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America's New War: Abdel Bari Atwan Speaks About Osama Bin Laden

Aired October 1, 2001 - 06:20   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Now the Taliban now say that they know where Osama bin Laden is and they want to cut a deal with the U.S. Where could the suspected terrorist be hiding and what could the Taliban's latest maneuver actually mean?

Well for some insight on this, we turn to Abdel Bari Atwan in London. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Palestinian-based newspaper "Al-Quds," and he has actually interviewed bin Laden. And we thank you very much for your sharing some time with us this morning and sharing your insights on this.

Good morning, how are you?

ABDEL BARI ATWAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "AL-QUDS": You're welcome. Good morning to you.

HARRIS: Let me begin by first of all asking you about this flip flop of the Taliban this morning -- over the weekend saying at first, as you know, for days they had been saying -- insisting that they did not know where Osama bin Laden is, now they say that they do have him but they want to negotiate with the U.S. What do you read -- how do you read that? What do you think this means actually?

ATWAN: Actually it means many things. First, we are not dealing with sophisticated government which has a structure, which has, you know, departments like everybody else. We are dealing with a movement -- radical movements which belong to the middle ages. So this is one thing.

Second thing I believe Taliban is, you know, panicking now. They don't know what to do. They can see there is a huge coalition, as you know, rebuild -- building against them. They can see a huge superpower, aircraft carriers, a massive military mobilization, so they are panicking. They don't know what to do actually. Sometimes they say, look, you know we have Osama bin laden. Sometimes they say we don't know where he is.

The third thing is I believe there is a split in Taliban. There are two school of thoughts. There are one, the radical one, who have the upper hand and who are headed by Mullah Mohamed Omar, the leader of Taliban. Those people believe that they should, you know, protect Osama bin Laden. They believe it is anti-Islamic to surrender him to a foreign power or you know, the American, in particular. And then there is the pattern of this camp which is, you know, those people won't believe that, OK, let -- we had enough fighting, let us look at the future, maybe we can get a commission from United Nation, from United States, money, rebuild our country and have a truce -- have some peace.

So we don't know which camp will prevail in the end, but I believe, you know, maybe these messages say we do have Osama bin Laden, maybe the moderate of Taliban they are sending messages hoping that there will be a negotiation. But the radical thing, at the same time, look, it is useless because they will -- we will be punished. We -- the American administration is refusing to talk to us so it is meaningless to surrender him so let us fight, let us declare holy war against America.

HARRIS: Well let me ask you, having said all of that, do you actually believe they do have bin Laden in their custody?

ATWAN: Well, I believe definitely they know where he is. You know I don't believe, you know, any other country will welcome bin Laden to actually to come to them and to stay and face the punishment and face maybe the -- you know the isolation from the American and maybe from the other members of the coalition. So I believe he definitely is still in Afghanistan. And definitely if he's still in Afghanistan that Taliban or at least, you know, the leader of -- or the leadership of Taliban knows actually where he is, where he is hiding.

HARRIS: Well let me ask you this then, because I've heard a lot of other analysts speculating over the weekend that perhaps what this is is some sort of a stalling tactic. Do you believe that? And if so, what could they possibly -- they being the Taliban -- be stalling for?

ATWAN: Well actually they are buying time. You know they want to buy more time, they want to reorganize their troops, they want to actually make contacts with, you know, the other Muslim countries and they want to see what's the reaction to any war which could be erupted soon. So they are buying time and they are panicking at the same time. And you know it's -- they were taken by surprise by this mobilization -- a massive military mobilization. So I believe they're trying to create some sort of a split or a crack in the coalition by buying time. So it is a tactic and they are using it, but you know, I think it is too late for them.

HARRIS: Let me ask you this, because this is something I find absolutely fascinating the prospect that the Taliban actually would turn over bin Laden. If that were to happen, many people don't believe they ever would, but if they were actually pinned down enough by the pressure being put on them by outside forces, by this building coalition, what would happen inside of Afghanistan if you were actually to turn over Osama bin Laden?

ATWAN: You know I believe they wouldn't turn over Osama bin Laden. And even if they do, I don't believe Osama bin Laden will be peaceful in this case. Definitely he would resist. I don't believe that he is the type of person -- I interviewed him, I studied his character, I don't believe this man actually will say to the Taliban, yes, surrender me to the American administration, no.

HARRIS: What do you think he will do?

ATWAN: I believe either he will fight Taliban...

HARRIS: I'm sorry. I'm sorry to cut you off, but I'm...

ATWAN: I think, you know, this man will fight.

HARRIS: You think he would fight the Taliban?

ATWAN: Sorry.

HARRIS: I'm sorry. You think he would fight the Taliban?

ATWAN: Oh yes, definitely, if that Taliban -- oh yes, definitely he would fight them. I don't believe he will actually surrender. He -- you know this man, he told me that he lived long enough and he would like to die as soon as possible. He would like to die as a martyr. He would like to go on to the eternal life, to paradise, so I don't think he will be -- he will accept such sort of humiliation of being surrendered and tried on the United States or any other part of the world. So even if Taliban would like to capture him, he will resist. His people will resist and they will be killed before -- maybe they will surrender him as a dead man, but I don't believe they will surrender him as a live man.

HARRIS: All right. You say he's -- he would resist. Let me ask you this, if he felt...

ATWAN: Oh yes.

HARRIS: If he felt as though he was cornered -- he got to the point where either the Taliban...


HARRIS: ... was after him or there were actually forces on the ground from the coalition there, they were closing in on him, what do you think he would do?

ATWAN: Yes. He would fight. You know definitely he wouldn't be alone. If he would be cornered, he wouldn't be alone, he would be cornered with other people and definitely they will exchange fire with the Taliban troops who are trying to capture him. So this is...

HARRIS: Well (INAUDIBLE) -- I'm sorry.

ATWAN: ... definitely a...

HARRIS: I'm sorry to cut you off but I want to be a little bit more specific when I ask you about what you think he would do. I mean there's been so many rumors about and bits and pieces of information about what he has available to use, the biological weapons, chemical weapons, any other terrorist plans he may actually have in place, do you think he would enact any of those things if he were cornered?

ATWAN: Well actually if he's -- if he's cornered I don't believe he will have these biological or chemical weapons in his pocket, definitely you know to be somewhere else. Maybe he will indicate to his followers, if he got these kind of weapons, to use it in the -- in the right time and the right place. But if he is cornered, definitely he has his Kalashnikov, his gun, and people -- the people around him also got their guns and they got missiles and definitely he will use, you know, these traditional weapons and light weapons. I don't think he will use biological weapons against the Taliban, but if the American actually attacked him and they spot where he is and definitely also the same thing will happen, he will fight until he drop dead. It is expected from him. As I said, he told me personally he would like to die as a martyr and he lived enough and he regret that he wasn't killed during his fight against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

HARRIS: Well it looks as though he may get his wish. There are a number of forces out there that are trying to make that happen.

Abdel Bari Atwan, we thank you very much for your time this morning and for your insights, fascinating. I would hope to talk to you about this and some other topics later on down the road.




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