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Transcript of doorstop interview: Sheraton Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand: 15 August 2003: capture of Hambali.



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PRIME MINISTER

15 August 2003

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW - SHERATON HOTEL, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

Subjects: Capture of Hambali.

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………

JOURNALIST:

The capture of Hambali, variously described as al Qaeda’s point man in South-East Asia. It has to be a good get doesn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is a huge breakthrough. This man is a very big fish. He’s the main link between al Qaeda and JI. He was almost certainly the ultimate mastermind of the Bali attack. So to those relatives and friends of the 88 Australians who died in that outrage almost a year ago this is I hope some further measure of justice. I congratulate the Americans and I’m sure that psychologically this capture will inflict a very heavy blow on the worldwide terrorist network. He’s not quite the biggest fish you can catch but he’s pretty close to it and he’s been on the run for a long time and it’s a major breakthrough which I very warmly welcome.

JOURNALIST:

Do you have any details sir….put a bit more detail on how they got him, where he is, how they captured him?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I’m not going to go into the detail of it. There is some further detail of which I’m aware obviously but there’s nothing to be gained by going into that.

JOURNALIST:

When did you find out about it and what was your initial reaction when you heard the news?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve known about it for several days but I’ve wanted naturally to leave it to the Americans to announce.

JOURNALIST:

What was the delay?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t have to go into that. It’s a matter for the Americans to announce. I’m not obliged, when you’re dealing with security matters you’re not obliged to blurt everything out that you know immediately you hear it. That doesn’t help anybody, in fact it only helps the terrorists.

JOURNALIST:

So they’ve had him for some days now?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to go into how log they’ve had him but I do know this - that he’s a very big catch.

JOURNALIST:

Is that the reason sir for the blackout, for security measures? Obviously they’d be questioning him on his knowledge….?

PRIME MINISTER:

…blackout?

JOURNALIST:

Well you’ve known for several days.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m not going to go into that.

JOURNALIST:

The Americans have had….you indicated….

PRIME MINISTER:

Geof, I’ve given you my answer. You asked me a question, how long have I known, and I told you the honest answer to that question. But I’m telling you with equal candour that I’m not going to go into any more details because nothing is served by that. In the long run we want these sorts of people caught and there should be universal relief and pleasure that a man as evil as Hambali has been caught.

JOURNALIST:

Is that what you would now say to the relatives of the victims of Bali that they’re going to have to accept this and basically just to trust your judgement?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sorry, what are you talking about?

JOURNALIST:

Well sir you’re not giving out a great deal of information.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well because there is nothing to be served at this stage about my going into more detail any more than there’s anything to be served by the American President going into more detail. We have caught one of the….we’ve caught the ultimate mastermind and that is very good news. If the Americans decide in the future to make more information available well that will be appropriate.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think Mr Howard, that his capture will circumvent or at least make it much more difficult for JI or al Qaeda to effect any more terrorist activities within that region?

PRIME MINISTER:

We hope it has an adverse effect but I can’t measure how much effect. Thank you.

[ends]