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State Department Questions Arafat's Role in Bombings

Aired March 21, 2002 - 12:55   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We are learning more now on the U.S. side and U.S. reaction to the suicide bombing that took place in Jerusalem about four hours ago. Again, two Israelis dead and many injured, anywhere between 25 and possibly more.

To Andrea Koppel, at the State Department, here in Washington, with more news on the Al Aqsa Brigade. They are the ones taking responsibility for this at this point.

What do you have Andrea? Good afternoon.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Bill.

CNN has learned that Secretary of State Colin Powell has already designated the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade as a foreign terrorist organization. Officials tell me that he notified Congress of this yesterday. The significance of this move -- there are actually some legal consequences attached to it, and that means that the members of this brigade are not going to be allowed to get visas to travel to the United States; that it would be against the law to give any members of this group money or any other kind of assistance; and in addition, its members won't be able to get any loans from financial institutions.

By even more so, Bill, the significance of this is that the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, many of its members are also members of Yasser Arafat's political party Fatah. The United Stats is not saying that Yasser Arafat knew what was going on, knew about any of the attacks that have taken place, but what it means, Bill, is that in the future, now that Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade has been designated a foreign terrorist organization, Yasser Arafat will be put in the very uncomfortable position of being forced to arrest members who could be members of his own political party; he also will not be allowed to fund the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade through Fatah, which is something that had been taking place for many months now.

HEMMER: Underline that point you just made there: Does the administration -- anyone at the State Department or within the U.S. government -- believe that Yasser Arafat had any previous knowledge of this attack, or possibly the one in northern Israel yesterday, or some of the ones that we had seen previously?

KOPPEL: I asked that very question, Bill, and what I have been told is that they just don't know. Administration officials say it could be that they are merely renegade members of the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, who want to undermine the peace process and are therefore staging these terrorist attacks that Yasser Arafat personally would be against, but they just don't know; they have a lot of questions, and I think that the proof, as officials like to say, will be in the pudding if Yasser Arafat comes out and in very short order and speaks out publicly against the brigade's attack, mentions it by name, and begins to take the serious steps that the Untied States has been calling for, to arrest members of these terrorist organizations and keep them behind bars.

HEMMER: Yes, Andrea, a lot of our viewers are quite familiar with Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, but this group, Al Aqsa, is probably not at the forefront of the people's minds when they think about groups operating in the Middle East. What do we know about how old they are, when they were created, and what kind of work they have done?

KOPPEL: Sure, that is a very good point. In fact, many people probably haven't heard of Al Aqsa, and there's a good reason for it: because they haven't been around very long. This is a relatively new group that really came out of the Al Aqsa intifada, which began in September 2000. There were many disillusioned members of Fatah, again, Yasser Arafat's political group, and just other Palestinians Tanzin, the average folk, who said, We have got to do more about this, we have got to attack Israel with force, and we can't just sit back and let the Israelis continue to occupy Palestinian territories. So most of its members, if not all of the members of Al Aqsa, are members of Yasser Arafat's political group, Fatah. And these are armed, very dangerous individuals who are seeking to use force to get what they want from the Israelis.

HEMMER: Andrea, thanks. Andrea Koppel there at the State Department, with the very latest on what is happening there. We will check in later this afternoon. Andrea, thank you.

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