Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Al Qaeda: The Looming Terror; Key Witness Testifies in O.J. Simpson Hearing; Pakistani Crisis Turns Deadly
Aired November 9, 2007 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Today, a key witness in the O.J. Simpson hearing gave his version of what happened in that Vegas hotel room. He called it a business deal that went south. And you won't believe what that alleged business deal involved. We will tell you in a moment.
Also tonight, what Congress did to make so many Americans so angry. Your tax dollars are paying their salaries, and most of you want them fired. New poll numbers are out. You ever wonder what they are actually doing there on Capitol Hill? Well, tonight, we are "Keeping Them Honest."
And the White House turns up the heat, as Pakistan's political crisis takes a deadly turn. The turmoil in Pakistan is a big deal for the U.S. because al Qaeda has made Pakistan its new power base. Just ahead, crucial facts you need to know about al Qaeda, but probably don't.
First, if you were the judge, what would you do with O.J. Simpson? It's a loaded question, but one that will be made very soon. Prosecutors want Simpson, shown here in court, today tried for armed robbery. His lawyers say, of course, he's innocent. Both hope a video is going to prove their case.
Here's the video. It's not a trailer from the "Ocean's Eleven." This a security tape from a Vegas hotel. It shows Simpson and his posse, if you will, about to get busy. That's what the kids say there.
One of the men is Thomas Riccio, the guy with the white hair. He set up the encounter. And he tape-recorded it and ha apparently been profiting off of it. Today, he took the stand. He said a mouthful.
CNN's Ted Rowlands is in Vegas live with more -- Ted.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, that business deal that went south you talked about went south, according to Riccio, when the guns came out.
From the defense's standpoint, Riccio was on the stand for an extended period of time. This guy talked and talked, all of it on the record. It could be used at trial. He basically said that there's a chance that O.J. Simpson may not have known that there were guns in that hotel room.
That's what -- this is a prosecution witness saying that he believes there's a chance that O.J. didn't see them, because the guys that had him were behind him. He also says that the -- the merchandise inside the room that belonged to O.J. Simpson was the only goal of this business plan, that Simpson wanted the personal items, the photographs, the heirlooms from his family, and, all of the other stuff, he had absolutely no concern for, some points for the defense, one could argue, today during the cross-examining of Riccio and of Charles Cashmore.
He was the other significant witness we heard from today. He was on, and, basically, again, said that he didn't see any evidence that O.J. Simpson knew there were guns in that hotel room. We're still a long way from finishing this preliminary hearing. They are breaking for the holiday weekend and then they will be back at it on Tuesday morning.
Ted, stay there.
Let's bring in Court TV anchor Jami Floyd, who thinks everyone in this case is pretty dirty.
COOPER: I can't say I disagree with you.
Why is it so significant whether or not O.J. Simpson knew there was a gun?
JAMI FLOYD, COURT TV ANCHOR: Oh, it's key. This is armed robbery. You have got to be armed. And, if somebody that you're with is armed, that's enough. But you need to know it. You can't just by happenstance be with some guy with a gun and be charged with armed robbery and see a conviction for that.
So, this is a weakness in the prosecution's case. Intent is key. And that's what they're going for. The defense is already asking all the key questions about intent.
COOPER: And this guy Charles Cashmore took the stand today. He has already accepted a plea deal for his testimony. The defense tried to get the whole thing struck because he apparently appeared on some TV show last night.
FLOYD: Yes, I like this. This case has been tried on TV far more than it has in a courtroom on all of the networks. And it is kind of outrageous that these guys fan out on national television.
But there's no gag order in place. Las Vegas is notoriously open about talking to the press and letting our camera in, thank goodness, right? But you think it's ill-advised, because anything you say can be used against you. And it doesn't have to have been said in a court of law.
The judge didn't agree, though. The judge said, look, let's all be -- use good judgment, try not to go on TV so much, but the guy can testify.
COOPER: Ted, how does this guy Cashmore come off on the -- on the stand? Does he strike you as strong -- as a strong witness for the prosecution?
ROWLANDS: Well, he could be. It seems to have -- he has attitude, definitely, towards the defense.
So, he seems to be a convert, if you will. And, come trial time, that may work to his advantage. He was very combative at times with the defense lawyer, as long as he's not too combative to turn jurors off. But he definitely seems to be a prosecution witness much more so than Riccio.
COOPER: Let's play some of what Riccio said today on the stand.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS RICCIO, RECORDED AUDIO OF SIMPSON'S ALLEGED CRIME: He said over and over again, "I didn't see any gun."
And you know what? There's a good chance he didn't see. He was -- he was three feet in front of the guy, maybe four feet in front of the guy with the gun -- or guns. I saw one gun. But, I mean, there's a good chance he didn't. But he -- he kept saying over and over again, I mean: "I didn't see a gun. I didn't see a gun."
Maybe he didn't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: What do you make of this Riccio guy?
FLOYD: Well -- well...
FLOYD: What do I make of him? This is the glue of the prosecution's case, and he's more...
FLOYD: ... of a defense witness than a prosecution witness.
