Bush repeats attack threat on bin Laden

WASHINGTON - With thousands of U.S. troops and hundreds of warplanes within striking range of Afghanistan, President Bush warned yesterday that "time is running out" on the country's ruling Taliban regime.

The Taliban said it would release eight detained aid workers, including two Americans, if Bush would call off the threat of attack. But Bush, meeting with his top national security aides by video from Camp David, dismissed the gesture.

Bush reiterated demands that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden and members of his al-Qaida terrorist organization or face military strikes.

"The Taliban has been given the opportunity to surrender all the terrorists in Afghanistan," Bush said in his weekly radio address to the nation. "Full warning has been given, and time is running out."

Asked whether the White House considers the aid workers hostages, spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "I have nothing further to say other than to refer you to the president's speech."

The aid workers - four Germans, two Americans and two Australians - were arrested in August on charges of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

In the radio address, Bush made a clear distinction between the Taliban regime and the Afghan people.

"Our enemy is the terrorists themselves and the regimes that shelter and sustain them," he said. "We're offering help and friendship to the Afghan people. It is their Taliban rulers, and the terrorists they harbor, who have much to fear."

Bush, who on Thursday directed $320 million in immediate humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, urged Congress in the radio address to make money available "so that one day the United States can contribute, along with other friends of Afghanistan, to the reconstruction and development of that troubled nation."

As diplomatic and military planning for strikes against the terrorists continued, Bush sought to narrow the focus to the Taliban, whose government is not recognized as legitimate by any nation other than neighboring Pakistan.

"The Taliban promotes terror abroad and practices terror against its people, oppressing women and persecuting all who dissent," he said yesterday.

Meanwhile, Taliban gunners in Afghanistan's capital unleashed a thunderous barrage at a plane cruising high over Kabul yesterday.

Early yesterday afternoon, residents of Kabul rushed into the streets when Taliban gunners fired anti-aircraft guns and two missiles at a lone, silver-colored aircraft whose jet trail was visible in the bright blue sky.

The gunners missed, and Taliban authorities admitted that the plane's altitude was beyond the range of their air defenses. Afghanistan's airspace is closed to all traffic, and the Taliban said the aircraft was a spy plane.

The Taliban defiantly repeated their vow to wage holy war against America. The regime has appealed to Muslims worldwide to join a jihad, or holy war, if the United States launches attacks.

In the Pakistani border city of Peshawar, several thousand people shouted anti-American and anti-British slogans yesterday during a noisy four-hour rally in support of the Taliban and bin Laden.

Neighboring governments have all denounced the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Yesterday, a U.S.-marked aircraft arrived in Uzbekistan one day after President Islam Karimov granted permission for the United States to use an Uzbek air base. A local police officer, who refused to be quoted by name, said three or four planes had landed.