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America Under Attack: Arab Papers Says Warnings Existed

Aired September 13, 2001 - 06:41   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: All the while, we've been saying that -- or rather the United States officials have been saying, and we have been reporting, that there were no credible warnings early on to let the U.S. forces or even the American people know that anything like this could happen on U.S. soil.

Well, according to the editor-in-chief of a London-based Arab daily newspaper, there was a warning several weeks prior.

We go now to London, where we are going to be speaking with Abdel Bari Atwan.

Good morning.

ABDEL BARI ATWAN, "AL QUDS": Good morning.

LIN: All right. I just want to make sure I have the signal there to London.

Let me ask you this: According to your newspaper, you are reporting that Osama bin Laden warned as much as three weeks ago that his followers would carry out an unprecedented and massive attack on the United States.

Could you elaborate on this? What were the circumstances of this claim?

ATWAN: Actually, you know, this kind of warning is authentic. We -- you know, it's endless of telephone calls we receive every day, and I believe also other Arab newspapers and satellite channels received warnings before. So it is -- we don't know whether it's, you know, this kind of thing is accurate or not. So -- and we publish these warnings every time. So -- but we don't have actually any information to add to this, simply because there wasn't any.

LIN: All right. That's a little confusing to us, because by American standards, we typically don't go to publication with something that we are in doubt of. So let me start from the very beginning.

Who was it who said that Osama bin Laden had -- did Osama bin Laden call someone from your newspaper? Did you interview Osama bin Laden...

ATWAN: No, no.

LIN: ... and were these claims by him?

ATWAN: I did interview him five years ago. And Osama bin Laden doesn't phone. He doesn't use the phone, because he knows that -- he knows, you know, there are local intelligence services work, they're testing his phone, monitoring him. So he doesn't use.

Usually maybe some of his followers, you know, in different parts of the world. We don't know to be honest. I can't, you know, tell from where, you know. If it was an authentic call, I would have said, you know, the British -- sorry -- American embassies all over the world receives these kind of warnings. And they were closed down in civil Arab countries -- or civil Arab capitals, because they are afraid of reprisal.

So it is something which happens, you know, from time to time in the Middle East.

LIN: So how was it that you became aware of this warning?

ATWAN: Well, actually, you know, as I said, it is almost like that. Somebody of secure paths and, you know, just pick up the phone and say, you know, we're definitely -- we are the editor of such and such newspaper, and we believe, you know, there will be definitely something. We don't know what will happen. So it is not really clear.

And so maybe because they know that I interviewed bin Laden five years ago, and I was maybe the only Arab journalist to -- who was this interview. And it was publicized all over the world. So we don't know actually. We can't tell.

LIN: But your warning goes even more specifically in your publication. You have said that Osama bin Laden would almost certainly -- or is almost certainly behind the attack on the World Trade Center.

What makes you so sure?

ATWAN: Well, I -- you know, to be honest, because he is the only one in the Muslim world who declared war against the United States. He considers that Satan country. He actually issued a patwar, an old Islamic ruling, calling his followers to attack American interests. Maybe that's why, you know, he is the only one who dare to say that in the Muslim and Arab world. So if there is any connection -- if there is a connection with this bombing, all the fingers will point at him.

LIN: So why isn't he taking credit, then? There has been no credible claim for responsibility. The Taliban insists that Osama bin Laden is being held on such a tight leash in Afghanistan that it would be impossible for him to have planned this kind of attack.

ATWAN: To be honest, you know, I am a journalist. I am, you know, analyzing things like anybody else. But, you know, maybe because I interviewed him -- I spent a week in Afghanistan -- maybe, you know, I can put pieces together and try to reach conclusions.

But Osama bin Laden never claimed responsibilities before in any attacks against American interests. He praised the people who attack the American embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. He considered them martyrs. He also praised the people who attacked the Americans marines in Saudi Arabia in 1996. Also he actually supported and praised the people who carried that attack against American destroyer Cole in the seaport of Aden.

So putting all these together, you know, the man is not ashamed of saying that he is anti-American. He would like to hurt American interests.

So that's my conclusion. That's how I draw my conclusions.

