Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama: ISIS Will Pay for Death of U.S. Hostage; Reports: U.S. Closing Its Embassy in Yemen; Interview with John Kirby; Pentagon: We Know of One Other U.S. Hostage Held; Serial Stowaway Slips Past Airport Security; Jesse Matthew Charged with Hannah Graham's Murder
Aired February 10, 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 HOST: Happening now, proof of death -- ISIS e-mails evidence to the family of a young American hostage, Kayla Mueller, as the White House pushes for new authority to carry out the war against ISIS.
Embassy evacuation -- after the fall of an ally, the U.S. prepares to abandon a key outpost in the fight against terrorism, as the region spirals out of control.
Security lapse -- a serial stowaway earns another mug shot after sneaking aboard a flight, just as warnings grow about terrorists working to sneak undetectable bombs on airliners.
And first degree murder -- charges are filed against a suspect in the killing of University of Virginia student, Hannah Graham.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Breaking now, with the United States confirming the death of the young American hostage, Kayla Mueller, President Obama is pledging that her ISIS captors will be tracked down, even as he prepares to ask Congress to give him specific new authority to carry out the war against the terror group. That would be the first such vote in more than a decade.
After a private message and photos sent by ISIS to the family of Kayla Mueller, U.S. officials concluded that she was, in fact, killed. They don't know how or when, but they dismiss the ISIS claim that she died in an airstrike.
All this comes as the U.S. suspends all services at a key embassy in the Middle East and prepares for a possible evacuation.
Our correspondents and our analysts are all standing by, along with Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.
Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
He has the very latest -- Jim. JIM ACOSTA, HOST: Wolf, the president is vowing the U.S. will make ISIS pay for the killing of American hostage Kayla Mueller. That promise from the White House comes as the administration is about to ask Congress to sign off on the president's plan for defeating ISIS.
ACOSTA (voice-over): It was the sad confirmation of what was widely feared, that American hostage Kayla Mueller, once held captive by ISIS, is dead. The president said in a statement, "No matter how long it takes, the United States will find and bring to justice the terrorists who are responsible for Kayla's captivity and death."
An emotional Arizona senator, John McCain, whose state Mueller called home, choked up as he paid tribute to the fallen aid worker.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: She will never be forgotten.
ACOSTA: The White House rejected claims from ISIS that Mueller was killed in last week's airstrikes that came after the terrorist grouped burned to death a Jordanian pilot.
JOSH EARNEST, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The information that we have is that there is no evidence of civilians in the target area prior to the coalition strike taking place.
ACOSTA: With Mueller's death adding pressure on the White House to strike back, the president is expected to officially ask Congress as soon as tomorrow to back a measure to authorize the war on ISIS. It would replace the more open-ended 2002 authorization for the war in Iraq. Sources say the current proposal would be specific to the fight against ISIS and expire in three years.
But one big sticking point remains -- whether the new authorization would limit U.S. boots on the ground, something Republicans may not accept.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm not talking about an Iraqi invasion of 100,000 American troops that would hold the territory. I'm not talking about an occupying American force. I'm talking about a force to supplement the regional forces that exist today.
If you took American combat power off the table in terms of ground troops, I'd vote against it.
ACOSTA: A sign the administration could fight an uphill climb, White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, roaming the hall of Congress, trying to whip up support.
One thing the White House is ruling out is any coordination with Syria over airstrikes, even though that country's leader, Bashar Al-Assad, told the BBC his government is speaking to the U.S. through third parties.
PRES. BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIA: Through a third party, more than one party, Iraq and other countries, sometimes they convey a message, a general message. But there's nothing tactical.
EARNEST: There has been no coordination as it relates to the specific details of our military operations in Syria.
ACOSTA: Now, the White House said publicly today that there is at least one more American hostage being held in the Middle East. That's an indication that Americans may be held by groups other than ISIS, but that they could be transferred to that terrorist organization.
And as for that authorization of force, Wolf, the president's request for three years could conceivably tie the hands of his successor -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.
We're also learning more about how the United States confirmed the death of the hostage, Kayla Mueller.
Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.
