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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Audio Tape Calls for Attacks on Americans in Iraq

Aired August 18, 2003 - 19:20   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: New audiotape to tell you about tonight being played on Arab television. The speaker claims to be a spokesperson for al Qaeda. He says Osama bin Laden is alive and well and he calls on Muslims to fight U.S. forces in Iraq.
CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen joining us from Washington this evening to help us understand what is in the tape.

Peter, good evening, thanks for being with us.

PETER BERGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Daryn.

KAGAN: Whenever these tapes pop up, we like to bring you along and look at the message, what's being said, any clues in there and the timing of the tape?

BERGEN: Well, I think first of all, the tape is not from Osama bin Laden or Amal Samari (ph). So that's interesting.

Secondly, it's from a spokesperson we haven't heard much about before. The previous spokesperson is supposedly in custody in Iran, so this is a new guy.

I think it's interesting, obviously calling for attacks in Iraq, obviously, al Qaeda, talking today to a U.S. counterterrorism official, saying that Iraq is somewhere like Bosnia in the mid '90s or Chechnya for many years now, which is attracting Jihadists, including al Qaeda.

It's right in their backyard, is what he said. It's a cause to which they're very attracted. There are a lot of American targets. So clearly, Iraq as a cause for al Qaeda, is moving to center stage in a way that it had not been previously.

KAGAN: Well, let's look at what is take place in Iraq. And is there already evidence that al Qaeda is active? And I'm thinking of the bombing at the Jordanian embassy, perhaps the number one clue that al Qaeda could be active within Iraq.

BERGEN: It's possible. I mean, the jury is still out. Although it's interesting to me that the bombing took lace on August 7, which is an anniversary that al Qaeda has bombed on before. They bombed the U.S. embassies in Africa in '98 on August the 7.

The reason they're preoccupied with August 7 is that's a date that American troops -- it was announced that American troops were going to go into Saudi Arabia in 1990, President George Bush senior announcing Operation Desert Shield.

So although usually al Qaeda doesn't operate on anniversaries, this is an anniversary they've operated on before. It's somewhat interesting to me that they attacked the Jordanian embassy on the same day. We still don't know who it was, but clearly it was a professional operation. This attack on an embassy wasn't throwing a grenade off an overpass or that kind of thing; it was a carefully planned attack. So I would say that if not al Qaeda, a group with affiliations to al Qaeda.

KAGAN: I want it take a look at a list that certainly got our attention today. It's a list that ranks countries in order of where major terrorist acts are supposedly most likely to happen. You can see it up on the screen. Colombia number one, Israel number two, Pakistan three, the United States number four.

What do you make of that list?

BERGEN: Well, I mean, that's just somebody's opinion.

I think, of course, the United States remains the main target for al Qaeda, but the question is can they really do something in the United States? And I think the answer to that is, simply my opinion, we haven't seen anything since 9/11 and I think the threshold is actually rather lower than that would indicate.

Certainly, you know, Colombia that's just been plagued by terrorism for decades. The same is true for Israel.

Pakistan, we've seen a huge number of attacks in the last, since 9/11, the murder and kidnapping of Danny Pearl and an attack on a group of French defense, in practice killing 12 of them outside a Sheraton hotel. Two attacks on the U.S. consulate in Karachi, et cetera, et cetera.

So I think ranking the United States up there with Colombia, Israel and Pakistan might be a little bit misleading in terms of, you know -- obviously al Qaeda and groups like it want to attack the United States, but I think they're much more likely to attack in countries, as we saw an attack on the Marriott Hotel in Indonesia within the last two weeks. Those kinds of attacks, I think, are much more likely than an attack within the United States itself.

But if you're asking me the same question, Daryn on September 10, 2001, I would have said the same. So you don't know what you don't know is the short answer.

KAGAN: Very well put. Peter Bergen in Washington, thank you. Always appreciate your insight. Good to have you along this evening.

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