BRIT HUME: Almost the first reaction to the deadly bomb attacks in Saudi Arabia was that it looked like the work of al Qaeda. If it is, what does that say about the condition of that terrorist network, and what we may expect from it next?
For answers, we turn to Jonathan Schanzer, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies.
Jonathan, welcome. Nice to see you.
JONATHAN SCHANZER, FELLOW, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST STUDIES: Thank you.
HUME: Why everyone immediately -- I mean -- an instant reaction was al Qaeda. Why do people say that?
SCHANZER: Well, a couple things. No. 1, this was a synthesized attack. There were four bombs that went off. This is reminiscent of the 1998 twin bombings against the embassies, also, of course, 9-11. So, this is something al Qaeda likes to do.
SCHANZER: Yes. Synchronized attacks. There were four of them. And this is -- this is a hallmark of al Qaeda. We haven't seen this with other -- with other groups. That's No. 1.
No. 2 is highly symbolic. This is right ahead of Powell's visit to the region. This was sort of a message, if you will, to the United States saying hey, we're still here and we can still get you.
The attacks -- the compound that they attacked was a little slice of America inside Saudi Arabia. If you read about it, there were barbecues and Christmas decorations and the kinds of things you're not allowed to do throughout the rest of Saudi Arabia. So it was -- it was very much an attack against the United States, which is obviously also al Qaeda's hallmark.
The other thing that people haven't been talking about, which I think is very interesting is you have troops, 5,000 troops right now in Saudi Arabia. They're going to leave. You know -- we've announced they are going to leave. I think that al Qaeda may try to convert this into some sort of a victory. In other words, to show that world, hey, we pushed the United States out of Saudi Arabia.
HUME: You mean even though the announcement was made before this attack, they'll -- they'll suggest that it was cause and effect?
SCHANZER: Sure. That we pushed the Americans out, they couldn't handle it. And this is the sort of thing that Usama bin Laden has said over and over again; that the United States isn't willing to take, you know, take a direct hit, this kind of thing. So, it's possible that he could try to convert this into a victory.
HUME: Now, I noticed that as of so far, and of course, I know there were a lot of people injured and the death count may climb, but as of this hour, as far as we know, there are more suicide attackers dead than there are Americans. Nine compared to eight.
SCHANZER: It's about even, actually. I heard it was up to 10 Americans at this point, although the numbers are very sketchy.
HUME: The question that raises for me is that's a -- that ratio suggests that al Qaeda might -- what does that tell us about al Qaeda's success and that --and that they had to resort to this?
SCHANZER: Well, I mean, it was still a successful attack. From one of the accounts that I read in the -- in the Arabic papers, there was maybe about 90 people killed in the attacks. So, there were still foreigners, and it was still, I mean it was against American interests, and I think that that's what -- that's what they were going after.
HUME: Yes, the Saudis, I think, came down to 29 on that. And then the U.S. -- and I suspect when all is said and done, It will be a larger number than 29. But -- but...
SCHANZER: It will be quite high.
HUME: So, does this suggest, as Senator Graham said today, that we have lost our focus on al Qaeda over the past year, by going off after Saddam Hussein. And allowed al Qaeda to regenerate in ways that is otherwise would not have been possible?
SCHANZER: I think the senator is being a little rough on the president. I think we've done a very good job after going after the core lieutenants of al Qaeda. The bust, like Khalid Sheik Mohammad and others have really boosted our efforts in taking -- tackling al Qaeda.
There are some things we haven't done yet that I think we could probably start looking at right now. One is that there are affiliates. There are dozens of them right now that the president listed them on his September 23 executive order.
There are a number of groups out there that he said, OK, these also threaten U.S. interests; they're affiliated with al Qaeda. There are al Qaeda cadres inside these groups. They're in the Philippines. They're in Yemen. They're in Algeria. They're in Lebanon. I mean they're all over, and we haven't done much with them.
And the thing is that these, I think, will represent the next sort of core of al Qaeda. It's a decentralized structure now. We've taken out -- it used to be sort of a -- a corporate structure. It was top down inside Afghanistan. Now it's sort of franchised, a la a McDonald's kind of a thing. And all these different groups can carry out attacks U.S. interests from anywhere around the world.
So, I think the trick is now is to start focusing on these. They have links to al Qaeda. They get their funding. They get logistics. There are still contacts with al Qaeda. These are the groups we're going to have to worry about. This clearly was one of them in Saudi Arabia.
HUME: Now, the State Department had issued a pretty stern warning about Saudi Arabia, suggesting that -- that they were afraid something like this would happen. And of course, you had that bust that was referred to in the report earlier, in which a bunch of weapons were found, and so on. And nearly everybody got away, I gather. What does that say about the level of intelligence we now have on al Qaeda?
SCHANZER: I think the Saudis have a decent amount, but not enough. They've been very, very good about tracking their own dissidents inside Saudi Arabia. But it doesn't look as if they've been able to stop the attacks against the United States. Looking at the 1995 and '96 bombings, there was a shooting last week against an American civilian contractor. They're not able to stop those attacks. They're very, very good at tracking those people that oppose the government, in other ways...
HUME: But not against those...
SCHANZER: ... Yes. And one of the things we are going to have to do is, hopefully, is begin to work with them a little more closely. Whether they're going to agree to that is a -- another challenge we'll going to have to look at.
HUME: Jonathan Schanzer, great to have you. Thanks for coming.
SCHANZER: Thank you.