A Taliban spokesman said there was “no proof” that Osama bin Laden was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Bin Laden’s well documented role as the plotter of the attacks made him the most wanted fugitive in the world until he was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in 2011.
Zabihullah Mujahid made the remark after the Islamist militant group pledged not to allow Afghanistan to be used once again as a base for al-Qaeda.
“When Osama bin Laden became an issue for the Americans, he was in Afghanistan. Although there was no proof he was involved” in 9/11, Mujahid told NBC News in an interview broadcast Wednesday. “Now, we have given promises that Afghan soil won’t be used against anyone.”
When it was last in power, the Taliban provided a safe harbor in Afghanistan for bin Laden, who had fought with the mujahideen against the Soviet Union in the 1980s while he built up the al-Qaeda terrorist network. After the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center towers and Pentagon plotted by bin Laden, President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban hand him over and dismantle terrorist training camps. When the Taliban refused, Bush launched a campaign of U.S. airstrikes that, combined with Afghan Northern Alliance ground forces, toppled the Islamist regime.
Military officials have warned that the collapse of the Afghan government could also mean a resurgence of al-Qaeda. Although the group has been substantially weakened since 2001, its fighters remain in Afghanistan. In April, the U.S. intelligence community told Congress that al-Qaeda “will continue to plot attacks and seek to exploit conflicts in different regions.”
The United Nations warned in June that al-Qaeda was present in 15 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, mostly in the country’s eastern and southern regions. The Taliban and al-Qaeda “remain closely aligned and show no indication of breaking ties,” the U.N. report said.
Afghanistan analyst Abdul Sayed said the relationship was “cordial and stronger than in the pre-9/11 period.”
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