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CNN: Special Investigations Unit

Bin Laden's New Jihadis

Aired September 11, 2010 - 20:00   ET



DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Nine years ago, in the aftermath of 9/11, the United States had one sworn enemy. Fast forward to 2010.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're commanded to terrorize the disbelievers. And this is a religion, like I said.

GRIFFIN: You're commanded to terrorize the disbelievers?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Koran says very clearly in the Arabic language, "turhiboona," this means "terrorize them."

GRIFFIN (voice-over): A decade later, bin Laden's message, jihad against the west, is more of a threat now than ever. His words have taken root in a new generation of radical Muslims embracing everything he represents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love Osama bin Laden. I love him -- whoo -- like I can't begin to tell you.


GRIFFIN: Good evening. I'm Drew Griffin. We welcome viewers in the US and around the world. For the next hour we're going to take you from New York to Yemen, even to the hills of Jamaica to meet some of the new jihadists determined to carry on in bin Laden's name.

Moderate Muslims may denounce and disavow them, but these newcomers are undeterred as they openly call for the destruction of everything that doesn't conform to their radical view of Islam. At the top of their list, the very country that gives them the freedom of speech to spew their hatred, the United States.

With us for the entire hour, two of CNN's experts on terrorism who tracked these threats closely, national security contributor Fran Townsend, and senior international correspondent Nic Robertson. Thanks, guys. Stand by.

At this moment, perhaps no one is of greater concern to the US than Anwar al-Awlaki. He is a US citizen deemed so dangerous his own country is trying to kill him. The American-born al-Awlaki has emerged as one of al Qaeda's top recruiters. Here's Nic's report on why the US regards him as the potential heir to Osama bin Laden.


ANWAR AL-AWLAKI, RADICAL MUSLIM CLERIC: The Islam bomber with an opening. His is victory.


AWLAKI: Rain was mercy.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The radical Yemen-based preacher seen here online. His followers in Britain says he is like Osama bin Laden.

ABU MUWAZ, HEAD OF SALAFI YOUTH MOVEMENT: He reminds me of, for example, Sheik Osama bin Laden, and Ayman al Zawahiri in terms of he's soft spoken, and at the same time, the knowledge that they have, the foundations that they have.

AWLAKI: He said hand me over your skulls.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): This is the same Anwar al-Awlaki who exchanged e-mails with Major Nidal Hassan, accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood. After the killings, Awlaki praised Hassan on his website, calling him a hero.

Seven years ago, he moved from the US to London, and was still here when the alleged Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, began university here. Intelligence agencies are investigating the possibility they met.

ROBERTSON (on camera): This is the mosque where Anwar al-Awlaki did most of his preaching in London. There has been no indication Abdulmutallab met Awlaki here, but during the young Nigerian's three years in London, he almost undoubtedly met some of Awlaki's admirers.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Abu Muwaz was one of the thousands who flocked to Awlaki's lectures.

MUWAZ: He was well-revered. People loved him, people loved his classes, people loved the way he explained things.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): For these radical Muslims in London, with whom Abdulmutallab shared a hatred of the United States and the war in Iraq, Awlaki was God's messenger.

But not for everyone. Usama Hassan was once a radical himself. He met Awlaki and heard him speak in a London mosque in 2002, telling the congregation police had mistreated a fellow Muslim.

USAMA HASSAN, FORMER RADICAL: And this is an insult to Islam and we have to do something about it. It was actually very dangerous to work people up and say let's do something about it. And if they don't act, they will take it out somewhere.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Hassan has since turned his back on extremism, but found out later, in private, Awlaki expressed even more extreme views.

HASSAN: Behind closed doors, I was told he conducted closed study circle in which he was justifying suicide bombing, for example, including in the west.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Justifying suicide bombings?