COOPER: And this is the guy who tape -- who recorded it all, who set the whole thing up.
FLOYD: Oh, there are at least...
COOPER: He seemed to be the mastermind, if there was a mastermind.
FLOYD: Sixteen hours of tape, including tape of the police doing their investigation. And they are being taped without knowing it.
Look, what the prosecution is missing here is a witness who says that O.J. Simpson, in advance of this thing, conspired to commit armed robbery. And, so far, the two witnesses they have put up there who were in on it, if you will, refused to say that. They won't say that. And the first guy is a victim. So, he doesn't know what went on beforehand. And that's key.
COOPER: Jami Floyd, good to have you on.
Ted Rowlands, thanks for reporting.
Now a blunt warning for Congress: A new CNN/Opinion Research poll released today is both a slap in the face and a wakeup call for the people who run our government. Fifty-three percent of respondents said that most members of Congress do not deserve reelection, 53 percent. That is the biggest percentage since the question was first asked back in 1991.
So, what exactly is making so many of us furious? Let's start with a recent week in the life of Congress.
"Keeping Them Honest," here's CNN's Candy Crowley.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The House floor opened for business at 12:30 p.m.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: House will be in order.
CROWLEY: They call it morning business. Members talk about anything they want. Apparently, no one wanted to. So, the House recessed until 2:00.
Scheduled business included recognizing the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali, expressing support for Country Music Month, naming several post offices and courthouses, calling on China to respect the rights of North Korean refugees.
The Senate convened at 3:00 to discuss a continuation of Amtrak. No votes were scheduled on anything, which is code for: Senators don't have to be there. And they pretty much weren't, so, most of the time, the Senate floor looked like this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Bingaman.
CROWLEY: In any neighborhood in the country, you can find someone like Richard Gantt, just a guy living in suburban Chicago, husband, father of three, divorce lawyer, recovering political addict.
RICHARD GANTT, ILLINOIS VOTER: It just seems like both parties just do the same thing year after year after year. Nothing changes. CROWLEY: Seventy-five percent of Americans disapprove of how Congress is handling its job, according to the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Why? Let them count the ways. Because Congress is out of touch. Because Congress has not taken action on issues important to them. Because there's too much fighting, et cetera.
GANTT: I think most people in Congress are living a fantasy life. They have the best health care, and they have everything taken care of for them.
CROWLEY: Eighteen miles down the road from the Gantt home, the mayor of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, is mulling over the stuff of life, how to help an elderly constituent upset that a village fence is mangling her bush.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The unfinished business is to vote on the motion from the gentleman from Massachusetts, Mr. Frank, to suspend the rules...
CROWLEY: The U.S. Congress is a very long way from here.
(on camera): This is sort of free association. United States Congress, you would say to me?
CRAIG JOHNSON, MAYOR OF ELK GROVE VILLAGE, ILLINOIS: Inept. They are probably the most inept form of government we have seen in the history of this country.
CROWLEY (voice-over): And that's before we told him about Congress and Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre.
COOPER: Well, what could that be about? We are going to call it the football fumble for now. We will tell you about it when we come back.
Plus, as the crisis in Pakistan turns deadly, we are going to tell you why it's such a big deal for Americans. And we will go in- depth on al Qaeda, who they really are, what they really want, facts you probably never heard before, despite all the reporting about al Qaeda. We are going to talk to the author of the Pulitzer Prize- winning bestseller "The Looming Tower," as well as terrorism analyst Peter Bergen.
COOPER: Well, before the break, Candy Crowley was counting all the ways that Congress manages to infuriate the people who elect its members and pay their salaries.
A new poll shows more than half of us say most members of Congress do not deserve to be reelected. There are a lot of reasons why Americans think lawmakers are inept, including what some might call the football fiasco.
"Keeping Them Honest" once again, here's Candy Crowley.
CROWLEY (voice-over): Being mayor of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, is a part-time job, so time is of the essence, which is why the whole Brett Favre thing drives Craig Johnson nuts. He holds in his hands a House resolution commending the Green Bay Packers quarterback for a record-breaking season.
JOHNSON: So, they are going to commend Brett Favre for being a great quarterback, which anybody in sports would agree with, but they don't have time to find out how to put my kids through college, how to make it affordable for college. You know, they can worry about steroids in Major League Baseball, but they don't know how to make sure that health care can be afforded.
REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: Madam "Change" Leader, we passed the minimum wage increase in the first 100 hours that we came to power in Washington, D.C.
CROWLEY (voice-over): The Democratic leadership, seen more favorably than Congress as a whole, feels maligned. The House has scored a record-setting 1,000 roll call votes so far this year. Since January, the Senate has passed, the House has passed, and the president has signed the following into law: the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, an increase in the minimum wage, a boost in student aid for college, lobbying and ethics reform, not insignificant, but off point for many Americans.
SARAH BINDER, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: This is not immigration reform. These are not health care reform. And it's certainly not efforts to change the course of the war in Iraq, which is what Democrats really came into office trying to promise. So, when Congress doesn't perform on the big issues, it really pays a price.
