SLUG: On the Line - Attack on America - 09-15-2001
TYPE=ON THE LINE
TITLE=ON THE LINE: ATTACK ON AMERICA
EDITOR=OFFICE OF POLICY 619-0037
THEME: UP, HOLD UNDER AND FADE
Anncr: On the Line a discussion of United States policy and contemporary issues. This week, "Attack on America." Here is your host, Robert Reilly.
Host: Hello and Welcome to On the Line. In the most devastating attack on the United States, three hijacked airliners were used to destroy the World Trade Center in New York City and part of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth hijacked plane crashed in Pennsylvania. President George W. Bush said, "These were more than acts of terror. They were acts of war." "The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts," said Mr. Bush. "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them."
Joining me today to discuss this massive attack by terrorists are two experts. Philip Wilcox was the U-S Ambassador at Large and Coordinator for Counter Terrorism from 1994 to 1997. And Khalid Duran is the editor of TransIslam, a journal of analysis and opinion on Islamic cultural and political developments. Welcome to the program.
Philip Wilcox, you were in charge, for the U-S government, as Coordinator for Counter Terrorism for four years. If President Bush has now said this is more than an act of terrorism, it's an act of war -- war against whom?
Wilcox: War against the terrorists and the phenomenon of terrorism. It's an analogy that many American presidents and policy makers have used to express our determination to do everything to defeat terrorism.
Host: But the magnitude of the act itself invites the word "war" in terms of the damage it's inflicted on the United States.
Wilcox: It sure does. The massive damage and loss of life here was reminiscent of a huge attack by a formal military force.
Host: And Khalid Duran, an attack by whom? I know asking you that invites speculation because there is no absolute certainty at this point. But because of the history of terrorism and terrorist acts directed against the United States, which organizations and individuals have the kind of profile that invite the scrutiny of those trying to find the villains of this?
Duran: The Arab press has suggested that this is the work of a Colombian drug dealer, Fabio Ochoa, who was recently extradited to the United States, who had promised before his extradition that he would turn America into hell. That is perhaps a bit anecdotal because there is enough evidence pointing quite clearly in the direction of the notorious Saudi fugitive, Osama bin Laden, presently in Afghanistan. And that raises a number of really important questions here. The Afghan rulers, the Taliban, are not really an independent force. They have been installed in Afghanistan by Pakistan. And they are quite isolated in a land-locked country, Afghanistan, which on one side has Iran as a hostile neighbor, but it has a very porous border with Pakistan. So it's really a question that has to be asked here: what will be now the dialogue between the United States and the government in Islamabad, in Pakistan? Because, since a number of terrorist suspects have come that way, through Pakistan from Afghanistan to the United Arab Emirates and to the United States, something of a magnitude has to be done to stop that and to retaliate on that side.
Host: Speaking of magnitude, let me ask Phil Wilcox here, the President Bush was careful to say we're not just going to get the terrorists but those who supported them, kind of inviting the consideration of a state sponsor. Considering the magnitude of this attack, the kind of intelligence and coordination and finances it required, do you have any doubt that there was a state sponsor behind it? And tell me from your own work in this field, what would be required to do what they did?
Wilcox: I think there is real doubt that there was a state sponsorship of this act. It's possible for individual groups, organized groups, and ad hoc groups to get together and combine their skills and carry out an attack like this without the backing of a government. Indeed, it seems to me unlikely that a government sponsored this act, knowing full well that, were it identified as a sponsor, the United States would retaliate with full force. That is the dilemma that the U-S government faces in fighting terrorism carried out by non-state actors. And the great majority of terrorism against Americans recently has been carried out by individuals or private groups. It is very hard to bring military force to bear against private groups effectively and, to that extent, the war analogy is not very precise.
Host: Let me rephrase it, not a state sponsor, but what if they were simply harboring these terrorists?
Wilcox: Then they too are culpable because any law-abiding, civilized nation has a responsibility to cooperate with other states to stamp out terrorists, to turn them over to law enforcement agencies who seek to prosecute them, not to give them safe haven. That is a responsibility that more and more nations have recognized. Unfortunately, Afghanistan has not. Afghanistan is hard to describe because the government there isn't even recognized as a government by many states, including the United States.
Host: Do you have a reaction to what Khalid Duran said in terms of Pakistan's relationship with Afghanistan?
Wilcox: I think it's very troubling. The Pakistanis certainly have given some aid and comfort to the Taliban. I think Pakistan ought to reassess its relationship with the Taliban and cooperate more emphatically with the other countries in the world. To that extent, Pakistan has cooperated in the past in other terrorist cases.