She's got more information -- Pamela.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just a few minutes ago, a very emotional press conference with family and friends of Kayla Mueller just wrapped you. They talked about the 26-year-old dedicated her life to helping others. As one friend said, she did ordinary things through extraordinary measures, such as giving food and water to the Syrian refugees. They talked about how she found freedom even in captivity, sharing anecdotal stories of how she sang songs and told stories with her prison guards.
Through tears, her grieving aunt said Kayla brought joy to everyone around her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LORI LYON, KAYLA MUELLER'S AUNT: The world grieves with us. The world mourns with us. The world wants to be more like Kayla. And if that is her legacy and the footprint that she leaves on the world, then that is a wonderful thing. In Kayla's letter to Marsha and Karl, she wrote, "I have come to see there is good in every situation. Sometimes we just have to look for it."
And right now, that's what we're all trying to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: And her family releasing that letter that Kayla wrote to them this last spring.
Officials I've been speaking with say the fact that Kayla may have been able to gain favor with her captors and the fact that she is a woman could be why her death he's been handled differently by ISIS compared to the other American hostages. In those cases, ISIS has exploited their death as propaganda. But there may have been concern in Kayla's case that murdering a woman and publicizing her death would offend others more than they already have, if you can believe it, impacting ISIS' fundraising and recruiting efforts -- Wolf.
And we know right now, the intelligence community is still trying to figure out how and when Kayla died -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Although they did confirm that the photos were authentic and that she...
BLITZER: -- and that she is, in fact, dead. Now they're going to get the specifics.
All right, thanks very much, Pamela, for that.
After the fall of a key U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism, the takeover of Yemen's capital by rebels, the U.S. Embassy there is suspending consular services and right now preparing for a possible shut down.
Let's get the very latest from our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto -- Jim, what are you learning?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you say, shutting down consular services there, that's the latest in a series of steps that's been reducing the diplomatic presence on the ground in Sana'a, Yemen. We hear from Yemeni sources that there was a meeting this week discussing the security situation on the ground there, discussing next steps there.
Wire services reporting that on the table is shutting down the embassy completely. State Department officials saying that they are closely monitoring the situation with paramount being the safety and security of U.S. personnel, including military forces on the ground there in that embassy.
I've spoken to a senior U.S. military official who says that even if that decision is made, it will not shut down U.S. counterterror operations there, which is, of course, drone strikes, which are keeping the pressure in the southern part of the country on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
And, Wolf, this is key, because if the decision is made to shut down the diplomatic presence in Yemen, you have now, think of this, four countries, four major countries in the region where you will not have a U.S. Embassy. You have Libya, Syria, of course, with the war there, Somalia, as well. And these four countries, failed states, in effect, in many ways. And they are a key concern, if not the key concern, for U.S. counterterror, U.S. intelligence, to have so many at once.
And it is a loss not to have a U.S. diplomatic and military presence in those places. That goes to not only political contacts there, but certainly intelligence gathering, military operations, etc.
So in this region here, certainly a major loss, particularly if the U.S. goes ahead and decides to shut down Yemen, as well.
BLITZER: Yes. Four key diplomatic outposts now, for all practical purposes, shut down.
All right, Jim, thanks very much.
Let's dig deeper now. Joining us, Rear Admiral John Kirby. He's the Pentagon press secretary. He's joining us from the Pentagon.
Admiral Kirby, thanks very much for joining us.
Is -- are the U.S. Marines who guard the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a, Yemen right now, are they packing their bags?
Are they already out of there?
What's their status?
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Well, they're still very much a part of the embassy outfit. That's the standard. And I won't get ahead of decisions that the State Department may or may not make. But we share the State Department's deep concern over the safety of U.S. personnel, military personnel, as well, in Sana'a. And we're just watching this very closely. And we're going to have to see how it unfolds.
BLITZER: How many American military personnel are in Yemen right now?
KIRBY: Well, we don't want to get into specific numbers, Wolf. I mean we have, as you know, a special operations presence in Yemen, working with Yemeni security forces on counterterrorism operations. That number fluctuates from -- almost from month to month. So it's hard to put an exact figure on it on any given day. And, again, we wouldn't want to get into that.