CROWLEY: If you're struggling to pay bills, keep a job, find health care, live in the real world, Congress is Nero fiddling while Rome burns.
GANTT: I have met my congressman. And it happened to be about five days before the last election. I have not seen or heard of him since.
CROWLEY: After members complained they couldn't spend enough time in their districts, the congressional leadership decided the House will not meet on most Fridays next year, which happens to be an election year.
Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Imagine that. Now a closer look at a key U.S. ally's descent into chaos. It is already Saturday morning in Pakistan. Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto is free to do what she wants, unlike hours earlier, when she was basically under house arrest, blocked from attending a rally that she called for.
Also earlier, a bomb killed four people at the home of a government minister, the first deaths in the week since President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency.
Now, here's why you should probably care about Pakistan. It has nuclear weapons, for one, and it's a major player in the so-called war on terror.
Earlier, I spoke with Fareed Zakaria, editor of "Newsweek International" and, we are now happy to say, a CNN contributor.
COOPER: The fact that Musharraf successfully thwarted this potentially explosive march on the military capital, Rawalpindi, was today a victory for Musharraf?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It suggests two things: one, that he still has control over the military.
This has been very important to watch, because, until now, you had only seen police on the street. And it appears now that you are also seeing some armed forces. And, in general, the Pakistani military is very disciplined. The chain of command is very -- usually very intact. So, we know now that he's in control of the military.
The second point is, he has given in on the key demands -- that is, that the elections be held on schedule, roughly, and that he's going to give up his uniform. So, in a way, it was a bit of a crackdown, but a bit of a concession as well.
COOPER: What does this mean for, you know, the so-called war on terror? I mean, if -- if -- if Pakistani troops are supposed to be focused on battling insurgents, "The Washington Post" talking about this -- this new counterinsurgency strategy that the Pentagon had planned to be a five-to-seven year effort of really sustained training of Pakistani troops, that seems to be in jeopardy.
ZAKARIA: It's in jeopardy if the Pakistani military decide to break contacts with Washington. In other words, if there's a big rift between the United States and the Pakistani military, we are in real trouble.
If the military decides itself that it's time for Musharraf to move on, be president, but not chief of staff, that's the best-case scenario. But the key issue is whether or not the generals who are running the military -- and, increasingly, that's not Musharraf -- whether they feel that they are being treated fairly by Washington.
COOPER: So, now best-case scenario, worst-case scenario? ZAKARIA: The best-case scenario seems to be unfolding, in my view, which is that Musharraf has realized he went one step too far. He's drawing back. He will hold the elections roughly on schedule. He will give up his army uniform. He's going to try and stay president, which is fine, as long as you have a real prime minister and a new army chief of staff.
The worst-case scenario is that he really doesn't do these things. He has in the past reneged on some of these promises, to take off his uniform, to hold elections. This time, if he reneges, I think there will be very large popular protests.
COOPER: Fareed Zakaria, thanks very much.
COOPER: Well, up next, we dig deeper, more on Pakistan's ties to the war on terror and how al Qaeda has grown into the death squad, the death cult, if you will, that it is today, and how it might be more powerful than ever, what you need to know, an eye-opening report on facts on al Qaeda you probably have ever heard before.
We will be right back.
COOPER: Good evening. I'm Anderson Cooper.
Tonight, we are going to take a hard look at al Qaeda and the men who built it into a killing machine.
More than six years after 9/11, many experts believe al Qaeda has regrouped, reorganized. The videotapes and audiotapes keep coming, promising more attacks. The people who know al Qaeda best say the only chance we have to defeat it is to understand its past, see where its strengths lie today, and know where it wants to go in the future.
Tonight, we are going to slice through the myths and uncover the facts.
Joining me is Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11," also CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen, one of the few journalists to have actually met Osama bin Laden. He's also the author of "The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History."
You're watching a special edition of 360: "Al Qaeda: The Looming Terror."
Six years on from 9/11, do we know who our enemy is? I mean, have we done a good job of identifying and explaining who the enemy is?
LAWRENCE WRIGHT, AUTHOR, "THE LOOMING TOWER: AL QAEDA AND THE ROAD TO 9/11": No. I think they know us very well, but, in terms of our understanding of the enemy is -- is minimal.
We -- very few Americans know where they came from, what they are fighting for, what their grievances are against America. I have to say, our level of ignorance of our enemy is about as great as it was on 9/11.
COOPER: And why is it important to -- to understand the enemy?
WRIGHT: Well, how are you going to defeat the enemy if you don't know the first thing about them?
And that's not just true of ordinary Americans. It's true through much of the American intelligence community. The head of the FBI's counterterrorism bureau testified under oath that he didn't know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite, and that he thought that was an irrelevant question.
Well, if you don't know the first thing about your enemy, you will always have a failure of imagination, an inability to connect the dots.
COOPER: President Bush has often said, well, they hate our freedom. It's not that simple, though. Let's talk about the underpinnings of it, the seeds of al Qaeda.