HASSAN: Justifying suicide bombings against civilians. He regarded them as a legitimate target.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Awlaki was eventually banned from visiting the UK.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Even though Anwar al-Awlaki can't come back into Britain, he's still getting his message out. Boxed sets of his DVDs are openly on sale, selling for about $100 each. And the storekeeper here says they are among his hottest selling items, because most people buying them believe Awlaki is mainstream.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Whether on DVDs, the internet, or behind closed doors, Awlaki has inspired people to terrorism. In London, court transcripts reveal that at least some of the group that conspired to blow up passenger jets en route to the US in 2006 were Awlaki devotees.

So, too, terrorists in Toronto, convicted of planning to blow up targets in Canada . And in the United States, the six men arrested in May 2007 and convicted of planning to kill soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ever since I heard this lecture brother, I want everyone to hear about it. You know why? Because he gives it to you raw and uncut.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): What you are hearing are three of the Fort Dix plotters praising Awlaki. Awlaki is influential because of his background. He was born in the United States. His father was a minister in the Yemeni government. He is smart and privileged. He preached at Imam Johari Malik's mosque in Virginia

JOHARI ABDUL MALIK, IMAM, DAR AL-HIJRAH MOSQUE: Young, handsome, Californian. Has the benefit of English without an accent. And who is also proficient in the Arabic language. In fact, he is technically an Arab. What better mix?

ROBERTSON: The imam doesn't agree with Awlaki, but it was at his mosque Awlaki met two of the 9/11 bombers, although there is no evidence he knew what they were planning. But what's on everyone's mind now is what influence Awlaki may have had on a young Nigerian, either here or in Yemen. Nic Robertson, CNN, London


GRIFFIN: And a reminder, CNN's Nic Robertson and Fran Townsend, former Homeland Security advisor under President Bush will join me for the entire hour to discuss how bin Laden's message has turned viral. But first, the question now whether the US in some way is elevating the status of Anwar al-Awlaki, the new bin Laden, and whether the death sentence hanging over his head has actually helped him raise money and recruit new terrorists.


TOM FUENTES, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI: I think that many authorities in Yemen believe that we elevate him further if we actually do kill him.


GRIFFIN: The potential making of a martyr, when we come back.


GRIFFIN: Anwar al-Awlaki, the man behind so many current threats, could in some way be even more dangerous dead than alive. The US now sees him as a threat, calls him an enemy, and has made him a military target. Among extremists, that may have also made him more powerful than ever.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): Four years ago in London, Bilal Baloch first heard and first began to see how this English-speaking cleric was attracting young Muslim students like himself.

AL-AWLAKI: He said hand me over.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): They al thought Awlaki was brilliant.

BILAL BALOCH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY STUDENT: We must remember that Anwar al-Awlaki came onto the scene at a time where there aren't many Muslim-born American or British scholars, and he is one of them. So the appeal is obviously fantastic.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Anwar al-Awlaki was young, spoke American English eloquently. To many young Muslim men seeking direction, he was a rock star. But then, almost overnight, Baloch says his message took on a more sinister tone.

BALOCH: The evolution is what worries me. Here is someone who is telling us we should be praying and we behaving in a particular way and holding up the moral high ground as Muslims should, and suddenly he is saying there should be a call to violence.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Anwar al-Awlaki now preaches hatred. And according to US intelligence sources, he recently became not just a preacher of violence, but a planner.

FUENTES: The belief is that he's getting into more specific aspects. From his safe haven in Yemen, he's able to become more operational. So he's not just recruiting and motivating jihadists, but it's believed that senior al Qaeda leaders in the Arabian Peninsula, specifically Yemen, are listening to him.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): In other words, this English-speaking mouthpiece for al Qaeda's global jihad is now deeply involved in actual attempts to kill westerners, as was believed was done by Awlaki follower and alleged Fort Hood shooter, Major Nidal Hassan. The US government has decided Anwar al-Awlaki is an enemy and has issued a capture or kill order for him.

Pat D'Amuro is former assistant director of the FBI's counter- terrorism division.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Should we kill him? Is that the right thing to do?

PAT D'AMURO, GIULIANI PARTNERS: The primary goal is to protect our citizens. Globally. And when you have information of individuals that are planning to conduct terrorist attacks and are espousing rhetoric to invigorate others, or get others to conduct those attacks, then that individual is a threat to our national security.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): But there is a risk. Awlaki was virtually an unknown just a few years ago. Now he's front page news, being compared to Osama bin Laden himself. Killing him, says Tom Fuentes, could turn him into a legend.

