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THE SITUATION ROOM
Feds: Suspect Offered to Kill Obama for ISIS; U.S. Embassy Warns of Threat to Malls in Jordan
Aired February 25, 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, New York bomb plot. The FBI arrests three men living in Brooklyn, who allegedly talked of killing the president of the United States, attacking police and blowing up a landmark while planning to join ISIS.
Another mall threat. A major U.S. embassy warns Americans to be alert to potential attacks on shopping centers. We have details.
North Korea nukes. Kim Jong-un's ambitions and arsenal may be growing at an alarming rate. Why the dictator could soon have up to 100 nuclear weapons.
Plus, snow and ice. Forty-three million Americans in the path of another big storm. It's bearing down now. Are they ready?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: And let's get to the breaking news. Three men living in New York, they are now in custody at this hour, accused of trying to join ISIS. One suspect was arrested today at New York's JFK Airport before a flight to Turkey. Court papers say the men allegedly discussed carrying out attacks here in the United States, and one suspect is said to have spoken about shooting President Obama.
Senator Chris Murphy of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he's standing by live, along with our correspondents and our analysts. And the U.S., as the U.S. helps Iraqi forces gear up for an offensive against ISIS, I will speak with the U.S. Army chief of staff, General Ray Odierno.
But let's begin with an extraordinary terror bust today. Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is joining us. What's the latest you're hearing about this plot? What were these men allegedly planning?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Very disturbing here, Wolf. The FBI arrested these three men, these three Brooklyn, New York men, on material support charges. They allege that at least one of the men had boasted about wanting to kill President Obama. Also, wanting to allegedly blow up Coney Island. Of course, a big U.S. landmark. And they also allege, according to the FBI, that the other man wanted to kill federal agents, wanted to shoot and kill the FBI with an AK-47 and kill other police officers.
And according to the criminal complaint we've been reading through, if they weren't able to follow through on their original plan of wanting to go over to Syria and fight with ISIS, they would carry out these plans in the U.S. in the homeland.
One of the men, Abdurasul Jaraboev, went on the law enforcement's radar last summer after he posted about allegedly wanting to kill President Obama. Very alarming post. He says in that, "To shoot Obama and then get shot ourselves, will it do? That will strike in the heart of infidels."
So that post brought the FBI to the front door of this man. They apparently, according to an NYPD press conference today, identified themselves as FBI agents, but even after that initial interview, Wolf, apparently Jaraboev, according to the criminal complaint, then called people overseas with ISIS, including an ISIS administrator, Wolf, of a website who then convinced him to come over and fight overseas, allegedly.
And then according to this criminal complaint, Jaraboev also talked to one of his friends, Akhor Saidakhmetov, difficult name there, to join him to go to ISIS, and Saidakhmetov was the one who was arrested, allegedly, for wanting to travel to Turkey today, to then go fight with ISIS in Syria.
You know, Wolf, we have seen these material support cases before. But what is so alarming here is the fact that we have information that these men wanted to launch an attack in the U.S., if they couldn't make it to Syria, and also the fact that they were conspiring. This isn't just one person wanting to provide material support. This was a conspiracy, according to law enforcement officials.
I should mention the third man in this case wanted to allegedly provide support by financing their trip. He allegedly bought the tickets for these two young men to go to Turkey. So very alarming -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And it's taking place, the arrests today, just as we're getting new information about how widespread these extremists might be throughout the United States.
BROWN: That's right. We heard director James Comey, director of the FBI, James Comey, say there are home-grown violent extremists in every state, all 50 states. And he talked about the fact that ISIS is sounding the siren through social media to tell people to come and join them.
And in fact, we just talked about this issue a couple weeks ago when I interviewed Michael Steinbach, the head of the FBI's counterterrorism division. He talked about the fact there are groups of people here in the U.S. that are interacting with ISIS overseas, and what we see today with this case, Wolf, is a reflection of what we've been reporting about.
BLITZER: It's very disturbing information. Pamela Brown, thanks very much.
Let's get some more details that are coming in on these alleged ISIS wannabes. Our justice reporter, Evan Perez, is joining us. What are you hearing, Evan, from your law enforcement sources?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this case really represents an escalation of this threat from ISIS. Until now, you know, we've been hearing about ISIS, and we've been hearing about their recruits. Most of them have come from around the country and you know, they are trying to reach Syria to join the militants. In this case, we are talking about New York, and that's something that we hadn't seen before.
I'm told by law enforcement officials that there are other cases that they're investigating. They expect that they're going to be able to bring charges against other individuals who are planning to join ISIS or trying to carry out attacks here in this country. And one of the things that they're watching is JFK. JFK is a point of departure for a lot of flights to Europe, which is a conduit for people trying to get over there, Wolf.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to what James Comey, the FBI director, said today about the growth of these suspected extremists throughout the United States. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: Those people exist in every state. I have home-grown violent extremist investigations in every single state. Until a few weeks ago, it was 49 states. Alaska had none, which I couldn't quite figure out. But Alaska has now joined the group, so we have investigations of people in various stages of radicalizing in all 50 states.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I mean, that's obviously very disturbing, when he says it's as widespread as it is. That was sort of startling to me to hear that from the FBI director.
