- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2002

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates An influential Arab television station said yesterday that it never aired an October interview with Osama bin Laden because the interview was conducted under duress and the questions were dictated to its correspondent.
The statement from Al Jazeera was the latest round in a rift between the satellite outfit and CNN over the bin Laden interview. Al Jazeera objected when CNN began airing the video Thursday, and a CNN official fired back, saying the cable network had done nothing illegal and Al Jazeera should explain why it hadn't made the tape public in the first place.
That explanation came yesterday in a statement faxed from the Qatar-based station to the Associated Press. CNN spokeswoman Megan Mahoney declined to comment on the Al Jazeera statement.
Last fall, members of bin Laden's al Qaeda group contacted CNN and Al Jazeera separately and suggested submitting a set of written questions to bin Laden, Al Jazeera's statement said. The stations coordinated among themselves, with CNN submitting six questions and Al Jazeera submitting 23, the statement said.
Ten days later, it said, Al Jazeera's correspondent then in Kabul, Tayseer Allouni, was told he must cover an important event. He was blindfolded and taken by armed men to interview bin Laden.
"The correspondent received a list of questions that were imposed on him, and only a few of them were the ones CNN and Al Jazeera submitted," the statement said. "The interview, in which Allouni was subjected to intense psychological pressure, made it difficult to accomplish it professionally."
The statement said Mr. Allouni was told to air the interview in full or he would be harassed.
Al Jazeera received the interview Oct. 21 via satellite in its offices in Kabul, the statement said. Station officials decided not to air it "since the circumstances under which it was conducted did not represent the minimum limit of objectivity and professionalism."
Al Jazeera's statement expressed "bewilderment" at CNN's position. It said CNN obtained the tape in an "unknown way and aired it without Al Jazeera's approval and without explaining the circumstances of the interview."
The Qatar-based station did not confirm CNN reports that it had severed a cooperation agreement between the two media outlets. However, it said further discussions with CNN were needed.
During the interview, bin Laden said the U.S. war on terrorism was leading the American people "into an unbearable hell and a choking life." He spoke without emotion as he told the interviewer that killing innocent civilians "is permissible in Islamic law."
On Friday, CNN said it received the 60-minute interview through unspecified unofficial channels. Chief News Executive Eason Jordan said that "once the tape came into our hands, it would have been journalistically irresponsible to ignore it."
Initially, Al Jazeera had denied that the interview existed. But last month, its editor in chief, Ibrahim Helal, said he had several videos of bin Laden, possibly including a taped interview, that were not broadcast because they were deemed not newsworthy or of poor technical quality.
U.S. government and intelligence officials apparently knew of the interview soon after it was completed. CNN said the U.S. government had a copy and British Prime Minister Tony Blair quoted the interview in a speech in November.


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