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Clues Piling Up for Investigators Looking into Anthrax Threats; At APEC Meetings, Bush Hopes to Submit Support for War Against Terrorism

Aired October 17, 2001 - 05:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. bombs trigger explosions in Afghanistan's capital city. The relentlessness U.S.-led assault pounds Kabul in a new day of heavy blasts.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: The Arab-Israeli factor is thrown into turmoil with the shooting death of an Israeli cabinet minister this morning. And this...


UNIDENTIFIED GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL: While organized terrorism has not been ruled out, so far we have found no direct link to organized terrorism.


PHILLIPS: Clues are piling up for investigators looking into anthrax threats in the U.S.

HARRIS: And what if Osama bin Laden is not behind the contaminated letters? The search for the suspects may include U.S. citizens.

PHILLIPS: Good morning and welcome to DAYBREAK. It's Wednesday, October 17, 2001. From the CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Kyra Phillips.

HARRIS: And I am Leon Harris. Thank you for joining us this morning, folks. A lot to talk about today.

PHILLIPS: That's right.

We begin this morning with the latest developments in the U.S. fight against terrorism.

HARRIS: A late breaking report coming out of Israel may make the U.S.-Arab coalition a bit more tricky. Just moments ago, a controversial Israeli cabinet minister died from gunshot wounds. Rehavam Zeevi was gunned down in a Jerusalem hotel this morning. The Israeli security cabinet is meeting right now to decide just how it's going to respond.

PHILLIPS: And in the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Tom Daschle says a contaminated letter mailed to his Capitol Hill office contained a particularly potent form of anthrax. So far, no one exposed to the envelope has tested positive for the infection.

HARRIS: And federal investigators say the letter sent to Daschle's office is similar to an anthrax contaminated letter sent to NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw in New York. Both were handwritten envelopes and they were postmarked from Trenton, New Jersey. The letters contained references to Allah and threatened the U.S. and Israel.

PHILLIPS: Attorney General John Ashcroft has called for a crackdown on false anthrax reports. He's threatening fines and prison time for hoaxers. The FBI says that it has received more than 2,000 reports now of anthrax since October 1 and most of them have been hoaxes.

HARRIS: That's right.

PHILLIPS: Well, we're going to take you now to Walter Rodgers. He's live in Islamabad, Pakistan. He's got more on the intense air strikes that took place in Afghanistan today -- Walter.


The U.S. continued its intense bombing campaign of Afghanistan, apparently targeting so-called centers of gravity of the Taliban. That would be Taliban military bases, also Taliban political strongholds like Kandahar. The bombs fell again today, as they did yesterday. Yesterday was the heaviest bombing of this campaign so far, well over 100 sorties. Again, the bombs rained down today, this time on Jalalabad, Kabul, the capital, and again on Kandahar, which has always been a strong political base for the Taliban.

Now, we should say that we are receiving reports out of Afghanistan from Taliban authorities alleging that one of the U.S. bombing strikes just north of Kandahar hit a bus, which the Taliban alleges the United States bombed. Again, they apparently were carrying at least 20 or more people on that bus. The Taliban says 18 of those people were killed in this U.S. bombing raid. We have no independent confirmation of that and the video we have did not disclose any bodies.

Nonetheless, it is a Taliban claim that one of the U.S. Air Force or Navy strikes against Kandahar went awry again and a bus was hit. Again, according to Taliban sources, unconfirmed here. But if that does, indeed, turn out to be true -- and recall, it usually takes several days to verify the credibility of these reports -- if that does turn out to be true, of course, it would be a boon to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda organization because it would help them make their case that the United States is warring against Muslims -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Now, Walter, a number of days, more than a week of these intense air strikes. What is life like there right now for you, for other journalists and the people there? Are you feeling the effects from these air strikes?

RODGERS: Well, remember, I'm in Islamabad, which is our listening post from across the border. In Afghanistan it must be a terrible, terrifying situation because you have bombs falling around the clock, day and night. Most people who were -- had the means got out of cities like Kandahar, Kabul and so forth, simply because they were terrified at the prospect of what is now happening, these U.S. air strikes.