PEREZ: Well, yes. And you know, one of the things that we've been focusing on today, Wolf, is in these charges against these three men. You know, they talked about, you know, carrying out an attack against the president or perhaps maybe hijacking a plane and taking the airplane to ISIS in Syria. And a lot of people think that these people, you know, frankly weren't very smart discussing some of this online.
The truth is, you know, it doesn't take a lot of smarts to carry out some very deadly attacks. I mean, we saw here in New York where you had somebody who was deranged who attacked police officers. And so one of the things that the FBI, what the director there was talking about, he was trying to urge people around the country, law enforcement in particular, to keep an eye out, because the FBI is not really able to keep a handle on all of these people. They're going to need the help of people around the country to let them know when -- when one of these guys is planning to do something.
BLITZER: Evan, we've got some live pictures coming in from the federal courthouse in Brooklyn. You see what's going on. Two of these three suspects, they're about to be arraigned there. We believe they will be charged with providing material support for terrorists, namely ISIS. A third is going to be arraigned in Florida right now. Potentially, if convicted of this charge, they face up to 15 years in jail, is that right?
PEREZ: That's right, Wolf. And the investigation is continuing. We know that the FBI arrested one of these men last night and then decided to go and arrest the other one who was still at home, was planning to travel later, and the other one in Jacksonville. We know that the FBI spent all night, had agents interviewing these men, and one of the other things they're trying to figure out is whether there are others that these men were working with, were talking to. They're interested in those people, as well.
BLITZER: All right. Deborah Feyerick is inside the courtroom right now watching what's going on. She's going to be coming outside and briefing us. This is the federal courthouse in Brooklyn. We'll stay in touch with her, obviously, get the very, very latest. Evan Perez, thanks very much.
We're also learning of another threat to upscale shopping malls this morning, coming from the U.S. embassy in Amman, Jordan. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working on this story. What are you hearing about this U.S. warning to all Americans who are in Jordan right now, or planning on visiting Jordan?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the U.S. embassy in Jordan has issued a statement warning Americans embassy personnel, their families, American citizens in Jordan, for the coming days to stay away, to avoid what they are calling high-end shopping malls in Amman, Jordan. There are a few of them there, and they're warning them to stay away from them.
They say that there is a threat. They say the timing and the exact type of threat is not known, but that there is credible information that there is a threat in Amman.
Jordanian officials certainly have ramped up security in that country in recent weeks since the capture and killing, of course, of the Jordanian air force pilot by ISIS and the rising sense that there is an ISIS threat against Jordan. So that seems to be the foundation for some of this. But still, another disturbing development, yet another embassy today overseas warning American citizens they must be careful.
BLITZER: Barbara, I want you to stand by. I know you're getting other information about ISIS activities in Iraq. We'll have that later. But I want to bring in Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut right now. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thanks very much for joining us. Pretty shocking when you hear these three guys who live in Brooklyn, arrested, the suspicion getting ready to go over to Syria to align themselves with ISIS and potentially come back here and launch plots or attacks against the United States. What are you hearing about this?
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, first of all, credit goes to our law enforcement personnel, who were able to find these guys and bring them to justice. We've got to be vigilant, because they are likely the tip of the iceberg. Radicalization is pretty easy these days when you have imams and organizers able to contact people through Facebook, through Twitter, through other social media platforms.
I think we want to be careful about not getting too far ahead of ourselves here. Right now it looks like this threat may have been a little bit more aspirational than it was operational. But this is real, and it's why we've got to make sure that our strategy against ISIS in the Middle East significantly degrades them without providing more recruitment fodder for folks that are trying to organize in the homeland right here in the United States.
BLITZER: Yes. One of these three guys was arrested at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York getting ready to board a flight to Turkey. As you know, once you're in Istanbul, it's not that hard to cross that border, get into Syria and align yourself, hook up with ISIS. So that seems like there was a pretty specific plot, at least in this individual's -- in this individual's case, right?
MURPHY: Well, and we know that there are Americans who are moving into that fight. We know that there are Europeans who are flooding into Turkey, into Syria, into Iraq. And one of the most important conversations we're having is with our allies in Europe to make sure that they're doing the things necessary to try to track these individuals to make sure that they don't use what's called the visa waiver program to come back into Europe, come into the United States.
We do a pretty good job of figuring out who's moving over there to make sure that they don't move back here to threaten us, but our allies have to step up and do the same thing, as well.