FUENTES: I think that many authorities in Yemen believe that we elevate him further if we actually do kill him. We'll make him a martyr, and his videos and recordings and other messages, writings, will live on and on, and maybe even have increased circulation after his death.

GRIFFIN: For Bilal Baloch, killing him, he says, will also eliminate any possibilities of learning why Awlaki turned from recruiting young men to Islam, to now recruiting young men to kill.

BALOCH: I think targeting Awlaki and killing him is going to add fuel to the fire. I think it's going to completely marginalize those who agree that his violent views now are wrong but just want to know why this happened. I and I think even to look beyond the situation. Because, as I said, it's Awlaki today. It could very well be someone tomorrow.


GRIFFIN: I want to bring in Fran Townsend and Nic Robertson for this. Fran, you're a former Homeland Security adviser. Is there any value -- it sounds somewhat idealistic, but learning why Awlaki has gone from, perhaps, an Islamic scholar to a radical terrorist?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Of course there's some interesting in understanding that. But I must tell you, that has far outweighed by the threat this man represents.

He's not new to intelligence and law enforcement officials. They've been tracking him for the better part of the last nine years. He has played an increasingly operational role, as you heard from Tom Fuentes, and I disagree with Tom.

Look, he is a very real and persistent threat. He is now among the leaders in the Arabian Peninsula, and we have a duty -- a solemn duty and obligation to protect the American people from future attacks when we know where they're coming from and he's one of those places and so he is an absolutely legitimate national security target for a capture or kill operation.

GRIFFIN: This was the Obama administration's call to turn him into a military target, not the Bush administration, which you worked for, Fran. Is it a tough call? A US citizen we're talking about.

TOWNSEND: You're absolutely right, Drew. It is always a tough call. There's an entire process that one goes through weighing this matter, and lawyers are involved to make sure there's sufficient evidence that he is an imminent and real threat to the American people.

But, look, on al-Awlaki, I don't think it's a close call. I think it's pretty clear that he warrants, and I think the administration was right to authorize such action.

GRIFFIN: Nic, he's being compared to Osama bin Laden. We can also compare him that we can't get him like Osama bin Laden. We can't capture or kill him because we don't know where he is. Your reporting has been e excellent on this. Any reporting that says we're close? We're getting nearer to him?

ROBERTSON: There's nothing that seems to indicate that. He's very probably in Yemen and that's the best belief where he's hiding out, his homeland, where he can sort of at least get some tribal loyalty perhaps, and al Qaeda camp as well, perhaps, to hide out in.

The difficulty there for the government to get him in Yemen, the Yemeni government, is that there's a lot of the country that they don't control. Just two days ago the end of Ramadan in a small town in Yemen, more than 40 police were threatened by armed al Qaeda on the street. Either repent being in the police or face us coming out to kill you.

So this gives you an idea how strong al Qaeda and their supporters are in Yemen at the moment. So there are plenty of places he can hide out.

Of course, the holy grail of capturing Awlaki, if you could do that, would be that one day he would repent and that would be a very powerful anti-al Qaeda message. That's probably dreaming too far. But there are jihadists around the world who have done that, and they're the strongest people, again, about turning others against al Qaeda, Drew.

GRIFFIN: And real quickly, Nic, no doubt in your mind that he has become basically a leader of this movement?

ROBERTSON: There seems to be no doubt about it at the moment and it's difficult to tell but he seems to be a very inspirational figure, his message is mainstream, there are an awful lot of people who listen to him who aren't terrorists, but that seems to be the case.

GRIFFIN: All right. Much more still ahead on this ninth anniversary of 9/11, including how the radical message of Osama bin Laden found its way from the remote mountains of Afghanistan to the crowded streets of New York City.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're commanded to terrorize the disbelievers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And America continues to spend billions of dollars --


GRIFFIN: American converts now preaching the destruction of their own country. That pleasant update and the top stories when we come back.


