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Assault on al Qaeda; Terror in Iraq; Hate Crime Whodunit?

Aired March 18, 2004 - 19:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST (voice-over): Dawn in Pakistan. A high value al Qaeda target is said to be cornered. More than 200 al Qaeda fighters surrounded. Is al Qaeda's number two among them?

Pakistan promises a massive assault. We're following the action and bring you live reports.

She jumped from a plane, but her chute didn't open. One woman's remarkable story of survival against all odds.

And, have you OD'd on the Donald? He's on the tube, in books. When will somebody say, "You're fired?"


ANNOUNCER: Live, from the CNN Broadcast Center in New York, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360.

COOPER: Welcome to 360.

We begin with an assault on al Qaeda. It is 5:00 a.m. in Pakistan right now. You are looking at a live picture of the capital, Islamabad, where the sun has not risen, where to the northwest Pakistani forces are getting ready to launch a major air assault in the mountains near the Afghan border.

That is where Pakistani sources tell CNN Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's number two man, a doctor sometimes called the brains of al Qaeda, may be cornered. With him, some 200 al Qaeda fighters who've already engaged with Pakistani forces.

We have extensive coverage ahead in this next hour. In Islamabad, CNN's Aaron Brown; at the Pentagon, CNN's Barbara Starr; and at the White House, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.

We begin in Pakistan with Aaron Brown, who first broke this story just hours ago.

Aaron, what's the latest?

AARON BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest is that you'll perhaps hear the morning call to prayer soon, perhaps even as we speak now. The Pakistani army, with perhaps some assistance, will go in through the air and try to clear out these 200 fighters. And whether Zawahiri is one of them, we'll find out once they clean it up. This is a very difficult part of the country. The terrain itself is incredibly inhospitable. There are ways out.

In a perfect world -- in a perfect world -- the Pakistani forces would try and push the al Qaeda fighter who are very well-trained and very well armed, though not nearly as well armed as the Pakistanis, push them towards Afghanistan. Unless the al Qaeda fighters are pretty stupid -- and there's no reason to believe that -- they'll try to make an exit the other way, back into more hospitable regions of Pakistan.

All of that is playing out now. There are lots of questions here. We all need to be careful about conclusions we jump to.

Is al-Zawahiri there? Maybe he's there. As recently as 24 hours ago, the Pakistanis had intelligence saying he was there.

It was intelligence they gathered when they captured some al Qaeda fighters in the first days of this operation, days that didn't go particularly well for the Pakistani side. But they did take a dozen or more prisoners, and two of those interrogation -- and we can only imagine how unpleasant those must have been -- they came to believe that al-Zawahiri was there.

That was further reinforced in our conversation last night with President Musharraf, who argued that the intensity of the fighting, the degree to which the al Qaeda fighters were putting up resistance, supported the idea they were protecting a major player, and al- Zawahiri is a very major player.


PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTANI: The resistance that is being offered by the people there, we feel that there may be a high value target. I can't say who. But they are giving fierce battle at the moment. They are not coming out in spite of the fact that we've pounded them with artillery.


BROWN: That was President Musharraf, oh, I guess about 10 hours ago. We've lost a little bit of track of time.

That sentence, that part of the interview set in motion an awful lot of reporting that has gone on since. And since, we've been able to confirm through Pakistani intelligence sources and military sources that this operation is in motion, that an air assault is planned. And over the next hours or perhaps days we will find out if this is a major moment in the war on terror or just one more disappointment along the road.

COOPER: All right. Aaron Brown, thank you very much, live from Islamabad. We're going to continue to cover this throughout the hour.

Covering reaction from the Pentagon for us right now, correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, are U.S. forces involved with this Pakistani assault operation that we believe may be under way already?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the U.S. military, the U.S. intelligence community has been providing communications, intelligence, and reconnaissance support to the Pakistanis. Whether they are doing it in this operation we do not know yet. But, indeed, all of this is taking place in very rough country.


STARR (voice-over): This remote corner of Pakistan known as the federally administered tribal areas may now be the last stand for al Qaeda's top leaders. The current fighting is in the southern tip known as Waziristan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a part of Pakistan that the government has not felt the ability to control for a long time. It is like the wild west of the United States in the 19th Century.

STARR: The tribal area sits along the border with Afghanistan. Pashtun tribesmen live in primitive conditions, accepting no control by Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, maintaining a strong religious code and offering shelter to al Qaeda.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM EXPERT: What's really different right now is that the Pakistani army for the very first time in its history is going into regions that it never really had a presence in.