BLITZER: The other very, very worrisome development in this Justice Department memorandum that was released outlining the charges was that one of them said that, if he couldn't get to Syria to hook up with ISIS, he was going to go to try to kill the president of the United States. And another said he would simply try to blow up Coney Island or kill as many police officers or FBI agents as he possibly could. That sounds pretty ominous to me, as well.
MURPHY: Well, these guys clearly weren't really smart about their intentions, given that they broadcasted them on social media such that they could be pretty easily picked up by law enforcement. But it's a reminder about why information gathering is important.
I'm not somebody who's been a fan of how we've conducted a lot of our surveillance activities under the Patriot Act, but so long as a court is overseeing some of the operations we're doing to gather this information, this is just another reminder of why we have to be constantly vigilant and why Republicans and Democrats have to come together in Washington around making sure that law enforcement have the tools available to root this out.
As long as ISIS is there, it doesn't take someone actually traveling across the ocean in order to become radicalized. They can simply use that fight in order to do damage to us without ever leaving the United States.
BLITZER: When you have these three guys working together, would you call them lone wolves or part of some sort of ISIS conspiracy?
MURPHY: Well, I don't think we know enough yet. I certainly don't know enough yet about what their interaction was with ISIS. And frankly, it shouldn't matter in the sense that, whether or not people are working with ISIS or acting on their own, they present the same kind of threat. Because as you said, your reporter said it doesn't take much today in order to carry out an attack that would kill a large number of Americans.
So we've got to be vigilant whether these are lone wolves or whether these are people communicating with ISIS. And that's why ISIS is a threat, because they're inspiring attacks against the United States and against other countries, regardless of whether they're actually reaching in to the United States with direct contact.
BLITZER: Senator, I need you to stand by. We're going to have a lot more on the breaking news that's unfolding. These three individuals arrested today. The conspiracy, supposedly, they were trying to get over to Syria to hook up with ISIS. Much more with Senator Chris Murphy when we come back.
BLITZER: We're continuing to follow the breaking news. The -- that's the federal courthouse in Brooklyn. Two of the three suspects arrested today, suspicious -- the suspects believed to be trying to get to Syria to work with ISIS. Two of them are going to be arraigned here in Brooklyn. We're standing by. Our own Susan Candiotti is inside. We're going to get the latest. Deborah Feyerick, I should say, she's inside.
We're going to get the latest from her, from Deb Feyerick when she comes out. We'll see what happens inside. But we're watching this very, very closely right now. As soon as she comes out, we'll go there live.
In the meantime, we're back with Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We heard the FBI director say today, Senator, that there are now radicalized individuals who are being monitored by the FBI in all 50 states, even Alaska. He said that was the last state. Does this worry you?
MURPHY: Of course it worries us. We know that this is nothing new to the United States. For decades, we've had radicals here that we've had to monitor and protect from attacking the United States. But we need to be more vigilant now than ever.
Again, the means of radicalization are easier now than they ever have been before. It used to be that you had to actually physically connect with a radical imam or a mosque that had been radicalized in order to turn yourself towards that kind of belief system. Now all you need to do is have a computer or a laptop or a smartphone, and you can have exposure to this kind of ideology.
So it just means that we've got to be more vigilant than ever about watching for where this preaching is happening and who's listening to it.
BLITZER: In this -- these charges that were put forward in this Justice Department memo that was released earlier today, one of these suspects supposedly in August of 2014, last summer, posted on a website that propagates ISIS ideology and offered to kill the president of the United States if ordered to do so by ISIS.
And more recently, another one of these suspects expressed his intent to buy a machine gun and shoot police officers and FBI agents, if thwarted in his plan to join ISIS in Syria.
It's one thing to try to kill the president of the United States. That's pretty hard. It's another thing to just go out in the street and try to kill police officers. That's not that hard, right?
MURPHY: It's not that hard, and again, you know, we don't know yet whether this is a plan that had any real operational reality to it, or whether these were individuals who were just posting their vicious thoughtless meanderings online.
The reality, though, is that right now, as we speak, we are conducting a debate that threatens to shut down the Department of Homeland Security. We have Republicans who are refusing to fund the Department of Homeland Security unless they get some immigration, anti-immigration riders attached to that bill.
And one of the things that is funded inside that bill is the reform of the Secret Service, the organization charged with protecting the president. Obviously, the Department of Homeland Security has all sorts of other responsibilities designed to protect this country from terrorist attacks.
So the irony, the tragedy of having these three individuals arrested today in New York, potentially plotting attacks against the United States, when we are about to potentially shut down the Department of Homeland Security, is shameful. And hopefully, it might change the debate here over the course of the next 48 hours.
BLITZER: And it comes after the secretary of homeland security was warning to be on the lookout at shopping malls across the United States, especially the largest one, the Mall of America outside Minneapolis-St. Paul. And today the U.S. embassy in Amman, Jordan issued a release saying to all Americans, whether you live there or you're a tourist, stay away from any of the so-called high-end malls in Amman, Jordan, because of terror threats. This is all very alarming, isn't it?
