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Report of Anthrax Case at 'The New York Post'; Special Operations Troops On Ground in Afghanistan

Aired October 19, 2001 - 12:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: We have a report now of an anthrax case at "The New York Post." The "Post" is one of the two tabloid newspapers here. We don't know much more about it than that, but it would be another media company. CBS, NBC and ABC have all had these incidents over the past week or so, and we will update that as we get more information. We also have information on what sounds to be a significant development in the investigations.

CNN's Susan Candiotti joining us with details on that.

Susan, good afternoon.


German officials today issued an arrest for someone prosecutors say is linked to some of the suspected hijackers. A federal prosecutor in Germany filing charges against Zakariya Essabar. The warrant alleges Essabar, identified as 24-year-old Morrocan, put together an terrorist group, and accuses him of mass murder. Officials say the terrorism group allegedly included suspected hijackers Mohamed Atta, who is believed to have played a key role in the September 11th hijacks, along with Marlon (ph) Al-Shehhi, and Siyah (ph) Jarrah. Also charged, Ramsey Omar (ph), alias Bin Al-Shi (ph), for whom German authorities have already filed an arrest warrant.

Here in the United States, a hearing scheduled to begin shortly in New York city in the wake of federal charges filed against Osama Awadallah of Jordan. Awadallah is charged with two counts of making false statements to a federal 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 counts. Awadallah is accused of lying about knowing Nawid Al-Hazmi (ph) and Khalid Al-Midhar (ph). 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 Al-Hazmi and Al-Midhar were also living. Awadallah had been held as a material witness since late month. An attorney for Awadallah had said his client came into contact with one of the hijackers at two San Diego mosques.

In a statement about Awadallah, U.S. attorney Mary Joe White said -- quote -- "We will not allow perjury to impede the pursuit of justice, for the victims of these terrorist attacks. Anyone who assists terrorists through likes and deception will be prosecuted vigorously and prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

We have not been able to reach Awadallah's lawyer for a comment as yet. The charges filed today in the U.S. and Germany, Aaron, an example of the wide range of the investigation both in the U.S. and overseas.

For the last two weeks, we have been hearing, as you know, mostly about anthrax cases in the U.S., an investigation that's been taxing FBI resources, but so far no link is drawn, no evidence establishing a link between the anthrax infections and hijackings. Of course the FBI is vigorously pursuing both of these matters.

BROWN: Susan, we saw a story today that in fact the bulk of this investigation has now moved overseas, that people held in the United States so far haven't given up the goods as it were, in that the best leads appear to be like the one in Germany, but oversees.

CANDIOTTI: Well, certainly not that we know of. In terms of what -- they have certainly been talking to a number of people held as material witnesses here, and are in hopes that they may be giving up additional information, so if they are being successful, we're not hearing about it as yet. But certainly, there has been a massive investigation going on overseas. And in Germany, for example, the FBI has been receiving a lot of cooperation, but that's not the only place certainly, in France, in England, and we do know that a lot of the resources are also being used overseas as well. And now we have at least some new development coming out as a result of that.

BROWN: Sounds significant. Thank you, Susan. Susan Candiotti, who is working the investigative side of this.

Back to where we started this hour, another case of skin anthrax is being reported. This one at the tabloid newspaper "The New York Post." Jason Carroll has been working pretty quickly to see what reporting we can come up with there.

Jason, I suspect we don't have a lot yet, but tell us what we do have?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We do have information for you, Aaron. CNN has confirmed with several sources that an employee at "The New York Post," as you say a tabloid newspaper here in New York City has in fact tested positive for skin anthrax. That is cutaneous form of the disease. It is usually treatable with antibiotics.

We are also hearing that the mayor is expected to speak about this at his next briefing later on this afternoon.