GRIFFIN: Checking some of our top stories now, Afghanistan's president marked the 9/11 anniversary by demanding a new approach to fighting terrorism in his country. President Hamid Karzai condemned the attacks today, but also called on NATO to do more to stop civilian deaths in the current war. Afghanistan's former Taliban government harbored al Qaeda leading up to the 9/11 attacks. Karzai implied that insurgents in Pakistan are more of a threat these days.

Six people are dead after a man in Mount Carmel, Kentucky killed five people before turning the gun on himself. Among the dead are the gunman's wife and stepson. Police say the shooting followed a domestic dispute in a mobile home in rural, eastern Kentucky, near Jackson. The victims' names and ages have not been disclosed just yet.

And police in San Bruno, California say they found two more bodies after the gas line fire south of San Francisco. The latest discovery brings the death toll from the fire to six. President Barack Obama calling on California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today to express his condolences for the tragic loss of life in San Bruno.

Army Staff Sergeant Salvator Giunta is going to receive the nation's highest award for valor. Giunta is the first living recipient from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to earn the medal of honor. He helped save one soldier during a Taliban attack in Afghanistan, and saved another as two Taliban fighters were capturing him. About 3,400 medals of honor have been awarded since the Civil War.

Well, a short flight from the US mainland on the island of Jamaica, a radical Islamic cleric is stirring up a revolution, sort of, in the hills above Kingston.


ABDULLAH AL FAISAL, RADICAL MUSLIM CLERIC: My God is not Obama My dean is Islam and our Sharia. It will rule America.


GRIFFIN: That man agreed to talk to me about his radical views, an interview, he said, to clear his name from an awful past. Little did I know the sheik had other things in mind once I arrived.


GRIFFIN: Terrorist attacks against the west can usually be traced back to a radical Muslim cleric who successfully incited his followers to act, often suicidally. I recently traveled to Jamaica to meet one of those clerics, only to discover there were strings attached to our interview.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): We came to meet the radical Islamic preacher known as The Jamaican on his own turf. And up a winding road into the Jamaican hillside we climbed.

GRIFFIN (on camera): So we think this is it.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Where Sheik Abdullah al Faisal invited us. An interview, he said, to clear his name from an awful past.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Hello?

GRIFFIN (voice-over): But we quickly learned Sheik Faisal had told us a lie.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Is the sheik in?


GRIFFIN: Can you tell us where he is?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's not here yet.

GRIFFIN: He's not here yet? He's not back from Kingston?

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Faisal, it turned out, had lured CNN to his island as part of a shakedown. CNN does not pay for interviews. The sheik was asking for $15,000 just to talk.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Why are you charging us so much money just to talk to you?

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Most recently arrested in Kenya, authorities say this 46-year-old Jamaican was encouraging young Muslims to fight in Somalia His arrest sparked riots leading to five dead, and leading Kenya to deport al Faisal back to his native Jamaica US intelligence officials and Jamaica's justice ministry tell CNN they are carefully watching. The Caribbean and its poverty has long been thought to be a potential new home for a terrorist message, and the sheik has never stopped preaching from internet chatrooms and sending out tapes.

GRIFFIN (on camera): The fear is that even isolated down that road in a home that this Islamic scholar, this preacher of radical Islam, could have an effect on the population here, gather a following, and perhaps influence others to follow the paths of the terrorists who have followed him.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): It's the reason we came to this island to interview al Faisal, invited by the sheik himself who promised he would explain himself once we arrived. When we did arrive his new "agent" explained to us there would be no interview unless we paid $15,000.

CNN does not pay for any interviews. But during three telephone conversations and one face-to-face meeting, the sheik did try to explain how he was misinterpreted.

When he said Muslims should fight and kill Jews, Christians, Americans and Hindus, "that was the old sheik," he told me. "I have reformed since then."

GRIFFIN (on camera): I am just asking you, do you feel any guilt at all that these men listen to you and then went out and tried to kill people and some of them did kill people? Do they listen to many clerics? Do you feel any guilt that they listen to you?