MURPHY: Yes. And it's real and it's present. And it's frankly not going away. But it's why we're trying to have a thoughtful debate inside the foreign relations committee about how we combat ISIS. You've got to take these guys out, and that involves military operations.
But we met this week with the emir of Qatar and the king of Jordan. And they both told us the same thing. They said, "Listen, please don't put U.S. combat troops back on the ground inside Syria and Iraq, because you are frankly going to radicalize more people to the cause of these extremists than you're going to kill through your military operations."
And so if we really want to take this problem on, we've got to do good surveillance, great law enforcement, but we've also got to have an anti-ISIL strategy that is realistic about the fact that Arabs need to lead this locally inside that region such that an American face and a large number of American combat troops don't end up just providing more bulletin board material for these recruiters.
BLITZER: Senator Murphy, thanks very much for joining us.
MURPHY: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to continue to watch this Brooklyn courthouse. You're looking at live pictures. Two of the terror suspects arrested today are about to be arraigned. We're going inside. Stand by.
But up next, who's behind the suspicious drone flights over some of the most sensitive locations in Paris?
Plus an ominous new warning about Kim Jong-un's nuclear ambitions. But there's a new report predicting he may have close to 100 nuclear bombs in only five years. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Breaking news we're following. Take a look at this. These are live pictures outside the Brooklyn federal courthouse. Two of the terror suspects arrested today, they're being arraigned, we're told, right now. And we're standing by. We might be hearing from some of the U.S. attorneys who are inside.
Our own Deborah Feyerick is inside, as well. Once this session ends, we'll go there live. So stay with us for that.
In the meantime, the U.S. military is helping Iraqi forces gear up for what's being described as a major offensive against ISIS, aimed at retaking a big city, Mosul, from the terrorists.
I sat down today with the U.S. Army's chief of staff, General Ray Odierno. He says that upcoming battle will be extremely tough.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Heard a briefing from U.S. military Central Command the
other day saying we're talking about March or April, in the spring, spring offensive, Iraqi troops going in there, basically backed by maybe Kurdish troops, I assume the Shiite militias backed by Iran and some U.S. and coalition air power are going to go liberate Muslims. Is that the game plan?
GEN. RAD ODIERNO, U.S. ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I mean, I think the game plan is to have Iraqi security forces go into this.
BLITZER: You have confidence in them?
ODIERNO: Well, I think what we're -- we're seeing great progress over the last couple days. Last week we've seen them do some successful operations in western Iraq, in Anbar province. They have made some improvements. What we'll have to see is wait and see.
Now, we will wait and see what the timeline is, and I'd leave that up to the commanders on the ground to determine, you know, working with the Iraqis, are they ready to do this or not. But this is not going to be a three-day, four-day, five-day thing. It's going to be months and months.
BLITZER: This number was thrown out the other day at this Pentagon briefing, 25,000 or 30,000 troops going into Mosul to liberate that city, is that a realistic number?
ODIERNO: I think so. I think it is a realistic number. I think what you're going to need is -- their numbers -- the numbers of ISIS vary. Some people say 5,000, 2,000, 3,000. We're not sure. But again, what it goes back to is it's not that there's 5,000 fighters lined up. It's 3,000 -- 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 fighters intermixed among the population.
BLITZER: Are they still successful in recruiting new members?
ODIERNO: So I think that, you know, the one thing I will say is their ability to use social media and promote it on the Internet is -- I think they are still recruiting, and I think they are recruiting from many different parts of the world. And so I do believe that's something that is going on.
And I think that's one of the reasons why it's important that we take this threat seriously, is we want to stop this now. We don't want this to continue to grow over time.
BLITZER: One question on Syria, the Free Syrian Army. The U.S. is vetting a lot of these guys to go train, whether in Jordan or Turkey or Saudi Arabia, someplace. Any of them started training yet, or is the vetting process still going on?
ODIERNO: Very close. We expect March. We expect somewhere in March, April time frame, March hopefully, that we will begin to train.
BLITZER: And then how long will that training last? ODIERNO: So they're still working through it. It will probably
be somewhere around four, six weeks. Then we're going to form units, and then we'll go from there. We're still, we'll develop this as we go depending on how well they do. But there's a good plan in place, and I think it's going to start pretty quickly.
BLITZER: These units, these Free Syrian Army units, are we training them to go after the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, his military, or to go after ISIS in Syria?
ODIERNO: Our intention is, this is our initial problem is ISIS and ISIL. So these units are being built to help us to put pressure on ISIS, and we want to put pressure on from multiple fronts. This allows us to open another front against ISIL. And so that's the intent of us training these forces.
