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Pakistani Military Cracks Down on Al Qaeda

Aired March 20, 2004 - 07:00   ET


It is March 20th, the weekend that we officially turn to spring. But you wouldn't know that from some parts of the country still getting some snow. More on that in just a few minutes.

Good morning.

I'm Renay San Miguel.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, Renay San Miguel.


KAGAN: It's good to work with you.

SAN MIGUEL: The same here.

KAGAN: First time ever for us.

SAN MIGUEL: Exactly.

KAGAN: Good morning, everyone.

I'm Daryn Kagan.

Thanks for being with us.

Let's take a look at what's coming up at this hour.

A fierce battle in Pakistan's wild west region, South Waziristan, near the Afghan border. The target -- suspected al Qaeda forces. In just two minutes, we'll take you live to Pakistan.

Also ahead, the U.S. military in Iraq. It is one year later. Just what has the Pentagon and its generals learned from the battles, the searches, the dangers? We'll talk with CNN military analyst Retired General David Grange.

And, there's a new book, a new controversy, "House of Bush, House of Saud: The Alleged Ties That Bind." It officers some explosive allegations. We'll talk to the author.

But first, Renay has a look at the headlines at this hour.

SAN MIGUEL: And we begin this hour along the Pakistan-Afghan border. After several days of assault on suspected al Qaeda militants, Pakistan's military says it's arrested 100 suspected fighters. But so far, whereabouts of al Qaeda's number two man, Ayman al-Zawahri, is uncertain.

Taiwan's presidential election has just ended and party officials there are saying that it is official, it's been a tough battle for Taiwan's president, but he has survived not only an assassination attempt, but the reelection. We will have the latest results in an election that before this was deemed very close, too close to call.

Back in this country, President Bush heads to Florida today to drum up support for his reelection in the key battleground state. About 15, 000 people are expected to turn out in Orlando to hear the president speak.

For the second time this year, the State Department issues a worldwide caution alert. It's urging U.S. citizens to increase their security awareness, especially when traveling abroad, because of fears that al Qaeda may be planning more attacks. Department officials say the warning is not the result of new intelligence or specific threats.

KAGAN: Our top story at this hour, lots of confusion surrounding the battle raging along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistani forces locked in a battle with forces believed to be al Qaeda say they've captured 100 fighters and they're questioning many of them. But it's unclear if al Qaeda's number two man, Ayman al- Zawahri, is in the region.

Our Aaron Brown, who is in Pakistan, talked to a top military official yesterday.


AARON BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How much certainty do you feel that those 200, 300, 400 al Qaeda fighters, however many are there, cannot escape?

SULTAN: I think with a great certainty I can say that they cannot escape the kind of sanitization of the area that we have done and the surveillance means, I am quite sure.

BROWN: Do you believe they'll surrender?

SULTAN: Either they'll surrender or they'll get eliminated.


KAGAN: So the question remains is Pakistan close to getting al- Zawahri or not?

Our Ash-Har Quraishi joining us now from Islamabad to sort out the story -- hello.


Well, the core commander in charge of these sweeps of the Pakistani Army there in Wana today telling journalists that he wasn't so sure that this high value target could not have escaped. He basically didn't rule it out. He said it was definitely a possibility.

Now, they have made some progress. As we've been saying, about 100 suspected al Qaeda fighters and tribesmen have been captured. They have made that progress, clearing about eight of those compounds that they have been surrounding over the last five days or so.

Now, this fighting has still been very fierce, very intense, and they are still holding their positions at this time. They say they are making some progress. But also government officials saying that the Pakistani Army has also suffered some heavy casualties. Now, the official number stands at around 17. But our sources are saying that it must be much stronger than that.

Now, these 100 captured al Qaeda fighters and tribesmen are being taken out of the area to be interrogated, to find out what kind of information they have about the operation that's going on right now, who is inside. Now, it's still unclear, according to the officials who are talking publicly about this, as to whether or not Ayman el- Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's number two, is within this area. But there are other intelligence sources that tell us they still believe he was in there, although they're not saying that it's a possibility. They say that he could have escaped.

So nobody's ruling anything out right now. They're not going to know until they've completely cleared this area and until the shooting has completely come to stop, Daryn.

But it's not looking like that right now.

KAGAN: Ash-Har Quraishi with the latest from Islamabad.

Thank you.

SAN MIGUEL: One year since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Protests in Australia, across Europe and elsewhere. Among the cities where anti-war demonstrations have been going on -- London, Madrid, Tokyo, Bangkok, Seoul and Manila. This is Sydney, Australia, where about 2, 000 people demonstrated.

