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French Tell U.S. Suspect Trained with al Qaeda in Yemen; Terror Manhunt Centering on Rural Villages; Obama Briefed on Terror Developments

Aired January 8, 2015 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, manhunt, roadblocks and rage as heavily armed police and troops search rural villages for the suspects in the slaughter at a Paris magazine.

Officer killed. A policewoman is shot dead in a Paris suburb by a man dressed in black, wearing a bulletproof vest in what authorities are now calling a new terror attack.

Terror training. We have new information that one of massacre suspects spent time with a dangerous al Qaeda affiliate in the Middle East.

And the motive: what's behind the massacre at the magazine office? What drove the gunmen to kill a dozen people in cold blood?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news. Tens of thousands of police and troops now combing cities, towns, and rural areas. They're hunting for the suspects in the massacre at a magazine office in Paris. The dragnet has been focusing in on villages north of Paris, where roadblocks have now been set up and helicopters are hovering overhead.

There are also new details about the wanted men, Cherif and Said Kouachi. France has now told the United States that one of the brothers received weapons training with al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen.

And we're also learning both suspects were on the U.S. terror watch list.

As France unites in defiance of the slaughter at the offices of the satirical magazine, there are also new fears tonight after today's killing of a female police officer in a southern suburb of Paris. Officials have not directly linked that to the earlier massacre, although they are calling it another terror attack.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Congressman Ed Royce, he's here. He's standing by live, along with our correspondents, our analysts and our guests.

Let's begin in Paris, though. CNN's Chris Cuomo is joining us with the very latest. What are you learning, Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, we understand that, from sources close to the investigation, that they had eyes on the sky, on the suspects as they were heading into the north country here, that the suspects realized that, left their vehicle, entered the woods in that part of the country on foot. Those parts of the woods have been searched. They have not found the suspects. The good news is that as night falls, the searchers believe that the advantage turns to them. Night vision is very accurate, and now they can see the bad guys they're looking for without being seen.

To be sure, this manhunt is massive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CUOMO (voice-over): Heavily armored French commandos moved into the French countryside, searching for two brothers wanted in Wednesday's terror massacre. A gas station attendant reportedly telling police he was threatened by the brothers, stealing gas and food and then driving off. Police immediately set up checkpoints in the area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There was a man who told me apparently they left their car and went through the forest. Don't go through the forest. Don't go around the forest to avoid running into them.

CUOMO: Police say a third suspect, 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad, turned himself in to police late Wednesday after seeing his name mentioned on social media.

Tonight France's interior minister says more than 88,000 people are involved in the manhunt for the two brothers, 34-year-old Said and 32-year-old Cherif Kouachi.

Cherif was known to French police as part of a jihadist recruitment ring in Paris that sent fighters to the war in Iraq. In 2005, he and another man were heading to Iraq before they were arrested. At trial he told the court he was motivated by U.S. troops' abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He served 18 months in prison.

CNN has learned French law enforcement were tracking the brothers, but a former counterterrorism official tells CNN that, with many people under surveillance, the monitoring of the brothers stopped.

A French source close to the French security services tells CNN there's evidence one of the brothers may have traveled to Syria recently. The older brother, Said, has no criminal record, but police say they found his I.D. card in the abandoned getaway car.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CUOMO: Wolf, they're learning more and more about this nexus between what was known about these two brothers on the U.S. and French intelligence sides. The question is why weren't they kept under closer surveillance, or was that impossible, Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris, you're right near the magazine, "Charlie Hebdo." What's it like there now? Gives us a little flavor of the mood.

CUOMO: Well, throughout the day, this morning we started with a moment of silence here at about 11:30 in the morning local time. That's when the massacre happened, Wolf. People came here. They were locals. They were tourists. They're of all colors and creeds. And they came here, and they started to applaud after the moment of the massacre, showing their resolve, that "Charlie Hebdo" will live on, that while lives were taken, that there will be a rejuvenation of it. And we do know that the magazine will come out.

And we do see different demonstrations here in the Republican Square, people coming together and saying they will not be afraid. We see the signs. We see unity.

Right now the mood is without question somber, Wolf. There are makeshift memorials here. People are lighting candles, and to remember the lives that were lost. Many people here have family members who will never be back.

BLITZER: What a story this is; what a sad story, indeed. Chris Cuomo, thanks so much. Chris reporting from Paris.

As French authorities cast a wider net for the terrorist superintendents, let's get some more now on the heavy police presence in a rural area just north of Paris.