Host: And from the profile of the act itself, do you agree with putting the al Qaeda [Osama bin Laden's organization] and Osama bin Laden at the top of the list?
Wilcox: It's just too early to speculate. I think they are certainly a likely suspect given the record of the past and what the U-S intelligence knows about them and their involvement in other previous terrorist attacks. But we simply don't know yet.
Host: And what about that, Khalid Duran, in terms of the previous terrorist attacks, most recently, of course, the attack on the U-S-S Cole last year, the attack against the U-S embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998? And, of course, there was a previous attempt against the World Trade Center in 1993. Do you find a pattern here?
Duran: There is more to it. It actually started, this pattern of attacking several targets at the same time, that started earlier when the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, was blown up by an Egyptian terrorist organization that is closely affiliated with Osama bin Laden. At that time, it happened only in Islamabad, but the plan was to blow up at the same time, simultaneously, an important tourist center in Cairo, Khan Khalili. Somehow, at that time, they were not yet so professional. They got a bit too late over there in Cairo, but that was the plan. That was kind of a rehearsal for what later on was done in Dar es Salaam [Tanzania] and in Nairobi [Kenya], where it worked much better [when the U-S embassies were bombed in 1998]. Now, finally, we have here this instance of New York and Washington. For me personally, there is really no doubt that we're dealing with basically the same personnel. Of course, some have been substituted. But in terms of leadership, it's not, of course, just a single person, Osama bin Laden. There is quite a team of leaders surrounding him, mainly from Egypt, but also from the other Arab countries. Of course, as we know, this has now been going on for more than a decade that many of these groups operate fairly independently of one another, precisely in order to let some not be blamed for that. But something more has happened almost at the same time. We had an attack on an important leader in Afghanistan commander [Ahmad Shah] Massoud, the head of the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan. That was carried out by two Algerians, who came with Belgian passports, posed as journalists. It was a suicide commando. They had a camera. The camera exploded. It killed two or three of the Afghans around. And it is not yet quite clear whether commander Massoud, the war hero of Afghans against Russians, whether he survived. He is in a hospital in Tajikistan. But what is so important about this whole thing is that it is again typically pointing to Osama bin Laden, because one thing is well-known in Afghanistan -- that he has a troop of people, particularly such Arabs, many Algerians, again interestingly, who have been trained as suicide commandos for such actions.
Host: Let me just take a moment to remind our audience that this is On the Line and I'm Robert Reilly. And this week we're discussing the attack on America with Philip Wilcox, the former U-S Ambassador at Large for Counter Terrorism, and with Khalid Duran, the editor of the journal, TransIslam.
Philip Wilcox, what about the fact that you were dealing with terrorists who were willing to commit suicide to succeed in their mission? I had suggested it to some analysts, could Iraq be a possible suspect? And their answer to me was: not likely, because Saddam Hussein doesn't command that kind of loyalty and respect. And that's why the suspicion mainly focuses on al Qaeda. What do you think about that?
Wilcox: I think Saddam Hussein is not a madman and understands that, if he were identified as responsible for such an attack, the punishment to his regime would be very severe. I think it needs to be said that, assuming that Osama bin Laden is somehow responsible for this, even if Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenants were identified, arrested, or killed, that would not stop this phenomenon of terrorism by deviant Islamic fanatics whose views of Islam are a total aberration from mainstream Islam. They claim to act on behalf of Islam. There is considerable body of people who are quite capable of acting without leadership, or support, or financing from Osama bin Laden. So it's a mistake to focus exclusively on bin Laden as a solution to the problem.
Host: What is the solution to the problem?
Wilcox: The solution is to use the conventional tools of counter terrorism: intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomacy. But the United States also has to reassess its knowledge, its analysis of the Islamic world, and to the conflicts in that very large part of the world, which sometimes generate violence and even terrorism. I think we need to understand this phenomenon much more clearly and to see if there are ways that we can address those sources of conflict before they express themselves in this malevolent, terrorist killing.
Host: Let me ask Khalid Duran about that, because you have spent much of your career analyzing and explaining various strains of thought in the Muslim world. Tell me what idea of God is in a man's mind who flies an airliner full of innocent civilians into an office building full of thousands of innocent civilians deliberately in order to murder them? What is that? Is that a version of Islam? What is it?
Duran: It's a tradition that no doubt has existed for centuries that some people are made to believe that if they commit such an act that it would mean an entry to paradise.
Host: That's in a jihad though, right?
Duran: Yes, of course, this whole thing is considered a jihad.
Host: Isn't that usually against military forces?
