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Afghan Tribal Leaders Plead for End to U.S. Bombings.

Aired December 27, 2001 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: "LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN" with Nic Robertson, reporting tonight from Tora Bora on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Plus, what the world's most wanted man says in his latest full videotape statement.

A disputed attack prompts Afghan tribal leaders to plead for an end to U.S. bombings.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the convoy there was no al Qaeda members. They were the elders of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) province.


ANNOUNCER: CNN's John Vause has the latest controversy.

And, almost 20 years after a series of deadly terror attacks drove U.S. forces out, Washington is once again casting a wary eye at Lebanon.


MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Three of the 22 most wanted believed hiding in Lebanon. CNN has learned that anti-terror coalition governments have considered several options to get their men.


ANNOUNCER: CNN's Mike Boettcher with the story. "LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN," Nic Robertson.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight "LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN" comes from the White Mountains near Tora Bora in Eastern Afghanistan, the last known hiding place of Osama bin Laden.

Eastern Alliance commanders here tell us there are so many U.S. Special Forces working in these mountains, they don't know how many there are. They report multiple helicopters flying in at nighttime.

Indeed, we could hear them flying in last night. They fly in without their lights on. The U.S. forces are the only helicopters in this region able to do that.

Today, al-Jazeera, the Gulf broadcaster, broadcast in full the Osama bin Laden tape it received yesterday. That tape lasted 34 minutes. It provided no more clues on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. It provided no more clues on his mental state, on his welfare.

What it did do, however, was further implicate the al Qaeda leader in his involvement in September the 11th attacks, as he said the attacks were designed to shake America to the core.


OSAMA BIN LADEN (through translator): They've shaken the throne of America, and hit hard the American economy at its heart, at its core. It hit the most military power on earth in its core.


ROBERTSON: Analysis of the tapes also provides no further information on when the material was filmed. It does tend to indicate that Osama bin Laden's welfare and health has been deteriorating, compared to video releases in October and November. He looker paler and more drawn.

Now according to Mr. Atwan, who is the editor of the Arabic Al- Quds Newspaper, who is an Osama bin Laden expert and has also interviewed Osama bin Laden, what he saw in this 34-minute broadcast was Osama bin Laden identifying and knowing many of the hijackers, and also appearing for the first time without key commanders at his side.


ABDEL BARI ATWAN, EDITOR, AL-QUDS: He even named the, you know, education. He named their tribes. He named, you know, the regions where they came from. He praised them. He considered them martyrs.

And he also said that more of those people will, in the future will participate in attacks, and he actually adds those young chaps as he called them to actually attack the economy, because you know he considered the American economy is really a loose one. It's not really a solid one.

So, there are many messages, many indications in that tape in particular.

And Osama bin Laden was not surrounded by his military commanders like Ayman Al-Zawahiri the leader of radical Islam jihad of Egypt or Mahammed Atef, also his right-hand military commander.

Also, he wasn't surrounded by his spokesmen, Salayman, who's a Kuwaiti, Salayman (UNINTELLIGIBLE) who is a Kuwaiti national. So it seems, either those people were killed or injured, or actually they dispersed in order not to be in the same place.

So if Osama bin Laden is killed, the others will continue the fight. If they are killed, he will continue the fight. It could be many things at the same time.


ROBERTSON: Now Eastern Alliance commanders here say that they have evidence supporting the fact that Osama bin Laden is now in Pakistan. These Eastern Alliance commanders report to the Defense Ministry in Kabul. That Defense Ministry also said it believes Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan.

They say that he is either in the tribal region close to the border with Afghanistan, or he is being sheltered by hard-line Islamic groups inside Pakistan. However, that is contrary to what the head of Afghanistan's new interim government, Hamid Karzai, says.

He says that he believes that there is no - he does not know where Osama bin Laden is at this time. Now Mr. Karzai is also coming under pressure from elements within his new government.

The minority ethnic Hazara group held a demonstration in Kabul. They make up some 20 percent of the population of Afghanistan, and they feel they do not have sufficient representation in the new Afghan government.

