MARGARET WARNER: Investigators in Morocco and Saudi Arabia continued to sift through rubble today, searching for clues to who was responsible for last week's deadly bombings in both countries.
On Friday night in Casablanca, suicide bombers attacked a Spanish restaurant, a Jewish community center and cemetery, a hotel, and the Belgian Consulate. More than forty people died in the five nearly simultaneous attacks, including thirteen of the alleged perpetrators. Dozens of people have been detained for questioning, including a man believed to be part of the bomb plot. Police have not disclosed the attackers' identities, but say they were all Moroccan, had traveled overseas recently, and are suspected of ties to several local extremist groups with alleged links to al-Qaida.
In Riyadh, four men have been arrested in the bombings that killed 34 people in western compounds last Monday. The foreign policy adviser to the Saudi crown prince was asked on Meet the Press yesterday who was responsible.
ABDEL AL-JUBEIR, Foreign Policy Adviser to the Saudi Crown Prince: We are almost certain, yes, it was an al-Qaida operation.
TIM RUSSERT: Al-Qaida operation?
ABDEL AL-JUBEIR: That's what it looks like, we are almost certain.
TIM RUSSERT: Now, Prince Nayif, the minister of your interior department, said recently that al-Qaida was weak and almost not existent. He was wrong, wasn't he?
ABDEL AL-JUBEIR: I think a lot of other officials, including senior officials in your government, had very similar views with regard to al-Qaida and bin Laden. People thought he was on the run.
People thought the organization was a shadow of itself. It turns out that it's not. It was able to conduct an operation in Saudi Arabia that was spectacular in how horrific it was, and a few days later the same thing in Morocco. We need to take a look at this. Does this mean the organization has reinvented itself?
MARGARET WARNER: Since the attacks, Democrats in Washington have stepped up their criticism of the Bush administration for overselling the effectiveness of its campaign against al-Qaida. Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry spoke on Face the Nation.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: The triumphalism of this administration, the president's comments and others about al-Qaida on the run, has really exceeded reality. What's happened is we broke the beehive, but we didn't kill the bees and we certainly haven't killed the queen bee.
I think it underscores the enormous strategic error that I pointed to many months ago at Tora Bora, and Anaconda where we failed to capture and kill 1,000 al-Qaida, including Osama bin Laden. And there is evidence that one of those people who escaped from Tora Bora was one of those who planned the Riyadh attack.
MARGARET WARNER: President Bush today refuted the suggestion that he'd overestimated the success of his war on al-Qaida.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I have said this is going to be... always said this is going to be a long war. That..not only a long war, a new kind of war. We're trying to chase down people who hide, and move around in the dark corners of the world, and they plot and they plan, and then they pop up and kill. They don't care about innocent life. And we're making progress.
I mean, we are, slowly but surely, dismantling the al-Qaida operational network. But we've got a lot of work to do. Clearly, the attacks in Saudi Arabia mean that we've got to be on alert here at home. That we've got to be diligent, that we've got to understand there is an al-Qaida group still actively plotting to kill. You know, we're working on the clues out of Morocco to determine whether there's a direct connection between that al-Qaida operation and what happened in morocco. Time will tell.
MARGARET WARNER: An FBI bulletin issued late today said that the Riyadh attacks, quote, indicate that the al-Qaida network remains active and highly capable and that attacks in the united states cannot be ruled out.
MARGARET WARNER: First a correction that FBI bulletin was actually issued last Friday but first reported publicly just a couple of hours ago.
MARGARET WARNER: Now for more on the attacks and what they may tell us about the strategies of al-Qaida today, we turn to retired Army Colonel W. Patrick Lang, one of our regular military analysts during the recent war and a former Middle East intelligence analyst at the defense intelligence agency. And Daniel Benjamin, a director for counterterrorism on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. He recently co-authored The Age of Sacred Terror, about the rise of al-Qaida. And Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern studies at Sarah Lawrence College. He recently authored The Islamists and the West: Ideology Versus Pragmatism.
Welcome to you all. Patrick Lang, beginning with you, the Saudis seem convinced that at least that bombing is the work of al-Qaida. Now the FBI seems to be as well. Are you persuaded that one or both were the work of al-Qaida?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, in this, as in a lot of things in the world of intelligence and investigations, you have to make a judgment about what the beast is from the externals of what happened.
