Could Bin Laden be Hiding in Yemen?

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, November 18, 2002. Click here to order the entire transcript of the show.

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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST:  A lot of people thought he was dead.  They thought wrong.  It's official.  Usama bin Laden is alive, and he's still a threat.  Now where is he?  The smart money is on the small Middle Eastern Republic of Yemen.

Joining us from Boston is Charles Dunbar, who served as U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 1988 to 1991.

Welcome, Ambassador.

CHARLES DUNBAR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO YEMEN:  How do you do?  It's a pleasure to be with you.

VAN SUSTEREN:  It's a pleasure to have you.

Ambassador, is Yemen a place that Usama bin Laden would consider safe to hide out, and, if so, why?

DUNBAR:  I would say that he would take it as a place to hide out that would be relatively safe.  There's a lot of the country that isn't entirely under the government's control, and, clearly, there's a lot of support for al Qaeda there.  The second largest number of people to have fought in the war in Afghanistan among Arab countries came from Yemen, and I think that there is -- there are places he can go.

It is a smaller place than Pakistan.  It's certainly smaller than Afghanistan in terms of the area that he could hide in, and I would not -- I'm not yet prepared to be with the smart money that that is exactly where he is.

VAN SUSTEREN:  In the event, sir, that he were in Yemen, the South of Yemen is where his family is from.  Is that right?

DUNBAR:  That's correct, yes, from Hadhramaut Province.

VAN SUSTEREN:  And so where would -- would that be the most hospitable mace for him, do you think, or is there an area in Yemen that perhaps the -- that would be a friendlier, so to speak, area for him to give him protection?

DUNBAR:  I might be wrong on this, but my sense is that the area of the two provinces, Ma'rib and Jawf, which are now kind in the center of the country -- Yemen is confusing because it used to be North and South Yemen, although the southern part was really to -- mostly to the east.  So Hadhramaut is out to the east along the Gulf of Aden.

My sense is that he would be in a better position and have more support in the areas of traditional dissidents, Modab and Jawf, in what was formerly North Yemen.  Ma'rib is the place where there was the Predator attack on November 3.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Now is that more of a tribal area?  I mean, is -- I don't know if I'm using the right terminology, but you have the government of Yemen, but then you have some areas in which there's a huge tribal influence.  Is that right?

DUNBAR:  Yes, that's correct.  The history of Yemen, since it became a modern state in 1962, has been a gradual assertion of the government's control over those tribal areas, and Ma'rib and Jawf are the two that are still the most dissident.

That's not the say the government isn't present, but there are areas where the government has kind of an uneasy relationship with the tribal people.  This, of course, is complicated a lot in recent years by the establishment of al Qaeda there.  It is clear that there are large elements of it present, in my opinion.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Can you that say that's an anti-American -- that there's anti-American sentiment there?  Would that be an unfair characterization of that area?

DUNBAR:  I would think it would be too simple.  There would be anti-American sentiment there, as there is in other parts of Yemen, and, of course, in the places where the madrasses were established and were financed, certainly, by the Saudi -- by Saudi money and also by, more recently, I'm sure by al Qaeda money, they are turning out the young men who wish us ill at the present time and formerly were the people who went to fight in Afghanistan.

But, in that complicated area, there are tribal leaders, for example, who are very much with us and with the government.  And, of course, the Yemen government is basically trying to cooperate with us on this.  They recognize that B-52 contrails over their country is something they don't want to have, and they are, therefore, doing the best that they can within the limits of their politics, I think, to support us and to see if they -- if we can make some serious inroads together on al Qaeda's operation there.

VAN SUSTEREN:  All right, Ambassador. I announced that you were an ambassador of Yemen, but you have a rich history in foreign service, including serving in Afghanistan and many countries in that area.  What's your thought on -- how do you get from Tora Bora, Afghanistan, area to Yemen, if, indeed, that's where he's hiding out?  I mean, how does Usama bin Laden manage to get that distance?

DUNBAR:  Well, you get -- I mean, what -- it was reported in the British press yesterday -- and this is as good a guess as any -- go down through the tribal areas and then out into eastern -- into Eastern Iran, down to the coast of Pakistan, and then take a boat around to the Yemeni coast.

Once you get to the Yemeni coast, and, indeed, once you get to the Pakistani coast, there's a lot of coastline there, and I think it is quite conceivable that he could do that, and I believe that's the way he would be likely to go.

The other way is to go over land through Saudi Arabia, and that would be a much more perilous journey, in my opinion, or to go through Amman, also not easy to do.

VAN SUSTEREN:  All right, Ambassador.  Thank you very much for joining us.  I hope you'll come back.

DUNBAR:  I'd be pleased, too.  Thank you for having me.

Click here to order the entire transcript of the November 18 edition of On the Record.

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