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[Courtesy Afghanistan List.]
Senior Taliban leader resurfaces, vows jihad
"Karzai is an American clerk"

SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan, May 4 (Reuters) - One of the most senior leaders of Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime vowed on Sunday to continue a jihad against the United States and its Afghan allies.

Mullah Mohammad Hasan Rehmani, former governor of the province of Kandahar and a close associate of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, was speaking to Reuters by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location in his first interview since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.

"The Taliban will continue their jihad and struggle for peace, implementation of Islamic sharia law, and against America and its agents," Rehmani said. "The jihad will continue because American troops are occupying Afghanistan."

Afghan officials say the Taliban appears to be regrouping this year and blame the hardline militia for a series of attacks on American and Afghan government troops in recent months.

Afghan government officials say Rehmani fled to Pakistan with many other senior Taliban leaders after the movement was ousted, but he has kept a very low profile since then.

A founder member of the fundamentalist militia, he is perhaps the most senior Taliban leader to have spoken publicly since the regime fell. Observers say his re-emergence may be a sign of the Taliban's growing confidence.

Rehmani also denounced Afghan President Hamid Karzai as an American stooge and a puppet of the powerful Northern Alliance faction which played a leading role in the Taliban's ouster.

"Right now Hamid Karzai's position is not that of a president but that of an American clerk and a toy in the hands of the Northern Alliance," Rehmani said.

"We invite Hamid Karzai to seek forgiveness for his sins from Allah, like a true Muslim, and by joining the Taliban movement prove that he is a Muslim," he added.


A senior Afghan government official described Rehmani as a prominent Taliban leader, and someone who had links with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, blamed for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

"He was part of the leadership, high-ranking, a trusted adviser to Mullah Omar," the official said. "As governor of Kandahar, he also had a lot of meetings with al Qaeda."

Kandahar was the Taliban's spiritual home and the base for its most senior leaders during the fundamentalist regime's five-year rule.

Rehmani lost a leg in a landmine explosion during the struggle against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

There are more than 11,000 U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan hunting for Taliban and al Qaeda militants, although the whereabouts of Mullah Omar and al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden remain a mystery.

The Afghan government says many senior members of the Taliban are hiding in Pakistan and directing the resistance from there. Karzai visited Islamabad last month to ask for more Pakistani help in tracking them down.

2003-05-05 Mon 19:13ct