Video: The new bin Laden?
updated 11/14/2005 11:46:32 AM ET 2005-11-14T16:46:32

The recent al-Qaida inspired hotel suicide bombings in Jordan have caused some to claim that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may have now Osama bin Laden as the prime target in the war on terror. 

Al- Zarqawi serves as the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq and was actually born in Jordan.

Furious protests against the terrorist group were held in Amman yesterday.  Demonstrators chanted, “Burn in hell, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.”

Jim Walsh, an expert in international terrorism and security at Harvard joined MSNBC's Tucker Carlson on Thursday's ‘Situation’ to examine the potential threat Al-Zarqawi may have on the world. 

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, ‘SITUATION’:  I’m just struck by Zarqawi’s targets.  The A.P. said al-Qaida in Iraq did this because Jordan has become a haven for Christians and Jews, and they want that to stop. 

But here the guy goes and bombs a Muslim wedding, kills all these Muslims in Iraq.  Doesn’t he risk a popular backlash doing stuff like that?

JIM WALSH, INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM EXPERT:  I do think he risks a popular backlash.  And you’ll remember earlier this month, there was allegedly -- we don’t know if it’s authentic or not -- a letter from the No. 2 person in al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri, saying, “Hey, stop the beheadings, and please don’t go after Muslims so much because you’re hurting our P.R. situation here.” 

I think there is a risk that they will alienate people.  But keep in mind, this is not new for Zarqawi.  After all, he’s a Sunni Muslim, and in Iraq, he has attacked Shiite Muslims, Shiite mosques.  And this has actually been sort of a difference of opinion between bin Laden and Zarqawi.  They have in the past been rivals, or at least rather distant.  Now they are pledged to one another, but they still differ in their tactics. 

CARLSON:  So that’s the version, al-Qaida's version of moderation: hey, slow down the beheadings?

WALSH:  Yes. 

CARLSON:  Now, the other weird thing, it seems to me, about the bombings yesterday in Amman, is that Amman is certainly gathering place for people sympathetic to the former Saddam regime, hard-liners from Iraq, who you’d think would be natural allies of Zarqawi.  Why would he hit Jordan?

WALSH:  Well, I think a couple of reasons.  First of all, King Abdullah II has been a long-time ally of the United States.  Jordan was helpful to the U.S. during the Iraq invasion.

And also, there are, I think, are reasons of convenience.  You know, simply look at a map.  What country borders Jordan? Well, it’s Iraq, and of course, Zarqawi is in Iraq, easier for him to mount an operation.

And third and finally, remember, Zarqawi himself is a Jordanian, who has been tried in absentia, convicted of plotting attacks against Jordan in the past.  So he has an ax to grind in Jordan anyway, even if it wasn’t more convenient for him to attack there, and all the other reasons listed. 

CARLSON:  Well, he has also, according to Jordanian intelligence, jailed for sexual assault in Jordan.  So tell me, just bottom line, of course, what does he want, exactly?  Does he have an agenda we can understand?

WALSH:  It’s a good question.  This is one of the most shadowed figures in terrorism.  We know more about bin Laden than we do Zarqawi.  There are even a view out there that he’s dead and isn’t actually alive. 

It’s hard to know what his motivations are.  It’s clear what his tactics are.  I think as it relates to Iraq, it’s to spread dissension, to cause a civil war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, to topple the secular regimes, monarchies, and have them replaced with religious extremists. 

CARLSON:  Is he allied, and to what degree, allied with bin Laden, Zarqawi?

WALSH:  Well, you know, he has publicly allied himself.  That is to say, he has a statement, which he says, you know, bin Laden is the prince, and I am your subject.  But the actual nature of that relationship is rather strained, or has been strained in the past. 

They were both in Afghanistan during the Afghan-Soviet war.  They took different paths.  They were somewhat rivals.  There was continued tension even into the 1990’s.  This allegiance with bin Laden is rather late.

And even now, as I said, there are differences in terms of tactics.  And I know it sounds ironic, you know, bin Laden kills 3,000 innocent people, including Muslims, in the 9/11 attack.  But nevertheless, I think al-Zawahiri and bin Laden feel uncomfortable with Zarqawi going and attacking, in a very public and direct, deliberate way, Shiite Muslims, which causes them all sorts of P.R. problems. 

CARLSON:  Yes, it certainly does.  And finally, what do you know about bin Laden’s condition or location now?  Do you think he is still alive?

WALSH:  I am going to give the same answer I’ve given for four years now, he’s in Pakistan; he’s in a frontier region.  The bottom line is we really don’t know.  That’s everyone’s best guess.  Some folks are saying, “Hey, we haven’t heard from him.  Maybe he’s dead.” 

But other people, particularly people in the community, are reluctant to go down that path, because after 9/11, there were a lot of messages.  Then he went radio silent.  Lots of people speculated that he was dead, and then it turned out that he wasn’t.

I think all of us are waiting for direct evidence of his death, you know.  Maybe he was killed in that earthquake in Pakistan.  It’s hard to say.

But the other thing, Tucker, to keep in mind is, whether he’s dead or alive, as all our intelligence agencies have indicated, this has morphed.  It’s no longer about al-Qaida the organization.  It’s a movement, and it’s a broader, deeper thing that we’re dealing with. 

Watch 'The Situation with Tucker Carlson' each weeknight at 11 p.m. ET

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