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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Saddam Tape Denies Connection to Mosque Bombing

Aired September 1, 2003 - 19:08   ET

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

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: In Najaf, Iraq, the investigation continues into last week's massive mosque bombing that left 83 people dead and hundreds of others wounded. The FBI is helping track down those responsible.
Investigators in Najaf say as many as five suspects are being held, all with links to Saddam Hussein. But a new audiotape purportedly from the ousted dictator denies involvement.

Our Ben Wedeman is in Najaf, sorting out the latest for us.

Ben if this tape is actually from Saddam Hussein, why would he claim that he's not behind these recent bombings? And do Iraqis actually believe that he may have carried out the attacks?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, many people here in Najaf, Soledad, actually do believe that he or his followers were behind the attack.

Now, they point in a variety of directions at remnants of the old regime and the Ba'ath Party, at al Qaeda potentially, and at Sunni followers, rather hard-core Sunni followers of the old regime, who basically made a common cause in the final days of that regime.

But at this point, it's not clear exactly who was behind it, and as you mentioned, the FBI is coming in to help with the investigation.

Now, one bit of information or, rather, evidence that they will be looking very closely at is apparently some computer hardware that was found on one of those people who was detained. So they'll be taking a much closer look at that, as well.

But one of the problems they will encounter here, of course, is that at the site of the bomb, there have been tens of thousands of people there since the bomb went off, and most of the evidence, unfortunately, has been trampled upon -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Ben, in excess of 100,000 people are expected to attend the burial of the Shiite cleric Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim in Najaf. Do U.S. forces there expect more violence, and is there anything that they can do to prevent it?

WEDEMAN: Well, they certainly are preparing for it. We heard from one Marine commander who told us that they've brought in additional supplies of medicine and that they've obviously boosted their security presence around the city. But they don't go inside the city itself because of religious sensitivities. That has been left to the Iraqis.

But we've been told that they're expecting, or they are preparing for two eventualities. They hope these are the worst-case scenarios, but they are expecting the possibility of clashes between Iraqis or the possibility of another bomb.

O'BRIEN: Ben Wedeman joining us from Najaf this evening. Thank you for that.

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