Duran: Usually yes. Of course, Islamic religion prohibits suicides very clearly. That is a very clear issue. Those radical groups, who carry out these acts, they have produced long discussions, and we have that in writing, on this issue of suicide, saying that traditionally our religion prohibits that. If a Muslim commits suicide, he is not to be buried in a cemetery. It's just like in Catholicism, the same thing. But this is actually something else. And they explain that. They have written volumes explaining that such suicide commandos are actually not committing suicide, but this is an act of pleasing God and it opens you to paradise. You have the virgins of paradise over there.
Host: I understand that part. What I am trying to grasp at is the distinction that Philip Wilcox made between the vast majority of Muslim believers and the character of those people who have some notion of Allah that justifies their murdering thousands of innocent people not in a military act, but in a terrorist act.
Duran: Don't look at it only in a religious perspective. Basically the motivation here is a political one. They believe that injustice has been done to them, to their people. And so, they have to make up for that. They have to take revenge. That is the basic issue.
Host: What's the injustice that's been done to their people? We're not sure who did this. And since they don't announce who they are?
Duran: In this case, they haven't announced yet. But we have so many statements from people who have done similar things and, in particular, from Osama bin Laden himself. I translated only the other day, again, one of his sermons where, he, first of all, gives a long speech that fourteen hundred years ago some sixty-thousand Christians invaded Arabia to take the city of Mecca. Those were Ethiopians. There was no Islam, as yet. And he compares that to what has happened recently that now there are American troops in the Arabian peninsula. And that, to him, is absolutely intolerable. Interestingly, he mentions Jerusalem only once, by the way. His thinking is actually quite different from that of the Palestinians, who talk about nothing else but Palestine, the Holy Land, and Jerusalem, and so on. Osama bin Laden talks only about Mecca, the Kaaba, the ancient house, as he calls it all the time. And he says, this land, the Arabian Peninsula, that is the dearest land to God.
Host: It's a violation of the holy places for American troops to be in Saudi Arabia?
Duran: [Osama bin Laden says] we have to do everything possible to hit them hard and we have to make God's word rule supreme. And for that we have to sacrifice ourselves. Otherwise, where will we stand on judgement day?
Host: Philip Wilcox, Khalid Duran said this is a political act.
Wilcox: It certainly is. I quite agree it's an act of politics that exploits Islam for political means. It's also a pathology. It has to be dealt with as a pathology, as well as a crime.
Host: If it's a political act, what is the object of that political act? Did it succeed?
Wilcox: The object is to punish the West for alleged Islamic grievances. It does not succeed. The analysis by the perpetrators is not entirely objective. It's violence for violence's sake. It is messianic redemption. That is why it is dangerous to treat this as conventional warfare. By treating it as warfare, we dignify these people as warriors. They are not warriors. They are criminals. They want to go war with us. And we play into their own hands if we treat this as a war. Moreover, it's not a war that can be totally won.
Host: What should we do? What are the resources of the United States government and its allies that can be put into play to arrest or eliminate these criminals?
Wilcox: We need to do more of what we're doing now by way of good intelligence, good law enforcement, cooperation with other governments, physical security in our own country -- obviously aviation security, first of all. There are apparently serious flaws in that process.
Host: Are you startled by the failure in intelligence to detect this?
Wilcox: I don't know if this was a failure of intelligence. Intelligence has its limits. The United States can not be omniscient about what goes on in this country or what goes on abroad. I am not sure that throwing more money in intelligence is going to make a big difference. We also need friendship and cooperation with other countries. We also need to do what we can as a government to address conflict and violence and stress in other parts of the world, which can ultimately come back and attack us. And terrorism is often a product of that kind of stress.
Host: A closing thought from Khalid Duran. What you think can be done to counter this?
Duran: I have one key term for that. That's airport profiling. And why do I say that? Because these people who have perpetrated that, whether it was Osama bin Laden's group or a similar group in a way related to them, but they have lots of supporters, unfortunately, in the United States, who appear here as very sophisticated gentlemen, who propose themselves as democratic alternatives to military regimes in the Middle East. And they are the ones who act here as apologists for such acts, at least until now. This time it has probably changed. But they are still running around saying that Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman [who was convicted in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center], that he has only been framed by the F-B-I and that he is innocent, and so on. And for years they have been going around and saying that. Airport profiling is an insult to us.
Host: And that's what we should do?
Duran: We have said in the Muslim community, we are the ones who want it most of all, we are afraid of such things happening. So we want airport profiling.
Host: I'm afraid that's all the time we have this week. I'd like to thank our guests -- Philip Wilcox, former U-S Ambassador at Large for Counter Terrorism; and Khalid Duran, editor of TransIslam - for joining me to discuss the massive terrorist attack on America. This is Robert Reilly for On the Line.
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