Return to Transcripts main page


Domestic Terror Plots Foiled; Iran Nuclear Deal Reached; Fed Source: Two Women Planned to Build Bombs; Texas-Born Al Qaeda Member Captured in Pakistan; 147 Killed in Terror Attack on Kenyan University. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 2, 2015 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:11] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So it appears they got a deal. But is it a good deal?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead. The West cuts a deal with Iran, one that allegedly slams the brakes on Tehran's nuclear program. Now the U.S. says Iran will have to prove its good intentions, and President Obama promises, if Iran cheats, the world will know it.

The national lead, law enforcement arresting two Brooklyn women they say wanted to blow up their fellow Americans. As one of al Qaeda's big players, a terrorist with a spot on the Pentagon's kill list just got hauled back to U.S. soil and he is an American, too.

And in other world news, investigators in France now have that doomed jet's second black box, the flight data recorder, but perhaps even more revealing, maybe the data embedded in the co-pilot's iPad.

Good afternoon. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We have some breaking news in our world lead, with President Obama just announcing a few minutes ago a landmark deal with Iran that he says will limit that country's nuclear ambitions to peaceful purposes by blocking every pathway to a nuclear bomb.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As president and commander in chief, I have no greater responsibility than the security of the American people. And I'm convinced that, if this framework leads to a final comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies and our world safer.


TAPPER: Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been working on these negotiations for nearly two years, said the deal would reduce Iran's stockpile of low enriched uranium by 98 percent, cut its supply of centrifuges from 19,000 to just over 6,000, and allow rigorous inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities.

In exchange, in part, the West will eliminate sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy. This deal, of course, has been the subject of intense speculation and criticism and debate. Many in Congress have already vowed to block it. The president addressed that threat today, saying they should not carry that out.


OBAMA: If Congress kills this deal, not based on expert analysis, and without offering any reasonable alternative, then it's the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy.


TAPPER: Let's go to CNN's Jim Sciutto at the State Department. He has covered Iran for years, visited 10 times.

Jim, what happens now? This is just a framework for a deal.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It is. You still have details to work out, for instance, the exact timeline on lifting of sanctions. That's the West's key leverage. That's the real carrot to the Iranians.

You have the legislative hurdles you mentioned. There are two bills teed up on the Hill to impose new sanctions on Iran and you already have some GOP voices coming out criticizing this deal. But I have got to tell you, when you think of where these two countries were just two years ago, they hadn't talked to each other officially in nearly four decades. It started with those secret talks in Oman, that handshake in New York between President Obama and the Iranian president.

Then you launched into these talks and after 18 months of difficult talks, it became almost normal, boring to have U.S. and Iranian diplomats talking to each other. So to get to this point after that deep and troubled history is pretty remarkable in that time frame.

TAPPER: The president of Iran was elected in part because he promised to attempt at least new relations with the West. What has the reaction been like in Iran?

SCIUTTO: I got to tell you, here in the U.S., a lot of Americans may watch this, look at this as sort of a dry diplomatic deal, view it principally through the prism of Iran's nuclear program, which is, of course, a big deal for the U.S.

In Iran, though, it is nothing short of ending or at least the prospect of ending international isolation in every way. They can't buy -- cars are two, three times what they would be due to sanctions. You can't get chemotherapy medicines, et cetera, so there is celebration today.

And one that caught my eye is a trending topic on Twitter in Iran, and that is selfies with Obama, because the Obama comments were aired live on Iranian state TV. That is unprecedented. You had people taking pictures of themselves with him, putting up videos dancing and celebrating. This is a big, a historic moment from the view of the Iranian people, sort of them being released in effect from international pariah status. You're going to see that. It's a big deal there.

TAPPER: Jim Sciutto at the State Department, thank you so much.

Of course, we just heard from some Republicans criticizing this deal.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, one of the president's top critics on Iran, says in a statement: "There is no nuclear deal, only a list of dangerous U.S. concessions."

