International terrorism expert speaks at Albert Lea High School

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 21, 2002

Peter Bergen, CNN’s terrorism analyst, and author of

&uot;Holy War Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden,&uot; spoke at the Albert Lea High School auditorium Saturday night.

Bergen’s father, D. Thomas Bergen, was raised in Albert Lea by the late Dr. and Mrs. Francis Bergen of Albert Lea.

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&uot;I am very proud to introduce my son in my own hometown,&uot; said D. Thomas, addressing the crowd before Peter began his speech. &uot;I’m the author of the author.&uot;

Peter Bergen was the first western journalist to have a television interview with Osama bin Laden, which he did in March of 1997.

Bergen told the story of his adventure in his talk as well as addressing the current threat of terrorism.

&uot;In 1996 the state department identified bin Laden as a financier of the 1993 World Trade Center bombings,&uot; he said. Bergen decided to pursue an interview with bin Laden feeling that bin Laden was a future threat to the U.S.

Over the next year Bergen made contacts with media representatives for bin Laden and had meetings with them to discuss a future interview with the al-Qaeda leader. The year long pursuit might

have seemed a bit lengthy to some, and Bergen admitted that had he been younger, he might not have been able to deal with it all. But with his experience he knew it was worth it. &uot;Patience is the best way to get people to cooperate with you,&uot; he said.

Finally in March he and a few media assistants traveled across the Pakistani border into the mountains of East Afghanistan. They were blindfolded, had to switch vehicles several times and were searched heavily for any electronic devices.

&uot;When we got there, the only thing we could have was our clothes,&uot; said Bergen. He explained that bin Laden’s men held their media equipment and that his group was only able to use bin Laden’s cameras for fear that tracking devices may be in the American equipment.

Bergen interviewed bin Laden on strictly political issues, bin Laden had made it clear no personal, financial or family matters would be discussed.

Bergen said bin Laden explained his views on the West, more specifically the United States as well as his plans to make attacks on them.

The insight that Bergen gained from the interview as well as his extensive research on terrorism issues has made him a leading expert on terrorism and the terrorism analyst for CNN.

In his speech on Saturday night Bergen talked about the September 11 attacks, the possibilities for future attacks and the Middle East policies of the United States.

Bergen said he is concerned about the possibility of war with Iraq because he doesn’t feel Saddam Hussein is as dangerous currently as he is being portrayed. Bergen fears that attacking Iraq may make Hussein use his weapons.

Bergen said he is much more concerned with the possibilities of future terrorist attacks on the United States as well as the West.

He said that he believes al-Qaeda is a very dangerous enemy and is different than other terrorist groups from around the world.

&uot;al-Qaeda wants to kill as many people as possible, especially Americans. In the past, terrorists didn’t want to kill that many, because they lost their support,&uot; said Bergen. &uot;This group is also very patient and can wait a long time planning attacks … and they know god is on their side, which I think is the most dangerous aspect of their group.&uot;

&uot;They are a very formidable enemy,&uot; he said.

Bergen also warned that they know our weakness is in our economic infrastructure rather than through flat out attacks.

Bergen said he thinks that the war on terrorism won’t be over suddenly, but rather, a potential sign of it’s end may be when people are no longer concerned about it , but said he wasn’t quite sure that would be any time soon.