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Justice Department Releases Video of Five Wanted al Qaeda

Aired January 17, 2002 - 14:16   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We are still watching what's happening at the Department of Justice in Washington. Attorney General John Ashcroft, at any moment now, is going to be coming out and delivering this videotape -- or a snippet of this videotape that was found in Afghanistan that contains the images of five people that they're now searching hot and heavy for.

Let's go now to our Susan Candiotti who's also watching this. She's in Washington -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, while we wait for the release of this videotape, we wanted to tell you about some other information.

We have learned from law enforcement officials that the FBI has put out an alert to 18,000 law enforcement agencies around the country -- not to the public -- based on some uncorroborated evidence that members of al Qaeda have been looking at Web sites for nuclear power plants across the United States. Now, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been -- is aware of this, and has notified its licensees to also be aware of this.

We do know that over the past several months, ever since 9/11, authorities put out information that all of the Web sites dealing with nuclear power plants should be revisited, and any sensitive material be removed from them.

However, law enforcement authorities, therefore, say that it's not surprising that this kind of information would come to light at this time. But they, again, stress that they've not been able to solidify it, not been able to corroborate it as of yet. Bit they did want to put the information out there to law enforcement officials.

Here's the U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thank you for coming this afternoon.

Since September 11, it has been the effort of this administration to have an integrated effort, combining resources, not only military, not only intelligence, not only investigational, but resources with foreign governments and resources involving the citizens of this great country and citizens around the world to be able to make progress to curtail the threat of terrorism, not only to America, but to other nations.

It is an integrated effort. It's an effort that involves civil authorities, military authorities, intelligence resources, law enforcement, cooperation of foreign governments. And it is an effort to be seamless so that we don't have opportunities to miss those things which need to be discovered and that a resource or an opportunity developed in one part of the operation is capitalized on in another part of the operation.

Analysis is as important as law enforcement is as important as information-gathering and, obviously, these things work hand-in-glove with those who fight on the actual battle lines in the field.

In one respect, the best friend of freedom is information, because information allows freedom-loving people to become the best line of self-defense. And it is in that respect that the coordination and cooperation that exists in our country while at war is very important in helping us do what we can to curtail the risk of additional terrorist activity that would injure Americans or other freedom-loving citizens around the world.

I am grateful that the president has sought to lead us with this kind of integrated effort, and today we are capitalizing on that kind of integrated effort and calling upon the public, both in the United States of America and worldwide, to assist in the effort to identify, locate and incapacitate terrorists or those who are suspected of planning additional attacks against innocent civilians.

Recently, five videotapes were recovered from the rubble of Mohamed Atta's house in Afghanistan. Now we suspect Atta directed terrorist operations for al Qaeda as one of Osama bin Laden's chief primary operational lieutenants. Atta was indicted for the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and these videotapes from his house we believe could be of great value.

The videotapes depict young men delivering what appear to be martyrdom messages from suicide terrorists. Analysis of the audio portion of these tapes conducted thus far, suggests, based on statements made on the tapes, that the men may be trained and prepared to commit future suicide terrorist acts.

Our investigation, so far, has tentatively identified four of the five individuals depicted in the still shots that are posted in the pictures on the right. The four identified men are believed to be Ramzi Binalshibh, Abd Al-Rahim, Muhammad Sa'id Ali Hasan and Khalid bin Muhammad Al-Juhani. No identification has been made of the fifth individual, and that individual is depicted on the poster as an unknown individual.

Now, forensic analysis of the tapes continues in order to help us derive additional information. But because the statements on the tapes suggest future terrorist acts, specifically suicide attacks, we are asking for the public's assistance in further identifying and locating the individuals on the tapes so that additional investigation can be made. Now, Ramzi Binalshibh is a name that you've heard before. Binalshibh, a Yemeni, was an associate of the September 11 suicide hijacker Mohammed Atta.

In the indictment handed down in December against Zacarias Moussaoui, who is currently awaiting trial for conspiring with Osama bin Laden in the September 11 attacks, Binalshibh was named along with Atta and the 18 other hijackers as an unindicted co-conspirator.

The indictment describes Binalshibh as a member of the Hamburg, Germany, al Qaeda cell, the member who made several unsuccessful attempts to obtain a visa to enter the United States prior to the September 11 attacks. After Binalshibh was refused entry into the United States, refused a visa, he is alleged to have acted as a financier and facilitator of terrorism, transferring funds to Moussaoui and other terrorists from his position in Germany.

