The Taliban will never hand over Usama bin Laden to the United States, no matter how damning the evidence against the suspected mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks, a Taliban official said Thursday.
That news came even as the Taliban's neighbor and closest ally said it had seen convincing evidence that bin Laden played a major role in the attacks that destroyed New York's Twin Towers and part of the Pentagon.
The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, told the United Arab Emirates' Al-Khaleej newspaper that even if there is enough proof to link bin Laden to the attacks, the Saudi exile will be tried in an Islamic sharia court, not an American one, Reuters reported.
"We will not give Usama bin Laden to the United States even if we are presented with evidence implicating him in the September 11 attacks," Zaeef said. "And if we get from them (United States) such evidence, we will check it thoroughly and then we will conduct a trial in a sharia court. If this court convicts him, then we will see then what we will do."
Bin Laden has been living in Afghanistan as an honored guest of the hardline Islamic group that serves as Afghanistan's de facto government.
Pakistan, however, came closer to the American point of view Thursday, offering the strongest anti-bin Laden stance yet from a Muslim country.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Riaz Khan told reporters that there were "sufficient grounds for indictment in terms of the material we have seen and we have studied."
U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin met Tuesday with Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to brief him on the investigation into the attack and lay out America's case against bin Laden.
Khan refused to comment on whether the evidence was sufficient to justify a military strike on Afghanistan and the terrorist network that U.S. officials say bin Laden has set up there.
Khan said the evidence presented by the United States also included attacks before Sept. 11. He did not elaborate.
The United States has also accused bin Laden of the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He is also the leading suspect in the suicide bombing of the USS Cole last year in Yemen.
For years, Pakistan has been the chief backer of the Taliban. But Pakistan's president has now pledged full support for the U.S. campaign against terrorism.
It has also sent two delegations to the Taliban since the attacks to try to persuade them to hand over bin Laden and avert crippling U.S. attacks.
Khan said there were no plans to send any more delegations but would not rule out any if the situation changed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.