BLITZER: And Yemen is so important, because that's the base of AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which, arguably, is one of the most threatening al Qaeda affiliates out there, maybe the most threatening, even more so than ISIS as far as the U.S. homeland and Europe are concerned, isn't that right?
KIRBY: They're a very dangerous group. They do want to threaten Western interests, including U.S. interests. And we do consider them a threat to the United States of America. And we're watching them very closely.
BLITZER: And so if the U.S. pulls out of Yemen, shuts down the embassy in Sana'a, as the U.S. shut down its embassy in Somalia, in Syria, in Libya, what happens?
Those drone strikes will continue, but they'll have to be launched from someplace else, Oman, some place else, like Saudi Arabia, is that right?
KIRBY: Well, what I can tell you is, again, regardless of what the State Department may decide to do here, there is still a U.S. military presence inside Yemen. We are still capable of conducting counterterrorism operations in Yemen. And, frankly, Wolf, there is some counterterrorism training that's still ongoing, even as we speak today, with Yemeni security forces.
Now, obviously, we're watching the political situation there unfold. It's unstable and it's unsure. And we understand that. It's always easier to have an effective partner in a region like that when you're trying to do counterterrorism operations. And we hope that that kind of partnership can continue.
But I'd be less than honest if I said that there hadn't been some adjustments already made because of the political uncertainty. And we're just going to have to watch this closely going forward.
BLITZER: Because it looks like it's an awful situation in Yemen right now, the pro-US government there basically removed. These pro-Iranian Houthi Shiites, for all practical purposes, in charge right now.
This has turned out to be a disaster. And it's so surprising, because it wasn't all that long ago the president was citing the U.S. operations in Yemen as a success, right?
KIRBY: Well, the counterterrorism operations that we conduct in Yemen have been very successful. And we have put pressure on AQAP. I'm not saying it's been completely eliminated. You rightly characterized the threat that they still pose.
But we are still capable of conducting those operations in Yemen and we certainly hope to be able to continue to have that capability there.
BLITZER: So basically. I just want to wrap it up on Yemen, you're still waiting for an official statement from the State Department as far as the status of the U.S. Embassy is concerned?
If they do, in Sana'a, Yemen, what the U.S. did in Tripoli, Libya, for example, all U.S. diplomats, civilians, military personnel, the Marines who guard the embassy, they'll be leaving, right?
KIRBY: Well, again, I don't want to get ahead of a decision the State Department hasn't made. But in any case, in any individual country, if the diplomatic presence is withdrawn and removed, certainly the military personnel that are attached to that presence would go, as well.
BLITZER: Because we're all concerned about the safety, obviously, of not only the diplomats, but also of the military personnel. And we hope that those Marines and the other U.S. military personnel who are there are safe.
But as of right now, do you think they are?
KIRBY: Look, we're -- nothing is more important to us than the safety and security of our personnel. We're comfortable in those Marines. They know how to defend themselves. More critically, they know how to defend the people that they're there to protect. They're very trained and they're very skilled.
BLITZER: All right, let's talk about Kayla Mueller, the 26-year-old American humanitarian aid worker.
BLITZER: You've now confirmed she is dead.
Does the U.S. government know when she was killed, how she was killed?
KIRBY: Well, first I want to express, on behalf of all the men and women of the Defense Department, our deepest condolences. We are thinking and praying for the Mueller family right now and for all her friends back home.
We don't have any greater detail or knowledge right now around the circumstances of her death. Yes, we do believe -- we know that she is dead.
But the exact circumstances, when and how, remain unclear.
BLITZER: And you believe she's dead based, what, on a photograph that ISIS e-mailed to her family, is that right?
KIRBY: I really don't want to get into specifics on the evidence. I can just tell you that the intelligence community has determined and concluded that she is, in fact, dead.
BLITZER: Do you believe she was treated differently, the year-and-a- half, almost two years she was held hostage than the male hostages the Americans specifically?
We know that a few much them were beheaded.
KIRBY: I see no evidence or indication of how she was treated, Wolf. I think that's a question only ISIL can answer.
What I can tell you, though, is they took her, they kept her captive, hostage. And they are responsible for her death.
