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Bin Laden praises attackers, denies role

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden congratulated the people who carried out the deadly terrorist strikes in the United States but denied Wednesday that he was involved, a Palestinian journalist said.

"Osama bin Laden thanked Almighty Allah and bowed before him when he heard this news," Jamal Ismail, Abu Dhabi Television's bureau chief in Islamabad, said, quoting a close aide of bin Laden's. Ismail said the aide, whom he wouldn't identify by name, called him early Wednesday on a satellite telephone from a hide-out in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden praised the people who carried out the attacks in Washington and New York, Ismail said, quoting the aide. "But he had no information or knowledge about the attack" ahead of time, Ismail said.

The journalist has long-standing ties with bin Laden and has won rare interviews with him several times over the last few years.

In a series of coordinated attacks Tuesday, terrorists crashed two airlines into the World Trade Center in New York, and a third plane slammed into the Pentagon in Washington. A fourth one crashed in Pennsylvania.

Bin Laden is a key suspect in the bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in August 1998 that killed 224 people, including 12 U.S. citizens.

Washington wants bin Laden to be tried for the bombing, but Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia rulers have refused to hand him over, despite tough U.N. sanctions against the Taliban.

The Taliban government calls bin Laden their guest and a hero of Islam.

The aide said that bin Laden has described the devastation in the United States as "a punishment from Allah," Ismail said. The United States had invited Allah's wrath because it is trying to control the entire world by force, Ismail said, quoting the aide.

"There are thousands of Muslims who have vowed for jihad (or a holy war) and martyrdom," according to bin Laden's aide. "They have experience to fight with all sorts of weapons."

The aide also denied reports of bin Laden's deteriorating health, according to Ismail.