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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Al Qaeda Warning of New Attacks?

Aired May 21, 2003 - 19:07   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: A new tape attributed to an al Qaeda leader came out. The Arab-language television network Al-Jazeera released a tape saying it was from Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the right- hand man, the No. 2 man, to Osama bin Laden. The tape calls on Muslims to target embassies and interests of four countries. And that includes the United States.
Is the tape, though, legitimate?

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, has more on this latest tape.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Heavily edited and occasionally inaudible above background noise, this message calls for attacks on U. S. , British, Australian, and Norwegian embassies and interests.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Protests, demonstrations, and conferences will not be enough. You will only benefit by taking arms and using them against the enemies -- the Americans and the Jews. Protests are a waste of time.

ROBERTSON: Not clear if the audiotape is of Ayman Al-Zawahiri's voice. Although it is Egyptian accented like Al-Zawahiri, it sounds much younger than the al Qaeda leader.

Al-Zawahiri or not, the tape tells Muslims the war in Iraq is a prelude to U.S. and Israeli domination of the region aided and abetted by Arab leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Here are the rulers of the Muslims granting airports, bases, and facilities, and allowing the ships to cross their territorial waters and supplying them with fuel and food and granting permission to the planes to cross the air spaces and to launch air raids from the airports.

ROBERTSON: Apparently recorded some time after the war in Iraq began, the broadcast portion of the audiotape makes no direct reference to the attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco last week. It does, however, offer support for the Iraqi people and hint at more attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Know that you are not alone in this battle, for your brethren, the Mujahedeen, are chasing your enemies. The Mujahedeen in Palestine, Afghanistan, Chechnya, and in the heart of America and the West are punishing severely these crusaders, and may the next phase convey to you, God willing, good news.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: Now, it's not clear if this so-called good news, this promise of good news, is a reference to those attacks in Morocco and Saudi Arabia or whether it's a reference to attacks yet to come.

But, certainly, given the heightened state of alert here and in the Middle East and certainly given that al Qaeda has a track record of timing its messages with other attacks, for security officials, whether or not this proves to be the voice of Ayman al-Zawahiri, it's certainly a very concerning message to come at this time, Daryn.

KAGAN: One of the random things in the tape: that it mentions Norway. Where do you think Norway comes from, Nic?

ROBERTSON: Well, certainly, it's got Norwegian officials scratching their heads. People we have talked to who have been talking to Norwegian officials today say that they can see no reason why they would be included on this list.

Now, Norway does have troops inside Afghanistan. It wasn't, in the way that some other Scandinavian countries were, a member of the coalition of the willing, fighting inside Iraq. Perhaps, some people have speculated, because Norway was the venue in the early 1990s for the Oslo peace accords to try and find peace for the Middle East, this could be why they've been included.

But, certainly, for Norwegian officials, it has given them great cause for concern. But they don't have an answer at this time why they were put on this list for the first time.

KAGAN: Nic Robertson at our global headquarters in Atlanta -- Nic, thank you very much.

Well, speaking of Norway, U.S. officials are taking the threat broadcast on Al-Jazeera very seriously. They are going to close the U.S. Embassy in Norway tomorrow and they're doing it for security reasons.

For the latest on that, let's go to our State Department correspondent Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Daryn.

Well, you could put this in the category of better safe than sorry, although State Department officials say that they can't say for sure. In fact, Secretary Powell was pretty explicit that he didn't know whether or not this was an authentic audiotape. But, for whatever reason, because it was mentioned by a man purporting to be Osama bin Laden's No. 2, the State Department has announced on its Web site that the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, in the capital of Norway, will be closed on Thursday.

In fact, in this statement on the Web, it says explicitly that the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway, notes that an Al-Jazeera broadcast of May 21, 2003, purports to portray the second in command of al Qaeda threatening embassies and commercial interests of the United States, Great Britain, Australia and Norway. However the U.S. Embassy has no further information on this broadcast.

As Nic was alluding there, it really does have a lot of officials scratching their heads because Norway was not a member of the so- called coalition of the willing, a part of the war in Iraq, the way Australia and Great Britain were. But for that matter, Norway is believed to have said that it would ante up a couple hundred troops and send them as a stabilization force in Iraq. But, really, it's anyone's guess, Daryn, whether or not this is a genuine threat against points in Norway.

But officials in the embassy in Norway don't want to take any chances. There's no word as to when the embassy will reopen -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Andrea Koppel at the State Department, thank you very much.

So you have embassies closing. You have the new alleged Al- Jazeera tape. And you also have the explosion at Yale.

Let's go to the White House now. Our correspondent Chris Burns is standing by with reaction to all of these developments.

Chris, good evening.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, good evening.

The Bush administration is being very, very careful about reacting to all of this, no reaction to the bombing up at Yale University and no direct reaction to this tape. They're being very, very careful. They're saying it's going to take at least a couple of days to really authenticate and determine that this tape of al- Zawahiri is actually that.

But they do say, according to senior administration officials, that there is concern, that it, of course, comes in the context of these heightened jitters over terrorism. The president, you might see right now. This is a live picture of the president attending a fund- raiser for Republican congressional races, $2,500-a-plate dinner. And so, obviously, the terrorism jitters have not dissuaded the president from attending that benefit, nor is he going to cancel his plans, as far as we know, to Crawford, Texas, to his ranch. He's going to be leaving there tomorrow.

So the White House appears to be taking that in stride. However, they do say, at least according to one senior administration official, that this tape, if it is authenticated, it could contain coded messages to al Qaeda operatives in the United States or elsewhere. And that is something that they've been very concerned about in past tapes by Osama bin Laden and others -- back to you. KAGAN: Chris Burns at the White House -- Chris, thank you very much.

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