BLITZER: We'll have more of my interview with General Odierno coming up, but I want to get back to our top story, the breaking news we're following. The FBI has arrested three men who allegedly planned to fly from New York to Turkey with the goal of crossing from Turkey into Syria to join ISIS. The suspects are also said to have discussed attacks here in the United States.
Let's discuss what's going on with our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, our CNN national security analyst, Fran Townsend. She was the homeland security advisor to President Bush. And our CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director.
Fran, what are you hearing about the arrests of these three men in New York? I just want to point out that Deborah Feyerick, our reporter in New York, she's inside that federal courthouse in Brooklyn right now. We're told it's basically over. She's going to be emerging any minute now. We'll get the very latest report from her. But what are you hearing about what's going on here?
FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Clearly, Wolf, this was a long-term ongoing investigation by the FBI, and their hand was forced. Right? When the guy heads off to JFK Airport, and they're going to otherwise lose the opportunity to arrest him, they have to bring the investigation to a conclusion.
No doubt, you know, when your hand is forced you always wanted it to go on longer if possible so you could collect additional evidence against these guys and also to try and identify others that they might have been in contact, both around the world, inside ISIS and here at home.
So you know, these guys do not look like the A-team, but it doesn't really matter. If they had the intent and they took steps in furtherance of that intent, to support ISIS, then the FBI was within their rights to bring the investigation to a conclusion.
BLITZER: Tom, it says in this federal statement that was released earlier today on the details of the arrest of these three guys that they began to become suspicious in August of 2014, last summer, when one of them posted on an Uzbek language website that propagates ISIS's ideology, an intention to go ahead and join up with ISIS. This guy must have been pretty stupid if he thought nobody was monitoring an Uzbek language website sympathetic to ISIS.
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It sounds like they're very stupid, but the problem is even the stupidest of them can kill a lot of people if they choose to. That's the difficulty. So yes, the FBI begins the investigation, starts to identify who they're communicating with, what are they thinking, if they can figure that out through their e-mails and social media, and then just keep going forward with this.
And the closer it got to where it looked like one is going to leave the country, they have to take it down, as Fran mentioned. She's exactly right. You make a hard decision of how long to let one of these things go on, because they also mentioned in the complaint that, if they were thwarted in trying to get to Syria, they would just go ahead and do attacks here without even going. And that's the problem. If in their mind they were being prevented even by one of their mothers taking the passport, you don't know what that would trigger and the attack could be here. They had to do it.
BLITZER: Look, two of them were from Uzbekistan, one from Kazakhstan. Go ahead, Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I was just going to say, we saw that with the Ottawa shooter. He tried to go to Syria. When that failed, he attempted -- the government wouldn't let him go, wouldn't renew his passport. And when he didn't, that's when he carried out the attack on the Canadian soldier, and that's how they killed him. He attacked the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
BLITZER: But the whole -- walk us through the process. What happens when you get a suspicious element like this? What does the FBI do?
FUENTES: Well, they try to find out if there's anybody that knows that person that will talk to them, try and identify the social media accounts, the Internet accounts, phone accounts, and start tracking them that way. And then who are they communicating with? Are they making calls or e-mails to a known jihadi website either in the U.S. or overseas, and expand from there.
And then the advantage is that when a lone wolf decides he needs a couple of partners, that's usually the best opportunity for intervention to get somebody in under cover that can get close to the individual, and that will enable them to get enough probable cause for wiretaps and to really track them.
BLITZER: I want to go to Deborah Feyerick. She's outside that federal courthouse in Brooklyn. All right. So Deb, tell us what happened inside.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was a very ordinary arraignment, except for the fact that these men were going to Syria, allegedly, to fight with ISIS. They had no intention of coming back.
If they failed to get to Syria, then they planned to carry out attacks here in America. We're now learning additional details according to their interview after they were arrested. One of the men said that he was going to either kill the president or plant a bomb on Coney Island. And prosecutors will not say specifically where in Brooklyn these men actually lived.
One of them, the younger one, the 19-year-old, he was picked up while he was on the jet way boarding that flight to Turkey. The other one, unclear where he was arrested today. We believe he was living with or at the home of the younger man. They were both -- they were co-workers; they were colleagues.
They didn't make a lot of money. They reported their income as $1,500 and $2,000. One of them actually working -- both of them working at rather menial jobs. They were appointed lawyers.
Wolf, their physical appearance was very, very interesting. We expected to see these two men somewhat tall. In fact, they're somewhat shorter than we anticipated, about 5'2". The younger one, the 19-year-old, was wearing a green hoodie sweatshirt with jeans that were rolled up because of his size. He was also wearing red and black patent leather sneakers. The laces had been removed.
The older man, he was wearing a gray hoodie, also jeans, also rolled up. He had an Army -- an Army color skullcap. I want to -- wait one second. We're hearing from one of the defense attorneys right now, Adam Perlmutter. He is representing Saidakhmetov. He's speaking right now. Let me see if we've got it.