CNN's Atika Shubert is on the scene for us over there. What are you learning, Atika?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, you heard -- excuse me, Wolf. You heard Chris mention that gas station. The search seems to be concentrated between that gas station and the village I'm quite near to, Longfont (ph). That's just four kilometers that way.

Earlier in the day we saw heavily armed police going through house to house searches. But just -- just a short while ago we saw about 30 police vehicles leaving the area, including rapid response teams and what look like forensic vehicles.

Now, we don't know if that means that the search there has ended or it simply widened out. And keep in mind, this is a very rural area: lots of open fields and farmhouses, but also a very large forest in this area. And that will take a lot of time for police to comb through several thousand acres wide. So it will take a long time for police to search it thoroughly.

BLITZER: Police are convinced that the two suspects were, indeed, at that gas station. They did rob the gas station. They stole gas. They stole food. And then they escaped. They're saying that these are the two brothers. Right?

SHUBERT: To be clear, the police have made no comment as to whether or not the two suspects who robbed the gas station are definitely the brothers. What we do know is that they had a very heavy police presence there, and we saw a number of plainclothes officers, detectives, and forensics teams combing through what looked like CCTV video and other evidence there.

So what we're judging this on the massive police presence that's here. You know, you heard the number, 80,000 people involved in the search. Well, a lot of that is concentrated right here in the Bacardi region.

BLITZER: We're going to get back to you, Atika. Thanks very much. Atika Shubert on the scene for us just north of Paris.

A closer look now at the suspects in the bloody terror attack. There are some extraordinary new details. Let's get the very latest from our national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He's joining us live from Paris. And our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's over at the Pentagon.

Barbara, first you. Tell us what you're learning about these brothers in their activities in the Middle East and North Africa. What are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some very late- breaking and disturbing developments. Two U.S. officials tell me that French authorities have now told the United States that one of the brothers, Said Kouachi, traveled to Yemen in 2011.

And of course, Yemen is the home to the very, very violent al Qaeda affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. This is concerning.

Said, they believe, got weapons training there in handling weapons, possibly even in bomb making.

In 2011, the leader of external operations for al Qaeda in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric, who has had threatened the United States, was said to be behind several attacks. He was killed in an American drone strike. Not clear if Said ever met Awlaki. But look, he goes to Yemen. He gets weapons training. And now the question for U.S. and French intelligence, how close was the affiliation to al Qaeda here? Was he inspired by al Qaeda? Or possibly, worst-case scenario, was this attack in Paris directed by the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen? These are the questions that the U.S. is struggling with right now.

A little built of confusion. The French justice minister says her information is that one of the brothers -- she wouldn't say which one -- travelled to Yemen in 2005. But I have to tell you, U.S. officials are working off the presumption today that the 2011 travel date that they say they got from French authorities, that's the one they're looking at, trying to figure out how close the relationship with this al Qaeda affiliate really was.

And of course, al Qaeda in Yemen had already targeted the magazine in Paris recently, calling for the death of the editorial director. He sadly was killed in this attack.

It's becoming a very interesting question. Affiliations with al Qaeda in Yemen, potential affiliations in Syria and Iraq, potential affiliations with ISIS. We may well be entering a new era of terrorist attacks where there's no easy labels to put on the perpetrators.

BLITZER: Amazing reporting from Barbara Starr. She's breaking the news here on CNN. Barbara, we're going to get back to you. I want to go to Paris right now, where our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is on the scene. You're learning more about we may well be entering a new era of terrorist attack where is there's no easy labels to put on the perpetrators.

BLITZER: Amazing reporting from Barbara Starr. She's breaking the news here on CNN. Barbara, we're going to get back to you. I want to go to Paris right now. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is on the scene.

You're learning more about what's going on. Tell our viewers what you've learned, Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'll tell you what's become very clear today is before these attackers were able to carry out this murderous attack just down the street here, they were well-known, both to U.S. and French authorities; in fact, for years.

We learned today that both of these brothers, the Kouachi brother, were on the U.S. database of known or suspected terrorists known as the TAI (ph) database. They were on a U.S. no-fly list, and they have been on it for years.

And from French authorities' perspective, they knew about both these brothers. They had one of them, and often two of them, under surveillance for a number of years before that surveillance was stopped. And in fact, they'd been detained and arrested a number of times for jihadist activities.

The younger brother, Cherif Kouachi, arrested, jailed, in fact, in 2008 for being involved in a network that was recruiting fighters to go to Iraq. In 2005 he was stopped trying to leave France to go to Syria for himself to join the fight in Iraq against U.S. and coalition forces there.

