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Quick Guide & Transcript: Inside al Qaeda


(CNN Student News) -- June 14, 2006


Inside al Qaeda

DEANNA MORAWSKI, CNN STUDENT NEWS ANCHOR: Thanks for checking in with CNN Student News! I'm Deanna Morawski. The terrorist group al Qaeda took a major hit recently, when the head of "al-Qaeda in Iraq"-- was killed in a U.S. airstrike. The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is generating worldwide discussion about the group's influence. So this week, we're taking a look "Inside al Qaeda". We begin with a report on al Qaeda's history... And the threat it poses today.


DEANNA MORAWSKI, CNN STUDENT NEWS REPORTER: Al Qaeda is a global terrorist network made up of Islamic extremists. Its name is Arabic for "the base." Saudi-born millionaire and terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden founded the group in the late 1980's. It grew from a Muslim resistance movement of the U.S.-backed Mujahadeen, or holy warriors, who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. During the '90's, the group expanded its goals. It now seeks to rid Muslim countries of what it views as the profane influence of the west - specifically the United States - and to replace the governments of Muslim countries with fundamentalist Islamic regimes. Bin Laden has said it's the duty of Muslims to kill Americans, including civilians, and their allies.

For more than a decade, the organization was linked to attacks against U.S. targets, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and was directly responsible for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. But al Qaeda became a household name when it attacked the United States on September 11th, 2001... killing nearly 3,000 Americans. In 2004, it bombed Madrid's train system, killing nearly two hundred... and a year later, carried out a similar attack in London.

After 9/11, the United States launched a war in Afghanistan - where al Qaeda was then based - to destroy the group's posts and overthrow the country's Muslim fundamentalist rulers - known as the Taliban - who protected bin Laden and his associates.

Today, there is no al Qaeda headquarters; instead, it's believed the group has underground cells in some 100 countries. The size of al Qaeda is anyone's guess...estimates range from several hundred to several thousand members. Though they're spread out, and many live in remote areas. Members manage to stay connected with each other...and the world. Al Qaeda gets its message out through media outlets, including the Internet ... frequently releasing video or audio tape recordings from its leaders. The messages often warn of impending attacks on America and its allies.

Those threats are taken seriously, with the United States alone now spending roughly 100 billion dollars a year on homeland security. Until recently, the main threat was conventional bomb attacks. But al Qaeda has shown interest in expanding its arsenal, and experts fear that a biological or nuclear weapon could be next. Deanna Morawski, CNN.


Interview with Octavia Nasr

MORAWSKI: Now that we have an overview of al Qaeda, let's take a closer look inside the terror network. Its goals, its influence, and its relationship with the Arab world. For insight on that, Carl Azuz sat down with CNN's Senior Editor for Arab Affairs, Octavia Nasr.


CARL AZUZ, CNN STUDENT NEWS REPORTER: defines terrorism as the use of a violent or destructive act to achieve a goal. Why is it so difficult for the international community to agree on a definition for terrorism?

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN SENIOR EDITOR FOR ARAB AFFAIRS: Well, I think for one, terrorism for one person is a freedom fight for another. And you know, the Arab world always talks about this, as they say the so-called terrorism, because they believe that - in Iraq, for example, many people are struggling against occupation, so in many ways they support that struggle against occupation but then they draw a line between those who are struggling. They want a free Iraq, they want the occupiers out and those who are pushing the envelope and crossing the line by terrorizing people. And when we say terrorizing people, in a sense, it's going after the innocent civilians, the unsuspecting civilians, taking hostages, beheading them. Committing acts that are totally unacceptable, even by the standards of a freedom fight. So, you know, if you think about it, "terrorism" is a subjective term depending on which side you are on.

AZUZ: What are they hoping to accomplish?

NASR: Well, for one, it's attracting attention, so they feel that if they blow up a car or blow themselves up, they are getting the attention to their plight, basically saying, 'We have an issue, we are upset about something and no one is listening to us, and so we are going to resort to terror in order to attract the attention,' and then they start making demands. You know, when they take hostages, for example, they ask for ransoms sometimes and other times they ask for prisoners to be freed. They make demands, compensations for a region for an area, for families of victims and so forth, so there's always a request.

AZUZ: As a result of that, they are typically seen as enemies of the West. What are some of the other perspectives on terrorists?

NASR: It's very important to realize that that Al Qaeda, for example, is not just the enemy of the West, and the West alone is not its enemy. Al Qaeda has enemies within the Arab world; as a matter of fact, its prime enemy is the Arab world. So it started out as a movement against the local government, and then it expanded into what it is today. People sometimes ask me, 'How come Osama Bin Laden enjoys such popularity?' Well, many people believe that Bin Laden is after the right thing, which is toppling these Arab regimes. Now, who doesn't support Bin Laden? Anyone that wants to live in peace, anyone that wants to live in harmony, anyone that enjoys good relations with the West and feels that the West has lots of good things to offer. So it is wrong to think that everybody in the Arab world supports Al Qaeda, and it is wrong to think that Al Qaeda has allies in the Arab world only. It really has some allies, but the majority of the people are enemies of Al Qaeda.

AZUZ: What sort of influence does Al Qaeda have in inspiring offshoot groups?