LIN: All right. In taking a look at broader -- a broader look at other potential suspects, do you think that there is any route or any connection in the Palestinian community to these attacks on the United States?

ATWAN: No, I don't believe so. The Palestinians, you know, for the last 20 years or so, they refrained from attacking anybody. And they actually are desparate to establish good relations with the United States. The United States is the sponsor of the peace process.

They would like American administration to, you know, renew its interest in the peace process and to bring the two parties together, stop the bloodshed, which is taking place in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

It is the interest of the Palestinians actually to win the friendship of the American people and American administration. So I cannot see any of Palestinian connection whatsoever with these conflicts.

LIN: Well, certainly Americans were disappointed and rather astonished at seeing the celebrations on the streets of Ramallah, as we are showing them once again -- this on Tuesday after the attacks were announced worldwide.

Palestinians have also been suspected of having some sort of cooperation, collusion, influence by the Hezbollah out of Lebanon.

Is it possible that if not a direct connection with the Palestinians in this attack that Hezbollah could be behind these attacks?

ATWAN: I don't believe Hezbollah or the Palestinians are behind these attacks. Hezbollah never actually attacked American interests. The Palestinians never attacked American interests.

As I said, you know, if there are somebody who demonstrated in the streets of Ramallah, it is a very, very small minorities, and we have those minorities all over the world. You really have in any nation, there are criminals, there are villains, there extremists, there are belly dancers -- all type of people. So you can't expect -- you know, we have 100 percent anti bin Laden or anti Islamic fundamentalism.

So it is a small minority. It doesn't represent the Palestinian people. It doesn't represent the Arab people. The majority -- the greater majority of Arab people were saddened and appalled and actually shocked to see innocent Americans killed in New York and in Washington.

So, you know, we are human beings. We understand the suffering, and really, we have full sympathy with those people who were killed with their families and with the American people and the American nation.

LIN: Which may very well bring us to back to the prime suspect here then: Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban came out yesterday and said that if it warned -- the United States -- that if the United States or the western alliance chooses to retaliate and attack Afghanistan that that attack would prompt yet more terrorist attacks against Americans.

Do you believe that that is a credible threat by the Taliban?

ATWAN: Well, I believe it is credible, because the American reprisal against bin Laden and Taliban three years ago after the bombing of the American Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam didn't prevent further attacks. And I believe, you know, it will confirm to many Arabs and Muslims that, you know, the Americans are targeting Muslim people, and they are irrational in their reprisals.

So I think the best thing is to have a civilized reprisal. I mean, to look at the roots of the problem and, you know, try to find a political solution. And I don't mean that they shouldn't bring responsible to people who are behind these attacks to justice. No, it is a must in this case. But even if the Americans use all of the stakes against the Arab and Muslim countries -- they use sanctions, they bombed Baghdad for about 40 days, Iraq under sanctions, Sudan under sanctions, Libya under sanctions.

LIN: But you know who you're...



LIN: ... the United States in those situations knows who it's going after; knows what the target is. In this particular case, when you're talking about a terrorist organization that is multi-national, multi-lateral and unseen that a political solution seems far out of reach.

ATWAN: Well, I wouldn't say the political solution -- I mean, you know, to look to -- you know, definitely there are a lot of resentments in the Arab and Muslim worlds to the American foreign policies. They feel that this foreign policy actually is anti Arab, anti Islamist.

So I think to definitely look at it and try to build a friendship with Arab countries and try to solve, you know, the poisonous point of this relationship, which is the Arab-Israeli conflict, implementing UN Security Council resolutions.

Maybe this will actually isolate extremists among the Arabs and Muslims, and actually make United States and American citizens safer than ever.

LIN: Good point.

ATWAN: So that's all I mean. Now, if there is any reprisal, innocent people will suffer in Afghanistan, maybe in other parts of the world.

LIN: Understood.

ATWAN: So I hope, I hope we will be rational and try to think about the consequences.

LIN: Understood. Abdel Bari Atwan, thank you very much -- editor-in-chief of "Al Quds." And certainly the Arab League is going to be critical in any decisions that the United States makes.



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