Arab network cuts ties with CNN over bin Laden interview

Friday, February 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) _ An influential Arab satellite station that chose not to air its own interview with Osama bin Laden was angered by CNN's broadcast of excerpts, in which bin Laden declared himself a terrorist.

Al-Jazeera, which earlier denied it had such an interview, also accused CNN of obtaining the tape illegally.

``Al-Jazeera will sever its relationship with CNN and will take the necessary action to punish the organizations and individuals who stole this video and distributed it illegally,'' CNN quoted the Qatar-based station as saying Thursday after airing a story about the videotape.

CNN said it had done nothing illegal and its agreement with Al-Jazeera gave it the right to broadcast all Al-Jazeera material.

CNN added that it obtained the interview ``from a non-governmental source.'' It did not elaborate.

In the interview, believed to have occurred in October, bin Laden said the United States' war on terrorism was leading the American people ``into an unbearable hell and a choking life.''

Many details about the interview are unclear, including where and exactly when bin Laden spoke to Al-Jazeera correspondent Tasir Alouni, how CNN obtained the tape and why Al-Jazeera chose not to air it since it would have answered the question of whether bin Laden had survived a U.S. bombing campaign.

Bin Laden's whereabouts remain unknown, months after the bombing helped topple his Taliban hosts from power in Afghanistan and scatter his al-Qaida fighters.

The interview was believed to have occurred about two weeks before the Afghan capital of Kabul fell to U.S.-backed Afghan alliance fighters and more than a month before the Taliban abandoned their southern headquarters in Kandahar.

That also would have been about the time American officials were criticizing Al-Jazeera's coverage of the bombing campaign as inflammatory propaganda.

U.S. officials had urged American networks to be careful in airing Al-Jazeera's bin Laden videos, saying he could use them to send coded messages to his fighters. Al-Jazeera frequently has aired exclusive footage of bin Laden, usually at length and unedited.

CNN on Thursday aired only brief excerpts of what it said was a 60-minute tape.

Bin Laden wore camouflage fatigues and spoke without emotion as he told his interviewer that killing innocent civilians ``is permissible in Islamic law.''

And he painted a grim future for Americans.

``I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people in and the West in general into an unbearable hell and a choking life.''

Al-Jazeera is a 24-hour station owned by Qatar's government but known for a fairly independent editorial line. It reaches more than 35 million Arabs, including 150,000 in the United States.

Recognizing its influence, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others have appeared on the station.

Rumors of the interview CNN broadcast have been circulating for months.

Al-Jazeera initially denied such a tape existed but last month station editor-in-chief Ibrahim Helal said he had several videos of bin Laden that were not broadcast because they were deemed not newsworthy or of poor technical quality.

Helal said then the collection could include a videotaped interview. Helal could not immediately be reached following CNN's broadcast.

In the CNN excerpts, Al-Jazeera interviewer Alouni pressed bin Laden on his responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks but got ambiguous answers.

``America has made many accusations against us and many other Muslims around the world. Its charge that we are carrying out acts of terrorism is unwarranted,'' bin Laden said.

But moments later, he said: ``If inciting people to do that is terrorism, and if killing those who kill our sons is terrorism, then let history be witness that we are terrorists.''

Bin Laden also made threats against the United States similar to those he made in an interview Al-Jazeera aired Oct. 7, the day the U.S. bombing campaign began.

Bin Laden also was asked whether he was responsible for the anthrax-by-mail attacks in the United States that have killed five people.

``These diseases are a punishment from God and a response to oppressed mothers' prayers in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and everywhere,'' he responded.

The videotape's existence apparently was known in government and intelligence circles soon after the interview was done. CNN said the United States government had a copy and British Prime Minister Tony Blair quoted the interview in a speech to Parliament last November.