COOPER: And, I mean, to do that, you really have to start even before al Qaeda ever existed many years in the past. Where did this begin?
WRIGHT: I would start it in -- in Egypt with Sayyid Qutb, the Islamist philosopher behind this movement. This is the guy who wrote the book "Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq," which means "Milestones," that everybody read. It's the book that Ayman al-Zawahri, the number-two guy in al Qaeda, read, and the book that Osama bin Laden read.
He came to America in 1948.
COOPER: This guy Qutb came to America in '48?
But he hated America. Everything he saw, he hated. The -- you know, he couldn't even get his hair cut in a way that he liked. But the things that were -- women, he was very threatened by American women, their sexuality, their openness. He was a middle-aged virgin. He was very undermined by their sexuality.
COOPER: And it's interesting, because it's not as if this guy was hanging out, you know, in -- in Time Squares in New York.
COOPER: He was at a -- at a -- what, a Midwestern college somewhere? WRIGHT: In Northern Colorado, a place in Greeley, Colorado, a little educational school there, where he spent most of the time that he was here.
If you read his writing about what he says about the women in America, you can see his just -- his longing is so high and his -- and his fear of them is so great.
COOPER: So, why is Sayyid Qutb important, Peter?
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, basically, you know, the book that Larry referred to, "Milestones," it's -- it's a very timeless book, because it essentially said, look, every Muslim country around the world is not really being governed by Islamic law. Your government is not really running a proper Islamic state. And we're living in a state of pagan ignorance, he called -- a state called jahiliyya, and that they -- and the implication being that you have the right -- in fact, you should overthrow your government.
And, in fact, he -- in the book, he says, it's not just about defensive wars. You actually have to, like, do jihad in an offensive way.
So, this is a book that, you know, you can read now, many decades later, and you can -- it's basically a handbook for jihadists to overthrow regimes, attack non-Muslims.
COOPER: I mean, why is it important to know who Sayyid Qutb is? Knowing that, what does it change or how does it inform how we should look at al Qaeda now?
WRIGHT: There are two concepts that Sayyid Qutb brings to the table which are important in terms of understanding al Qaeda's mind- set.
One is the one that Peter mentioned, jahiliyya, the idea that, before Islam, the world lived in a kind of pagan chaos, and -- and Islam came along and changed that. But, Qutb says, now we are back to that original state. And, in order for us to be real Muslims, pure Muslims, we have to return to that state of pure Islam.
That is essential to understanding their view of the world.
The other also you can credit Sayyid Qutb on is takfir. That -- the word means excommunication. And it's not a word that...
WRIGHT: It's not a word that he used. But it -- it entitles one Muslim to say that another Muslim is not really a true Muslim.
And this happened when Sayyid Qutb was in prison in Egypt. A number of Muslim brothers were rounded up, and they were thrown into a cell. And, one day, some of the guards went in and just opened up them with -- with machine guns. Qutb was in the prison hospital when some of the injured were brought in. And he said to himself, what kind of Muslim would do this to another Muslim?
And his answer was, they are not Muslims. In his mind, he excommunicated them. And it's that example that Zawahri and others have used to justify the killing of thousands and thousands of Muslims.
COOPER: And, so, who -- who read that book, and how did it lead to al Qaeda?
WRIGHT: The first person I would point to is Ayman Al-Zawahri. And he was -- his uncle was Sayyid Qutb's lawyer and protege and the last person to see Sayyid Qutb alive before Gamal Abdel Nasser hanged him in 1966. And that was the year that Ayman Al-Zawahri started a cell to overthrow the Egyptian government.
COOPER: And he was, what, 15 years old?
WRIGHT: Fifteen years old. This is a man who has never deterred from that path since he was a -- a middle teenager.
COOPER: And, at the age of 15, he wanted to overthrow the Egyptian government because they were not Islamic enough?
COOPER: And how did all Zawahri become -- go from being this 15- year-old kid to the -- the terrorist that he is today?
WRIGHT: He began at a very early age to organize schoolmates, and eventually army officers, police officers, technical men like him -- he's a medical doctor -- into a sophisticated underground cell.
And it was one wing of that cell that assassinated Anwar Sadat in 1981. Following that, Zawahri and hundreds of other Islamists were rounded up and put in Egyptian prisons, where they were able to communicate with each other and -- and form networks. But they were also brutally tortured.
COOPER: So, we -- we have all seen the video of the assassination of -- of Sadat...
COOPER: .. at the parade grounds that the shooting breaks out. So, those were followers of Zawahri?
WRIGHT: Some of them were, but they were all followers of Sayyid Qutb. And they were all inspired by his example.
COOPER: And, so, after that assassination, hundreds were rounded up?
BERGEN: Yes, including Zawahri, who spent three years in jail. Basically, anybody who was involved in this movement, they are thrown in jail. And Zawahri was on the fringes of the -- of the assassination plot, but, I mean, he had -- clearly, he was a militant. And, of course, as Larry said, a lot of the treatment that these guys got in prison made them more radical. And, of course, they met like-minded people, swapped business cards, became even closer.