French authorities believe that he was radicalized by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, made worse and radicalized by the mistreatment of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq shortly after the invasion.

But again, as you often find, the profiles of these jihadis, suspected jihadis are very complicated. He was also a rapper. He was described by his lawyer, in defending him in his trial in 2008, as someone who liked to smoke pot, who liked to drink, to say that he was not a radical Muslim. He was, in fact, just another 20-something kid in Paris. A complicated profile but one that U.S. and French authorities were very aware of for years before this attack took place.

BLITZER: Clearly, though, Jim, at the time of this terror attack, they were not under any surveillance by French authorities, because clearly they were moving around at will.

SCIUTTO: That's true. They had been under surveillance. They were no longer under surveillance before this attack took place.

And I spoke today with the former head of France's counterterror service, and he said this, and I'm quoting him here. He said, "There are too many of them. There are too few of us." Too many jihadi suspects, that is, too few security personnel to follow them.

And he explained to me the mathematics. He said it takes anywhere from three to as many as ten agents to keep just one jihadi suspect under surveillance. And you think about 24/7, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And in France alone there are 5,000 names on their list of suspect jihadis. You do the math there, and you're talking about tens of thousands of security personnel necessary to keep every one of them under surveillance, so it becomes a judgment call. This is the difficulty of intelligence and counterterror work. And he was taken off surveillance.

And in particular, the former head of the counterterror unit here told me that a problem is when these people go off the grid, when they stop being active. You take them off surveillance. You may not know what they're up to until they come up again. They resurface again. And sadly in this case, resurfacing with an act of violence right here in central Paris.

But the numbers there get to the real difficulty. And I'll tell you, Wolf, you will often hear the same thing from U.S. counterterror officials. Granted, there's nothing like that number of known or suspected terrorists in the U.S., but even U.S. counterterror officials will say it's hard to keep track of these guys and, in fact, it's only a matter of time before we may see, on U.S. soil, a lone- wolf attack or something like that, as well.

BLITZER: We were showing our viewers what you were discussing earlier. One of these brothers actually in this video rapping. So clearly, he's got -- he's got a history that's, let's say, unusual for someone who's now being accused of engaging in massive terrorism.

All right. Stand by, Jim Sciutto. I want to bring in the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Republican Congressman Ed Royce of California is with us.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

What do you make of this news, first reported by Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, that one of these brothers actually went to Yemen and trained with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP as it's called?

REP. ED ROYCE (R), CALIFORNIA: And this is going to be the big question in France, if you've got 5,000 jihadists and you're keeping track, and they're French nationals. This is the biggest problem for them, and they're returning to France. And then you're trying to monitor them.

What steps can you take to make certain that, either you're not allowing them to come back into the country after they've taken training by al Qaeda in Yemen, as this young man did? These pose very real questions for France, because they're dealing with French citizens. We don't have a problem commensurate with that. We have maybe a couple of hundred fighters.

BLITZER: That's a lot.

ROYCE: But in all of Europe there's 15,000.

BLITZER: Yes, there's a lot more in Europe, but there's still a few hundred potential terrorists in the United States, and that's a serious problem.

But is it -- the sense that this one brother, when he was in Yemen, when he was in AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was actually trained and then sent back to France to engage in terror? Was this a coordinated AQAP operation?

ROYCE: Clearly to me, to have the type of training he had and to have had the hit put out by al Qaeda and Yemen against the editor and then to have it carried out and to have him take credit for it and give that credit to al Qaeda in Yemen when he was carrying out the operation, it's very clear to me.

The problem for the United States I see here, Wolf, is as I said earlier, we only have a couple hundred that are operating, but a French national's passport and visa can be used to come to the United States.

BLITZER: Without -- you don't need a visa if you have a French passport. You can just fly into Washington, Dulles Airport, JFK, or LAX, and go wherever you want.

ROYCE: So that's what multiplies.

BLITZER: Should that be changed? Because some of your colleagues are saying the U.S. should take another look at this non- visa requirement for allies like France or other countries in Europe.

ROYCE: Well, I worked very, very closely on this issue of the no-fly list with the FBI on what we can do to actually get all of the data from the Europeans in terms of whatever we have on any French national or German national, et cetera, who is doing that type of training or going out to fight with ISIS, because they -- them returning to Europe is a direct threat to them eventually, potentially coming here.

