Interviewing Al Qaeda

Nov 4, 2015

There are interviews you spend hours sweating over, and then there are situations like the one faced by award-winning foreign correspondent Reese Erlich on a recent trip to Jordan. That's where he interviewed Abu Qatada, once described as Osama Bin Laden's right-hand-man in Europe before he was deported from the UK to Jordan in 2013.

Erlich says he had 20 minutes to prepare. The interview was hastily arranged by another of Al Qaeda's top leaders. Erlich says Qatada wanted to talk about human rights violations by the Assad regime in Syria, and by the U.S.

In an interview with Ben Kieffer, Erlich describes Qatada as an older man, quite studious and quite dangerous. Qatada is now a top advisor to Al Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front and heavily involved in the Syrian civil war. He predicts that Syria will become permanently fragmented, with various rebel groups controlling parts of the nation.

Qatada claims the U.S. has been too weak in Syria and should've provided rebels with stinger missiles and established a no-fly zone.

"When you think about it, he knows that the arms sent to so-called, pro-U.S. moderate rebels would've ended up in Al Qaeda's hands anyway," says Erlich. "So, he wanted more of them and more sophisticated ones so that he could take them over and ultimately conquer in Syria." Erlich says the moderate rebels the U.S. has trained have gone into Syria and gotten captured by al-Nusra Front.

Erlich is most recently the author of Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect. He is speaking at The Salisbury House in Des Moines on November 5th as part of their History Series. Erlich's full story about Qatada's predictions for Syria will appear on the site Vice News.