CNN Plans To Ask Bin Laden 6 Questions

By Ellen Nakashima

CNN announced yesterday that it will submit six questions to Osama bin Laden through al-Jazeera, a Qatar-based independent satellite television network that has aired three video statements from bin Laden and one of his lieutenants.

A person claiming to represent bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network approached al-Jazeera with a proposal that al-Jazeera and CNN submit questions for bin Laden. Bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the attacks on New York and Washington, would reply on videotape, anchor Wolf Blitzer said yesterday on CNN.

"By submitting our questions, we are making no commitment to air bin Laden's response," Blitzer said. "We will look at the tape, if there is a tape, and decide how much or how little to run. If we believe his comments are not newsworthy, we will not run any of them."

CNN last week aired in its entirety a videotape of bin Laden speaking that had been provided to al-Jazeera. Other networks also ran excerpts. CNN also aired brief excerpts of two more tapes in which an al Qaeda spokesman warned of more terror attacks.

White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice subsequently urged the major networks to show restraint in airing the tapes. She called them propaganda and said bin Laden might be using them to send coded messages to terror cells.

All the networks, including CNN, agreed not to air statements from al Qaeda live or to run clips without screening or editing them.

Al-Jazeera approached CNN late last week, CNN spokesman Matthew Furman said. Someone in Afghanistan who claimed to represent al Qaeda contacted al-Jazeera, which has been reporting live from inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, he said..

Blitzer stressed that CNN does not know where bin Laden is, whether he is alive, how al Qaeda communicates with al-Jazeera or how al-Jazeera plans to get the questions to bin Laden.

CNN submitted six questions, asking bin Laden to outline his and al Qaeda's role in the Sept. 11 hijackings and subsequent anthrax attacks. The network asked whether the hijackers received financial support from al Qaeda or training at its camps. The network also wants to know if bin Laden and his followers have chemical, nuclear or biological weapons and whether they plan to use them.

CNN wants to ask bin Laden for a response to criticism from Muslim and Arab leaders that there is "no justification in Islam" for the attacks. Its final question is: "How can you and your followers advocate the killing of innocent people?"

White House deputy press secretary Claire Buchan last night said, "We have confidence that the networks will handle this responsibly."