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Nic Robertson: Bin Laden interview

Nic Robertson
Nic Robertson  

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Accused terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden is quoted in a Pakistani newspaper as saying he has nuclear and chemical weapons, and that he would use them against the United States if provoked.

CNN's Nic Robertson has been investigating the story and filed this report.

ROBERTSON: Those reports first surfaced here in Pakistan on Saturday, and CNN went out of its way to convince ourselves that the report or the interview was genuine. So we went to meet Hamid Mir, the journalist who said he interviewed Osama bin Laden. And he showed us photographs that he said were taken in the last few days of him meeting with bin Laden.

And indeed, he and bin Laden were featured in those pictures. We saw the negative of those photographs. We saw the stamps in his passport showing he left Pakistan for Afghanistan on those dates, came back at that time.

And he also played us a segment of his interview as recorded on an audiotape. The voices on that, we were told, were of bin Laden, and the interview was being translating back into English by bin Laden's lieutenant, Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri.

Now, Mir describes being taken to that interview, and he said it was somewhere in the mountains, he believed north of Kabul. He said it was very cold. He describes being blindfolded. He describes being wrapped in a carpet at certain times on the backseat of a Land Cruiser car and then being driven for five hours to an unknown destination. He said when he got there, he could hear gunfire going on in the background.

He described the location he was taken to -- where he met with bin Laden -- as more of a mud hutch than a cave. There were blankets on the wall, disguising the location so he couldn't get an accurate feel of where he was. But he said, during that interview, he asked bin Laden the question of his nuclear capability.

MIR: I put that question -- that according to some reports in different Western newspapers, you are trying to acquire some nuclear and chemical weapons. He was very brief. He said that if the United States of America is going to use chemical or nuclear weapons against us, then we reserve the right to respond back. He said that we will not use these kinds of weapons first. So these weapons are just for defense.

ROBERTSON: Mir said he doubted whether bin Laden does have those nuclear capabilities, and certainly that is the view of a lot of terrorism analysts who think that maybe bin Laden, in the past, has tried to acquire nuclear-type material, but is unlikely to have developed the expertise to weaponize it. They do say, however, it is possible that he has some form of chemical and possibly biological warfare-type capability. Although that, they believe, is limited.

Now, Mir also said that bin Laden denied his involvement in the September 11 attacks. He said that the United States didn't have any evidence against him. Now, Mir said that the key thing that came out of this interview for him was an apparent U-turn by bin Laden on his policy to United States citizens.

MIR: He took a U-turn on the issue of the killing of Americans. Previously, he was quoted in different interviews saying "I am against all the Americans." But this time, he said, "I'm not against all the American people. I am only against the American policies."

ROBERTSON: Now this is something that surprises analysts as well because until now, bin Laden has only ratcheted up his rhetoric against American citizens, including them on targets as well as American military personnel and government officials.

Mir said that during this interview, this 90-minute interview with bin Laden, about four times an hour, bin Laden was contacted, being given updated military reports on the progress of the war, particularly as it progressed around the key northern city in Afghanistan of Mazar-e Sharif.

CNN: One of the things, actually a number of things I found interesting about this interview were the details that you bring out there. First and foremost, the fact that apparently it implies that Osama bin Laden is still in Afghanistan and geographically appears to be located north of the capital.

ROBERTSON: Yes, I think it's very difficult to know for sure, exactly, where he is. Mir said he could only guess that he was north of the capital because he felt that he was up higher in the mountains. And the mountains do get higher north of Kabul. He said he believed that because he was very, very cold. Although it's surprising to hear that bin Laden would put himself in a location where gunfire could be heard and claiming that he was possibly somewhere closer to battlefront or somewhere that might be being targeted by American aircraft.

Now, Mir said that bin Laden not only keeps in touch with a battlefield on the ground inside Afghanistan but also that he keeps in touch with events going on in the world through television, through CNN and other television broadcasts, that he is able to get a sense of what's happening in the world.

And part of that conversation with Mir, bin Laden was saying that he was very encouraged to see people coming out on the streets in the United States and Europe protesting against these airstrikes. In fact, Mir said bin Laden was encouraging people to do that.


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