Islamabad, recall, of course, is the capital of Pakistan across the border. That's our listening post here. This is where we monitor these events and we regularly talk to people across there, across the border in Afghanistan. Things are not going well for those people. But Islamabad's pretty soft -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Walter Rodgers, thanks so much -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, let's check now and see how things are going in northern Afghanistan. Our Matthew Chance is there and as I understand it, Matthew, you witnessed an air strike just a short time ago? I don't know if Matthew -- Matthew, if you can hear me, hold on for just a second. We're having a bit of problems -- a bit of an audio problem there with the transmission coming in there from northern Afghanistan. Do we have that straightened out? I guess we do not have that straightened out.

We'll get back to Matthew Chance in just a moment. Matthew was reporting to us that he had seen a U.S. air strike there just moments ago at his position in northern Afghanistan -- Matthew, are you there? All right, we do not have Matthew Chance.

Let's instead go to the Pentagon. Our Frank Buckley checks in from there. He's got U.S. reaction to the bombing of a Red Cross warehouse in Kabul, word of that coming out this morning, yet another civilian area being stricken. What's the word on that one, Frank?

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Leon, the Pentagon is acknowledging that it inadvertently hit a Red Cross warehouse in Kabul with U.S. Navy bombs on Tuesday. The U.S. Navy bombs, 1,000 pound bombs being dropped from a U.S. Navy fighter. The Pentagon saying the warehouses were part of a complex of warehouses that were, in fact, targeted by U.S. forces because the U.S. forces believed they were being used to house Taliban military equipment.

The Pentagon says it was not aware the Red Cross was using the warehouses. But I just spoke with a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. Kim Gordon Bates (ph) says that there were five buildings in this complex. All of them contained either relief supplies or office buildings. Gordon Bates says that while Western relief workers evacuated on September 16, the Red Cross remained in contact with local Afghan relief workers who were also in communications with the Red Cross.

He says if military assets had been moved into place in any of these buildings, "We would have known." He also says, "There was no indication there had been any change." He also pointed out that the building complex was clearly marked with a red cross on the roof against a white background. He says the Red Cross is considering its options as to what it might do next. It may contact the U.S. ambassador in Geneva or work through its offices, its Red Cross offices in Washington to seek clarification as to why this occurred -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, Frank, we are all waiting for that kind of clarification. But in the meantime, what's the Pentagon saying about maybe perhaps a change in plans or a change in targeting practices up to this point? This is, what, maybe the third incident we've seen where a civilian area has been struck just in the last, what, eight, nine days?

BUCKLEY: Well, it's a little early to get reaction from the Pentagon as to this specific incident. So far there has been no reaction beyond the acknowledgement issued late Tuesday that, in fact, the Red Cross warehouses had been hit. What they will say and what they have said over and over again is that the U.S. forces do not intentionally target anything that, any civilian targets. They're only intentionally targeting military or terrorist targets -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right, Frank Buckley at the Pentagon this morning, thank you. We'll talk with you soon -- Kyra, over to you.

PHILLIPS: All right, we've had a bit of an audio problem. I think we've got that worked out. We're going to try and bring out Matthew Chance back in from northern Afghanistan -- Matthew, are we in contact?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kyra, we are at this time, I think.

We're in a very remote location right on the front line in Northern Alliance controlled territory overlooking the positions of the Taliban just a couple of kilometers, about a mile across this plains in front of me, 100 kilometers or so, a few hundred meters or so, rather, in front of me.

Let me just give you an idea about exactly where I am. I'll come to those reports in a moment of the air strikes we witnessed within the last hour, but let me first of all tell you exactly where we are. We're in this Bagram Air Force Base, a key launching pad for what was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan back in the 1980s. And as you can see, the remnants of that all around this airport. Behind me is an old Sukoy (ph) fighter bomber which was simply abandoned when the Soviets withdrew in 1989.

And if we just can get the camera to pan along this airport, you can see there are countless carcasses, really, of MIG fighter jets and Sukoy fighter bombers that were simply abandoned when the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from here in Afghanistan back in 1989.

Now, take a look at those mountains on the horizon. They overlook Kabul and they're very much in the control of the Taliban and essentially, they're the things that stay in between the Northern Alliance advance on Kabul and them staying in their current positions.

Well, within the last hour, as I mentioned earlier, we did witness some kind of coalition, U.S.-led coalition air strike on Taliban positions there. A jet screamed overhead, dropping at least two bombs on a Taliban position just on those mountains over there, which actually overlook Kabul itself. They're about 25 kilometers from the center of the city.

