Jun 30, 2006

New OBL tape CNN discussion

COOPER: Good evening again. We begin with breaking news, the kind that raises a chill whenever it happens, a new message tonight, an audiotape purported to be from Osama bin Laden. It came out just moments ago.

CNN's Octavia Nasr has been translating it and joins us now from the newsroom in Atlanta.

Octavia, what does it say?

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN SENIOR EDITOR FOR ARAB AFFAIRS: Well, it's less than 20 minutes, Anderson.

And what it says, basically, it's condolences. It talks about the death of Zarqawi, the al Qaeda leader in Iraq. It does attack President Bush.

And, you know, when we say purported to be bin Laden, I listened to the tape myself. The experts we talked to, they -- they think it is bin Laden. I personally think it is bin Laden. But CNN can never confirm it is him, because we're dealing with an audiotape.

Let's take a look at what he said on that tape, two interesting things. He addressed President Bush.

And he said: I say to Bush, you should deliver the body to his family. And don't be too happy. Our flag hasn't fallen. Thanks to God, it has passed from one lion to another lion in Islam.

And then he continues. In the same paragraph, he says: You have prevented Abu Musab from entering his homeland, meaning Jordan, alive. Don't stand in his way now.

Experts I spoke with consider this to be an interesting appeal, to allow the body of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to return to his homeland. Also, he mentions Zarqawi by his initial name, Ahmad al-Khalayleh, which is also another indication that he's really sending his respects to the man as a jihadi and also as a normal human being -- Anderson.

COOPER: Octavia Nasr, appreciate it. Literally, we are analyzing this tape as we speak. We are going to have more details on it throughout this next two hours.

Joining us, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen, author of "The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of Osama bin Laden." He's -- also, CNN's national security correspondent, David Ensor, is also joining us.

Peter, if indeed this is bin Laden on the tape, is it surprising that he would make a tape honoring al-Zarqawi? After all, they didn't particularly like each other, from many accounts.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think we have been expecting this tape for some time.

And I think, you know, if Octavia is -- thinks it's bin Laden, I -- I'm sure it is bin Laden. This was not unexpected. We have had another tape from Ayman Al-Zawahri also sort of bemoaning the death of Zarqawi.

And of course they're going to say that. But, in reality, I think a private part of bin Laden, and perhaps also Zawahiri, are not unhappy about Zarqawi's departure. He was part of al Qaeda in Iraq, had pledged allegiance to bin Laden, but he wasn't taking cues from the central directorate -- directorate of al Qaeda on the Afghan- Pakistan border.

He -- he did stop the beheadings, at their request, it seems, but he continued attacking the Shia, which neither bin Laden, nor Zawahri wanted him to do. So, I think it's fully expected the tapes would come out, fully expected that they would make sort of a formal declaration of how great Zarqawi was.

But they may be happier about the new guy that's replaced Zarqawi, a guy who actually has known Zawahri since 1982, when he -- when he joined Egypt's Jihad group, somebody who might be more controllable.

COOPER: David, you have this bin Laden tape, if it is, in fact, bin Laden. Another bin Laden tape was released in April, another in May. Before that, he hadn't released a tape since January, so, three tapes now in three months. Read any significance into that?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly there's an effort, Anderson, to -- by -- by al Qaeda central to be relevant.

They are wary of -- they were very wary of -- of Zarqawi sort of taking over the center stage. Zarqawi was a formidable fund-raiser, according to U.S. intelligence, and was sucking money away from -- from the central al Qaeda organization, which, of course, given that the two main leaders are -- are in hiding, was not able to -- to sort of press its potential sources of money as easily as Zarqawi was.

And Zarqawi, of course, had such an image as -- as a man who was killing large numbers of American forces and -- and others in Iraq. But, as Peter mentioned, there was this tremendous discomfort between Zawahri and bin Laden on the one side and Zarqawi and the other over the issue of -- of -- of the Muslims, all the Muslims that Zarqawi was killing, the Shia, and the danger that -- that the -- that Zawahri thought that posed.

He wrote a letter to Zarqawi about that which was captured by U.S. intelligence -- but most analysts believe it is, indeed, genuine -- in which he appealed to him to stop the beheadings of Westerners and to stop with the massacre of Muslims.

As Peter mentioned, he did the former, but not the latter.

COOPER: Peter, you know, you -- I don't know if we can show this audiotape. It was put on the Internet. I don't know if we can just show it full-screen for just a moment, not listening to the sound, but just to -- to get a sense of the graphics, because, Peter, as we look at this, I mean, these graphics are incredibly well done, very high quality.

You have a -- a still picture of Osama bin Laden on one side. You have video images of Ayman Al-Zawahri. You have a little graphic logo. There's moving backgrounds. I mean, the -- the technological sophistication of this -- of this audio unit, of this -- this propaganda unit, is impressive. How are these tapes delivered? How are they made?

BERGEN: Well, you know, I mean, this is almost certainly a production of Al-Sahab, which means the clouds in Arabic, al Qaeda's media arm, which has been in business since the summer of 2001.

And they have released all the key statements from bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahri. They do have relatively sophisticated production methods. But there's a -- I'm not a -- an expert in this area, necessarily, but I think this is the sort of thing, you have a desktop computer, you could put this together, you know, let's say with, you know, Mac software, put together this kind of thing. But they're -- they're -- they're getting smarter. I mean, you know, since it's only an audio message of bin Laden, they're also putting it out with some video to kind of spice it up. And, you know, and in recent tapes from Zawahri, we're seeing them put them out in different languages.

