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'Osama not in Pak, but Taliban will protect him if he comes'
Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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December 18, 2007 14:37 IST

Pakistani Taliban have claimed that Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is not hiding in the country's tribal region bordering Afghanistan and said they will welcome and protect the terrorist leader if he came to their area.

A spokesman for the newly-formed United Taliban Movement of Pakistan accused President Pervez Musharraf [Images] of making 'false claims' about Osama's presence in the tribal areas to please 'Americans' in order to make money.

Musharraf had said in a recent media interview that the most sought-after terrorist might be hiding in the area near Bajaur tribal agency and Afghanistan's Kunar province.

But in a statement issued on Monday, Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar said: 'No one except Osama knows where he is. Musharraf is making such statements to make more money.'

Alleging that such statements are tantamount to inviting US forces to invade Pakistan, Omar said the tribal militants will welcome and protect the Al-Qaeda leader if he ever came to their area.

The United Taliban Movement of Pakistan, formed last week, comprises militant commanders from the North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan. It is led by Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud.

Omar denied that the Afghan Taliban had formed the United Taliban Movement of Pakistan, but acknowledged that militants on both sides shared the same ideals and goals.

'Of course, our mission is the same and we believe that Mullah Omar is our caliph but, at the same time, we have our own separate struggle which is limited to Pakistan.'

Omar reiterated his threat that if military operations in tribal areas and the Swat valley in the North West Frontier Province are not halted within 10 days, the Taliban will launch attacks on security forces across Pakistan.

'We have given a 10-day deadline to the government of Pakistan to withdraw troops from tribal areas and Swat,' he said.

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