CNN man's mission to secure Al-Qaida tapes

Videotapes revealed al-Qaida chemical tests

A cache of videotapes that includes footage of poison gas experiments was recovered through a "reliable non Al-Qaida contact" by CNN journalist Nic Robertson.

The senior international correspondent, who has reported events in Afghanistan since the Taliban took power in 1996, selected the tapes from around 250 he was allowed to view.

CNN, which is using the footage in a series of films this week, has admitted that it paid "in the low five figures" for the tapes. The news network insisted that the money did not go to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organisation.

Robertson, who had to drive half a day from Kabul to view the tapes, said: "I cannot really give details of the methods or sources we used."

He said he trusted the person who told him about the tapes but was concerned about security: "We’d all seen what had happened to Daniel Pearl and that was going to be a big worry for us."

Robertson drove through the night to get back to Kabul after choosing the tapes he wanted.

"We just put them in a big bag and headed out of town," he said.

The tape library gives insight into Al-Qaida training camps, its terror tactics and capabilities. A guide to manufacturing TNT is included, while another tape shows Osama bin Laden’s first press conference in 1998. Also seen is the Al-Qaida leader and his security men firing shots into the air when they announced their jihad against the West.

The first film, which was broadcast on Monday, showed three dogs dying in poisonous gas experiments. CNN says this footage adds weight to claims that Al-Qaida had been developing chemical weapons.

Robertson, who was the only western journalist in Taliban-held Afghanistan when the terrorist planes struck in the US, said: "The significance of these tapes just can’t be underestimated. What we see are weapons of mass destruction being tested by Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaida organisation.

"It’s hard to describe how you feel when you come across something like this because you know how important it is," Robertson added. "You know that as a journalist you need to inform the world about what you’ve discovered. After seeing one demonstration tape I knew immediately that I had to follow up before any other networks could get to that material. But, at a personal level, I was shocked at what I was seeing. It’s shocking, it’s scary and it’s very frightening to know that they have this intent."

By Julie Tomlin

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