BLITZER: Our justice reporter, Evan Perez, broke the news that these guys, these two brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, that they actually were on the U.S. no-fly list.

ROYCE: Yes.

BLITZER: So had they tried to come into the United States, what would have happened?

ROYCE: See, that's the good news. They would have been prevented. And likewise, one of the things our committee is working on right now is a change in the law so that we can get more authority or responsibility to the secretary of state to remove the passport, basically, of a U.S. citizen who is a national security risk because he wants to go and train with...

BLITZER: All right. So we know one of these brothers was in Yemen, presumably with AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Was he also, or the other brother or both, at one point in Iraq and Syria based on what you know?

ROYCE: From what I've heard in terms of the connection with Syria, what I'd heard is that one of the brothers had been in Syria.

And this is going to be a real problem for France, because France and the United States were the first two countries into Syria. And so you can imagine the blowback within France, given the French contingent in Syria and what the French are doing right now across North Africa.

They pushed al Qaeda out of Mali with our help. But it was their troops that did it. The French Foreign Legion and the French military. And so there's tremendous blowback from radical Islamists against the French government.

BLITZER: I know a lot of these terror groups have applauded this terror operation in Paris, but so far, based on what I've heard, no one as actually claimed responsibility. Is that true?

ROYCE: Well, I would put it this way. If the man carrying out the attack claims it for al Qaeda Yemen, I...

BLITZER: Supposedly, according to an eyewitness who survived the attack, heard him say that.

ROYCE: Yes, and I think you can credit on the basis of that. That would be my judgment.

BLITZER: So the working assumption, the U.S. working assumption is that this is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operation?

ROYCE: We in the committee believe that, yes.

BLITZER: In the House Foreign Affairs Committee. All right. Mr. Chairman, I want you to stand by. We have more questions to discuss. This is critically important information we're sharing with our viewers. We're going to take a quick break. Much more coming in. There's new information coming in. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: France has told the United States that one of the Paris massacre suspects had spent time in Yemen, training with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP.

And we're also learning both of the brothers were actually on the U.S. terror databases.

We're back with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Congressman Ed Royce of California.

If -- if all of this is true, that these guys may have gone to Syria, at least one of them was training in Yemen, and then they went back and committed this terrorist outrage and went through those editorial meetings, calling out names of the cartoonists and the editors and the others, and then executing them point-blank like that, it looked like a pretty sophisticated operation.

ROYCE: Not only sophisticated but also very much in the nature of al Qaeda's past demands in terms of, as we know, freedom of speech, freedom of religion is not high on their list. We have seen in Pakistan, and now some 700 schools closed down because of the objection of Islamists against having women educated. So you're going to see in the west increasingly these types of radical organizations carrying out.

BLITZER: And what's chilling is the editor of this publication, "Charlie Hebdo," a well-known cartoonist, an excellent journalist, Stephane Charbonnier, he was on the al Qaeda most wanted list because of some of the cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. They -- he was actually targeted, and if, in fact -- that sends a pretty chilling message to a lot of people all over the world.

ROYCE: It does, but on the other hand, when they targeted him, he said, "I'd sooner die standing than on my knees." And he was very defiant. And what you saw from the French population, out last night was "not afraid," those signs that you saw them holding.

I think it's actually going to cause quite a reaction in Europe and quite a demand for freedom of expression. This is the -- France was the product of the French enlightenment. You know that this is so part of their culture.

I think that this is really going to put a lot of pressure on radical Islam in France to acculturate to the ideals of freedom of speech.

BLITZER: And here's what's also very, very disturbing. I'll throw (ph) this to you, as well. There was a second terror incident today. An individual dressed in a black uniform, his face covered in a mask, an AK-47, similar weapon to what was used yesterday, in a southern suburb of Paris goes out there and executes a policewoman in cold blood. And I don't know if there's a connection or not a connection, a copycat or whatever, but what are you hearing?

ROYCE: Well, what we hear is you've got two forces simultaneously in play here. One, al Qaeda. But then, as you know, there's a different model for ISIS. And what ISIS is asking is for homegrown terrorists to carry out their individual attacks. So this is how this gets so complicated. And for the intelligence services in France ever more complicated.

BLITZER: And the ramifications, the lessons learned for the United States are what?

ROYCE: Closer cooperation with French intelligence, which is some of the best in the world, as well as other European intelligence networks, a better -- better ability to track those who we monitor, who are trained. And I think border security becomes a real issue, as well.

