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Afghanistan: CNN Finds Huge Cache Of Purported Al-Qaeda Training Tapes

U.S.-based Cable News Network (CNN) has begun broadcasting footage this week from a cache of videos that it says were made by the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization. The videos, obtained in Afghanistan about two weeks ago, purport to show Al-Qaeda's training techniques, including testing poisonous gas on dogs and making explosives like TNT. They also show leader Osama bin Laden posing with journalists and with lesser figures within Al-Qaeda. RFE/RL talked to a terror analyst who has seen the footage. He says he believes the videos are authentic and show a group that is better organized than previously believed.

Prague, 19 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- CNN has begun broadcasting what it says are training and other videos made by the Al-Qaeda terror organization.

The videos, obtained by CNN's Kabul correspondent Nic Robertson at an unknown location in Afghanistan, purport to show techniques used by Al-Qaeda to train recruits in using weapons and making bombs and poisonous gas. CNN said the tapes -- around 250 in all -- came from a long-term source, but the network did not say what the source is. Robertson reportedly first saw the tapes about two weeks ago.

Robertson, speaking today on CNN, said he doesn't know if the tapes belonged personally to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. But he says he believes the videos were an important part of Al-Qaeda's library and used to record the group's work.

Robertson: "Although we cannot know with 100 percent certainty that this material came from Osama bin Laden's video library, the extent of the collection and its nature -- that some items appear of high importance to the Al-Qaeda leader -- present a compelling case. It represents a chilling reminder of the preparation and commitment of Al-Qaeda and its leader."

CNN began broadcasting the first scenes yesterday (18 August) and intends to broadcast much of the rest of the footage this week.

People who have seen the tapes in their entirety say almost all of the videos appear to have been made before the 11 September terror attacks on the U.S. and document about a decade of the group's existence.

Magnus Ranstorp of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at Britain's St. Andrews University saw all of the tapes in a private screening last week. He says he believes they are authentic and provide a number of new insights into Al-Qaeda. He says the organization may be better organized than previously believed: "The tapes in their totality, in combination with their [Al-Qaeda's] written manuals, show a frightening capability."

Ranstorp says the tapes show it's clear that Al-Qaeda is serious about using chemical agents as weapons. Some of the most disturbing scenes from the videos show poison gas experiments involving dogs. The tapes show images of dogs vomiting, moaning, and eventually dying after being exposed to poison gas: "This is the first visual confirmation that they are trying to go beyond just thinking about [chemical weapons] and they are experimenting in very rudimentary ways to see the effects of nerve gas."

It's not clear how much value the videotapes will have for U.S. and other intelligence services studying Al-Qaeda's operations. CNN has reportedly turned over some of the tapes to senior officials at the U.S. State Department and Pentagon, and plans to hand over more tapes later. A spokesman for U.S. President George W. Bush's administration, Scott Stanzel, declined to comment on the tapes last night.

Ranstorp says the tapes will be useful to intelligence agencies in trying to identify and locate Al-Qaeda members. "There are faces there of lesser -- but still significant -- members in the background. I think that they will be analyzed and dissected in the sense of trying to find out who these people are and where they are."

He says the tapes even show that there are women within the leadership ranks, which he says is new.

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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.