And, once these guys left, like al-Zawahri, who left in -- he -- you know, he was more militant probably than he had been when he had actually gone into prison.
COOPER: So, where does -- Zawahri is in prison. They become further radicalized. He has his own organization, but it doesn't -- he doesn't quite have the charisma of a bin Laden?
WRIGHT: Not at all. I mean, in fact, he was a terrible leader for his own organization. He was constantly running them into trouble.
They are innumerable accounts of the -- the key person with the computer with all the names on it was captured, and his group was all rounded up. And he would start over again, and the same thing would happen. He's non-charismatic. He's -- he's -- he had no money. He had no real personal loyalty.
But what he had was a driving commitment and an eye for talent. And that's why, when he spotted bin Laden -- I always think it's sort of like Colonel Parker seeing Elvis for the first time. And he's thinking, I can do something with this young man.
COOPER: When we come back, we're going to talk more about Osama bin Laden, look at the early days of bin Laden, how he became this terrorist mastermind, and dispel some of the myths of bin Laden, as well -- when this special edition of 360, "Al Qaeda: The Looming Terror," continues.
COOPER: So where does Osama bin Laden come from?
PETER BERGEN, TERRORISM EXPERT: Well, he's born in Riyadh in 1957. He moves to Jeddah with his family, early on. He lives in Jeddah, middle class neighborhood, not the sort of neighborhood you'd expect the son of a billionaire to live in. He's leading quite an unexceptional life except that he's extremely unreligious and he's organizing religious entertainments for teenagers. He's fasting twice a week.
He's even then sort of imitating the prophet Muhammad by praying seven times a day and other extreme religiosity. There's nothing really to distinguish him from the kid (ph) that's he's playing?
COOPER: So what changes? When does he become the man we now know?
LAWRENCE WRIGHT, AUTHOR, "THE LOOMING TOWER": There were a couple of key points. One, when he was about 14, he had kind of a religious deepening. And it may have been because of the influence of a Syrian gym teacher who was in the Muslim brothers.
And it wasn't long after that that he became a Muslim brother, and it was an underground movement in Saudi Arabia at the time.
Then the next really key movement is in 1979, when the Soviets invade Afghanistan on Christmas Eve. He was arrested by that. You know, he was -- he didn't go immediately, as he claimed that he did.
But he was very involved in getting young men to -- to volunteer. And he was shipping money, raising money, taking it into Afghanistan, Pakistan, for the Mujahideen there.
COOPER: So this notion that he was a billionaire playboy, that's not true?
WRIGHT: One of the many myths.
BERGEN: If he was really a billionaire Playboy in Beirut, I think somebody would have made some money of the pictures of him hanging out in Beirut. These would be worth a lot of money. And they don't exist.
He was -- I mean, he was a religious zealot even as a teenager. So none of that is true.
COOPER: And how did he come into contact with Zawahiri?
WRIGHT: They may have met in 1985 when Zawahiri went from Cairo to Jeddah and practiced in a Muslim Brothers clinic there. And at that time bin Laden was -- there's a kind of an underground railroad of Egyptians going to Saudi Arabia for the -- to go to Mecca for the Hajj.
And then bin Laden would meet with them and persuade them to go to Afghanistan. So there was a pipeline that he was involved in.
COOPER: And what was it about Afghanistan that is so focused bin Laden? I mean, was it the presence of infidels on Muslim soil, or was it...
WRIGHT: Yes, and there was a very influential cleric named Abdul Azzam who wrote a fatwa that required young Muslims to actually go and defend their fellow believers in Afghanistan against the infidel.
And Azzam and bin Laden together created the Mahtama Karemat (ph), the services bureau. And that was set up in Busarah (ph) to broker these young men, bring them in, give them a place to stay, give them a little training and then send them off to fight with the Mujahideen.
COOPER: And at some point, at some point, bin Laden did actually go into Afghanistan as a group, had his own army?
BERGEN: Yes, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the since that bin Laden and rhetoric (ph). I and other people around me helped defeat the Soviets. That's complete nonsense. The one thing Afghans don't need help with is fighting. There were 175,000 Afghans at any moment fighting the Soviets. And so they didn't need a bunch of rich Arabs to tell them what to do.
But the point is this. Bin Laden in Eastern Afghanistan took on the Soviets directly. It wasn't really a military victory. But, you know, it demonstrated to the Arab world that these bunch of Arabs from around the world could hold their ground against the Soviets. Bin Laden performed fairly bravely, as did a lot of other people with him.
COOPER: And was he working with Zawahiri in Afghanistan at this point?
WRIGHT: He did see the potential in bin Laden. And bin Laden, kind of a naive, rich, young boy. You know, idealistic. He didn't have anything like the kind of experience and the kind of political line that Zawahiri brought to the table.
COOPER: He'd never been in prison like Zawahiri?
WRIGHT: No, where Zawahiri hardened his rhetoric and his ideals. And -- but when he spotted bin Laden, he surrounded him with his Egyptians. These were really highly trained men, military officers and policemen and technocrats.