Now, all along the Pentagon has been saying it will hold back from targeting front line Taliban positions, but if that kind of bombing continues, it could essentially open the way for the Northern Alliance to move on the capital -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: How close is the Northern Alliance right now, Matthew, to Mazir-i-Sharif and to occupying it?

CHANCE: It's difficult to say because Mazir-i-Sharif is in the far north of the country several hundred kilometers from where I'm standing right now. The reports coming from the Northern Alliance are that they're within five or six or seven kilometers of the actual airport of Mazir-i-Sharif. The reports are very sketchy. We can't independently verify, though, exactly what the situation is on the ground. Certainly Northern Alliance officials say they're within striking distance of the city itself, but you have to wait and see what actually happens.

We're obviously working on getting up there. We haven't managed to do it yet -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, it's pretty amazing what you witnessed right there.

Matthew Chance, be careful. Thank you so much -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right, well, as you know, Kyra, and as our audience I'm sure no doubt knows, the tensions between Israel and the Palestinians has always been on the periphery of this issue now and the shooting that happened this morning in Israel could actually pose a very serious threat to the already tenuous U.S.-Arab alliance to fight terrorism worldwide.

A senior Israeli cabinet minister is now dead in what police are calling an assassination. The leader of a right-wing party at odds with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was shot three times inside a Jerusalem hotel this morning.

Our Jerrold Kessel joins us now live from Jerusalem. He's got the very latest -- Jerrold?


And as you say, at a very critical moment for these efforts to haul the Israeli-Palestinian relationship back from violence and onto a peaceful path again, and that a very key element in the ongoing U.S. effort, global effort and global war on terror, comes the shooting this morning and the death now, the assassination of an Israeli cabinet minister, the right-wing leader of the so-called Moledet Party, part of the right-wing ultra nationalist union, which was about to leave Prime Minister Sharon's national unity government over odds because Mr. Sharon -- odds with Mr. Sharon because they were opposed to his going back to the peace process with Yasser Arafat.

And he was in his hotel room in Jerusalem this morning and he was shot, three bullets at close range. Police say one hit him in the head, another in the neck. And Rehavam Zeevi, two hours after that, was proclaimed dead at the Jerusalem Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem to which he was rushed.

And shortly after, within an hour, indeed, after the shooting in that Jerusalem hotel where Mr. Zeevi has been staying with his wife -- in fact, his wife discovered him lying in the corridor outside their room. He had gone out shortly after their breakfast together before her. She had come up, discovered him and shortly after that, within an hour, a claim of responsibility from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical Palestinian group which said in a faxed communique to an international news agency that it was carrying out this, it had carried out this action in retaliation to avenge the killing of its leader, Abu Ali Mustafa, two months ago in an Israeli missile attack. Israel had held the PFLP responsible for carrying out a number of car bombings and other terror attacks inside Israel.

The Israeli, Mr. Zeevi, a very hard-line plane, espoused some very strong views on how Israel should handle its relations with its Arab neighbors, called for the -- had a policy called transfer, a euphemism for the expulsion of all Palestinians inside Israel and Israeli controlled areas. But he was, his party had become a party of Ariel Sharon's national unity government. But they were about to leave it. They had announced their resignation yesterday and now Mr. Sharon convening his security cabinet to discuss the political and security implications, and they could be very serious, indeed, of this assassination of Rehavam Zeevi here in Jerusalem this morning -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, Jerrold, any -- I mean the main question is, is what's going to happen next now? Any indication at all from the Palestinian side or from the Israeli side exactly what's going to happen next?

KESSEL: It is a real test, a major, major test, this assassination of the right-wing politician, for both Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat. We heard Shimon Peres, Israel's foreign minister and the foremost advocate of a return to the peace table with the Palestinians, saying a short while ago, we reported he, in conversation with Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Straw, and he said now if Yasser Arafat doesn't take the reigns of the situation under his control immediately, that could lead to everything going down the drain, all these efforts to try to rescue the Palestinian-Israeli situation from violence and back to the peace table.

So the challenge, the way the Israelis see it, very much on Yasser Arafat. But there is, you could say, a challenge on Ariel Sharon, too. Will he be going down that path towards, away from the violent confrontation and back to -- continue down that path and back to the peace table as it's predicated in terms of the U.S. orchestrated attempts to get the Israelis and Palestinians back there? Or will this reverse that trend?

