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Interview With Jim Walsh

Aired June 23, 2003 - 19:18   ET


Disturbing questions continue to arise from a new videotape that reportedly includes terrorist warnings. Now, the Associated Press obtained the tape but has only released certain segments of it. And it raises questions about al Qaeda strategic alliances and about the progress of the U.S. war on terror thus far.

CNN national correspondent Mike Boettcher reports on what the tape does tell us.


MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The latest tape promises a wave of new attacks against Americans and claims credit for recent terror attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We will continue our attack operations until we finish them.

BOETTCHER: While the tape has not been verified by U.S. intelligence, the threat of attacks in waves matches recent al Qaeda activity, like the most recent attacks on western housing compounds in Saudi Arabia, then on Russian buildings in Chechnya, on western-owned gas stations in Pakistan, and a series of targets in Casablanca, Morocco. Several countries targeted over several days.

CNN has learned intelligence officials believe the attacks were coordinated, a shift in strategy by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, away from their own simultaneous attacks like 9/11 and the African embassy bombings towards waves of attacks carried out by groups affiliated with the terror network.

After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and after the capture of key leaders like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were supposed to be on the run. But intelligence officials say the group is adapting by courting other like-minded terrorist groups.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Operationally the capabilities have suffered. So they're trying to enlist, through audio tapes, videotapes, Internet and personal messages, trying to provide direction to these organizations.

BOETTCHER: The sympathetic groups around the world seem to be listening and acting in coordination with bin Laden. The first wave of attacks last October included an attack on a French tanker off the coast of Yemen. And the nightclub bombing in Bali that killed more than 180 people, all triggered by a bin Laden message days before, according to intelligence sources.

Then there was the second wave in May, the attacks in Morocco were carried out by a local group with ties to the international terror network, says the country's information minister.

NAJIB BEN ABDALLAH, MOROCCAN INFORMATION MINISTER (through translator): Morocco is part of the area in which this network tried to take refuge.

BOETTCHER: Al Qaeda operatives have taken refuge in countries from Europe (on camera) to Africa to Asia. Authorities say that makes these countries more vulnerable to the new al Qaeda strategy of attacking in waves.

Mike Boettcher, CNN, London.


COOPER: Well, as we said earlier, the tape raises some disturbing new questions about the war on terror and America's enemies in the war.

Joining us now is Professor Jim Walsh, who focuses on terrorism and international security at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Jim, thanks for being with us. What jumps out at you from this tape?

JIM WALSH, HARVARD: A couple of different things jump out from the tape, Anderson. First of all, we have a new triangle of terror. We have not only bin Laden and the Taliban, but we have a new warlord, an Afghan warlord, who is also part of this triangle.

COOPER: If it's a triangle of terror, is that a sign of weakness, the fact that al Qaeda's weak, they now need friends? Or is it a sign of strength?

WALSH: Good question. I think in general what we want is less terrorists, not more terrorists. Clearly al Qaeda is still out there in Afghanistan, in other parts of the world.

And so the fact that they're able to recruit others cannot be good news. Even if they have been hurt in some respects, it's definitely not good news there are others who are willing to join them in this cause.

So that's the first thing, that others have joined us, particularly in Afghanistan. You have Montiarre (ph) with the Taliban and al Qaeda, this triangle I described.

The second piece of news in this tape I think that's interesting is that it's the first video or audiotape in which bin Laden is claimed to be alive and a location is given. This tape says that bin Laden is in Afghanistan. That's what many of us had suspected, but we have not heard that before.

COOPER: You know, it's interesting. I think in a lot of -- at least in the American public's mind, Afghanistan, kind of been off the radar. But what this tape, if it's true, is telling us that in terms of the war on terror, Afghanistan is still very much front and center.

WALSH: Absolutely, Anderson. In fact, it's front and center and troubling all at the same time.

You could argue if you measure it by the number of attacks, that things are actually getting worse in Afghanistan a year and a half after our intervention there, not better.

The number of attacks are increasing. They are both U.S. and international casualties as a result of these tacks. And if seems as if recruitment is being stepped up.

All this is unwelcome news and it makes us wonder about what the future of the Karzai government is going to be. Can the U.S. both work in Iraq, manage Iraq, rebuild Iraq and also follow through and do the job that it needs to be done in Afghanistan?

COOPER: People that we know that follow these things closely say there are a couple of things from this tape which are peculiar. The person's face is wrapped. It looks more like the Taliban person. Apparently the accent is more Afghani than it is some other form of Arabic.

Does it worry you that suddenly you have this faceless man talking on a tape, the idea basically that al Qaeda could sort of operate without their traditional leaders?

WALSH: Well, in Mike Boettcher's last report, he quotes Rohan Gunaratna, who points out al Qaeda is an adaptive organization.

Yes, they used to be based in Afghanistan with protection from the Taliban. They had training facilities and research and development facilities. But now, having lost that, they've adapted. They're more decentralized, more of a distributed network and more -- using more allies.

So that is the nature of their terrorist organization to begin with, is that they are adaptive and can work autonomously in local cells. So that should be no surprise here.

But I hasten to add, Anderson, that we still need a little more data from this tape. There is some questions raised by it. It is different than all the other tapes. There is a speaker and he has been identified at least provisionally as a Mr. Hakim, who is known to have represented bin Laden in the past. But before we go too far with this tape, I think we want to get a few more details.

COOPER: Right. I should point out, we got this tape from the A.P., Associated Press, and we have only seen segments of this tape, haven't seen the completed thing.

Jim Walsh, thank you for talking us to. Good to hear from you.


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