STARR: In recent months, Musharraf sent his forces through the region, facing heavy resistance, trying to force tribal elders to give up any al Qaeda or Taliban, offering money for those who cooperate, destroying the houses of those who do not.


STARR: Anderson, the tribal areas have always operated on their own. Pakistani laws do not apply. Taxes are not collected. Smuggling is rampant. So even after this current fighting is over, it remains to be seen if any of that will change -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon. Thanks, Barbara.

The White House, of course, cautiously watching as events unfold in Pakistan. Here is CNN White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Upon President Bush's return from a visit with U.S. troops, reporters shouted if he knew whether al Qaeda's number two had, indeed, been captured.


MALVEAUX: Administration officials say it is much too early to know. But if Ayman al-Zawahiri was captured on the eve of the one- year anniversary of the U.S. war with Iraq, it would be a tremendous coup.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't underestimate the importance of his operation or the role he plays in the operation when you start to characterize the level of fish -- some people like to call them big fish -- he's definitely a whale.

MALVEAUX: But White House officials were also very careful to play down expectations.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It would, of course, be a major step forward in the war on terrorism because he's obviously an extremely important figure. But I think we have to be careful not to assume that getting one al Qaeda leader is going to break up the organization.

MALVEAUX: That's the position officials have used to minimize the significance of Osama bin Laden's unknown whereabouts.

RICE: We've always said that even with Osama bin Laden, who we would all like to see brought to justice, that that will not be the end of al Qaeda. They have local leadership. They have other national leadership.


MALVEAUX: Now, the White House is trying to avoid the worst possible scenario, that is expectations of a big catch and then a possible letdown -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much for that.

We're going to continue to cover this story throughout the hour, as we said. Any moment now, we don't know the exact moment, it very well could be under way already, this military operation, a massive air assault, as it has been described, in the northwest regions of Pakistan. We continue to follow it. We're going to have live reports from Islamabad, from Kabul, from the region throughout the hour.

In Iraq right now, another day of terror. All told, 10 killed today, four Iraqis alone in this bombing in Basra. Further north, residents of Baghdad are picking up the pieces from yesterday's massive blast.

Here is CNN's senior international correspondent Walter Rodgers.


WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An Iraqi woman surveys her lost world, destroyed by a murderous car bomb the previous night in Baghdad. A local Baghdad TV station had a camera rolling when the bomb was triggered. Twelve hours later, this Baghdad neighborhood was still smoldering, and Army officers surveying the bomb crater imagined what it would have been like to have been there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a great deal of heat. The blast effects are enormous. And anybody within probably 50 to 80 yards would have felt the blast effects to the point where it would have incapacitated them, if not killed them.

"We only felt a big boom, whoosh. My sister started screaming," this man said.

"When America came, it was supposed to protect us, wasn't it? Is it here to protect us or only itself," Abu Yassab (ph) asks?

In the Iraqi city of Basra, a day later, another explosion. Conflicting reports about whether it was a car bomb or a roadside bomb. In Fallujah, it looked to many like the U.S. military occupation was coming unraveled under a clash between gun-toting Iraqis and American soldiers resulted in more deaths.


RODGERS: It is a given among U.S. officials here that the violence in Iraq is going to continue and escalate in the coming weeks and months. And looming above all that is the specter that the United States is now locked in to a long-term guerrilla war with Islamist militants in this part of the world -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Walter Rodgers from Baghdad. Thank you, Walter.

Poland, key U.S. ally in Iraq, said today it was misled into believing Saddam Hussein had a stash of weapons of mass destruction. But Poland's president says he will not pull out troops, as Spain threatens to do now. Currently, about 2,400 Polish troops are in Iraq. Polish troops also command a large multinational force there.

A quick news note now on terror in Spain. An eerie coincidence. The death toll from last week's Madrid bombings now reached 202, equal to the number killed in the 2002 terrorist attack in Bali, Indonesia.

The latest victim succumbed to wounds today. A 22-year-old Peruvian woman. Meanwhile, Spanish police arrested five more people in connection with the bombings; five others appeared in court. A total of 11 people now in Spanish custody.

We're also following a number of developing stories right now "Cross Country." Let's take a quick look.

In Washington: positive news on jobs? A report out today from the Labor Department says the number of Americans filing claims for initial unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest level in three years. The department's report says that might indicate a brightening job picture.

Also in Washington: staying on the case. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said today there is no reason for him to remove himself from hearing a case about Vice President's Dick Cheyney's energy task force. Scalia, who socializes with Cheney, recently went on a duck hunting trip with the vice president.