It is lunch hour here in New York city, and there are a number of "New York Post" employees who are out here, who are discussing this incident, but again we are right now waiting for official word from "The New York Post." This would bring the number of cases here in New York City to four. We first heard about the NBC employee, the assistant to Tom Brokaw, then we heard about 7-month-old baby boy, the son of an ABC News producer, over there at ABC. Then this morning we were talking about the assistant to Dan Rather, and now it appears we have another case here at "The New York Post." We are going to waiting out here at their headquarters here on 6th Avenue to try to get some more information. As soon as we are able to get more information, Aaron, we will of course bring it to you.

BROWN: Jason thank you.

Jason, thank you. It is a good time to figure out what's going on there. There obviously are a number of questions that come up in a moment like this. Was there letter sent to the "Post?" Who was the letter addressed to? What's that letter look like? Does anyone still have it? These are all things right now that help investigators if they still can find the letters. We know from the CBS case yesterday they don't necessarily. These letters don't necessarily jump out at people, especially because they were received, in some cases, couple of weeks ago, before the dimensions of the anthrax scare became clear. We will keep eye on what's going on at the "Post" today.

Judy, good afternoon.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, Aaron.

U.S. officials are now telling CNN that special operations troops are on the ground in Afghanistan. Now over at the Pentagon, our military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre picked up some more information, Jamie, on where they are, and what are they doing?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Judy. Here is what's not happening, according to Pentagon officials. This is not the beginning of a ground war in Afghanistan, or even combat operations on the ground.

According to Pentagon sources, a small number of U.S. special operations troops are on the ground in Northern Afghanistan on a liaison mission with the Northern Alliance. Now you know the Northern Alliance forces have been trying to move against the strategic city of Mazar-e-Sharif, a strategic crossroads, where there's an airport, and also a main road that would allow supplies to be brought in from Uzbekistan. The United States yesterday said that it would be willing to help opposition forces with food, ammunition, perhaps even some armament.

And Pentagon sources indicate that, again, a small number of U.S. military special forces are operating up in the north, in a liaison mission with the Northern Alliance, but they are not involved in direct combat, or in any kind of a search and capture mission against Osama bin Laden or forces in the south.

And again, we are being steered away from the idea that any of these special operations troops are in fact operating near the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. Still, though, the U.S. is not ruling out that kind of eventual combat role for special operations troops. In fact, a large number remain poised for action on the deck of the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk in the Arabian Sea -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Jamie, just two questions to help clarify. First of all, they are flatly saying there are no troops in Southern Afghanistan, or there are just being vague or unhelpful about that?

MCINTYRE: Well, the Pentagon is not flatly saying anything these days about special operation forces. They being very careful. They don't want to be in a mode where they are denying every report, so that when we get to the point where we ask them a question and it's true, they can't deny it. But we are being steered away from the idea that there is any operation going on in the south, without a flat denial being issued, and what we are being pointed to is confirmation that there are U.S. troops on the ground in territory held by the Northern Alliance.

Now that coincides with reports from the scene, from some alliance commanders, suggesting that a handful of U.S. troops, about eight or so, met with General Destune (ph), who is one of the Northern Alliance commanders commanding forces that are attempting to take Mazar-E-Sharif, so that seems to jibe with the known facts we have, but again, the Pentagon has said it is not going discuss special operations in any detail until they have had some significant event they can talk about after the fact.

WOODRUFF: Jamie, do we have any idea what this liaison would involve? If it doesn't involve combat, are they just holding meetings or what?

MCINTYRE: Well there is a number of areas where the U.S. needs to better coordinate with its stated goal of assisting the Northern Alliance. They are trying to get better intelligence about what kind of targets on the ground might help the Northern Alliance. The Pentagon officials privately complained that some of the intelligence that they were passed from the Northern Alliance troops hasn't turned out to be that accurate or helpful. And, again, the U.S. is also contemplating some direct aid to the rebels, to the Northern Alliance forces, and they might need to coordinate how that would take place. Would equipment or material be brought in overland from Uzbekistan, might there be airdrops, or even some sort of delivery of supplies. Those are presumably kind of things that they are involved in as they increase contacts with the Northern Alliance forces.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. Presumably, those Northern Alliance troops would welcome more ammunition, better uniforms, better weaponry.




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