I'm asking you a question. So you will not answer that question right now?

He just hung up. He says he won't do the interview. He won't do the interview unless he gets paid, period. And he won't answer that question.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): There may be good reason the sheik needs to be paid. He's economically and even socially isolated here. The vast majority of Jamaicans are Christian. A religion the sheik calls paganism. The Islamic Council will not allow the sheik to preach in any of Jamaica's dozen or so mosques until he denounces his radical teachings.

MUSTAFA MOHAMMAD, ISLAMIC COUNCIL OF JAMAICA: I have not spoken to him, not even for a minute since his return to Jamaica.

GRIFFIN: But that has not stopped the sheik from preaching in homes around Jamaica, gathering followers, and especially over the internet. Listen to this.

FAISAL: My God is not Obama My dean is Islam and our Sharia. It will rule America

GRIFFIN: It is the sheik in an internet forum at the end of July, titled "The Battle of Washington." He declares sharia law will one day rule this country if Muslims make sacrifices.

FAISAL: If we want that White House and we desire to conquer that White House, we need to be people who suffer hardship. I believe it is a matter of time we will see the emir established within the White House.


GRIFFIN: Let's bring in our guests again. Fran, that does sound rather extreme. He would defend himself by saying, look, I didn't tell anybody to go bomb the White House, but certainly it can be interpreted any which way you can, especially if you're a -- isolated at home on your computer. Is there any way to fight this from a counter-terrorism point of view?

TOWNSEND: We know it's very difficult, Drew. We've had much discussion in the recent week over First Amendment rights. You may say things that are abhorrent to me, but you have a legal right to say them.

And so what investigators do is they look for somebody to cross the line. I mean, this man, if he's in Kenya and recruiting people to go fight in Somalia, it's reminiscent of Omar Humami, an Alabama-born guy who winds up fighting in Somalia and using 14 people, who get indicted here in the United States, 12 of whom are over in Somalia fighting now.

These guys are legally responsible for those they recruit to go and kill. It's the point you were trying to make if sheik Faisal would have given you the interview, and that he does have legal culpability for. That does cross the line from free speech.

GRIFFIN: Nic, do you know what surprises me about all of these is just how many threats we've had, how close we've come to another horrific terrorist attack and behind each one is the kind of spiritual leader, if you will, that you can track where the message came from and where it was misinterpreted.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And that's one of the hardest things to stop because these messages can be disseminated in a back room somewhere. They can be disseminated on the Internet but it is people listening to somebody who they believe is right about the faith and who distorts the faith and then pushes them and encourages them into action or drawing into a training camp in Pakistan with many of these training camps are.

GRIFFIN: One of the toughest things I think we have to deal with as we move on in our show is the radical message that is not coming from the outside to the United States but coming from the United States out to the world. I want to show you just a little piece of tape here from the streets of New York by a man who I interviewed last year who told me that the attacks on 9/11, nine years ago, were justified. This is an American

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...disavow and make hatred and enmity between democracy, between nationalism, between secularism and that you see Obama as the enemy he really is.


GRIFFIN: Revolution Muslim. They run a website that praises attacks on the U.S., congratulates the Ft. Hood shooter for his attack. and when we come back, we'll discuss what we should do with them.


GRIFFIN: You can find Osama bin Laden's message being preached on the streets of New York, street corners right in front of mosques here in the United States, preachers who preach violence, who preach hatred, who are trying to attract people to the cause, their cause, of bringing some kind of sharia law to the United States and to the world. People who look on Osama bin Laden not as a villain but as a hero, and they spread that on the Internet and on the streets. I want to bring back our guests.

Nic Robertson, you know those fellow well, Revolution Muslim. They've made an industry out of this. And the question I posed before the break, is there any way you can stop the message from being spread?

ROBERTSON: A counter message. A stronger counter message from people that are more credible than them. One counter terrorism official described that group to me, Revolution Muslim, as really the bug light in in wannabe jihadists, people who are drawn to this radical message. Sometimes, though, this group doesn't provide enough of a radical message and it's often these people who come into the periphery who want more, they want action, they want to get the al Qaeda training camps.