BLITZER: So this is a serious problem. And nine other individuals, French authorities say have been taken into custody. I don't know if they're related to these -- this incident at the magazine or in the southern suburb of Paris, but what can you tell us about these nine others that have already been arrested?

ROYCE: Wolf, at this point, we don't know from the French authorities the connections of these nine. But we do know that the French had their eye on some 5,000 jihadists in the country who weren't currently active.

But these were all individuals who had been fighting either with ISIS or been trained overseas or gone to Afghanistan to fight, and so they have a long laundry list of people they have concerns about. They monitor them. And if they found any connectivity between them and these three individuals, of course, they would bring them in.

BLITZER: As far as you know, the U.S./French cooperation in intelligence sharing and this kind of counterterrorism is excellent, right?

ROYCE: Long-standing and as close as it gets.

BLITZER: And the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, announced today he's going to be going to Paris this weekend for high-level ministerial meetings with French authorities. We'll see what happens on that front.

The bottom line right now, this was not a lone wolf or lone wolves. This was a coordinated operation.

Hold on for a moment, because I want to show our viewers what's going on at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C. There's Air Force One. You see the president of the United States has just arrived. He was in Phoenix on other business earlier in the day. He's getting ready to head over to the White House.

Michelle Kosinski is our White House correspondent. Michelle, I know he was briefed aboard Air Force One about what's going on in France, the ramifications for the U.S. What are you learning?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This meeting just wrapped up a short time ago. And it was the Paris attack that prompted this high-level meeting between the president and his national security tear, including his national security advisor, homeland security adviser, the secretary of homeland security, directors of the CIA, FBI, and others.

The focus was on Paris to update the president fully on the situation as well as look at the U.S. security posture in light of this.

No further detail was given on any changes that might come out of this, but because the president was traveling, this was all done by phone as he was on Air Force One on his way back to D.C. from Phoenix.

And we did hear from the president yesterday, as well as others in the administration, but today the White House has been quiet. They're not responding to any details that have come out through law enforcement. They're not weighing in on any of those details, especially since one of the big questions out there is foreign fighters, and that has been a big concern of the administration.

The press secretary, though, did reiterate what he said yesterday, that the Department of Homeland Security tells him there are no specific or credible threats of terrorist attacks here within the U.S. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know he's aboard Marine One. That'll take him out to the White House, the South Lawn of the White House momentarily. We'll watch Marine One as it does so.

Michele, thanks very much.

We're still here with chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce. Do you have any criticisms? I know a lot of Republicans in the House, they like to criticize the president of the United States, but on this particular issue, the war on terror right now, is he doing the right thing, the wrong thing? What's your analysis?

ROYCE: Well, I think the most important thing right now is let's show our solidarity with France. Let's have the United States stand with our closest and longest ally, France, in terms of the history of this republic and our values, freedom of speech, freedom of expression.

I think the attorney general is doing the right thing, going to Paris in order to deepen these ties and especially the cooperation, because we're all in this together with respect to these 15,000 foreign fighters that are, you know, fighting with ISIS but at some point could return to Europe or the United States.

BLITZER: And if, in fact, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen was behind this terrorist attack against these journalists, these police officers in Paris, what should the U.S. and France and other allies do about it? I know that there are occasional drone strikes in Yemen going after some of these AQAP targets. But what else, if anything, should the U.S. be doing?

ROYCE: Well, I think at that point we -- from Djibouti where we cooperate with the French forces and elsewhere we would look very, very closely at everything we could do to absolutely take out those cells. I think you'd see much more operations on the ground in reprisal from France and the United States against al Qaeda in Yemen.

BLITZER: A lot of those -- a lot of those drone strikes that go against these al Qaeda targets in Yemen, they originate from Djibouti, from a base there in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

ROYCE: They do, but also it used to be that we would take a lot of these agents into custody with our operations on the ground in order to get sources and learn who else we needed to have arrested. And I think this will be part of the discussion because you can't do it all from the air.

BLITZER: Yes.

ROYCE: At some point you've got to get your agents on the ground and you've got to take into custody some of these --

BLITZER: Is the Yemeni government doing enough?

ROYCE: Well, the Yemeni -- in Yemen it's -- Iran is involved in Yemen trying to, you know -- they're in the process of creating insurrection there. You've got these different terrorist networks. It's almost a stateless --

BLITZER: Yes. It's a real mess.

ROYCE: -- society right now.

BLITZER: What a disaster.

All right, Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, thanks very much for coming in.

