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America Under Attack: America Hunting for Those Responsible for Terrorist Attacks

Aired September 12, 2001 - 02:30   ET


JIM CLANCY, CNN ANCHOR: Now, key to all of this is the fact that Osama bin Laden has been in Afghanistan, Afghan officials, the ruling Taliban there have said unequivocally that they have been warned by Washington that they will be held responsible if it was determined that Osama bin Laden took actions, did terrorist acts against the United States or its interests.

Now, joining us from Kabul for more on this story is Nic Robertson. He's joining us by video phone -- Nic, what is the latest from there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, certainly there is a lot of apprehension within senior Taliban ranks here in Afghanistan, not only in Kabul, but in their spiritual capital, Kandahar, about 300 miles south of here.

We also know this morning in Kabul that the United Nations agencies here in Kabul are preparing very likely to pull out from here. Local staff are being paid their salaries and there will probably likely be a skeleton staff of U.N. officials left in the city and in other cities around the country.

We also know that some of the smaller, non-governmental organizations, aid groups here in the city, are also preparing to pull out. Ten German groups, we are told, will pull out, all of them today.

Last night, of course, the Taliban moving very swiftly, Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil talking to journalists, saying that they were not responsible, Afghanistan was not responsible, that they condemned terrorism in all its forms. And they said that Osama bin Laden couldn't be responsible for what had happened. Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the country, issuing a statement very quickly, as well, Jim, indicative of the apprehension that possibly Afghanistan could be a place where retribution might be sought.

But certainly Mullah Omar's statement, Osama bin Laden, he said, could not be responsible. This type of terrorism, he said, was too great for one man, Jim.

CLANCY: Still, the feeling persists that there is going to be some kind of retribution by the United States and we could see the reaction coming there from Taliban officials. How many of them in the government are what you might consider supporters of Osama bin Laden, that is, they agree with him, his philosophy?

ROBERTSON: Well, the Taliban have given sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, they say, for his war efforts in expelling the 1980 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, a 10 year occupation. Osama bin Laden came here and fought with the Mujahadeen. And for that reason, when Osama bin Laden came to the Taliban in 1996 looking for a safe haven, they felt honor bound under Afghan culture, they say, to give him a place to stay.

Certainly Osama bin Laden is a figurehead not only in Afghanistan, but in this part of the world. He is somebody that some young followers of Islam might look towards as a particular type of leader that they behold. Certainly as the Taliban prosecute their war to gain control of the last five percent of Afghanistan, a civil war in the north of the country here, having an ally like Osama bin Laden to help rally more troops to their cause, this is a war of attrition, the civil war here, Jim. Many troops die on the front lines. Frontal assaults, troops driving across open plains being mowed down.

The Taliban do need a lot of troops here to fight this war. Osama bin Laden and his supporters would certainly be a good rallying point for Taliban in trying to recruit people to that army. And certainly we have seen this in some instances, Jim.

CLANCY: Nic, there have been reports that Osama bin Laden is calling Muslims from around the world to join his forces in Afghanistan to support the country, even export out of Afghanistan some of the same fundamentalist beliefs that he holds. Do you see evidence of that?

ROBERTSON: Well, Jim, two years ago we were traveling in the north of Afghanistan in territory held by the Northern Alliance, who are the last opposition holding out against the Taliban. There we were taken to a jail and shown prisoners they told us were from, mostly from Pakistan, one gentleman from Britain, and several others, some from China, some from other countries. These people told us that they had come to learn how to fight in training camps in Afghanistan and had then gone on to the front lines to fight in the war against the Northern Alliance and that's why they were captured when the front lines changed.

These people have told us other supporters, other fighters, other terrorists some people might call them, front line fighters, the Taliban would call them, told us that they'd come to Afghanistan to get training in fighting techniques, in techniques using explosives, in techniques of using weapons, rocket launchers, machine guns, etc. They'd then taken those skills to the front lines for the Taliban. But they said they were also quite capable of taking those skills and exporting them back to their own countries of origin.

Certainly the predominance of the people in that jail we saw were mostly from Pakistan and it has been well documented that the Taliban are able to draw ethnically from the Pastune (ph) population in Pakistan a consider degree of support and there is a wealth of evidence that would point to the fact that there are many young people that would come from Pakistan to assist the Taliban in their fight in Afghanistan.