BLITZER: And so what is the U.S. going to do about that?
KIRBY: Well, look, we're going to continue to press the campaign on ISIL from a military perspective. There's no doubt that airstrikes are having an effect on this group in Iraq and in Syria. There's no question that pressure continues to be put on them on the ground, from Iraqi and from Kurdish forces. Nothing is going to change about the focus of the United States military on ISIL as a result of this.
BLITZER: We assumed that she was the last American hostage held by ISIS or ISIL, as you call it. But the White House today acknowledged at least one other American, and maybe more, are still being held hostage.
Are they being held hostage by ISIS or other terror groups? KIRBY: All I can tell you is we know at least of one other hostage being held in Syria hostage. I think that's a -- that's really about as far as I can go right now.
BLITZER: But is ISIS holding that individual hostage?
KIRBY: I'm just -- I won't go any further than I just did, Wolf. But, look, ISIL, this is a tactic that they use, holding people hostage, putting their lives in danger and putting them in harm's way, and then, of course, executing and killing them as a result of some of that captivity.
This is a reminder of just the brutal ideology that this group espouses and how dangerous they remain.
BLITZER: Is that American who's being held hostage in Syria right now a man or a woman?
KIRBY: Well, I really don't want to go into any more detail on it, Wolf. We know there's one American hostage in Syria. And I'll tell you another thing, Wolf. I mean, we don't lose focus on this. We monitor as close as we can.
And as you well know, if -- if the intelligence is there and the capability is there, the United States military will and will continue to mount rescue operations if they're needed.
BLITZER: So the U.S. will have rescue operations to go after this one individual? Is that right?
KIRBY: We always have that capability, and we never stop focusing on these folks. I won't get ahead of operations that haven't been decided or conducted. What I can tell you is we're watching it very, very closely. And if the opportunity presents itself, and you've seen us do this, we can and we will make rescue attempts.
BLITZER: I just want to be precise. You don't believe that Kayla Mueller was killed in that Jordanian airstrike in Raqqah.
KIRBY: We don't have any evidence. There's no indication that tells us that there were civilian casualties as a result of that particular airstrike. There's just -- there's just nothing that would indicate that.
BLITZER: All right. I want you to stand by, Admiral Kirby. We have a lot more to talk about. The U.S.-led war against ISIS is expanding. More coalition partners are now getting involved. Much more with the Pentagon press secretary right after this.
BLITZER: Breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. A senior U.S. official telling CNN more than 20,000 foreign fighters have joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq. We're back with Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary. You've seen that number: 20,000 foreign forces, volunteers, if you will, have joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria. That's beyond the Syrians and the Iraqis who have joined ISIS. That number accurate?
KIRBY: We really don't have any reason to doubt it. I think the range we've seen is, you know, somewhere around 20,000. And that's actually remaining sort of consistent over the last couple of months.
But this is the -- this is one of the real threats about this group, is the foreign fighters. These are folks that come in with other passports, other visas, and then can perhaps export some of this terror back to their home countries, which is another reason why we have to take the threat so seriously.
BLITZER: In addition to those 20,000 foreign fighters, how many local fighters in Iraq and Syria do you estimate that ISIS has?
KIRBY: It varies a lot, Wolf. And it's hard to pin it down on any -- with any specificity on any given day. But our estimates are somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 total people have joined ISIL. Now again, it varies every day. They get some people that come and fight and then leave. But they -- but they still have the ability to recruit and to resource themselves with manpower.
BLITZER: Jordan is clearly stepping up its airstrikes and maybe even getting ready for some sort of ground strikes. Is that right?
KIRBY: I wouldn't speak for another military on what they're about to do. Certainly wouldn't want to get into future operations. As we all know, the Jordanian air force did conduct a series of other airstrikes just in the recent days. They're a valued member of the coalition, and we appreciate their contribution.
BLITZER: And the UAE is joining Jordan. They've deployed a squadron of 16 fighters to join. They're now launching airstrikes as well, right?
KIRBY: They have -- they are launching airstrikes. They are back in what we call the ATO, the air tasking order. They're back flying airstrikes, and we welcome, again, their contributions, as well.
