While an Arabic online newspaper reported the Taliban had placed bin Laden under house arrest in the wake of the suicide attacks that destroyed the New York skyscrapers, damaged the Pentagon and killed as many as 30,000 Americans Tuesday, earlier United Press International dispatches reveal he might actually be in command of Afghanistan’s military.

Quoting “fundamentalist Arab sources,” the Arabic newssite Ilaf said the Taliban arrested bin Laden before placing him under surveillance with several of his assistants, including the head of the Egyptian branch of Al-Jihad Ayman Al-Zawahri and bin Laden’s military commander, Muhammad Atef Al-Makni.

“A number of Afghan fighters are under house arrest along with bin Laden,” said the report.

But a diplomat at the Taliban’s embassy in Abu Dhabi told Agence France-Presse he could not confirm the report. And, later today, Reuters news service quoted official Taliban sources as denying that bin Laden is under arrest.

“All we know is that he (bin Laden) is somewhere in Afghanistan, but we are not aware if he is under house arrest,” the diplomat said.

Bin Laden and commander Atef have been indicted for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Meanwhile, UPI reports first published Aug. 30, 12 days before the devastating terror attacks in the U.S., suggest bin Laden was appointed as either defense minister or commander in chief of the Taliban military forces.

A spokesman at the Taliban headquarters in the southwestern Afghan city of Kandahar told UPI the Aug. 30 reports were “baseless and vicious, being spread to further damage our already tense relations with the West.”

The same day, however, Russia’s official RIA Novosti news agency carried a story of Moscow’s denunciation of Taliban’s appointment of bin Laden. The first such report was broadcast by Iran’s official Voice of the Islamic Republic radio.

“The move confirms that a center of international terrorism is being set up in the Taliban-controlled territory in Afghanistan,” the Russian Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying in the Novosti story.

UPI’s reporting on the subject went even further, quoting diplomatic observers in Washington as saying bin Laden is useful for the Taliban as a tool to annoy the West.

“The Taliban strategy is win recognition from Western government by acting crazy, there is a pattern in their madness,” said one observer.

Although it controls more than 90 percent of Afghanistan, the Taliban regime in Kabul is only recognized by three countries, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Pakistan, however, is the only country to have full diplomatic relations with the Taliban government. Saudi Arabia withdrew its envoy from Kabul after Taliban refused to surrender bin Laden, who has been hiding in Afghanistan since 1996. And the United Arab Emirates only maintains a low-profile relationship with the religious extremists now running Kabul, according to UPI.

“Pseudo-religious values are being used as a cover to prepare a bridgehead for expansion of militant extremism and separatism far beyond the region’s borders,” said the statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Russian media had also quoted Pakistan’s Nation daily as saying that
the Taliban had named bin Laden commander of their troops.

The move, if true, would be seen as menacing to Moscow as hundreds of Russian border guards monitor the Afghan-Tajik border and a potential spill of violence could plunge the whole region into chaos. The Taliban’s aim to build an orthodox Islamic state has given rise to many Islamic extremist movements in the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. In recent years, Islamic insurgents from Afghanistan launched raids on Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Moscow also condemned the appointment of Juma Namangani as bin Laden’s deputy. Namangani, an ethnic Uzbek, was linked to a number of raids on Kyrgyzstan’s Batken district over the last three years. Namangani advocates creation of an Islamic state run by a regime similar to the Taliban’s and spreading over Central Asia.

“Incorporation of the international terrorists’ leaders into the ruling structures of the Taliban shows the need to take decisive measures to collectively counter global challenges that are put forward from the Taliban-controlled territory,” said the Russian statement.

Under arrest or running the show? The Osama bin Laden story continues to gets more mysterious.

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