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Terrorist Crackdown Rejected

Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and the hard-line leaders of Pakistan have rebuffed U.S. appeals to crack down on terrorism, and one militant group warned Tuesday of a violent backlash if they tried.

On a visit to the region last week, a top American envoy urged the outlawing of a group blamed for hijacking an Indian plane last month and that steps also be taken to bring terror suspect Osama bin Laden to justice.

Pakistan's response undercuts U.S. public rejection of India's charges that Pakistan had a hand in the hijacking and attacks aimed at India. And in neighboring Afghanistan, Taliban leaders have refused to hand over bin Laden, charged in the United States with masterminding the deadly bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Of particular concern to the United States is Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, the successor to a Pakistani-based organization that has been declared a terrorist group by Washington.

A spokesman for a sister organization, Harkat ul-Jehad, warned of violence if the government tried to close the group's offices in Pakistan.

"We will not hesitate to take any action, and believe me there will be a free-for-all here in Pakistan. It will be anarchy," Abu Mahmood Ashraf said. He added that his group trains in Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight in Kashmir the flashpoint of two wars between India and Pakistan and "in other Muslim countries where Muslims are being attacked."

Ashraf also called bin Laden a hero to Muslims worldwide. "Any injury or his death would be a great shock to us and we would not stop until we have severely punished the United States," he said.

India accuses Harkat ul-Mujahedeen of staging the Indian Airlines hijacking that ended with 155 hostages freed in exchange for the Indian government's release of three members of the group.

Pakistan has strongly condemned the hijacking and President Clinton said Tuesday there was no evidence that Pakistan supported it. But State Department spokesman James P. Rubin cited concerns for some time "that agencies of the Pakistani government have provided general support to a number of groups operating in Kashmir, including Harkat ul-Mujahedeen."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth discussed terrorism concerns last week when he met ruling Gen. Pervez Musharraf and other leaders of Pakistan.

"We hope that the government of Pakistan will take steps against such extremist groups which carry out acts of violence inside Pakistan, as well as in the region," Inderfurth said, specifically naming Harkat ul-Mujahedeen.

Pakistan did not promise to crack down on such groups. What Inderfurth got was a statement sharing Washington's concern about terrorism.

Two days before the Oct. 12 military coup that ended civilian rule in Pakistan, then-Interior Minister Shujaat Hussein told The Associated Press that militant Islamic groups were created by Pakista, its military and its intelligence agency.

Hussein said his government had asked the Taliban to shut down camps in Afghanistan, where Pakistanis were receiving military training. While publicly denying the existence of these camps, Hussein said the Taliban privately promised Pakistan to close them.

The United States also has asked Pakistan, one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban, to use its influence against bin Laden.

Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the Taliban's foreign minister, said Monday that bin Laden won't be extradited or handed over to the United States or a third country for trial. Taliban leaders had met with Inderfurth, but of further discussions with the United States, Muttawakil said "we don't want to talk to them."

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