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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect Links Attack to Islamist Jihad; Investigations Continue into Background of Boston Marathon Bombing Suspects; Learning More About Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Aired April 23, 2013 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman live in Boston this morning. Our STARTING POINT major new developments in the Boston Marathon bombings. The surviving suspect revealing new details about his brother, also the plot, also who might have been involved.

And, we're learning more about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. How did he become so radicalized? What did his wife know? We have worldwide CNN team coverage from Boston to Dagestan. We're also hearing about the intense moments that a SWAT team got the suspect out of the boat that he was hiding in during that dramatic manhunt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Away from the shield protective cover. And we just rushed him. We put hands on him, grabbed him, and pulled him off the boat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: And we're hearing for the first time from the gas station manager who helped the man carjacked by the Tsarnaev Brothers. Brand- new sound this morning.

Plus, a terror plot foiled. Two men accused of planning to carry out an al Qaeda attack on a passenger train between Canada and the United States. We'll tell you about the damage they hope to inflict in a live report. A lot of news.

It is Tuesday, April 23rd, a special edition of STARTING POINT begins right now.

He can hardly speak but terror suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is talking or at least communicating. Big new developments this morning in the Boston marathon bombing investigation. CNN's Jake Tapper has learned that Tsarnaev is communicating with investigators, and claims that he and his brother pulled off last week's bombing of the marathon and also that their motivation seems to be that of jihadists.

CNN's chief Washington correspondent and anchor of "THE LEAD" Jake Tapper is with us this morning. And Jake, what are your sources telling you about these communications? JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. government source tells me that in these preliminary interviews with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and he underlines they're preliminary, all the information that Dzhokhar is giving needs to be checked out, that investigators are not taking his word for it, but what he is saying is that first of all, there were no foreign groups involved in the attacks. Second, he's saying that there is an online component to how these brothers were radicalized. They watched videos online. They got information online. There doesn't seem to be any communication, any e-mail with anyone. But that is how they were radicalized.

And also, according to Dzhokhar, and this squares with what we know about the family dynamic, and also what you would expect him to say, the older brother, Tamerlan, was the driving force behind these terrorist attacks. Based on what the investigators are getting from Dzhokhar, this government sore tells me that the brothers, according to Dzhokhar, seem to be self-radicalized, self-starters. They were motivated by the driving train of thought was jihadist thought. And all the governments -- I'm sorry all the political or religious implications that entails the idea being, of course, that they thought they construed Islam to be under attack and needed to fight back. That's what they're saying based on initial interviews, preliminary interviews with Dzhokhar.

BERMAN: Where he's speaking, communicating by writing, by hand signals, nodding?

TAPPER: Not speaking, communicating through nodding, through writing and other ways of nonverbal. He has that bullet wound to his throat. He can't really speak. He spoke one word in that interview with the magistrate yesterday.

BERMAN: "No."

TAPPER: He said "no." And the magistrate said let the record reflect that "I believe the defendant, the suspect, is saying no." He's not really able to converse. It's through writing and nodding.

BERMAN: All right, Jake, let's talk about this reporting right now with Fran Townsend, a CNN national security analyst also a former homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush. And, Fran, Jake's got some information here that could be crucial right now Dzhokhar Tsarnaev saying he and his brother had no communication with any outside foreign elements and that they were radicalized by watching videos online. Does that make sense to you?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Good morning, Jake. Good morning, John. You know, look, it does make sense to me that he could have been radicalized by looking in videos and learning things on the internet. All of that makes sense. We know that the bomb recipe for the pressure cooker bomb is on the internet and available. Here's the part that doesn't make sense.

I mean, Jake rightly points out, investigators are not taking this as gospel. They're going to have to run down investigative leads. We've seen cases where these guys got these recipes, these bomb recipes off the internet and they even went overseas for training and still couldn't get them to detonate.

