KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan's Taliban, who sheltered Osama bin Laden when they governed the country prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said Tuesday that it would be "premature" to comment on U.S. claims that the al Qaida leader had been killed during a raid on a compound in Pakistan.
"As the Americans did not present sufficient evidence to prove their claim and also sources close to Osama Bin Laden have neither denied nor confirmed his death, it would be premature to comment," Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said in a statement posted on the militant's website.
The comment came as Obama administration officials in Washington debate whether to release photos of the dead bin Laden to help counter doubts that he'd been killed. News reports in the U.S. said the images include an especially grisly one that shows the 54-year-old terrorist leader with a gaping wound in his forehead.
Some U.S. officials are concerned that the images, which reportedly also include photos taken of bin Laden's body as it was prepared for burial at sea, would be inflammatory. But their release might also silence widespread doubt among bin Laden supporters here and in the Middle East, that he's dead.
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White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters in Washington that the debate revolved around "does it serve or in any way harm our interests."
Al Qaida has been silent on the U.S. reports, though some bin Laden supporters officially acknowledged the likelihood that he's dead.
"It is with grief that we received the news that the great holy warrior Osama bin Laden was martyred by the Americans," read a statement from local elders from the eastern city of Jalalabad where Bin Laden reportedly lived for a while during his stay in Afghanistan. "Bin Laden stood alongside the Afghan people in the fight against the Russians and therefore, the Afghan government gave him Afghan citizenship."
The statement asked the U.S. to deliver bin Laden's body to the group for a proper Muslim funeral.
The U.S. has said bin Laden's body was buried at sea from the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in keeping with Islamic practice that burial take place within 24 hours of death.
Meanwhile, U.S-led operations against the Taliban continued in eastern Afghanistan.
Jamaluddin Badr, the governor of Nuristan province, said "about 25 militants, including some foreign fighters," had been killed in the Bargematal district since U.S.-led troops began sweeping the area Sunday.
Nuristan is a remote province in eastern Afghanistan that shares a border with the tribal areas of neighboring Pakistan, a shelter for Taliban militants. Badr said he fears that al Qaida will seek to avenge bin Laden's death with attacks in his province, "because we do not have enough security forces."
(Shukoor is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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