Peter Bergen: Al Qaeda shifting tactics?
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Investigators cleared debris and gathered forensic evidence Sunday from the site of two explosions and subsequent fires that killed at least 182 people on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali.
Many of the victims were Australian tourists. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said "preliminary indications" suggested that an Islamic radical group could be behind the attack.
CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen spoke Sunday with CNN anchor Renay San Miguel about how these bombings might fit in with a recent pattern of attacks that seem to suggest a change in the tactics of terrorist groups.
SAN MIGUEL: Apparently, these cells have been active in Indonesia since 1988. What can you tell us about these particular cells and their possible ties to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden?
BERGEN: CNN has actually reported in the past that Ayman al-Zawahiri -- bin Laden's No. 2, a very important member of al Qaeda -- visited Indonesia.
Obviously, Indonesia would be a good place. It's the largest group of Muslims in the world in one country, 200 million. It's a very large place with all these islands, a lot of them remote.
So it's a rather good place to relocate. And it's quite possible that a number of al Qaeda have gone to Indonesia or Southeast Asia in general.
I think that what we're seeing this week -- this is the first time, if indeed this is linked to al Qaeda, that they've attacked tourists. And if you take this together with the attack on the Yemen tanker -- the oil tanker in Yemen -- it represents, I think, a shift in al Qaeda's tactics to really attack economic targets.
Tourism is one of the most important industries around the world. Clearly, the oil business is very important to Western economies and the world in general. So these attacks, I think, are designed to really attack economic targets.
Previously, al Qaeda tended to focus on attacking U.S. embassies or military targets. I think this represents a shift in tactics if indeed both of them are linked to al Qaeda. And I think certainly if they're not al Qaeda itself, they're affiliates of al Qaeda.
SAN MIGUEL: You talk about the economic angle on this. I believe the last tape we heard, that audiotape that was purported to be from Osama bin Laden, talked about attacking hinges of the economy.
As you mentioned, we have these latest attacks -- we don't know if they're attached to al Qaeda yet -- the Kuwaiti incident involving the shooting of the U.S. Marine there and the attack on the Yemen oil tanker.
Do you believe then that there was some kind of a code or some kind of a message in those latest tapes that we have heard from supposedly Osama bin Laden and from what U.S. officials believe to be al-Zawahiri?
BERGEN: It wasn't really code; it was fairly explicit. Are they related? It's hard to tell.
But certainly, I think that bin Laden took a very important lesson away from the 9/11 attacks. He gloated over the fact that it cost the American economy $1.4 trillion.
Ramzi Binalshibh, who was arrested recently in Pakistan, who was the liaison between al Qaeda and [suspected hijacker] Mohammed Atta in the 9/11 attacks, he also, in an interview with Al-Jazeera television, said these attacks made the American airline industry have to lay off all these people.
So I think they took away from 9/11 that attacking American economic targets or Western economic targets would be very useful. And that's why I think those messages in the tapes that you referred to are important. And unfortunately this may represent a new tactic on their part.
And in a way, it makes the war on terrorism even more dispersed. Because Western businesses and American businesses around the world may become targets. And in fact, we've already seen it.
I think for al Qaeda, they talk about the crusaders and the Jews -- it's a war against the crusaders. Well, in their view, Americans, of course, are No. 1 targets. But we've seen with this attack in Indonesia, most of the people who've been killed in this attack are Australians and a number of Europeans.
And I think this represents a very disturbing new phase where not simply just Americans, but we've seen since 9/11 attacks on German tourists in Tunisia, attacks on French defense contractors in Karachi [Pakistan].
So I think we're going to see more and more Western targets in general, not just the sort of American embassies or American military targets that there were in the past.
SAN MIGUEL: If the message to the other cells in these audiotapes was overt, as you say, what does that tell you about the lethal effectiveness, if you will, of the training in those camps in Afghanistan -- the idea that everybody, all these cells, are pretty much autonomous now?
BERGEN: I think that's a very important word -- autonomous. In a way, it doesn't really matter who was behind these attacks. The point is that certain people who have got training, they've sort of got the message. There's a phenomenon called leaderless resistance, which the right-wing militia movement in [the United States] developed.
I think we're seeing a bit of that with al Qaeda now. Recently, there was a couple arrested in Germany, apparently planning to attack the American military base in Heidelberg. They have absolutely no relationship with al Qaeda. Allegedly, they were planning to attack this American military base.
This is very disturbing because it's very hard to find people who've got absolutely no relationship, who are just doing these things on their own. And so, all this is bad news.
SAN MIGUEL: The idea that anybody with a grudge against Western interests, not just anybody who may be involved with Islamist types of cases, but anybody that hates the West.
BERGEN: We saw another good example of this -- again, it's an allegation. But a guy was getting on a plane in Sweden who supposedly forgot that he had a handgun in his luggage. The plane was going to go to London. Luckily, he was caught. The Swedes have arrested him and held him. They can't prove hijacking, but they're going to charge him on weapons charges. Again, it doesn't appear that he has any links to al Qaeda. He seems to have just taken this upon himself.