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Talk with Terrorism Expert Brian Jenkins

Aired November 29, 2002 - 09:01   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Back to Mombasa, Kenya right now, the latest on the terror attacks.
This is the day after right now. Ben Wedeman has made it there on the ground. He is standing by, by way of videophone, to tell us again not only what investigators are doing, but also what they have found thus far.

Ben, hello.


They really have not found much in terms of hard, fast clues. In fact, they are holding, as you said, as much as 12 people for questioning. They have not, however, none of them have been charged with any crime or suspicion or are under suspicion of involvement in these crimes. There are two individuals with American passports, who apparently very soon after the bombing that took place in this hotel behind me, they started making phone calls and wanted to leave. That is not so unusual, given that they were in a hotel right next to another hotel that just was blown up.

Now, according to airport officials, as many as 250 Israelis have been flown out of Mombasa. Many Israeli officials came into the city between yesterday and today. Those officials included investigators who are looking for those clues, as well as doctors, medical people, and other officials as well.

Now just a little while ago, Kenyan President Daniel Arabmoye (ph) toured the scene of the bombing, and he described the bombing as a terrible crime.

He said Kenya has already suffered once back in August of 1998, when there was a bombing of the U.S. embassy here that left several hundred people dead and thousands wounded. So the Kenyans very much concerned to try to find out who is behind the bombing yesterday and certainly to try to prevent this sort of thing in the future -- Bill.

HEMMER: Ben Wedeman on the scene there for Mombasa. Ben, thanks to you.

As the reports continue to come in, we know U.S. officials, the president is in Crawford, Texas right now, a wait and see approach about whether or not Al Qaeda was involved in this. Israeli Army Radio is reporting one of the suicide bombers had the same name as that who is on the FBI's list of the most wanted terrorists.

From Los Angeles, Brian Jenkins is a terrorism expert. He's our guest to talk more about this and other things.

Good morning to you, Brian. Thank you for getting up early the day after Thanksgiving.

I want to talk about the surface-to-air missiles fired yesterday. How old are they? How effective are they? Are you surprised they missed their target yesterday of that passenger plane?

BRIAN JENKINS, TERRORISM EXPERT: Not really. If we do confirm that they are SA-7s, this is a Soviet-manufactured surface-to-air missile surface, late '60s technology, the first generation of the surface-to-air missile. They are now, as newer generations of these weapons came along, the older ones are now in the arsenals of about 50 nations, they are on the black market, and we know that, or certainly we suspect that, they are in the hands of a number of terrorist organizations in the Middle East.

But the fact that they have been around for a long time makes them unreliable. In fact, sometimes they are fired and the fuses don't work, they don't go off. That would explain the one passenger's account that they saw something streak past the plane as opposed to hitting the plane and detonating.

HEMMER: What is your overall concern given that for the aviation industry, perhaps overseas, or perhaps in this country about the threat these missiles may pose?

JENKINS: Well, it is a continuing concern. The white house commission on aviation, safety and security in 1996 identified the missile issue as a source of serious concern about aviation safety and security. At that time, the commission recommended that a joint task force be created between the FAA and the Department of Defense to look at how we might protect commercial aviation against these missiles, and since then, some of the airports have, indeed, developed plans for changing their landing patterns or taking other precautions if this were to become a problem.

HEMMER: It seems to me it would be impossible to secure every runway in this country.

JENKINS: You can't secure every single runway. I mean, there are a number of things that you can do passively. You can increase nighttime operations. You can use steeper angles of ascent and descent coming out of the airports, but there is no absolute protection against these, other than getting the good intelligence and getting the people before they can fire them off.

HEMMER: Let's talk about Al Qaeda right now. I know you are not convinced just yet that that group is responsible for what happened yesterday. Why the hesitation? Do you need more information? Tell us what goes on in your thought process as you examine this.

JENKINS: Well, right now, of course, we can only speculate. We know what happened, where it happened, how it happened. We don't know yet who done it, and we will have to wait and see where the investigation takes us. The initial suspicion has fallen on Al Qaeda. I'm a bit skeptical, the fact is that it could just as easily have been one of the radical Palestinian organizations or some new amalgam of Palestinian extremists that we haven't heard from before.

But if you look at the attributes of the attack, the identity and nationality of the target, the location of the attack, the modus operandi and other things, you can just as easily point the finger at an extremist Palestinian organization, and these Palestinian organizations have operated in Kenya before.

We go all the way back more than 20 years when the PFLP, the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine, blew up a hotel in Nairobi at that time, killing 16 people.

HEMMER: Quickly here before I let you go, Brian, How strong is the Arab community in that part of Africa, do you know?

JENKINS: There is a strong Arab community down the east coast of Africa. We are talking about traditional trading routes here, and so particularly in Mombasa, there is a fairly significant Arab community. A few of them, as in many of these Arab communities, only a few, are radicalized, and potentially might provide some type of support for this operation, but it could be entirely imported as well.

HEMMER: Thank you, Brian. Brian Jenkins in L.A., our terrorism expert on the scene. Thank you.


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