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Profile: Jihad Ballout
Jihad Ballout was a participant or observer in the following events:
An al-Qaeda representative offers to arrange a television interview of Osama bin Laden. There are two versions of how this offer is made. According to CNN, an al-Qaeda contact of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, with which it has a footage-sharing agreement, invites CNN and Al Jazeera to submit questions to bin Laden. CNN, worried about accusations of improper conduct, contacts the other major US television news stations and tells them it will share any footage that emerges. It also says it will only air the interview as long as it is newsworthy and not “propaganda.” CNN then draws up six questions about al-Qaeda’s role in 9/11 and the recent anthrax attacks in the US. It gives the questions to Al Jazeera, which adds another 25 and sends them to its Kabul bureau, which, in turn, passes them on to its al-Qaeda contact. The ethics of this are hotly debated in the US media, with Fox News publicly refusing to participate. Nevertheless, an Al Jazeera manager will later say: “I assure you they [Fox] contacted me to send more questions of their own. I got calls and emails from them.” Fox will later admit to the contacts, but say it would only have agreed to take part in the event of a regular interview. However, Al Jazeera media relations manager Jihad Ballout will contradict CNN’s account of the offer, saying the two organizations are approached independently, and al-Qaeda eventually chooses Al Jazeera. [Miles, 2005, pp. 175-176, 179-180] The interview will take place on October 20 (see October 20, 2001).
Osama bin Laden admits “inciting” the 9/11 attacks in a controversial interview by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV station. The interview is conducted by Tayseer Allouni, Al Jazeera’s Kabul correspondent. Allouni had discussed a possible interview of bin Laden with al-Qaeda about a week previously (see Mid-October 2001), but nothing further had been said and Allouni assumed the interview would not be conducted.
Taken Blindfolded to Bin Laden - However, he is contacted by al-Qaeda representatives, who tell him they will take him to a story. He is blindfolded and driven around in circles outside Kabul for some time, until the car stops, the blindfold is taken off, and he finds himself in an unknown place, face-to-face with bin Laden. The al-Qaeda leader is wearing camouflage fatigues and has a sub-machine gun close by; there are other armed men present. Allouni is told he cannot use his own questions, but will ask a set of questions prepared by al-Qaeda.
Bin Laden 'Ambiguously' Discusses Responsibility for 9/11 - The interview lasts for over an hour and covers several topics. On the key question of responsibility for 9/11, author Hugh Miles will point out that bin Laden speaks “ambiguously, seeming first to deny, then confirm, his involvement in the attacks.” When asked about US allegations of his responsibility, bin Laden answers: “America has made many accusations against us and many other Muslims around the world. Its charge that we are carrying out acts of terrorism is unwarranted.” However, a few seconds later he adds, “If inciting people to do that is terrorism, and if killing those who kill our sons is terrorism, then let history be witness that we were terrorists.” He then says: “We kill the kings of the infidels, kings of the crusaders, and civilian infidels in exchange for those of our children they kill. This is permissible in Islamic law and logically.” Allouni interrupts him and asks, “They kill our innocents, so we kill their innocents?” The reply is, “So we kill their innocents.” Bin Laden also gives a vague non-answer to a question about his responsibility for the recent anthrax attacks in the US: “These diseases are a punishment from God and a response to oppressed mothers’ prayers in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, and everywhere.”
Interview Not Broadcast - Al Jazeera decides not to broadcast the interview. Its media relations manager, Jihad Ballout, will later say the decision is taken because the questions Allouni was forced to ask came from bin Laden, and because “bin Laden was using Al Jazeera to give out a very edited and sanitized statement to his people. It was a message, a pure message.” Neither does Al Jazeera inform CNN of the interview. However, western intelligence services will obtain it (see Before November 11, 2001) and it will eventually be broadcast on CNN in early 2002 (see January 31, 2002). [CNN, 2/5/2002; Miles, 2005, pp. 177-179, 182]
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