Binalshibh is currently a fugitive, and I believe he has been named by the German government on a warrant seeking his arrest there.

And I want to thank German Minister of the Interior Otto Schily for his help investigating and pursuing Binalshibh and other suspected terrorists who operated in Germany. We will share these tapes with Minister Schily and other German authorities because of their interest in him expressed in their warrant for his arrest.

Little is known to law enforcement at this point about the other individuals featured on the videotapes. Investigators are extremely interested in identifying and locating these individuals as soon as possible. Photographs and descriptive data have been disseminated to law enforcement and intelligence agencies worldwide. Investigators note that these men could be anywhere in the world.

We have declassified excerpts of these videotapes, and today we are releasing the excerpts of these tapes worldwide. From what we can ascertain about the tapes at this time, they do not reveal any information about specific planned acts or targets or timeframes for any potential planned or other terrorist acts.

The tapes we are releasing today are another example of the potentially critical role that the public can play. We certainly know that the public has played a very important role to date, but this is another opportunity for the public around the world to join the campaign against terrorism.

Throughout the war on terrorism, our military and intelligence officials have made a concerted effort to share appropriate information with the public in order to enlist their assistance. We've asked citizens to be vigilant, to be alert to any possible threat.

The success of this strategy was made clear by yesterday's indictment of Richard Reid, who may very well have succeeded in destroying American Airlines flight 63, as the indictment charges, had it not been for the courage and attentiveness of the citizen passengers and crew. Once again today we put our trust in the public to exercise vigilance and common sense in the face of the terrorist threat. Anyone who believes that he or she knows the identity or the whereabouts of any of these men is encouraged, is urged to contact the nearest FBI office or the FBI's web site, -- that's -- or to contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in a foreign setting if they don't have an opportunity to contact the FBI.

The FBI has prepared a compilation of excerpts from the videotapes and on these videotapes you will see Muhammad Sa'id Ali Hasan, Abd Al-Rahim, Khalid bin Muhammad Al-Juhani and these tapes will run for about a minute and a half and they are the product of the items that were confiscated and made available to authorities as a result of the activities of our troops in the theater of conflict.

Please roll the tapes now.


ASHCROFT: The poster which we have here identifies -- or at least shows five al Qaeda members, including the three that you've just seen on the videotape. Obviously, in addition it includes Ramzi Binalshibh and the unknown individual; the three on the videotape were in sequence. I think the first one we saw in the videotape was in the center of the top row. Second one on the videotape was Al-Rahim, who is on the far side of the poster. And the last, being Khalid bin Muhammad Al-Juhani, here on this side of the top row.

Director Mueller will have a few comments, and then he and I will be happy to take your questions.



And good afternoon, everyone.

The photographs and video you just saw are from a trove of valuable information being recovered in Afghanistan. That we are displaying them here at the Justice Department reflects the seamless effort against terrorism that extends from the troops on the ground to the FBI and CIA analysts here who are charged with putting these pieces together.

This is a unique situation. Overseas the military action continues, but it continues in ways that directly support what we are doing here, what we and the CIA are fully engaged in, which is the identification of the terrorists and in preventing future attacks. We are working side by side and we are working together, with shared intelligence and a complete exchange of information.

We in the FBI are grateful to those who are risking their lives to bring us this valuable information. And we are grateful to a public, in this case a global public, willing to remain alert and to help in the fight against terrorism.

Every piece of information is potentially valuable. We hope that no one hesitates to surface anything that could be of interest to us.

The principle is simple: An informed and alert public works. And that is why today we are showing you both the videotapes on the one hand and the photographs on the individuals we're looking for on the other.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Director Mueller, I'm curious if you have any sense of when the tapes were made, whether they were made after 9/11, and if you can characterize what the three men say in these videotapes?

MUELLER: We are still doing the forensic analysis of the tapes and the translations of the tape, and I would not want to speculate until that's continued as to the date that the tapes were made.

QUESTION: And a follow-up: Do you have any evidence at this point whether any of these five men have ever entered the United States?

MUELLER: We do not. We know that we are looking at all of the embassies. And as soon as they were identified, we began looking for each of these individuals. As the attorney general has pointed out, Binalshibh tried to enter the country three times over the last year, and is believed to have been part of the group of hijackers who were responsible for the attack on September 19, but could not make it into the country.

QUESTION: General Ashcroft, are there rewards connected to photos and identifying or information leading to...

ASHCROFT: At this time we have not developed a reward system. We are inviting people to assist us in this respect and hope that they'll come forward.

