Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmaen told Reuters authorities had not been able to find bin Laden since Saturday, when officials were dispatched to deliver an edict asking him to leave the country.
Mutmaen said the Taliban’s spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had approved the order, first issued by the country’s most senior Muslim clerics.
“We have still not been able to deliver the clerics’ message to him because we could not find him,” Mutmaen said. Asked if bin Laden was still in Afghanistan, he responded: “I cannot say.”
President Bush on Thursday delivered an ultimatum to the Taliban, telling the group it must turn over bin Laden or face military strikes.
Speaking this morning, the president’s advisers said the U.S. would remain undeterred by the Taliban’s assertions.
Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters the Taliban statement was “laughable,” and said on CBS “they know where he is.”
“They know their country,” he said of the Taliban. “They have networks throughout the country, and it is just not believable that the Taliban do not know where the network can be located and found and can be turned over.”
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. is “not going to be deterred” by assertions bin Laden is missing, adding “we don’t simply believe it.”
“The Taliban is going to have to begin to understand it has a very tough choice to make,” Rice said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. will soon release evidence linking bin Laden to the attacks that left more than 6,800 dead or missing.
“We are hard at work bringing all the information together — intelligence information, law enforcement information,” Powell told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“I think in the near future, we will be able to put out a paper, a document, that will describe quite clearly the evidence that we have linking him to this attack,” he said.
Rice said that while the U.S. Is collecting information to determine who was behind the attacks, the country “is going to do nothing that jeopardized the investigation that is ongoing here.”
“Of course, we’re going to be laying out a case and making a case,” she said. “We’re going to be making a case to allies and friends, many of whom, by the way, are already involved in developing that case. We will be making a case to the American people.”
Powell said the U.S.’s anti-terrorism campaign would focus on more than just bin Laden.
“Even if we were to get Osama bin Laden tomorrow … that would be good, but it would not be the end. It’s his lieutenants we have to get. It’s the whole network that has to be ripped up,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“We’re talking several thousand, maybe thousands, we’re not entirely sure,” Powell said. “You can find connections to them all round, and we have to get them all.”