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Wednesday, 12 September, 2001, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
US attacked: Middle East expert quizzed
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The attack on American targets may well become the world's worst-ever terrorist atrocity.

Two hijacked passenger planes have crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, causing it to collapse, and a third aircraft ploughed into the Pentagon in Washington DC.

How could this have happened? Who could have carried out such attacks in the world's most powerful nation? And how should the international community respond?

Middle East affairs analyst Hazir Teimourian took your questions in a live webcast on Tuesday evening.


Transcription:


Newshost:

Shawaf from Dubai, UAE asks: Who do you think is behind this attack? We have another question from Morgan Ferry from Huntington Beach, California who asks: With the obvious secrecy, planning and resources involved in this co-ordinated attack on Americans on US soil, it would seem that this attack must have taken a lot of money to pull off. Does this not limit the number of groups that could be involved to a very small number, or even implicate that this attack must have been planned and executed by the resources of a nation, such as Iraq?


Hazir Teimourian:

Very much so. I think the second questioner has put his finger on it. The American's own extreme right who blew up, for example, the Oklahoma building would not have this sort of expertise nor the money. The suicide bombers have now become the preserve of two organisations: the Tamil Tigers in South Asia and of course the Middle East. The Tamil Tigers would not have done this against the Americans so it leaves only Middle Easterners. Among the Middle Easterners, I can think of three organisations particularly: one would be Osama Bin Laden, the Saudi millionaire who has given possibly hundreds of millions of dollars of his own money.


Newshost:

Yes, he is a very rich man isn't he?


Hazir Teimourian:

He hides in Afghanistan. He has already survived one American cruise missile. He has got a ferocious determination and hatred of anything that is western and non-Islamic. He is an absolutely crazy Islamic fanatic and of course he has got a lot of blood on his hands already.

Another person who would have this sort of ferocious determination and lots of money would be Saddam Hussain. We know that he has spent a lot of money in the Palestinian territories giving money to suicide bombers and their families. One thing that puts these new suicide bombers in a different class, is their skill. As the second questioner asked, it seems that suicide bombers this time could fly jets and that for me would indicate the resources of a state such as Iraq.


Newshost:

So you think they might be able to be easily tracked down? Is that too much to hope for?


Hazir Teimourian:

I am afraid the American's intelligence has failed them terribly - I don't know whether they will find out or not. But sooner or later there will be traces.

The third organisation would be - possibly with Iraqi money - the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine whose leader was blown up in a rocket attack two weeks ago by the Israelis. The organisation, which may have up to 500 full-time terrorist officers as well as lots of people in the West in place already trained that immediately swore revenge on Israel and its backers.


Newshost:

That leads to a question from Andy in Newcastle who asks: If the international community had in the past acted more decisively after terrorist attacks, would the terrorists have been allowed to grow into such an organised and powerful group?


Hazir Teimourian:

To some extent it is inevitable because the modern world with its activities of commerce and openness which has made this enormous flourishing of capitalism possible in recent years - it needs openness, needs transportation, needs people to be able to get onto planes easily with the minimum of security and therefore to some extent this was inevitable.

But I am personally, as a commenter on the Middle East for the past 30 years, I have been terribly disappointed in recent years by the lack of skill, the lack of determination that some Western governments are showing in keeping out of their territories possible troublemakers. I think they could do much more.


Newshost:

Lucian Wischik, Cambridge, UK asks: How can we get deterrents to work, against someone willing to die for his beliefs?


Hazir Teimourian:

Yes I am afraid you have got to spend more money on intelligence - good intelligence and not like that which the Americans have had - to discover if four or five suicide bombers out of their own country in the Middle East are in the United States and are being trained to fly aircraft. Why didn't the CIA and the FBI and the other political organisations find out? Why didn't anyone get into these circles? I can think of one reason - the Western intelligence organisations are finding it very difficult to penetrate Islamic organisations. All newcomers, all immigrants - because immigrants are physically different looking, different accents, different cultures - Westerners find it very difficult to penetrate them.


