Mullah Omar Says He Hasn't Seen Bin Laden in Years

Fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar said he has not seen Usama bin Laden since the hard-line Afghan militia lost power five years ago, a newspaper reported Thursday.

Omar also said the Taliban and Al Qaeda still share the joint goal of driving U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, a newspaper reported Thursday.

The authenticity of the comments, reported by Pakistan's influential Dawn daily, could not be confirmed. Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who often speaks for the Taliban, told The Associated Press that the remarks were from the militia but did not come directly from Omar.

Dawn described it as Omar's first interview with a Pakistani newspaper since his fall from power in late 2001, saying that he had answered written questions conveyed by e-mail through another of his spokesmen.

Omar's whereabouts have been a mystery since he went into hiding after the Taliban was toppled in a U.S.-led invasion after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

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Omar, who has a $10 million bounty on his head from the U.S. government, denied speculation that he might be hiding in Pakistan, saying in the interview that the Taliban "leadership, resistance ... are all based here in Afghanistan."

Omar said he did not regret sheltering bin Laden during the Taliban's reign in Afghanistan, even though that had directly led to the U.S. intervention, the newspaper reported. He said he had not seen the Al Qaeda chief since the Taliban were driven from power.

"I have neither seen him nor have made any effort to do so," Omar was quoted as saying. "But I do pray for his health and safety."

Omar said in the interview that his Taliban forces and Al Qaeda have a joint goal: "the expulsion of American troops from Afghanistan."

"Foreign troops should leave Afghanistan and then the institutions they created should be dismantled," Omar was quoted as saying. "Unless that happens, war will heat up further. It will not recede."

The Taliban stepped up attacks in the past year and waged fierce battles with Western and Afghan forces. About 4,000 people, mostly militants, have died in 2006, the bloodiest period in the country since the Taliban's ouster.

Written statements from Omar are periodically issued through his purported spokesmen, but in the past five years the notoriously reclusive rebel leader has released no audio or video messages — unlike bin Laden and Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri, who are also suspected to be hiding along the Afghan-Pakistan border.