In His Own Words
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RAY SUAREZ: Administration officials said they were convinced the tape was authentic. Now, some analysis of the tape. For that, we turn to Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and correspondent for the “Far Eastern Economic Review.” He is the author of “Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.” And Jessica Stern, a public policy lecturer at Harvard University and the author of “The Ultimate Terrorists.” She served on the National Security Council staff in the Clinton administration. Well, guests, we saw Osama bin Laden showing no remorse, no regret, exalting at the extent of his success. Jessica Stern, what was your reaction to what you saw?
JESSICA STERN: Well, of course it’s completely horrifying to see him rejoicing about what happened in a group of people who are also rejoicing and talking about how people feel in the mosques in Saudi Arabia and gloating and rejoicing at the idea that some of the young men involved in this operation weren’t really aware of what they were doing. It’s really a terrible display.
RAY SUAREZ: Ahmed Rashid, when you looked at that tape, what did you see?
AHMED RASHID: Well, you know, I was quite horrified at the way that bin Laden and the associates used the name of Allah in association with such a horrendous act. And I mean as a Muslim, I really you know, feel a lot of anger at that and I just hope that this will impress people around the Muslim world that, to associate a God with such an act of murder and carnage and repeatedly to be doing so, you know, every second sentence, is really frightening.
RAY SUAREZ: What about those who, at various times and places in the last three months, have expressed doubt about the connection between Osama bin Laden and the September 11 attacks?
AHMED RASHID: Well, I think, you know, again, I think it will… This tape will certainly have an impact on a lot of skeptics, but it will not have any impact on the hard core, who still believe in al-Qaida and bin Laden. But I think a major role now has to be played by leaders in the Arab world who have not openly, so far, after three months, even really condemned bin Laden or al-Qaida.
They may be supporting the western alliance, but they have been very careful not to condemn al-Qaida and bin Laden’s role. So I think, you know, this tape is going to be appointed to them that I think it really offers irrefutable proof that he was behind it.
RAY SUAREZ: Jessica Stern, on the doubters?
JESSICA STERN: Well, I completely agree with Ahmed, and I also think that it’s critical for leaders in the Arab world to now make clear that this was a horrific act of terrorism. They need to condemn it. I have a Muslim student who said to me today, “Now is the time for Muslims to declare jihad against al-Qaida.” I think he feels some of the same feelings that Ahmed was just voicing.
RAY SUAREZ: And for someone who’s been watching terrorism over the years, as you have, did any interesting operational details pop out? He was talking about the groups, the training, his notification, sending people to the United States.
JESSICA STERN: Well, I think the thing that really jumps out is how this group functions very much like a government or intelligence agency, trying to protect classified information. This came out in the Africa embassy bombing trial in New York in the spring where it was clear that, not only intelligence, but counterintelligence is a very important part of this group’s modus operandi, not allowing individuals to know more than they need to know to get the job done, as a way to prevent intelligence leaks.
RAY SUAREZ: Ahmed Rashid, does this also mean that, even if Osama bin Laden had been killed or injured or incommunicado, that the operations of al-Qaida could continue?
AHMED RASHID: Well, certainly. I mean I’ve long believed that al-Qaida is really divided into two separate areas: One is the kind of foot soldiers who have been fighting in Afghanistan for the Taliban and who are now still resisting. Now, these – you know — many of these will clearly be killed or captured by the Afghan forces under American bombing.
But then there’s a whole grid of perhaps thirty to forty thousand people who, since 1996, have been through these training camps.
These are mostly middle class militants, educated people who’ve come to these camps for a certain period of time, who perhaps have fought for one or two months with the Taliban as battle experience but then have gone home to their own countries you know, where they have been kind of lying low as sleepers or taking part in actions. And that grid of course still does exist in many countries of the world.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, the visitor who was with Osama bin Laden in that room in Afghanistan had just talked about coming from outside the country. What does that tell you?
AHMED RASHID: Well, I think that is really frightening. Here you have this tape being made in the middle of the war. There’s a U.S. blockade of Afghanistan. The neighbors, all Afghanistan’s neighbors are supposed to also be part of the alliance and blockading off the country to not allow people coming in, and there’s clearly traffic going on. I mean militants are coming in and leaving the country.
So it shows that, you know, the blockade was not successful. People have been able to leave Afghanistan and arrive in Afghanistan throughout the period of the war. Secondly, I think it really shows that, even today, there’s the same grid that has allowed that is going to allow people to escape the American bombing, for example, of Tora Bora at the moment.
Many of these militants will be able to escape and go through perhaps Pakistan, Central Asia, Iran, and get out.
RAY SUAREZ: Jessica Stern, at one point the Sheikh, who’s still unidentified, says that he had expected to find Osama bin Laden in a cave. This is about a month into the bombing of Afghanistan by the United States and coalition members, but instead, he’s being welcomed into a home that’s clean and looks pretty intact. What does that tell you?
JESSICA STERN: Not only that, it’s not only that they’re not living in horrific discomfort, but they seem to be feeling psychologically quite comfortable. They don’t seem to be acting hounded or afraid, and this is a bit surprising. It certainly is quite common to see leaders, when they are meeting people they are trying to give a certain impression to, have them meet them in filthy ugly offices and poverty-stricken areas.
But then when they are speaking with the already converted, sometimes those already converted get to see the real side of these Jihadees. Jihady leaders often live very with well, even though don’t want us to know that. They’d like us to think that they are Ascetics, but they’re not.
RAY SUAREZ: Ahmed Rashid, does this intact, comfortable environment for Osama bin Laden a month into the war tell us anything about the ease with which he moves inside Afghanistan and the extent to which he was protected by the government there?
AHMED RASHID: Certainly. I mean, you know, he had the run of the country, the complete freedom of the country. He had safe houses in every city where his guests could be entertained. He took his forces in Kabul, which I saw myself, took over the best houses in Kabul, the most lavish houses in Kabul, redid them.
And I mean there was no question of anyone protesting or you know that the house could have belonged to somebody else or anything like that. There was complete freedom of action, freedom of movement. And you know, they were able to do exactly what they liked.
RAY SUAREZ: Jessica Stern, at one point the Sheikh refers to the holy month of Ramadan and refers to the September 11 attack as the first hit and says that the next hit will come from the hand of the believers, leaving open the possibility of more attacks from the United States. How seriously should this be taken in Washington?
JESSICA STERN: I think it should be taken very seriously. Obviously, this is not the first indication that the group is planning additional attacks, but it is one more, and I think it must be taken very seriously.
RAY SUAREZ: And who’s on notice, Ahmed Rashid? When they’re referring to links to Saudi, to Egypt, does this sort of throw the ball into those American-aligned governments’ court to an extent?
AHMED RASHID: Well, I think, you know, this is the clearest indication we’ve had how seriously bin Laden, you know, wants to overthrow the Saudi regime. And he is most keen to know about what is a reaction in Saudi Arabia. He’s not asking about reaction kind of elsewhere in the world.
You know, he’s not particularly interested even in the reaction in America. I mean that’s taken as a given. He’s very keen to know, you know how many recruits and how many people have been praising him in Saudi Arabia. And I think, you know, if there hasn’t been a wake-up call already for the Saudi regime, I think this is a very important wake-up call for them.
We have not had a categorical denunciation of bin Laden, you know, and what has been going on by many of the royal families in the Gulf States. And I think this tape surely should be a wake-up call for that.
RAY SUAREZ: Ahmed Rashid, Jessica Stern, thank you both.