CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, hosts CNN Presents: In the Footsteps of Bin Laden (premiering tonight at 9 pm/ET), a two-hour profile of Osama bin Laden driven by interviews with those who have crossed paths with him. The globe-trotting journalist sat down with us in July to chat about her experiences filming the documentary.
TV Guide: Given his elusiveness, how does one begin to look for and learn about Bin Laden?
Christiane Amanpour: Well, looking for him is one thing. You've got pretty much the whole U.S. military trying to find him, and they haven't been successful yet. But we convinced a lot of people who knew him to talk about him, from an English professor who taught the Bin Laden family to his childhood friends from Saudi Arabia.
TV Guide: Were they hesitant to meet with you?
Amanpour: Not really. And that was quite interesting. In Afghanistan, I talked to people who fought with him during the mujahideen era and who knew him under the Taliban. In Pakistan, [we spoke] with journalists who had gotten to know him listening to their stories of getting the call, [being] blindfolded, driven around in circles and finally getting to where he was.
TV Guide: What's the biggest misconception about Al Qaeda?
Amanpour: We think of it as this kind of shadowy, disorganized organization. But actually it's highly organized and, to an extent, bureaucratic.
TV Guide: With Bin Laden still as the head?
Amanpour: Absolutely. The undisputed head. Whoever says he's irrelevant is just wrong. [Al Qaeda] has become a multiheaded hydra that operates effectively still, even though he's on the run. And I think that's what's incredible, how, even since 9/11, we've had regular audiotapes from him, and fairly regular videotapes. He's still out there, taunting, threatening, shaping the environment.
TV Guide: Why do you think he inspires such devotion? Is he that charismatic?
Amanpour: For the people who believe, yeah. It's like any kind of divisive historical figure [who] couldn't operate unless he had some kind of mass following. [His] ideology is filling the vacuum, and right now we're in a historic period of extremism.
TV Guide: Can you pinpoint a moment in his life that swayed him toward extremism?
Amanpour: There are several pinpoint moments, but clearly the Afghan war turned him into somebody who actually put his money and his action where his beliefs were. He went to Afghanistan and involved himself in the fight against the Soviets. I think his battlefield heroics are somewhat exaggerated, but he was there and he made an impression on people.
TV Guide: Will we ever find Bin Laden?
Amanpour: I hope so. I think it makes a difference. I don't think we can just say, "Oh, he's on the run, he's not a problem anymore."
TV Guide: With all the globe-trotting you do, what in the world do you pack?
Amanpour: [Laughs] I've developed a uniform: my jacket, my trousers and a couple of pairs of shoes. That's it. It's prepacked and ready to go.
TV Guide: On a lighter note your name comes up on the Gilmore Girls quite a bit. Rory idolizes you.
Amanpour: I love that. It's wonderful because it makes me feel I'm doing something right by sticking to what I believe in, which is serious news. Everybody tries to shape our news environment and I hold the line.
TV Guide: Have they approached you to guest-star?
Amanpour: They have, and I'd love to do it. It's just a question of timing. It'd be very cool.
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