Several public interest groups have asked Scalia recuse himself from the case, saying they believe he cannot be impartial. He says it's not going to happen.

Panama City, Florida: dead dolphins on the beach. The number dolphins found dead on a Florida beach today near 50. Wildlife biologists think a naturally occurring toxin is causing their deaths. The toxin may be related to the so-called red tide rapidly-growing algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico.

New York City: a little help from her friends. Martha Stewart is sending personal letters to several friends and colleagues asking for testimonials to her character, worth ethic and integrity. They will be presented to the judge in her case before her sentencing in hopes of getting her less jail time.

And finally: 26,000 miles up in space, just hours ago, the Earth had a close encounter of a very unwelcome kind. A small asteroid about 100 feet in diameter flew past the Earth at around 5:00 Eastern this afternoon.

It came within 26,500 miles of Earth. It may not sound close, but in space terms it is. By space standards, a very close call. The closest a space rock has come to Earth in recorded history, as matter of fact.

That's a quick look at stories "Cross Country" tonight.

Cornered in Pakistan. We have continuing coverage of the planned air assault and what is believed to be bin Laden's number two man. It may be going on right now.

Plus, a remarkable look at the hunt for bin Laden. We're going to talk with Robert Pelton about his time spent with secretive operatives in eastern Afghanistan.

Plus, she fell 14,000 feet from the sky without a parachute and amazingly lived to tell her story. A remarkable tale of survival against all odds.

First, let's take a look "Inside the Box" at the top stories on tonight's network newscasts.


COOPER: Evening here in New York, morning now in Pakistan. Near the Afghan border right now, Pakistani sources tell CNN a major air assault against al Qaeda is imminent. Could be just hours away.

They say Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's number two man, may be cornered. More than 200 al Qaeda fighters have been battling Pakistani forces in the area. We are told Pakistani authorities are bringing in helicopter gun ships. We're going to have more on this developing story just ahead.

In California today, a startling twist to a bizarre story. You may remember we told you last week about a Claremont College professor who said she was the victim of a hate crime. Well, today, police said, yeah, a crime was committed. But they say the professor is the one who is guilty.

CNN's Donna Tatro has the story.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was a well, planned out act of terrorism.

DONNA TATRO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She led thousand of students at Claremont McKenna College in a protest against racism that shut down the school for a day after claiming she was the target of a hate crime. But now, this visiting professor, Kerrie Dunn, is being investigated for setting the whole thing up. According to police, she vandalized her car and spray painted it with racial, anti-Semitic and sexual epithets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eyewitnesses saw her doing that at a parking lot at Claremont McKenna College.

TATRO: Students rallied behind Dunn, but now this latest twist in the investigation has some wondering.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is very devastating.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it is just really sad.

TATRO: But Dunn isn't admitting to anything. Her attorneys put out a news release saying, "The police statement is irresponsible and has irreparably damaged her reputation and emotional health." College President Pamela Gann says Dunn is innocent until proven guilty, and she hopes the allegations are not true.

PAMELA GANN, CLAREMONT MCKENNA COLLEGE PRESIDENT: We have to uphold the highest possible ethical values, and if she did this, she would have breached all of the community values that we have.

TATRO: Dunn is still under contract as a psychology instructor at this college of 5,000 outside Los Angeles, while the district attorney decides whether to file criminal charges.

Donna Tatro for CNN, Claremont, California.


COOPER: Well, a fast fact now in a very real hate crime. Two New York teens pled guilty today. A 16-year-old and an 18-year-old admitting to fire bombing a Mexican family's home last summer. Specifically because they were of Hispanic decent. All five people in the house managed to escape without injury. Now, in 2000, two Mexican day laborers who lived next door to the fire-bombed house were beaten. Two men were convict in that case. They're serving 25 years to life for attempted murder.


COOPER: We're monitoring the situation in Pakistan. Officials in Islamabad tell CNN they are planning a major air assault on al Qaeda fighters in the mountainous region along the Afghan border.

We believe the attack may be imminent. They believe they may have -- and we say "may" -- have bin Laden's number two and closes adviser, Ayman al-Zawahiri, surrounded. We're going to have a live report on the operation in just a few moments.

But first, our continuing series. In this age of terror, survival itself often seems a challenge. All this week, we have been looking at people who have faced the worst and made it through. Tonight, you are about to meet two remarkable people, a little boy and a grown woman, both of whom came face to face with death and both found the strength to survive against all odds.

