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Dead or Alive?; Bush-Abbas Meeting; War Coverage Through a Lens

Aired May 26, 2005 - 14:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Iraq's most wanted man, is he hurt, is he dead, or alive? And what does it mean for future violence in Iraq?
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Quake threat. New discoveries have scientists wondering if the West Coast should be bracing for a very big earthquake.

O'BRIEN: And is this ad porn or just a pitch to sell burgers? Where's the burger? I don't know. Paris Hilton serving up a hot debate, but doesn't she always, wherever you may find her, Internet or TV?

I'm Miles O'Brien, and we're at the CNN Center.

PHILLIPS: And I'm Kyra Phillips. CNN's LIVE FROM starts right now.

O'BRIEN: His tactics are deadly, his ambitions daunting, his survival skills apparently extraordinary. But is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi still surviving? And if so, what? The conflicting reports on Web sites and even from high Iraqi officials leave the Pentagon and many others puzzling over the welfare and whereabouts of Iraq's most wanted insurgent.

We get the latest from CNN's Jane Arraf in Baghdad.


JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: The fate of the most wanted man in Iraq is still unclear. Iraq's interior minister has told a press conference that he has concrete information that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is indeed wounded. Now, when pressed on that, he said he would not reveal details, did not know how seriously he was wounded, and wouldn't say anything else about it, except privately afterwards told us that we could believe that it was true. He was sure that that was the case.

But shortly after that, Iraq's prime minister, Ibrahim al- Jaafari, speaking to reporters, told them that he had no accurate information that Zarqawi had, indeed, been injured. U.S. military officials say they're not sure either, but some Iraqi government officials say that, whether that report is true or not, it could point to a serious split in the insurgency. They say it could be proof that some insurgents have grown tired of Zarqawi and believe that he and the killing of masses of Iraqi civilians are hurting their cause. To crack down on that insurgency, Iraqi officials, the interior and defense minister announced that they would begin a massive operation starting in Baghdad. This will be the biggest Iraqi security operation since the end of major combat.

According to the officials, 40,000 Iraqi army soldiers and Iraqi police will ring the outskirts of Baghdad, controlling access do house-to-house searches in some neighborhoods, set up emergency checkpoints in an attempt to quell the insurgency here in the capital city, and moving out to other areas after that.

Jane Arraf, CNN, reporting from Baghdad.


PHILLIPS: Robert Ludlum couldn't have cooked up a more tantalizing array of possibilities and motives and potential red herrings in the al-Zarqawi conundrum. Octavia Nasr knows them all very well. She's our senior Arab affairs editor, and she joins us now live with her insights.

All right. So we hear he's wounded, or he might be dead, he checks himself into a hospital. All kinds of questions out there and confusion among the Arab community.

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN ARAB AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Right. And you heard Jane say that officials are confused, everybody is confused, but no one is more confused than the Zarqawi supporters.

You check these Islamist Web sites, and it is confusion galore, scenarios, stories, claims, counterclaims, denials. It is a big mess on Islamist Web sites.

To give you an example, earlier today, there was -- some media even reported it as being true, that the group, al Qaeda, in Iraq, had named a successor for Zarqawi. There was this -- this claim there, "The leaders met and named Abu Hafs al-Qarni as deputy chief until the return of our sheikh."

Soon after that another claim denying it, saying, "We deny the naming of a man named Abu Hafs or any other name as a replacement."

This one is a bit more credible loo for people like myself who observe these sites all the time. Abu Maysarah al-Iraqi, who has become pretty known to us, Kyra, lately, in the last few months, he's the one who has been posting messages in the name of al Qaeda in Iraq. He's the one who posted the claims of responsibilities, videos and the sort.

PHILLIPS: So when you see his name, when you see a posting by the al-Iraqi, does that mean to the Arab world this is pretty credible, this is true?

NASR: Yes.

PHILLIPS: And what is he even saying, then? What is he even posting?

NASR: Well, he's the one who posted the announcement of the injury earlier in the week.


NASR: So the reason people, you know, always ask me, "How do you know that this is credible, this is not credible?" Well, we have a few ways to check things out.

