Articles

Aug 07, 1999

Osama bin Laden Remains at Large One Year After African Embassy Bombings

On Thursday night, CNN aired parts of an interview with Osama bin Laden that the Arabic-language television network Al-Jazeera recorded in late October.

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SHOW: CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS 07:00 am ET

August 7, 1999; Saturday 8:07 am Eastern Time

Transcript # 99080703V28

TYPE: PACKAGE/ANALYSIS

SECTION: News; International

LENGTH: 1465 words

HEADLINE: Osama bin Laden Remains at Large One Year After African Embassy Bombings

GUESTS: LEXIS-NEXIS Related Topics Full Article Related Topics Overview

This document contains no targeted Topics.

BYLINE: Catherine Callaway, Peter Bergen

HIGHLIGHT:
A year ago today, bombs ripped through the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, where 224 people were killed and more than 5,000 were injured. The attacks have prompted a massive campaign to apprehend suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden. U.S. authorities say that bin Laden and his organization could be planning further attacks against the U.S.

BODY:

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

CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: A day of mourning today in Africa, on the anniversary of the U.S. embassy bombings.

A year ago today, bombs ripped through the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Two hundred twenty-four people were killed; more than 5,000 were injured. Today, thousands of people have gathered on the vacant lot where the embassy in Kenya once stood to remember the victims.

The attacks have prompted a massive campaign to apprehend suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Well, bin Laden is a fugitive, the man believed to be behind the embassy bombings. And U.S. authorities say that bin Laden and his organization could be planning further attacks against the U.S.

So, how has he been able to elude capture?

CNN producer Peter Bergen explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER BERGEN, CNN PRODUCER (voice-over): August 7, 1998, almost simultaneous bomb blasts destroy the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 200 people and injuring thousands more. The U.S. government blames Osama bin Laden for the bombings.

The date August 7th has a special significance for bin Laden. That was the day in 1990 when U.S. troops deployed to his native Saudi Arabia, following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Bin Laden considers the presence of U.S. troops on the holy soil of Arabia to be an offense against Islam. That led to his 1998 call to kill Americans everywhere.

The U.S. government has had a mixed record of success in disrupting the bin Laden organization since the embassy bombings. There have been no attacks on U.S. targets by bin Laden’s followers, and the United States has foiled planned attacks on several U.S. embassies around the world.

That success has not been matched by apprehending the top leadership of bin Laden’s organization. Of the 17 men the U.S. alleges are part of bin Laden’s conspiracy to kill Americans, only eight are now in custody.

But a prominent Saudi dissident who does not endorse bin Laden’s views says that some of the jailed men are simply Muslim activists.

DR. SAAD AL FAQUIH, SAUDI DISSIDENT: Because it is lacking the ability to understand the Muslim mentality and the Muslim ways in general — that’s the first problem. So they believe any Muslim activist is a potential terrorist.

BERGEN: Nine of the accused men are still at large, including bin Laden himself, his military commander, and his number two.

The U.S. government says that apprehending these men may take years.

MICHAEL SHEEHAN, COUNTER-TERRORISM COORDINATOR: These things take time. The example of Pan Am 102, that bombing took place in 1998. Eleven years later, now we finally have the two suspects of that bombing, and they’re under custody.

BERGEN: Bin Laden and his closest lieutenants have disappeared into the remote mountains of Afghanistan, and the Islamist militia that controls most of the country, the Taliban, has not cooperated with U.S. efforts to arrest him.

SHEEHAN: And we’ve made that very clear to the Taliban, that we hold them responsible for providing him safe haven and sanctuary and expect that they turn him over to justice.

BERGEN: Bin Laden expects the United States will launch another attack against him, similar to the one that was aimed at his Afghan camps last August.

AL FAQUIH: They’ve been preparing themselves for this sort of attack, and they’ve been taking precautions, more than here and there, to avoid this sort of attack for the last four or five months.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CALLAWAY: CNN producer Peter Bergen is joining us now live from Washington with more on this.

Good morning, Peter.

