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SLUG: 3-341 Gunaratna al-Qaida









HOST: Although Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network has been damaged since the war on terrorism began, the organization still represents a serious threat to global security. Efforts have been made to destroy al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Indonesia in recent months, but terror experts believe the organization continues to function. Rohan Gunaratna (Ro-hahn Goon-uh-raht-na), is the author of the book "Inside Al-Qaida." He has studied the organization since 1996, and tells V-O-A's Sarah Williams he believes its leader has not died.

MR. GUNARATNA: In my opinion, Osama bin Laden is alive. And of course, him being alive is very important for the organization, because he is the public face of al-Qaida. He is the man who has created this multinational organization.

MS. WILLIAMS: He must, however, be one of the most wanted men in history. It is amazing, it seems to me, that Western authorities have not been able to locate him.

MR. GUNARATNA: Yes. In fact, there is a multinational hunt for him. And it is a question of time that he will be killed or he will be captured.

MS. WILLIAMS: There has been speculation in recent days that al-Qaida has connections, say, in Iran. Do you know anything about that, whether there is a connection between al-Qaida and Iran?

MR. GUNARATNA: Al-Qaida evolved from a guerrilla organization that fought the largest land army in the world, the Soviet Army, in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida evolved from being a guerrilla organization into a terrorist organization after it came into contact with Hezbollah, an Iranian-sponsored Lebanese terrorist organization. And what we are seeing is that when al-Qaida was headquartered in Khartoum, Sudan, from 1991 till May 1996, al-Qaida had very close links with Iran. And in fact, after Osama returned to Afghanistan, 20 percent of his phone calls went to Lebanon and to Iran, once again reflecting the close relationship with Iran and with the Lebanese Hezbollah, which is an appendage of Iran.

MS. WILLIAMS: The recent violence in Afghanistan, the attempted assassination of President Karzai and a bombing in Kabul, has been blamed on al-Qaida. Do you believe this shows that al-Qaida is still operating within Afghanistan?

MR. GUNARATNA: Yes, al-Qaida is one of the few terrorist organizations in the world that has the expertise of penetrating even closely guarded societies, operating amidst security and still striking. And I have no doubt that al-Qaida was responsible for the recent bombings, as it has attempted to assassinate President Karzai even once before using a suicide bomber.

MS. WILLIAMS: Do you think this organization has been hurt at all recently by, say, the takeover of Afghanistan and also the arrests or deaths of some members of al-Qaida?

MR. GUNARATNA: Al-Qaida's infrastructure, especially its training infrastructure, has been dismantled in Afghanistan, and this is a big blow to the organization. Also, key al-Qaida members have been captured, like Abu Zubaydah, the head of operations, and key al-Qaida members have been killed, like Mohammed Atef or Abu Hafs, the military commander. So, despite these losses, al-Qaida is still able to continue because, for 10-years, al-Qaida penetrated Muslim society, and Western countries did not do much. But now the fight has begun. The fight has really begun only after 9/11. And it will take a few more years to destroy an organization like al-Qaida that has a head start of at least 10 years.

HOST: Rohan Gunaratna (Ro-hahn Goon-uh-raht-na), the author of the book "Inside Al-Qaida," speaking about the continuing threat of the terror network.


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