First of all, it's the person source. In this case, it is this guy, Abu Maysarah al-Iraqi. He's someone who's been posting messages in the name of al Qaeda for the last few months.

He calls himself the media coordinator for al Qaeda in Iraq. Like I said, he posted messages, claims of responsibilities. He's posted videos proving his claims.

So, all of a sudden, earlier in the week, he goes on an Islamist Web site that has also -- has become the mouthpiece for al Qaeda in Iraq, and he posts a message saying that, "The leader is injured. Please pray for him." Of course we took that seriously.

Any time -- this was a first. These groups never announce that the leader, the amir, the sheikh, is injured. They usually announce deaths, because a death, as you know, Kyra, means to them that this is a victory, that the person had ascended to martyrdom.

Never before did they announce someone being injured, wounded. So that indicated, too, again, people like myself, who observe these sites and monitor them all the time, that the injury could either be serious or maybe the man is dead already.

PHILLIPS: OK. So let's say -- let's say he is dead. Hopefully we'll hear soon about that. But back to those two e-mails that we put up about possibly a new leader, if indeed he's dead, if we could take a look at that again.

Al-Qarni, Abu Hafs al-Qarni, is that somebody that you've heard of before? Do you know who that is? Is that a leader within al Qaeda?

NASR: We've never heard of this man before. The name indicates he's Saudi. So observers who are looking at this name are saying, well, that's interesting.

That means a Saudi is going to replace the Jordanian-born terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. That means that there will be more Mujahadeen coming from Saudi Arabia to Iraq.

So the name is -- I mean, it's not known. But then again, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was not very well-known not long ago. But it's something to look at as a possibility.

Now, the interesting thing in those quotes that we showed, the source on the first, on the announcement of a replacement, is a different person from this guy Abu Maysarah al-Iraqi, who has been speaking for al Qaeda in Iraq. So, if indeed there is a replacement, and if indeed this Abu Hafs al-Qarni is the replacement, then he has already a media coordinator, and we will be hearing from that new person soon.

It's a bit confusing. You know, it's not easy. But for us it seems easy because we monitor them on a daily basis, so we know the changes, we know the ins and outs of these Web sites. Very interesting.

PHILLIPS: All right. Octavia Nasr, thank you so much.

Well, straight head, the special challenges of covering the war in Iraq.


MARY ROGERS, CNN WAR ZONE PHOTOGRAPHER: We want a few shots of soldiers and locals down...


ROGERS: But look behind you. It's the pied piper.


PHILLIPS: Straight ahead on LIVE FROM, we're going to talk with CNN war zone photographer Mary Rogers about what it's like to be there and also to be featured in a new documentary.


ROGERS: This is not going to work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know. I know. I understand.


O'BRIEN: At the White House, renewed efforts to undo the Middle East logjam. President Bush is hosting Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. It is the president's first high-level meeting with the Palestinian leader since taking office.


MAHMOUD ABBAS, PRESIDENT, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY (through translator): We expressed our deep concern over the continuous Israeli settlement activities and the construction of the wall on our land, particularly in the area of Jerusalem. These settlement activities, in addition to undermining President Bush's vision in establishing a Palestinian and contiguous state, that it is a viable state that can live side by side by the state of Israel, it also contributes to the feeling of frustration and despair and the loss of...


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Israel must remove unauthorized outposts and stop settlement expansion. The barrier being erected by Israel as a part of its security effort must be a security rather than political barrier. And its route should take into account, consistent with security needs, its impact on Palestinians not engaged in terrorist activities.


O'BRIEN: Meanwhile, in the U.S. Senate, the battle over John Bolton goes into a second day. Republicans want a quick up-or-down confirmation vote. Democrats say they want to see classified information about Bolton which the Bush administration is withholding. Bolton has been nominated by President Bush as U.N. -- excuse me, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

PHILLIPS: Well, the defense has rested, but the bombshells are not over. Michael Jackson's accuser may take the stand again. We've got details on the trial straight ahead on LIVE FROM.

And is Paris Hilton's pitch for sizzling burgers a little too hot? We'll talk about that ahead.




