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Bin Laden Rumors Multiply; Hezbollah Could be Next Target

Aired December 27, 2001 - 23:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN with Nic Robertson. More from the bin Laden tape.


OSAMA BIN LADEN, TERRORIST (through translator): We hit the most powerful military power on earth in its core.


ANNOUNCER: Reaction from the Bush administration.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Here's a man who has killed thousands of innocent people.


ANNOUNCER: From Al-Jazeera television.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The content of the tape actually proved for the first time that bin Laden is really behind these attacks.


ANNOUNCER: A plea from some Afghan tribal leaders.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tribesmen are demanding an immediate end to the bombing of their province.


ANNOUNCER: And what could be the next target in the war on terror.


MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: October 23rd, 1983. America's wake up call to suicide tier on a massive scale. (END VIDEO CLIP)


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN comes from the White Mountains near Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan. For those of you expecting to see "GREENFIELD AT LARGE," we apologize. He'll be back next week. We hope you enjoy this program in its place.

Eastern Alliance commanders here, working with U.S. special forces, say there are so many special force operatives in these mountains that they have lost count. They say the special forces operatives have asked them not to bury any dead al Qaeda members they find on the mountainside here.

And Al-Jazeera television, the Gulf news broadcaster, decided to broadcast in full the 34-minute video release from Osama bin Laden. It offered no new clues as to his whereabouts. It offered no new clues as to when it was actually shot, but it did offer more information from Osama bin Laden, appearing to implicate himself further in the September 11 attacks. As he says, he wanted a strike at the core of America.


BIN LADEN (through translator): The events of the 11th of September are just a reaction to the continuance -- continuous injustice against our children, our sons in Palestine, in Iraq, in Somalia, in southern Sudan, in Kashmir. We have shaken the thrown of America and hit hard the American economy in its heart, in its core. We hit the most powerful military power on earth in its core.


ROBERTSON: Now the tape reveals an Osama bin Laden whose health appears to be deteriorating, compared to his video releases in November and October. Our analyst, terrorism expert Peter Bergen and Osama bin Laden expert Bari Atwan from the "El Quds" Arabic newspaper offered these insights as to what they saw on this long release.


PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM EXPERT: He didn't move his left side at all through the 35-minute interview, which is an awfully long time not to move your -- when you're talking a lot and you're gesturing, usually you do it with both hands. He didn't move his left side. What that means, who knows? But that was fairly striking.

As to, you know, whether there was coded messages in all these things, I think that is, you know, there's an uncoded message throughout, which is attack America. And that seems fairly clear. And the notion that somehow all these tapes have coded messages to his followers, I just think is sort of unlikely. It's unnecessary. And you know, if there is another attack in the pipeline, it would have been planned long before September 11. ABDEL BARI ATWAN, EDITOR, "EL QUDS": He even named, you know, the education. He named their tribes. He named, you know, the regions where they came from. He praised them. He considered them martyrs. And he also said that more of those people will in the future -- will participate in attacks. And he actually urged those young chaps, as he called them, to actually attack the economy, because you know, he considered the American economy as really a loose one. It's not really solid one.

So there are many messages, many indications in that tape, in particular.

BERGEN: Yes, I think what we can say for certain is the tape was made sometime in mid to late November and possibly as recently as mid- December. But certainly it's more -- it's an older tape than the ones we've seen before.

And one of the reasons you can tell that is bin Laden looks slightly different in this tape. I mean, he's looking little pasty face, because he's not gotten a lot of sun. He's been hiding. And it's obviously winter in Afghanistan. And secondly, he's looking quite stressed out. And his beard has whitened. So I do think it is an older tape than the tapes we've seen previously.

ATWAN: The message is very clear. He is telling the Americans that he's still there. He's still alive and he's still causing them a problem. He wants to tell them that, OK, use all kinds of weapons. Carpet bombing, maybe you occupy most of Afghanistan, but you could not find me. Here I am, talking to people well and safe. So what did you achieve? Nothing.


ROBERTSON: Now Gulf broadcaster Al-Jazeera has received all of Osama bin Laden's video releases since the September the 11 attacks. And as their editor-in-chief Ibrahim Helal explained, they chose to run the whole of this release in its entirety because they believed it further implicated Osama bin Laden in those September the 11th attacks.


IBRAHIM HELAL, AL-JAZEERA CHIEF EDITOR: We've consulted each other actually in the administration of Al-Jazeera. We viewed the tape for one day. And we decided to show it in the proper context in the program. Usually we are reviewing tapes in the program to get the commentators from the American side and from the Arabic side, as well.