ADAM PERLMUTTER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You know, it's my hope that, in America in the 21st century in 2015, that the presumption of innocence still holds. These individuals have been charged. They have not yet been indicted.
This case really makes us question the federal government's approach to -- if these allegations are true, and they're just allegations, they really make us question the approach that the federal government takes to young Muslim men in America. They are very ham-fisted tactics. There were no attempt to intervene, to speak, to explore, to understand. There's just the rush to prosecution, to arrest and to conviction.
And I just remind everybody today that the presumption of innocence is still the law of the land in America, and we have every intention of fighting this case vigorously and protecting the rights of these individuals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your client, what is your client so we are clear?
PERLMUTTER: My client is the second individual on the complaint.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The younger gentleman?
PERLMUTTER: Yes, exactly. He's 19 years old. He's just really just a young, young man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You say there was a rush to judgment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us what happened?
PERLMUTTER: Again, I haven't seen the evidence. All I've seen is the complaint. All I know is the mere allegations that are made in the complaint.
I know for a fact that these two young men were detained by the FBI. They were interrogated without the benefit of counsel, and you know, we'll have -- we have not had their statements produced to us. We don't know what they claim to have said, and we don't know the circumstances of those interrogations. But we expect to get to the bottom of it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where did the interrogations take place?
PERLMUTTER: I'm sorry. We don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For how long?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The district attorney said they confessed. Can you talk a little bit about that?
PERLMUTTER: It's the assistant United States attorney. I don't know what the statements are. They haven't made them available to us until they're made available to us. I can't -- I can't comment on it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was your client on his way to Istanbul this morning?
PERLMUTTER: My understanding is my client was arrested at JFK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why was he heading...
PERLMUTTER: I can't tell you that right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is your client employed?
PERLMUTTER: My client is not working. He's 19 years old. He has -- he has not finished high school.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very early on you said (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
PERLMUTTER: Look, these are just allegations. My feeling is that when there are allegations of this sort, there's no attempt by the government to intervene. There's no attempt by the government to understand. There's just an attempt by the government to prosecute, to charge and to employ the most severe aspects of our criminal justice system to deal with them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I follow that up? I was going to ask you, according to the criminal complaint, the government seems to be aware of these men going back as far as August, and they then started what seemed to be a very lengthy investigation.
PERLMUTTER: A lengthy investigation by employing a paid confidential informant. Is that what you're referring to?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me about that.
PERLMUTTER: That's what's in the complaint.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any evidence that (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
PERLMUTTER: We don't know yet. We're not sure. We know from other cases that, you know, informants are enormously manipulative. And these are snippets of conversations that are in the complaint. We do not know the context. We don't know the full extent of the conversations. We haven't seen the transcripts. So we can't comment at this point.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) In the complaint it said that they paid multiple visits to your client at his apartment, I believe.
PERLMUTTER: I think you are referring to the first -- the first...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you give us some background on your client?
PERLMUTTER: My understanding is that he's been here for a few years. That he is originally from Kazakhstan and then by way of Uzbekistan to the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
PERLMUTTER: Yes. He's a permanent resident of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you explain why they wanted to go to Turkey and on to Syria?
PERLMUTTER: I can't comment at this point. I don't even know if that's the case.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What neighborhood in Brooklyn, do you know?
PERLMUTTER: I don't even know. I believe Coney Island, but I'm not sure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think this is an unfair prosecution of Muslim men? You mentioned that at the beginning.
PERLMUTTER: I think that we have to figure out a different way to approach Muslim men. And again, this is if the allegations are true. I don't know if they're true or not. But if the allegations are as stated, I think that the U.S. government needs to figure out another way to approach Muslim men who may be -- who may find some attraction to radicalism.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is that approach?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Threatening to kill police officers, FBI agents and the president, that's very serious.
PERLMUTTER: Again, those are allegations. And we don't know the context of those statements. We don't even know if they were actually made or not.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How should they approach...
PERLMUTTER: There's a section of the material aid statute which talks about seeking civil injunction, whereby the -- whereby the federal government can step in and ask -- and ask the court to basically put somebody under some type of civil monitorship to be able to work with them, to be able to understand them, to be able to get a deeper knowledge of exactly what's working here.
We have asked the attorney general for years -- I say "we." I mean the criminal defense bar that handles these types of cases, to employ that aspect of the material aid statute. It's in the law. It's been on the books for years.
The Justice Department does nothing to avail themselves of that opportunity, and we have said for years that we think that it is a better way to approach the war, you know, to approach the issue of radicalization that we have been seeing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't you think the seriousness of the allegations, including threats against the president, the military, and law enforcement, should be the first priority?
PERLMUTTER: Again, these are just allegations. We don't know the context or the truthfulness.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do we have any sense of the scale of...
PERLMUTTER: I have to run now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you spell your last name, please?
