Nov 19, 2001

Inside Osama bin Laden’s world

CNN's terrorism expert Peter Bergen joined us Thursday, Nov. 29 at 10 a.m. ET to discuss his new book -- Holy War Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden. Bergen spent four years researching the book which was rushed into print after the Sept. 11 attacks. In the book, Bergen reveals how bin Laden lives, where his money comes from and how the al-Qaeda operatives have penetrated North American society.
Jason: Does the Internet help bin Laden spread his message? Peter Bergen: Yes it has. The best example of that is videotape made by Bin Laden's group, which received wide circulation on the Internet the summer of 2001. It was a two hour recruitment/propaganda tape which I was able to download using RealPlayer format. Lorne in London: Peter, I understand you met with Osama bin Laden. Would you say he's a rational man or is he clinically insane? Peter Bergen: Describing Osama bin Laden as a madman is not a very useful way to look at him. He is certainly not psychotic in any kind of clinical sense. Not only in the interview that we conducted with him but in many others he is clearly somebody who has a coherent and rational approach. Of course the outcomes of his actions are insane in the sense that killing thousands of civilians is -- none of the world's great religions, including Islam, would describe that in any others terms besides that of a grave sin. Tim Richardson: What is the likelihood that Iraq is partnered with Osama? Peter Bergen: Very minimal. There is no evidence that Iraq was involved in Sept. 11. Bin Laden has met in the past, in 1998, with a senior Iraqi intelligence official and Mohammad Atta, the leader of the World Trade Center attacks, also met with an Iraqi intelligence agent last year. However, a couple of meetings do not a conspiracy make. Paul Aquilina: Hi Peter, Do you believe that Bin Laden would allow himself to be captured ? Or would he take his own life and the lives of his senior leaders instead of facing the music for his crimes? Peter Bergen: They will martyr themselves. I think bin Laden has decided to die in this final last battle. J Mac Donald : Do you know how many terrorists there are in North America and if they have plans to cause more terror to the people of the west? Peter Bergen: No, I don't have any idea of the numbers in the United States, although the events of Sept. 11 demonstrated that at least 19 men from al-Qaeda were able to blend in all too well, into the various American communities. And even in Canada, as you're probably aware, a number of the people affiliated with al-Qaeda were also able to live. Karen: Is bin Laden driven by politics or religion? Peter Bergen: In his mind there is no distinction. What we see as perhaps a political program for him is in fact a religious program and his justifications for attacking the US are based on his religious sentiments. Jim Hughes: Considering what happened to the U.S.S. Cole, why did it take the Sept. 11th attack for the U.S. to finally launch an offensive against Bin Laden? Peter Bergen: That is a very good question. I think there were various plans for perhaps a special operations force to go in and snatch or kill bin Laden following the US embassy attacks in Africa in 1998 but those plans were shelved on the basis of the fact that there would be probably significant number of casualties in such an operation. Brian: Was bin Laden really aided by the U.S. as reports say? Peter Bergen: The short answer is no. I did a fair amount of research into this and of course proving a negative is always difficult. However, bin Laden denies any American help, his followers deny any kind of help, various US officials deny any kind of help and the whole notion fails some important common sense tests. A - bin laden has a lot of his own money so why would he need the US to help him out. B - He's been very anti American as early as 1982. So I think the notion that bin laden was aided by the Americans is essentially false. However, US aid did go to Afghan factions who were allied to bin Laden. Derick Kraaner: If Bin Laden is captured or killed, is there anyone in the position to lead al-Qaeda? Peter Bergen: There are other leaders but I think the US government is well aware of that and is looking to take out the entire top leadership. Rhett Williams: Do you think that Osama is behind the anthrax attacks or is someone else to blame? Peter Bergen: Short answer is I don't know. NB: Peter, is there any other groups that have not been mentioned that has a worldwide scope comparable to Al-Qaeda? Peter Bergen: I don't think so. One of the features of al Qaeda is that operates a little bit like a multinational holding company in which it has wholly owned subsidiaries like Egypt's Jihad group. But it also will do business with somewhat autonomous groups like Algeria's Armed Islamic Group. Kathy Crosby: I heard that Bin Laden's family hasn't had anything to do with him for the longest time. Is this true? Peter Bergen: I think it's essentially correct. They have distanced themselves from bin Laden. However, the family consists of several hundred members and certainly his mother has kept in touch with him, visiting Afghanistan last year. So, while the bulk of the family may have cut him off, he is in touch with certain members. Aarron Mills: Do you believe that Osama has the ability to put together weapons of mass destruction? Peter Bergen: Certainly the statements he's been making recently are disturbing. With the capability that his group has, he could only make very crude weapons of mass destruction of the type that would be effective terror weapons but would not kill large numbers of people. He has said that he has acquired nuclear and chemical weapons and we know by the patterns of activity of the group that some kind of crude capability is quite possible. And since bin Laden's statements have tended to be the best guide to his actions, I think we have to pay attention when bin Laden says that he has these kinds of devices. Greg Anderson: How did you research your book and who are some of the people close to Osama that you talked to? Peter Bergen: I travelled to the countries that I felt are important to get an understanding and talk to and those were Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt London and the US. In London I met with one of bin Laden's friends who is now imprisoned in an English jail. When I went to Pakistan I travelled with a man who had served under bin Laden for three years during the Afghan war against the Soviet Union. and I talked to a wide range of people who either had first hand knowledge of bin Laden or who were reliable sources and I made an effort to not include material in the book that I thought might in some way be not fully confirmed. Kristina: I've read suggestions that this whole battle is really over oil supplies. Is this right? Peter Bergen: Uh, no. It's clear that the reason the US and its allies are at war with bin Laden is because of an unprovoked attack on American civilians. Bin Laden launched his attack on the us principally because of the american military presence in Saudi Arabia which he regards as infidels trespassing on the holy land. Sandra: Do you believe bin Laden is preparing for another attack on the U.S.? Peter Bergen: I think that bin Laden may well have another attack which is in the pipeline. One of the hallmarks of his organization is they take a long time planning things. So if there is an attack in the pipeline it's like to have been planned for some time. C Fahlgren: Would potential terrorists pose as Christians in American societies? Peter Bergen: That has never been the case so far. Moderator: That wraps up our chat with Peter Bergen. Thanks for joining in and thank you to Mr. Bergen for his time.