Afghan clerics today issued a recommendation to suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden for him to leave Afghanistan of his own accord. The clerics did not set a deadline, stating that he should leave “whenever possible.”
The edict, issued by approximately 1,000 Islamic clerics after a two-day meeting, is seen as a major policy change. Earlier, the Taliban said that bin Laden was a guest and would not be turned over to the U.S. The edict is subject to the approval of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban’s spiritual leader.
The decision appeared to be a compromise between hard-line clerics who are ready to declare war in an effort to protect the exiled Saudi multimillionaire, and those eager to protect Afghanistan from attack.
“We wanted to find a solution that would save our country and solve the problem of our guest,” cleric Mohammed Naseer told The Associated Press.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer immediately responded with a flat rejection of the clerics’ terms, stating that the proposal “does not meet America’s requirements.”
He stated that bin Laden, the prime suspect in last week’s attacks on New York and Washington, must be immediately turned over to authorities so that he can be brought to justice.
“It’s time for action, not words, and the president has demanded that the key figures of the al-Qaida terrorist organization, including Osama bin Laden, be turned over to responsible authorities, and that the Taliban close terrorist camps in Afghanistan,” Fleischer told reporters. “The United States stands behind those demands.”
Bin Laden is thought to be protected by bodyguards in Afghanistan’s rugged mountains. Whether or not he is willing to leave Afghanistan is unclear. Any country accepting him risks economic and political isolation, as well as potential U.S. military attacks.