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Peter Bergen: Osama bin Laden and the hijackers' identities

Peter Bergen is writing a book on Osama Bin Laden, whom he interviewed in 1997. He was just recently a journalist in residence at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. He is also a former employee of CNN. He joined the chat room from Washington D.C.

CNN: Welcome to Peter Bergen. Thanks for joining our discussion today.

PETER BERGEN: My name is Peter Bergen. I'm working with CNN as a terrorist analyst, and I did the first TV interview with Osama bin Laden for CNN.

CNN: The names of the airline terrorists have been released. What can you tell us about the significance of these names?

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BERGEN: We don't have definitive nationalities on these people, but I've run the names by someone who knows Saudi tribal names, and nine out of 18 are Saudi tribal names, the majority of which are from the southwest area of Saudi Arabia near Yemen. There are maybe one or two Yemeni names in there. The rest of the names are somewhat generic Middle Eastern names which are difficult to pin down exactly where they are from.

What is the significance of this? The Saudis have been the principle recruits to bin Laden's organization. Bin Laden was born in Saudi Arabia, although his family originates in Yemen. Also a source familiar with the bin Laden organization told me that in recent weeks Saudis returning from Afghanistan were talking about some kind of big action in coming weeks. And we seem to have seen that action with the World Trade Center attack.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why is it so difficult to locate bin Laden?

BERGEN: It's difficult to locate any individual who wants to hide, especially in Afghanistan which is a mountainous country where the U.S. has not had a presence since it closed its embassy in 1989. Bin Laden spent years fighting the Russians in the '80s so he is intimately familiar with the terrain there and is able to hide.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you think the Taliban will distance themselves from bin Laden and provide information on his whereabouts?

BERGEN: If there was any moment where they were going to do that, this is the moment.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What kind of contingency plans are in effect within bin Laden's group in the event of his death or capture?

BERGEN: Interesting question. There are other people in the organization who are anti-American. Do they have the leadership skills that he has? No. Do they have his charismatic personality? No. Do they have the organization? No.

CNN: From what you know about Osama bin Laden, do these attacks match his "signature"?

BERGEN: Yes, in the following ways: They are unexpected -- no one expected the embassies in Africa to be bombed, no one expected the Cole to be bombed, no one expected this to happen. Also, this required 18 people to be willing to commit suicide. No one in the world has this kind of commitment, plus they needed training to be pilots Also, if not bin Laden, then who?

Thank you very much. I have to go.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Peter Bergen.

Peter Bergen joined the chat room by telephone and CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the chat, which occurred on Friday, September 14, 2001.

• Osama bin Laden profile
September 12, 2001
• Sources name hijacking suspects
September 14, 2001

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