At London's parliament building, two protesters scaled the landmark Big Ben clock tower. They've got a banner reading "Time for Truth, " some 328 feet above the city. You're looking at live pictures right now from London and Big Ben. The environmental group Greenpeace says it organized the stunt to protest policies regarding Iraq.

KAGAN: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says that Iraqis will determine their own future, not Washington or anyone else.

Here's what he told our Larry King.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "LARRY KING LIVE") DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Whatever they do, it will be an Iraqi solution. It won't be a cookie mold that's pressed down by the United States or the United Kingdom or the United Nations or the coalition. Whatever they do, they're going to figure it out for themselves, and it'll be something that's appropriate to them. And that's a good thing.


KAGAN: All right, we want to know what you think. Here's our question of the morning. Are Iraqis better off now than they were one year ago? That's our morning e-mail question. You can e-mail us your opinion. Really simple, the e-mail address,

SAN MIGUEL: "Time" photographer Bob Nickelsberg was embedded with the Marines during the run to Baghdad.

He brings us this dramatic photo essay of that difficult period.


BOB NICKELSBERG, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I was with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines from 29 Palms, California in Kuwait in 2003, in January, and went all the way to Baghdad with them until mid-April. They're known as very aggressive infantry, and that's really what they were trained to do over and over again, sort of muscle memory, they call it.

The amount of adrenaline and motivation that was visible, you could taste it. The concentration and the focus was completely different than February or March of last year, when they were looking into an unknown. Now they're getting into the mystery and peeling back the layers of Iraqi society and figuring out who's shooting at them.

It's a very complex society that takes a while to integrate into and find a way of connecting the dots. Everyone's on a learning curve.

Back in the fall, I worked with different Army units and on a day to day basis, the Army was pretty much a police action, going out every day, looking for certain people, casing houses, on patrol, looking for all of the cards in the deck plus smaller people that were in neighborhoods, in districts.

They get enough information from local people, they go in, surround a house. They opened up a lot of doors, kicked in a lot of doors and had to learn very quickly.

This was the result of a police action. They had a tip that Fedayeen were operating on the outskirts of town. He is one of the leaders of a Fedayeen unit. They were cuffed and then taken away.

This person was rudely awakened, the bang on the door at two in the morning. We found nothing in the house, but they found weapons and money at another house two or three blocks away. When I was in Baji, outside of the oil refinery, there was a weapons depot that was one of five Saddam had. It was one mile by five miles. It was entirely full. And the Americans were there blowing up, twice a day, 5, 000 pounds at a shot. And they were planning to be there for five years.

Prior to this, 99 percent of the forces had no battle experience, no shots fired at them in anger. And that -- they lost innocence very quickly. They have very little contact with real daily life of the Iraqi culture.

There's a big security problem there, which -- and there's a barrier that they never really cross until perhaps they leave. So there's a lot of thinking going on and a realization that they're going to have to be there for a while.


KAGAN: Some incredible pictures there.

SAN MIGUEL: Exactly.

KAGAN: A year in Iraq makes an impact on the American military, of course. The National Guard is deployed in numbers not seen in 50 years. Tours overseas are getting longer. What else has changed?

We're going to take a look at this, just ahead on CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

ANDREW STETTNER, NATIONAL EMPLOYMENT LAW PROJECT: I don't see the jobs market really having turned a convincing corner.


SAN MIGUEL: That's not good news.

Later this hour, eight months before the elections, how dim is the picture in the job market?

KAGAN: Plus, hanging on for dear life, literally, our Wows of the Week. We'll give you details of this amazing rescue. So you hang on, as well.

We're back after this break.


KAGAN: During the early days of the war in Iraq, it was becoming clear that it would be a battle much of the world would see live on television.


BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right, good morning.

Brent Sadler from CNN. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a second, please. This is twisted all over the place.

How are you doing?

SADLER: Welcome to Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

SADLER: How does it feel to get down here?



KAGAN: CNN cameras were waiting as American troops landed in northern Iraq. One of the memorable moments from the first days of the war in Iraq.

Now, let's fast forward. A year later, cheers ringing through a gymnasium at Fort Hood, Texas. Two hundred and fifty members of the 4th Infantry Division returned from Iraq. Those soldiers have a few days off and then they begin a month long program to convert from front line to home-based troops.

