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Journalist or Terrorist?; Teaching Radical Islam

Aired September 5, 2003 - 20:11   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: In Spain, the war against terror is a story that leads to a well-known storyteller. As part of an ongoing crackdown on al Qaeda, they have nabbed a correspondent for the popular and very controversial Arabic TV network Al-Jazeera.
Tayssir Alouni gained world renown for interviewing Osama bin Laden shortly after September 11. Now, he's accused of providing support for two suspected members of al Qaeda, including an alleged terrorist ringleader. Is Alouni a journalist or a terrorist?

For more, we turn now to Eric Margolis, a terrorism analyst and author of a great book on the Afghanistan war, the Soviet Union days, "War on Top of the World."

We welcome you to the program, Mr. Margolis.


O'BRIEN: All right, first of all, let's talk about this particular journalist and this particular network. Tayssir Alouni, I don't you don't know him personally. You know him by reputation. And certainly, you know about Al-Jazeera. Lots of allegations there about their sympathies. Is it surprising to you to hear about these allegations, nonetheless?

MARGOLIS: No, the allegations that have come against him personally strike me as really rather very odd and not very substantial.

Here was a man who was a Spanish citizen on vacation in Spain. He hadn't been in Afghanistan in quite a while. And, suddenly, he's accused by the publicity-seeking Spanish judge, Judge Garzon, of being linked to al Qaeda suspects who were arrested in Spain in 2001 and who were never charged with anything and never brought to trial. And, suddenly, he's been rounded up and accused of having al Qaeda contacts.

O'BRIEN: So, I suppose, if the goal was publicity, it was a success.

MARGOLIS: Well, it was a success.

But there is a more disturbing element here. This suggests that the United States government is pursuing a very aggressive and hostile policy towards the Al-Jazeera network, which has often been called the CNN of the Middle East. It is the only network that gives really free news across the Arab world. And it is intensely watched. This journalist was one of its leading men. And the United States has tried -- complained that Al-Jazeera is not towing the party line and is saying things it does not want to hear.

The U.S. Air Force bombed the Al-Jazeera office in Basra, Iraq and in Baghdad, and it bombed the Al-Jazeera office in Kabul, Afghanistan, and nearly killed Mr. Alouni. So this may suggest that there is a much more of a menacing situation here than meets the eye.

O'BRIEN: All right, well, that's a pretty serious allegation. What you're saying is, essentially, the U.S. government is pulling the strings here with the Spanish authorities and engaging in a systematic campaign to stop Al-Jazeera's message. Is that an accurate statement of how you feel about it?

MARGOLIS: I would suggest that that might very well be the answer. I hope it is not.

Our country is not about silencing the press. It is one of the pillars of our nation. I speak as an American, too. But all indications are that this is exactly what is happening. There have been repeated demands by Washington that Al-Jazeera stop showing things Washington doesn't want shown and pressure brought on the governments that allow it to operate.

O'BRIEN: All right, explain for just a moment, because you've been in this house of mirrors that is covering these sorts of things. It is an area filled with so many shades of gray, it would take too long to explain it all. But, nevertheless, if you're going to try to cover this story, you're going to come in contact with some unsavory characters. You yourself have done the same and might be viewed as a suspect yourself.

MARGOLIS: Well, of course, because the problem is that any journalist worth his salt -- and I'm not talking about P.R. hacks. We have too many of these days.

But real journalists who get out in the field and get dirty and go after these unsavory people and mix with them and report back on what they're saying are accused of being propagandists and aiding the enemy. And the most famous case of this is Peter Arnett in Baghdad, who gave very fair and honest reporting about what was going on, but was pilloried as being pro-Iraqi during the 1991 Gulf War. It is an inevitable risk that we journalists run.

O'BRIEN: Of course, on the second Gulf War, it was a little different story for Mr. Arnett. I think you might agree that his reporting tilted in that case.

MARGOLIS: He was very, very foolish in what he said.

O'BRIEN: All right. Eric Margolis, I wish we could talk a little bit more about this, but it's a fascinating subject. Thanks very much for your time.

MARGOLIS: You're very welcome.

O'BRIEN: All right.

The war on terror has brought with it a crackdown on several Islamic boarding schools in Southeast Asia. They were expected of being breeding grounds for al Qaeda. Most have been shut down. But at least one of the school remains open, preaching a radical and violent version of Islam.

Jakarta bureau chief Maria Ressa reports.


MARIA RESSA, CNN JAKARTA BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): The alumni of this Islamic boarding school includes nearly all of Indonesia's top terrorist suspects, like the suicide bomber from last month's Marriott Hotel blast in Jakarta and the men now on trial for the Bali bombing last year, which killed more than 200 people.

School founder Abu Bakr Bashir, the alleged leader of the terror network in Southeast Asia, was sentenced to four years in prison this week. But his school continues to preach his radical version of Islam. A slogan above one classroom reads, "Death in the way of Allah is our highest aspiration." Pictures of AK-47s are on school hallways. The school's principal maintains Bashir is innocent and that the verdict against him was because of pressure from nations like the United States, a view shared by former students like Lukvi (ph).

"Would you accept it if your father was being accused of murder?" asks Lukvi. "Those charges are lies."

On the edges of the pages of his Quran, there is one word, "jihad." Students here are taught Islam is under siege and they must defend it, but school officials deny any links with terrorism.

USTADZ FARID MA'RUF, DIRECTOR, AL MUKMIN SCHOOL (through translator): There is one community. When there are some members of that community who have done something wrong, is that community also at fault?

RESSA: Indonesian officials say they have no evidence students are being recruited for terrorist acts, but have planted agents among the students.

(on camera): In neighboring Malaysia, authorities have shut down similar schools, calling them pipelines terrorism. Abu Bakr Bashir said, "I make many knives and I sell many knives, but I'm not responsible for what happens to them."

For now, the school he founded continues to spread his radical ideas.

Maria Ressa, CNN, Jakarta.



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