Terror Collapse?

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This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," May 26, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN KASICH, GUEST HOST: In the "personal story" segment tonight, terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search) is said to be behind a continued insurgency in Iraq, but now the Pentagon is trying to confirm reports that the jihadist is seriously wounded.

If it's true, that one of Zarqawi's deputies has taken over for him, how's this going to affect the situation inside Iraq?

Joining us now from Washington, Steve Emerson, a terror analyst with the Investigative Project, the author of the book "American Jihad."

All right, Steve Emerson, is he seriously wounded?

STEVE EMERSON, TERRORISM ANALYST: You know, John, we don't really know for sure. No external evidence has been collected or retrieved by the U.S. government.

However, based on logic and intuitive analysis by senior officials, I think the prevailing or at least growing conclusion is that he must have been wounded severely, because it would not have been in the interest of his supporters to put out the word that he was wounded. The probability is that he was wounded. And they are buying time to treat him in Iraq and trying to put out the word, by the way, that he is outside of Iraq to basically force the U.S. to spend resources elsewhere.

KASICH: Steve, it would make no sense for the insurgents themselves to be running this on their Web sites, would it?

EMERSON: No, it wouldn't make any sense. I mean, if anything, if he was wounded, and we're looking at their rational self-interest, the most they would do is not put out any word.

But to put out the word that he was wounded doesn't make any sense. They've never done that before. Al Qaeda (search) has never historically put out the word that anybody's been wounded, except in fact if they have been killed. And it has been the case over the last few years, after U.S. strikes.

So there's no self-interest here. I must add, John, something somewhat amusing only that — insofar as when you look at the denials and the affirmations and the right hand, left hand, who does it remind you of? The U.S. government? No. It's the fact that Zarqawi's network is now really in flux right now. And there really is an opportunity, I think, to put a death strike into the heart of the insurgency.

KASICH: Well, here's the thing, Steve. When people say why do you do a story? What about Zarqawi? He's the guy who's heading the group that's killing our people, bottom line.

Now if we kill him, take him out, he doesn't recover, does it disrupt the organization? You know, we took Saddam (search) down. They said maybe that'll work. We had other killings of people. Now we're talking about Zarqawi. If he goes, what do we see?

EMERSON: Well again, it's hard to predict. My feeling is that because he's such an on-the-ground commander, and because he's so control- oriented, that this could have a major, major effect in disrupting the insurgencies' coordinations and their operations.

I think that Zarqawi was really the glue that held the organization together. It was Zarqawi, Zarqawi, Zarqawi. Not like Bin Laden (search), who had a whole chain of command that he could rely on. Here, there's really no one to replace him.

In fact, there's been a whole series of denials today about who in fact is going to take his place. Denying, in fact, that one person would take his place, affirming that he would, and then denying that he would. So there's really now a major fight for ascension.

I think this could have a major disruptive effect on their ability to launch attacks with such pinpoint precision as they've done in the past.

KASICH: Steve, you know, $25 million bounty on his head. He jumped out of a pickup truck, reported here just, you know, a couple weeks ago and escaped. How does a guy get away in the country the size of Iraq with a $25 million bounty on his head? What does that say about that network of the enemy over there?

EMERSON: Well, unfortunately, John, it says almost the same thing that we've seen in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is to say, that hundreds of millions of dollars in collective rewards for Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri and others have not produced anything in terms of people coming forth and saying, I want to give up this person in exchange for money.

There is a deeply entrenched network, John. And it comes from Syria. It comes from Saudi Arabia. There are some people transiting through Jordan. The Syrians, in particular, have a lot of blood on their hands.

And the fact remains, that Zarqawi, I think, however, has been the glue keeping all of these nationalities together, because we know that — at least in reference to the Bin Laden organization, the Uzbekis has been fighting with the Pakistanis, who have been fighting with some of the Chechens.

Here, Zarqawi's really been able to keep the lid on that. And I think if he goes, and if he's gone, and I think increasingly evidence is probably...

KASICH: All right.

EMERSON: ...going to show that there's a real situation for the future for them.

KASICH: Steve, how do we destroy the insurgency, cripple the insurgency? Obviously, the answer, you'd say, that this guy being gone might do it. But how do we drive it? Even if he comes back, how do we eliminate that insurgency and let these Iraqis get on top of the situation?

EMERSON: In the same way that if you want to eliminate Palestinian terrorism, you take away their toys, their weapons. We've got to basically take away their weapons. Really go hand — you know, city to city, village to village, house to house, remove the weapons and also stop, plug up those borders coming in from Syria, where there is so many hundreds of fighters and insurgents coming in via Syria — from Syria as well as Saudi Arabia.

KASICH: You know, we've got to go, Steve. The one thing I do know is they say there's unlimited money in Syria. It has got to be shut off or we've got to tell Assad, you know, frankly, his days will be numbered in a number of ways.

Mr. Emerson, thanks for being with us.

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