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Afghanistan and Pakistan deploy troops

* Taliban close Afghan airspace * Straw: Bin Laden is prime suspect * US and British troops assemble

Special report: terrorism in the US

Staff and agencies Monday September 17, 2001

Afghanistan and Pakistan are deploying troops and weapons against each other in anticipation of a US-led raid on terrorist training camps run by the Saudi-born dissident, Osama bin Laden. According to reports, Afghanistan's ruling militia, the Taliban, have deployed a force of between 20,000 and 25,000 fighters behind the 870-mile border with Pakistan. The Reuters news agency says that a large arsenal of weapons, including Russian-made scud missiles, is now pointing at Pakistan.

Pakistan, too, is moving troops to the border. The Taliban have threatened to attack any neighbouring country that cooperates in a retaliatory strike for last week's terror attacks on New York and Washington.

The Taliban today closed Afghan airspace to international flights, carrying through a threat made two weeks ago if the UN did not lift sanctions against its beleaguered airline. Last weekend, the Taliban ordered all foreigners to leave the country, claiming it was no longer safe for them to remain.

Federal Reserve cuts interest rates as markets fall

The US Federal Reserve today cut half a point off interest rates in an aggressive move intended to avert a collapse in share prices as Wall Street reopened for business after last Tuesday's attacks on Washington and New York.

In the clearest sign yet of US determination to bolster confidence after the destruction of the World Trade Centre, the Fed cut rates by 0.5% to 3% just before Wall Street opened. The decision by chairman Alan Greenspan followed a week of frenetic activity among finance ministers and central bankers around the world in response to an attack that paralysed the world's financial capital for four days.

Markets have already fallen by 8% since last Tuesday's attacks; analysts fear that they could fall by another seven percentage points. The Fed's policy making body, the open market committee, was not scheduled to discuss interest rate policy until October 2, but with markets in Europe and Asia rattled by last week's events, the US central bank felt compelled to act.(Full story)

US and British troops assemble in Gulf

In the Gulf, the United States and Britain are assembling a formidable array of firepower ahead of the expected military reprisals. The US president, George Bush, says that Bin Laden - who has lived in Afghanistan since 1996 - masterminded the suicide attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon.

There is a widespread expectation that any military action will involve both US and British special forces - possibly in an attempt to kill or capture Bin Laden and knock out his training camps. He was previously indicted in the US on charges of ordering the bombings of two of its embassies in east Africa in 1998.

The SAS reportedly already has a large presence in the region in preparation for a joint exercise with Omani troops. The US has a total of 40,000 special forces personnel ready to strike.

Diplomatic moves begin

A delegation of Pakistani officials arrived in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar today to push for Bin Laden's extradition to the US.

The group, which includes the deputy head of the county's secret service, is expected to meet Mullah Mohammed Omar, the head of the Taliban. Mullah Omar does not receive many visitors, but diplomatic sources said he has agreed to see the Pakistani delegation.

The delegation's message is straightforward: hand over Bin Laden or face a retaliatory strike. A military official said the Taliban could be told that a strike will occur as early as the weekend.

Until now the Taliban have refused to hand over Bin Laden, calling him a "guest" and saying that it would have been impossible for him to carry out the deadly attacks on New York and Washington. Mullah Omar has said in the past that delivering Bin Laden to non-Muslims would be like betraying a tenet of Islam.

Bin Laden named as UK's prime suspect

The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, today said that independent British intelligence reports confirm that Bin Laden, is the west's prime suspect for last week's terror attacks.

His announcement followed a statement yesterday from the prime minister, Tony Blair, that Britain is at "war" with terrorism - the first time he has used the word in relation to the present crisis.

Mr Straw underlined the "full and tangible" support being given to the US and stressed the "cool, measured and intelligent way" in which decisions over military action were being taken.

"I have to say that all of us find the situation pretty unbearable," he said.

"For many people of my generation, or older, this is perhaps the most potentially frightening situation that has occurred since the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960s and for those many people who are younger it is the most serious frightening situation to occur."

But Mr Straw added: "The simple truth is that we face, in individuals like Osama bin Laden and the organisation that he has, people who do not subscribe to even the most basic moral tenets that the rest of us subscribe to."

Tension in Pakistan

A promise of "full cooperation" with Washington from the Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf, risks provoking the anger of radical Islamic militants in his own country. Demonstrators yesterday burned US flags, shouted their support for Bin Laden, and warned the government they would take up arms for the Taliban.

There are also fears that anti-American feeling could erupt in the largely Afghan-populated refugee camps on Pakistan's north-western border. Pakistan has stopped all trade, except for food, with Afghanistan and begun sending more police to confine the 1.2m refugees to the dozens of camps scattered throughout the border province.

The closure of the border was one of several requests made of Pakistan by the US. Further details of cooperation between the two countries are still sketchy, though they reportedly include allowing US ground troops into Pakistan and the use of its airspace. Gen Musharraf met with politicians and Islamic clerics yesterday to get their backing.

The foreign minister, Abdul Sattar, said support for the US action would not include Pakistani participation in a multinational force should Afghanistan be invaded.

EU leaders to meet

European Union leaders will meet in Brussels on Friday for an emergency summit, a Belgian official said today.

The idea for a European summit was first broached two days after the terrorist attacks against New York and Washington by the German chancellor, Gerhard Schr&#uml;der. In the aftermath of the attacks, the EU nations have promised to support the United States in its war on terrorism.

The Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, will tour the EU capitals ahead of the meeting, which will bring together the heads of state of the 15 EU nations along with their foreign ministers. (Full story)

Banks under examination

The Swiss federal prosecutors office is to investigate whether any money linked to the terrorists responsible for the suicide attack went through the country's banks.

It was announced yesterday that there was evidence that one of the hijackers had spent time in Switzerland and used a credit card to purchase two knives. A newspaper, Blick, today reported that a financial services company based in Lugano, Al Taqwa Management Organization AG, had links with Bin Laden.

Switzerland froze accounts linked to the Taliban earlier this year as part of UN sanctions to pressure it into handing over Bin Laden. But the defence minister, Samuel Schmid, said there was no evidence so far of terrorists trying to hide behind Swiss banks.

Other news

Troops from a Suffolk air base have been deployed to Kuwait, it was revealed today. The troops from RAF Honington, near Bury St Edmunds, left on Saturday night. They will protect an air base where British and American personnel are stationed. A spokesman at the base said that the move was precautionary and not the result of any specific threat.

New York senator Hillary Clinton today said Americans must follow the resilient example set by civilians during the Battle of Britain in the second world war. "Ordinary people went about their daily business, refused to be cowed by the incredible barrage that came from the Nazis and gave an example to everyone as to how to carry on - and that's what we will do," she said.

A British stockbroker and father of twin sons today became the latest name to be added to the list of people missing following the terrorist attacks. Kevin Dennis, 43, was working for financial company Cantor Fitzgerald on the 101st floor of the World Trade Centre's north tower, the first to be targeted. Also missing is fellow Cantor Fitzgerald broker Robert Eaton, a former St Paul's Cathedral chorister, from Ditchling, East Sussex.,1300,553192,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, September 17, 2001

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