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New Focus on One of Men Suspected of Being Involved in Planning of September 11th Attacks; Some U.S. Troops On Ground in Afghanistan

Aired October 19, 2001 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Some of the biggest developments this morning have come with the investigation into the terror of September 11th, and there is a new focus on one of the men being suspected of being involved in the planning of the attacks.

CNN's Susan Candiotti is working the story in Washington.

Susan, good morning once again.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn.

In New York City, a federal indictment now unsealed in connection with the September 11th hijackings. Prosecutors announcing a short time ago charges filed against Osama Awadallah of Jordan. Awadallah is indicted on two counts of making false statements to a grand jury about whether he knew two of the suspected hijackers. If convicted Awadallah faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for each of the two country. Awadallah is accused of lying about knowing Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almidhdar. The two are suspected of hijacking American airlines flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon.

Awadallah is a college student who had been living in San Diego, where Alhazmi and Almidhar were also living. Awadallah had been held as a material witness since late last month. An attorney for Awadallah had said that his client did come into contact with one of the hijackers at two San Diego mosques.

Also news coming out of Germany today: An arrest warrant issue with a link to some of the other suspected hijackers. We also have learned that -- just a moment -- that charges have been filed against Zakariya Essabar. The warrant alleges Essabar, identified as 24-year- old Morrocan, put together a terrorist group and accuses him of mass murder, a group that included one of the September 11th suspected ringleaders Mohamed Atta, along with Marwan Al Shahid (ph) and Siad Jara (ph). Also charged, Ramsey Omar, alias Bin Al Shi (ph).

Now do know, Daryn, a little bit more about Germany. I will remain you that Atta and Al Shahid had been living there together in an apartment prior to the hijackings, they had both been going to school there, and also Siad Jara had also studied in Germany at about the same time. Investigators believe that the plot to pull off the hijackings may actually have been hatched in Germany, and the FBI has been working very closely with German authorities ever since the investigation began shortly after the attacks -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Susan, any clues as to where these wanted men are, which countries they might be in?

CANDIOTTI: Well, we do not know where Zakariya Essabar is at this time, but of course, we do know that the man who is charged today with lying before a grand jury, making false statements, is currently being held as a material witness, and so he is in a custody, and we presume that he would be making a first appearance before a judge, a federal magistrate, as early as later this day.

And as you know, Daryn, federal investigators, the FBI, has been saying for days now they've been hoping for big break in the case. I don't know how big of a break this is, but it certainly is good news for them as they continue to move forward with their investigation.

KAGAN: Susan Candiotti in Washington. Susan, thank you -- Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Daryn, Let's get to the military front now. It should come as no surprise the president and the Pentagon have foreshadowed it since late September, and today, CNN confirms that U.S. troops, some U.S. troops are on the ground in Afghanistan.

At the Pentagon, our military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre tracking this story this hour.

Jamie, hello.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Bill.

Well, We know that some U.S. special operations forces are on the ground and what we really don't know is what they are doing. But I would caution you against jumping to the conclusion that they are involved in combat operations. There have been numerous reports over the last couple of days of spotting of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, including the Iranian news agency which claimed to have seen some U.S. troops near Herat, over in the western part of Afghanistan.

Also claims from the Northern Alliance commanders that a small number of U.S. troops helicoptered in to meet with General Destune (ph), who is the commander of the Northern Alliance troops trying to retake the key town of Mazar-e-Sharif in the north. And also reports of U.S. special forces, a small number, in the south, presumably consulting with the Pashtune tribes there, trying to coordinate their efforts.

Again, a U.S. official telling CNN that there is a very limited number of U.S. special operations forces operating on the ground, and the assumption here is that this has more to do with the diplomacy, the diplomatic part of this equation, than the military part of it.

Now you know the United States would like to see some kind of coalition government form to replace the Taliban once military action topples the Taliban, and that requires some kind of coordination of all the district tribes in Afghanistan, presumably perhaps under the -- some sort of a tribunal council called by the deposed king, who might be coming back. But again, there's no indication that these special forces are yet involved in the kind of search-and-capture missions that the Pentagon officials have said may come yet in the future.

And again, a large number of U.S. special operations forces are based on -- with helicopters on the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk in the Arabian Sea. But we have yet to see any kind of nighttime commando operations, that sort of operations. So it looks like this is an effort for diplomacy to catch up with where the military campaign is.

HEMMER: Jamie, let's keep on the conservative side. Let's say these troops are on the ground as spotters, what type of equipment do they use, and how do they stay in contact with the -- with possibly airplanes flying overhead to make sure their security is kept just that, secure?

