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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — Security forces arrested two Taliban fighters, including a local commander in the ousted militia, and a senior Afghan police official said authorities gathered information that could help in the hunt for terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

Security forces made the arrests Wednesday during a routine security check on vehicles entering Spinboldak, about 60 miles southeast of Kandahar, near the Pakistani border, said Gen. Mohammed Akram, Kandahar's police chief.

Akram said another Taliban commander, Mullah Janan, who was arrested in Kandahar over the weekend, had been the former regime's coordinator with al-Qaida and might have knowledge about the whereabouts of bin Laden and others sought by the U.S. government.

"He is very close to Osama and (former Taliban leader) Mullah Omar," Akram said.

Janan was arrested with nine other Taliban members. Authorities seized an unspecified number of AK-47 rifles, rockets and "important documents" and handed the commander over to U.S. forces, the police chief said.

One of the men arrested in Spinboldak on Wednesday was identified as Mullah Zarif, who Akram said was a Taliban commander in Kandahar province during the militia's rule.

The Taliban was ousted by an American-led coalition in late 2001 in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

The other Taliban fighter was not identified.

Three AK-47 rifles, two rockets and five hand grenades were found in the taxi the Taliban men had hired for the trip to Spinboldak, Akram said.

It was not known whether they were planning any attack. The men are being held in Kandahar.

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Zarif confessed to investigators during initial questioning that he was allied with another senior Taliban fighter, Hafiz Abdul Rahim, Akram said.

A former chief of border security under the ousted Taliban government, Rahim is suspected to have led several attacks against government troops in southern Afghanistan in recent months.

On Tuesday, Afghan government troops killed a suspected Taliban commander and another fighter in a battle near Maradhow village, about 85 miles northeast of Kandahar. The local commander was identified as Ghausuddin.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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