Here's a case where the brothers have three separate pressure cooker bombs, two at the end of the marathon route, and one in the chase with police in Watertown, all three successfully detonate. Hard to imagine, hard to believe, frankly, that they could have gotten that off the internet and just gotten lucky without some real training involved. I think what you're going to find is investigators will focus on the older brother's time in Russia, traveling overseas where he might have had access to individuals who had greater experience in bomb-making capability.

BERMAN: Three bombs seemed to work well, at least two of them as timing devices.

TAPPER: Just to underscore what Fran was saying. This is what Dzhokhar is saying in the initial interviews. I think her skepticism is well founded. Even though there's a lot of talk about how these were crude bombs, I guess on the spectrum of bombs they weren't incredibly technological. But she's right. This was a very professional operation up until it happened. Obviously their escape plan was wanting. The idea they were able to put these bombs together, create the havoc and mayhem and commit the horrible terrorist acts they're alleged to have committed suggests if it's not some training, then at least a lot of practice.

BERMAN: There's one other thing I want to bring up with Fran now. Assume they were radicalized by watching videos online. Does it seem unbelievable that they then would not try to reach out to other people who at least agree with them?

TOWNSEND: That's part of the real focus. Remember, there was the national security that the investigators used to question him, the information that Jake's talking about, that's where that was gleaned. The focus was to ask him those very questions. Were there additional explosives? Were there additional individuals? That's the focus of the FBI. They want to know, are there other individuals out there?

This was very sophisticated. Let's remember, the first bomb that exploded was the furthest away. And the runners running toward it when it exploded would have naturally turned around and run back in the opposite direction, where we know the second bomb went off. So this was a very -- while the devices are crude, the planning, the execution.

And remember, you know, we've all said that why didn't they have an escape plan? Well, remember what we know now is they had additional explosives, right? They used those in the Watertown chase. And they may have planned follow-on attacks. So it may be they weren't planning to flee quite yet.

BERMAN: That's right it may not have been an escape plan. It might have been an attack plan they had. Fran, Jake, stick around, because there's a lot of new developments we want to unpack all morning. Including we're learning more about the Tsarnaev brothers and how they allegedly pulled off their terror plot of the Boston marathon. The criminal complaint against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev detailing really moment by moment how this unfolded. And our coverage continues right now this morning with Miguel Marquez, who is outside the Beth Israel deaconess medical center in Boston. That is where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is being treated as we speak this morning. Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And he is on a ventilator. He's sedated, and he's also chained to his bed, or restrained there. This is the criminal complaint that contains the first of what we expect will be many charges.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: In the criminal complaint, investigators built a minute by minute account of the Tsarnaev brothers as they moved through the crowds at the marathon. At one point Dzhokhar had his phone to his ear, maybe a ruse. Seconds later, the first bomb.

(EXPLOSION)

MARQUEZ: Only then does he begin to walk away from the bag he's left amid the crowd. Ten seconds later, the second bomb is detonated.

We are also learning about his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. In 2009, he was arrested for domestic assault after his girlfriend said he beat her up. Last year, he openly argued with a preacher at a mosque he sometimes attended, telling him that holiday celebrations were not allowed by Islam. Again, last January, he disrupted a sermon about Martin Luther King, calling the civil rights leader a nonbeliever.

The revelations and charges just as this city is struggling to recover a moment of silence marking one week since the attack from the Oval O and around the country, a solemn tribute.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Boston, almost every spot in this city is silent and still.

MARQUEZ: Another step toward normal, Boylston Street turned over by federal investigators to the city of Boston.

In a sign of the investigation's intensity, a tree, possibly touched by Dzhokhar removed, taken as evidence, and photos of Dzhokhar withdrawing money from an ATM after a carjacking and the murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier. This, as the victims continue to heal, 50 in the hospital, two still critical. For some seriously injured, hope.

DR. JEFFREY KALISH, DIRECTOR OF ENDOVASCULAR SURGERY: Nearly all of the patients that have lost legs are already walking the halls with physical therapists.

MARQUEZ: Still, grim reminders here, just about everywhere. In Medford the funeral for 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, the church overflowing, the grief unbearable.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now that Boston has control of Boylston Street again throughout the day, today residents and businesses will be allowed back in there, and the hope is, in the next day or two, it will be open to the general public. John, back to you.