BLITZER: Any other Arab countries part of that group?
KIRBY: Well, there are several Arab countries that have participated in this -- in this effort at varying levels. The Saudis are hosting training equipped missions. The Bahrainis have participated. Qatar has participated. It varies, again, from day to day. But there are Arab members in this coalition. And we think that's critically important.
BLITZER: What do you think about the Syrian president, Bashar al- Assad, what he told the BBC, that Syria is sort of coordinating indirectly with the U.S. on these airstrikes through third parties?
KIRBY: I said it just a little bit ago. There is no communication or coordination, direct or indirect, with the Assad regime from a military perspective. There just isn't.
BLITZER: Because he seemed to be giving the sense that maybe through Iraq, which of course, has -- the Baghdad government has relations with the United States. They also have relations with Iran, and Iran is very close to Bashar al-Assad.
KIRBY: Well, I don't know to what other nation or other entity he was referring. Again, I would just tell you we're not indirectly, certainly not directly, communicating or coordinating with the Assad regime on military operations.
BLITZER: On the military authorization that the president is now seeking from Congress through legislation, will that completely close the door to the use of U.S. ground forces, combat troops on the ground to fight ISIS, as some of these reports are suggesting?
KIRBY: I want to be careful here not to get ahead of language that -- that hasn't been submitted, proposed legislation. So you'll please excuse me for not getting into too much of the detail. But I will say that Secretary Hagel of the Defense Department welcomes the new authorization of military force that is tailored and better -- and more specifically tailored and better capable of helping us go after a group like ISIL. This is the time for it, and we look forward to working with members of Congress to get to that as an end state and a goal.
BLITZER: Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, thanks very much for joining us.
KIRBY: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, the latest fears al Qaeda's bomb makers are close to perfecting a device the terrorists can sneak onto airplanes. We have new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're getting new information about a woman who repeatedly manages to sneak aboard airliners without a ticket. Her case is raising serious concerns about airport security. Just as we're getting new reports al Qaeda may be close to perfecting bombs that won't be detected by airport scanners.
Let's go to our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh. She's getting new information. Rene, what are you learning?
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a woman who we are talking about. She has made it past airport security and onto planes twice. And now she claims she's done it again, putting airport security at our nation's airports back under the microscope.
And if this serial stowaway indeed has done it again, the question is how. Investigators aren't quite sure just yet.
MARILYN JEAN HARTMAN, RIDES AIRPLANES WITHOUT BOARDING PASSES: I certainly don't want to do it again. MARSH (voice-over): She has the face of an innocent grandmother. But
63-year-old Marilyn Jean Hartman's collection of mug shots continues to grow. Her M.O.? Getting through airport security and boarding flights for free.
She was arrested in Florida Sunday for checking into someone else's villa at this luxury resort. The so-called serial stowaway also told police she flew from Minneapolis to Jacksonville without a ticket.
Hartman has successfully pulled off the same stunt before. In August, she pleaded no contest in California for stowing away on a flight from San Jose to Los Angeles.
HARTMAN: It is stupid, and it's something I don't want to repeat.
MARSH: She bypassed TSA and airline document checkers without a plane ticket. Hartman was arrested upon landing.
And just six months earlier, she was arrested again after she got by security in San Francisco. She was seated on a Hawaii-bound plane when the passenger whose seat she was in arrived.
MICHAEL BOYD, AVIATION CONSULTANT: The fact is, we don't have good security. You do have to have a boarding pass to get into the security line. How did she manage to do that? You've got to have a boarding pass to get on an airplane. How did she manage to do that? I don't have answers to that. We do have one answer. She was able to do it on multiple occasions, which says that our system isn't layered. Our system is like Swiss cheese.
MARSH: The TSA says it's reviewing airport surveillance video to confirm whether Hartman's most recent stowaway claim is true. But she's not the only one who successfully breached airport security.
This 15-year-old California boy, caught on surveillance video didn't get a seat on the plane but managed to stow away in the wheel well of this Hawaii-bound plane. Officials say he snuck onto the tarmac at San Jose international and eluded detection for six hours before crawling into the wheel well.
