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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS

Dozens Killed in Basra Bombing; U.S. Marines in Desperate Battle in Fallujah; Massive Bomb Shakes Saudi Capital

Aired April 21, 2004 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Basra bombings. Dozens killed in what had been a quiet Iraqi city. Many of the dead, school children.

Fallujah firefight. U.S. marines in a desperate battle. No sign of a cease-fire.

Suicide strike. Five were foiled, one got through. A massive bomb shakes the Saudi capital.

Is America next?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They attack all the time. They would like to attack us again.

BLITZER: The concern, a summer of terror. I'll speak with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

Deadly twister. An Illinois town is devastated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just heard this big roar come through. It's just like they say, you know, a freight train.

BLITZER: Are more on the way?

ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Wednesday, April 21, 2004.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: It's been a day of terror. Suicide bombings in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. And a fierce firefight with anti-American forces in Iraq. Months of relative peace in Basra, shattered by a series of suicide attacks that killed at least 68 people, including a number of school children.

In Fallujah, gun battles between insurgents holed up in the city and United States Marines surrounding it, threatening to end a tenuous truce.

And in the Saudi capital, a suicide attack outside a government building. At least four people dead there and more than 100 injured. We begin with the blast in Basra. A well-coordinated suicide attack that hit at the height of the Wednesday morning rush hour with secondary blasts timed to hit as rescuers responded. CNN's Jim Clancy has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The charred wreckage of civilian vehicles burned in the street after five suicide bomb attacks hit four Iraqi police facilities in the southern city of Basra. Scores of civilians were killed and more than 100 wounded.

"We were in the house and heard a loud explosion, throughout the city," said this man. "We ran out to try to help people when we arrived, we found bodies."

As the wounded were loaded aboard ambulances, it was learned that two vans used as school buses were hit in one of the blasts killing a number of preschool children as well as some middle school students on their way to class.

"I'm extremely saddened by this incident. This heinous crime against the population," said the president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Masoud Barzani. "We were saddened and we were shocked by it. And we strongly condemn this as an act of terrorism."

Anguished Iraqis cried out in grief. The bombings, shattering any illusions their southern city was beyond the reach of violence. Two of the car bombs hit Basra's police academy, one of them designed to strike after the initial blasts as police and rescue workers crowded around the scene.

Anti-coalition gunmen in the besieged city of Fallujah attacked U.S. Marines just after dawn Wednesday. Marines said they suffered several wounded and reported more than a dozen of the attackers killed. Some of the fighting was from rooftop as Marines tried to neutralizer snipers.

But some of it was at street level where coalition troops fought running battles for three hours. One coalition commander interpreted the frontal assault as a last gasp for anti-coalition fighters who were being asked by Fallujah's religious and community leaders to turn in their weapons.

(on camera): Despite the call no weapons have been turned in, no foreign fighters turned over. In response, U.S. military commanders refuse to allow more of Fallujah's residents to return and warn that U.S. Marines could be sent in to disarm the fighters by force if necessary.

Jim Clancy, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And let's get some more information now on what exactly is happening in Fallujah. It's been more than two weeks since the stand off between insurgents holed up inside the city and United States Marines surrounding it began.

This morning the insurgents launched an attack on the American forces, effectively goading them into one of the most dangerous missions they can undertake. Namely urban warfare. More now from CNN's Mike Schulder.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL SCHULDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When dawn broke this morning in the Sunni Muslim city of Fallujah, the men of the 1st Marine Division were fighting for their lives again.

On the roof of their compound, as other Marines fanned out through the neighborhood, these Marines tried to locate where the insurgent are firing from.

One commander identifies a target.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take your time.

SCHULDER: From the alleys below, word that some Marines have been separated from their platoon and are fighting to reconnect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now the 2nd Platoon has four guys separated from the main body. They're cut off by fires.

SCHULDER: The Arabic blasts over the loud speaker is an American recording demanding the insurgents lay down their weapons. The recording is ignored.

The Marines move out into the unprotected maze of streets below. This is urban warfare.