CLANCY: All right, thanks there.

Nic Robertson, one of the few correspondents in Afghanistan that is at the moment one of the focuses -- one of the focal points of attention -- Colleen?


We do want to show you some more fresh pictures that are just coming into CNN now. This is tape, but it's quite fresh, from the area in lower Manhattan around the World Trade Center, our crews out there busy tonight getting us, giving us a look at the search and rescue efforts which go on.

You can see the, really the utter devastation there, just twisted pieces of metal and rubble. Take a look at that panning up shot. Let's just listen to this for a while. You can see still plenty of steam and smoke in that area. Let's have a listen here.

Most of that damage on the ground, of course, caused when the two towers literally disintegrated. They burned and fell to the ground one after the other, just spewing rubble all over the place.

We're going to also show you some tape that we just got in a couple of hours here. This is an exclusive, a reverse angle of the second plane hitting the tower. Let's look.

CLANCY: That is just a frightening shot.

MCEDWARDS: Officials saying it's the fire that, the fire that that caused that caused the buildings to disintegrate relatively quickly. You can imagine both very large planes carrying a lot of fuel, literally pumping that fuel right into those two towers.

CLANCY: These planes fully loaded with fuel. Every one of these planes was hijacked. All four of them was bound for a transcontinental flight, meaning they were fully loaded, bombs literally, petrol bombs that were plowed there into the World Trade Center and then also, of course, into the Pentagon.

MCEDWARDS: All right, and also late in the day yesterday we also saw some naval movements, some movements of naval ships.

And CNN's Jeanne Meserve is in Washington right now. She's got some new information about this -- Jeanne.


We talked earlier today about the movement of forces along the East Coast. Now we have information about the movement of naval assets on the West Coast. They are being moved to protect the West Coast and also Hawaii, according to navy officials.

Let me tell you what's being deployed, an aircraft carrier, two guided missile cruisers, five guided missile destroyers, five guided missile frigates, a rescue and salvage ship and a fleet oiler, all of those vessels based on the West Coast. Once again, those being deployed along the West Coast and some further out, one presumes, to protect Hawaii.

Earlier today, a couple of aircraft carriers left Norfolk, Virginia. They were deployed along with some other ships with the intention of protecting the East Coast. The aircraft carriers in particular, it was hoping, could monitor and help control the air space over both New York and Washington, D.C.

And another note, the USS Enterprise, which had been relieved of duty in the Persian Gulf, has now been told it must stay there.

So that's the latest on military assets and how they are being put in place early this morning.

Also here in Washington, another item. We have seen that the entrances to three of Washington's major tourist attractions have been closed to vehicular traffic. The Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial have now all been blocked, effectively, to vehicles, unclear whether they have also been blocked to pedestrian traffic since at this hour of the morning there is none for us to monitor.

This does not come as a surprise. There is a state of emergency here in the District of Columbia. Much of the city was cordoned off for portions of the day, certainly around the U.S. Capitol today. Blocks and blocks were closed. Vehicles had to divert for blocks to get around that building.

So there are a few of the updates from the city itself. Across the river in Virginia at the Pentagon, rescue efforts do continue at this hour. You can see there a live picture of what's going on. Plans are for in the morning to peel away part of the facade of this building and go in and do a thorough search.

Arlington County officials have told us that the toll at the Pentagon could go as high as 800, 100 to 800 the range of people missing at the Pentagon.

So that is the latest here from Washington -- now back to you in Atlanta.

MCEDWARDS: All right, Jeanne Meserve, thank you very much.

Condolences have been pouring in from around the world tonight. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has expressed his condolences to the American people. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has also condemned the attacks.

For more now on the reaction in the Middle East, we are joined from Jerusalem by Jerrold Kessel -- Jerrold.


And for Israelis, it's, as they watched the horror unfolding in New York and Washington, the equation is horrifyingly simple. Not so much just an attack on America, as Israelis perceive it, but somewhat akin to this headline that we have here in the leading Israeli newspaper which talks of a world in shock. Because the way the Israelis see it is that this is a question, a day of reckoning, a day to stand up and be counted on which side anyone is in the battle, as they say, against terrorism for or against.

And there are no neutrals, say Israeli leaders. This is a day in which it should be made plain that there's no place for terrorists to have a haven or to seek a sanctuary.


ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: The fight against terror is an international struggle of the free world against the forces of darkness who seek to destroy our liberty and our way of life. I believe that together we can defeat these forces of evil. At this most difficult hour, all Israelis stand as one with the American people. Our hearts are with you and we are ready to provide any assistance at any time. The government of Israel has declared a day of mourning tomorrow as we bow our heads and share in the sorrow of the American people.


KESSEL: Along with the day of mourning, Israelis have been asked to donate blood and people have been going to medical relief centers to donate blood, which will be sent along with the emergency rescue squads. The Israelis have a couple of such squads who have specialized in handling incidents such as the collapse of buildings like when, as they did when they sent a squad to Nairobi after the bombing of the U.S. embassy there.

Israel also taking its own security precautions, the air space closed to all foreign aircraft or other than those that have Israeli security clearance. The Israeli Air Force on high alert and other efforts to make sure that security has been tightened.

On the Palestinian side, the Palestinians, like leaders throughout the Arab world, have expressed condemnation and have expressed their solidarity with the American people and this, in the hour of trial.

Here's what Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had to say to CNN last night.


YASSER ARAFAT, PRESIDENT, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY: The Palestinian people and I were shocked. We felt the pain as a result of this extremely dangerous act, which hurt many American institutions and caused many casualties among the friendly American people, innocent American victims. We condemn this criminal painful act. We express our sympathy to the families of the victims.

I have sent a, I have sent President Bush a message of condolences in which I have expressed my and the Palestinian people's sad feelings in regard of this horrible act.

I also convey to his excellency our readiness to put all of our humble capabilities at his disposal at this time of sorrow. God bless you. God bless you. God bless you.


KESSEL: And the Palestinian leader also denounced certain scenes that were in, on display in the streets here in East Jerusalem. A small number of people who were showing their support for that action, those terror actions in the United States, also in the town of Nablus on the West Bank. Here they were in Jerusalem. There were only a small crowd, but there was a crowd of several thousand in the town of Nablus, where cries of "God is great!" and support for the terror actions against the United States, the distribution by people of candy, a traditional show of a sentiment of support and of delight, that very much a reflection of the anti-U.S. sentiment that has been spreading throughout the Middle East because of the United States' perceived support of Israel in the ongoing year long now bloody confrontation.

And, indeed, that confrontation has been deepening overnight with some intense fighting around the town of Jenine in the northern part of the West Bank. A number of Palestinians reported killed in that intense fighting -- Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: All right, Jerrold Kessel updating us from Jerusalem, thanks -- Jim.

CLANCY: Well, along with the condolences that are pouring in, there are also questions being asked and one of those questions is how were the hijackers able to board the plane in the first place?

We get more on that and the situation with airport security from Charles Feldman.


CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When TWA Flight 800 exploded after taking off from Kennedy Airport in 1996, U.S. transportation officials were already at work reversing domestic aviation security. New screening measures at airports were put into effect. Passengers were required to show picture I.D.s. All this even though TWA 800 turned out not to be an act of terrorism.

So how could four airliners be hijacked on the very same day? The fact is, terrorism experts say, there is no realistic way to stop terrorists bent on a suicide mission. Terrorism expert Brian Jenkins.

JENKINS: Years ago I was asked by a congressman, Mr. Jenkins, if I gave you all of the resources that you wanted and all of the authority that you needed, could you guarantee that there would not be another hijacking? And my answer was yes, sir, I can. We ground all of the airplanes.

FELDMAN: Making matters worse, when various government agencies and news organizations test airport security around the nation, it often comes up short. Published reports from 1999 show that Boston's Logan Airport, from which two of the hijacked planes originated, had at least 136 security violations over a two year period, this when federal aviation agents tested security there. And just this July, the Transportation Department announced it was seeking almost $100,000 in penalties against American Airlines for having lax security on at least six flights checked by special agents.

American, which had two of its planes hijacked in the attacks, says the proposed fine covered alleged procedural failures involving checked baggage and not failures at security checkpoints.

So, what happened to all the heightened security?

JENKINS: It's not that the measures are at fault. It is that over a period of time absent a major threat there is always the temptation to do business as usual and to forget for a moment that this threat is real, remains real.

FELDMAN: But at least for the near future, business will certainly not be as usual.