BOYD: Airport security is everyone's responsibility, right on down to the janitor all the way up to the airport director. But overall, aviation security is directed by the Transportation Security Administration. It is their responsibility to make sure everyone is doing their job. And in cases that we've seen in the last several weeks, they're not doing their job.
MARSH: Last year the serial stowaway said her law-breaking days were over.
HARTMAN: Obviously, they'll be on the watch for me, so I wouldn't dare attempt this again.
MARSH: But the question now is, will airport security be able to stop her from striking again?
MARSH: Well, we do know how Hartman pulled off this stunt in the past. At two different airports she slipped pass TSA document checkers when their heads were down looking at other passengers' travel documents. TSA says it changed the setup at those airports after those incidents -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I hope so. All right. Rene, thanks very much.
Let's dig deeper. Joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM to share their insight on U.S. airport security concerns, CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank; CNN law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes; and CNN justice reporter Evan Perez.
Guys, I just want you to stand by for a moment. We've got to take a quick break. We're getting some new information.
Much more on airport security, new threats from AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, supposedly developing bombs that could go through scanners. Much more right after this.
BLITZER: Latest arrest of a woman accused of repeatedly sneaking onto airlines taking free flights, raising new concerns about overall security at U.S. airports, especially worrisome in light of new warnings al Qaeda may be close to perfecting a bomb that could pass undetected through airport security.
Evan, how does something like this happen, a 63-year-old woman, multiple times gets on board a plane without a boarding pass?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You know, this is a humorous story in some ways, but it's really serious that she keeps getting by. And it raises questions as to how airport -- airport security is functioning at some of these airports.
Now, these are smaller airports that she's been flying. So I think she flew to Jacksonville.
In this case, I think, you know, the officials would say, look, we're looking for specific people, and that's what they're doing. That's what they're focused on. And so a grandmother, you know, getting through is not something that they particularly -- you know, obviously, they're going to fix it, but it's not something they worry about.
But it does raise a question of whether someone could just, you know, fake their -- their papers, their boarding passes and so on, to get on planes.
BLITZER: Tom, it does raise serious question about the broader security at these airports.
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it sure does. And even if they profile her out of additional scrutiny saying, "Well, she's a little old lady, nice looking grandmother." You know, if you had a grandmother who's -- one of her grandchildren was kidnapped and being held and ready to be beheaded and they said, "Carry this package on for us," they'd probably do it. So you can't just rule out somebody.
And that's one of the reasons why profiling is not supposed to be done in these situations, because they could get somebody that looks like her to go on and do something bad.
BLITZER: Very worrisome development.
Paul, yesterday Senator Angus King, a member of the intelligence committee, he told me that AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in his words is pretty close to building a bomb that could get through airport security that would be very hard if not impossible to detect. This is an enormous concern, isn't it?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: It's a very significant concern, Wolf, that Ibrahim al-Asiri, the al Qaeda in Yemen master bomb maker, and his team of explosive experts, they're believed to be building increasingly sophisticated devices, including new versions of the underwear device and a new version of a shoe bomb device, looking at new ways to seal and conceal explosives so they can beat the latest generation of airport security systems.
A lot of concern about this. A lot of concern that they may also be sharing this technology with the Khorasan group in Syria, which is an al Qaeda A-team, which itself has also been plotting attacks again western aviation and has a large potential pool of western recruits in Syria, up to 3,500 westerners believed to have traveled to fight in Syria with these various jihadi groups.
BLITZER: Senator King told me yesterday, Tom, that they are working on some new techniques to try to detect these hard-to-detect bombs. He wouldn't get into specifics. But apparently, there's some new opportunities there.
FUENTES: Well, they're working on newer techniques, but the truth is they've already had a bomb that can be undetectable going through airport security. PETN is virtually undetectable. If it's packaged right, the dogs can't smell it; censors don't detect it.
That's how Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber, took that explosive onto the flight to Detroit. And it was the detonation process that failed, because he had been sitting and sweating and messing up the chemistry of the bomb for 10, 15 hours. That's why it didn't go off, although explosive experts told me later that examined it, they said that if he'd lit that bomb nine -- ten times, it would have gone off nine.
