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MARGARET WARNER: We’re joined by Barbara Bradley, who covers the Justice Department for National Public Radio; and Tim Weiner, a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He covered Pakistan and Afghanistan in the early 1990s. He’s now covering the investigation from Washington. Welcome to you both.
Tim Weiner, tell us more about what went into drawing up this list, these 22.
TIM WEINER: These are 22 people under indictment in the United States, some of whom the United States has been looking for for more than 15 years.
An example – Imad Mugniyah, who is under indictment for the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 — in Beirut in which a United States Navy diver was murdered. Here’s a man whom, according to testimony at the African embassy bombing trials last year, met with Osama bin Laden in the Sudan in 1994.
In 1995, the FBI tried to arrest him on a flight from Khartoum to Beirut that was stopping in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi authorities canceled the landing and foiled that attempt to arrest him. This is a man who is elusive, who is apparently allied with bin Laden and has kidnapped and murdered Americans for years.
MARGARET WARNER: So, Barbara Bradley, this is much bigger than either Osama bin Laden or the al-Qaida network.
BARBARA BRADLEY: That’s right. This is really a signal that the FBI was trying to send, which is that we’re not just focusing on Osama bin Laden. There are people from the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. There are people from Lebanese Hezbollah. There are other people from different networks that they want to capture.
One person described it this way to me: This is like the FBI’s Christmas list. If they can get these 22 people, then they will make a real dent in terrorism. And so what they’re trying to do is, say, look the iron is hot right now. We’re going to try to get these people. We hope that someone, whether more monetary reasons or other reasons, will turn them in. It’s happened before. So they’re really banking on this.
MARGARET WARNER: So, Tim Weiner, let’s turn now to the investigation into the September 11 attacks.
Where are investigators just in the broadest sense in terms of whether they think the 19 hijackers had accomplices, known accomplices here in the states?
TIM WEINER: To my knowledge the FBI has found no known direct accomplices to the 19 hijackers in this country to date.
MARGARET WARNER: And so do you agree with reports that they think it was planned from overseas? What’s their operating theory here?
TIM WEINER: This is a global conspiracy, and if indeed Osama bin Laden and his allies, the man we saw, for example, sitting on his left on that videotape, who is an Egyptian radical who has been, for example, linked to the murder of Anwar Sadat 20 years ago in Egypt.
If indeed Osama bin Laden directed it and his Egyptian and other allies coordinated it, this is a global conspiracy and it will take a global investigation and the rounding up of everyone on the, so to speak, terrorism rolodex all over the world.
MARGARET WARNER: So Barbara, then how does that relate to the 600… More than 600 people who were taken into custody here in the last four weeks and The Post reported today they’re really zeroing in on 200. What do they think those people know or have or why are they interested in them?
BARBARA BRADLEY: Well, you know The Washington Post story is a great story. I wish I could confirm it only because I talked to people today in both the FBI and the Justice Department and they said they’re not quite sure how The Post came up with the 220 figure.
Right now they’re not releasing much information about who they really think are, quote, accomplices. Here’s what people think from at least what my sources tell me.
That is, that if there were major people high up in bin Laden’s organization, those people probably left before the attacks. So what you have left are people who might know partial… have partial information, people who might have made hotel reservations or car reservations for some of the hijackers, perhaps not knowing everything that was going to go on, perhaps not knowing that there were going to be four planes or whatever.
What they’re trying to do is figure out how many people, if any of these 220 or whatever, how many people actually had active knowledge of a specific attack as opposed to, gee, we are going to do something big.
MARGARET WARNER: Tim Weiner, how firmly does U.S. intelligence and U.S. law enforcement sources believe they have established the link to bin Laden beyond a shadow of a doubt?
TIM WEINER: I think we have to see Osama bin Laden as sort of the pope of terrorism. He is inciting to riot, he is inciting to murder. He has been doing so since at least February 1998 and probably before then.
You know, we talked to — The New York Times did — the Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar, a few days ago. He met bin Laden in the 1980s during the time when the U.S. and the Saudis were helping the Afghan rebels fight the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan.
He said bin Laden impressed me as a man who couldn’t lead eight ducks across the street. He has serious, professionally trained, experienced terrorist operational people around him and beneath him, and he is their so to speak inspirer and inciter at minimum.
MARGARET WARNER: Tim, staying with you, how does all this connect to all these arrests we’re seeing overseas in all of these countries?
TIM WEINER: A bit of history. During the 1980s and into the early 1990s, literally thousands of people came from all over the world to help fight in Afghanistan against the Soviet occupation and against the Communist puppet government that stayed in power after the Russians left in 1989.
These people became part of al-Qaida, the base, bin Laden’s database, if you will, of Afghan and Arab fighters from all over the world, from the Philippines, from Africa, even from the United States. These people left Afghanistan, many of them, and went back to their home countries 30, 40, perhaps 50 countries all over the world.
That is al-Qaida. It is a global network of people who knocked off one super power, the Soviet Union, and have turned their attention to the other one, the United States.
MARGARET WARNER: But are all these people who are being rounded up and detained, are they all believed to be part of al-Qaida?
TIM WEINER: Al-Qaida, you have to think of as not sort of a flow chart, like a corporation or a mafia, but a very broad horizontal organization with a tiny leadership at the top.
These are people who are suspected of being allied, who may be ideologically allied, who may be friends of people who are ideologically allied. There are thousands of people all over the world who have that experience of knocking off a super power and who have been incited to riot against the United States by bin Laden.
MARGARET WARNER: And Barbara, back to the home front here. How is the FBI balancing its work investigating September 11th attacks with the other part of the job they’re supposed to be doing, which is trying to ferret out, anticipate future plots?
BARBARA BRADLEY: Right. Well, they are having to do really a two-track policy. On the one hand they have to do what they’re very good at doing.
Typically what the FBI does very well is an event happens; they work backwards to the perpetrator. They figure, they look at the evidence and talk to people, figure out who did that crime. Now, that’s well and good. But they have to anticipate another future attack. This is an area that they are not quite as good at. This is not their core mission, so to speak.
And so what’s happening here is the Justice Department and FBI are saying, look, if you are in the course of your investigation, if you run across a lead that would point you toward a potential future attack, drop what you’re doing, follow that lead because we want to prevent future attacks.
This is creating a little bit of a change in mind set for the FBI because typically what they like to do is build an ironclad case that can be used later in court. You know, they do the wiretaps, they do their surveillance, they take their time and they build the evidence. And then later at some future date they can present this beyond a reasonable doubt, so to speak.
But here what they’re having to do is really kind of truncate things and truncate the investigation — come in more quickly than perhaps they would like and try to stop future attacks. I should say they’re trying to get up to speed real quick on this. They’re borrowing experts from different agencies.
Just yesterday 37 experts, analysts, went from the DEA to the FBI just to help them with the workload.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, Barbara Bradley and Tim Weiner, thanks both very much.