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AMERICAN MORNING

Interview With David Claridge

Aired November 20, 2003 - 09:40   ET

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

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, let's take a turn now back to what's happening in Turkey. Al Qaeda and a Turkish Islamic militant group now claiming responsibility for those two bombings that rocked Istanbul today. The explosions happened near a London-based bank and the British consulate. At least 26 people are dead, including the British consul general. More than 450 people injured.
Joining us this morning from London, an expert in the ways of terrorists, David Claridge. David, thanks for joining us. It's nice to see you.

Let's begin with whether or not al Qaeda pulled off this attack. The British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says it has all the hallmarks of al Qaeda. Do you agree?

DAVID CLARIDGE, RISK ADVISORY GROUP: Absolutely I agree. I think that al Qaeda's favor for suicide attacks, simultaneous attacks, has pretty much been borne out in this one.

What I would say is I think there's clearly a domestic component to it, a group which previously had been considered to be defunct or near defunct suddenly very active again, and attacking at a much greater level than it had done in the past. So probably collaboration between al Qaeda and a local group.

O'BRIEN: Does this strike you as a major change? What we've been told about al Qaeda in the recent past is that it's been dismantled, fractured, taken apart. Is this an indication that actually al Qaeda is significantly stronger than people have been giving it credit for?

CLARIDGE: Al Qaeda has changed significantly since the period prior to the 9/11 attacks. It has become much more of a school, if you like, for terrorist groups around the world. It relies much more heavily on domestic groups who act on its behalf. And it converts groups that have domestic attentions and ambitions to become international players.

So it's changed. It is probably much smaller. Certainly much more decentralized than in the past. But still obviously very active. But perhaps unable to so far at least carry out attacks in the areas where it would really like to operate in the United States, and in the United Kingdom and Western Europe.

O'BRIEN: The attacks today, the attacks on Saturday at the synagogues, the fact that Turkey is now a target, do you think that is significant, and also indicative of some kind of major change? CLARIDGE: In part. I mean, al Qaeda has been very global in its targeting since 2001. It's targeted in Tunisia, in Indonesia, in Saudi Arabia, and Morocco, in Yemen. It has really picked and chosen according to where it can get away with attacks.

So, I wouldn't necessarily read too much into the fact that Turkey was selected as a target, probably because that is where it has developed the operational capability to attack.

However, it also seems to focus upon in recent times Muslim nations and targeting Western interests, Jewish interests. But with very little concern about the loss of Muslim civilian life.

O'BRIEN: Terrorism expert David Claridge joining us this morning with Risk Advisory Group. Nice to see you, David, thanks for your time. Appreciate it.

CLARIDGE: Thank you.

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