BLITZER: All right. So there's one of the criminal defense attorneys appointed by the court, Adam Perlmutter, saying this was a rush -- a rush by the federal government to charge. He suggests it's inappropriate; simply allegations.
Deborah Feyerick, you heard what Mr. Perlmutter had to say. He's trying to protect, obviously, his client, the 19-year-old individual, from Kazakhstan. But these allegations that the federal government, the Justice Department putting forward very, very serious. Clearly, if you want to kill police officers, as the allegation is, FBI agents, and the president of the United States, it's gotten a lot more serious than that. FEYERICK: Yes, you're absolutely right, Wolf. And these are
very serious allegations that have been made against these men. Reading through both the criminal complaint and also the detention memo that's a post-arrest interview, effectively prosecutors and the FBI lay out their case very -- specifically.
This young man, the 24-year-old, he made statements online. He was questioned by the FBI back in August of 2014. He allegedly admitted to the FBI agents according to the document that in fact, he was going to kill President Obama if ISIS told him to do so. He said he wanted to get to Syria to fight.
Now we do know that shortly thereafter, he engaged with a confidential informant who approached him in a mosque. The confidential informant working for the FBI became friendly both with the 24-year-old and the 19-year-old and was sort of in on it even going so far as to say he himself was going to buy a ticket to travel to Syria with them. They were going to Turkey, obviously, so that they could then cross into Syria.
Now the money man, he's also from Brooklyn. He is 30 years old. He was arraigned in Florida. We're not sure why he was in Florida. We do know that he owns a series of kiosks at malls in Savannah, Georgia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as well as Virginia Beach. And he -- his mall, those kiosks that everybody sees, were fixing cell phones and also selling kitchen ware, he was the money man.
He was providing sums of money, it appears small sums of money like -- excuse me, $1300, in order to facilitate the buying of travel documents and travel records so that this young man, this 19-year-old, could go over to Turkey. We know that the money man was also trying to make contact with somebody in Syria to help facilitate their transfer from Turkey into Syria as well.
So there are a lot of details in the complaint. It makes very clear that these men, if they couldn't get to Syria, then they had every intention of carrying attacks here on U.S. soil. They are very clear about that, Wolf. And those are the allegations made in those complaints. So the defense attorney has his work cut out for him -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly does. Very serious allegations.
Fran Townsend, you were Homeland Security adviser to President Bush but you also worked in the Justice Department. I want your reaction to what we just heard from this criminal defense attorney.
FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, Wolf, for a criminal defense attorney to walk outside having only the complaint and what would have been only a brief meeting with his clients before the arraignment is sort of dangerous, right? He admitted, you heard him saying to most of the questions I don't know that, I don't know where they were questioned, I don't know for how long, I don't know why he was going to Turkey.
There's more he doesn't know than he does right now, and other than to stand up and say he is demanding that the presumption of innocence apply, he didn't really have much to say. And that's a good reason not to have tried to do that little press availability.
BLITZER: You think it was smart, Tom Fuentes -- you're a former FBI assistant director -- for one of these court appointed criminal defense attorneys to go out, make all those statements?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No, I don't think --
BLITZER: So quickly?
FUENTES: No, I don't think so, Wolf. And if I can add, he's making accusations that the prosecutors rushed into this and hurried the case up. He's talking about probably the single finest U.S. attorney in the United States and I have known Loretta Lynch who's not going to be our --
BLITZER: She is nominated to become the attorney general.
FUENTES: Exactly. And I've known her for 25 years when she was prosecuting organized crime cases when she first went to the eastern district, and her level of integrity and expertise, you know, if he wants to throw those kind of accusations out, good luck in court.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This gives you an indication, though, it's interesting, in the description that Deborah had of the suspects here. Listen, were they top line candidates for ISIS? Maybe not. But this gets to the real threat from ISIS, that they attract such a range of people.
Two young kids, two -- well, three young kids from Brooklyn with not a lot going for them, all the way up to real hardcore volunteers that you'll get in the Middle East and elsewhere and in Europe and so on, and that's one of the real problems that you hear constantly from law enforcement officials, counter terror officials, that is tough to track because you have just such a range.
Ranging from the top end very well educated people who drawn to it, to folks with not a lot going for them, frankly, as far afield as Brooklyn and the Middle East and further.
I think it also gets to another point here is that another big supplier to these jihadi groups that we don't talk a lot often about is Russia and the former Soviet states. And here you have them. They were residents of the U.S. but they were citizens, too, from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
SCIUTTO: Two other hot areas to watch.
BLITZER: I want all of you to stand by. We're going to stay on top of the breaking news, the arrest of these three suspects today. But there's another important story we're following right now, a startling new report warning that North Korea is now ramping up its nuclear weapons program. And ominously, it estimates that just five years from now, Kim
Jong-Un and his regime may have up to 100 nuclear bombs to back up their threats.