As you look at these two operations I think in the case of Saudi Arabia, it looks sufficiently like a template of an al-Qaida operation against multiple targets with a good deal of ferocity in the attack, that I'm pretty much convinced that that is probably that group itself.
In the case of Morocco, my inclination is to believe that the great substratum of sympathy for Islamic Jihadism in the Arab world is capable of producing organizations like this one in Morocco, which may have received little support or training from them. And they tried to carry out a similar operation but with some imperfections in their first attempt.
MARGARET WARNER: Fawaz Gerges, what's your take on it? Do you see a difference in the two?
FAWAZ GERGES: Yeah, I do. I think recently I think a major restructuring of al-Qaida has taken place.
I think the question itself is very narrow, whether somehow the suicide bombers took direct orders from al-Qaida senior leadership or the few remaining key lieutenants of Osama bin Laden. I think what has happened in the last one year or so, al-Qaida has become highly decentralized, and various cells are trying very hard to become self-subsistent, capable of acting independently from what I call the parent organization, that is al-Qaida. Let's remember, Margaret, that al-Qaida has suffered some major losses, the killing and the capture of some of its key lieutenants in Pakistan, in Morocco, in the Gulf.
What has happened now is that you have new home-grown cells who are trying to become self-subsistent and act independently and in particular in the aftermath of the Iraq war -- I mean the Iraq war as we know has fueled intense anti-Americanism -- and here you have now many young, angry young alienated men who would like to exact revenge against the United States and its local allies.
What has happened, Margaret, is that what I call corporate jihad has become much more fluid, complex and diverse and very difficult to locate and isolate as the attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco show.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you see Dan Benjamin? Do you think that after all the arrests both captures and killings of senior al-Qaida leadership, that there's still a core organization capable of directing attacks, say, such as the one in Saudi Arabia? Or do you think it's, as Professor Gerges just said, a lot of self-starters out there now?
DANIEL BENJAMIN: Well, I do think that the organization is sufficiently intact, still that orders can go out to those cells that are intact to carry out attacks of the kind we saw in Saudi Arabia, and in fact several names have been linked to those attacks that are very familiar to those of us who study al-Qaida.
For example, the name of Saif Al-Adel, who has been with bin Laden since the very beginning and who has been reported to be the new operations chief and to be the person who green lighted this particular attack. So I do that there is still some integrity in the structure.
There are at least a dozen or so major operatives at the very top of the organization still in business, still capable of ordering up and masterminding such attacks. At the same time, I think that the sparks that bin Laden and al-Qaida have thrown off are actually catching fire in other places. I agree with Col. Lang that Morocco may be a case of a group that thinks like al-Qaida and wants to act like al-Qaida but may not have the experience or the trade craft yet to perform like al-Qaida.
MARGARET WARNER: Pat Lang, if there is an organization capable of still doing this, and this fellow Saif Al-Adel, for instance, that Dan Benjamin just mentioned, U.S. authorities are saying they think is in Iran.
Where would they operate out of? They don't have a haven anymore to provide training as they had in Afghanistan. Where do they get the money? How do they communicate?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, I think, you know, that we have to be careful we don't try to mirror image the way we do things in the West on to people like this because they don't operate or organize themselves the same way. In some ways they aren't organized, that's one of their strengths. As I said before you have this kind of layer of sympathy out of which support, money, recruits come in various places, information to... as to when and where to hit the gate on the Saudi Arabia national guard compound.
But I think there's probably a state involved in this, now my colleagues may or may not agree with me on this. But I think the Iranian state is highly suspect in this thing because — in spite of the Shia-Sunni divide — there's a long well established history now of the Iranian government aiding Sunni groups as well and we know that some of these people have taken refuge in Iran. There's no reason to think that the Iranian government doesn't provide some level of support, succor, communications, et cetera, in this regard. I think these groups which are essentially aimed at the Arab regimes, and not essentially at us at this stage of things, are apt to spring up just about anywhere. Morocco and Saudi Arabia are not really exceptions.
MARGARET WARNER: Professor Gerges, you may want to pick up on this point but I'd also like to turn a corner here and ask you why Morocco? Morocco has a reputation at least in the West of being an Islamic state with a fairly moderate political culture.
FAWAZ GERGES: Before I do that, let me just add one footnote here. It seems to me, Margaret, every time al-Qaida has tried to really maintain its centralized command of information, this particular command was bound to be monitored and discovered by the United States.
