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Peter Bergen: Osama bin Laden and the hijackers' identities



Peter Bergen is writing a book on Osama Bin Laden, whom he interviewed in 1997. He was just recently a journalist in residence at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. He is also a former employee of CNN. He joined the CNN.com chat room from Washington D.C.

CNN: Welcome to CNN.com Peter Bergen. Thanks for joining our discussion today.

PETER BERGEN: My name is Peter Bergen. I'm working with CNN as a terrorist analyst, and I did the first TV interview with Osama bin Laden for CNN.

CNN: The names of the airline terrorists have been released. What can you tell us about the significance of these names?

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BERGEN: We don't have definitive nationalities on these people, but I've run the names by someone who knows Saudi tribal names, and nine out of 18 are Saudi tribal names, the majority of which are from the southwest area of Saudi Arabia near Yemen. There are maybe one or two Yemeni names in there. The rest of the names are somewhat generic Middle Eastern names which are difficult to pin down exactly where they are from.

What is the significance of this? The Saudis have been the principle recruits to bin Laden's organization. Bin Laden was born in Saudi Arabia, although his family originates in Yemen. Also a source familiar with the bin Laden organization told me that in recent weeks Saudis returning from Afghanistan were talking about some kind of big action in coming weeks. And we seem to have seen that action with the World Trade Center attack.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why is it so difficult to locate bin Laden?

BERGEN: It's difficult to locate any individual who wants to hide, especially in Afghanistan which is a mountainous country where the U.S. has not had a presence since it closed its embassy in 1989. Bin Laden spent years fighting the Russians in the '80s so he is intimately familiar with the te