Here is Deborah Feyerick.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two-and-a-half years ago, when he was 12 years old, Steven Lopresti (ph) was crushed under 1,000 pounds of dry wall. Rushed to the hospital, he had one thing on his mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was really thirsty. That's all I wanted, something to drink.

FEYERICK: The reason, as doctors and surgeons would soon learn, except for his heart, all of Steven Lopresti's (ph) organs had been crushed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every single organ system at one point or another, and sometimes simultaneously, were severely dysfunctional or entirely failed.

FEYERICK: Doctors Frank Mathay (ph) and Karen Powers (ph) gave Steven a 2 percent chance of surviving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certainly, this was the most serious I had ever seen.

FEYERICK: Steven was pleading badly, and doctors couldn't find the source. They gave his family two choices.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One, to keep Steven comfortable, allowing him to die, knowing that he would die by bleeding to death. Or we could go back to the operating room and try a very, very drastic measure.

FEYERICK: Surgeons would have to remove all his intestines.

(on camera): That's not the thing put on the table. So that's how serious it was? They were willing to basically go for broke?


FEYERICK (voice-over): His mom, Stephanie, a single parent, decided to risk it all to save her only child.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So I can't even imagine my life without my son.

FEYERICK: She prayed like she never prayed before. And during surgery, doctors finally found and stopped the bleeding without the drastic procedure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God made me live for a reason, and...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's got a plan for you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he's got a plan for me in the future. So I'm just living and trying to figure out what that plan is.

FEYERICK: Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Rochester, New York.


COOPER: Well, calling our next survivor, Joan Murray, lucky would be a gross understatement. In fact, a doctor once wrote "miracle" on her medical file.

Murray was new to skydiving when she jumped from an airplane at 14,000 feet. Then the unthinkable. Her parachute failed to open. She was falling 120 miles an hour when she realized something was terribly wrong.


COOPER: So, Joan, you had only recently begun skydiving, I understand. You jumped out of the airplane, you were having a good dive, it seemed. You're traveling at 120 or some miles an hour. When did you realize something was wrong?

JOAN MURRAY, SKYDIVING ACCIDENT SURVIVOR: Well, I'm diving, and I had a great two-way jump with friend, Steve Vaughn (ph). But when I went to open my new parachute, it did not work. And I spent several tries to get it open and then went to my reserve.

COOPER: Now, as you talk about several tries, I mean, you're traveling like 120 miles an hour. You don't have many tries. I mean, you only have a couple of seconds.

MURRAY: No, that was my near fatal mistake.

COOPER: How much time did you spend trying to get the shoot to open? MURRAY: Well, you shouldn't try anymore than twice. And I tried three time. And you have about 12 seconds before you're going to hit the ground.

COOPER: So then you go to your reserve chute, because everyone's got a second shoot.

MURRAY: Correct.

COOPER: And you pull that?

MURRAY: The parachute opened. And I took the toggle in my right hand, which is your brake. But in my left hand, I still had the cut- away handle for my reserve parachute. And I didn't reach the toggle. So when I braked, it put me into a hard right swing.

COOPER: So, in essence, your parachute, which had opened up at some point, suddenly collapses.

MURRAY: Right. The air was dumped out of the parachute. And it swung me in like a pendulum.

COOPER: What was the last thought you remember before hitting the ground?

MURRAY: What I remember is just, "God, I'm in your hands," which is very comforting to my spirit today that those would be my last thoughts.

COOPER: And then you hit the ground. How did they find you?

MURRAY: Well, I hit the ground and I did the impact horizontally, which is the only way I could have survived, to spread the impact out.

COOPER: And we're talking like 80 miles an hour you hit the ground.

MURRAY: Right. But I slowed from 120 to 80. So my three-second canopy was good.

COOPER: And I heard you landed, and you almost hit a road. But you didn't. You landed -- I mean, of all places, a fire ant hill.

MURRAY: That is correct. I landed on a fire ant hill. And I'm actually in a study because they think that's one of the reasons that I'm alive.

I had several hundred fire ant bites. And it seems to be a preservative like freezing tissue.

COOPER: And you were in a coma for 15 days, or so. You were operated on. What injuries did you have?

MURRAY: I pretty much crushed everything on the right side of my body. I shattered my right leg. Broke the ball off my femur, broke my pelvis into four places, shattered my hip socket, collapsed my lung, broke ribs, shattered an elbow.

COOPER: Unbelievable.

