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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Interview with Abdel Bari Atwan

Aired July 16, 2002 - 07:31   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.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: On to our next story now, reports that Osama bin Laden is alive and well after being wounded in the U.S. bombing at Tora Bora last December. So says the editor of an Arab language newspaper, who claims the al Qaeda leader has actually recovered from a shrapnel wound he suffered during the U.S.-led campaign.

Abdel Bari Atwan says bin Laden won't be seen in videos until his followers attack Americans again.

He joins us now from London.

Mr. Atwan, good morning. Welcome.

ABDEL BARI ATWAN, EDITOR: Good morning to you.

ZAHN: Why are you so convinced Osama bin Laden is still alive?

ATWAN: Well, I am convinced because, you know, I had some reliable sources that he was injured during the bombing of Tora Bora and other Afghani areas and shrapnel hit his left shoulder. And actually in his last video, videotape, which was released by Al Jazeera and the satellite channels, his left shoulder was very stiff and he could not move his left hand. I know he is left-handed. So it was strange. So I realized that definitely there is something wrong.

I dig for this information and it was confirmed to me that, yes, he was injured and he was subject to a surgery recently, I don't know, maybe three months ago, and shrapnel was removed from his left shoulder and now he is absolutely fine.

ZAHN: And when you talk about him recovering from his wounds, you go even farther to suggest the man who did his surgery was one of his key aides, Mr. Zawahari.

ATWAN: It is a mystery here. We don't know where this, you know, operation was performed, whether in Afghanistan, whether in Pakistan and whether they have the equipment. But what we knew, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, he is the right hand man of Osama bin Laden and his deputy. He is a qualified surgeon so and he, you know, he practiced several surgeries before he joined bin Laden and el-Jihad of Egypt.

So it seems he is qualified. Maybe he performed the operation himself. ZAHN: You say maybe. Have your sources confirmed that?

ATWAN: No. Nobody confirmed that. The only thing is confirmed that he was injured and shrapnel was removed and now he is well, very, very well.

ZAHN: Mr. Atwan, let's come back a moment to what you describe as your reliable sources. Have these sources seen themselves Osama bin Laden?

ATWAN: Well, actually, you know, to be honest, you know, Osama bin Laden is not living in the White House or in 10 Downing Street, so you can't turn to spin doctors and ask them. We know that he is around his followers, also and around. So it is extremely difficult to find information about him.

But, you know, what I believe is really he was injured and, yes, he managed to actually survive and after the operation he regained his fitness and he's fine.

ZAHN: So are you telling us these sources are basing their information on sightings reported to them?

ATWAN: Yes, yes, definitely. It's not really, I can't say it is definite. I can't say it is 100 percent confirmed. But, you know, through my own experience, I am a journalist for the last 25 years and I can tell this information is the closest to accuracy.

ZAHN: And I know you have described these reliable sources of having been truthful in the past. Can you point to something or a piece of information they've given you that was dead right that gives you confidence they're right this time around?

ATWAN: Yes, last time when they actually claimed responsibility for that attack of the Jewish synagogue in Ghriba in Tunisia, they sent us a fax and they confirmed that they were behind that attack, and we publicized that. We published it in our newspaper and it was accurate. Also, when the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah issued his peace initiative, we received an e-mail from bin Laden people saying that they condemned such initiatives.

So based on previous experience, I think, you know, this information is as accurate as the previous one.

ZAHN: Mr. Atwan, there have been a number of reports that have speculated that Osama bin Laden is alive somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Do your sources suggest otherwise, another location, possibly?

ATWAN: Well, actually, to locate him is an impossible process and I believe, you know, the American administration, which has the latest technology in spying and also information gathering, until now they cannot spot him. But personally, personally I go with the theory that he's still in Afghanistan or Pakistan or moving in the border between the two countries and he is taking refuge to the tribes there. And we know the tribes of Afghanistan and Pakistan are really very, very hospitable tribes and they protect anybody who takes refuge to them. And he built very good relations with these tribes.

So maybe he is there. But, you know, to be honest, nobody -- just it is purely speculation.

ZAHN: I need a quick reaction to you about John Walker Lindh agreeing to a plea deal yesterday, in exchange for admitting guilt serving 20 years in prison.

ATWAN: Well, actually, definitely, you know, the deal which was struck, it will help the FBI and other investigators to gather information from him, if he is willing to cooperate. Definitely he has a lot of information and firsthand information. So we don't know until we, I don't know whether they are going to tell the press about this information or not. But we have to wait and see.

ZAHN: Mr. Atwan, as always, good to see you.

Thank you again for spending some time with us here this morning.

ATWAN: Thank you.

ZAHN: Appreciate it.

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