QUESTION: General, could it be that any of these men were killed in the bombing? And also, are there warrants out on the others besides Binalshibh?

ASHCROFT: It could well be. We don't know of the whereabouts of these individuals and we're not able to say that they're in one location or another or whether they're dead or alive.

We do believe that the German authorities have the warrant out for Binalshibh. I don't know of warrants out for the other individuals at this time. And obviously, with the one individual, we don't even have a clear identity at this time, but hope to have it.

QUESTION: You've repeatedly said you don't know the whereabouts of these suspects. Do you think it unnecessarily scares the public into possibly believing one of these people could be in their neighborhood or any Middle Eastern or Arab-descent person could be falsely accused? I mean, is it...

ASHCROFT: One of the valuable things about being able to present a photograph, and then to be able to substantiate the photograph with the video footage is that it takes this out of the category of generalized identification and gets us to the category of specific identification. And if we were just to say there were five potential suicide martyrs that had gone out, and to describe them even just to say their names or to try and give characteristics, I think might have some of the difficulties which you've mentioned.

But I think the American people are accustomed to being a part of this investigation and this effort, and they realize that they can be a constructive part.

And we've provided this basis for specific identification.

And I make one other point before I think you're going to be next, because you were the one shouting first. Not shouting then, whatever.

And that is that, frankly, the still photographs are not always as clear as seeing an individual on footage. So often we're accustomed to wanted posters that give you a static view of individuals, this happens to be a superior, sort of, basis for people to make identification.

And we're asking that if people think they know the whereabouts of these individuals, that they would call the local FBI agent, the local FBI office, contact the FBI at the web site, or, overseas, go to the American consulate or to the embassy.

QUESTION: Now that you're examining the contents of these videotapes, contents of the computers that were recovered in Kabul, believe there were some arrests today in London of a number of people, do you feel like you're getting to a point of reaching any, sort of, critical mass in learning about al Qaeda? Can you elaborate on where you are at this point in trying to determine how al Qaeda's been operating and its attempts on future...

ASHCROFT: Well, we do believe that progress is being made. And we think the integration of this effort with the sensitivity of our armed forces and people overseas, the cooperation of our members of the coalition, the integrated network of providing information that shares information rather than compartmentalizes information, all of these are very helpful, but we have a long way to go. And we are sharing information and declassifying information when appropriate, so that we can enlist the entire world of freedom-loving people in that respect.

We're further down the road than we have been before, but this is no time for us to take our foot off the accelerator. We need to keep pursuing with a great deal of intensity here.

QUESTION: Do you believe that attacks were imminent? Is that why you're releasing these?

ASHCROFT: We believe that these could be, and likely appear to be, sort of, martyrdom messages from suicide terrorists. And whether or not the attack would be imminent or not is something we can't determine. But we know that the right time to release these is in advance of any attack if there is to be an attack, not subsequent to an attack, and to try and enlist the people of this great nation and the people around the world to help curtail the attack.

QUESTION: How long is the full portion of the videotape? And also, when do you plan to release the sound on it?

ASHCROFT: You know, I don't know how long the full portion is. And I wouldn't indicate to you that we will release the sound on it. It may be that we will, it may be we won't. We will pursue and make a judgment on that based in the national interests and the interests of this investigation.

And so, we need to complete the analysis of the tape and to complete all the specific and detailed translation of the tape.

I know that the portions we released today we felt were safe for release, and we didn't believe they contained any surreptitious messages or coded signals that would be designed to alert parts of the terrorist network.

STAFF: Last question.

QUESTION: Are there other potential martyrs on those five videotapes other than these five people here?

ASHCROFT: I don't believe there are, sir.

Thank you all very much.

HARRIS: Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller there, showing us this extraordinary videotape, as you say, which gives specific identifications of the five men they are looking for, as opposed to generalized descriptions of them. Let's go now to Susan Candiotti, who's been watching this with us from Washington -- Susan.

CANDIOTTI: You heard FBI Director Robert Mueller describe this entire situation as one that's very unique. And it is, certainly. Releasing this videotape, which was obtained by, apparently, U.S. troops during -- or after, rather, one of the many bombing attacks in Afghanistan. Recovered from Mohammed Atef's house. And I'm sure we can hear more about that from my colleague, national security correspondent David Ensor, when we get to that aspect of this.