One of their Hazara representatives, Dr. Sema Somal (ph) is one of the main six deputy first ministers inside the new Afghan government. She is the minister for women's affairs. However, the Hazara community has been a vocal minority in the past inside Afghanistan, and appears to be so now.

Also, Hamid Karzai, the head of the new interim government coming under pressure from another angle. This time from tribal leaders in the eastern provinces. On Friday last week in the eastern province, U.S. warplanes targeted a convoy. Tribal elders there said that convoy contained only tribal leaders.

The Pentagon says it was acting on intelligence that the convoy contained al Qaeda leaders or possibly Taliban leaders. That's why the convoy was targeted.

As John Vause reports, elders from the eastern provinces are now petitioning Hamid Karzai to bring an end to the American airstrikes.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Were they new friends or old enemies? A week since this convoy was attacked by U.S. warplanes, tribesmen from the Pachtia Province where the bombing took place, say only tribal elders were killed.

ABDUL HAKEEM MUNER: In the camp, there was no al Qaeda members. There were the elders of Pachtia and host provinces and they came to Kabul in order to congratulate the new government.

VAUSE: Abdul Hakeem Muner says the convoy was forced to take back roads to Kabul because the main road was blocked by a rival group. But the U.S. insists it was a good target. They had intelligence it was an al Qaeda convoy, which at first a story backed up by the new Afghan Minister for Border Affairs.

Still the tribesmen are demanding an immediate end to the bombing of their province, and they say they met with the new interim leader, Hamid Karzai, who they say has promised to push the United States.

But a spokesmen for Mr. Karzai says he's not aware that any meeting took place. But the new interim administration has been reluctant to talk about who was in the convoy.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: Aren't you guys conducting your own investigation of who these people were?

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: Our people are looking into this situation.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: When can we expect an answer?

ABDULLAH: When they have an answer.

VAUSE (on camera): The Pachtia tribesmen say there are no more terrorists in their province, but that too is a statement at odds with the new Afghan government and the United States. John Vause, CNN, Kabul.


ROBERTSON: Coming up after the break, marines at their detention facility in Kandahar get new al Qaeda prisoners to process.


ROBERTSON: On Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that some al Qaeda prisoners would be transferred to the Navy's detention facility in Guantanimo Bay, Cuba.

There are, so far in Afghanistan, some 7,000 al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners, although only a few of those have so far been questioned by U.S. officials.

And, as Bill Hemmer reported to us a little earlier from the Kandahar Marine Base, the detention facility there, that more al Qaeda prisoners have been arriving in the last day or so.


BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A new round of detainees landed here early Thursday morning. In fact, at 2:00 a.m. local time, a giant C-130 landed at Kandahar Airport, delivering 20 more suspected al Qaeda and Taliban members.

From here, they'll be processed and questioned. Investigators want to know from them if they have any information on al Qaeda leadership, and specifically the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.

What's critical about this group, we're told, according to sources at the airport here, that all these detainees were picked up and nabbed along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Critical because for many weeks now, it's been thought that suspected al Qaeda members may try and flee the fighting in Tora Bora, heading in for refuge and safety and freedom in the Pakistan area.

Also there continues to be reaction from the U.S. Marines here. Now they're taken off the table. They will not join that cave-to-cave search in the Tora Bora region. Many young marines say they're frustrated and disappointed. However, the older marines say they're somewhat relieved, knowing that if American Marines went there, certainly there would be casualties.

There's also reaction from the Osama bin Laden videotape that came out yesterday. The marines we talked to who have information about that tape say nothing on the tape surprised them, and nothing that Osama bin Laden says will change their mission right now and their duty in Afghanistan.

With the U.S. Marines in Kandahar, I'm Bill Hemmer. Nic, back to you in the Tora Bora region.


ROBERTSON: And not far from where Bill is right now in Kandahar City Airport is the Kandahar Hospital. There eight al Qaeda fighters have been holed up for almost three weeks since the Taliban fled the town.