BERMAN: That's right, Miguel Marquez, thank you so much. Boylston Street right behind me will be open, as you said residents and people who work there. And one other note, there will be a memorial service for the MIT police officer Sean collier tomorrow and vice president Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden are both planning to attend.

We know that the Tsarnaev brothers spent several years in the republic of Dagestan in the Russian Caucasus. That's where their parents still live today. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has been working the scene there, speaking to members of their family. He joins us now from the capital. Nick, what have you learned this morning?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, I had a lengthy talk with Zubeida Tsarnaev, the brother of the two alleged Boston bombers. Very emotional, having in the last few hours, early morning actually seen social media video which shows of course Tamerlan Tsarnaev. That confirms to her that she was, in fact dead. She had when I spoke to her hours earlier believed he was still alive, clearly incredibly distraught, but now believing he is deceased, telling me that she believes his sisters and perhaps uncle will be taking his body to a mosque in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for burial either today or tomorrow. That was something that U.S. officials can confirm, whether his body is being released to them.

But she's greatly distraught, talking about how she doesn't believe he can have a fair trial, still really, I think, in disbelief at the allegations against him and saying, in fact, that his ability to speak is because, quote, they've taken his voice, in some sort of bid to suggest that he's being silenced to prevent him from defending himself.

Deeply, deeply upset, talking about how her life has become worthless because she's lost one son and they may kill the other, she said, if the death penalty is applied. And then after this lengthy conversation we had she eventually emerged into the street behind me near her house, a crowd of journalists waiting for her to make a statement there, left in a car, but actually as she was walking away I asked her why did your son die and she quite controversially turned to me and said to me in English, "because they were Muslims."

I think that will be part of the defense the family puts up here, that there is some sort of conspiracy against their sons. They don't believe the evidence offered by U.S. officials, and I think they may be in the U.S. soon to pursue that argument. John?

BERMAN: All right, Nick Paton Walsh in Dagestan for us this morning, speaking to the mother of the suspect. Nick, our thanks to you.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may have conveyed that there was no foreign terrorist groups that were involved in these attacks, but there are certainly lingering questions like somehow do the brothers get their guns? How did they get the explosive supplies? Barbara Starr joins us from Washington right now with that angle. What can you tell us?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. You're absolutely right. The claim by the younger brother, of course, is that they acted alone. But investigators want to know if there is someone, somewhere, who knows how they pulled it off.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: One week after authorities say that Tsarnaev brothers attacked Boston --

EDWARD DAVIS, BOSTON POLICE COMMISSIONER: The two suspects were armed with handguns at the scene of the shoot-out.

STARR: But neither brother had a license for a gun. A senior U.S. official says investigators are looking at the brothers' connections to any individuals or groups that might have trained them to make explosives or supplied them with material.

And what did Russia know about the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, an aspiring boxer? In 2011, Russia asked the FBI to look into his activities even before Tsarnaev spent six months in Russia last year.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) CALIFORNIA: Did he sit in his aunt and uncle's home for six months, or was he doing something else? And when he came back to this country, why didn't it ring a bell with the FBI intelligence unit that he should be checked out and vetted again?

STARR: The Russians asked the U.S. to check out Tamerlan because, quote, "his lifestyle had changed." After coming home from Russia, his YouTube channel carried radical videos as well as names of militant leaders. As for his younger brother, the wounded Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, controversy in Washington over what to do with him.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He will not be treated as an enemy combatant. We will prosecute this terrorist through our civilian system of justice.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: I strongly disagree with the Obama administration's decision to rule out enemy combatant status for this suspect.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And the question of whether the FBI dropped the ball in 2011 when it looked at Tamerlan Tsarnaev's activity will be the subject of a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill later today, when law enforcement officials brief lawmakers. John?

BERMAN: All right, Barbara Starr, thanks so much. Barbara Starr in Washington.