But in the meantime, the release of this tape, meant to try to encourage the public to see if, indeed, they recognize any of these people. They released four of the five names of the faces that you saw. One of the most prominent names we recognize as being Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who, you might recall, already has an international arrest warrant out for him, issued in Germany. He is one of the unindicted coconspirators that was named when Zacarias Moussaoui, a suspected terrorist, was charged with suspected terrorists acts, or conspiracy to commit them in the United States in connection with the attacks of September 11. Don't know where these people are.

So it is the hope of the U.S. attorney general and the FBI, working with the CIA, to put these photographs out and see if indeed they can shake loose some additional leads as to where they might be. We did learn that there is indeed sound on the videotape you saw. That it contained messages of martyrdom, according to the U.S. attorney general. But there is a question as to whether any attacks that they might have been planning are imminent.

Again, there is sound but it is being analyzed, we are told, and so they are not releasing it at this time. Certainly an unusual situation. Again, no reward attached for information at this time, you heard the attorney general say. But it is hoped that people will start talking about it, start looking at it -- and certainly better, they think, than putting out still photographs, because the videotape is rolling, you get more of a sense of how these people act and move. And you see their mannerisms as well.

So, Leon, this is something we haven't seen before. And the question is, again, more questions are raised as to how exactly they got this tape and who shot it.

HARRIS: That's exactly right, Susan.

Let's bring in David Ensor, as you mentioned, your colleague here, who was also watching this.

Our correspondent, David, has been covering this and as well as the investigation angle for some time. David, how does this strike you? Any ideas about -- any more information coming out here about exactly how this tape was acquired in the first place?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, you'll remember, Leon, that it was fairly early on in the war in Afghanistan that U.S. officials said they believed they might have killed Mohammed Atef, who was variously ranked as either No. 2 or more likely No. 3 in the al Qaeda organization -- a former Egyptian policeman thought to be the military commander of the al Qaeda organization. A clever man. A man who can put conspiracy together and make things work. Not a dreamer, not an idea man, but a practical person, who actually is believed to have organized several of the major terrorist attacks against U.S. targets.

He was believed to have been killed, we understood, in a bombing of a building. It now looks as if that must have been a house he was at least temporarily living in in Afghanistan. And it seems likely, from what we've heard from the attorney general, that you can assume CIA and special operations personnel must have gone into that house after the bombing, identified the body of Mohammed Atef, among other things, and also found some videotapes, which they are now sharing with us.

These are the sort of tape that we've seen in other terrorist organizations as well, where a young man will state in front of a videotape: "I intend to commit an act of jihad or suicide, in order to further the cause." And that tape would sometimes be released after his death. It's also a statement to the people who are sending him. It gives them something to hold against this person, that implicates them and binds them to the leader who, in this case, was Mohammed Atef, No. 3 in al Qaeda. Officials at -- in the intelligence community are pretty much leaving it to the Justice Department to put these tapes out. They don't want to talk in detail about their role, either in obtaining the tapes or in obtaining information from them. But I think you can also probably assume that the international audience is just as important, if not more important, than the American audience, for these tapes. They say they don't know where these men are. But you can tell from the names, an expert can, which parts of the Middle East they are likely to be from.

You can assume the CIA has been looking for them in those place. If, for example, a man's name shows him to be from Yemen, you can assume that they have been looking for him there, checking with his relatives. A lot of work has already been done to try to find these people before these tapes were put out. And now the hope is that perhaps well-meaning people in the region who might know something about these men, who know them from the past, may come forward and try to help out in the campaign against terrorism by letting the U.S. embassy and their country know what they know.

HARRIS: But, David, it would seem that they would also need some sort of incentive to turn these people in. Just putting picture and their names out there wouldn't necessarily be enough, I wouldn't imagine, particularly if these men happen to be in places where they might have some sort of a sympathetic haven, if you will. In your mind, do you have any idea why there hasn't been any talk about rewards being issued, in addition to these identifications?

ENSOR: You noticed the attorney general said it hasn't happened yet, suggesting it still could happen. I think the feeling, though, certainly among U.S. intelligence officials I've spoken to, is that there are many pro-American sympathetic people. Even if they're not pro-American, they don't like what bin Laden did. They don't want to see more of this. They're embarrassed about the kind of image of Islam that it has presented to the West. And they may want to help the U.S. and its allies, the Germans, the British and others, who wrap this group up.

So there may be well-meaning people in the region who don't need any money and wouldn't, in fact, want to see a reward.

HARRIS: OK, David Ensor, thank you very much. David Ensor in Washington. Same to you, Susan Candiotti, also in Washington.




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