BLITZER: What are you hearing from your sources?
PEREZ: Well, that's -- you know, the fact that these guys are also trying to perfect bombs that can hide in devices that we commonly take on board, this is the reason why the TSA recently changed the way it's doing this. Now, you know, randomly they're asking people to turn on their
devices, because they hope that this is one way they can catch something that may be able to pass through.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by. Because this is obviously a very, very disturbing development.
Coming up, there's other news we're following, including the man accused of kidnapping the University of Virginia student Hannah Graham now accused of murdering her. Jesse Matthew may not face the death penalty, though. We have surprising new details. Stand by.
BLITZER: We're following a dramatic break in the abduction and the death of the University of Virginia student Hannah Graham. Jesse Matthew, the man seen with Graham in those security videos from the night she disappeared, now has been indicted for murdering her.
Our correspondent Brian Todd is Charlottesville for today's surprise announcement.
So, Brian, tell our viewers how it went.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you mentioned surprise, the timing of this announcement was a bit of a surprise given that there's a separate rape case against Jesse Matthew in Fairfax County that could go to trial soon.
Still the announcement of charges today is a crucial step in a case that has horrified this community now for five months.
TODD (voice-over): She was the subject of the largest missing persons search in Virginia's history. When she was found near this creek bed a month after her disappearance, all that was left of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham was her skull and some bones.
Tonight the prime suspect in the case is formally charged.
DENISE LUNSFORD, ALBEMARLE COUNTY PROSECUTOR: Jesse Matthew Jr. was indicted in Albemarle County for abduction and murder of Hannah Graham.
TODD: Jesse Matthew was one of the last people seen with Graham early on the morning of September 13th. They've been spotted on surveillance video outside Tempo, an upscale bar in the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville.
Graham had been captured on surveillance cameras just before that at various places in Charlottesville. Police and prosecutors won't discuss what evidence they have against Matthew, but Charlottesville criminal defense attorney Scott Goodman believes it's a strong case.
SCOTT GOODMAN, LEGAL ANALYST: They have the evidence on the video on the Downtown Mall. They know that Miss Graham was last seen with Mr. Matthew. They also have the evidence that he fled from the scene. You have the car. There could be blood evidence.
TODD: Matthew has also been charged with the 2005 rape and attempted murder of a woman in Fairfax County, Virginia. He's pleaded not guilty in that case, which will likely go to trial later this year. And authorities say he's linked forensically to the 2009 disappearance of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington whose body was found not far from where Graham's was discovered.
Despite the brutal nature of all three cases, the prosecutor says she's not seeking the death penalty for Graham's murder and she wouldn't say exactly why.
LUNSFORD: Understand that a great deal of serious thought went into -- this determination, including the impact on the community, the Grahams, and the need to provide Mr. Matthew with a fair trial.
TODD: We asked the prosecutor if a deal was made with Jesse Matthew to have him avoid the death penalty. She said they've had no discussions with Matthew or his lawyer about that.
TODD: We contacted Jesse Matthew's lawyer Jim Camblos. He would not comment on the murder charge and Hannah Graham's parents could not be reached for their response to the new charge against Matthew or to the decision not to seek the death penalty -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, in that Fairfax, Virginia, case, the victim survived. She managed to get away. That makes her extremely important in these cases, right?
TODD: Absolutely, Wolf. And the prosecutor in Fairfax has said just how crucial a witness she is. She is coming all the way from India to testify against Jesse Matthew in that case. That case was slated to begin in March but it's now been delayed, it may not begin until this summer.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.
So the timing of the Jesse Matthew indictment is just one of today's surprises. It's also important and surprising that he's charged with first-degree murder but not capital murder. A capital murder charge, as you know, opens the possibility that Matthews could be executed if he's convicted. A first-degree murder conviction carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Let's bring back the former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes, along with investigative journalist Coy Barefoot, who's been covering this story since Hannah Graham disappeared. And our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Coy, today's news out of Charlottesville, that's where you are, surprising for a number of reasons. But remind our viewers what led up to this point. Because this is an extremely unusual case, isn't it?
