Apr 02, 2002

Terrorism expert speaks

Global terrorism expert Peter Bergen spoke Thursday night at Wharton Center on terrorism and Osama bin Laden. Bergen met bin Laden while working with CNN. Terrorism expert speaks By ED RONCO The State News Peter Bergen remembers the night in 1997 when he was searched, blindfolded and driven under heavily armed guard into the mountains outside Jalalabad, Afghanistan. "It was about midnight when Osama bin Laden appeared out of the darkness," he said. Bergen, a former correspondent for CNN, NBC News, PBS and National Public Radio, is one of the few Western journalists who have interviewed bin Laden in person. He shared his experience with a crowd of more than 300 people Thursday night in Wharton Center's Great Hall. "This is a fairly well-educated guy," Bergen said. "It would be too simple to describe him as a crazy guy who got his turban in a twist one morning and decided America was the enemy. "It was clear that he was serious about attacking Americans." It's not the American way of life bin Laden is attacking, Bergen said, but instead the U.S. presence in the Middle East. Bergen said there always will be terrorism against Americans, but with the al-Qaida on the run, he is optimistic about the future. "We can declare victory when I'm not talking to you, when it's no longer a source of public concern," he said. Questions from the audience took up the last portion of the 90-minute lecture. Audience members asked Bergen about Iraq, the crisis in Israel and the federal government's freezing of al-Qaida's financial assets. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were not a matter of money, Bergen said. "You can't persuade someone to fly a jet at 500 miles per hour into one of the world's biggest buildings for money," he said. "It's about belief." Bergen has traveled to Afghanistan, Egypt, England, Pakistan and Yemen researching bin Laden and his associates. He is the author of "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden." The book was in the works before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which led Bergen to make some very quick revisions. Journalism junior Raul Garcia, who attended the lecture, said being in the same room with someone who had spoken to bin Laden was a strange experience. "It's almost creepy," he said. "This guy's been face-to-face with Osama." Garcia said he, like many Americans, hadn't felt vulnerable until the attacks on the World Trade Center occurred. "Sept. 11 defined what Osama bin Laden's capabilities were," he said. "I never had to worry about anything." The chance to hear someone who could put those worries into perspective was an important experience for students, said history Professor David Robinson, who moderated the question-and-answer session. "All of these opportunities are enriching for the faculty and staff, but also for the students," he said. Robinson said he was surprised by Bergen's long-term optimism. "I certainly hope that he's right that nothing like Sept. 11 can be attempted or executed again," Robinson said. Time ran short toward the end of the lecture, and Robinson said he would have liked to ask more questions. "We didn't get to but 10 percent of the questions," he said. College of Arts & Letters Dean Wendy Wilkins said it is important to move forward from the horror of Sept. 11. "What would be a shame is if we forget that there are lessons to be learned," she said. "What's important is to keep this in our consciousness." Ed Ronco can be reached at roncoedw@msu.edu.