WAR ON TERROR Fighting rages at Kandahar
The Northern Alliance's foreign minister insists bin Laden and Omar are still alive.
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Tribal fighters said they captured 80 Taliban soldiers today near the airport at Kandahar as anti-Taliban forces closed in on the Islamic militia stronghold. U.S. warplanes bombed Taliban defenses near the airport.
A senior official of the opposition Northern Alliance said that Osama bin Laden and his protector, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, were hiding together in or near Kandahar, the southern city that is Omar's home and the Taliban's spiritual center.
"Yes, they are still alive," said Abdullah Abdullah, the Northern Alliance's foreign minister. "They are together. They are running together."
Abdullah did not disclose the source of his information, but he is known to maintain close contacts with various Afghan opposition figures and U.S. officials.
Other reports: In recent days, bin Laden also has been reported to be in eastern Afghanistan, near the village of Tora Bora. Abdullah said members of bin Laden's Al-Qaida network are in that region, but bin Laden -- alleged sponsor of the Sept. 11 attack on America -- is not.
U.S. ground forces and air power are being assembled to dislodge Taliban and Al-Qaida leaders from caves, tunnels and other fortified hide-outs in Afghanistan.
While the American commander, Army Gen. Tommy Franks, has made no decision yet on the use of ground troops, it is clear he will move U.S. forces closer to key targets in Afghanistan in case anti-Taliban forces cannot finish the job.
In Germany, the head of the Northern Alliance rejected key points of a political blueprint for Afghanistan today, a sign of growing fissures within the alliance over plans being drawn up at U.N.-sponsored talks.
In another setback, an ethnic Pashtun delegate in the alliance walked out of the talks being held outside Bonn to protest the lack of representation for his ethnic group, the largest in Afghanistan.
A spokesman for alliance delegate Mohammad Hussin Natiqi indicated rifts between alliance leaders in Kabul and their own delegation.
"They sent representatives who do not have the authority to speak on their behalf," Mohammad Bakhshi said. "And now, they have discovered that serious business is being decided here."
The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday dangled visas and the possibility of U.S. citizenship as rewards for foreigners who provide useful information to thwart terrorism.
Announced by Ashcroft: The initiative announced by Attorney General John Ashcroft is the latest enticement in a government campaign to secure the public's help in bringing terrorists to justice.
During television appearances and at a news conference, Ashcroft outlined a new initiative that will provide long-term visas -- which could lead to permanent residence or citizenship -- to noncitizens deemed to have rendered valuable assistance.
Arab groups and immigrants criticized the new method for tracking down terrorists.
"It's bribery and it's disgusting," said Marwan Kreidie, executive director of the Philadelphia Arab-American Community Development Corp.
"It's what I would think some authoritarian government in the Middle East would do," he said.
In Washington, President Bush defended his authorization of military tribunals as a necessity of wartime, telling a group of federal prosecutors that terrorists "must never again be allowed to use our freedoms against us."
"We're an open society, but we're at war," the president said Thursday.
The speech was Bush's most forceful defense of the administration's investigation tactics after the Sept. 11 attacks. The tactics include authorization of military courts to try noncitizen suspects, interviews with hundreds of people of Middle Eastern descent, secret detentions and the monitoring of jail-house conversations between lawyers and clients.
Bush, citing precedent from World War II and the Civil War, signed an order to authorize the courts and give himself power to decide who would be tried before them. Aides say it could be weeks or months before the first tribunal is formed, if ever.
"Non-U.S. citizens who plan and-or commit mass murder are more than criminal suspects. They are unlawful combatants who seek to destroy our country and our way of life. And if I determine that it is in the national security interests of our great land to try by military commission those who make war on America, then we will do so."
Mourning: In London, hundreds of friends and relatives of the Britons killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks mourned Thursday at Westminster Abbey, where the nation has come for centuries to grieve and celebrate.
Former President Bush came as envoy for his son. Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Prime Minister Tony Blair also joined New York and London rescue workers and relatives who clutched white roses and wore red, white and blue ribbons.
"It is part of the tragedy of so many of those we honor here today that their lives ended far from home, far from family and friends and all those gathered here today to mourn their passing," Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said.
More than 1,000 people -- including relatives of many of the 78 Britons killed -- filled the abbey, the site of scores of royal weddings, coronations and funerals.