Move too slow, they could be sitting ducks. Move too fast, they could run into a trap.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Slow it down, spread it out. Spread it out.

SCHULDER: This month alone the 1st Marine Division has lost 15 men in combat. By 10:30 in the morning in Fallujah, four hours after the Marines first came under attack, the shooting stopped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're the last to go.

SCHULDER: According to the Marines three of their own were wounded, nine insurgents killed. A morning of urban warfare in a city the Americans and the insurgents see as key to the future of Iraq.

Michael Schulder, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We'll have more on the fierce fighting in Fallujah coming up this hour. I'll speak live with one of the few journalists embedded with U.S. troops on the ground in Fallujah. Also in the Mideast, terrorists strike a dramatic blow against Saudi Arabia's security forces. Four people are dead, 148 are wounded following a suicide bomb attack that devastated a police building in Riyadh. CNN's senior international correspondent Sheila MacVicar has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Saudi authorities had found and defused five bombs but the sixth and possibly a seventh hidden in cars slipped through their nets.

In the explosion right at the gates of the front of the Saudi National Police Headquarters was sheered off. Offices gaped open to the sky. Clouds of smoke and dust rose and smoke the neighborhood of central Riyadh.

This is a key administrative center. This was a strike right at the heart of the regime. Saudi television showed wounded police and soldiers who had been on guard or at work in the building. Teams went through the rubble searching for the dead and wounded.

For months, Saudi police and security services have been engaged in waging war against Islamist extremists.

KHALID AL-MAEENA, EDITOR IN CHIEF, ARAB NEWS: This comes in a series -- in a state of incidents that have been happening for a past couple of weeks. The Saudi authorities have arrested some of the terrorists, killed some of them. But this continuing saga is going on.

MACVICAR: On Sunday after a shoot-out with militants, police found bomb-laden vehicles and put these extraordinary pictures on Saudi television, wanting people to see what they said the militants had planned.

There were more than four tons of explosives, police said. More than enough to cause a great deal of death and destruction. More for months but the threat level has been getting higher.

This video appeared in March at a Web site linked to al Qaeda, threatening Saudi police and security officials and warning of new attacks against foreigners.

The man in the video is believed to be Abdul Aziz al Muqrin, the al Qaeda leader in Saudi Arabia. Last week, the U.S. State Department ordered non-essential diplomatic staff and their family to leave the country. Other Americans were urged to depart.

This is Saudi Arabia's war. The target again today, not just the regime, but Saudi citizens. Nobody expects it to be a war that will end soon.

Sheila MacVicar, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And with the terror strikes overseas there are now new blunt warning for the American people from President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: They attacked today in Basra. It was a terrorist act today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The United States on alert. Just how safe is this country right now? I'll speak live with the Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. That's coming up next.

With very little warning, dangerous storms carve a deadly path through the Midwest. There are severe weather watches for five states right now.

Plus -- controversial release. In prison for 18 years for revealing nuclear secrets. This defiant Israeli is now free.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Is America next on a day when suicide bombers struck with devastating effect in both Iraq and Saudi Arabia. President Bush was sounding an alert about the terror threat in this country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): The president came before the nation's newspaper editors with stark warnings on several fronts both around the world as well as at home.

BUSH: They attacked today in Basra. It's a terrorist act today. They blew up innocent Iraqis. They attacked in Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia today. And they attack all the time. They would like to attack us again, as well, by the way.

BLITZER: He was blunt in warning of gathering threats against the U.S. homeland.

BUSH: America is a battlefield in the war on terror. That's what changed. We're now a target. Used to be Americans overseas were a target. It's Americans at home are targets.

BLITZER: And though he insists the U.S. is making good progress in strengthening America's defenses he concedes preventing attacks inside the United States isn't easy.

BUSH: This is a hard country to defend.

BLITZER: Despite the escalating violence and death toll in Iraq, he offered this pledge to the Iraqis.

BUSH We're not going to cut and run if I'm in the Oval Office. We will do our job.