For the 130, 000 U.S. troops coming home as part of the current rotation, there are 110, 000 others that are heading to Iraq. And many troops who have been back for months have received orders they are being deployed again to Iraq.

Joining us to discuss the war's impact on the U.S. armed forces is our military analyst, Retired Brigadier General David Grange -- General, good morning.

Thanks for being with us.


Good morning.

KAGAN: We want to get to the impact on the U.S. military in just a moment.

First, I want to ask you a question about what we're watching take place in Pakistan. A very sensitive issue that the Pakistani military wants to say this is their operation. And yet you get the feel that the U.S. military is somehow helping behind the scenes.

GRANGE: Well, there's no doubt the U.S. military and maybe some other agencies are helping the Pakistani Army in this fight. But it is their fight. It is their ground. And it's a big fight. As you can see from the photographs, the immensity of this complex where al Qaeda and other fighters are held up, it's not easy objective. It's a tough objective.

KAGAN: In terms of tough objectives, let's talk about what the U.S. military faces now, as we mention some of the numbers, well over 100, 000 troops in Iraq. It's not just the number, but the type of troops. When you look at the huge percentage of National Guard troops that are being asked to serve and, frankly, do a type of duty that probably many didn't think that they were signing up for when they agreed to be part of the reserve force.

GRANGE: It's a little bit different on expectations. That's, I think that's a true statement. You have a lot of National Guard and Reserve forces being used now as really active duty soldier tasks. It's not that when they're mobilized they don't do those kind of tasks, but they're actually taking the place of active duty troops in lieu of just supporting the effort, maybe with some other skills.

So that's correct. And a big impact is that only certain specialties are being hit really hard. Some haven't even been mobilized for the last 10 years. Some have been mobilized quite often.

KAGAN: Well, and the other impact is a lot of those people, when it's time to re-up, are not going to do it and it's going to hurt your National Guard numbers.

GRANGE: To be seen. I think there's going to be some trouble. But right now the numbers are not too bad. But when you start having multiple mobilizations, that it affects not only their private sector way of life, but their employers saying, hey, I can support this one time for a year. You're asking me to do this two or three times, it's tough on my business.

So, yes, there are some implications.

KAGAN: Some people are suggesting that the U.S. military is on over drive when you look at the number of places that troops are deployed. And yet you have a secretary of defense in Donald Rumsfeld who all along has insisted, both within and outside the Pentagon, this needs to be a U.S. military that it ultimately smaller.

Do you agree with that assessment?

GRANGE: I think overall it needs to be larger. Now, I do agree with the Secretary that right now there are a lot of troops from different services not being used because they don't have the right match for the skills needed. And they have to do some internal reorganization. That'll produce thousands.

However, I think for the long-term, for the war on terrorism and other fights that are to come, and they will, we need a bigger military.

KAGAN: And can the U.S. do that in staying with a volunteer force?

GRANGE: They can do it with a volunteer force. I think there's no problem right now recruiting members. However, when people start getting constant multiple rotations, it will start having an effect. There doesn't need to be a draft, but I think there should be some type of national service not only to take care of the military, but other homeland defense issues like policing and firefighting and medical, those type of things. And as long as it's set up with some kind of a choice, I think in the future that the United States of America could do something like that.

KAGAN: Well, a man who did more than his share of service, Brigadier General David Grange.

General, thanks for your time this morning.

GRANGE: My pleasure.

KAGAN: We appreciate it -- Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: Thank you very much, Daryn.

Did the Bush family's ties to Saudi Arabia help "trigger the age of terror?" That's one of the allegations in the new book, "House of Bush, House of Saud."

Later this hour, we'll be talking with the author, Craig Unger.

But coming up next, something much lighter for you on this Saturday morning. Are you trying to decide which movie to go to this weekend? We'll help you make the right choice, when we come back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please let me keep these memories.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wake yourself up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's working like game busting.



KAGAN: If your weekend plans include a trip to the movie theater, you're in the right place. To help you decide which new flick to go to, here is our Now Showing.




SAN MIGUEL: Now, the zombies are back and they've got their own ideas about the Atkins diet. Zombies are taking over the Earth, the United States in particular. A small group of survivors is trying to escape by hiding in a mall. What a brilliant idea, right? Well, it turns out zombies, like teenagers, love shopping, too. The only hope is to make a flight to a zombie-free island. Hey, this could be the next set up for the next "Survivor, " who knows?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here at Lakuna, we have a safe technique for the focused erasure of troubling memories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there any risk of brain damage?