I want to bring back Fran Townsend, CNN analyst, former homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush. And Fran, I want to get your take here. Where do you think the investigation stands right now? We've had these initial criminal complaints given Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. We've seen sort of the case laid out just a little bit, but how about the investigation itself? What are the next steps?

TOWNSEND: Well, first of all, we know from investigators that they're cooperating with the Russians. I talked to sources, federal sources, and the cooperation between Russian authorities and the FBI is quite good. Both want to understand what they might have missed, what they should have seen, and what they should have made of it as this case was unfolding.

You know, there are questions about the older brother Tamerlan's travels to Russia, what he did and who he met with. Those are the sorts of questions that are following up. In the meantime, here in the United States, they're going back over additional videos, pictures, cell phone records, credit card records, and contacts. You know, who are their associates in the United States, and who might have seen even a small hint that these brothers severely radicalized might have taken action?

So we've seen searches in the Boston area over the last several days. And I think you're going to continue to see law enforcement activity for some time as they stitch together the additional details that will create the narrative that's either the subject of a trial, or a plea, or even if there is a plea, there will be certainly a penalty phase at which it's discussed what is the appropriate punishment for Dzhokhar.

BERMAN: We're hearing from at least a lawyer for Tamerlan Tsarnaev's wife Katherine Russell. He says, of course, that he has talked to investigators and will cooperate with police. That she's overwrought right now. What kind of information do you think investigators want to get from her? I should say she knows according to reports that she does not understand Russian or other languages that he may have been speaking all the time, so she probably only knows part of the story.

TOWNSEND: That's right. She would have had an interesting perspective into the relationship between the two brothers. How much time they were spending together. Who were they associating with? What were they doing when they were together? I mean, you know, she will have a very intimate view of what that relationship was like. You know, and let's remember, Dzhokhar the younger brother who's still living has been in the United States since he was 8 years old. So the likelihood that he and his brother were communicating in Russian, we don't know.

But she will still be able to provide investigators with a perspective, and a real insider's view about the relationship between the two brothers, and others that they may have associated with.

BERMAN: A unique perspective about how Tamerlan Tsarnaev lived for so long. Fran Townsend, thank you so much. Thanks for being with us. Stick around. A lot to talk about this morning.

Meantime, investigators say they are reviewing reports that Tamerlan Tsarnaev may have been involved in a gruesome triple homicide two years ago that remains unsolved today. That happened in Waltham, Massachusetts, nearby here. Former acquaintances say one of Tsarnaev's close friends 25-year-old Brandon Met (ph) was found murdered in a suburban Boston apartment in 2011, along with two other men. They had all their throats slashed and their bodies were found covered in marijuana.

And this just in to CNN, the gas station manager who helped the man carjacked by the Tsarnaev brothers last Thursday night, he is speaking to CNN. He called police after the victims entered his store, and said he was frightened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAREQ AHMED, GAS STATION MANAGER: After maybe ten seconds I called the police. He came here, he was inside in the back area, and he closed the door, and I called the police. But I remember a gun, they want to shoot me. He was very, very -- he was screaming, and he was nervous. So -- for me to tell you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: -- for both the carjacking victim and that gas station attendant. We also have an exclusive look this morning at the tactics that a S.W.A.T team employed to arrest Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Even in the tense final moments as team members slowly approached the boat, they did not know if Tsarnaev would pull a weapon out or maybe an explosive device. They described their precise movements to Anderson Cooper. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OFFICER JEFF CAMPBELL, MBTA TRANSIT POLICE SWAT: We got close enough that at one point where both of his hands were up because of the rocking back and forth, both of his hands were up, we could see that there were no weapons in them, no ignition devices we broke away from the shield protective cover. And we just rushed him. Put hands on him, grabbed him and pulled him off the boat down onto the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The reason the S.W.A.T team immediately pulled off his shirt, of course, was to check if he was wearing some kind of explosive device, perhaps, even a suicide vest. Here's what we can expect today here in Boston. Boylston street right behind me will open to residents and business owners. This evening Congress investigates the FBI's handling of Tamerlan. And in a closed House and Senate intel meeting, investigators will look into how the Tsarnaev brothers obtained their guns.