What is required is a counter message, and that is beginning to emerge. Some Muslim groups worried about their children, about this influence that's out there on their kids, are putting up Web sites or plan to put up Web sites that will give a more tolerant message of Islam. So when these kids are trolling around looking for radicalism they will come up with an alternate message.

And really that's really the key to it, because there is no silver bullet other than people getting a different message.

GRIFFIN: Fran, many people have said that message has been long in coming. Has the United States -- has counterterrorism, has homeland security tried to urge the moderate Muslim community to get on the stick here that law enforcement can't do this alone?

TOWNSEND: There's been a lot of work in this area, Drew, but it's very difficult. I mean, oftentimes those very people that you would like to carry, the counter message that Nic has talked about, are intimidated, fearful, don't want to attract attention. And so it's been a long time coming. I think it's fair to say. And the U.S. government, while - we have tried - they tried very hard to post this sort of counter narrative as we used to call it, it is not credible unless it's coming from the Muslim community itself.

And so now that we see some of this -- you know, there was this case in Northern Virginia where the family reported to authorities that their sons had left and they were arrested in Pakistan. That's the kind of cooperation, that's the kind of moral courage we need to see more publicly demonstrated more often, frankly, so that there is this counter message, that this is not going -- this form of violence and jihadism is not going to be tolerated within the Muslim community itself.

GRIFFIN: I want to play for both of you an interview I did this week with Imam Shamsi Ali. He certainly has faced the brunt of these radical elements by preaching tolerance, by preaching against this kind of jihadist version of Islam. And here's what he said exactly to your point about stopping the spread of this on the internet.


GRIFFIN: You can't stop the Internet, it appears. Governments have tried and failed. So would you ever consider reaching out to these various people who support this on the Internet, who put it on the Internet?

IMAM SHANSI ALI, ISLAMIC CULTURAL CENTER, NEW YORK: To a different engagement, through youth programs and we invite them to join so we can have discussion and even I call it debate with them, but they're never attended. The problem is that these people are very exclusive. They even don't come to the mainstream mosque, for example, to pray. They have their own place where they gather, where they spread out their extremist ideas and so it's very difficult to root them out.

But we are constantly reminding our young in the communities these are dangerous trends. And so what we are doing is, number one, trying to prevent other young people from being influenced.

Secondly, we try to compete with them and this is why we produce as much as we can can the moderate views of Islam and upload them to the internet. That's what we can do.


GRIFFIN: Fran, I thought two things were very interesting about my conversation with Shamsi Ali, the imam from the Cultural Center of New York, number one, there is no discussion between radical Islam and moderate Muslim Attempts by moderate Muslims have failed.

And, number two, he almost speaks about getting these youth like we would before they take that first drug, before they take that cigarette, that you have to get these people before they get indoctrinated to this kind of radical Islam.

TOWNSEND: That's exactly right, Drew. The same thing that the imam you spoke with in New York has experienced there, the very same thing happened here at the Washington Islamic Center where radicals would be outside the mosque harassing people as they went in. You know, preaching this sort of hateful version of Islam. And inside here was the imam preaching a message of tolerance and peace.

It really is very difficult -- this notion -- I had to smile when Shamsi Ali said we have to compete. I think that's exactly what needs to happen here. They really have a competitive version of Islam that ought to be more attractive to young people. It really is a message of tolerance and peace and there is tremendous effort put in this, especially here in Washington which is a multiethnic population and cultural center. They try very hard to compete with the radical message.

GRIFFIN: all right. Fran Townsend, Nic Robertson rejoin me after the break. We're going to discuss, guys, the biggest threat of all, the lone wolf, those terrorists not even on our radar yet. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: Ever since the 9/11 attacks some of the most high- profile attacks against the U.S. have come from people completely off the radar like Faisal Shahzad and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab accused of trying to blow up an airliner last Christmas Day with a bomb in his underwear. They were complete unknowns until they launched their attacks.