So we decided to have some of this tape in our news show last night. And we decided to run the whole thing tonight actually, because the content of the tape actually proves -- it proves for the first time that bin Laden is really behind this attacks. And it is adding more to the idea that he's behind these attacks.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTSON: Now despite the release of the video message from Osama bin Laden in its entirety, the White House says that President Bush is not adding to their Wednesday's statement that this is just a tired, terrorist propaganda. However, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he is no longer interested in what Osama bin Laden has to say. He says it's all lies.


RUMSFELD: Here's a man who has killed thousands of innocent people. So using him as the oracle of all truth is clearly -- would be a mistake. He has lied repeatedly, over and over again. He has hijacked a religion. He has hidden and cowered in caves in tunnels while sending people off to die.


ROBERTSON: Here in the -- near the Tora Bora mountains, very close to the border with Pakistan, Eastern Alliance commanders say they believe Osama bin Laden may have fled across the border into Pakistan.

However, as Bill Hemmer reports from Kandahar, no one really knows for sure where he is.


BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The reports and rumors about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts continue to swirl about here in Afghanistan. The Afghan defense ministry telling CNN that bin Laden is alive and is now hiding out, seeking refuge from a radical Islamic group in the country of Pakistan.

However, when CNN contacted the group's leader, who's by the way has been in custody with Pakistan for the past three months, he simply scoffs at the reports and says they are simply not true. But again, the rumors and the reports, almost on a daily basis, continue to come in.

Here in Kandahar, the detainees continue to come in as well. Early Thursday morning at 2:00 a.m., a C-130 landed here in Kandahar, delivering 20 more detainees, suspected al Qaeda and Taliban members. What's critical about this group, according to sources here at the base is that they all were picked up and nabbed along the Afghan- Pakistani border.

At this time, they're being processed and questioned. Certainly, investigators want to find out what information they may have about bin Laden and also what information they may have about senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

Also in Kandahar here with the U.S. Marines, there continues to be some reaction now to that bin Laden videotape released just yesterday. The reaction though, however, is somewhat muted. Marines say there is nothing new on the tape. They haven't changed their minds. And their operation and mission will change, despite what bin Laden may be saying.

With the U.S. Marines, Bill Hemmer, CNN, Kandahar, Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: Now the head of Afghanistan's interim government, Hamid Karzai, came under increasing pressure Thursday when a group of eastern tribal elders from Afghanistan visited him in Kabul. Their complaint, that a U.S. bombing mission last Friday killed only tribal elders. This is a convoy the Pentagon had said contained al Qaeda figures and senior Taliban figures as well.

As John Vause reports, this is bringing the eastern tribal leaders to question Hamid Karzai's affiliation to the United States.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Were they new friends or old enemies? A week since this convoy was attacked by U.S. warplanes, tribesmen from the Paktir province where the bombing took place say only tribal elders were killed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the convoy, there was no al Qaeda member. There were the elder of Paktir and Khost province. And the camped in Kabul in order to congratulate the new government.

VAUSE: Abdul Hakim Inez says the convoy was forced to take back roads to Kabul because the main road was blocked by a rival group. But the U.S. insists it was a good target. They had intelligence it was an al Qaeda convoy, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), a story backed up by the new Afghan minister for border affairs.

Still, the tribesmen are demanding an immediate end to the bombing of their province. And say they met with the new interim leader, Hamid Karzai, who they say has promised to push the United States. But a spokesman to Mr. Karzai says he's not aware that any meeting took place, that the new interim administration has been reluctant to talk about who was in the convoy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Aren't you guys conducting you own investigation of who these people were?

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: Our people are looking into this situation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, when can we expect an answer?

ABDULLAH: When they have an answer.

VAUSE (on camera): The Paktir tribesmen say there are no terrorists in their province, but that too is a statement at odds with the new Afghan government and the United States.

John Vause, CNN, Kabul.


ROBERTSON: When we come back, the fourth in our series this week of countries coming under scrutiny for their ties with terrorism.


ROBERTSON: On Thursday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that some al Qaeda prisoners may be transferred to the U.S. naval facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. So far, some 7,000 al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners have been rounded up in Afghanistan, but only a handful so far have been processed by FBI and CIA officials.

In Jalalabad, at the city's main hospital, there are some al Qaeda prisoners. They were taken there by Eastern Alliance commanders when they came down off the mountains here about two weeks ago. Under heavy U.S. bombardment, they are being treated at the hospital. They, however, do not appear to be kept under armed guard.

