Afghan Taliban deny link to Bhutto attack

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SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan, Oct 22 (Reuters) Afghanistan's Taliban do not attack outside Afghanistan and were not involved in an attack on former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto in Karachi last week, an insurgent commander said today.

At least one suicide bomber attacked Bhutto early on Friday as she rode in a truck through the Pakistani city, greeting crowds of supporters welcoming her home from eight years of self-imposed exile. Two blasts killed 139 people.

She later said a ''brotherly country'' had warned her that suicide squads from the Taliban, al Qaeda, Pakistani Taliban and Karachi-based militants were out to get her. She also alluded to enemies in the government that backed militants and were plotting against her.

But a commander of Afghanistan's Taliban, Mullah Hayatullah Khan, denied involvement.

''The Afghan Taliban are not involved in any attacks in foreign countries,'' Khan said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

''I want to tell you, we are not involved in the attack on Benazir Bhutto's convoy,'' he said.

The Taliban were ousted from power in Afghanistan in late 2001 after refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden, architect of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The Taliban have been fighting an increasingly intense insurgency against foreign forces in Afghanistan and its Western-backed government since then.

Khan said there would be no let-up in their attacks through the winter, when fighting traditionally eases off because snow blocks mountain passes.

''We have set up training camps in different parts of Afghanistan and thousands of Taliban are under training,'' he said. Training covered suicide attacks, he said.

Khan also ruled out peace talks with the Afghan government while foreign troops remained in the country.

Separately, the Taliban had appointed a new commander known as Mullah Kabir in their eastern zone, said another Taliban official, who declined to be identified.

Kabir, who has long been an important commander in eastern provinces on the Pakistani border, had apparently been appointed overall eastern commander in place of Jalaluddin Haqqani.

An unconfirmed press report this year said the veteran guerrilla leader Haqqani, who battled Soviet forces in the 1980s, had died.

Taliban officials say they have no information about Haqqani, who also has much influence in Pakistan's insurgency-plagued North Waziristan border region.

Reuters SG GC1606

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