SAN MIGUEL: After the dawn comes the sunshine. Jim Carey stars in this romantic comedy as a man who decides to do what his ex- girlfriend did, undergo an experimental procedure erasing all memories of their time together from his brain. But somewhere down the road, he realizes those are the memories he wants to keep. The film takes place mostly in his mind, going backward in time as each memory is being replaced.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of these men have something in common -- simply a life different from his own.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He knows that I'm cooperating with the police.


SAN MIGUEL: And there's a killer on the loose. He's hard to catch because he takes lives and identities of his victims. Things get easier when an FBI profiler, played by Angelina Jolie, gets on the case. But then a love affair gets in the way to complicate an already twisted plot that probably is going to be very reminiscent of that earlier Ashley Judd movie that was out just a couple of weeks ago.

KAGAN: Thanks for that.

I went and saw the Jim Carey movie yesterday, "Eternal Sunshine."


KAGAN: It's different.

SAN MIGUEL: That's right.

KAGAN: It's by the same screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, who did "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation." So...

SAN MIGUEL: He likes to play a lot of mind games with the audience.

KAGAN: It's strange.

SAN MIGUEL: Yes. KAGAN: A romantic comedy, if that's what you're looking for, that's not it. But if you're looking for a challenging, interesting movie, Jim Carey is good, Kate Winslet.

SAN MIGUEL: Yes. It sounds like the definition of quirky there.

KAGAN: Go check it out.

SAN MIGUEL: Especially if you've got Jim Carey in the lead role, as well.


KAGAN: Let's go ahead and take a look now, a check of the top stories making headlines at this hour.

Taiwan's president appears to have won his bid for reelection. Party sources tell CNN the close election comes a day after the president and his vice president survived an assassination attempt. Neither were seriously hurt.

And back here in the U.S., the Army has dropped all charges against U.S. Army Chaplain James Yee. He was initially accused of espionage at the terrorist detention camp at Guantanamo Bay and of mishandling classified information there.

SAN MIGUEL: It was a remarkable journey. Four Israelis, four Palestinians leaving behind the conflict in the Mideast long enough to battle the harsh climate of Antarctica.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hereby name this mountain the mountain of Israeli-Palestinian friendship.


SAN MIGUEL: Tomorrow on CNN SUNDAY MORNING, the inspiring story of a group of people who put generations of differences aside and tackled a mountain never before scaled. We are breaking the ice with one of the courageous climbers who risked their lives for peace. That's live tomorrow on CNN SUNDAY MORNING.

KAGAN: My goodness. That gave me chills and I'm not even talking about mountain. It sounds like a great story.

SAN MIGUEL: Exactly.

KAGAN: Not as inspiring, jobless claims are at a three year low. But is there reason to celebrate? Find out what's behind the numbers ahead on CNN SATURDAY MORNING.


TORI ATALI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): if you suffer from severe headaches or migraines, the ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture may give you relief that traditional medicine alone can't. During acupuncture, very fine needles are inserted into the skin at specific points to relieve pain. In one of the biggest studies looking at its effectiveness, American researchers found patients that added this procedure to their normal regimen had fewer and less severe headaches. They also used less medication and had fewer doctor visits and sick days than their counterparts.

Acupuncture was first used more than 2, 000 years ago. It's been found to relieve nausea, pain, and, according to German scientists, it can even help women conceive.

Tori Atali (ph), CNN, Atlanta.



SAN MIGUEL: Well, new job figures suggest you should feel lucky just to be working. We feel lucky that we're working for you on this CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

Welcome back.

I'm Renay San Miguel.

KAGAN: Is that how it works?

SAN MIGUEL: That's how it works.

KAGAN: I should feel lucky I'm working on a Saturday morning?

SAN MIGUEL: That's what you're supposed to say.

KAGAN: Thank you, Renay, for explaining that to me so much.

SAN MIGUEL: It's my pleasure.

KAGAN: I'm Daryn Kagan.

That story in just a minute.

First, though, let's take a look at the headlines at this hour.

And for that, we begin in Taiwan, where the president there has apparently won a narrow victory in his reelection bid. His party sources are claiming that. He and the country's vice president survived an assassination attempt on Friday, the last day of campaigning. But his opponent says the election was unfair and plans to file a complaint to annul the results.

There are doubts today about whether al Qaeda's number two man is holed up with his fighters. A Pakistani military official says the fighters may actually be protecting a local criminal. The Pakistanis have captured about 100 fighters in their battle with al Qaeda near the Afghan border. Thousands of people march in Australian cities today to protest the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. Other demonstrations are being held around the world today, marking the anniversary of the invasion.

