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Tapes shed new light on bin Laden's network

Bin Laden, center, is seen surrounded by his security detail in tape footage obtained by CNN.
Bin Laden, center, is seen surrounded by his security detail in tape footage obtained by CNN.  

From Nic Robertson

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A large archive of al Qaeda videotapes obtained by CNN in Afghanistan sheds new light on Osama bin Laden's terror network, revealing images of chemical gas experiments on dogs, lessons on making explosives, terrorist training tactics and previously unseen images of bin Laden and his top aides.

The archive includes 64 videotapes that span more than a decade and provide new insight into al Qaeda's planning, tactics and mindset. Nearly all the tapes pre-date last year's September 11 terror attacks. But one tape includes recorded segments from televised news reports of the attacks on New York and Washington, including CNN coverage.

CNN has shown the tapes to many experts, including Rohan Gunaratna, an expert on al Qaeda who was called on to address Congress, the United Nations and the Australian Parliament following the September 11 attacks. Gunaratna, the author of "Inside Al Qaeda," has interviewed members of the terrorist network and previously viewed more than 200 al Qaeda tapes. But he had not seen the tapes obtained by CNN and believes they were intended only for the eyes of the terror group's leaders.

"The collection has al Qaeda videos taken by al Qaeda of events," Gunaratna said. "Whenever Osama bin Laden met with foreign journalists, he always had his own cameraman. And it is those tapes that are there, because that itself shows that this is the al Qaeda library. This is not the library of someone else ... This is their history, the record room of Osama bin Laden."

CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson obtained the tapes from a source in Afghanistan, following a 17-hour drive from Kabul through treacherous terrain to a remote part of the war-torn country. According to the source, the tapes had been found in an Afghan house where bin Laden had stayed.

Some of the tapes are video training manuals for terrorists, much different from the al Qaeda promotional videos that have been released in the past. One three-hour tape, for example, shows how to make purified TNT from easy-to-get materials. They demonstrate sophistication in planning and explosives skills.

Experts interviewed by CNN say no terrorist organization is ever known to have put this much knowledge on videotape before. And although it is not known with certainty that all of the material contained in the tapes came from bin Laden's personal library, it includes revealing looks at the al Qaeda leader and his personal security arrangements.

One scene shows bin Laden with his security detail firing shots into the air as they get set to announce their new jihad against Americans. That scene was shot in 1998, three years before the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

Among the most frightening scenes in the collection of tapes are those of testing of a poison gas on three dogs. The disturbing images show the dying moments of the defenseless, enclosed animals.

A senior Bush administration official who is intimately involved in weapons issues said he was "very troubled" by the issues the video raises, particularly about chemical weapons.

The official said the video of the chemical tests on the dogs suggest a very strong desire to acquire the capability to use such weapons against humans. Until now, he said, he had seen nothing that indicated bin Laden or al Qaeda had the capability.

"This tape is unquestionable documentation that he has some capability," he said. The tape, he said, shows "some level of sophistication, and indicates they were trying to get results."

In one scene, a group of unidentified men wearing Afghan-style sandals rush out of an enclosure where one of the dogs is penned. A white liquid that gives off a gas is then seen seeping in from the left. Soon, the dog begins showing physical reactions.

Experts who were shown the tape by CNN had different theories as to what kind of chemical agent may have been used in the experiment. But there was agreement that whatever it was, it was a powerful agent, adding to the significance of the tapes and what they say about al Qaeda.

One of the tapes shows poison gas experiments being performed on dogs.
One of the tapes shows poison gas experiments being performed on dogs.  

"It's probably extremely significant, if not profound," said John Gilbert, a chemical weapons specialist and arms control expert who advises the U.S. government. "I know there's been a lot of speculation about the state of technology, and how far they may have advanced toward having a usable chemical weapon. The fact that they were able to repeat tests or demonstrations on this tape indicates that they clearly have a way to produce a predictably lethal chemical."

In the months since September 11, U.S. officials have repeatedly said publicly that al Qaeda was believed to be seeking weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons. But, so far, no evidence on tape has been shown that al Qaeda has succeeded in obtaining or developing such weapons.

Al Qaeda documents examined by CNN last fall showed formulas for sarin, a deadly chemical agent. And Ahmed Ressam, a man trained by al Qaeda and convicted of plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport, testified in court about tests using cyanide to kill dogs.

Coalition intelligence sources who have examined the tape obtained by CNN of the dying dogs said this appears to be an al Qaeda experiment with lethal chemicals at the remote Darunta camp in Afghanistan. The sources said dead dogs have been seen in past satellite images of the Darunta camp.

The sources said no intelligence agency is known to have previously seen most of these tapes.




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