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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – A diplomat representing Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers said suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden should be praised for his services to Afghanistan and vowed never to deliver him to the United States, a news agency reported.

“Osama is our benefactor and a holy warrior,” Abdul Salam Zaeef told Pakistani religious students Saturday in Abbottbad in northwestern Pakistan, according to the News Network International.

Zaeef, the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan, said handing bin Laden over would betray “our sacrifices,” referring to the Islamic insurgency against the invading Soviet Union in 1979. “Osama’s protection is our moral and Islamic duty,” he said.

Bin Laden, who helped fight against Russian soldiers throughout their 10-year occupation of Afghanistan, is accused by the United States of masterminding bombings that killed 224 people at two American embassies in Africa in 1998.

The billionaire Saudi exile has been living since early 1996 in Afghanistan, where he was granted refuge status.

The United States imposed sanctions against Afghanistan to punish the Taliban for not handing over bin Laden, and last year, at American urging, the United Nations did the same.

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Zaeef said the United States has no evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in terrorism.

The Taliban militia controls about 95 percent of Afghanistan and espouses a strict version of Islam. But most Muslim countries, including neighboring Pakistan, which is considered a close ally of the Taliban, have said the Taliban’s version of Islam reflects their tribal culture rather than Islamic teachings.

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