Canadian officials say two North American cows diagnosed with mad cow disease may have eaten feed with meat and bone meal. Those products were banned in feed in August of 1997. The cows were born in spring of that year.

SAN MIGUEL: Now, when it comes to your job, do you feel lucky just to have one? While the unemployment rate is relatively low, there seems to be some jitters about losing or not being able to find work.

CNN's Kathleen Hays takes a look at the job picture.


KATHLEEN HAYS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the factory floor to the trading floor, from college grads to kids who never got a high school diploma, it seems everyone is worried about finding a job or keeping the one they have. The economy created 360, 000 jobs since August, but it lost 2.4 million over the past three years. Worker advocates say even people who have jobs are running scared.

STETTNER: There's a sense of boy, I'm lucky. But if I lost work, I know someone next to me who hasn't been able to get anything but consulting or temp work.

HAYS: The nation's unemployment rate stands at 5.6 percent, just over half the 10.8 percent high hit in December of '82. And the number of people applying for first time unemployment benefits hit its lowest level in three years, a sign, experts say, that layoffs are declining.

But big pockets of weakness remain. Eight million are unemployed compared to five and a half million four years ago, according to the Labor Department. Four million are working part-time, not because they want to, but because they can't find full-time jobs. And nearly half a million people are so discouraged they have simply stopped looking for work.

It now takes nearly five months, on average, to find a job once you've been laid off. Back in 2000, it took just three and a half months.

(on camera): And it's not just a blue collar problem. Over the past three years, the number of people out of a job for more than five months is up 260 percent in manufacturing. The long-term unemployment is up 350 percent in the once high flying information technology industry.

(voice-over): There are some bright spots. Hiring is expected to pick up at small businesses, where half of all private sector jobs are created. WILLIAM DUNKELBERG, NFIB: They're expecting a lot of sales increases coming over the next six months and they'll need more people to hurdle that.

HAYS: But it's slow going.

ANDY BUSCH, BANK OF MONTREAL: They need to fill these positions and yet no one's hiring just yet. So many companies are rebuilding their balance sheet, they're jacking their earnings and everybody's being very, very cautious.

HAYS: So the economy is moving, but...

STETTNER: I don't see the jobs market really having turned a convincing corner. It's a train that's moving out of the station, but pretty slow.

HAYS: So it looks like it may be a while before it's all aboard for the American worker.

Kathleen Hays, CNN, New York.


SAN MIGUEL: Well, there is one job out there you may want if you're looking, but it's a special one -- working with the Homeland Security Department as an entertainment liaison. The Department wants someone who can give it advice when the Department's help is sought for film and entertainment projects. It's not a bad salary, either, as high as $136, 000 a year plus benefits.

KAGAN: That's entertaining right there.

A church pastor on trial in Washington State. The charge? She is a practicing lesbian. Our legal eagles get on the case in the next hour of CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

Then at 9:15 a.m. Eastern, a new twist in the hunt for al Qaeda. Terrorists copy the style of Osama bin Laden.

And something else you won't want to miss. At 9:30 a.m. Eastern, a makeover for your yard. A co-host of "Rally Around the House" performs miracles on a budget.

But first, the often controversial relationship between the Bush family and Saudi Arabia. The author of "House of Bush, House of Saud" live on CNN SATURDAY MORNING.


SAN MIGUEL: On the one year anniversary of the war in Iraq, many are still debating the pros and cons of the war on terror. One tense issue, the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. A controversial new book titled "House of Bush, House of Saud" makes some explosive allegations about that relationship.

Shortly, Nail Al-Jubeir, a Saudi embassy spokesman, will join us with his reactions.

But first, we want to speak with the book's author, Craig Unger, who joins us now live from New York.

Mr. Unger, thanks for being with us today.


SAN MIGUEL: I want to go right to a quote that comes early in the -- in your book. This line right here, "Horrifying as it sounds, the secret relationship between these two great families helped to trigger the age of terror and give rise to the tragedy of 9/11."

Now, I think some might be able to argue that it was a longstanding relationship with the Bush family on the part of the royal family of Saudi Arabia that might have kept things from getting even worse than they were in this age of terror.

UNGER: Well, things got pretty bad on 9/11. Never before in history has a president of the United States had such a close relationship with another foreign power as the Bush family has with the Saudis. And if you go back 30 years, as I do in "House of Bush, House of Saud," I can trace the relationship in both the private sector and the public sector for going back to the senior George Bush in the '70s.