CNN's Brian Todd is here. He's seen the report.
Brian, update our viewers.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we got these reports straight from the weapons experts who put it out. And it is ominous as you say. It is saying tonight that Kim Jong-Un's nuclear program is secret, it is menacing and that we could soon be beyond the point where the U.S. or anyone else can contain it.
TODD (voice-over): He is erratic, violent and tonight an alarming new report that says Kim Jong-Un's nuclear arsenal is growing at a dangerous rate.
DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: The worst case is they could end up with 100 nuclear weapons by the end of 2020.
TODD: The frightening new estimate comes from the Institute for Science and International Security, headed by former weapons inspector David Albright, and from the U.S.-Korea Institute. They believe North Korea has 10 to 15 nuclear bombs and is racing to build more. A senior U.S. official tells CNN this poses, quote, "a serious threat to the United States."
While U.S. intelligence isn't giving hard numbers on North Korean nuclear weapons, America's top army officer told Wolf Blitzer he is concerned.
GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, U.S. ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: The thing we watch is the ballistic missile threat because that's what gives you capability, if they ever happen to have the capability to have nuclear weapons is their ability to deliver those.
TODD: According to the latest report obtained by CNN, Kim Jong- Un already has that capability.
JOEL WIT, U.S.-KOREA INSTITUTE: In fact, they can put a warhead on a missile that can reach South Korea and Japan.
TODD: How close is North Korea to placing a nuclear warhead on a missile that can hit the United States?
ALBRIGHT: They've got to get a warhead small enough to fit in this part of the re-entry vehicle if they want to increase the range, then they may have to miniaturize it further.
TODD: It's a mystery how long it will take Kim to do that. North Korea has been developing its secret nuclear program for decades starting with the assistance of a notorious mercenary. (On camera): Who's the culprit? Who helped them?
ALBRIGHT: For their gas centrifuge program, they had immense help from A.Q. Khan in Pakistan and A.Q. Khan associates. I doubt if they have a centrifuge program centrifuge program today if they hadn't gotten this incredibly important starter kit.
TODD: A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, who is believed to have sold nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran, Libya. The concern now, 100 nuclear bombs in the hands of this unpredictable leader who the FBI says launched a devastating cyber attack inside the U.S.
SUE MI TERRY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: He is violent. He is brutal. He is ruthless. So what I'm worried about is not nuclear detonation but him selling nuclear weapon to countries like Iran and Syria, and then these weapons making their way to the hands of the terrorists.
TODD: Could America have prevented North Korea's buildup of nuclear weapons? David Albright says the White House has not taken the same forceful action with North Korea that it took with Iran, hasn't pressured Kim's regime with tough enough sanctions to force them to negotiate in a meaningful way.
A White House official counters telling us they've imposed some of the most biting sanctions in the world against North Korea that the Obama administration is holding Kim's regime to its promise to get rid of nuclear weapons and that it will defer and defend against this threat -- Wolf.
BLITZER: David Albright also has some scathing words for China's supposed role in allowing North Korea build up its nuclear arsenal.
TODD: He is blasting the Chinese, Wolf. He's saying China is not even enforcing its own laws on sanctions against North Korea, that it's not even checking the materials coming across its own border into North Korea.
A Chinese official here in Washington has pushed back on that saying they are enforcing their sanctions, that they are committed to fighting this nuclear buildup by Kim.
There's a lot of pushback tonight between the White House and everybody else, the Chinese, because everyone is so worried about this threat.
BLITZER: It's a very disturbing report.
All right. Thanks very much, Brian Todd.
Coming up, we'll get back to the breaking news. Our top story, three men living in New York City arrested for allegedly trying to join ISIS in Syria and plotting possible attacks here in the United States. We have new information. Plus, the new CNN Original Series "FINDING JESUS" blends science
and archeology to offer fascinating insights into ancient artifacts that could be linked to Jesus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An unprecedented CNN event.
He didn't vanish without leaving a trace.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the first time in history, we're able to place these relics.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And grasp something that changed the world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is really the moment of truth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the story of Jesus.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The rock upon which the church is built.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An icon of scientific obsession.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This extraordinary defiant and archaeological piece.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do we really have here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did Judas betray Jesus?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Somebody chose to write this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The science does matter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this the cardinal shroud of Jesus?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are the clues he left behind? Faith, fact, forgery.
FINDING JESUS premieres Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. on CNN.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: American terror plot. New details on an ISIS inspired scheme allegedly involving a plane hijacking, possible attacks on U.S. soil and even a threat to assassinate President Obama.
Mideast collapsing? The U.S. Army chief of staff shares his grave concerns about deep dangers in the region engulfed by instability. Stand by for more of my interview.
Deadline nears. New warnings of dramatic consequences on the front lines of homeland security if Congress doesn't approve new funding for the agency very soon.