The leader of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia agreed to extradite Usama bin Laden to Saudi Arabia in 1998 but reneged following U.S. strikes on Afghanistan that year, a former head of Saudi intelligence said Saturday.
Prince Turki al-Faisal, who left his post a few days before Sept. 11, also said he is convinced bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network were behind the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon.
He said he discussed bin Laden's handover with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar in a meeting in Kandahar, Afghanistan, two months before the August 1998 terrorist attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa.
"I briefed him on what (bin Laden) had done against the kingdom's interests and asked him to stop him and hand him over to us," the Saudi royal family member said in an interview with the Saudi-owned satellite TV channel MBC.
Bin Laden — named by the United States as the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks — was then wanted in his native Saudi Arabia for anti-government agitation and opposition to the presence of U.S. troops.
Prince Turki said Omar's response to the extradition request was favorable.
"First he agreed, but he said: 'Let us set up a joint (Saudi-Afghan) committee to probe the ways and means to do that,"' Prince Turki said.
Then the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blown up by truck bombs, killing 231 people, including 12 Americans. Blaming bin Laden, the United States fired cruise missiles at a bin Laden camp in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan thought to be linked to the Saudi exile.
Prince Turki said that when he returned to Afghanistan later that year, he found Mullah Omar had changed his mind. In a stormy meeting, Mullah Omar flatly rejected the request to extradite bin Laden, he said.
"I told him: 'You will regret it and the Afghan people will pay a high price for that,"' Prince Turki said.
In his first television interview since he left his post as intelligence chief in September, Prince Turki said Mullah Omar and bin Laden share the same ideology.
"At any rate, the evil in them is the same," said Prince Turki, the first prominent Saudi to say publicly that he is convinced bin Laden was behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
Saudi officials are balancing their alliance with Washington and their own fear of Islamic militancy with their citizens' anger at the United States and admiration for bin Laden.
A son of the late King Faisal, Prince Turki served as head of the kingdom's secret service for more than twenty years.
He was reportedly the official who supervised Saudi financial assistance to guerrillas fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan of 1979-89. He is also thought to have been a friend of bin Laden before bin Laden joined the guerrillas.