ROYCE: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, we're going to go to a live update on the manhunt for the terrorist gunmen.

Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, he's in Paris. He's getting more information. Stand by.

Also, inside the jihadist mindset. What drove these terrorists to kill people who draw cartoons?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our breaking news, as tens of thousands of police and troops have cast a wide net for the suspects in the terrorist massacre, we've been getting some shocking new details on those brothers who were no strangers to French and U.S. authorities.

Let's get the latest now. Once again our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is joining us live in Paris.

Jim, they are -- are they any closer to finding these two individuals? JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well ,

Wolf, the French officials have significantly expanded the area of France on high alert as they try to find these attackers. They've now expanded that area right up to the border with Belgium. So 175 miles from here in Paris.

Now the focus of their attention continues to be a large wooded area, thousands of acres of a wooded area, about 50 miles northeast of here. That is where earlier today from a helicopter investigators believe they saw the attackers abandon the car, go into those woods, and it's in those woods tonight where they want to go in, security forces with their night vision goggles to attempt to find them.

But I'll tell you, Wolf, I was out with police this morning as they moved from one town to another town, in each place where they thought they were zeroing in, and then they moved their target. And now we see them tonight extending this area under search really hundreds of miles in the direction of northeast heading up towards Belgium.

It shows just how difficult it is, Wolf, to tighten the noose around them and bring them into police custody.

BLITZER: And tell us a little bit about where you are right now. We see a lot of candles behind you. Set the scene for us.

SCIUTTO: I will tonight, Wolf. This is a street where the shooting happened yesterday. And we've seen this vigil grow overnight, flowers, candles, very simple and quiet. We've watched people come here, each of them paying their respects for a time quietly, then they'll walk away. The crowd has been consistent throughout the night. This is the kind of emotion that you've seen unfolding here in Paris and one that is both sad and emotional but also defiant.

And that really to me is the dominant message here. You see it on the covers of newspapers and magazine, you hear it from people here saying it's a terrible tragedy but our response here in Paris and France is going to be we're going to stand up to this, we're not going to shy away from this.

BLITZER: We're going to get back to you soon, Jim Sciutto on the scene for us in Paris.

We're also getting word here in THE SITUATION ROOM that a new radio message from ISIS calls the Paris terror attackers, and I'm quoting now, "brave jihadists." It praises the attackers for going after a magazine that, in their words, again, "have been belittling the Prophet Mohammed."

But why did the irreverent French magazine's cartoons engage -- enrage these people so much that they wanted to kill them for revenge?

Brian Todd is taking a look into the mindset of these individuals.

And Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight we've got new insights into that from one man who was a jihadist and another who's still a radical cleric. They've got fascinating answers to the question of how the killing of defenseless people is justified in the mind of a militant.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): During the attack, the masked gunmen shouted "Allahu Akbar," Arabic for God is great, and said they were avenging the Prophet Mohammed. The cartoonists who were singled out in the military style killing had made fun of the Prophet Mohammed in their magazine. But many are asking tonight how a perceived insult motivated these jihadists?

(On camera): What triggers them to say it's OK to kill over it?

MUBIN SHEIKH, FORMER JIHADIST: Once you take on the ideology, so the Islamic religion teaches the Prophet is beloved to us more revered than our parents. If someone insults your mother, you're going to feel the need to want to do something against them. Most people don't because you get arrested for assault. Big problems.

For these people it doesn't matter. The Prophet was insulted. The religion was insulted. They feel that they have a license and right to commit a vigilante attack on a person.

TODD (voice-over): Mubin Sheikh is a former jihadist who almost went to Iraq to fight. But he broke away and went undercover for Canadian intelligence.

A current radical, London cleric Anjem Choudary, writing in a controversial op-ed in "USA Today" says Muslims have an obligation to defend the Prophet.

(On camera): How can the killing of defenseless people ever be justified even in upholding the honor of the Prophet?

ANJEM CHOUDARY, RADICAL BRITISH CLERIC: Well, you know, when you talk about the killing of defenseless people, we could talk about Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, we could talk about the CIA, we could talk about Guantanamo Bay. You know, Americans are experts at torturing innocent people. There are still innocent people in Guantanamo Bay. So I do think you should stop pointing the finger at Muslims. The Muslims are reacting.

TODD (voice-over): Choudary writes, "The Messenger Mohammed said whoever insults the prophet kill him." A prominent Islamic scholar, Akbar Ahmed, here in Washington strongly disagrees.