Bin Laden had nobody like that. He had a vision but he didn't have the -- he didn't have the skill to put it together, and he didn't have the men to put it together.
So I really think of al Qaeda being like a vector of these two forms, the Egyptian Zawahiri and the Saudi bin Laden.
COOPER: When was al Qaeda officially formed?
WRIGHT: In August of 1988 is the first time we see al Qaeda written down in handwritten notes by a man named Abu Ridal Sury (ph), who I met in Sudan.
But I think, from other reports that I've gotten, it may have actually, unofficially, gotten started a few months earlier, perhaps as early as May of 1988, when a few key people were recruited. But by September, they had their first official meeting.
BERGEN: The interesting thing about these first meetings, we have the minutes of the meetings. There was no discussion...
COOPER: They took minutes.
BERGEN: They took minutes. There was no discussion of the United States. They were 13 people, 14 people who got together. They basically knew the Soviet Union was about to collapse. Not collapse, but the Soviets were about to withdraw from Afghanistan. We trained all these people. What should we do? And the idea was to take the jihad elsewhere, maybe to Yemen, maybe to central Asia.
COOPER: When we come back, how and why bin Laden turned his sights on America. Next on "Al Qaeda: The Looming Terror." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COOPER: So it's 1988. Bin Laden, Zawahiri are in Afghanistan. They formed al Qaeda. At what point do they decide to start focusing on the United States?
WRIGHT: Well, originally, it was not a terror organization. It was an anti-communist foreign legion. They wanted to chase the Soviets out of Afghanistan and fight against the communist government, then in control of the union.
It wasn't really until the Sudan years, '92 to '96 that their ambitions changed. And I think mainly that was because it was precipitated by the -- by Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. And bin Laden had gone to the minister of defense and proposed to defend the kingdom of Saudi Arabia against Saddam Hussein's million- man army, with one of the largest tank corps in the world.
COOPER: And how many troops did...
WRIGHT: Did bin Laden have?
COOPER: Bin Laden have?
WRIGHT: A couple hundred...
BERGEN: Using hyperventilating rhetoric; maybe, you know, tens of thousands. But it was not a serious offer. It was laughed at, of course.
COOPER: And he was offended?
WRIGHT: Deeply offended. And also, it wasn't just bin Laden. Many, many Muslims feel that the Prophet Muhammad on his death bed said that the Arabian Peninsula should be only for Muslims. Let there not be two religions in Arabia, he said.
And Bin Laden takes that very literally. He thought the entire Arabian Peninsula should be purged of non-Muslims. And so you have half a million Christians and Jews and, even more gallingly, women coming into to defend the holy land of Saudi Arabia. This was an insult that was very hard for him to bear.
BERGEN: As I was saying, it's not just bin Laden but a number of serious-minded Muslims were, "Why don we have, you know, tens of thousands of non- -- you know, non-Muslim troops in the holy land?" That was seen as being very offensive.
So most people didn't turn to violence, but bin Laden decided the way to deal with this was a violent approach.
COOPER: And was he taken seriously by the United States early on?
WRIGHT: No, no. In fact, scarcely knew who he was at all. We did know when he was in Sudan that he was -- we thought of him as a financier of terrorist movements. And at the time that he was in Sudan, there were lots and lots of terrorists from many different organizations, from Abu Nidal to Khalis (ph) to Jackal (ph). I mean, Sudan was a terrorist flea market.
And to have a rich Saudi there with his own group, al Qaeda, being influenced by them, it struck the American authorities as a bad idea. And they forced the Sudanese to expel him from Sudan. In looking back on it, it was probably the biggest mistake we ever made.
COOPER: Why is that?
WRIGHT: Because the Sudanese said, "He'll go to Afghanistan," and indeed, that's exactly what he did. As he left, the Sudanese authority stole everything that he had. His business manager told me he left Sudan with about $50,000. Butt the guy that was the head of the Sudanese intelligence with the al Qaeda file said, no, he left here with nothing.
So when he got to Afghanistan in 1996 he was penniless and angry, and he declared war on America a few months later.
BERGEN: It was a period when I thought that he was such a blowhard because after I met him in '97, which is on the screen here right now, nothing happened. You know. It's like, OK, this guy is in Afghanistan. He's clearly very serious. He's clearly quite intelligent. But how do you declare war on the United States from Afghanistan in any serious way?
When they blew up the two U.S. embassies in Africa simultaneously in 1998 it was clear these guys could reach out thousands of miles from their base in Afghanistan. They don't care about mass casualties. They don't care about killing Muslims because they killed a lot of Muslims in those attacks. But they demonstrated that they had global reach.
COOPER: Muslims in America will say, "Look, this is not truly Islam. What he is doing is -- it's a perversion of the faith."
When you put that, though, to -- I've put that to jihadists I've met around the world. They say that the Muslims here are not practicing the faith.
WRIGHT: Well, every religion can be interpreted different ways. If you look at, like, the key things in al Qaeda, suicide bombings are trademark. It was really Zawahiri that created the kind of justification for that, when he in 1995, he bombed the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad using suicide bombers. And even his own followers were really upset with him.