And I've discovered that at least $1.4 billion went from the Royal House of Saud to the Bush family and its associates in various companies they and their allies played -- in which they played a major role.

So there's been a very, very close relationship. And I think there's a basic piece of logic that's been missing from the American discussion in a certain way. That is, the Saudis played an enormous role in 9/11, not just that 15 out of the 19 hijackers were Saudi. The Saudis have played a huge role in financing al Qaeda...

SAN MIGUEL: Well, let me stop you right there for a second because I wanted to go back to that $1.4 billion that you highlight and that you itemize at the end of this book. A lot of that, though, isn't that the -- wasn't that through indirect means? You mentioned the Carlisle Group, the private equity firm that the Bush family was involved in. And a lot of these things also, they're things like the Saud donations to presidential libraries, which they have done for the Ronald Reagan Library, as well, correct?

UNGER: Absolutely. I'm not saying this money went into the private coffers. I'm saying that as business associates, they've been very, very close for many years. And they regard the Saudis as business associates, colleagues, friends. They've gone on vacations with Prince Bandar, who's visited them at Kennebunkport and Crawford, Texas.

So the question is, did they ask the tough questions about the Saudi role in terrorism? And right after 9/11, a massive operation was undertaken at a time when no one really could fly in the United States. Even a man awaiting a heart transplant had to -- the transplanted organ was forced down. President Clinton couldn't fly. Al Gore couldn't fly. FBI counter-terrorism agents couldn't fly. But 140 Saudis, including 24 members of the bin Laden family, were able to fly, a massive operation authorized by the White House.

I believe the 9/11 Commission really should be looking into this. There were at least planes, stopping in 12 cities.


UNGER: And I found for the first time the list of people on four of those planes, including someone who is alleged to have al Qaeda ties, Prince Ahmed bin Salman.

SAN MIGUEL: Well, but the FBI did know about those people. What you're claiming is that they didn't spend enough time interrogating them?

UNGER: In the most commonplace murder investigation, you talk to the friends and relatives of the perpetrator. In this case, people were merely identified, put on planes and spirited out of the country. This included 24 members of the bin Laden family. It included Prince Ahmed, who, according to an al Qaeda operative who was interrogated by the White House, was the go between between the royal family of Saudi Arabia and al Qaeda, and it had -- allegedly had advanced knowledge of 9/11.

SAN MIGUEL: We have -- there's a...

UNGER: Why weren't they interrogated? The 9/11 Commission really should be looking into this, I think.

SAN MIGUEL: We could spend a lot more time on some of the allegations in this book, but we have to leave it there.

Craig Unger, author of "House of Bush, House of Saud," thanks so much for your time this morning.

We do appreciate it.

UNGER: Thank you.

SAN MIGUEL: And now for some reaction to some of the book's claims, Nail Al-Jubeir, a Saudi embassy spokesman, joins us now live from Washington.

And a lot of these claims I'm sure that you are familiar with. They were brought up in books by Robert Baer, "Sleeping with the Devil" and the new Gerald Posner book, as well.

What do you think about what's in this?

NAIL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI EMBASSY SPOKESPERSON: Absurd. It's charges that he leveled that he couldn't support. They have been addressed. If you look at his footnotes, he backtracks on a lot of the charges he just made publicly. It's just a pathetic attempt to sell a book.

As far as the bin Laden group or anybody leaving Saudi Arabia, they did not leave this country until the 15th or the 16th, days after the air space was opened. He mentions that later on in the book. So that he claims that they were rushed out in a massive operation. It's just a desperate attempt to sell a book.

This is the election season. Facts don't matter. And just, his comment just now just proved it. The only thing that he has right is, yes, we have a strong relationship with the president, Bush, as well as President Clinton, as well as President Carter and all the way back to Roosevelt. And that is a strong relationship, our friendship with Americans goes back. And it's deep. It is not like Washington, where friendship is what you get out of it, not a deep friendship.

And if he has a problem with that, he should accept the fact that nothing that we have done is illegal. We have never asked an American president to do anything that is either illegal, criminal or against the interests of his own country.

But, again, he is the one who's leveling the charges. And in his footnotes, he backtracks again from a lot of the charges he just made here.

SAN MIGUEL: Let me stop you right there for a second and talk more about that plane trip that was taken by the bin Laden family...


