saying "there is no chance of these assets falling into the hands of extremists." Pakistan and arch-rival India have been locked in a nuclear-arms race for the past decade. 

Nevertheless, support for Islamic extremists is thought to exist in the Pakistani military, as it is throughout Pakistani society. The delicacy of the pro-U.S. Musharraf's position was underscored Monday by a rally near the volatile border city of Peshawar, where a prominent Pakistani cleric told hundreds of followers to kill any American they can find if Afghanistan comes under attack. 

The Taliban, meanwhile, cracked down on any of its own citizens thought to be disloyal. The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported Sunday that six people had been arrested for distributing pro-U.S. leaflets advocating the return of exiled king Mohammed Zahir Shah — a crime that might be punishable by death. 

Mullah Omar also used his Sunday radio interview to warn the 86-year-old Shah, who was deposed in 1973 and currently lives in Rome, against meddling in Afghan affairs. 

"Forget Afghanistan — you won't be able to solve the issue of Afghanistan in your lifetime," said Omar, who is related to Usama bin Laden by marriage. "How dare you think you can return to Afghanistan backed by the United States. How are you going to rule the country? How can you think of such things?" 

Top clerics from three provinces also issued an edict Sunday saying any Afghan believed to sympathize with the United States or the former king should be heavily fined and have his house burned down. 

A U.S. congressional delegation met in Rome Sunday with Shah to discuss plans for a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan. 

"Our discussions with the king made it very clear that he is willing, ready, and able to return to Afghanistan to serve at the head of an interim government," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., part of the congressional delegation. 

The meeting included members of Afghanistan's main opposition group, the Northern Alliance, who announced Monday that they would work with the former king. 

Fighting continued between the Taliban and the alliance in the north of Afghanistan, with one district whose capture the alliance had reported on Sunday apparently changing hands again. Taliban officials quoted by the Afghan Islamic Press said their fighters had retaken the district of Qadis in northeastern Bagdis province. 

Meanwhile, the first World Food Program convoy since the start of the crisis arrived in Kabul Monday. Eight trucks carrying 218 tons of wheat made it to the city after a bone-jarring journey over rutted roads, WFP spokesman Khalid Mansour said in Pakistan. 

A U.N. humanitarian aid delivery of 40 tons of food and other supplies for Afghan children also arrived in Turkmenistan, which shares a 459-mile border with Afghanistan. 

Despite the obvious starvation throughout his country, Mullah Omar used his radio interview to defend the Taliban's rule since taking power in 1996. 

"Before the formation of the Taliban government, there was complete anarchy," he said, a point most foreign observers would concede. "Nobody was safe. But now, there is complete peace in our country and there is no room for communism." 

In other developments: 

• : Britain has frozen $88 million in assets linked to the Taliban, Britain's Treasury said Monday. The actions included a "substantial" amount located in a European bank in London. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he has seen "incontrovertible" evidence linking bin Laden to the terror attacks on the United States. 

• The trial of eight foreign aid workers charged with trying to convert Afghan Muslims to Christianity — four German, two Americans and two Australians — resumed in Kabul Sunday after a three-week hiatus following the Sept. 11 attacks. The chief justice of the Afghan Supreme Court, presiding over the case, said American military attacks would not influence his verdict. 

• The Taliban sent a special team to the northeastern city of Jalalabad to investigate a British journalist arrested Friday after sneaking into Afghanistan. The Afghan Islamic Press said the team wanted to determine if Yvonne Ridley, 43, a reporter for the Sunday Express of London, was a spy. 

• Iran said it will confront American planes violating its airspace. "We are military men, we don't joke with anyone," said Defense Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani Monday. Shamkhani also admitted what had been long assumed — that Iran has been arming the Northern Alliance. 

Fox News' Paul Wagenseil and the Associated Press contributed to this report