Afghan fighters there say they are losing patience with the al Qaeda who are armed but injured and in a second floor ward. They say they are getting ready to storm the hospital.

Now at the weekend, just one al Qaeda prisoner there, one al Qaeda patient in the hospital was tricked into leaving, and since then the al Qaeda fighters have been fighting back at any armed group, any Afghan fighters who have been trying to come and remove them from the hospital.

The hospital is in the center of Kandahar and was, at one time, part of the Taliban stronghold there. But now those al Qaeda prisoners refusing to give up.

When we come back after the break, the fourth in our series of countries that may come under international scrutiny for their ties with terrorism.


ROBERTSON: In the fourth of our series this week, looking at countries that may find themselves the focus of the U.S. War on Terror, we focus on Lebanon.

As Mike Boettcher reports, this was the country that almost 20 years ago, where the United States troops first felt the painful impact of Middle Eastern suicide bombers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Beirut, October 23, 1983, America's wake-up call to suicide terror on a massive scale. This was Ground Zero on that day, the U.S. Marine Barracks, Beirut. Two hundred forty-one American servicemen are killed when a suicide attacker drives a truck bomb through the barracks entrance.

Just six months earlier, 63 had died, 17 of them Americans, when another truck bomb ripped apart the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. Among the dead, some of the CIA's top Middle East operatives. The result, the first U.S. War on Terror. But within a year, the U.S. Marines sent to Lebanon are withdrawn, and the mastermind of those attacks is never apprehended.

Now two decades later, a new War on Terror and a new manhunt for the alleged mastermind of the Beirut attacks, Imad Mugniyah, a founder of the Lebanese-Islamic Militia, Hezbollah.

It is a manhunt that could put Lebanon yet again in the crosshairs of a U.S. anti-terror campaign.

MAGNUS RANSTORP, HEZBOLLAH EXPERT: Imad Mugniyah is the one who has been pinpointed, who was the most hunted man by U.S. intelligence, ever since the 1983 marine barracks bombing. He has been pinpointed as someone who was instrumental in conducting Hezbollah's foreign operations.

BOETTCHER: Until now, only three photos of Mugniyah were known to exist, two passport photos both more than 20 years old, and another picture displayed on his FBI Most Wanted poster. Not much help since Western intelligence agents, who have been trying to track Mugniyah, believe he has had at least two appearance-altering plastic surgeries since 1983.

However, CNN recently obtained these clandestinely taken snapshots. Anti-terror coalition intelligence sources are certain they are more recent photos of the world's second most wanted terrorist, Mugniyah, shown on the right.

The location of the photographs and who took them were not revealed to CNN, nor was the date they were taken. But terrorism experts who have viewed them, believe they are between five and ten years old.

But he remains out of reach inside Lebanon, in part because of the robed man with whom Mugniyah is standing, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the current Secretary General of Lebanese Hezbollah, which the U.S. labels a terrorist group.

Coalition intelligence sources believe Mugniyah is now hiding in Hezbollah controlled areas of Beirut, or outside of the city in Lebanon's notorious Becah Valley, that U.S. officials allege is the site of numerous terrorist training camps.

Also believed hiding in Lebanon are two other men on the FBI's list of the World's 22 Most Wanted Terrorists, Hasan Iz Aldin and Ali Atwa. Iz Aldin and Atwa, along with Mugniyah are believed to be the hijackers of TWA 847 that was forced to land in Beirut in June, 1985. The hijackers carried out their threat to kill a passenger, dumping the body of U.S. Navy diver Robert Steedham onto the tarmac. He had been beaten and shot to death.

And, intelligence officials say Mugniyah was behind some of the most high profile terrorism in the past 20 years. The abduction, torture and murder of William Buckley, the CIA's Beirut Station Chief, the murder of Colonel Richard Higgins, a U.S. Army officer who was serving with U.N. forces in Lebanon, bombings of the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s, 119 dead, and the kidnapping of Western hostages in Beirut in the mid- 1980s.