MCINTYRE: Well, we don't know that they're being used as spotters. The military term for that is a "forward air controller." If they perform that mission, they spot targets on the ground and use laser-designated -- hand-held laser-designated equipment to identify targets so they can be hit from the air. That's one role special forces can play. We don't know that the special forces on the ground are in that combat role, or whether they're in more of a liaison or organizing role, trying to aid the opposition groups. That is one of the stated aim of the U.S. government military campaign there, is to help the opposition groups overcome the Taliban, and they may simply be coordinating that.

You will note that yesterday at the Pentagon, there was indication that the U.S. would be willing to provide weapons, ammunitions and even food to some of those opposition courses, and this may be effort to coordinate that.

HEMMER: We lace our reporting with a lot of ifs in this case, and we will be mindful of that.

Jamie, thanks, at the Pentagon. Jamie McIntyre.

Now to Daryn.

KAGAN: Let's check in overseas, as Kabul and Kandahar are said to be under heavy bombardment again today, even though this is a Muslim day of prayer.

Our Nic Robertson joins us from Islamabad, where he is monitoring the military campaign.

Nic, hello.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are hearing the that the bombing in Kandahar stopped fairly early this morning. It was an intense bombing campaign through the night, and staff said it ended around 10:00 a.m. local time. In Jalalabad, north of there by about 150 miles, we're told there was a bombing raid also. But also we're getting important information today from some aid workers, Afghan aid workers from international organization in Kabul, who came to Pakistan today, and they are saying that they've been going to sites inside Kabul when they heard civilians have been killed. They've been going out to monitor and find out how many killed. And so far, in the 13 days of strikes, they say only 10 killed have been killed. Now this is somewhat smaller than the figure of 70 that the Taliban has been putting forward.

Today also the Taliban ambassador came back to Pakistan. He's been inside Afghanistan for almost a week. Now he's one of the original 32 Taliban. And by his staff here, he is widely regarded as being an experienced military strategist. He was mujahedeen fighter during the 1980s against the Soviets. And he said that he'd gone back to was to Afghanistan to have key meeting with high officials. Now the reason he said that he'd gone back was because the telephone networks are destroyed and that satellite communications can easily be eavesdropped. He did admit, however, that there have been military casualties, but that the Taliban military strength should not be underestimated at this time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MULLAH ABDUL SALAM ZAEEF, TALIBAN AMBASSADOR TO PAKISTAN: We will use patience in our techniques to fight our enemies. And we know that this will be a long war. Therefore, we are going to safeguard our ammunitions and our military capabilities. We have had a number of casualties in the military, but our capabilities are strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: Now the aid workers who left Kabul and briefed journalist today say they believe the Taliban morale in Kabul was high because they see that it is military targets that are being hit. They say also they believe the Taliban are reinforcing their front lines around Kabul and leaving the rural areas to be defended by tribal chiefs. However, the civilians they say in Kabul are becoming concerned, because of -- although they are happy to see bombing that could remove the Taliban, they're becoming concerned now because not hearing from the international community a new political road map that could feel the vacuum after the Taliban are gone.

And indeed the German foreign minister today, Joschka Fischer who traveled to Pakistan and met with Pakistani government officials and aid workers here said there is pressure on the international community to fill that potential vacuum.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOSCHKA FISCHER, GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER: These meeting today, and especially also with the humanitarian organizations, U.N. organizations and NGOs and the officials of the Pakistan government made quite clear that there is a need now to go ahead and start with a precise implementation plan, how to go forward, but once again, it must be based on the will of the Afghan people. And therefore, it must be done in a skillful and careful way. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: Now U.N. officials here saying that it's important at this stage they believe that the Afghan people be told quite clearly exactly what role the U.n. would play in the future of Afghanistan, what role King Zair Shaheed (ph) could play in Afghanistan, although they say it's important that the international community isn't seen to impose a new political dispensation on Afghanistan. There is a very fine balance, they says, to get the ball rolling, and get confidence of the Afghan people at this time.

KAGAN: Nic, what can you tell us, in light of all of this bombing, what's happening with the flood of refugees that continues to go from Afghanistan into Pakistan?

ROBERTSON: Well, certainly, today we're hearing of some 3,000 refugees, UNHCR officials say, coming on the main highway from Kandahar in the southeast of Afghanistan, to Pakistan, across the border crossing of Choman (ph), coming into Pakistan.

Now these numbers are still relatively low compared to the high numbers that U.N. officials fear could flow out of Afghanistan. Certainly by our sources on the ground there in Kandahar, we are told that people were fleeing the city. That bombardment that's going on there in the last couple of days. They describe it as very heavy. They describe it also as relentless, and that it was very, very intimidating. And certainly the reports of civilians leaving Kandahar, because they are concerned about the level of bombing. And so far 3,000, according to UNHCR officials, traveled to Pakistan. It seems to have been this departure from Afghanistan, seems to have been precipitated by the high wave of bombing -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Nic Robertson, bringing us the latest from Islamabad.

Nic, thank you.

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