MURRAY: I had two plates and five screws in that. And I was still seeing double when I woke up. Knocked fillings out of my teeth, cracked my teeth.

COOPER: You never asked yourself, "Why me?"

MURRAY: No, never. Things happen to people all the time. It's, you know, how do we make -- my dad calls it making lemonade out of lemons.

How do we make the best out of the situation we're in? I mean, life is full of challenges in what we do every day. So it is meeting the challenge, and what do we do with it.

COOPER: You actually skydived again after this accident which almost killed you.

MURRAY: Yes, that's correct.

COOPER: What was that jump like?

MURRAY: That was the biggest step of my life, going out of the plane. But it brought closure to things. Again, my accident was not indicative of the sport. And I was always taught, if you get thrown off the horse, get back on.

COOPER: Good words to end on. Joan Murray, a remarkable story. Thanks for being with us.

MURRAY: Oh, you're very welcome. Thank you.

COOPER: Against all odds. Our series continues tomorrow.

Happening right now, we're monitoring it. Pakistani forces say they are getting ready to launch an air assault in an area where they say this man, Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, may be cornered. The very latest ahead in a live report from the region.

Plus, you're going to hear from a man who has been to the target zone. Robert Pelton, we'll get his insights on the efforts to track down top al Qaeda leaders.

Then later, Donald Trump all over the place, earning our overkill title of the week.

We'll be right back.


COOPER: Our top story this evening happening right now. Pakistani forces have surrounded a mountainous region near the Afghan border where it is believed Osama bin Laden right-hand man Ayman al- Zawahiri, the man behind Osama bin Laden in that picture, is holed up. For insight into the operation we go live to Islamabad to CNN security analyst Ken Robinson. Ken, thanks very much for being with us. We are told this operation against Ayman al-Zawahiri i may be imminent. What would the operation look like? They say it's going to be an air assault.

KEN ROBINSON, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it started about two days ago, Anderson, with special operations forces and the Pakistani army and militia forces and they encountered enormous resistance, unanticipated large resistance, in a large village complex of about six compounds.

From that, and the intensive fighting which has occurred, caused them to withdraw, caused them to try to get displaced persons, women and children out of the area, and continue the assault.

These fighters have fought so ferociously in fortified areas that they then regrouped again and tried to determine what types of combat power they wanted to apply to it. Now there is has been discussion reported that there might be a morning air assault of some type into that complex.

But if past performance predicts future behavior, you might even anticipate a nighttime operation given the fact the Pakistani army has been is liaisoning with U.S. forces and may be some capabilities for night fighting.

COOPER: How big a concern is the notion that some of these al Qaeda fighters and Ayman al-Zawahiri, if it is in fact him, may try to escape. And if that does happen, is the U.S. set up to monitor that?

ROBINSON: Well, we were in Afghanistan for five days prior to coming to Pakistan. And on the opposite side of the border there is an enormous presence from the coast to the south to Skin. However, the likelihood, as Aaron Brown had mentioned earlier, of them going west into that teeth of the iron jaw of the United States special forces is unlikely. They would probably try to escape to the south or to the east and migrate back into the Punjab.

The question will only be determined when the sun comes up and who is actually left in this compound. These compounds are contiguous to each other but it is difficult to secure that entire area with a solid cordon.

COOPER: All right. Ken Robinson national security correspondent for CNN. Thank you very much, Ken, appreciate it, from Islamabad.

Want some insight from two al Qaeda experts. In Washington tonight, CNN terrorism expert Peter Bergen, one of the few western journalisms to ever to have met Osama bin Laden.

And in Montreal, Quebec, Rohan Gunaratha, author of the book "Inside al Qaeda." Appreciate you being with us.

Peter let me start off with you. If this high-value target is Ayman al-Zawahiri, how significant a capture or a kill would that be?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM EXPERT: Highly, because Ayman al- Zawahiri is widely as the brains of al Qaeda. He's bin Laden's mentor, he's bin Laden's friend, he's bin Laden's doctor. He is somebody who is influenced bin Laden to become more radical. He would know what al Qaeda's plans are. He would probably know where bin Laden is. If the interrogation proceeded quickly and he was willing to give bin Laden up, he is in a position to actually know where Mr. No. 1 is.

COOPER: Rohan, are you at all skeptical of what is going on or said to be going on in this region? There is some who say it is coincidental, Secretary of State Colin Powell happened to be in Pakistan when this operation got under way? Any skepticism on your part?