Giandomenico Picco is the United Nations diplomat credited with negotiating the release of the hostages. He and Western intelligence sources believe the hooded figure with whom he negotiated was Mugniyah, a person he believes has the edgy instinct of a man on the run.

GIANDOMENICO PICCO, FORMER U.N. DIPLOMAT: So as if his antennas were always on the alert and conveying messages that he was processing in his mind, so there was no way I could use the word "relaxed."

BOETTCHER: With three of the 22 most wanted believed hiding in Lebanon, CNN has learned that anti-terror coalition governments have considered several options to get their men. Most risky, a snatch and/or hunt and kill operation. But the Hezbollah controlled areas where Mugniyah and the other two men are believed hiding are tightly guarded.

When we visited Beirut's Hezbollah neighborhoods this summer, we were stopped fifteen seconds after we began to videotape street scenes from our car.

Less risky but potentially divisive for the anti-terror coalition, would be air strikes against suspected terrorist training camps in Lebanon, where Mugniyah might be hiding.

Then there is the diplomatic option, applying political pressure on Hezbollah's leaders and its main backers, Iran and Syria, to hand over Mugniyah or at least stop providing him protection.

After the September 11th attacks, Iranian authorities did bow to U.S. pressure and forced Mugniyah to leave their country, where he had been hiding for the better part of 15 years.

PICCO: I think he's in there just to keep a distance, and I think they are keeping a tremendous distance.

BOETTCHER: And for its part, Hezbollah is trying to transform its image. It has elected members to the Lebanese Parliament, and since September 11th, the border between Israel and Hezbollah controlled southern Lebanon has been the quietest it has been in a long time. In an interview with CNN this summer, Hezbollah's leader Sayed Nasrallah, the man in the photograph with the fugitive Mugniyah, tried to strike a more conciliatory tone.

SAYED HASSAN NASRALLAH, HEZBOLLAH SECRETARY OF WAR: Let me say we are not the enemies of the American people. We oppose the policies of such American administrations towards our region, because they are wrong policies and biased policies. But we do not feel and do not consider the American people our enemy.

BOETTCHER: American officials say they will only be convinced of that if Hezbollah hands over Mugniyah, Iz Aldin, and Atwa. If it doesn't Hezbollah and its bases in Lebanon will certainly remain on the priority target list of the anti-terror coalition, not a war against a nation but against essentially one man, Imad Mugniyah and those who give him sanctuary. Mike Boettcher, CNN, Atlanta.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST, THE POINT WITH GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: An apparent kidnapping mystery has been solved. A 16-month-old girl is now safe, and a woman who allegedly took her and tried to fool her boyfriend into thinking she was their child, is under arrest. You won't want to miss this one. It's coming up in less than ten minutes on "THE POINT." "LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN" will be right back.


ROBERTSON: Well world tension is currently focused on Afghanistan, tensions between neighboring India and Pakistan are building, the central issue Kashmir. India blames Pakistan for backing what it calls terrorist groups fighting inside Kashmir.

It's a 50-year-old dispute and Pakistan believes that Kashmir rightfully belongs as a Muslim area, rightfully belongs to Pakistan. The Indian government has now banned Pakistani national aliens from over flying India.

The Indian officials have also said that they would cut down Pakistan's diplomatic mission to Delhi. And India's Foreign Minister, Jaswan Sing has said he hopes that Pakistan understands just how seriously the Indian government takes terrorism, this following a deadly attack on India's government buildings two weeks ago.

Pakistan has mobilized its full army. It has risen to a military state of readiness, not seen since conflict with India in the 1970s. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has been urging both India and Pakistan to resolve their differences peacefully.

Thank you for watching. I'm Nic Robertson. "LIVE FROM AFGHANISTAN" will be back at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and again at the same time tomorrow. Up next, "THE POINT" with Greta Van Susteren, and for our international viewers, please stay tuned for "WORLD SPORT."




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