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New Terrorism Warning Out Today
Aired August 11, 2003 - 19:11 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: There is a new terrorism warning today for U.S. military planners. They are concerned the man behind a devastating 1983 attack on U.S. Marines in Lebanon now may be working with anti-American forces inside Iraq. Some say he's as dangerous as Osama bin Laden. National correspondent Mike Boettcher has the story.
MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The investigation of the Jordanian embassy bombing in Baghdad is leading coalition intelligence agencies to consider the possibility of a broad new threat, a dangerous terrorist alliance that could supersede al Qaeda.
The focus is on this man, Imad Mugniyah. He was the most wanted terrorist in the world until bin Laden went to the top of the list. Considered every bit as dangerous as the al Qaeda leader, Mugniyah is credited by U.S. officials as the mastermind of the October 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut that ultimately led to the departure of the U.S. peacekeeping force from Lebanon 20 years ago.
Two hundred forty one Marines died in the attack. U.S. officials worry Mugniyah may be trying to plan a repeat performance in Iraq with the help of al Qaeda affiliated terrorists like Abu Masab al-Zarqawi, believed to be the top suspect in the embassy bombing. Both Mugniyah, a Shiite Muslim who Middle East experts say runs the international terrorist apparatus of Lebanese Hezbollah, and Zarqawi, a Sunni Muslim who directs an al Qaeda affiliated terror network that stretches from the Middle East to Europe, are believed to be hiding in Iran. Professor Magnus Ranstorp believes Iran's intelligence may also be a part of the mix.
PROF. MAGNUS RANSTORP, ST. ANDREWS UNIVERSITY: The Iranian intelligence service certainly have facilitated the presence of known al Qaeda members in Iran, but also is hosting the Mugniyah and his associates to be used for special occasions.
BOETTCHER: Living together in Iran, however, does not represent a marriage of Hezbollah and al Qaeda. Terrorism analysts instead, see it as an alliance of powerful individual members of those groups who have a common interest, attacking the U.S.
RANSTORP: You have unprotected U.S. servicemen who are relatively easy to get to. BOETTCHER: Iran's government has consistently denied it is harboring terrorists. And last month said it had several al Qaeda members under arrest.
BOETTCHER: Now, Iran is kind of dark spot for intelligence analysts and the anti-terror coalition. It is going to be difficult to definitively prove that these various superterrorists, so to speak, are working together against the U.S. in Iraq. But they believe the Jordanian bombing case will provide some clues. Anderson?
COOPER: Mike, it is a fascinating story. Iran's position seems unclear. On the one hand they say they won't hand over al Qaeda suspects directly to the United States. Yet others have indicated they might be willing to hand it over to quote/unquote, friendly countries. Where do they stand?
BOETTCHER: It is difficult to say. I guess you to answer the question, who is running Iran. Is it the Iranian government with Khatami - President Khatami -- described as a moderate, or is it the more radical clerics and the intelligence service? Most terrorism analysts go with the latter, that the real power in Iran is with the clerics and with the intelligence service, which has the best network worldwide in order to facilitate any sort of terrorism. And there are top officials in the administration who believe there is only one Iran, it is the one run by the intelligence service and the radical clerics.
COOPER: Well, what is happening, also, that you point out in your piece, according to some of the experts you talked to, that the Iranian intelligence may be aiding these people. Do we know to what extent that may be the case?
BOETTCHER: Well, let me go back several months after the U.S. went into Afghanistan. For example, I was told definitively by top counter terrorism officials in the coalition that Iran had several sites along the border with Afghanistan. Groups of 20 al Qaeda terrorists would infiltrate back into Afghanistan, or try to. They had been in safe houses in Iran. Iran would take five of those out, most every time, 15 would go through. They would arrest the five, deport them, and it made them look like they were supporting the war in terrorism.
Iran is in a very difficult situation. It is pressed on two sides now by the United States. Afghanistan to the east and you have Iraq to the west. And they're trying to play a various -- a very dangerous game plan in worldwide politics right now, trying to keep the U.S. off of them, but also sticking with their agenda in supporting radical groups.
COOPER: A very dangerous game indeed. Mike Boettcher, thanks very much, exclusive report.
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