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Terrorism Expert Comments on Recent Developments - 2002-02-28

Terrorism remains in the news around the world, from Rome to Afghanistan to the country of Georgia. VOA's David Borgida spoke with terrorism expert John Pike to find out how severe the most recent developments may be.

Mr. Borgida: You saw that piece about the arrest of the suspects in Rome. What do you make of that? Is that an isolated case or do you think that might be part of a broader network in Europe?

Mr. Pike: Well, it's very difficult to say at this point. The authorities are still investigating it. Obviously they are not telling the public everything that they have learned. But this is, I think, the type of attack that certainly the United States would be concerned about, aimed at an embassy. This also has the makings of something that has been in preparation for a long time, and certainly it's the hallmark of the al Qaeda network, that they get these operations going many, many months before they're actually implemented. So I can understand very easily why the U.S. Government is interested in this, worried that there might be more like it elsewhere.

Mr. Borgida: Now, we're going to bounce around a little bit from topic to topic in our segment here because we want to get your expertise on a number of different areas. Osama bin Laden has obviously not been found. The latest news this week in Washington is that U.S. officials are asking the family of Osama bin Laden for their DNA, to see if possibly victims in a previous attack in Afghanistan, one of whom, might have been Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. What do you make of that?

Mr. Pike: Frankly, I have to say I am a little puzzled that it is this late in the game before they are finally asking to get DNA samples. After all, the U.S. Government has been after him for years. Certainly they have had to confront the possibility that they would have to establish the identity of a corpse. Frankly, I would have thought that they would have had these DNA samples months ago, if not years ago. But hopefully now that they are going to get them, they're going to be able to do some forensic tests.

Mr. Borgida: They're moving forward on that front obviously. Let's talk about another front, as we bounce around a little bit today. The U.S. presence in Georgia. U.S. troops were in the Philippines. Now we're told that there will be some troops in Georgia. The Russians are already unhappy about this. Does this widen in an effective way the U.S. war against terrorism, or is this, do you think, going to be counterproductive?

Mr. Pike: Well, of course the Pentagon today was trying to downplay these reports. At the same time, I think it is very easy to understand why the United States wants to see a more effective counterterrorism operation in Georgia. There have been attacks on American officials, assassinated in Georgia. For a long time it has been apparent that you have terrorists operating there. And I think that the Russians are ambivalent about it. On the one hand, it looks like another former Soviet state falling into the American orbit. On the other hand, it looks like the United States is finally coming around to the Russian view, longstanding view, that al~Qaeda has been active in the Chechnyan operation. And so maybe the United States and Russia are going to be working a little more closely on that front.

Mr. Borgida: So, in your view, there is a clear need to have these troops there?

Mr. Pike: I think that most people would understand what the American presence is there. And I think that the Russian complaints about it are going to be small compared to the opportunity for the United States to cooperate with the Russians on rooting our terrorism there.

Mr. Borgida: Mr. Pike, let's talk a bit, too, about domestic terrorism here in the United States. There was a report this week that Federal law enforcement officials were focusing in on a suspect in connection with the anthrax cases in this country. That was quickly rejected. It is taking some time. This is quite a tough case, isn't it?

Mr. Pike: Well, it's an enormously tough case. I don't have any sense that the FBI is close to making an arrest in this case. We have seen an awful lot of press speculation about the possibility that they are looking at someone who has worked at a military biological research laboratory. Frankly, the fact that the FBI is currently concentrating on that theory of the case doesn't necessarily mean that that is going to lead to an arrest. We have seen a lot of these high-profile investigations over the last several years, where the initial theory of the case collapsed completely. So I don't think we can rule out anything at this point until they have actually got somebody in jail.

Mr. Borgida: The views of John Pike, military and defense expert here in Washington, Director of Thank you, Mr. Pike, for joining us. We appreciate it.