Now the fourth in our series of countries that may come under the focus of U.S. scrutiny in the war on terror. The country in focus today is Lebanon.

As Mike Boettcher reports, this is the country 20 years ago where the United States began to learn, for the first time, the painful realities of Middle Eastern suicide bombers.


MIKE BOETTCHER (voice-over): Beirut, October 23rd, 1983. America's wake-up call to suicide terror on a massive scale. This was ground zero on that day. The U.S. Marine barracks, Beirut. Two hundred forty-one American servicemen are killed when a suicide attacker drives a truck bomb through the barracks entrance.

Just six months earlier, 63 had died, 17 of them Americans, when another truck bomb ripped apart the U.S. embassy in Beirut. Among the dead, some of the CIA's top Middle East operatives.

The result? The first U.S. war on terror. But within a year, the U.S. Marines sent to Lebanon are withdrawn. And the mastermind of attacks is never apprehended. Now two decades later, a new war on terror and a new manhunt for alleged mastermind of the Beirut attacks, Imad Mugnia (ph), a founder of the Lebanese Islamic militia Hezbollah. It is a manhunt that could put Lebanon yet again in the cross-hairs of a U.S. anti-terror campaign.

MAGNUS RANSTORP, HEZBOLLAH EXPERT: Imad Mugnia is the one who has been pinpointed, who was the most hunted man by U.S. intelligence ever since the 1983 Marine barracks bombing. He has been pinpointed as some one who was instrumental in conducting Hezbollah's foreign operations.

BOETTCHER: Until now, only three photos of Mugnia were known to exist. Two passport photos, both more than 20-years old and another picture displayed on his FBI most wanted poster. Not much help since Western intelligence agents who have been trying to track Mugnia (ph), believe he has had at least two appearance-altering plastic surgeries since 1983. However, CNN recently obtained this clandestinely taken snapshots. Anti-terror coalition intelligence sources are certain they are more recent photos of the world's second most wanted terrorist Mugnia , shown on the right.

The location of the photographs and who took them were not revealed to CNN, nor was the date they were taken. But terrorism experts who have viewed them believe they are about 5 and 10 years old.

But he remains out of reach inside Lebanon, in part because of the robed man with whom Magnia (ph) is standing, Said Hassan Nazrellah (ph), the current Secretary General of Lebanese Hezbollah, which the U.S. labels a terrorist group.

Coalition intelligence sources believe Mugnia is now hiding in Hezbollah-controlled areas of Beirut or outside of the city in Lebanon's notorious Bekah Valley, that U.S. officials allege is the site of numerous training camps. Also believed hiding in Lebanon are two other men on the FBI's list of the world's 22 most wanted terrorists, Hassan Iz Aldeen (ph) and Ali Abwa (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are beating the passengers. They are beating the passengers. They are threatening to kill them now.

BOETTCHER: Iz Aldeen (ph) and Atwa (ph), along with Mugnia, are believed to be the hijackers of TWA 847, that was forced to land in Beirut in June 1985. The hijackers carried out their threat to kill a passenger, dumping the body of U.S. Navy Robert Steedham (ph) onto the tarmac. He had been beatened and shot to death.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will open the door and throw the passengers onto the ramp immediately.

BOETTCHER: And intelligence officials say Mugnia was behind some of the most high-profile terrorism in the past 20 years. The abduction, torture, and murder of William Buckley, the CIA's Beirut station chief. The murder of Colonel Richard Higgins, a U.S. Army officer who was serving with U.N. forces in Lebanon.

Bombings of the Israeli embassy and a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s. 119 dead. And the kidnapping of Western hostages in Beirut in the mid 1980's. Giandomenico Picco is the United Nations diplomat credited with negotiating the release of the hostages. He and Western intelligence sources believe the hooded figure with whom he negotiated was Mugnia, a person who has the edgy instinct of a man on the run.

GIANDOMENICO PICCO, FMR. U.N. DIPLOMAT: So as if his antennas, we're always on the alert and conveying messages that he was processing in his mind. So there was no way I could use the word relaxed.

BOETTCHER: With three of the most 22 wanted believed hiding in Lebanon, CNN has learned that anti-terror coalition governments have considered several options to get their men. Most risky, a snatch and/or a hunt and kill operation.

But the Hezbollah controlled areas where Mugnia (ph) and the other two men are believed hiding are tightly guarded. When we visited Beirut's Hezbollah neighborhoods this summer, we were stopped 15 seconds after we began the videotaped street scenes from our car.

