2003 News Story

CNN American Morning interview with SAIO Director Nail Al-Jubeir

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Now with Americans again on a heightened state of alert, authorities in Saudi Arabia are also showing signs of increased vigilance with the arrest this past week of three suspected al Qaeda operatives in an alleged 9/11-style hijacking plot in that country. The Saudi embassy spokesman, Nail Al-Jubeir, is live with us back here on AMERICAN MORNING down in Washington.

Thanks for coming back and speaking with us.


HEMMER: It is said by leading Saudi authorities this was your own 9/11. Why at this point has it been categorized that way?

AL-JUBEIR: It was a major jolt for us. It sort of crystallized to those who were standing on the sidelines that terrorism is there, that we have to deal with it, and there was no excuse. There are some people just who in the past were using whatever reason to sort of distance themselves from the actions of the 15 in New York and Washington, no longer can do that.

HEMMER: So, the arrests yesterday of the three in Jeddah, what is their link then to al Qaeda?

AL-JUBEIR: We're still looking into that. They were interrogated.

And I'd like to make a correction here. Reports that they were planning to fly planes into Saudi landmarks have been dismissed by the ministry of interior. We're still looking for what their link...

HEMMER: So, you're no longer going with that report that was broken here on CNN 24 hours ago?

AL-JUBEIR: No, I believe the minister of interior dismissed that report. But they were involved. We were looking at them, and we have to see in terms of what their link is to the Riyadh bombing, as well as the Casablanca bombing.

HEMMER: Let me stop you there.


HEMMER: What made you change that assessment?

AL-JUBEIR: The original statement that came out before indicated with unnamed sources -- I think the minister of interior himself, who is in charge of homeland security in Saudi Arabia, made that statement I believe last night that they had no indication that they were planning on hijacking some planes.

HEMMER: Well, here is the rub that I think people in this country see. They see a double-speak essentially, the Saudi Arabian government saying one thing to their own people, then a different message to the people here in the U.S. and parts of the world. Why is that? Why has that been that way in the past?

AL-JUBEIR: Absolutely not. The statement that was made by the minister of interior on -- that statement was read on Saudi TV saying that there was no indication that they were planning on flying the planes into landmarks in Saudi Arabia.

Now, this is still at the early stage of the investigation. Whether they were planning on doing that or not, the fact is these people were suspects and possibly linked to some other types of terrorist activities. They don't need to fly planes into buildings to be terrorists. But we are vigilant in terms of keeping track of some of these groups.

HEMMER: All right, let's move on then...


HEMMER: ... and go back to the message of yesterday, that tape that was played on Al-Jazeera. Do you believe this was the No. 2 man behind Osama bin Laden yesterday and his voice on that tape?

AL-JUBEIR: I really don't know Zawahiri's voice. I'm not qualified to put my opinion on that. But whether it is him or not is really irrelevant. We in the Middle East have been hearing his rantings for years. The Egyptians have been listening to it for almost 20 years. For us, it's just nothing new. The only thing we have to do is make sure that they don't carry out whatever plans that they're doing.

HEMMER: Yes, and that is the key. And if you say it's irrelevant, how can it be irrelevant when he is calling publicly again for more attacks against people in your country?

AL-JUBEIR: Oh, he's been doing that for years. So for us, whether he releases a tape or not, it's not going to change our opinion to be on a high state of alert. I believe it's more from a psychological effect on people than anything else, because we know what they want. We know what they're doing. For us, basically, it indicates an act of desperation. I do not believe his acts, that people will hear their voices and act on it. You know, let's see what will happen.

What is interesting, I think, in the whole voice is the fact that he brought in Norway, which is the first time that they were mentioned. And that's something to look into, whether they know something or just they misspoke on that tape.

HEMMER: I want to get to a final point while I've got you here. George Tenet, the CIA director, has been in Saudi Arabia looking into the recent bombing in Riyadh of 10 days ago. Has there been, can you say right now, better cooperation to allow the CIA, to allow the FBI agents on the scene there in Riyadh to go ahead and question suspects wanted for this crime that took American lives?

AL-JUBEIR: There is -- the cooperation is at the highest level. It hasn't been better. We've learned from past mistakes, and it can only get better. I'm not going to get into details in terms of whether they can question them directly or not. I think there is a mechanism that has been worked out between our intelligence and your intelligence, as well as the law enforcement agencies on this issue. But I can assure you that this level of cooperation is the best it has ever been, not only with the FBI, but also with Scotland Yard.

HEMMER: Nail Al-Jubeir, live in D.C., Saudi Embassy spokesman. Thanks for coming back. We'll speak again, all right?

AL-JUBEIR: Thank you for having me.

HEMMER: All right.