Aug 04, 2003

New Al Qaeda tape interview with CNN

Transcript # 080402CN.V75 SECTION: News; International LENGTH: 984 words HEADLINE: Al Qaeda Remains Major Threat to U.S. BYLINE: Daryn Kagan, Peter Bergen HIGHLIGHT: Al Qaeda Remains Major Threat to U.S. BODY: DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now let's get some more insight into those new threats against the U.S. on an audiotape said to be the voice of Ayman al-Zawahiri. He is regarded as the No. 2 man to Osama bin Laden. Our terrorism analyst Peter Bergen joining us now from Washington. Peter, good morning. PERTER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Good morning, Daryn. KAGAN: First of all, if we go on the assumption that this tape is credible and real, what do you make out of it coming from Osama bin Laden's No. 2 instead of Osama bin Laden himself? BERGEN: Well, you know, Osama bin Laden is a fairly intelligent guy. He is aware that the chain of custody of these tapes allows perhaps authorities to trace, eventually trace it back to him. So this year we've only seen two tapes from Osama bin Laden and we've now seen -- this is the second tape we've seen from Ayman al-Zawahiri. In a sense they're in a bit of a catch-22. They have to continue to release these tapes to sort of show that they're still in the game. On the other hand, every time they release them, it is possible they expose themselves to scrutiny from authorities since if you trace the chain of custody back, you'll eventually come to either bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri. This tape, I think, was notable for a couple of things. First of all, it didn't mention Iraq which is sort of odd. It didn't mention bin Laden himself which is also kind of odd. It appears to be in reaction to the Bush administration's announcement two or three weeks ago that military tribunals for the first six prisoners in Guantanamo Bay would go ahead. Two of those were Brits, one was an Australian and they all potentially face the death penalty. And this tape seems to be a reaction to that announcement which was made, i say, two or three weeks ago. So I think this tape indicates a further indicator that Ayman al- Zawahiri is alive. I believe that Osama bin Laden us alive. I think they're both still alive. Obviously, you know, they are the most important leaders of al Qaeda. There's been quite a lot succeses in terms of senior leaders being arrested in the past year, but Ayman al- Zawahiri an Osama bin Laden are infinitely more important than anybody we've captured so far, Daryn. KAGAN: Well let ask -- pick up on the point that you're making that he, al-Zawahari does not mention Osama bin Laden by name. BERGEN: Yes, I don't know quite what to make of that. I mean it's possible that they are working in very different areas. My belief is actually that they're probably together. It's just all -- it's surprising he hasn't mentioned him. I don't know what to make of it. I don't think there's any indications that bin Laden is dead. I think we'd know about it if that was the case. KAGAN: Why do you think they're together? Because is he Osama bin Laden's doctor? BERGEN: That's part of it. I think also they are very, very close. I mean Ayman al-Zawahiri, who we see in a picture here, is somebody who is regarded as being the brains of the organization, he's the sort of chief ideologue, he is about five, seven years older than bin Laden, he's influenced bin Laden very deeply, he regarded -- as he's mentioned his doctor. They're very close, they've known each other since the mid '80s. And I think it would be quite surprising if they weren't in -- either together or in touch with each other fairly frequently since they are, in a sense, they are heart and soul of al Qaeda itself. It's basically al-Zawahiri's ideas and bin Laden's organizational skills that created the organization. KAGAN: You mention that this is the second tape that we've heard in recent months for al-Zawahiri, the first one was right after the bombings in Saudi Arabia in Riyadh. What do you make of the timing of this one? BERGEN: I'm not really sure about the answer to that. You know in the past tapes have been released and then al Qaeda has mounted an attack. Also tapes have been released and nothing has happened. I mean bin Laden released a couple of tape before the Iraq war. It was my belief and I think other people's that al Qaeda would launch spectacular attacks related to the Iraq war. That didn't happen. Then of course, as you mentioned, there were the Riyadh attacks May 12 and then attacks also in Morocco. And then Ayman al-Zawahiri comes out with a tape at that time. So it's hard to tell. Sometimes tapes precede attacks and sometimes tapes come after attacks. What this tape means, I just, frankly, I don't know. KAGAN: You say it's part of kind of this deadly game that al Qaeda feels like it does need to put out these tapes just to show that they're there and send word. But the threat is that it helps, as you said, track them down. What part of the world do you that think these men are, Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri? BERGEN: I think they're almost certainly on the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, almost certainly on the Pakistan side of the border, very probably on the northwest frontier province which is an area the size Virginia, an area about 40,00-square miles which is, after all, quite a lot of territory to cover. But I think it is the opinion of many officials, whether in the American government, Afghan government or even the Pakistani government that they're inside Pakistan, likely in this northwest frontier province. Or maybe Baluchistan which is an area between -- which borders Iran, Afghanistan. But in an area that's basically -- which are, you know, extremely remote and very, very good places to hide if you want to hide in them. KAGAN: Peter Bergen, always a pleasure to have your insight, always learn something. Thank you, Peter.