Also, new this morning, days before the Madrid Marathon police arrest two suspected al Qaeda terrorists in Spain, and this as a suspected terror attack on a train between the U.S. and Canada is stopped cold. We will have a live report next.

Then, more changes at the airport. Why the TSA is delaying one of its new controversial policies. We'll tell you what's going on with that. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Brand new this morning, police in Spain arresting two suspected al Qaeda terrorists. One is Algerian, the other Moroccan. Spain's interior ministry says their profiles are similar to the Boston bombing suspects. Officials say there's no indication of an imminent attack but the arrests come days before Sunday's Madrid Marathon, which is expected to draw some 26,000 runners.

Now to new developments in Canada. An alleged plot to attack a Canadian passenger train traveling here to the United States, Canadian police have two men in custody. They allege the suspects had support from al Qaeda in Iran. CNN's Ted Rowlands is live in Toronto for us this morning.

Good morning, Ted, what's the latest.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John, according to authorities the alleged plot was to attack a passenger train going from Toronto to New York, and authorities here in Canada say the suspect not only had the will, but had the capability to pull it off.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: In shackles and under heavy guard, 30-year-old Chiheb Esseghaier (ph) was flown from Montreal to Toronto Monday night. He's facing terrorism charges along with 35-year-old Raed Jaser (ph). Canadian authorities say the two were plotting an al Qaeda-supported attack on a passenger train traveling between Canada and the United States.

REP. PETER KING, (R ) NEW YORK: My understanding is that this was always under control of the RCMP and that at no time was anyone's life actually in danger.

ROWLANDS: Authorities say the suspects are not Canadian citizens but they've declined to identify their nationality or how long they've been in Canada and few details of the alleged plot have been released though Canadian authorities have said it was in the planning stages and not imminent.

Passenger trains have been terrorist targets before. In 2004, more than 190 people were killed in Madrid. Dozens of people died a year later in the London bombing. And documents seized in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden showed that bin Laden wanted to attract trains in the U.S. Canadian investigators say in this case, the suspects received support from al Qaeda elements in Iran.

JAMES MALIZIA, RCMP FEDERAL POLICING OPERATIONS: The individuals were receiving support from al Qaeda elements located in Iran. Now I can tell you, that there is no information to indicate that these attacks were state sponsored.

ROWLANDS: The Iranian government vehemently denies the assertion that al Qaeda is operating inside its borders.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: And we expect both of the suspects to appear at the courthouse behind me here in downtown Toronto in about three hours at 10:00 eastern time. John?

BERMAN: All right, Ted Rowlands for us in Toronto this morning, still a lot to learn about that investigation. But one thing we've been told so far, at least no connection to what's going on up there as to what's going on here. Ahead on STARTING POINT, the TSA backtracking on a controversial policy, a change of heart. We'll tell you about it next. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans with some of this morning's top stories. Overnight an apparent attack on the French embassy in Libya's capital. A powerful car bomb blew out the front wall and shattered windows on other buildings in the Tripoli neighborhood. Two security guards and a 13-year-old girl living nearby were hurt. The French ambassador saying he will not leave that city.

The TSA's plan to let passengers bring small knives on airplanes, that plan now on hold. The new policy was supposed to go into effect this Thursday. But the agency now wants more input. Critics, including flight attendants, say letting knives back in the cabin is a dangerous idea. Supporters say it will speed up security lines and let agents focus on bigger threats.

And New York City could become the first big city to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21. The city council rolled out that idea Monday. Supporters say raising the age limit could cut smoking among 18 to 20- year-olds by more than half.

Ahead on STARTING POINT we're learning more about the dead Boston bombing suspect, including his religion, and his ties to radical Islam, but now the FBI wants to interview his wife. What did she know? We're back live in Boston after the break.

And then growing frustration at airports across the country, as furloughs are beginning to create flight delays. Some of the hardest- hit airports, we'll tell you where they are. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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