AKBAR AHMED, ISLAMIC SCHOLAR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Nothing in the Quran or the life of the Prophet suggests violence. In fact, the Prophet is known as a mercy unto mankind in the Quran.

TODD: Mubin Sheikh, the former jihadist, says it's not always about religious beliefs. Some radicals are using Islam as an excuse to kill.

SHEIKH: These are people that have this predisposition from prior experiences. And it's more easier for them to commit such acts.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: A question tonight, one that is often asked after attacks like the one in Paris, do mainstream Muslims ever brush back against this violence, speak out against it? Well, Mubin Sheikh and Professor Ahmed say many do speak out against it but they say it's not covered in the mainstream media, and they say there is a risk to speaking out. Even when Muslim leaders have spoken out, they say they're often attacked sometimes physically by radical Islamists -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's also the suggestion sometimes an almost component to all of this.

What's going on, Brian?

TODD: Believe it or not, yes, Wolf. Mubin Sheikh says jihadists including the ones he infiltrated don't consider moderates like him to be normal Muslims. He says they view them as sellouts. And he says there's a term they use to describe moderates, they call them coconuts, brown on the outside, white on the inside.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting for us disturbing information indeed. Thank you.

With us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson. Guillaume Debre, a correspondent for the French television channel TF1, joining us from Paris, the former U.S. congressman Jane Harman, she was on the Homeland Security Committee, she now leads the Wilson Center here in Washington. And our CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank.

Guillaume, tell us what's going on. You've described the certain calm, in your word, the calm way these gunmen were operating. This was a targeted attack clearly. But you have new information. What else are you learning about what happened?

GUILLAUME DEBRE, TF1 CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you've said, the manhunt has been expanded to both an area that borders the border of Belgium. The big fear for the French authorities is that the two gunmen would try to escape and leave France. But there is also another fear which played a lot today during the day is that they would come back to Paris, actually, and try to do other killings in Paris.

It doesn't seem to be the case because the car that they hijacked yesterday to which they had changed the license plates has been spotted so they think they have ditched the car and they're on the foot in this massive wooded area that is now really cold, really wet, really damp, and they think that they might be hiding there.

But, you know, Paris is not on lockdown of course, but at every gate of Paris, at every entry point of Paris, there are plainclothes officers, heavily armed, ready to go into action just in case the two gunmen would come back to the capital. And the security has been beefed up in several locations in Paris, mass transit, TV stations, of course, some schools because they're afraid that they would come back.

But of course right now the target is this massive, 20, 30- square-mile area in northwest Paris where they think that the two gunmen could be.

BLITZER: Yes. I know there is concern that there may be accomplices out there who may be getting ready if they already haven't, all ready to help them in their escape operation if, in fact, they ear going to escape.

Stand by for a moment, Guillaume. I want to bring in Jane Harman.

Was that an intelligence blunder -- you were on the Intelligence Committee -- that these two guys were not under surveillance given the fact they were on the no-fly list, one of them had spent a year and a half in jail, clearly the French knew they had done some training in Yemen, maybe even in Syria? It looks like an intelligence blunder here.

JANE HARMAN (D), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Well, we'll learn more about that. And our intelligence services and our FBI specifically -- and by the way, Eric Holder, as you pointed out, our attorney general is coming over this weekend -- are going to assess that. But for the moment they had been under surveillance, they had been in trouble. For all I know, and I don't know, the active intel did not show that they were plotting anything in the near term.

There are a lot of people to surveil, and let's keep in mind the goal here is not to -- is not to build a police state, to turn us into the kind of ISIS-like operation that we obviously are trying to defeat. This is a clash of competing narratives. Our narrative is open and free. And this could be a tipping point in a good direction because so many French and so many Germans and so many leaders in the Middle East, and so many Americans, are now wide awake about this and pushing back.

BLITZER: Nic, you've studied this and you've reported extensively on the ideology behind this violence. You heard Brian Todd's report. And it is chilling to hear that kind of language and to actually see the action that follows up. But I guess we should all anticipate more of this, right?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Undoubtedly. This is an ideology that's not going away, that's still gathering adherence, there are still places where people can get weapons training by going to Iraq, by going to Syria. They'll be welcomed with open arms. The message that's coming through social media, which is pervasive and well used by young people, who are receptive to these ideas in Europe and the United States.

This is a mechanism to get to these people. And incidents like this will inspire some people further. So at the moment, this is a trend that's not going down. Look back over the past month. You have radical Islamist attacks in Afghanistan this week. And you know, in Turkey this week there's a female suicide bomber who goes into a police station. You know, Australia barely a month ago, a radical Islamist there. In Pakistan, 132 schoolchildren killed there less than a month ago.