[16:05:01] Let's talk about this deal, the specifics of it with Gary Samore, former top nuclear adviser for President Obama, currently the executive director for research at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Also, Mr. Samore is president of United Against a Nuclear Iran.

Gary, thanks so much for being here.

Sanctions, let's talk about the sanctions, when they are going to be relieved. The White House fact sheet says sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. What does that mean and how soon could the sanctions be lifted?

GARY SAMORE, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER ON ARMS CONTROL: Well, of course, it's not clear what the key steps are. That remains to be defined.

But, presumably, that means once the centrifuges have been removed and placed in storage under IAEA monitoring, once the low-enriched uranium has been disposed of. How it will be disposed of is not clarified. Once the main components for the Arak heavy water research reactor have been destroyed. So all of these steps could easily take a matter of months. So it's not going to happen quickly.

But once Iran has carried out all of those key steps, to be defined, then all of the sanctions will be suspended. All of the nuclear- related sanctions will be suspended.

TAPPER: Right, the nuclear. They still have sanctions when it comes to human rights abuses and other matters.

The White House put out a fact sheet today. I would love to see the Iranian government's fact sheet. But in the White House fact sheet, it says inspectors -- quote -- "will have regular access to all of Iran's nuclear facilities, will have access to the supply chain that supports Iran's nuclear program, to the uranium mines and mills."

Is there anything Iran did not agree to when it comes to inspections?

SAMORE: Well, interestingly, the government of Iran did issue their own fact sheet, and it's in Farsi. I'm having it translated.

I think one danger here is that we have issued our version of events. We have a fact sheet which represents what we think the details of the framework are. The Iranians have issued their own separate fact sheet which represents the deals as they see it. And clearly there is room for disagreement and there are many precise details that haven't been resolved.

I think especially in the inspection area, we don't have very much precise detail about the procedures. We know what the overall aspiration is. And on paper, it's a very significant system of inspection and monitoring.


TAPPER: On American paper, we should point out, right, Gary?

SAMORE: Pardon me?

TAPPER: On American paper, because we don't know what the Iranian paper looks like.

SAMORE: Yes, exactly. So the U.S. version of what was agreed looks very good on paper, in principle, but as always with inspections, the devil is really in the details.

So there's a lot of work to be done between now and June 30, when the parties are supposed to complete a comprehensive agreement.

TAPPER: I want to -- we just got some reaction from Israel. The intelligence minister there says that Iran -- quote -- "continues its path of conquest terrorism" and says those who are celebrating today are disconnected from reality.

We never expected the Israeli government to support this deal. Obviously, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was reelected not long ago, has been a very vocal critic. Is there anything in this deal that Israel might like?

SAMORE: Well, I think the way in which the Arak heavy water research reactor is going to be reduced to a reactor that can't produce a significant amount of plutonium should be satisfactory to the Israelis, because it's clear that the current reactor core is going to be destroyed or removed from the country.

And that's a pretty substantial modification. So, that, it seems to me, should make the Israelis happy. The way that Fordow is going to be converted to a facility, not including any enrichment, at least for 15 years, that should make the Israelis somewhat happy.

But, overall, I expect that Prime Minister Netanyahu will reject this agreement and he will try his very best to work with Congress to try to overturn it.

TAPPER: And we should point out that some supporters of the Israeli government, advocates are pointing out that Iran in presenting this deal to its people, the Iranian government is noting that the Natanz facility will continue to be able to enrich uranium.

We have so much more to talk about, about this deal over the coming days and weeks. Gary Samore, as always, thank you so much for your expertise. Appreciate it.

SAMORE: Thank you, Jake. Happy to be here.

[16:10:04] TAPPER: In our national lead, an American dragged back to the United States after being arrested in Pakistan just minutes ago, this American sat in a Brooklyn courtroom accused of having ties to al Qaeda and plotting to fight against American troops, this at the same time that federal prosecutors are announcing the arrests of two New York women who were allegedly planning to build a bomb and detonate it here in the United States, women with alleged ties to al Qaeda -- those breaking stories next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Our national lead today. Al Qaeda appears firmly anchored right here in the United States, just hours ago, law enforcement putting two New York women in shackles.