NASR: Before 9-11 not many people knew what Al Qaeda was, not many people knew who Bin Laden was. But 9-11 changed everything, really, because 9-11 got people to pause and think about what is going on, what Al Qaeda is, who these people are. So, from that point on, just the mere fact that they succeeded in the attack on 9-11, it really started becoming this inspiration to many insurgency groups around the world, to many terror groups around the world. But again, the world is full of terror groups. Al Qaeda is just one of many.

AZUZ: Well Octavia, thank you so much for helping us better understand this subject.

NASR: Anytime.


CIA Tape Analysis

MORAWSKI: In our first report, you heard that al Qaeda often releases taped messages through the media. There's concern that such tapes may help terrorists spread their message-- or even give secret signals to operatives. But David Ensor explains how those same messages can work against the terrorists, helping intelligence officials try to track them down.


TOM OWEN, AUDIO ANALYST: The voice on this audiotape -- definitely Osama bin Laden.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN REPORTER: In his New Jersey home, acoustic expert Tom Owen identifies voices. But to learn more, he focuses on the moments when Bin Laden is NOT speaking.

OWEN: Let's just take a very small section where he hesitates for a second, and let's see what we can hear in there. There is something in the background. Can't really tell what it is.

ENSOR: Tom Owen is one of the nation's top sound analysts--using spectrographic equipment--like that used by the CIA, the FBI and others--to identify voices. Listening for clues on a recent Bin Laden tape, right away, Owen runs into something. You hear that noise in the background? It sounds like metal scraping metal. It's to eliminate noises other than the voice, but it's a little overused.

OWEN: You hear that noise in the background? It sounds like metal scraping metal. It's to eliminate noises other than the voice, but it's a little overused.

ENSOR: Visually, this is such a flat band of sound. It's been compressed. So you think they may have compressed this--taken off the highs and lows--to make it harder to draw any clues out of the tape as to where he's hiding.

OWEN: Right.

ENSOR: Do you think it's conceivable that a clue off of an audiotape might lead U.S. Intelligence to Osama bin laden one day?

OWEN: Possible, it's possible. It wouldn't be the first time. When they were doing the mob cases in New York, one of the ways that they were finding out where certain people were and where certain gangsters were conducting operations is because they heard the airplanes overhead.

ENSOR: And in fact, he does find a tantalizing clue on this tape:

OWEN: Yeah right through here, right through here, it almost sounds like there's a (imitates noise of rising motor) Kind of thing going on.

ENSOR: Yeah. Could be an engine noise: that would say something about bin Laden's hiding place. When there are pictures to look at, there is much more to analyze--though it's not as easy as it looks on TV:

WOMAN: We've got our three reference points. How far are the buildings from Zoya?

MAN: We'll know in a sec--right down to her front door. Circulating and isolating (beep beep beep)

WOMAN: Queens.

ENSOR: Do you watch CSI?

RICHARD VORDER BRUEGGE, FBI FORENSIC EXAMINER: Never. Makes me sick to my stomach.

ENSOR: FBI agent Richard Vorder Bruegge doesn't like the way CSI makes it all look SO easy, but at an unmarked FBI lab in northern Virginia, he uses the same technique--triangulation--on bank surveillance images to figure out the height of masked robbers--and help convict them.

BRUEGGE: If you have one measurement in that scene then you can measure anything in the scene. ENSOR: Vorder Bruegge looks for patterns--like the masked robber of ten banks who always wore the same shirt.

BRUEGGE: Patterned shirts are very easy to individualize--that is to say, to identify them to the exclusion of all other shirts.

ENSOR: Once the man was arrested, the goal was to prove he had committed all of the robberies. In his house, they found the shirt.

BRUEGGE: I'm one hundred percent sure that it's the same shirt.

ENSOR: Law enforcement and intelligence officers use THOSE techniques--and others--to analyze tapes from terrorists--like this one from Osama bin Laden, not long after he escaped from American bombardment at Tora Bora. Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri generally use plain backgrounds to reduce the clues, but analysts soon noticed that on this one, he did not move one of his arms.

JIM FITZGERALD, FBI AGENT: Members of the medical profession were brought in to review that. And there was an opinion that in fact he probably had been hurt at some point.

ENSOR: In the early days, things were different. Bin Laden and Zawahiri even put out a walking tape showing terrain, that set analysts to examining rock formations and listening to bird calls. But the former head of the CIA's Bin Laden unit says since then, al Qaeda has learned to be careful.

MICHAEL SCHEUER, FMR. HEAD OF CIA BIN LADEN UNIT: The enemy is stupid if they're going to give us a tape that tells where they are geographically. If it's going to give us a fix on him. So a lot of this stuff is just, we go through the motions so we can cover our behinds and say we've checked everything we can think of.

ENSOR: Nevertheless, over the years, there have been successes against al Qaeda--officials will not say whether tape analysis contributed to them. Each time a new terrorist tape emerges though, American analysts go through every sound, every image, just in case. David Ensor, CNN, Northern Virginia.



MORAWSKI: And that wraps up this edition of CNN Student News! Be sure to log on next week for another summer webcast right here, at For CNN Student News, I'm Deanna Morawski.

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