You have all these incidents just recently. This is a trend that's ramping up at the moment, not slowing down more.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Paul, and you've studied this for a long time, these two brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, they grew up, they were born in France, parents may have come from Algeria, but one of them was into rapping. Clearly they weren't very religious for a long time. They were into drinking, smoking pot, stuff like that. And all of a sudden, they become, if you believe all these reports, Islamic jihadists, if you will, and they go and do what they're alleged to have done.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: All of a sudden they become born-again Muslims, they're radicalized by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, they joined a study group in Paris, there's a charismatic preacher who's trying to persuade them to go and join the fight against the Americans in Iraq with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al Qaeda group that became ISIS later on.

One of these brothers was so radical in 2005 he wanted to launch an attack before leaving France for Iraq in 2005 against Jewish targets that he learned how to fire a Kalashnikov in a theoretical way back then as well. He was arrested before he was able to travel, though.

BLITZER: And he was arrested because he was going to try to go to Iraq to fight the United States, supposedly outraged by what the U.S. had done at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

I want all of you to stand by. We're getting a lot more information. Much more on the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following the urgent manhunt under way now for those two gunmen in the Paris terror attack. We're also told a helicopter used by French authorities now attempting to track the Paris terror suspects in a wooded area, this according to a French source close to the investigation. We're getting this information from our own Chris Cuomo who is on the scene in Paris.

Investigators surmise that the suspects entered the woods on foot. This is about an hour outside of Paris police helicopters. They're using night vision equipment now to try to locate these men.

Earlier today, a police helicopter glimpsed what they believed to be the two fugitives in the area. But these two fugitives remain at large.

Guillaume Debre is joining us from French television TF1. What do you make of this development now that a helicopter is

searching with night vision equipment, looking for these two guys in a wooded area? It's an area you're probably familiar with, (INAUDIBLE), just north of Paris?

DEBRE: Well, the French police think that they may have a leg up at night, because they know that they are not well equipped for surviving the night. They have been spotted with RPG and Kalashnikov heavy weapons, but they don't think they have survival kits that could make them survive long or at least stay long in this very wet, damp wooded area in the north of Paris.

And they're using of course these technical advances, technological advantage, night goggles that, you know, could help them with heat seeking equipment that could help them locate the two gunmen. They think that of course that they are by foot because the car they stole yesterday has been spotted.

There is a fear here in Paris that some copycat might try to do other killings in Paris. You know this morning a police officer was killed and another one wounded. Apparently the incident is not linked directly to the attack of yesterday, but they're afraid that -- you know, they're worried that some other radical Muslims would try to be inspired by what happened yesterday and do other, you know, targeted killings or some other killings in different areas of France.

BLITZER: And Jane Harman, it's not just in France where they're worried about copycats, they're worried about copycats elsewhere in Europe, whether in Belgium or Germany or Britain or even here in the United States.

HARMAN: We are. And DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, you had Jeh Johnson on your show last night, is all over this. That doesn't mean there's 100 percent security. These folks attack asymmetrically where we're less prepared and surely it can happen in Europe where there are more disaffected Muslim population. So let's understand, it's not only Muslims who are disaffected, but I think in Paris we should commend the Paris Police.

They're doing a thorough manhunt here. I think they will capture these folks, and I also think that, though the risk of copycat attacks is there, Paris is on high alert and hopefully the risk is as minimal as possible.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Paul, are you surprised they haven't captured these guys yet?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, presuming they could capture them soon, it appears they're closing in on them. They have all this sort of technology. And it's probably just a matter of hours from what we're hearing when they get them.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by. We're going to continue to follow the breaking news. We're going to get a live update on the frantic search now for these French terrorists. The Paris attack also has the U.S. scouring its databases. Were signals missed that could have kept the terrorists -- were signals missed that could have kept the terrorists off the streets?

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news. Frantic search. Tens of thousands of people taking part in the massive manhunt for the brothers wanted for the Paris terror attack, as new information emerges about ties to al Qaeda. Did one of the suspects train with terrorists?

Heightened security. American officials say they've known of the French suspects for years, and they're now scouring their databases to try to identify people inside the U.S. who may also pose a threat. Were important signals missed?

Bomb probe. The FBI investigates an explosion outside an office belonging to the NAACP. Is this a case of domestic terrorism?