PHILLIPS: It was once the exclusive preserve of men, but the macho world of the war correspondent is being steadily eroded, and women are playing an increasing role in covering some of the world's most brutal conflicts. It's the subject of a documentary on the A&E Channel tonight. And as you can see, one of the women featured is our very own Mary Rogers, who's based at CNN's Cairo bureau, a very humble woman, indeed, and I had to beg her to do this segment.

Hi, Mary.

ROGERS: Hi, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And we appreciate it very much. I want to tell our viewers that we have a little bit of a delay.

So let me ask you the first question, Mary. I know it was a little overwhelming having this crew following you around. But tell our viewers, you know, why you do this and what drives you, because you've gone to probably every single dangerous situation that CNN has ever covered.

ROGERS: Maybe not every single one, but a good chunk of them during the long period of time I've worked for the network. But I think what drives me is I really believe in what I do. I think it's important for people, especially in America, to be aware of what's going on outside their own back yard.

PHILLIPS: And particularly, as I watch some of these clips, specifically in the Middle East, I noticed, like in this scene, the men really want to help you, they want to carry your sticks, they want to provide for you, because they see you as a female. And I love it. You tell them, look, I don't need your help, but this is what I need to get done.

Tell me about what you come up against covering stories over there.

ROGERS: Well, let me think. Which scene are you referring to, the scene in Falluja from the documentary where...



ROGERS: Yes. In that scene -- in that scene I was very frustrated because I think we were -- this -- that -- that was shot in May, 2003, when it was still safe for journalists to go to Falluja, sort of right after the war. And we were going in to -- to talk to people.

Ben, the correspondent I work with, you know, speaks fluent Arabic. And there were some U.S. military guarding a gas station, so we stopped there.

People swarmed us, I think mostly out of curiosity. Once they found out Ben spoke Arabic, it was hard for him to go. And in the meantime, I was just trying to get pictures of the scene, but I felt like it was a pied piper act, because curiosity, they swarmed me. And when they -- they get, you know, inches away from your lens, it's impossible to take a real picture.

And the fixer we were with, he thought -- when he said, "Don't be nervous," it really means -- you know, in the Middle East, they mean it to be, "Don't be frightened." And I wasn't frightened. I was frustrated because I couldn't get any pictures, and I ended up having to get on top of our four-wheel-drive, you know, to shoot off of that.

PHILLIPS: All right. So you look at a situation like that, and then we see...

ROGERS: But...

PHILLIPS: Yes, go ahead.

ROGERS: Oh, I was thinking, as a woman overall, I don't feel working I'm treated any differently than, say, a man would. You know, sometimes situations are harder because -- well, for example, yesterday, there was a referendum here in Egypt, and this small opposition came out on the street to demonstrate, and they were surrounded, surrounded, beat up and arrested, by the police department here. And as journalists, we -- you know, I had cameras shoved -- you know, they were trying to stop us from shooting it. And basically Ben had to body-block a lot of these guys for me, you know, to get the pictures. And, you know, the hand over the lens, all of that.

I mean, I think sometimes, you know, my physical size, I wish I was 6'4", but it just isn't so. But in other instances -- in other instances, I think being a woman helps in very sensitive -- sometimes, you know, we're viewed maybe as less of a threat. And in sensitive situations, scenes of sorrow, shooting funerals, families that have had people die in war, wounded children, things like that, try to do it in a way so I'm sort of invisible, but also, too, I think maybe, maybe, you know, being a woman, I might be less of a threat...

PHILLIPS: Interesting. Well, speaking of high threats...

ROGERS: ... in their eyes.

PHILLIPS: Sure. Well, speaking of a high-threat situation, how about Sierra Leone? I was looking at your videotape. I see you surrounded by gunfire.

Take us back to that moment. I know it's on A&E, and it's also here in videotape that you shot. What was that like? And were there moments where you thought, oh, boy, this is really pushing it?

ROGERS: Well, there was a moment where I thought, oh, boy, if we are overrun by the RUF, the rebel army, that these soldiers, the government soldiers you see were fighting, the people that hacked the hands and legs off of innocent civilians as part of their tenure civil war, the guys -- we went up to the front line that day because the government soldiers had fought -- you know, pushed the RUF back. So it was supposedly secure.