In fact, the reason why we have captured some of the leading key lieutenants of al-Qaida as a result of al-Qaida was communicating the old ways. And, not even Saif Al-Adel -- one of the leading Egyptian Jihad members of al-Qaida -- can at this particular stage communicate very safely with various cells in Saudi Arabia and Morocco without being discovered by the U.S. Intelligence services. This is point one.
Point two, it seems to me, Margaret, the attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco tell us a major streak point is that not only are aimed at what I call "soft western targets" but also against the symbolic links between the western states and local regimes. That is Saudi Arabia and Morocco are basically the direct targets of the attacks.
You asked me about Morocco. As you know last year the Moroccan authority discovered and arrested a major cell of al-Qaida who allegedly was plotting to attack American and British warships. And there's a wide perception throughout Morocco and the Arab world is that the Moroccan intelligence services in collaboration with the CIA have been torturing key field lieutenants of al-Qaida after they were of course captured by the United States so there's a great deal of anger and resentment not just against the Moroccan authorities but also against the Jordanian authorities and the Egyptian authorities and Saudi Arabia because these regimes are perceived by their population to be not only impotent by not helping Iraq and the various Arabs and Muslims, but also subservient to the United States and trying to work with the U.S. intelligence services against Muslims and in particular against Jihadi causes, like that of Osama bin Laden.
MARGARET WARNER: But, Dan Benjamin, for instance the attacks in Riyadh occurred after the U.S. had announced that it was virtually pulling out all of it forces from Saudi Arabia.
Do you think that in the current political climate that Saudi Arabia and Morocco would be targets even if they didn't have close links with the United States?
DANIEL BENJAMIN: Saudi Arabia and Morocco will remain on the target list for as long as there are radical Islamists to carry out the attacks. A number of observations about the attacks in Riyadh and in Morocco. First of all, I believe that these were probably planned by people who figured that the United States would still be at war in Iraq at the time that they were carried out. It takes a certain amount of time to carry out..to do all the logistical work and preparation for these attacks, and so it's entirely possible that al-Qaida or this cell in Morocco felt that they would be showing that, in fact, the interests of true Muslims were being advanced at this time when Muslims were under fire in Iraq. So that is one element here.
But I also think that the... you yourself described Morocco as a moderate place. That's exactly why Jihadists would want to attack it. The modernizing side of the Saudi royal family and of the Saudi regime and its connections with the West are exactly what make it seem like an apostate regime to the Jihadists. These are precisely what they want to target.
MARGARET WARNER: Pat Lang, finally, and briefly from all of you, if this decentralization has occurred as you've all described Professor Gerges in particular, but all of you, will that call for a change in tactics on the part of the United States?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, I think that the only way to win this war essentially is for the governments, with the United States assisting them to the extent it can, in each place to seek to deprive the Jihadis, whatever you want to call them, of the support of the masses by changing the conditions of daily life and making it clear that the alternatives are not Islam as they see it or westernization.
And so we need to go about that on the basis of this terrible word, country building or nation building, which nobody likes anymore, but I think essentially that's what you're talking about.
MARGARET WARNER: Dan Benjamin.
DANIEL BENJAMIN: I agree with that to a large extent. I think one thing that is going to happen and that may be happening already is that we are going to have a higher tolerance for the occasional car bomb. It's the weapon of mass destruction that is totally intolerable for us.
But I do think we are going to have to change the nature of our relations with a lot of these countries and we're going to have to engage with them over issues like education, liberalization of their economies, democratization and ending the incitement, the demonization of the United States and the West that goes on in their press. It's a very long-term process but if we don't do, then we're not getting at the core issues. This will never change.
MARGARET WARNER: Professor Gerges, what's your take on that?
FAWAZ GERGES: Well, it seems to me that some of us who argue that the war against Iraq far from really combating terrorism would supply more potential recruits for al-Qaida, and it seems to me that the war against Iraq and, of course, the stalemate on the Arab-Israeli conflict, did not only distract - it was a godsend event for al-Qaida -- not only because it distracted the United States from its fight against terrorism but because they have provided many potential recruits for al-Qaida.
It seems to me now that the Middle East, Central Asia and East Africa are emerging as the central theaters with significant al-Qaida's activities and resources and it seems to me they will be the new fronts and the battlefields for the war against terrorism.
MARGARET WARNER: We have to leave it there. Thank you all three.