Newshost:

Dave, Brentwood, UK asks: Is this the start of a continuing campaign?


Hazir Teimourian:

This reminds of an influential book, an American thinker wrote a few years ago - Samuel Huntingdon - a great international affairs expert wrote a book called the Clash of Civilisations. He predicts - and I have been expecting it myself - that as civilisations get much more closely involved because of modern transportation, communications etc. - fanatics, extreme nationalists of each civilisation will declare war on others. I think this might be one of the fruits of this. What is clear to me is that Americans, particularly, will remember this day as possibly another Pearl Harbor. It may actually cost them much more in lost commerce, in lost lives, in damage to their whole structure. I hear that American politics and commerce have been just shut down and the terrorists have done a great deal of good for themselves.


Newshost:

Yes and humiliated the United States.


Hazir Teimourian:

Yes they really achieved their goal. This is going to be a day we will not forget for a long, long time. I fear that from now on Middle Easterners, particularly will be much more unpopular throughout the world, particularly in the West.

In recent years when I have worked for such organisations as the BBC, The Times - for so many years - 42 years in fact and I have found it in recent years much more difficult to be admitted into the United States for my own work. Even when American organisations invite me to speak at their conferences. So if it is so difficult for me - imagine how difficult it's going to be for ordinary people who might want to travel.


Newshost:

Jon, Calgary, Canada How is that the CIA/FBI did not find out about these attacks in advance? Is the security at Boston airport particularly soft?

Another questions comes from Martin Crossman, Colorado, USA who asks: Could the hijackers have been able to get weapons on the airplanes in such an orchestrated fashion without inside help?


Hazir Teimourian:

Some of the reports from America say that as the aircrafts approached the towers they revved up their engines - and at the Pentagon as well. In other words, the pilot was driving the aircraft particularly towards the buildings and targets. It means that the terrorists themselves were in the chair of the pilot. So this sort of skill is new to suicide bombing. The suicide bombers I have myself watched in Beirut for example - the suicide bombers of Hizbollah - have been rather primitive people. I have been watching them - sometimes they have been moving like drunkards, like morons.


Newshost:

So what you are saying is they were thugs and now they are quite highly trained and highly skilled?


Hazir Teimourian:

This time they have the skills of jet aircraft pilots. This should force us all to take notice. I am sure Western democracies, their prime ministers, their intelligence chiefs will go on reeling from this blow for months - if not years.


Newshost:

Martin particularly wants to know how they got the weapons on the plane. Is there a problem with security, at say, Boston Airport, do you think they were just too lax?


Hazir Teimourian:

In this case, their weapons were the planes - they didn't have to have guns. The airports discovered about the hijacking so late. We don't know what went on and since they are all dead, possibly it will never be found - every trace, every weapon would have been incinerated in the heat of the explosions.


Newshost:

Alison from Phoenix Allison, Phoenix, USA asks: What is the standard security response when a plane is hijacked? I just wonder why the Air Force or some other planes were not following and monitoring the course of the hijacked planes. How long does it take for air traffic control to realise a plane has been hijacked?


Hazir Teimourian:

It can take hours and it can be very, very difficult for jet aircraft of the military to catch up with these people. Not only that, even if you discover that they are heading for New York with 50 to 100 passengers - what do you do? Do you shoot them down yourself? Do you kill all those innocent people on board? It is very, very difficult. All I can tell them is that the British Government have just re-routed jet aircraft so that they do not approach the airports around London by passing over central London.


Newshost:

David K Coulter, London UK asks: One US politician has already said that this is another "Pearl Harbor". Will America use this as a precedent for massive military action, specifically a declaration of War against a "rogue state" like Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan? Can we expect a Gulf War type expedition?