Nic Robertson and Fran Townsend are again with me. And guys, before we get to the discussion, let me play a little sound from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano today, nine years later, as she talks about the changing threat we're facing.


JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Now the old view that if we fight terrorists abroad, we won't have to fight them here is just that - it's an old view. It is abundantly clear that we have to fight terrorists abroad. We have to fight them at home. We have to fight them period.


GRIFFIN: Fran, we did, when this first started out, we fought them over there. Either they were destroyed and scattered or we've created more of them. Any thoughts on that?

TOWNSEND: I'm not so sure that it's an either/or. I frankly think what we're seeing is al Qaeda has adapted to many things we put in place to protect ourselves. We got greater security, we've got greater intelligence and law enforcement against those who cross our boarders, to do us harm.

And so what would you do to get around that protection? You try to look for a way to recruit people inside the United States and who had ability to travel across our borders.

You look at things like Times Square, Nidal Nassan at Ft. Hood and Christmas Day and you understand that the lone wolf is an incredibly difficult thing for law enforcement and intelligence to target and be effective against and that's exactly what makes it so valuable to al Qaeda. It requires tremendous resources and some luck and we're going to identify them before they act.

And, you know, it's the old saying, Drew, they only have to be right once and Secretary Napolitano and all the men and women who try to protect us have to be right every single time. And so it's a very, very difficult threat to combat.

GRIFFIN: Nic, what has always amazed me when we learn who these people are behind the threats whether it's Faisal Shahzad or Omar Abdulmutallab, many men of privilege, men of learning, usually men of means, and there doesn't seem to be any shortage of them.

You travel a lot in the Muslim world. Where are these people coming from?

ROBERTSON: They're coming from well-educated families, well-off families where they've had a chance to sort of see western influence, if you will, perhaps some members of their family in some cases have gone out to nightclubs, have been drinking and then gone back to Islam and have said OK that was all wrong and wanted a more radical version of it and then mix with other people who have had these radical ideas, and then mix with even more extreme radicals.

So that seems to be where they're coming from. People who sort of...

GRIFFIN: I'm sorry, Nic. Fran, I just want to ask you on that point, can we fairly say these people are brainwashed?

TOWNSEND: I think that's exactly what happens. They get preached -- in the piece on Anwar al Awlaki, he began by preached strict adherence to Islam and the message gradually got more radical, more violent, if you will.

And I think that's what you see happening here. They become very much adherence to the strict principles of Islam, then it's a more radical message and then what happens they're encouraged to look for an opportunity to act on this radical, perverted preaching of Islam, and then they're giving an opportunity.

And so it seems to follow a very distinct pattern that it's an evolution over time where they gradually walk down a path whether or not they really realize that's where it's going to end up.

GRIFFIN: And, Nic, I'm not asking for a silver ling here, but are there less and less of them? The reason that we're seeing them come from various parts of the world instead of one part of the world is because the ranks are growing thin?

ROBERTSON; I would say no. I would say that there are more out there that are buying into Osama bin Laden's radical message of a global jihad and a global caliphate and there are more and more people that see other people taking those steps and think I should do that. You know, for every one of these people that are successful or close to being successful, that probably spurs on another half a dozen lone wolves that we don't know about.

So I think the indications are you now have al Qaeda in Yemen. They're still partially tiny bit there in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, you have them in North Africa, Nigeria we've seen now, Somalia as well.

So many more places. And in Europe, of course. The Germans recently said they have 400 people, would-be jihadists on their terror radar inside Germany.

GRIFFIN: All right. Nic, thank.

Nine years after 9/11, the war in Afghanistan is only getting larger. Yet almost no one ever mentioned capturing or killing him, Osama bin Laden. Coming up after the break, does bin Laden even matter? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: Nine years to the day the man behind the attacks on September 11th remains free. Osama bin Laden today has a $27 million bounty on his head. Here's Nic's report on how the head of al Qaeda has eluded capture and assassination for these past years.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Late in 2001, U.S. bombs fell on Torah Bora in Afghanistan, al Qaeda's last hold out. Osama bin Laden escaped, his whereabouts until now thought to be a mystery.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, TERRORISM ANALYST: There is an ability in western intelligence to track his movements for a number of years, to identify the people that he was meeting, to identify his role in sudden certain plots.

