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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview with Con Coughlin

Aired May 19, 2003 - 20:35   ET

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

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. appears to be stepping up efforts to control crime in New York. About 500 people have been arrested for looting, curfew violations, theft and carjacking. Coalition forces have captured one of Saddam Hussein's brother-in-law. And also another report that another member of Saddam Hussein's family has been discovered living in Damascus, Syria, allegedly under government protection there. London "Sunday Telegraph" executive editor Con Coughlin is following that story from Baghdad and now joining us tonight live.
Con, who this is author of "Saddam, King of Terror." Again Kahn joins us tonight live in Baghdad.

Kahn, we did research on this man by the name of Fatiq al-Majid. None of the research came back to us in a positive way, could not find any information about him. Who is he? If he's living in Syria, how significant is this?

CON COUGHLIN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH: He's Saddam's Nephew. He is also the nephew of Chemical Ali. Just remember, Bill, Saddam does have a rather large extended family. But basically, he traveled to Damascus last week, and I contacted him in Damascus. He verified who he was and where he was. Since then, Bill, I discovered more than 100 members of Saddam's family went to Damascus during the war, and some of them returned to Iraq. And it seems to me that some of them are actually commuting between Iraq and Syria, which is quite amazing when you consider that U.S. forces say they've sealed the border with Syria.

HEMMER: You're saying they have freedom of travel between Iraq and Syria?

COUGHLIN: That's what it seems like, Bill. And they've also got quite a bit of money stashed away in Syria. And the other fascinating detail I picked up just in the last day, is that before the war started, literally tens of millions of dollars were withdrawn from bank accounts in Jordan, and transferred to the Iraqi embassy in Damascus, basically to fund the lifestyle of Saddam's relatives. We're talking fairly significant people here. We're talking about both his wives, Samira, and Sajida, his 16-year-old son Ali (ph). And other members of his immediate family. These are the kind of people that have been moving between Iraq and Syria.

COUGHLIN: Coughlin, those are pretty strong accusations. You know in Damascus, they deny any of this taking place. They say no members of the former Ba'ath regime are harbored in Damascus. Are you saying Syria is lying on this front?

COUGHLIN: I'm afraid I am, Bill. The Syrians have lied over the years about all sorts of things, particularly about terrorism. But my understanding, Saddam's family are being looked after by Syrian intelligence. Now clearly, the Syrian government doesn't want to admit to this because it's politically very, very explosive. But the fact remains that important members of Saddam's family are moving backwards and forwards between Iraq and Syria. When they're in Iraq, they're basically in the area around Mosul. Then, of course, they go across the border to Damascus. The big point here, Bill, if the coalition forces are very serious about trying to nail down what happened to Saddam during the war, then these are the people who actually know what might have happened to him.

HEMMER: Con, listen, I've only got a couple seconds left. If the situation is true what you described with the Syrian border right now, what's the status of that crossing and has that been fortified in recent days?

COUGHLIN: Basically, Bill, since my story broke, the border crossing was closed for a period. And the American forces have arrested some members of a local tribe who are suspected of helping get the Saddam's family across the border.

HEMMER: Con Coughlin, our guest in Baghdad, executive editor of "The Sunday Telegraph," Thanks again for your time this evening in Iraq.

COUGHLIN: My pleasure, Bill.

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