Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A phantom enemy, again

from Lehrer's newshour talking about 'zarqawi's replacement'

(Lawrence Wright is a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine. He's written extensively on al-Qaida and is author of the forthcoming book, "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.")
A phantom enemy


Lawrence Wright, what else do you think we should know about -- what do we know and what do we that is important that we should know about him, that we need to know about him now, tonight, as a result of these two killings?

LAWRENCE WRIGHT: Well, first of all, you know, he may not even exist. You know, he may be an artifact of some kind of intelligence agency. The Egyptians, who were close to Zawahiri, say they've never heard of him. He had very few footsteps up until he arrived in Iraq, so he's a very shadowy figure, at the least.

JIM LEHRER: Wait a minute. Are you saying it's -- excuse me. The U.S. government said last week this guy did exist. They even showed pictures of him. But you're saying that could be -- that may not be the case?

LAWRENCE WRIGHT: Well, they showed pictures of a young man. They say that he joined Egyptian Islamic Jihad in 1982 at a time when almost that entire movement was in Nasser's prisons after the Sadat assassination. And so it would have been hard, and he would have been 14 years old, but it's conceivable.

But Zawahiri's associates say they have never heard of him. And then none of the major witnesses in the trials in America for the embassy bombings or the 1993 World Trade Center bombing mention him, so it's certainly conceivable that he was a low-level member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad who did travel to Afghanistan and there met Zarqawi, as the military has portrayed it, but it's also possible that this is someone who has been put forward with a false identity. There's a lot of things that we don't really know about him.

JIM LEHRER: So it is a dark and obscure world, as John Burns told us?


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