SAN MIGUEL: ... members of the royal family. Now, you told our Paula Zahn on September 4th of last year that you didn't know for sure that anyone on that plane full of Saudi royal family members and bin Laden family members had anything to do with planning or executing September 11 or even that they had prior knowledge, as Mr. Unger is claiming.

But has that changed? Do you have any kind of new information at all concerning who was on that flight out of the U.S.?

AL-JUBEIR: Yes. Oh, we know who was on these flights. They all -- the FBI knew it. They were approved by the U.S. government. But remember, every single -- except for two planes that left after the 16th, after the air space was left, all those who have left were on U.S. planes. They were, their names were submitted to the U.S. government. The bin Laden group that left, when it departed, they were checked with the U.S. government. They were interviewed. They were, at every stop of the way they had to get off the plane, the plane was searched, they were questioned. And it went through the whole process.

They didn't leave on, as Mr. Unger just claimed, while the air space was closed. They left around the 19th and left the U.S. on the 20th. That's five to seven days after the U.S. air space has been opened.

But, you see, these are little pesky little things called facts. And sometimes they stand in the way of a good novel.

SAN MIGUEL: Let me ask you one other quick question here as our time is slipping away from us. You, whether or not these allegations are true or not, you have, no doubt, heard some of the criticism from some people, like the former CIA agent, Robert Baer, in his book, "Sleeping with the Devil, " talking about the relationship between the Saudi royal family and some of the Wahabi extremists. Now the Saudi, Saudi Arabia has become a target of terrorism, with the bombings at Riyadh. And there have been shootouts between the Saudi police and extremists.


SAN MIGUEL: I'm wondering if you can give us a progress report on how the Saudi family is fighting terrorism within that country and whether or not that is a result of criticism from some here in the U.S., including maybe those in the Bush administration.

AL-JUBEIR: No, it has nothing to do with the criticism from anyone. This is in the interests of our own nation, our own security. When extremism gets out of hand, when extremism gets, turns to violence, when people start murder, we crack down. We've done it in 1979. We've done it early in our history and we will continue to do this.

It's, before 9/11, nobody really noticed what was happening in Saudi Arabia. They didn't notice our crackdown on some of the extremists. They didn't notice what we were doing to reform our country. Now everybody is criticizing and everybody wants to take credit for it. If they want to take credit for it, by all means, do it.

As long as we maintain safety and security for our people, this is the objective. But we are rooting out the extremists in our country. It is a long battle. But we will win it.

SAN MIGUEL: Nail Al-Jubeir is the Saudi embassy spokesman.

Thanks so much for your time this morning.

AL-JUBEIR: Thank you for having me.

SAN MIGUEL: We do appreciate it.

KAGAN: If you haven't had time to keep up with the news this week, that's where -- what we're doing right now.

Let's rewind for you right now and look at some of the top stories.

In Spain, the incoming leader says he wants to withdraw his country's troops from Iraq. This follows the Madrid train bombings which could be al Qaeda retailing for Spain's support for the war. U.S. and Iraqi troops launch a sweep of Baghdad, searching for weapons and insurgents. It's called Operation Iron Promise.

In Baghdad, a car bomb explodes at a hotel. Seven people are killed.

And in Las Vegas, police arrest Charles McCoy, Jr. He is the suspect in two dozen highway shootings in the Columbus, Ohio area.

Tomorrow, we're going to fast forward to the week ahead and tell you which stories will grab the spotlight.

SAN MIGUEL: All this rewinding and fast forwarding is making me dizzy.

Live isn't simple for Paris Hilton these days. Find out why the hotel heiress ended up in a hospital. That story, when CNN SATURDAY MORNING returns.

KAGAN: And later, brace yourselves. Gas prices are about to hit you even harder.


KAGAN: Sorry to tell you that, but we'll explain, coming up.



NORAH JONES: Sunrise, sunrise, couldn't tempt us if it tried. Cause the afternoon don't wake up (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And I say who...


KAGAN: Norah Jones, the top CD on, the second CD on top again.

Let's go to some entertainment news now. No more horsing around for Paris Hilton, at least for a while. The hotel heiress fell from a horse yesterday while taping her reality show at a Florida ranch. She was airlifted to a hospital, but her injuries are not serious. The 23-year-old was taping the second season of her reality show, which is called "The Simple Life."

And then, oops, talk about nasty spills, fellow blonde Britney Spears had one of her own. The pop princess hurt her knee during a concert on Thursday in Moline, Illinois, forcing her to end the performance early and cancel last night's concert in Rosemont. I know, talk about some serious news. No word on when she'll take the stage again.

