Karzai Asks Afghans to Hunt Omar, Bin Laden
KABUL, Afghanistan – While the Taliban fighters have withdrawn from Kandahar, the two most-wanted figures associated with the Islamic militia still remain at large.
Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's interim leader, called on his countrymen Saturday to seize suspected terror mastermind Usama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
He said he promised to bring the two men to "international justice," in a satellite telephone interview with The Associated Press.
U.S. and tribal officials believe that Omar might still be in the surrendered city of Kandahar.
Karzai said reports that Omar has been captured are "all lies." He holds firm that the location of Omar is unknown and that neither he nor bin Laden was in the custody of opposition forces.
Tensions were running high in Kandahar following the Taliban's withdrawal. Rival armed groups — one under Mullah Naqibullah and the other under Gul Agha — claimed control of key parts of the city.
Karzai, who was north of Kandahar, said the situation in the city was quiet a day after the Taliban's chaotic departure from their last stronghold Friday, when scared residents reported looting and violence.
Claiming the situation was very volatile, Pakistani border guards refused to allow journalists to cross into southern Afghanistan.
Karzai, who was picked this week to lead an interim government for the war-shattered nation, said he had asked ordinary Afghans, as well as his own troops, to arrest thousands of Arabs and other foreign fighters who had been defending the Taliban.
His promise "to deliver Usama bin Laden and Mullah Omar to international justice" followed strong objections raised in Washington to suggestions that Karzai might have struck a surrender deal with Omar to allow the fugitive Taliban supreme leader to remain in Afghanistan.
Karzai rejected reports that Omar was being held under tribal protection in Kandahar.
An ally of one of Kandahar's tribal faction heads told Britain's Channel 4 News that another local faction head, Naqibullah, was holding Omar "in a friendly environment." Khalid Pashtun, who talked to the television station, is an ally of Agha.
Naqibullah and Karzai jointly negotiated the Taliban surrender of the southern city, but Agha felt he had been cut out of the deal. Agha's tribesmen had been fighting around the Kandahar airport and controlled part of the road to Pakistan.
Agha and Naqibullah have had strained relations for years since the mullah refused to side with Agha against the Taliban in the early 1990s.
On Friday, Andrew Card, President Bush's chief of staff, told reporters on Air Force One that U.S. officials are "pretty sure" Omar is still in Kandahar.
However, Haji Bashar, a commander in the city who is aligned with Naqibullah, said Omar was not being held in Kandahar.
"Nobody knows where he is," Bashar said, adding that sections of the city had been carved up by rival anti-Taliban factions that were trying to reach agreement on how it should be administered. Karzai has promised to set up a tribal commission to run Kandahar.
Karzai said his U.N.- and U.S-backed temporary administration, which is to take office in the capital, Kabul, on Dec. 22, want to end Afghanistan's links with terrorism.
"We will make sure we will get rid of terrorism. We want to finish terrorism in Afghanistan and in the world," he said.
A major part of this would be the capture of all foreign Al Qaeda troops as well as Saudi-born bin Laden.
"I have asked the people now, not just our forces, to arrest any Arabs they find," he said.
"We don't know where Usama is. We are looking for him. I have a map now in front of me and I am asking villagers around Kandahar to look around the clock and stop him or any Arab they may see."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.