Hazir Teimourian:

No, because whoever carried out these barbaric attacks on humanity will be very careful first of all not to give proof of the validity of their claims. They will talk so that no one can pin it on a sovereign government. But if it turns out, for example, someone like Osama Bin Laden, who is being sheltered by the Taleban in Afghanistan. These people can expect cruise bombing of their headquarters - not only of Osama Bin Laden, as happened last time but also of the Taleban government themselves.

But that would not be enough. I fear that to punish the Taleban, you have to punish the government of Pakistan, who have virtually created the Taleban for their own strategic aims. The whole reason for the success of the Taleban has been Pakistani arms, money and training. The reason for that is that Pakistan wants the oil and gas of central Asia to go to the ocean - not through the shortest route which would be Iran - but through Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Newshost:

What would be their reaction, do you think, at the monster they have created?


Hazir Teimourian:

They will all deny it - they already do say that - the government of Pakistan, the military government, who are so puny that they allowing people to be possibly beheaded for blasphemy and that sort of thing.


Newshost:

Martin Olivarez, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic who asks: Did the US security departments know nothing about possible attacks?


Hazir Teimourian:

They gave a warning four days ago about some possible threat to United States citizens in the Far East - particularly Korea and Japan - but they turned out to be very, very wrong. Definitely they would not have known about this. No government, for no matter what reason, would have allowed this to happen if they could have predicted it - but it just shows how much egg must be on the face.


Newshost:

You say egg on the face but Sami Khan in Ithaca, USA asks: Why was US intelligence caught with their pants down?


Hazir Teimourian:

Yes they were and we can expect not only a spectacular attack - say a cruise attack on the Taleban headquarters in Afghanistan - but possibly also the sacking of the heads of all the intelligence departments in the United States that failed to do their duty.


Newshost:

Nikoi, New Jersey, USA asks: What do you expect the reactions of Middle Eastern leaders to be and what would be the significance of these reactions in relation to US counteractions


Hazir Teimourian:

All these governments that are vulnerable to American attack or even American commercial boycotts, they are very, very quick to deny that they have got any links with terrorism but it doesn't wash for me. Some of them definitely harbour these terrorists and some of them - such as the Syrians, for example, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, still has headquarters in Damascus.

As I said, the Pakistanis are the creators and upholders of the Taleban and Osama Bin Laden therefore. These governments hide behind these pious claims. But I am afraid that such is now the pressure of public opinion, after this outrage on the government of the United States and the whole of Nato, that there will be enormous readiness on the part of President Bush to do something spectacular - even if it doesn't succeed in getting the culprits.


Newshost:

D Klayman, Edinburgh, Scotland asks: If this is found to have been perpetrated by a major terrorist group how likely is it that this will lead to a world war?


Hazir Teimourian:

No, there is no possibility at all of a world war. It has happened sometimes in the past that the United States, for example, has sent marines into the Lebanon but they have been made to be sorry for this very quickly because suicide bombers have got to them there as well. You cannot just send 10,000 marines into the Lebanon and not get involved - in the terrain of that land and in the complex politics of that land. So wiser heads in Washington will say, let's be cool for a few days - if you have to send a few cruise missiles towards Osama Bin Laden do that - that is no dangerous but before you get entangled in the Middle East physically, please let's think and let's learn from the mistakes of the past.


Newshost:

Christopher Exon, London asks: As England has such close relations to the US will the day's events influence the safety of London if Tony Blair backs Bush in his retaliation?


Hazir Teimourian:

Tony Blair has no alternative about backing Bush. He, as you know, is left of centre, Bush is to the right of the right and there is no possible personal friendship - political alliance.


Newshost:

Except that Blair has said that we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the US.


Hazir Teimourian:

When it comes to a massive terrorist attack on the whole life of a Western state - particularly one as important as the Americans - all the other Western states must fall in line for their own sakes as well because if they disassociate themselves from America, not only will they pay in terms of losing America's alliance, but also they will leave themselves vulnerable in the future to such attacks.

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