SAN MIGUEL: If that spill had happened during her performance of the song "Toxic," then it was a toxic spill.

KAGAN: Very good.

SAN MIGUEL: Thank you.

I'm here all week.

Are you one of nearly 55 percent of Americans using herbs in your diet? Find out what's safe and whether you really need dietary supplements. Holly Firfer will answer those questions on our Weekend House Call. It's about 40 minutes from now.

KAGAN: I'm kind of shocked that you know specific names of Britney Spear's songs.

SAN MIGUEL: Me, too. That's kind of scary for me, as well.

KAGAN: I'm a little cornered about that. We'll talk about that. First, though, you want to stock up on gasoline. If you think gas prices are high now, uh-oh, wait till next month. We have details on what is ahead.

SAN MIGUEL: And the British have a new way to get loaded at the pub without getting a hangover. But will it fly? Find out in our Wows of the Week. That's coming up next.


SAN MIGUEL: Well, you'd better fill up with gas this weekend, before it gets more expensive. Record gasoline prices seem inevitable. That's according to projections released by the Department of Energy this week. The blame goes to rising oil prices. Several law makers want the government to step in and drive down the cost of petroleum.

California gas pumps show the highest prices right now, averaging $2.15 for a gallon of regular. Ouch. You can find the lowest prices in the nation in Oklahoma and here in Georgia, where prices dropped as low as $1.58 a gallon.

The national average right now is $1.73 a gallon, $0.02 lower than the all time record of $1.75. The Department of Energy says the record will be shattered next month, when the average price of a gallon of gas will hit $1.83 a gallon.

KAGAN: Oh, I can hardly wait.

If gas prices are enough to drive you to drink, get a load of this. It looks like a high tech hookapipe (ph). But it's actually liquor by the snort. It's a machine that converts booze into a mist. What will they think of next?


KAGAN: It's inhaled. That's good, booze up the nose. Great. The machine costs about 2,500 bucks. Knock yourself out.

You think you've had a bad week? Try this guy's job. He was running a cable line across a creek in Illinois when his safety harness slipped. The fire department finally did cut him loose. The cable guy was shaken up, but otherwise OK.

SAN MIGUEL: A good thing he was working out.


And finally, the Oregon -- this is ah. Give me my ah.


KAGAN: Ah, thank you.

The Oregon Zoo recently boosted the world's population of Humboldt penguins by one. The penguins are native to the ocean cliffs of Peru and are among the most endangered of all penguin species.

SAN MIGUEL: Our federally mandated cute animal video there.


SAN MIGUEL: Wait, we're not quite finished with the video that'll make your jaw drop. Can you believe this is the first day of spring? Tell that to the folks in New Jersey. Parts of the state got hit with nearly eight inches of snow.

And check out this scene in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Parts of northern and eastern Pennsylvania had up to six inches. Winter's still hanging on by the fingernails there.

KAGAN: I was talking to my little sister in New York City yesterday. I said, yes, I'm sitting out on my porch. She's like well how are you doing that? I said well, because it's in the '70s here in Atlanta.

SAN MIGUEL: That's right. It is the South.

KAGAN: It's freezing in New York City.


KAGAN: Now a quick look of our top stories.

Pakistan forces fighting suspected Al Qaeda members along the Afghan border say their so-called high value target may have escaped. It's believed that target was al Qaeda's number two man, Ayman al- Zawahri. That is uncertain at this point, though.

From Europe to Asia and in this country, anti-war protests are taking place today, all part of the first anniversary of the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

SAN MIGUEL: Our e-mail question of this morning has been whether or not you think the people of Iraq are better off one year into the war. There you see the address,

And are you going to start us off there?

KAGAN: Sure.

Our first e-mail is coming from Dot, who says, "No, the Iraqis are not better off. It does not seem that Iraq is better off today than a year ago. A year ago, it was not a war torn country occupied by foreigners with terrorist attacks all around them and the citizens more like captive in their own land."

SAN MIGUEL: Elizabeth from Toronto has a different view of this: "Yes, I believe they definitely are better off. Despite all the foreign fighters and security issues, they are better off without Saddam over their heads."

The address once again,,

Thanks for writing in.

Are Iraqis better off now than they were a year ago?

KAGAN: I think we have time in the next half hour, perhaps, to read some more.

SAN MIGUEL: I think so.

KAGAN: Hopefully.

SAN MIGUEL: Or that's the plan.

KAGAN: And the next half hour of CNN SATURDAY begins right now.


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