So we went up there. We were taking pictures, talking to people. And just before -- you know, and everything was quiet. And just as we were getting ready to leave, Ben was actually in the car with the driver taking off.

This huge gun battle breaks out. The RUF swept back. And this is all in the bush, so you can't see them. And we're on the side of a dirt road here, and it's all bush, sort of in the middle of nowhere. And I hit my camera and I started rolling, and two thoughts were going through my mind.

One, was that if the RUF overruns us, that's it, we're dead. And second, out of the corner of my eye everything sort of happened in my mind really slow motion. Like I saw our driver leave us and Ben come jumping out of the car to be with me during -- he wasn't going to leave me there during this gun battle.

It all ended well. The guys we were with pushed these guys away, and -- but several days later, at the same spot, two colleagues of mine were killed in an ambush. And one of them was a good friend of mine, and that really sort of hit me hard for awhile, because it was the first -- in all my years in war zones and covering war, it was the first friend I had that was killed.

PHILLIPS: Wow, Mary. Well, I'll tell you what, your pictures bring us the truth, bring the entire world the truth. And you are one of our biggest heroes, heroines, I should say, at CNN.

And we want to encourage everyone to see the documentary on A&E tonight, 9:00 Eastern. It's called "Bearing Witness."

Mary Rogers, thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: Should the West Coast be bracing for a big quake? A new discovery puts it on shaky ground. Details are ahead on LIVE FROM.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Allan Chernoff at the New York Stock Exchange. A price war is breaking out in the digital photo market. I'll tell you where the deals are. That's next on LIVE FROM.

Stay with us.


PHILLIPS: Well, it has all the makings of an epic disaster movie, but this time it's all fact, and it's chilling. Researchers say a recently discovered fault line under Los Angeles could lead to disaster of monumental proportions.

CNN's Casey Wian reports.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It would make the 1994 Northridge earthquake seem like a speed bump. It could even dwarf the devastating quake that killed 5,000 in Kobe, Japan, a year later.

Two miles underneath Los Angeles lies the Puente Hills fault, discovered in 1999. Now, using new computer software, scientists have calculated the death and destruction it is likely to cause. They say the fault is capable of a magnitude 7.5 quake.

Here's how it would spread throughout the Los Angeles basin. The predicted result, between three and 18,000 deaths, $82 billion to $252 billion in direct economic losses, and 3,000 to 99,000 tons of debris.

NED FIELD, U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY: This is really one of the worst scenarios one could imagine for the United States. For the residents of L.A., we don't want people to panic, and we want to maintain perspective.

It turns out you are thousands of times more likely to die of a heart attack than from this earthquake. You are hundreds of times more likely to die in an auto accident than in this earthquake. In fact, your odds are about even for getting struck by lightning.

WIAN: Unlike the well known and easy to spot San Andreas fault, long thought to be California's main threat, quakes on so-called blind thrust faults such as Puente Hills are relatively rare, occurring every 2,000 or 3,000 years. But they're very violent and dangerous. The new study has government disaster officials rethinking their strategies.

JEFFREY LUSK, FEMA: We haven't had a bulls-eye earthquake event that has caught us in a major way unprepared. These kind of studies help tone enhance our awareness, enhance our planning. The truth is, if we have an earthquake of this magnitude in this area, you're talking about a long-term change probably to the economics of the southland.

WIAN: The good news is that according to a new California earthquake risk prediction map now posted on the Internet, the chance of it happening today or tomorrow is minimal. Beyond that, no one knows.

(on camera): Of course there's nothing that can be done to minimize the size of an earthquake, but disaster management officials say minimizing damage from a devastating quake is a matter of personal responsibility. And they're urging every California resident and building owner to become better prepared.

Casey Wian, CNN, Los Angeles.


O'BRIEN: All right. Consumers are going to win because there's a little competition heating up.

Do you put your pictures online much?

PHILLIPS: Yes, you taught me how to do it. Remember?

O'BRIEN: What do you use?

PHILLIPS: I do those little...

O'BRIEN: Which one, though, Shutterfly?

PHILLIPS: Shutterfly.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Shutterfly's actually more expensive now, isn't it, Allan?




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