NORMAN MINETA, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: There will be higher levels of surveillance, more stringent searches, airport curbside luggage check-in will no longer be allowed. There will be more security officers and random identification checks.

FELDMAN: But we are a nation that likes to move fast. We are impatient with long lines and security checkpoints that slow our travel down. So, if history is any lesson, security over time will again get lax. Terrorists can count on it.

Charles Feldman, CNN, Los Angeles.


CLANCY: Now, it probably is not difficult to gauge the mood of the American people at a time like this. Gallup pollsters did that Tuesday afternoon, though, making telephone calls that no one ever imagined would be necessary.

Joining us now from Princeton, New Jersey is pollster Frank Newport with more on that -- Frank.

FRANK NEWPORT, GALLUP POLL EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Indeed, Jim, this was our poll, together with a scientific sample, the immediate reaction to the American public, taken Tuesday night, the 11 of September. We've heard the term on a lot of this coverage "war." We ask Americans, do you consider this an act of war or not? Evidence is pretty clear, as you can see here, 86 percent, almost nine out of 10 Americans, agree that it is an act of war.

However, when it comes to military response, we do get a sense of restraint from the American public. We offered three possible alternatives for retaliation -- immediate strikes against known terrorist operations, even if we don't know exactly who did it; the middle alternative was strike but only after evidence of exactly who did it, even if that takes months; and no military action at all.

Obviously Americans want military action, but look at this. A majority, a significant majority of Americans say wait until it's known exactly who did it, then military action.

The reaction that mostly we've seen in a lot of the coverage is very, very strong. In fact, we find here that 87 percent, almost 90 percent of Americans, including a lot of older Americans who lived through Pearl Harbor tell us this is the most tragic news event that they have witnessed in their life.

Worry about themselves or their family being involved in terrorist activities, that's up. We've tracked that measure, unfortunately, going back to Oklahoma City. It was 42 percent. Then in the mid-'90s it had fallen. Just last night, you can see 58 percent of Americans say they are at least somewhat worried about the possibility of a terrorist attack.

Finally, confidence in President Bush to handle the situation is high, very and somewhat confident, we've got almost eight out of 10 Americans expressing confidence that he will handle the situation.

Jim, that's an update on the immediate reaction of the American public. Back to you.

CLANCY: All right, Frank. Thank you for that report -- Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: All right, Jim, thanks.

Well, relief agencies say that they are rushing blood supplies both to New York and Washington and they say Americans are rolling up their sleeves quite literally nationwide to make sure that there is enough blood to treat the wounded.

Thelma Gutierrez reports now from Los Angeles.


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the American Red Cross in the heart of Los Angeles, a long line formed outside the door. Dozens waited to come in and donate blood.

UNIDENTIFIED CITIZEN: I lived in New York for about 12 years so I really wish that I were there to help more directly. So this is the little I can do.

GUTIERREZ: Inside was a scene staff members say they had never witnessed before -- donors, hundreds of them, lined the corridors, sitting on the floor and anyplace else they could find space, waiting for their names to be called.

UNIDENTIFIED STAFF MEMBER: I have never seen this type of turnout. I've been here for five years. This turnout is, it's amazing. And it's amazing how when a tragedy like this happens, people are just moved to do something, anything they can to show that they care. GUTIERREZ: Fifteen Red Cross technicians drew blood while volunteers kept the lines moving. They were overwhelmed by the response. One Red Cross center estimates 250 units of blood was collected on Tuesday, an unprecedented amount in one day. The problem remains in how to transport the supply. According to a spokeswoman, the blood must first be tested. The Red Cross is negotiating with the military to deliver the supply to the East Coast.

The wait to give blood at one southern California center was up to five hours. But the staff said no one complained.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Los Angeles.


CLANCY: Well, we're going to continue with our coverage of this day of disaster, the attack on America. And we're going to be joined by John Mann and Ralitsa Vassileva here to take over for us -- Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: That's right. They're moving in, we're moving out.

I'm Colleen McEdwards.

CLANCY: And I'm Jim Clancy.

As we go we want to recap here some of the latest pictures that we have in. This is from lower Manhattan, the scene of the devastation today in what is undoubtedly going to be the worst terror attack in the history of the United States, a terror attack that may change everything, that Americans themselves overwhelmingly see as nothing short of an act of war.



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