ROHAN GUNARATHA, AUTHOR: Pakistan has been a an ally in the fight against terrorism. Up to now 470 members of al Qaeda, including the top operation leadership of al Qaeda has been arrested in Pakistan. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, was also arrested in Pakistan.

Certainly, we are seeing close cooperation between the Pakistani services and the U.S. services. It is very likely that Pakistani agencies will work together with the U.S. counterparts in trying to locate and destroy the al Qaeda leaders whose are still believed to be operating on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

COOPER: Peter, what kind of region are we talking about? I mean everyone describes it as rugged, lawless, beyond the reach of Pakistani authorities. But I mean, physically, are we talking about a large area and one that is very difficult to penetrate?

BERGEN: Large area, difficult to penetrate. Having traveled in that area, people don't live in houses in these regions, they live in mini forts. Everybody is armed. Some of these mini forts have light artillery. When there is a dispute in this region, people can use artillery, private individuals.

So you're talking about an area which is not only hard from the point of view topographically, but also really from a sort of philosophical point of view. These people don't like outsiders. And they consider the Pakistani armies to be outsiders, by the way. They don't see themselves as being part of Pakistan

COOPER: Rohan, the likelihood that Ayman al-Zawahiri, if in fact this the man who is cornered, this high valued target, the likelihood that he is traveling with or near Osama bin Laden?

GUNARATHA: It is very likely that both of them may be together because Ayman al-Zawahiri he's the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) leader of al Qaeda, the designated successor of Osama bin Laden. And always they have been together. So, certainly, if Ayman al-Zawahiri is taken, he would at least know where Osama bin Laden is. But it is very likely that both these leaders may be living in the same location. COOPER: And the question, of course, can he be taken alive? Rohan Gunaratha, appreciate it. Peter Bergen, again, thank you very much for being on the program tonight.

A man who has seen special forces in action in their hunt for Osama bin Laden, Robert Pelton, he joins us tonight from Los Angeles. He's written about his travels to Afghanistan in the April edition of "National Geographic Adventures." We are pleased that Mr. Pelton can join us now.

Robert, I read your article. It is a fascinating look at a very shadowy world. Who are the people hunting Osama bin Laden for the U.S. now?

ROBERT PELTON, NATL. GEOGRAPHIC ADVENTURES: Well, there's a number of people, but primarily it's Task Force 121, which is a global task force that's now being shifted over from Iraq to Afghanistan. And they're made out of what they call OGA, other government agencies, CIA, Delta Force, some people who are considered vanilla special forces. I came across the 20th when I was out there. And then some Air Force components to call an air strike.

COOPER: And a lot of them are sort of contractors. It is not clear who they're working for.

PELTON: Well, it's very clear who they're working for, they're working for the CIA. There's about 100 contractors working the border there now. I'm sure there is more on the way. And what their job is to basically infiltrate, provide security and they're also a plausible deniability factor. They can go inside Pakistan and do things that regular U.S. troops can't do.

COOPER: You are writing for "National Geographic Adventures." I want to put up a quote on the screen of something that one of these contractors said in one of your articles. "Our job is to shake the apple tree. We aren't hunting bin Laden from the top, our strategy is to focus on the little guys, just like how they do drug busts in the states. Put the heat on the runners and little guys until they get nervous, start contacting higher. Then we intercept their calls and the hunt begins. We are just hired killers, guns with legs."

Pretty strong stuff.

PELTON: Well, these guys do this for a living. So, you have to temper that with a little bit of enthusiasm. The bottom line is, these are highly trained people. These volunteered to join the Special Activities Division. A lot come out of Delta Force. And, like I said, SEAL Team 6 or DIV group (ph). And they are there for the action. So, they enjoy it very much.

COOPER: And of course, the million dollar question, where are they without giving away positions or anything, obviously? But the big question is, are they operating in Pakistan are not or would they even say?

PELTON: No. They're operating along the border. Some of these contractors, by whatever reason, by mistake, might find themselves in Pakistan. It is a very interesting game they're playing.

COOPER: It certainly is that. They're also relying on a lot of, obviously, human intelligence. How good are their relations that you could see with Afghans, with warlords, with fighters?

PELTON: Well, I spent some time with a friend of Osama bin Laden and a friend of Mulla Omar's (ph). He was quite upset. He was a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) tribal elder who'd actually been bombed on his way to Karazid (ph). I then brought the CIA contractor together with this potentially hostile former Taliban commander to let them know that their concept of using informers wasn't working. There were two specific hits. One inside Karan (ph) and one in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) province in which a number of children had been killed. My friend wanted to point out to the contractor that whoever their informer was, it also tipped off the target of that raid or both those raids.