And he justified that by comparing the suicide bombers to the early martyrs of Christianity. The only example he could cite in Islamic history was a group of believers that had been captured by idolaters and forced to renounce their religion or die. And he said this was a suicidal choice. They were acting for the glory of God and the greater good of Islam. And, therefore, anyone like the suicide bombers who does that in the spirit of the true faith is going to be considered not a suicide. He's going to spend all of eternity in hell, but as a martyr who's going to enjoy the fruits of paradise.
COOPER: So you're actually allowing people to become martyrs by killing them?
WRIGHT: As a target to paradise.
COOPER: Still, the first major act that really puts al Qaeda on the map is the double bombings of embassies in Africa: Kenya and Tanzania. Did America listen after this? Did America, did the Clinton administration take them seriously?
WRIGHT: Seriously enough to send off 79 cruise missiles to attack two targets: one a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum that had nothing to do with bin Laden, completely faulty intelligence. We killed a night watchman. And then struck an al Qaeda camp and killed a handful of people there.
The net result was we missed bin Laden, and we elevated his importance throughout the world. And within weeks, in Nairobi, where, you know, most of the victims were Africans, 150 people were blinded by the flying glass. Within weeks of that you have kids in the street wearing bin Laden T-shirts.
COOPER: Because why? What is -- what is -- why are they wearing bin Laden T-shirts? What chord does he strike?
WRIGHT: He is attacking the empire. And I think that, whether you're a Muslim or, you know, anything else, there's a -- there's a romance about trying to attack the most powerful force on the earth. It's -- it's negative publicity that really works for him.
COOPER: So al Qaeda sees they can strike two embassies simultaneously. What actions do they take? How do they evolve then?
BERGEN: Well, then the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, which, again, I think was a pretty interesting attack because, again, it shows the ability from thousands of miles from their home base to attack, to come over a year to plan.
The USS Cole is the most advanced -- one of the most advanced naval vessels in the U.S. Navy. You know, the hull is designed to withstand torpedo attacks. So al Qaeda blows a hole the size of a whole house, nearly sinks the ship, kills 17 sailors. And we do nothing.
I mean, that's a criticism of both the Clinton administration and the Bush administration. Mike Sheehan, who was the ambassador of counterterrorism at the time, rather famously declared, what are they going to have to do to react? Is it going to take al Qaeda attacking the Pentagon for us to do anything? And, of course, that's what they did eventually. COOPER: When we come back, we're going to take a look at where is al Qaeda today, what they really stand for and how to beat them. "Al Qaeda: The Looming Terror" continues.
COOPER: So President Bush, you know, has said famously that they hate our freedom. What does al Qaeda stand for today? What is it they want?
WRIGHT: It used to be that they had almost a political agenda. Mainly, they wanted the American troops out of Saudi Arabia, and they achieved that in March of 2003. When the statue of Saddam came down, the Bush administration announced that the U.S. was going to withdraw the troops from Saudi Arabia.
And then the very next month they began their assault on western housing compounds. So it was pretty clear that victory wasn't enough for them.
The same thing was true in Madrid, with the train bombings. They succeeded in overturning the Spanish government, and the government announces they were going to withdraw their troops from Iraq. And the same cell began to plan another attack that would be even more deadly.
If you look at the trend in al Qaeda now, it's becoming increasingly nihilistic and apocalyptic. And it's not -- I wouldn't think of it as a political organization at all now.
COOPER: So it's not that they want something? It's not really that there really is an achievable goal that will satisfy? It's death; it's destruction?
WRIGHT: And if you look at bin Laden's last videotape, the one called "The Solution," where he proposes the solution is that we all convert to Islam. It's very difficult to find a basis of negotiating with such an entity.
BERGEN: Yes. Unlike most conventional terrorist groups who want one thing, like the IRA wanted the British out of Northern Ireland. ETA wants to have a Basque state in Spain.
But the list of what bin Laden wants is, you know, a caliphate around the Muslim world, the destruction of the state of Israel, no American influence at all in the Middle East, pull out of the countries that we're in.
And we did the one thing that was most important, as Larry pointed out. We're out of Saudi Arabia. He said nothing about it, by the way. And there's been no political gain for us. So this -- but it's clearly not about our freedom.
COOPER: And 9/11, what was that about? Was that just about nihilism, destruction, striking the far enemy? BERGEN: Well, I think it was really trying to, you know, get this idea that the far enemy, if we basically send enough body bags, the American body bags, that, you know, that basically the United States will be provoked to pull out of the Middle East and these authoritarian regimes like Egypt or Saudi Arabia will fall. But that just simply hasn't happened.
COOPER: And where is al Qaeda today? I mean, as you look, big picture, at the map?
WRIGHT: I think it's resurgent. I mean, the London attacks of July 7, 2005, which killed -- the largest British terrorist attack in British history. It was an al Qaeda operation through and through. It looks to me a lot like the Cole attack in Yemen in 2000, where you know, they demonstrated significant planning. They demonstrated the ability to reach out thousands of miles from their home base.
