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CNN BREAKING NEWS

At Least 10 Americans Dead in Saudi Bombings

Aired May 13, 2003 - 06:36   ET

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Let's see what the White House response is to the news of at least 10 Americans being killed in Saudi Arabia, because of a series of terrorist attacks.
John King at the White House now.

John -- what are you hearing?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Carol.

President Bush is beginning his day in Indianapolis. He's on the road, remember, to promote his tax cut plan. But we are told by officials this morning to look for the president -- he speaks about three hours from now in Indianapolis -- to speak about this latest terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia.

White House officials say they're still getting sketchy information. They're hopeful they'll get even more details, now that Secretary Powell is on the ground in Riyadh. But they say they are being told, as we have been reporting, at least 10 Americans dead.

The suspicion here at the White House is that al Qaeda is responsible, in part because of previous intelligence information suggesting such an attack was possible, and because in the wake of the crackdown on al Qaeda around the world, this is precisely the type of attack -- a smaller, more focused attack -- that officials believe al Qaeda will now try to carry out against Americans and American targets overseas, because it does not have the capability, in the White House view, of carrying out the large September 11 scale attacks on the United States.

Again, Mr. Bush is being kept up-to-date on everything the administration knows, as he travels in the Midwest today. He speaks about three hours from now.

Vice President Cheney also to give a speech in the noon hour here in Washington, D.C. at a luncheon tribute to the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Officials tell us the vice president also likely to offer his perspective on the bombings, and they hope they'll have a little bit more information on the exact details and a more definite number about the casualties, including the tragic deaths of Americans, by later this morning -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, Colin Powell said at least 10 Americans dead, but he's awaiting word from Saudi officials right now.

John King live from the White House, many thanks.

Earlier on DAYBREAK, we spoke to a woman named Helen, who lives in one of those three bombed-out apartment complexes. She didn't want to use her last name, because her husband works for an American military contractor, but here's what she told me.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Basically at about 20 past 11:00, there was gunfire outside the compound. And I was sitting and watching television in my lounge room, and I could hear it, and I was about to call up security to check on what was going on, when the first explosion occurred. We lost power immediately on my side of the compound, and the windows and doors were blown out instantly.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COSTELLO: And Helen also told me she plans to leave Saudi Arabia now.

I want to get some perspective on these attacks. On the phone from Singapore is Rohan Gunaratna. He is the author of the book, "Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror."

Thank you for joining us this morning.

ROHAN GUNARATNA, AUTHOR, "INSIDE AL QAEDA": Thank you.

COSTELLO: Mr. Powell says that this has all the earmarks of al Qaeda. Do you agree?

GUNARATNA: Certainly. Al Qaeda mounts coordinated simultaneous attacks, and these attacks are aimed at increasing mass fatalities against Westerners. So, this attack bears all of the hallmarks of al Qaeda.

COSTELLO: These attacks seemed well-planned. The terrorists seemed well-equipped. What does that say to you about terror groups within Saudi Arabia?

GUNARATNA: Well, amidst sustained Saudi security, intelligence and military action against al Qaeda, Al Qaeda is able to survive and strike back. It is because al Qaeda enjoys significant support within Saudi Arabia. It is able to replenish its human losses and its material (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and continue to carry out terrorist operations.

COSTELLO: Well, we know there was a raid by Saudi officials before these terror attacks. All of the suspects got away, 19 of them in this case. What does this say to you about how the Saudi government can deal with this effectively?

GUNARATNA: It is because in that particular attack, which took place on May 6, the Saudi security forces underestimated the real capability of the al Qaeda cell that they confronted. And it also demonstrated that al Qaeda is able to fight back while al Qaeda is being hunted. It only shows that it is a group that is very difficult to destroy.

COSTELLO: I wanted to ask you if this increases the odds, do you think, that something like this could happen in the United States again.

GUNARATNA: It is really difficult for al Qaeda to mount an operation inside Western Europe or North America, because in Western Europe and North America, there is a reasonably good security system. However, in parts of Asia, parts of the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, there are strong pockets of al Qaeda supporters, and, therefore, al Qaeda is able to operate more effectively in the global south. In the global north, in Europe and North America, it's very difficult for al Qaeda to mount operations like the operation we saw a few hours ago.

COSTELLO: Understand. Rohan Gunaratna talking live with us this morning. We sure appreciate your insight.

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