COOPER: It is a fascinating look at this shadowy world. Robert Pelton, appreciate you joining us. You can read the whole article by Robert Pelton in the April edition of "National Geographic Adventures." Again, Mr. Pelton, thanks for being with us.

Politics and the search for al Qaeda's No. 2. What the potential capture of Ayman al-Zawahiri would mean for President Bush, John Kerry, and the election. Talk about that coming up.

Also tonight. 33 years after he escaped from prison, a fugitive finally brought back to justice.

Later, the Donald Trump, the man who loves saying you are fired is showing no signs of getting out of the limelight anytime soon. We'll be right back.


COOPER: We continue to monitor events in northwest Pakistan. If Ayman al-Zawahiri is captured or killed, what impact is it going to have on the U.S. presidential election. Joining me is CNN political analyst Carlos Watson and from Washington, "TIME" magazine's deputy bureau chief Jay Carney. Appreciate you both being on the show. Carlos, let me start off with you. If Ayman al-Zawahiri is, in fact, captured and or killed today or anytime soon, what does that mean for President Bush short-term?

CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think short-term it helps the president. It is a big if. Nighttime is come and gone. He could have slipped away. It might not be him. I remember they've tried four or five times just in the last six months to get him and others. I think it would help the president to the tune of probably five or six points in the immediate polls. Remember that Saddam gave him a 10 to 12-point bump. Although that kind of evaporated quickly.

What's significant about this 5 to 6-point bump is that where Saddam's ten-point bump came in December and was an isolated event, the president now is running ads $2 million to $3 million a week. He's giving major speeches like the one he gave today. So this bump could be a sustained bump that could continue to help him. COOPER: Jay Carney, what do you think? Long-term implications if this man is captured or killed?

JAY CARNEY: It is a benefit no matter how you look at it. I have to agree it could be more sustained given the focus the president is making right now on his stewardship as commander in chief. Most Americans don't know who this is, even though he is Osama bin Laden's chief lieutenant. He is not bin Laden. As Peter Bergen said earlier on the show, if he's captured, he may be the key to getting to bin Laden. So that would be the big kahuna for the president and that would provide the kind of bump that could be sustained right through the election.

COOPER: Carlos, you said the president needs to continue to try and shift the conversation to terror, away from jobs and economy but the White House seems to be playing down this latest operation in Pakistan.

WATSON: Which is smart because they know there is always a chance to play it up later if they actually captured him. The last thing they want to do is have a lot of high-profile coverage and end up with nothing and you look worse and may lose a little bit. We can't forget the polls show most Americans by two to one, some three to one say they want to focus on domestic issues. When you look at the president's approval ratings, 38 percent approval rating on how he handles the economy. 64 percent on how he handled terrorism. Big gap there and ultimately you have seen them somewhere in the middle of 51 percent. He has to close that gap.

COOPER: Jay, how does John Kerry deal with this situation? He's sort of in a tricky spot.

CARNEY: He is. In fact, this is a terrible situation for him because he has to praise the news of this capture if it happens, and not only that, but he has to acknowledge the success that the Bush administration appears to have had in working with Musharraf's government in Pakistan, and convincing Musharraf in a very delicate situation to pursue al Qaeda and Taliban elements in Pakistan.

Musharraf has barely survived two assassination attempts because of his cooperation with the United States. If that cooperation leads to the capture of bin Laden or al-Zawahiri, it is a major success for the president to tout. John Kerry really can't say much about this except congratulate Pakistan on its success.

COOPER: And yet, Carlos, the last thing John Kerry wants to do is cheerleader for the White House and their policies.

WATSON: Last thing he wants to do. Little piece of good news, though, happened for John Kerry on the foreign policy point. John McCain, very popular senator from Arizona, ran against President Bush in 2000, came in second. Today he said, I rebuke those of you even in my own party who want to call John Kerry weak on defense. They say here is a guy who served honorably. That actually could help John Kerry because remember lots of Americans still don't know him. The White House and Republican team have tried to define him as someone who is unreliable, who's not the steady hand.

COOPER: It might have been big news, though, on some other day but on this day the news was in Pakistan. That story sort of got lost.

WATSON: But over the long term, the fact that McCain is saying, stop guys, play fair or I will call you on it, maybe the same kind of role that Ross Perot played for Bill Clinton in '92.

COOPER: All right, Carlos Watson, thanks. Jay Carney, thanks very much for being on the program.