BLITZER: Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry also insists he won't cut and run from Iraq though he's pushing for greater international and U.N. involvement.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will return to the United Nations where I will rejoin the community of nations on behalf of America and we will turn over a proud new chapter in America's relationship with the world.

BLITZER: Independent candidate Ralph Nader supports a quick withdrawal. The president offered this warning to Iraq's neighbor, Iran.

BUSH: It will be intolerable to peace and stability in the Middle East if they get a nuclear weapon particularly since their stated objective is the destruction of Israel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: On this situation with Iran, the president did not elaborate. The massive suicide bombing in Saudi Arabia today, the deadly blast in Iraq plus the series of symbolic events in the United States and Europe this summer including two major political conventions and the summer Olympics in Athens. That's why the Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced an effort to aggressively step up production over the next several months.

The secretary is joining us now live here in Washington. Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for joining us. There's a new AP, Associated Press poll which asks the American public about the likelihood of another terrorist attack striking here in the United States before the November election. Likely 67 percent. Not likely 31 percent. What do you say?

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, I say to those that think it's likely that's certainly a very responsible or reasonable conclusion to draw when you know you are the enemy's No. 1 target. They've struck here before. We've seen them strike in not only Basra and Riyadh but in Bali and other places around the world. The events of today remind everyone that it is a global war that there are many theaters to the war but our enemies have their eyes primarily located and directed towards the United States.

I think it's very appropriate that Americans would be concerned that there's a possibility of an attack between now and the end of the year. We're worried about one every single day. I'm glad most Americans have the notion in their mind that we are the primary target.

BLITZER: Is there a specific and credible threat, some information, some evidence that you have pointing to threats around the Democratic and Republican conventions? For example, in Boston and New York?

RIDGE: Wolf, as of today, there are no specific or credible threats directly related to those two conventions. But as you know, we don't need a specific threat to arrange very special and comprehensive security plans around national special security events, and both the events in New York and Boston have been designated by the department as special security events.

There's a comprehensive plan being worked at the federal, state and local level, literally involving thousands and thousands of people to bring the utmost protection to both of those very, very important symbolic events, democracy, openness, transparency. We are self- determined and self-determining and they are very symbolic targets. We'll do everything we can to make them as absolutely safe as possible.

WOODRUFF: During the 9/11 commission hearings up on Capitol Hill we heard a lot about the so-called chatter, the intercepted communications in the summer before 9/11. Are you getting that kind of so-called chatter now, as well?

RIDGE: I think that's a good frame of reference, Wolf because on a day to day basis when we meet with the president and we review the threat reporting stream, by and large we're very sensitive to the notion that on a daily basis most of it or about overseas possibilities of terrorist attack, but literally on a day to day basis some more often than not uncorroborated and unsubstantiated allegations of a potential attack against the U.S. so there's a lot of discussion out there about potential attacks. Most of it is directed toward foreign targets, foreign venues. It does not distract us from the notion that every single day we have the responsibility to make America safer and we don't need a specific threat in order to do that.

BLITZER: Our State Department producer Elise Lab (ph) is reporting, quoting Saudi sources, they believe the attack in Riyadh today was the work of al Qaeda. What does the U.S. government know?

RIDGE: Well, I can't respond to that and I'll just leave the reporting that you presented until we have further information. What I can tell you is that after each and every attack that this administration, the CIA, the FBI, where appropriate, DHS tries to go in and work with the country and the local law enforcement community to determine if there's anything we can learn that's relevant to either protecting ourselves from similar attacks, if there's any tactical connection between the attack in a foreign country and a possibility of an attack here in the United States.

BLITZER: As you well know, Mr. Secretary, you're former governor of Pennsylvania, a lot of Americans want to travel not only in the United States but around the world this summer. Do you believe they should go about their plans as scheduled or would you advise caution?

RIDGE: Well, no, no, I believe we have to continue to do what we've done for 200-plus years, that's keep being America. Commercially aviation is -- certainly domestic airlines are very secure. We're working with the international aviation community to make all international flights more secure when the State Department has specific information as they had relative to an escalating series of potential attacks in Saudi Arabia, there they asked -- they sent out cautionary notice.