ROBERTSON: CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank has new information on bin Laden's movements from a former senior European intelligence official who had an informant close to the al Qaeda leader.

CRIUCKSHANK: And western intelligence was able to actually draw up a map between 2003 and 2004 of where bin Laden was moving around.

ROBERTSON: The new information reveals this video would have been no surprise for intelligence agencies, the informant was telling them bin Laden was quickly regrouping al Qaeda leaders, even meeting with the 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, before his arrest in 2003.

CRIUCKSHANK: He started to communicate again with some of his top al Qaeda lieutenants. He meets with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the period after 9/11. He meets very frequently with Ayman al Zawahiri.

ROBERTSON: But despite the flow of information from the Pakistan-Afghan border, there were immense frustrations. The source was unable to obtain actionable information on bin Laden's movements and the al Qaeda leader kept on the move constantly.

CRIUCKSHANK: The closest they got was a sort of week away from where he was so they were never able to call in a strike.

ROBERTSON: By 2006 bin Laden seemed to be settling down, this video and audio messages were more frequent. He was clearly more comfortable. And for reasons unknown, the informants intelligence dried up.

But contrary to conventional wisdom that bin Laden's trail is dead, Cruickshank's says otherwise.

CRIUCKSHANK: It's unclear what the quality of the intelligence is that's coming in, but there is intelligence on his movements which continues to come in and being analyzed all the time.

ROBERTSON: Indeed, the source says, the evidence suggests that all these years later bin Laden and al Zawahiri are still in close communication, directing al Qaeda and are often not far apart. The trail has not gone entirely cold.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


GRIFFIN: A new poll out today, the CNN and Opinion Research Corporation finds Americans increasingly pessimistic about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. When asked if the U.S. will be able to capture or kill him, 67 percent now say not likely. Just 30 percent call his capture likely.

This pessimism has been growing steadily since the 2001 attacks. You can see only 21 percent considered Osama bin Laden's capture unlikely. In 2005 that had grown to 42 percent. By last year it was up to 54 percent.

Nic Robertson, the question I have from the radical Islamic perspective, is Osama bin Laden still the driving force in this movement? Is he even relevant? Or has it gone beyond him?

ROBERTSON: He is perhaps not the driving force, but he is an inspirational leader, so he is still very much relevant. And there was a case back in 2006 where al Qaeda seemed to get ahead of him.

The al Qaeda leader in Iraq, Zarqawi was sort of so much more radical recruiting people from all over the region. Bin Laden sort of had to say, hey, he's the big guy in Iraq now.

But things have moved on and certainly bin Laden has shown that when he says something people will act on it. For example, attacking Danish interests at the Danish newspaper published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed so he's still relevant to the organization, he's still a figurehead. So his capture or killing is still a very, very important issue, I would say.

GRIFFIN: And, Fran, to win the war on terror, if you can even do that, is killing or capturing Osama bin Laden still necessary?

TOWNSEND: Oh, I think it is both necessary and will remain a priority. It has across multiple administrations and it will continue to be.

I mean, look, he is not -- as Nic says, inspirational and key to their recruitment, training and fundraising. And for those reasons, he will continue to be a priority.

And it's understandable that the American people with so much time going past have less confidence, but what they don't see is sort of what goes on behind the curtain of the U.S. government. Intelligence resources have been increased. Their capability has increased. We see increasing activity of predator drones in the tribal areas by the current administration. All of this suggests to me looking in now from the outside that the intelligence is improving and so they're more likely, not less likely, to get the intelligence they need to either capture or kill bin Laden.

GRIFFIN: Well, nine years after the attack that sparked this entire movement, we are still faced with all these questions. I want to thank you both for joining us, Fran Townsend in Washington, Nic Robertson in Abu Dhabi. I am Drew Griffin at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. Thank you for joining us. Good night.