May 16, 2003

Multiple attacks possible

Peter Bergen: Al Qaeda may be forming multiple attacks Friday, May 16, 2003 Posted: 10:30 PM EDT (0230 GMT) CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen: "It would be very surprising" if the Riyadh attacks weren't the work of al Qaeda. ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- The attention of the United States was focused once again on terrorism as simultaneous car bombings late Monday ripped into three residential compounds in the Saudi Arabian capital housing Americans and other Westerners. Twenty-five people, including eight Americans, were killed, and nearly 200 others were wounded. Nine terrorists also were believed to have died in the attacks. CNN anchor Daryn Kagan discussed the Saudi Arabia bombings, and others, with CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen and CNN correspondent David Ensor. The following is a transcript of their conversation: KAGAN: Well, this past week has seen several developments in the war on terror. We all know about Monday's bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. You might not, though, have heard that yesterday there were 19 small bombings targeting Western-owned gas stations in Karachi, Pakistan, or that Lebanese officials told CNN they have foiled a plot against the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. We want to start with the topic that David Ensor was just bringing up, the situation in Kenya, and the State Department saying that all nonessential personnel are allowed to leave right now. (Full story) What do you know about the threats in Kenya? BERGEN: Well, U.S. officials are particularly concerned about Haroun Fazil, who was one of the leaders of the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Kenya in 1998, which killed some 200 people. Fazil, who is a citizen of the Comoros, is somebody they regard as very dangerous. They say that he spent some time in Somalia because he apparently can blend in the with population there. That is one of the reasons they're particularly concerned about the situation in Kenya now. But as David just reported, they're concerned about a lot of other countries, as well. But clearly Kenya is the top priority at the moment. KAGAN: Yes, let's talk about some of those that he's mentioned. We heard about Jeddah [Saudi Arabia], Southeast Asia, East Africa. And then we're just getting these reports -- we've confirmed the reports that there were several blasts in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, but we don't know exactly what's taken place there tonight. BERGEN: Well, you know, al Qaeda is present in many countries. In fact, in Morocco there was a cell that was attempting to attack U.S. and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar. That cell was broken up in the middle of last year. And in terms of other places were al Qaeda has struck, obviously Pakistan. You mentioned Karachi just now. Karachi has been the scene of two attacks against the U.S. Consulate, an attack against a group of French defense contractors that killed a dozen of them outside a Sheraton hotel, the murder/kidnapping of [Wall Street Journal reporter] Daniel Pearl. So Karachi is a place where al Qaeda has been extremely active. Also, obviously, Southeast Asia. There are a number of cells in Southeast Asia. An attempt to blow up the U.S., British and Israeli embassies in Singapore, which was foiled, but then a successful attempt to blow up a disco in Bali that killed some 200 people. (Full story) So al Qaeda may well be in the midst of an attempt to do multiple coordinated operations around the world, as your report sort of indicated. KAGAN: Yes, and what about their, not only their formation and how strong al Qaeda is right now, but the fingerprints that appear to be all over what happened in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia? BERGEN: Well, certainly I think that that operation appeared to be an al Qaeda operation. I mean it was coordinated suicide attacks, multiple attacks, high-value targets, Western targets. It would be very surprising if it wasn't al Qaeda. And as David just mentioned, the operative theory for U.S. officials is that it must be an al Qaeda operation and perhaps sanctioned at some point by [Osama] bin Laden. KAGAN: All right, Peter, stay with us. We're going to bring David Ensor back in. He's getting some information about al Qaeda and links to things taking place in Iran -- David, what do you have? ENSOR: Well, I can just tell you that senior U.S. officials are telling CNN that Saif Al-Adel, the operations chief of al Qaeda, there is evidence that he is in Iran. One senior U.S. official is telling this network that there is evidence that he might have played a major role in the planning of the attacks in Riyadh on Monday night. We have one source on that. We're also told that another individual, Abu Mussab al-Zarkawi, who viewers may remember was thought to have been operating for al Qaeda inside Iraq prior to the war, that he has been in Iran recently and may still be there. Now, U.S. officials are not saying very much about this, but there are reports this evening suggesting that some of them believe, at least, that al Qaeda senior leadership are running some of these operations out of Iran. Now, of course, Iranian officials have consistently denied that they have any of the senior leadership in their country or that they would ever allow al Qaeda to operate out of it. KAGAN: Yes, Peter, let's bring you back in here. If you can comment on what David had to say. And then also, if we're going to talk about leaders within al Qaeda, the biggest name of them all [would be] bin Laden. BERGEN: Well, independently of what David's reporting, somebody, a U.S. official who's quite knowledgeable about al Qaeda, just today confirmed that Saif Al-Adel is in Iran to me. And he also said that Abu-Rait, who is the spokesman for al Qaeda, is also in Iran. Now, whether that's with the sanction of the Iranian government or not [is] a very difficult question to answer. It may well not be. Iran's a large place, and the government is -- there are almost two governments there, one the more sort of anti-Western and one that's trying to reach out to the West. In terms of bin Laden -- consistently U.S. officials that I've talked to say that he is in the North-West Frontier province of Pakistan and that he's been there for some time. KAGAN: He's just there or he's running operations out of there? BERGEN: That's harder to tell. I mean obviously he is not spending a lot of time chatting on his satellite phone with his followers around the world. He's obviously being very careful. The extent to which he's running operations, who knows? However, obviously he is the ideological font of all these ideas, the ideas of attacking Americans around the world, particularly in the Middle East. These are ideas that bin Laden was positing just as recently as, you know, several months before the beginning of the Iraq war. So, clearly, he is the ideological front of these actions, if not the actual intellectual -- if not the author of them in terms of sending out the order for each operation.