We will do that depending on the information we have, but I think terrorists win when we significantly alter our plans. We have to be responsible, and reasonable and to act in response to specific information. But if people have plans on going to Europe I think they ought to do so unless we get additional information and we make it public.

BLITZER: Is there any plan as far as you can tell us to change the terror threat level there yellow, that mid-level right now?

RIDGE: Wolf, there are no plans. As you've heard me repeat probably ad nauseam it's something we review two or three times a day to determine whether or not we ought to raise the threat level. I will tell you that and I think this is very important, America needs to understand that we don't need to raise the threat level to go about the business of making America safer.

During the past couple days there's been quite a bit of public discussion about an internal working group we put together because of the convergence of the high profile events, the conventions, but there are many others public events, symbolic events, coupled with our own election year. We are working with agencies throughout the government, taking a look at critical infrastructure because it's our day-to-day responsibility. The president reminds us vigilance is job one. We don't have to raise the threat level in order to work every day to make our country safer and more secure.

BLITZER: The Secretary for Homeland Security Tom Ridge, thanks very much for joining us.

RIDGE: Thank you, Wolf. Good to join you as well. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Fierce fighting in a city now known as the hotbed of violence in Iraq.

Dramatic pictures of U.S. marines battling insurgents in Fallujah. Hear from one of the few journalist on the ground in Fallujah right now. We'll go there live.

Plus, predator drone, the Pentagon unleashes a new weapon in the battle for Iraq. How will it help the coalition? Plus this...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just heard this big roar come through, just like they say, a freight train.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Deadly storms ripped through the Midwest and there are severe weather watches for five states right now. We'll have a complete update on the situation. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This just in to CNN. Officials in Illinois now are reporting eight people killed in last night's devastating tornado. Rescue workers in one town spent the day digging through the collapsed ruins of a tavern where a number of people were killed. It's in the town of Utica, that's about 90 miles southwest of Chicago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: This is Utica's Ground Zero. This pile of rubble that was the Milestone Cafe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody knows everybody. It's hard. You know that some of your friends were in the bar.

BLITZER: When the tornado warning sirens went off last night, patrons rushed to the basement for safety only to become trapped under tons of debris when the building collapsed. It was a near worst-case scenario for rescuers.

MIKE FOX, CHICAGO FIRE DEPT.: We worked by hand. We used some specialized tools, listening devices, search cameras to look. This building being so old and with the mortar it was a very tedious and slow moving job.

BLITZER: The tornado was captured on home video as it barreled down on this town of about 1,000 people. It damaged dozens of homes and other buildings, completely collapsing some.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a very serious disaster. We have had people from all over here to help, volunteers, Chicago, Skokie, Aurora.

BLITZER: Illinois's governor saw the devastation firsthand this afternoon declaring four counties disaster areas.

GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH, ILLINOIS: The human cost is so much greater than all the property damage that is so apparent, not just from the air but also from the ground. And it is as I said a humbling thing to see.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And this is just coming into CNN right now, a tornado warning in Oklahoma City. Let's go live to CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras. She's at the CNN weather center -- Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, things are erupting very rapidly across parts of Oklahoma, also into Arkansas. There is a tornado warning in effect for Canadian and Oklahoma counties in central Oklahoma and that does include Oklahoma City. This is moving east northeast, so it should be clipping the northwestern suburbs of Oklahoma City and has already dumped baseball-sized hail in the town of Yukon. So this is a very dangerous storm.

A Doppler radar indicated tornado. This system out of Arkansas, Logan, Yale (ph) and Polk counties. A possible tornado six miles southwest of London. So a very volatile situation just erupting. Most of this is right along the I-40 corridor. If there is a tornado warning, if you hear those sirens, go off, make sure you get to the lowest level of your home away from doors and windows. Watches in effect here until 9:00 local time. The threat of severe weather will likely also erupt tomorrow afternoon, Friday afternoon and possibly even Saturday.