COY BAREFOOT, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: It is, Wolf. Listen, there's so many moving parts to this story. But here's the takeaway from today and here's what people need to understand.
Jesse Matthew abducted Hannah Graham, he stole her from her family and from this community. He brutally murdered Hannah Graham and then he dumped her body like it was nothing but garbage in the dark, in the woods, in the mountain south of Charlottesville.
That is precisely what police investigators. That's what prosecutors believe happened the night that Hannah Graham disappeared.
It's this coming Friday night, it will be five months since Hannah Graham was last seen in downtown Charlottesville, barely able to stand on her own in the clutches of Jesse Matthew and her remains were found five weeks later.
And ever since she went missing, we've wanted two things. We've wanted to know what happened to her and we've wanted justice if any crimes were committed. And what we know today that we didn't know yesterday is that the authorities here in Virginia are certain that they know what happened the night Hannah went missing and they intend to bring Jesse Matthew to justice for the horrific crimes that they believe he committed.
BLITZER: Right. And as you say, these are allegations. These are the charges. He's obviously innocent until he's proven guilty. But were you surprised, as far as the timing of the charges, the charge itself, that he's being charged with first-degree murder in the Hannah Graham case, not capital murder?
BAREFOOT: Wolf, I was blindsided by this announcement. I'm going to be honest with you. I was not expecting this. All of my sources have been saying for months, there's plenty of time in Albemarle County. We've got another trial going on in Fairfax. We'll wait until that's over and then what happened is the police wrapped up and the prosecutor said, well, why wait? And it was a pretty quick decision and they moved on it. And so we get the announcement today.
As for no death penalty, that was a bit of a surprise. But I guess it shouldn't be. The last time I think anyone was executed for a crime committed in central Virginia was actually, interestingly enough, was 110 years ago today, February 10th, 1905, when a former mayor was hung to death for beating his wife to death in the bathtub in Charlottesville and he was the last man executed by hanging in Virginia and it took place here.
I don't think anyone has been executed for a crime committed in central Virginia since that time.
BLITZER: So, Jeffrey, what's your analysis? Is that the explanation why they're going -- they're not going for the capital murder charge?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the key thing we don't know here is what the forensic evidence shows in the Hannah Graham case. Whether there is any DNA -- DNA evidence or similar evidence tying him to the crime. Because simply basing a case on his being seen on a video, it's suggestive but I don't know if that is enough to get a conviction, much less the death penalty.
This plays into, I think, one of the less discussed facts about the death penalty in the United States. It is down all over. It's down in Texas. Prosecutors are asking for it less, jurors are imposing it less. And executions are taking place less. So this is one of the more liberal parts of Virginia, and the prosecutors apparently thought that you couldn't get it.
BLITZER: But, you know, usually in a case like this, in a case like this, you ask for the death penalty and maybe the guy will plead guilty, get life without the possibility of parole and then there won't be a trial or anything like that. They seem to be even foregoing that, right?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, normally the prosecutors are looking at a couple of things. First of all, they could change their mind. It's not, you know, set in stone that they're not going to ask for the death penalty. But, you know, what's happened in the last few months is that they linked him to the murder scene, to the crime scene to be able to say he killed her.
There was plenty of video evidence there were to gather. They already have the hairs, fibers, DNA, showing that they had been together that night. That's not the issue. Because he could say he dropped her off and didn't see her again. She was fine when he left her.
They have to have something at that crime scene, where the skeletal remains were found, or in his apartment after, or maybe he did, like many serial killers, took a trophy photograph after he killed her, or something else from her personal and they found that in the searches of his car --
TOOBIN: He has -- and he has not yet been charged in this murder of the Virginia Tech student. That is a possibility for --
BLITZER: That's a separate --
TOOBIN: Separate case. Possibly the death --
BLITZER: All right. Jeffrey, Tom, Coy, guys, thanks very much.
Coming up, ISIS e-mails, evidence to the family that the American hostage Kayla Mueller leading officials to conclude she died in captivity.
And as fighting explodes out of control in Ukraine, President Obama phones the Russian president Vladimir Putin and with an urgent appeal.