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Tapes show al Qaeda trained for urban jihad on West

Experts say the tapes show al Qaeda recruits training for operations in an urban environment.
Experts say the tapes show al Qaeda recruits training for operations in an urban environment.  

From Nic Robertson

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network has trained recruits in urban terrorist tactics that could be used to bring the group's brand of jihad to Western cities, according to experts who viewed tapes obtained by CNN in Afghanistan.

The tapes show that the terrorist organization replicated a small Western-style city on a hillside in eastern Afghanistan, using canvas and stone.

"Al Qaeda has created a series of exercises to train the recruits who came to Afghanistan, to come to the West, and to conduct terrorist the urban environment. That is, they are able to operate in cities," said Rohan Gunaratna, an international expert on terrorism and author of "Inside Al Qaeda."

The training tapes are among an archive of 64 al Qaeda videos obtained by CNN from a source in Afghanistan who said they were found in a house where bin Laden himself had stayed. Experts and a senior Bush administration official said the tapes shed new light on the terror group's capabilities.

"I don't think anyone ever fathomed, even in the intelligence community, how sophisticated their training was, how well-prepared they were and how they were working away secretly in imparting this advice," said Magnus Ranstorp, deputy director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrew's in Scotland.

The tapes show al Qaeda's trainees using explosives to destroy simulated houses, office buildings and bridges.

"It is more advanced than training," Gunaratna said. "It is almost like doing the operation so that when they go to the real operational theater, they will be a hundred percent confident."

The training tapes also include step-by-step instructions on how to use a surface-to-air missile, raising concerns about the implications for civil aviation. Lessons on complex hostage-taking techniques and assassination operations are also featured.

Some of the procedures exactly match diagrams in hand-written manuals recovered by CNN earlier this year from a former al Qaeda safe house in Kabul.

"They are really training for specific missions," Ranstorp said. "And it's weeding out the elite of the elite, the crème de la crème, who may be deployed for even more specialized training, to even maybe be deployed [to] the West for terrorist purposes."

To retired Army Maj. Gen. David Grange, a CNN military analyst, al Qaeda's tactics as captured on the tapes present a clear and present danger.

"Just the intensity of the training that's described in these tapes. Very determined. Covered a lot of different areas," Grange said. "Information on warfare, bomb making, assassinations, raids, snatches, destruction of bridges, of lines of communication."

Grange said the tapes, however, also may point to al Qaeda's weaknesses, exposing vulnerabilities in their organization and tactics. "Throughout that whole process, there are vulnerabilities," he said. "And, again, they teach offensive, not defensive measures."

Nearly all the tapes in the archive obtained by CNN pre-date last year's September 11 terror attacks, and the training shown on the tapes is at least four years old. That time lag gives al Qaeda a substantial head start, experts said, in putting trained operatives in place to launch terrorist strikes.

"In terms of preparation, in terms of planning, al Qaeda has created a large number of terrorists, who will, over the years...go in for action," Gunaratna said.




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