Original caption: Afghanistan's Taliban rulers said on Sunday they were sheltering Islamic militant Osama bin Laden (pictured) for his own protection as the United States geared up its military to hunt down and punish the alleged mastermind behind this month's devastating attacks. U.S. officials cast doubt on the Afghan claim and repeated that the Taliban must hand bin Laden over or face the wrath of the United States, which has sent warplanes, ships and troops to within striking distance of the central Asian country. Saudi-born Osama bin Laden is pictured speaking to journalists at an undisclosed place in Afghanistan in this December 23, 1998 file photo. REUTERS/Rahimullah Yousafzai
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