Those are the big questions, the two tests for both Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, now very much upon them in the wake of this assassination here in Jerusalem this morning -- Leon.

HARRIS: That is certainly a critical crossroads that you've just described for us this morning.

Jerrold Kessel in Jerusalem, thank you very much. We'll talk with you later on. Be sure to get back to us if you hear anything new developing there from Jerusalem.

Folks, stay with us, because we're going to be getting a lot more insight on just what this attack in Jerusalem could mean for Arab support of the war against terrorism. I'm going to be talking with Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner, coming up just after the break.

PHILLIPS: Well, Secretary of State Colin Powell has been making a number of trips to garner international support and he's been in New Delhi, India meeting with top Indian officials.

And our Maria Ressa is there to tell us more on how that meeting went -- Maria, hello.

MARIA RESSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, Colin Powell has ended his visit to the subcontinent, his whirlwind visit. He is now on his way to the APEC meetings in Shanghai. A day and a half in Pakistan, a day and a half in India. His main mission to try to ease tensions between these two nuclear rivals over Kashmir.

Even before he arrived, Indian officials, however, said that they wanted to focus his visit on expanding U.S.-India relations. Indian officials seemed to have gotten their wish. The U.S. says that they will invite Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for a meeting in Washington with President Bush on November 9.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are natural allies, two great democracies who believe in a common set of values that have served both of our nations well. President Bush has made it absolutely clear that transforming our relationship with India to put it on a higher plane is one of his highest priorities.


RESSA: Now on terrorism, India has long been pushing the United States, ever since the attacks began in Afghanistan, to expand its war against terrorism beyond Afghanistan and include some of the Islamic militant groups fighting for independence in Kashmir. And that issue, India also seems to have gotten its wish. The U.S. seems to have addressed it.


POWELL: The problem of terrorism is not limited to Afghanistan and I assured them that our efforts are directed against all terrorism. The United States and India are united against terrorism, and that includes the terrorism that has been directed against India, as well.


RESSA: In particular, Colin Powell referred to an October 1 suicide bombing attack in Kashmir which killed 40 people, calling that a terrorist act. That is something that India really wanted to hear. The difficult balancing act right now for the United States is trying to balance the domestic concerns of both its allies, India and Pakistan. It is a tightrope that it is continuing to walk. For now, as he leaves India, India seems to have gotten what it wanted -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, Maria Ressa live in New Delhi, thank you very much -- Leon.

HARRIS: Let's now turn to check on President Bush. He is actually going to be leaving the country. It's his first overseas trip since the September 11 attacks.

APEC trade ministers have already opened their 13th annual meeting in Shanghai. That is the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings. Mr. Bush hopes to submit strong support among Asian and Pacific leaders for the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

CNN's senior White House correspondent John King now outlines the president's goals.


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president's time in Shanghai will be dominated by the war on terrorism and the important role for Asia as the campaign expands.

UNIDENTIFIED EXPERT: Terrorism now becomes the linchpin of American foreign policy. Suddenly, quickly, our whole foreign policy now turns around a different axis, terrorism, not other matters.

KING: The 21 members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum include several countries with active terrorist networks the United States says have ties to Osama bin Laden.

UNIDENTIFIED EXPERT: It's an opportunity to go in and find out or to shift the war focus from Afghanistan to finishing off the terrorists inside Southeast Asia and other countries in Asia, although Southeast Asia is really the second front for this war.


KING: The Abu Sayyaf network is based in the Philippines, where the government is working closely with the Bush White House. Anti- American protests are now a staple in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country.


KING: U.S. frustration with President Megawati turned to anger this week as she criticized the U.S. strikes on Afghanistan. Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia are viewed as key players in the effort to find and freeze the assets of terrorist groups. Russia and China important voices as the campaign expands beyond Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED EXPERT: We have to talk to these countries. We have to understand that they have different priorities than we have. But nonetheless, we still have to be very firm and say we are fighting the terrorists. We're going to fight them wherever we find them and we want you with us.

KING: The Shanghai gathering will produce a strong condemnation of terrorism and new promises of help in the financial crackdown.

(on camera): Terrorism will be the overwhelming focus of the president's trip, but the economy will be more than an afterthought. The slowdown in Asia is contributing to the slowdown here in the United States and vice versa. So the leaders will look for ways to work together, if possible, to give the global economy a boost.

John King, CNN, the White House.





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