BLITZER: It's not finished yet. CNN's Jacqui Jeras reporting for us. Thanks, Jacqui, very much.

Continued chaos and casualties in Iraq as suicide bombs rip through the city of Basra. Is al Qaeda behind the terror? And are they getting more organized? I'll speak with an expert on the group and where they might strike next.

Firing back, the U.S. Air Force unleashes a powerful weapon against Iraqi insurgents.

Safe at home, the ordeal of the Canadian aid worker kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

In Fallujah, an early-morning firefight between U.S. Marines and insurgents. Marines say the insurgents were trying to sabotage the local cease-fire deal. Three Marines were wounded. The United States military says 36 insurgents were killed.

For the very latest on the situation in Fallujah, we're joined now on the phone by Tony Perry of "The Los Angeles Times."

Tell our viewers precisely, not necessarily precisely, but approximately where you are.

TONY PERRY, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": We're in the northwest corner of Fallujah, where the Marines established a foothold two and a half weeks ago.

I'm within a mile of the infamous SUV incident where the bridge is, where the bodies were hung. The Marines have got a foothold in several other places around Fallujah as they have encircled the city.

BLITZER: And you're one of the few American journalists embedded with the U.S. Marines, is that's right?

PERRY: Yes, that's right. (AUDIO GAP) And the Marines are out of San Diego. So when they deploy, I have deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq last year and Iraq this year.

BLITZER: What is happening now? We heard about the four-hour firefight earlier. What do you know is happening now? It's clearly the middle of the night.

PERRY: It's 1:30 at night. Things are quiet now.

The insurgents have learned that the Air Force AC-130 gunship is too formidable an asset for them to oppose at night. They scurry around. They reposition themselves at night. But they haven't launched any attacks at night in some time. The morning's attack was at dawn. They had repositioned themselves and then at dawn they attack a Marine patrol and it raged on and off for more than four hours with tanks and airpower. And it was the most heated fighting we have seen certainly since the truce, the negotiating truce was called a week ago.

BLITZER: For all practical purpose, Tony, is the cease-fire dead?

PERRY: If it's not dead, it certainly is hanging on by a thread. There are attacks almost every day. This morning's was the most vigorous. It was almost suicidal, according to one Marine 1st sergeant.

Waves of insurgents kept running, positioning themselves right in front of the Marine positions and paid the price for it. Very few weapons have been turned in. And of course that's the precondition for a long-lasting peace. The insurgents must throw down their weapons. They have not done so. There's a trickle of weapons, probably none from insurgents. So the truth I think is a twilight. I think it's a lull before a storm that's rapidly approaching.

BLITZER: Tony Perry is a courageous journalist from "The Los Angeles Times" embedded with U.S. Marines in Fallujah.

Tony, Be careful over there. We'll talk again. Thanks very much for joining us.

BLITZER: United States forces are using a new weapon to fight insurgents in Iraq, Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the first known hit-to-kill mission against the Iraqi insurgency, an unmanned Air Force Predator drone fired Hellfire missiles at a team of fighters launching mortars outside a U.S. military base in Iraq.

The Central Command confirmed details of the lethal Predator attack which took place on April 11 at Balad Air Base about 70 miles north of Baghdad. The drone like this one was flying overhead looking for insurgents that had fired mortars at the base, killing one airman. The attackers were spotted through an on-board camera.

The Predator chased them. The ground controller got approval to fire, the missiles killing an unknown number of insurgents before they could fire again. Until now, the armed drones had been used largely against high-level targets in Afghanistan and Iraq. In November 2002, a Predator operated by the CIA over Yemen fired at a convoy carrying a senior al Qaeda official, killing him and five others.

(on camera): Using unmanned armed Predators may be a new ongoing tactic to help keep U.S. air crews safe from Iraqi fighters expert in shoot-and-run tactics.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Bob Woodward's new book, "Plan of Attack," has been making waves in Washington and around the country in fact. Today, the boat was rocking once again. The Pentagon admits it deleted parts of a transcribed interview that the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, gave to Woodward concerning the decision to go to war with Iraq.

Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's one of those classic Washington disputes about what was on the record, what was off.

And today the Pentagon admitted it could have handled it better.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): At Tuesday's Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld was disputing a passage in Bob Woodward's new book, "Plan of Attack," alleging Saudi Prince Bandar was told by Rumsfeld two months before the invasion of Iraq it was going to happen and he could take that to the bank.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I don't remember saying it, to be perfectly honest.

MCINTYRE: Woodward claims he got that directly from Rumsfeld.

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "PLAN OF ATTACK": Don Rumsfeld is on the record if you look on the Pentagon Web site saying that he said this war plan, you can take it to the bank, it's going to happen.

MCINTYRE: Except that the transcript of the October 23 interview posted by the Pentagon had been edited. And that quote had been deleted.

RUMSFELD: I have just been passed a note.

MCINTYRE: Aides to Rumsfeld said he was unaware of the deletions until he was handed a note just before the end of the briefing and that in the confusion of the moment he misunderstood what it said. Rumsfeld then stated flatly that nothing relevant had been removed.

RUMSFELD: But I can say of certain knowledge that nothing was taken out that would naysay what I just indicated in my response to the question.

QUESTION: No 18-minute gap?

RUMSFELD: I beginning your pardon?

QUESTION: No 18-minute gap?

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: And you can take that to the bank.

(LAUGHTER)

MCINTYRE: Pentagon officials say the transcript was edited by mutual consent with Bob Woodward after a meeting last Friday, because they argued the deleted section did not directly confirm Rumsfeld spoke to Prince Bandar or when the conversation took place.

Woodward denies he agreed to the deletion and "The Washington Post" published the full text of the deleted section Wednesday. "I was surprised it was deleted," Woodward was quoted as saying, "because it obviously dealt with a critical issue."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Rumsfeld's chief spokesman admits it was probably a mistake to edit the transcript without putting in the standard disclaimer that some material had been removed and placed off the record -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, on another matter, what are they saying at the Pentagon this talk from some members of the Senate and House to revive the draft?

MCINTYRE: Ain't going to happen, is what they are saying. The U.S. military is convinced that it has the professional fighting force it does because they are volunteers. The last thing they want is a conscripted force of soldiers who don't really want to be there. They just don't think that works.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie McIntyre with that at the Pentagon -- thanks, Jamie, very much.

And to our viewers, here's your chance to weigh in on this important story. Our "Web Question of the Day" is this: Do you think the military draft should be reinstated? You can vote right now. Go to CNN.com/Wolf. We'll have the results later in this broadcast.

With today's bombings in Basra, many of wondering, has Iraq become a magnet for terrorist groups? And is al Qaeda one of them? Up next, I'll ask an expert, the veteran journalist Philip Smucker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORDECHAI VANUNU, NUCLEAR WHISTLE-BLOWER: This day is for me a symbol that a free man can survive, a free spirit can exist.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: In jail for 18 years after leaking Israel's nuclear secrets. Today, this man walks free.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Docking confirmed. New residents have arrived at the International Space Station.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And mission accomplished. The new crew arrives at the International Space Station. We'll get to all of that.

First, though, a quick look at some other news making headlines around the world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Israeli forces backed by tanks fought with Palestinian gunmen in Gaza. Palestinian students joined in, throwing molotov cocktails, grenades and rocks. Palestinian officials say several Palestinians were killed, including four militants.

North Korea's Kim Jong Il left China today after a three-day visit. China's official news agency says Kim told Chinese leaders he's committed to ending a nuclear dispute with the United States and that both China and North Korea are prepared to move ahead with six- nation talks aimed at diffusing the crisis.

A Canadian aid worker says he's very happy to be home. Fadi Fadel returned to Montreal last night. He was kidnapped nearly two weeks ago while working in Iraq. Insurgents let him go last Friday.

Happy birthday to the queen. Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is 78 today. The event was marked with gun salutes at Hyde in Green parks and at the Tower of London. The queen is spending a quiet day at home. The official celebration with the trooping of the color pageant will be held on June 12.