BERGEN: Good morning.

CALLAWAY: Indeed it’s been said of bin Laden that his strength is that he can operate across boundaries with relative impunity. Do you agree?

BERGEN: Yes. I mean, the group that — the organization he has is a transnational group. If you look at the indictment against bin Laden, it mentions 20 countries where his network is alleged to have operated. And those countries are in Asia, Europe, United States, the Middle East, pretty much every continent around the world.

CALLAWAY: We’ve mentioned that today is the anniversary of the embassy bombings, that he has been linked to other attacks as well. Can you review some of those for us? I know that the World Trade Center bombing is one that his name…

BERGEN: Yes, he was an — Catherine, he was an unindicted coconspirator in the World Trade Center bombing.

In the present indictment against him, he’s accused of masterminding the attack in Somalia in 1993. You remember the television images of mutilated U.S. soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

He admitted to us, in an interview in 1997, that his people were somewhat involved in that, in training the people who actually carried out that operation. Since then, the United States government has indicted him for that attack.

CALLAWAY: And indeed in that interview, which I read again last night, he made it clear that all Americans should be cautious of this situation, even in America and abroad.

BERGEN: Yes, his call for attacks on Americans initially was simply against U.S. military targets. In 1998, he widened the scope of that to say that American civilians or military anywhere in the world were legitimate targets.

CALLAWAY: But do you really think that he’s more likely to strike the U.S. or internationally, though?

BERGEN: I think the — it’s harder to strike the United States just because of the security measures of getting into the country.

If you look where he has struck in the past, it’s been Africa, in Somalia, Kenya, and Tanzania, allegedly. His network has tried to carry out some operations in Asia.

Asia and the Middle East, I think, are much more likely than the United States.

CALLAWAY: Who’s supporting him at this point?

BERGEN: There have been reports that Saudi — rich Saudi businessmen continue to send him money. There was a report that a bank in Dubai was laundering money for him.

But I think the money may be a little bit of a red herring, in the sense that Afghanistan, where he lives, is a place where a small amount of money goes a very long way. It’s essentially a medieval economy, and the people who actually are his followers are not motivated by money; they’re motivated by Islamist fever.

CALLAWAY: Well, so, really the concern would be the strategic support? What nations would be involved in helping him? BERGEN: At this point — I talked to a U.S. State Department person recently, and their belief is that no countries are now supporting him directly.

Obviously, the Taliban de facto government of Afghanistan is letting him operate to some degree, but other than the de facto government of Afghanistan, there are no other governments directly supporting him.

CALLAWAY: Is he really as big a threat as he is being portrayed?

BERGEN: The United States and perhaps the media may have demonized him to such a degree that we’ve made the focus on one person rather than the actual network and organization that he represents.

My view is that bin Laden is sort of a convenient shorthand for a much larger movement that consists of thousands of people that support his views.

CALLAWAY: Which would make it more difficult to not only track down but to bring to justice, correct?

BERGEN: I believe so.

CALLAWAY: Can you tell me the importance, again, of the anniversaries with bin Laden?

BERGEN: August 7th was the day in 1990 that U.S. troops were deployed to Saudi Arabia in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. That is an absolute obsession of bin Laden’s. The first thing that he will talk about in terms of his grievance against the United States is the presence of U.S. troops on the holy soil of Saudi Arabia. That’s his number one priority in terms of his campaign against the United States. So I think August 7th is an important date for him.

CALLAWAY: And doesn’t he traditionally issue threats before there is any action taken, prior to the actions being taken?

BERGEN: Yes, that’s true.

I mean, last year, he called a press conference on May 26, saying — again calling for deaths of Americans all around the world. And he said during that press conference that there was, quote, “good news in the coming weeks ahead,” which somebody who attended that press conference told me that he took that to mean a reference to the August 7th bombings.

CALLAWAY: All right. CNN producer Peter Bergen, thanks for joining us this morning.

BERGEN: Thank you, Catherine.

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LOAD-DATE: August 7, 1999

 

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