Aug 04, 2005

New al Zawahiri tape

Our terrorism analyst Peter Bergen joining me now from Washington to talk about this latest tape.

Peter, good morning.


KAGAN: Not to say, told you, but just earlier this week you were right here on CNN saying this -- let's listen.


BERGEN: I think Ayman al-Zawahiri or bin Laden are gong to find it irresistible to make some kind of comment on the London bombings and the Egypt bombings. And I'd anticipate that coming out in the next week or two.


KAGAN: Right on schedule there, Peter. You said earlier this week that you predicted this would have happened. But al-Zawahiri, he doesn't take credit, but he does put blame.

BERGEN: Yes. Well, I think it was predictable that they would come out with a statement, either Osama bin Laden or Ayman al- Zawahiri, because they have in the past.

We've had 18 statements from Osama bin Laden since 9/11. And maybe 13 from Ayman al-Zawahiri. So they're -- they're making these statements pretty often.

It's pretty predictable that they would make a statement. It was also predictable that it would go to Al-Jazeera.

One thing that's puzzling to me, Daryn, is that why can't we trace back the chain of custody of these audiotapes and videotapes? After all, they're the one guaranteed way of finding these people.

We've had more than 30 of them from al Qaeda's number one and number two since 9/11. It was predictable that they would want to insert themselves into this post-London attack, saying sort of -- you know, blaming Tony Blair, blaming the United States, blaming what's happening in Iraq for what's going on in London.

So, to me, it's puzzling that somehow we can't -- or the United States government doesn't seem to be able to trace the chain of custody of these tapes.

KAGAN: Really, because, as you point out, this is not just happening once. This is happening over and over again.

BERGEN: Over and over again, and in a very predictable manner. After the Indonesian attacks in -- back in 2002, we heard from Osama bin Laden, sort of trying to insert himself into take something sort of credit for it.

In this case, they're not taking direct credit, but they are blaming, you know, U.S. and U.K. policy in Iraq for the attacks in London. They're promising more attacks.

And I just -- as I said, I mean, you played the clip of me a few days ago making this -- predicting it would happen. It's happened. And it's just very puzzling to me that these people continue to feel the leisure to make these tapes.

They obviously don't feel under a tremendous amount of pressure, because making these tapes requires a cameraman, a chain of custody, people to take them to Al-Jazeera, whether it's Al-Jazeera's bureau in Pakistan or somewhere else. And yet, unless -- you know, obviously I'm not privy to classified information in the U.S. government, but it does seem that we have not made any real efforts to trace back the chain of custody of these tapes. Or if we have, it's just not working.

KAGAN: The basic message here is, you haven't seen anything yet, is what al-Zawahiri is saying. And he also makes reference to the U.S., saying, what you're going to see if this goes on and you don't meet our demands is going to be worse than Vietnam. Why do you think he picked that reference?

BERGEN: Because I think he's hyperventilating. I mean, I just think, you know, they have a -- you know, a habit of sort of making these very, very huge threats. Often they don't follow through.

Certainly al Qaeda, or its affiliates, or people influenced by them, can do things like the London attacks, the Madrid attacks. The notion that he could pull off a Vietnam-style attack in the United States I think is completely ludicrous.

Certainly what's happening in Iraq, if it continued for several years, and a lot more Americans died, a lot more Iraqis died, would certainly fit into al Qaeda's desire to sort of bog us down in a quagmire in the Middle East and create tensions there. Obviously it would be different from Vietnam, but it would be the kind of thing that they want.

But then Ayman al-Zawahiri, in this new tape, said, you know, we should withdraw unilaterally from Iraq, which would suit them very well, because then chaos would ensue and al Qaeda or groups like it would have a foothold inside Iraq and would have a sort of Sunni- jihadist state in the middle of Iraq.

I think that's their intention. And that's much more important for them than what's going on in Afghanistan. Because, after all, is in the heart of the Middle East. Afghanistan is very much on the periphery. And I think they're really hoping that the Iraq situation will go their way.

KAGAN: And then just finally, other than the fact that they were able to do it and get this tape on the air and sent around the world, anything significant in the message, Peter?

I think one thing is simply that Ayman al-Zawahiri looks a lot older. I haven't seen him -- He looks -- I've seen a lot of his videotapes. He looks about five years older than I've seen him in the past.

So I think he's under some pressure, as one would be running around the Afghan-Pakistan border region with a lot of people looking for you. So I think that clearly he's aged rather dramatically in the last several months, it seems to me.

KAGAN: Peter Bergen, live from Washington. Thank you for your insights. BERGEN: Thank you, Daryn.