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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Hambali Wanted By Many Southeast Asian Nations

Aired August 14, 2003 - 15:48   ET

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

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Peter Bergen, also our expert on terrorism also joining us to talk about this pretty much of a coup for the United States, I guess you could say. Peter, there's been so much focus on Iraq and the hunt for Saddam Hussein and loyalists to Saddam Hussein, now we see this key operative within al Qaeda being captured. What does it say about this war on terrorism, and handling, I guess, both countries and both sides of the terrorist front?
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM EXPERT: I think the arrest, obviously was highly significant, not on the level of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the organizer of 9/11, but certainly somebody that authorities in many countries, including the United States, but also Indonesia and Malayasia, Singapore, a lot of people would like to talk to this guy. Just picking up on something which Kelli just said, Jemah Islamya the group that he is sort of operational commander of, is I think, the best way of looking at it is sort after a franchise operation of al Qaeda.

Hambali himself sits on the council of al Qaeda and on this Jemah Islamya group, which is really sort of a group that exists all over southeast Asia, in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia. Their aim is create an Islamic state across the region. They aim to implement that by all sorts of terrorist attacks, not only the famous Bali attack which killed 200 tourists, but also lesser known attacks against churches across Indonesia, a couple of years ago. Also, an attempt to blow up the Israeli, British, Australian and American embassies in Singapore. Luckily those attacks were averted.

So, this is somebody who has been the subject of intense interest in that region and obviously his arrest is a significant blow to Jemah Islamya and by extension of al Qaeda itself.

PHILLIPS: Peter, what can this man tell us about September 11 potentially?

BERGEN: Well, that's an interesting question. As Kelli and David pointed out, he hosted or arranged to host a meeting in Malaysia in January of 2000. At that meeting, two of the key hijackers attended. Also people who were involved in the subsequent plan to blow up the USS Cole. Obviously whatever was discussed at that meeting, not only about 9/11, but also about the attack on USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 American soldiers. It seems that meeting was sort of a planning meeting for a lot of the stuff that subsequently happened.

Any information he could give about what was said during that meeting would be very interesting. There have been reported that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the lead -- the guy who organized 9/11 might have been there. That is something that Hambali could clear up. If, indeed, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was at that meeting. So a lot of things he could say.

PHILLIPS: What about future attacks?

BERGEN: You know, that's -- I mean, that's, of course -- of course he probably does have information about future attacks. What's he going to say? One thing that's been interesting to me, Kyra, is that a lot of these high ranking al Qaeda operatives, you'd expect them not to be particularly forthcoming, but, in fact, U.S. officials say they have been. Some of the information may be disinformation, but some isn't.

For instance, information led to the arrest of somebody who was apparently trying to do a radiological bomb attack in the United States. That came -- information came from another high ranking al Qaeda operative who was arrested sometime ago.

So these people are producing useful information. It is possible Hambali may or may not.

PHILLIPS: Peter Bergen, thank you so much.

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