And that's our look around the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There has apparently been an important development, a potentially significant development in the Kobe Bryant case.

Let's go live to CNN's Gary Tuchman. He's standing by with details -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a legal blow for Kobe Bryant in a decision we have been waiting for weeks.

The judge has ruled that his accuser's medical records will not be used to be allowed in the trial. Bryant's attorneys have said this woman tried to kill herself two different times in the months before the alleged rape. They said it was relevant to her credibility. But the judge said, although the woman did discuss visits to the hospitals with her mother and with friends, she did not reveal the nature of her medical treatment. Therefore, she maintains her doctor-patient privilege and those records will not be allowed to be used by Kobe Bryant's attorneys, who believe it's relevant to her credibility.

Another pretrial hearing will be held next week, three-day hearing. The main topic of discussion probably even a more important topic, whether parts of this woman's sexual history will be allowed to be used in a trial. But once again her medical and psychological history will not be allowed to be discussed in the Kobe Bryant trial. The date of that trial has not yet been set -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Gary Tuchman with that. We'll be watching. Thanks, Gary, very much.

Let's move on now once again to our top story, the war on terror. Today's attacks raise some troubling questions. Is al Qaeda making itself at home in Iraq? And how big of a threat does it pose in Saudi Arabia?

Joining us now, Philip Smucker. He is a veteran journalist. He has covered conflicts around the world. He's the author of an important new book, "Al Qaeda's Great Escape" about a lost opportunity in Afghanistan. We'll get to that shortly.

What do you think, though, first of all, Philip, about what happened in Saudi Arabia in Riyadh today. Al Qaeda?

PHILIP SMUCKER, AUTHOR, "AL QAEDA'S GREAT ESCAPE": We're seeing the Diaspora. We're seeing members of cells that have escaped. They have spread themselves out. This is their homeland. Saudi Arabia, this is a place that they can work. And the danger is that Saudi Arabia will deteriorate into chaos and create more of these terror cells.

BLITZER: What about Basra? All of the sudden, the Shiite part, the Southern part of Iraq, we see what happened there today. Again, al Qaeda?

SMUCKER: Controlled by the allies, the Americans, the British. Anybody with any association, this is the police force they attacked. They attacked the police stations and they are trying to destroy any notion of Western authority.

BLITZER: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the alleged al Qaeda operative in Iraq, he suggested this is what they wanted to do a few weeks ago.

SMUCKER: Well, is he in Iraq? I think a lot of these characters slip across borders.

BLITZER: So where do you think he is?

SMUCKER: Well, they can go into Iran. They have connections there. My book is about the escape of -- from Afghanistan, our opportunity, lost opportunity. A lot of al Qaeda cells went through Iran into Iraq. Zarqawi was never on Saddam's turf at the time of our invasion. Since then, the borders have been porous. People have moved in and out constantly.

BLITZER: Your book describes what is called actionable intelligence. They had the details, the U.S. They could have done something, but what happened?

SMUCKER: Well, yes, if you could take a step back, this is the only time that the Bush administration had bin Laden in the crosshairs. We knew where he was. We knew his map coordinates. Dick Cheney had popped up from out of his underground digs to tell us that he knew where bin Laden was. This information came before our offensive.

We used an old plan off the shelf. George Tenet helped create it, to use the Afghan proxies to go after al Qaeda for us. I argue in my book that this was a letdown for the American public, which was paying to go after the al Qaeda cells with our own forces and not have somebody else do it for us.

BLITZER: You spent a lot of time in Afghanistan and in Iraq in the past couple years?

SMUCKER: Indeed, I have, five months in Iraq most recently. And Afghanistan is really not that much better. Warlords are on the loose. It's a very difficult situation in both countries.

BLITZER: It's called "Al Qaeda's Great Escape." Philip Smucker is the author. Thanks very much for joining us.

SMUCKER: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Defiant, but now free. A nuclear whistle-blower is out of prison.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VANUNU: To all those who are calling me a traitor, I am saying I am proud, I am proud and happy to do what I did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: After 18 years, much of that in solitary confinement, what's in store for the man most Israelis view as a traitor?