They planned to bring down ten American airliners in the summer 2006. Luckily, it didn't work out or it, but it would have been a 9/11-style event.
And you know, they're not going to change their ideas. They're not going to attack a mall in Des Moines. They could care less about Des Moines. They're going to attack New York, Los Angeles, D.C. or American commercial aviation. They're still thinking big. They're still thinking catastrophic attacks.
Luckily, they are still nowhere near what they were on September 11, but they are resurgent. They're back in Afghanistan, back in Pakistan. You know, they've killed tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians in Iraq. I mean, the list goes on and on.
So the idea that, you know, President Bush said about a year ago that they're on the run. Well, if this is on the run, I don't want to see what they're like when they're on the march. And I think right now they're on the march.
COOPER: How does Iraq play into this in terms of al Qaeda? I mean, there's al Qaeda in Iraq. President Bush links them as saying, you know, al Qaeda in Iraq, they're the same people who planned 9/11. What are the similarities? What are the differences?
WRIGHT: Well, there was no al Qaeda in Iraq before we went into Iraq. So we've created the monster that we are now fighting against.
Iraq, you know, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a competitor of bin Laden's in Afghanistan. He really had a separate camp and so on. We went into Iraq and began fighting against the Americans, and then made application to join al Qaeda. And it took about a year for bin Laden to approve his application, and he finally did. It became a formal affiliate of al Qaeda.
And there are strong ties to al Qaeda. Even the leadership is -- is al Qaeda. The membership, many of them are native Iraqis. The suicide bombers typically, they're young Saudis. They go into Syria, and they're wired up and blown up the day they get into Iraq. So that's what al Qaeda in Iraq is. Look how much more training they've gotten in Iraq than they ever got in Afghanistan.
COOPER: We're already seeing that in Afghanistan, when you and I were there. I mean, suicide attacks, IED attacks are up. It's Iraq- style fighting now in Afghanistan.
BERGEN: Yes, yes. I mean, the Taliban maybe not the most sophisticated bunch of people in the world, but they're not dumb. And, you know, a year and a half ago they were fighting in formations of up to 200 people. They were taking 30 to 40 percent casualties.
When we went there, in the beginning of the suicide attacks beginning to take off. Suicide attacks went up 500 percent last year to 139. They were up 69 percent this year. IED attacks have doubled.
And yes, this stuff is very effective. And so it's not so much they're copycatting from the Iraqi insurgency. They're actually going to Iraq to learn, you know, on-the-job training, which is precisely the opposite of the way the war on terror was sold. The idea that, you know, we would track all these jihadis to one place and kill them.
Well, it turns out that we tracked the jihadists, yes. They got training and they're going back to their own countries to do damage.
COOPER: Do we know how al Qaeda works today? I mean, obviously, we don't know exactly where Osama bin Laden is. But he's able to make videotapes; he's able to make audiotapes. Zawahiri is able to do it.
You've got this guy, Adam Gadahn, an American, a member of Al Qaeda. He's out there making videotapes.
How does that work?
BERGEN: Well, I don't think, you know, bin Laden is not picking up his satellite phone to order attacks. Clearly, he doesn't need to.
I mean, these videotapes that you've referenced, some of the most widely distributed political statements in history. I mean, hundreds of millions of people read about them, see about them or hear about them when they -- when they come out.
And the tapes have several messages. Kill westerners, kill Americans. But sometimes, they have specific instructions. For instance, Ayman al-Zawahiri and bin Laden have both called for attacks in Pakistan. And we're seeing a blizzard of suicide attacks in Afghanistan since the beginning of war.
COOPER: Is bin Laden important? Does he still matter?
WRIGHT: Yes, he does. There's nobody in the movement that has the kind of moral authority he has who can direct traffic, for instance, saying to go to Darfur and go to Kashmir. You know, he's got the charisma. He's got the following.
And also he -- he keeps people from seeing what is really happening in al Qaeda right now. It's turning into a group of criminal gangs. They make their money on dope smuggling, on kidnapping, on stealing the oil shipments, big game poaching in Africa.
Essentially, they're mafias that are tied together loosely but are overseen by this -- this quasi-religious figure that gives it a moral authority it doesn't deserve.
COOPER: In the larger world, they are still popular. Bin Laden is still popular.
WRIGHT: Yes. He's not just -- I mean, bin Laden and his organization has been reduced and confined to some extent but the movement of al Qaeda has prospered and has gotten deeply rooted in a number of countries where it really wasn't evident at all.
COOPER: So the ideas that Sayyid Qutb wrote about in 1948, these are the ideas which are now being spread on the Internet by bin Laden and by al Qaeda followers.
WRIGHT: It starts then, and it continues and continues. And they've created a legacy on the Internet that will perpetuate itself for generations.
COOPER: I want to thank you for both doing this.
Lawrence Wright is the author of "The Looming Tower," a Pulitzer Prize-winning book. It is a great read. You -- should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in the subject.
And Peter Bergen's book, as well, "The Osama bin Laden I Know." Both remarkable works.
Gentlemen, thank you.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com