The most recent -- one of the most recent tapes from Zawahri was in Arabic, Pashto, Dari. And we have -- we have seen them produce tapes with English subtitles, or even German subtitles, depending on which audience they're trying to affect.

So, you know, and I -- I think, as -- as -- as David just pointed out, you know, you know, bin Laden has been producing quite a lot of these recently. Zawahri has had an unprecedented number, three tapes in the last three weeks.

So, between -- the top leaders of al Qaeda seem not to be really feeling the heat of the war on terror, if they have the leisure to kind of make these tapes. And they have also got smart. They're not releasing them through Al-Jazeera anymore, which I think is quite problematic, in terms of tracing back the chain of custody of these tapes.

They're putting them straight on jihadi Web sites. It's much harder to find, unless you staked out every sort of Internet cafe in Pakistan, basically, an impossible task, since there are literally tens of thousands of them. It would be very tough to try and find out where this tape actually came from.

COOPER: So -- so, Peter, when they were being sent to Al- Jazeera, it was easier to trace back who -- what -- what hands they went through?

BERGEN: I think so, because, I mean, after all, Al-Jazeera has a limited number of bureaus. At least two of the tapes from bin Laden have gone to Al-Jazeera's bureau in Pakistan, in Islamabad. Others have gone elsewhere. But it's a limited universe.

If you think, you know, Pakistan is a place where not many people own their own computers. So, Internet cafes are literally everywhere. And it would be an impossible job to try and stake these Internet cafes out.

It was fairly obvious to anybody who is looking at this that there would be the response from both Zawahri and bin Laden about Zarqawi's death. But the practical method of actually trying to find the -- the courier who brought it to the Internet cafe, I mean, it would just be impossible.

And I think these guys have wised up to the fact it's smarter just to do it through the jihadi Web sites. A, you don't get "censored" -- quote, unquote -- by Al-Jazeera, which they have complained about in the past. And, B, it's much less amenable to detection.

COOPER: Peter -- I mean -- I mean, David, as you look at this, it's unlikely a tape like this would lead to any clues to -- to bin Laden's whereabouts. Obviously, there's no moving picture of bin Laden. There's not even any background you can get a sense of.

ENSOR: Well, that's right.

And, of course, bin Laden has put out an audiotape, which makes it that much more difficult. Zawahri's been doing videotapes. The working assumption of U.S. intelligence is that Zawahri is -- is more in touch, less deeply hidden, and is able to be connected to -- to cameramen.

I don't know if you saw. On Associated Press a week or two ago, there was a piece out of Peshawar by a -- a journalist I happen to know and trust, who said that she had met one of the men who, for various reasons, she had reason to believe, had been a cameraman that had actually filmed one or two of these videos in the past by -- by bin Laden and Zawahri.

And he said that he never knows when he's going to be summoned, and that he thinks that there are several of -- of these people who -- who help out with this, and the he -- he goes when -- when he's called, and he never knows where he's going. He's blindfolded and so forth.

Now, he hasn't done it in a couple of years. But, still, given that people are now findable, who -- the journalists can reach people who -- who work in that kind of way, clearly, people like bin Laden and Zawahri have to be worried about the chain of custody.

COOPER: Peter Bergen, how hard is it for Osama bin Laden to stay relevant? I mean, wherever he is holed up, clearly, he has access to -- to technology, to -- to news reports. He can get his message out. But how -- but much can he be beyond just a sort of spiritual figurehead?

BERGEN: Well, I think he can be more than that, because these messages -- I mean, you know, this message he's just delivered now is going to be seen by literally tens of millions of people around the world in the next 24 hours.

And it -- and it's going to be reported on in newspapers around the world. And, often, these messages aren't simply, you know, bemoaning the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Sometimes, these messages will have specific instructions, for instance, attack members of the coalition in Iraq. I think bin Laden has said that repeatedly. That's one of the reasons we saw an attack in Madrid in 2004.

That's one of the reasons we saw the attack in London, which we're about to come up to the first anniversary of on July 7. And -- and, so, through the medium of these tapes, they aim to stay relevant. And I think that, you know, to us, this may just seem like words, but, to their supporters, these -- these are like religious directives.

If they say attack President Musharraf in Pakistan, attack members of the coalition in Iraq, blow up Saudi oil facilities, which they have done, they have said that repeatedly, and -- and their -- their act -- their followers have acted on those instructions.

COOPER: And, David, that is, I guess, the concern, that -- that al Qaeda morphs into an organization which does not need direct contact with its -- its various tentacles. It can have, you know, Internet contact, ideological contact, and it is the spread of ideas which then these independent groups almost just take up as a rallying cry.

ENSOR: That's right.

And you have the -- sort of the homegrown terrorist phenomena that we have been talking about here in the United States recently, but, certainly, Europe has had -- had plenty of experience with in the last year or two, to its -- to its detriment.

So, yes, indeed, that is the great concern. At the same time, if I were bin Laden, I would be frustrated that all I can do is put out tapes. If -- if the media stopped paying as much attention to them, and people -- not so many people saw them, what else could he do? It's through these tapes that he reaches his -- his followers.

Of course, the -- since -- since you don't send -- since they're now putting them right on the Internet, they don't have that filter of Al-Jazeera, and they can get straight to their supporters, which obviously makes more sense for them.

COOPER: David Ensor, Peter Bergen, appreciate it.