Plus, a well choreographed dance high above the Earth. We'll show you. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: He spent 18 years in prison for revealing secrets that exposed Israel's nuclear weapons program. Now a defiant former nuclear technician is free, sort of. CNN senior international correspondent Walter Rodgers reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mordechai Vanunu walked out of an Israeli prison like a prize fighter who had beaten the odds, 18 years, mostly in solitary confinement.

Through the prison gate, the former nuclear technician could smell the world of freedom beyond these bars. Convicted in a secret court of treason and espionage in 1986, Vanunu is still much despised in the Jewish state for revealing Israel's once secret nuclear weapons program.

VANUNU: To all those who are calling me a traitor, I am saying I am proud, I am proud and happy to do what I did. I am very glad that I succeed to do what I did.

RODGERS: Muzzled in prison for nearly two decades, Vanunu maintained his agenda.

VANUNU: I will continue to speak against all kind of nuclear offense.

RODGERS: He also revealed his total disillusionment with the Jewish state, denounced its treatment of Palestinians, refused to speak Hebrew, embracing Christianity.

VANUNU: I hope that after 17 1/2 years, I can leave Israel.

RODGERS: Vanunu's brother Meir repeatedly tried to rein him in, fearing that by revealing how Mossad agents had kidnapped him, he violated the terms of his parole, perhaps sending him to jail again. But Mordechai would not be restrained.

VANUNU: In last month, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) try to break me. After 17 and a half years, they didn't succeed.

RODGERS: Supporters and detractors argued outside, some Israelis burning pictures of Vanunu. "That is Vanunu in hell," this Israeli shouted.

But European peace activists, who revere Vanunu, once nominated him for a Nobel Prize. Two Americans who say they are his surrogate parents were appalled at Vanunu' incarceration.

NIC EOLOFF, SURROGATE PARENT OF VANUNU: Cruel and inhuman treatment to be confined in a six-by-nine cell, windowless, lights on 24 hours, not able to speak with one human being.

MARY EOLOFF, SURROGATE PARENT OF VANUNU: I can't believe that we as human beings could act that way to another human being.

RODGERS: Even after 18 years in solitary confinement, angry Israelis attacked Vanunu's car. (on camera): Mordechai Vanunu is not so much free as he is on parole. But it's a very short leash. He must report to an Israeli police station every 48 hours. He cannot leave this country for one year. And, worse, he enters a society where people on Israeli streets are openly calling for his death.

Walter Rodgers, CNN, Ashkelon, Israel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: High-flying handshakes today far above the Earth, as the International Space Station welcomes some new visitors, that and the results of our hot "Web Question of the Day" when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's how you're weighing in on our "Web Question of the Day": Do you think the military draft should be reinstated? Twenty-eight percent of you say yes; 72 percent say no. Remember, this is not a scientific poll.

Let's get to some of your e-mail, e-mail on my interview yesterday with Vietnam veteran and John Kerry critic John O'Neill.

Gary writes this: "It is extremely disappointing that you would choose to air the unfounded, vitriolic rantings of John O'Neill. While his military service is admirable, he is nothing more than a bitter Vietnam vet who refuses to come to grips with the fact that war was wrong."

But M.R. writes this: "Kudos for interviewing Mr. O'Neill. I agree with his assessment that Kerry is unfit for the presidency. Kerry turned his back on his fellow military. He turned his back on the Catholic Church and would certainly turn his back on America."

Our picture of the day is 250 miles above the Earth. It looked like this when a Russian Soyuz spacecraft approached the International Space Station and docked with it after a two-day flight from Earth. Over the years, the docking maneuver has come to seem almost routine. But it remains both a silent space ballet and a technological achievement, a portrait of perfection, we think, that it is still worth watching.

A reminder, you can always catch us here on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS weekdays 5:00 p.m. Eastern. I'm also here noon Eastern as well weekdays. Thanks very much for joining us.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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