Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS


Interview with Rob Sobhani

Aired June 10, 2002 - 10:46   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are getting word here at CNN right now that about a half hour from right now, the Justice Department will hold a news conference announcing more about the apprehension of this U.S. citizen, who goes by the name of Abdullah Al Mujahir, a man accused of trying to build a dirty bomb. This all comes in light of the announcement we heard just a few minutes ago live from Moscow. That's where Attorney General John Ashcroft is. Let's listen in once again to what he had to say.


JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I am pleased to announce today a significant step forward in the war on terrorism. We have captured a known terrorist who was exploring a plan to build and explode a radiological dispersion device, or dirty bomb, in the United States. I commend the FBI, the CIA, the Defense Department, and other federal agencies whose cooperation made this possible.

Yesterday, after consultation with the acting secretary of defense and other senior officials, both the acting secretary of defense and I recommended that the president of the United States, in his capacity as commander in chief, determine that Abdullah Al Mujahir, born Jose Padilla, determined that Mujahir is an enemy combatant who poses a serious and continuing threat to the American people and our national security.

After the determination, Abdullah Al Mujahir was transferred from the custody of the Justice Department to the custody of the Defense Department. Following serving in prison in the United States in the early 1990s Jose Padilla referred to himself as Abdullah Al Mujahir. Subsequent to his release from prison, he traveled to Afghanistan...


KAGAN: Well, it looks like we cut the tape there, but once again, that was Attorney General John Ashcroft talking about the apprehension of this U.S. citizen going by the name of Abdullah Al Mujahir, accused of trying to put together a dirty bomb. He is a U.S. citizen who used to have the name Jose Padilla. Of course, since he is a U.S. citizen, he has a U.S. passport, was travelling around the world, making his way from Pakistan into Chicago, and it was last month at O'Hare International Airport that he was picked up. Also significant in this apprehension, he has now been transferred from the Justice Department to the U.S. military, and has been deemed an enemy combatant, an enemy of the United States, and as you heard Mr. Ashcroft say, they believe he is an operative of al Qaeda.

To get more information on this and more perspective, let's bring in professor Rob Sobhani. He is a professional -- professional and professor of foreign policy at Georgetown University, and he is joining us by phone -- professor, thanks for joining us.


KAGAN: First of all, the significance of taking a U.S. citizen, and instead of putting him in the justice system as a regular U.S. citizen, naming him an enemy combatant. How significant is that move?

SOBHANI: I think it is significant because he may very well be privy to far more detailed information that may be deemed important, for now, not to be in the public view. It's important that he be debriefed by military specialists, and I think that's why he has been categorized as such.

KAGAN: So you would think, at this point, they are more interested in getting what kind of information they can out of this man than actually bringing justice to what he's accused of doing?

SOBHANI: Absolutely, because being a member of al Qaeda means that he is definitely being supported by a network of other individuals, whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan or even in the United States, and it's very important that we get a debriefing from this man immediately.

KAGAN: And what about the significance of a U.S. citizen accused of being an operative of al Qaeda? I brought up John Walker Lindh earlier, but what he was involved in, some people might think that he just ended up with a group, and didn't understand what he was doing. This is a far more serious accusation.

SOBHANI: Absolutely, and this goes to the heart of a fundamental problem we are going to face in the war against terrorism, which is the direct link between citizenship, terrorism, our porous borders. It is now possible for anyone to come through Mexico and Canada, more or less melt into the United States, stay here for some years, get a green card, then get a citizenship.

It's very important that we start restricting who we give passports to. It's very important. Because we...

KAGAN: But professor, let me just jump in here for a second. We don't know -- this man could have been born here, his original name is Jose Padilla, so he could have been born a U.S. citizen, which is even -- a far greater, scarier thought because it could be that the enemy is right among us.

SOBHANI: Oh, absolutely. And then that's why, Daryn, I think it is very important that we rethink our entire immigration policy, who gets citizenship, who doesn't get citizenship. There are legitimate cases of political persecution of person who come to this country, but then there are cases like this particular case, it's very important that we start rethinking our immigration policy.

KAGAN: Once again, you are making the assumption, professor, that this man was an immigrant. It is possible, with a name like Jose Padilla, that he could have been born right here in the United States, and decided to become a member of al Qaeda, and that brings some very sticky civil rights issues.

SOBHANI: Absolutely, and that's why it is important, also, that we look into the training of particular groups. For example, at various mosques throughout our country, to see exactly what it is that they're being taught. There are many, many institutions, religious institutions, in this country that are on the fringes, and it is very important to understand what's going on in those institutions.

KAGAN: Let's look at what he is accused of doing, building a dirty bomb. What kind of implications would that have if somebody like this was able to carry that out?


KAGAN: What is a dirty bomb?

SOBHANI: A dirty bomb could be anywhere -- a dirty bomb could be anything from leftover radioactive material that the Russians might have left in Chechnya, for example, and someone with the right tools could then put it together into a very, very small, crude device and detonate it in the Washington Metro, and cause serious, serious harm. Those of us living in the Washington area, of course, are always cognizant when we get into the Metro of looking for packages, because we are a threat in the Washington area.

KAGAN: All right. And let's just be clear that we don't know exactly where -- which area he was targeting. We know the man was traveling from Pakistan to Chicago. But getting back to the idea of a dirty bomb. Is this the kind of bomb that a terrorist might build because he can't build a regular nuclear bomb? It is kind of like a poor man's nuclear bomb?

SOBHANI: It could be anything from a biological device to a chemical device, to, absolutely, what you referred to as a small nuclear device, which brings the whole issue of our Russia-U.S. relationship into focus, because of all the countries in the world where there may be lax security over nuclear facilities, it is the former Soviet Union.

KAGAN: All right. Professor Sobhani joining us from Georgetown University. Short notice there, and we do appreciate your insights, sir in trying to understand these accusations of terrorism and also dirty bombs.

Let's bring back in our national security adviser -- national security correspondent, and that is David Ensor -- David, have you been able to find out anything more about these accusations?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I have, Daryn. U.S. officials I've just been speaking to tell me that Jose Padilla, who -- who calls himself Abdullah Al Mujahir had a number of conversations with Abu Zubaydah, the senior al Qaeda official who is in U.S. custody now, and is being interrogated. So clearly, the information about -- about him that has caused his detention came from Abu Zubaydah, who is talking to U.S. officials. The alleged plot for -- to use a dirty bomb in the United States, officials saying that probably would have been in Washington, D.C., in this city I'm in here now. That he traveled to Pakistan and received training in making and wiring explosives at various locations in Pakistan. That, at the behest of Abu Zubaydah, he traveled to Karachi for consultations with senior al Qaeda officials, at least twice he had those discussions in Karachi. That they believe he may have been -- when he was returning, when he came into Chicago from Pakistan, it may have been a reconnaissance trip to look for possible targets, and possible opportunities. That -- but this is basically it, that Zubaydah is the source of the information about Jose Padilla.

KAGAN: So it sounds like, based on that information, this is a man they have been tracking for some time, if they can rule out those movements that he's been doing.

ENSOR: That's right. They've been tracking him for some some time. Exactly. It is looking more and more as if Abu Zubaydah is providing real, useful information that may save lives.

KAGAN: Which would be an interesting twist unto itself. David Ensor in Washington. Thank you. Of course, we will be coming back to you as this story unfolds, and we learn more about this man who we hear is called Abdullah Al Mujahir, formerly known as Jose Padilla. He is now in the custody of the U.S. Defense Department, deemed an enemy combatant accused of trying to put together a dirty bomb and attack the Washington metro area.




Back to the top