Less risky, but potentially divisive for the anti-terror coalition would be air strikes against suspected training camps in Lebanon, where Mugnia might be hiding. Then, there is the diplomatic option, applying political pressure on Hezbollah's leaders and its main backers, Iran and Syria, to hand over Mugnia, or at least stop providing him protection.

After the September 11 attacks, Iranian authorities did bow to U.S. pressure and forced Mugnia to leave their country where he had been hiding for the better part of 15 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it is in their interests to keep a distance. And I think they are taking a tremendous distance.

BOETTCHER: And for its part, Hezbollah is trying to transform its image. It has elected members to the Lebanese parliament. And since September 11, the border between Israel and Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon has been the quietest it has been in a long time.

In an interview with CNN this summer, Hezbollah's leaders, Saedna Rullah (ph), the man in the photograph with a fugitive Mugnia tried to strike a more conciliatory tone.

SAYED HASSAN NAZRALLAH, HEZBOLLAH SECRETARY GENERAL (through translator): Let me say we are not the enemies of the American people. We oppose the policies of American administrations towards our region because they are wrong policies and biased policies. But we do not feel and do not consider the American people our enemy.

BOETTCHER: American officials say they will only be convinced of that if Hezbollah hands over Mugnia (ph), Biz El Deen (ph), and Apwa (ph). If it doesn't, Hezbollah and its bases in Lebanon will certainly remain on the priority target list of the anti-terror coalition, not a war against a nation, but against essentially one man, Imad Mugnia, and those who give him sanctuary.

Mike Boettcher, CNN, Atlanta.,


ROBERTSON: For more insights into Lebanon, Wolf Blitzer talked with former State Department official and counterterrorism expert Paul Bremer.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ambassador Bremer, Lebanon represents a very, very tough challenge, politically, diplomatically, military for the United States in the war on terrorism? PAUL BREMER, FMR. COUNTERTERROISM AMB.: It certainly does. First, we have diplomatic relation with Lebanon, more or less friendly relations, but Lebanon is the host to Hezbollah, which is a terrorist group that has killed more Americans than all other terrorist groups combined, except for al Qaeda. So we have a real issue here with the Lebanese government.

BLITZER: And you're referring specifically to the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, 241 Marines.

BREMER: They're Marine barracks, the bombing of the American embassy, the holding of the hostages of America through most of the decade of '90s, the attacks Hezbollah has also made in Latin America, in this case, Israeli and Jewish targets. This is a very dangerous terrorist group, which is trying to persuade the world it's no longer in the terrorism business, but they've killed a lot of Americans.

BLITZER: Is there any connection between al Qaeda and Hezbollah? Yes, one of the interesting thing that happened in late '90s what was thought to be unbridgeable gap between the Shiites, which the Hezbollah are and the Sunnis in Islam, which bin Laden is, has pretty much been bridged. Hezbollah has been sending high level people to bin Laden's meetings in Afghanistan, the last couple years. There are connections there. I don't say there that they're that important. Hezbollah's main support is from the government of Iran.

BLITZER: And let's got the map, because I want to show some of the political, diplomatic problems that could develop. You see Lebanon. Of course, right over here.

But Syria, they still have thousands of troops in Lebanon. Iran, which is further away, controls as you point out Hezbollah. And of course, to the south of Lebanon. You have Israel. Could U.S. military action or potential counterterrorist action in Lebanon spark a wider conflict?

BREMER: It's possible. My own view is that we should essentially give the Lebanese government an ultimatum, saying you have to close the terrorist training camps, they even refused to close down Hezbollah's finances at our request and had publicly said they refuse to do that.

So we have a major issue here. It is a government. It is a government we recognize. We have friendly reactions with them. There has to be some diplomacy, but in my view, it needs to be backed by a real threat of possible American military.

BLITZER: But can prime minister Rafiq Hariri (ph) do the job. He is very much, in effect, dependent on Syria?

BREMER: He is. Well, we have issues with Syria, too. They have more terrorist groups are headquartered in Damascus than any other city in the world. So it has to be part of a general approach to both Lebanon and Syria. I don't think, by itself, it risks sparking a broader war. I think the Syrian government is not likely to take us on. I don't think they would find that very attractive, but this is going to take some robust diplomacy.

BLITZER: Ambassador Bremer, thank you very much.


ROBERTSON: We'll be right back.


ROBERTSON: Well, despite the rumors and counter rumors as to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, this is Tora Bora. And this is where the most intense on the ground search is under way to the best of our knowledge. We'll be here to bring you all the developments. Thank you very much for watching.

I'm Nic Robertson. LIFE FROM AFGHANISTAN will be back at the same time tomorrow.




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