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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Al Qaeda Threatens Reprisals if Detainees Executed

Aired August 4, 2003 - 19:26   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Now back to Iraq. There was a new salvo of psychological warfare, apparently from al Qaeda, this weekend. A tape from a man claiming to be Ayman al-Zawahiri warns the U.S. it will pay a dear price if any of the Guantanamo Bay detainees are executed.
He also warns countries not to aid the U.S. and says, quote, "The real battle has not started yet."

Although al-Zawahiri is one of the al Qaeda leaders closest to Osama bin Laden, his personal doctor after all, the tape make no mention of bin Laden. One of the few westerners who's met with bin Laden, CNN analyst Peter Bergen joins us now from Washington.

Thank you for being with us, Peter.

First, this tape: what do you make of it? I mean, e doesn't mention bin Laden, doesn't mention, really, anything going on in Iraq.

PETER BERGEN, CNN ANALYST: That's surprising, the fact he doesn't mention Iraq, after all something that should be at the foremost of his consciousness at the moment. Indeed, a number of al Qaeda people in Iraq now.

But I think that -- certainly it's interesting about the reference to the Guantanamo Bay detainees. I think that may have come in response to the Bush administration's announcement two or three weeks ago that the first military tribunals would go ahead, a group of six detainees, two of them Brits, one an Australian, who might possibly be executed. And this is perhaps a response to that announcement.

But otherwise, the tape didn't really have anything new to say except that it does, I think, demonstrate that Ayman Al-Zawahiri continues to be alive and not dead.

COOPER: Also, I mean, everything we've heard in the past is that this is a guy who doesn't leave -- go very far away from bin Laden. He's the personal doctor of Osama bin Laden. So I guess even more surprising, taking that into account, that he doesn't mention bin Laden at all.

BERGEN: Yes, I don't know what to make of that. We haven't -- bin Laden has only released two tapes this year. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, this is the second type he's released. They're sort of in a catch-22, Anderson, in the sense that they want to keep releasing tapes to show that they're still in the game.

On the other hand, the more tapes that they release the more open they are to people following the chain of custody of the tapes back to bin Laden or Ayman Al Zawahiri and actually discovering them. Obviously...

COOPER: Can you actually do that? Can investigators really follow the chain of these tapes?

BERGEN: That is something, obviously, that they would like to do. I mean, U.S. officials are not about to tell you how they plan to find bin Laden or Ayman Al Zawahiri, but common sense would deduce that this is one of the key ways they do it.

But the problem is that the tapes are going to different media outlets. Some of them go Al Jazeera. This tape went to another Arab network. And these people are reasonably smart. They are not doing any predictable intervals and they are varying the people, the outlets you get them at.

COOPER: Peter, I've got to ask you about this -- Jeanne Meserve just reporting in the last couple minutes about a discovery of modified electronic items which contributed to the latest aviation warning. I guess they were modifying items like cameras and the like, possibly to hold electronic devices. A surprise to you?

BERGEN: Yes, quite surprising. In fact, there was a report which has sort of gone -- about two or three weeks ago in Florida, somebody bought a teddy bear onto a plane with a gun inside the teddy bear. I don't know what happened with that.

But clearly you don't bring teddy bears with guns onto planes unless you're trying to do something malicious. So I think this is quite surprising and quite worrisome, frankly.

COOPER: It certainly seems that way. We'll be following it. Peter Bergen, thank you very much for joining us.

BERGEN: Thank you.

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