After decades on the run, a fugitive is behind bars again. Coming up, the incredible story of how police finally caught up with a killer.

A little later, the "Passion of the Christ," a blockbuster at the box office. Can imitations be far behind?

Also ahead, Donald Trump, he's been here, everywhere, there. Is it too much of a Donald thing? Right ahead. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Time for "Justice Served." You might call this story it is never too late for "Justice Served." Thirty three years after he made a run for the border, a 62-year-old fugitive was captured by police in Texas -- 33 years. Solving one of the state's oldest prison escape cases. CNN's Ed Lavandera has details.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a fall day in 1971, Allen Marshall walked out of this Pennsylvania prison on a weekend furlough. He must not have liked the idea of spending eight years in prison for murdering his wife. So, Marshall never returned. He made his way to Mexico for some time, remarried and in the last couple years wound up in Texas living under the same name. On Monday, U.S. Marshalls following a tip from a family member and armed with an old wanted poster showing him as a 27-year-old convict knocked on the door of this Houston home.

DOHA BAMOS, U.S. MARSHALL: We knocked on the door, and Mr. Marshall opened the door. I asked him, are you Allen Marshall? And he said yes.

LAVANDERA: He is now 62. He moved into this house with his wife and two teenage son less than a year ago.

JUAN BOUBOON, NEIGHBOR: They seem to be nice. We never got into an argument or nothing, like I say. I say hi and bye, you know.

LINDA REICHARDT, NEIGHBOR: Kept to himself. Drove a delivery truck, some kind of mail truck and just kept to himself.

LAVANDERA: While Marshall is being handcuffed, he said, I'll see you in two and a half years.

BAMOS: He was peaceful. His reactions weren't of surprise or in denial. It was someone who was ready to face and surrender. The entire family, the kids and himself, gave me that expression that it was, more, like, thank you.

LAVANDERA: Now, Marshall will be sent back to Pennsylvania. And while it's not clear what happens next, he says he should have surrendered a long time ago.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.


COOPER: A day of heavy news. Thought I would have a lighter story. Donald Trump is hoping to make even more money, by seeking to make more money by the phrase "You're fired." His current send to flunkies on "The Apprentice." The show that last week, drew in an estimated 19 million viewers. The Donald is everywhere. He's overexposed. He's -- well, he's "Overkill." Let's take a look.


COOPER (voice-over): First there was Trump the real estate magnet. than Trump the author. Now there is Trump the unstoppable omnimedia star. Thanks to his huge hit, "The Apprentice" you can't turn on your TV without seeing Trump talking about -- well about himself.

DONALD TRUMP, HOST, "THE APPRENTICE": This is a program that people really love. It is a little bit of the jungle of New York. Things have worked out for him.

COOPER: There is a new book co-written by Trump. New T-shirts co-designed by Trump. Even new tunes co-sung by, you guessed it, Trump. Even Amorosa "The Apprentice" reject is overexposed. She claims to be fielding offers to host a TV talk show. Now that "The Apprentice" is winding down, set to end on April 15, is this Trumpathon over? Don't bet. Donald wannabes have been lining up for days at 12 locations across the country ready to audition for "Apprentice 2" with TV camera's covering every moment. And at a time when millions are hoping to hear the words you're hired, the self- proclaimed billionaire will spin have another season saying...

TRUMP: You're fired.

COOPER: All we can say is, Mr. Trump your "Overkill."


COOPER: And yet it's a good show.

And Hollywood is responding to the success of the movie "The Passion." Coming up in the "Nth Degree" a look at what studio executives may want their own faith based films to be like.

Plus tomorrow, our special series "Against All Odds." Do you have what it takes to be a survivor?

Find out if you can hang on when others give up. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Tonight, taking Hollywood to the "Nth Degree." Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" has so far raked in something like 250 million bucks. Hollywood being Hollywood, a safe bet that studio types have seen the light and trying to figure out how to produce their own passion. The memo making the rounds, we imagine, look like this. One, films should focus on modern religion, huge built in audience. Christianity is done, Islam, timing wrong. Two, gruesome prolonged suffering, big thumbs up. Question, how long did Buddha sit under that Whatchamcallit tree?

Talk with PR about possible campaign to build up horrifying nature of trying to keep absolutely still. Perhaps a "Dateline" special.

Three, arouse controversy for months ahead of release. Anything we can do to bait the Mormons? Farfetched, remember in Hollywood, there's nothing is new under the sun.

I'm Anderson Cooper, thanks for watching. Coming up next, "PAULA ZAHN NOW."

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