[16:15:00] The feds allege that the Brooklynites were plotting to build a bomb and detonate it here in the United States. The criminal complaint says one of these women had close ties to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, which is in Yemen and still ranks atop the U.S. list of terror groups with deadly aspirations to hit here at home and for good reason.

Today, a U.S. counterterrorism official tells CNN that the situation in Yemen is dire and now federal officials say one of al Qaeda's top operatives, the guy planning on how to export terror from Yemen to the United States, well, it turns out he's an American citizen.

I want to get right to CNN justice reporter Evan Perez.

Evan, who is this American al Qaeda member, how high up the terrorist food chain was he, how long have U.S. officials been trying to get him?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Jake, his name is Muhannad al-Farekh. He's 29 years old, he was born in Texas, but apparently grew up in Jordan and in 2007, he was studying at the University of Manitoba in Canada when he and a couple others decided that they were going to go to Pakistan to try to fight and kill American troops over in Afghanistan.

What appears to have happened is that they instead became involved in training and helping provide logistical support for the training -- attracting more Western recruits for al Qaeda. They got on the FBI's radar after 2009, when the FBI busted a plot to commit suicide bombings on the New York City subways. Najibullah Zazi was arrested and apparently he's been cooperating with the FBI since then. He is awaiting sentencing, Jake.

What we now know is that, is that he, al-Farekh was believed by at least some in the U.S. intelligence agencies to be really high up in al Qaeda, helping recruitment and perhaps even providing training of some of these recruits. There was some diversion, difference of opinion with some other parts of the U.S. government. Some people wanted to put him on a kill list for U.S. drones.

In the end they did not do that, but now he was captured in Pakistan in the last few weeks and turned over to the FBI. He was brought here to Brooklyn. He appeared before a judge today, did not enter a plea, was just read the charges and now, we expect that he's going to be talked to some more by the FBI to try to figure out exactly how much more he knows.

TAPPER: Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Let's turn to that other terrorism-related story in Brooklyn, New York. Jason Carroll also outside the same courthouse where the FBI and NYPD have been reporting on how they arrested these two women in Brooklyn who officials allege wanted to build bombs to kill Americans.

Jason, you had a look at the criminal complaint. What do we know about what these women were allegedly planning to do?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are identified at Noelle Velentzas. She's 28 years old, she's a mother, she has a young daughter in elementary school, and her roommate, Asia Siddiqui, 31 years old. Both of them lived in Queens. They were roommates together. Both of them, Jake, charged with conspiring to build a weapon of mass destruction.

According to the criminal complaint, the two of these two gathered together and conspired to build an IED, an improvised explosive device. They went to their local Home Depot several times in Queens and gathered and got all their material together, material including multiple propane gas tanks. They also had instructions on how to transform those gas tanks into explosive devices.

Apparently, one of the suspects, Jake, became obsessed with pressure cooker bombs after the Boston bombing, was looking into research into that as well. Both of them studying chemistry to try to carry out their plot.

One of the questions seems to be, who exactly they were going to target? According to this criminal complaint, regular people, in other words, civilians was not something one of the suspects wanted to do.

The reason why I say that is because at one point they were considering targeting the funeral of Officer Rafael Ramos. You remember, that was the officer that was sitting in his car, that was shot and that was killed. Thousands of officers showing up for that funeral and apparently there was some sort of discussion about why not target that. And one of the suspects said how many regular people would be standing next to the officers -- not wanting to do that.

So, we're going to try to get some more information as their first court appearance gets under way, just a few minutes from now right here at federal court -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jason Carroll in Brooklyn, thank you so much.

Let's bring in CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd.

Phil, let's start with the arrest of the alleged al Qaeda commander responsible for allegedly plotting attacks here on American soil.

[16:20:00] Mohammad al-Farekh, born in Texas, grew up in Jordan, went from the University of Manitoba to Pakistan to try to kill U.S. troops, ended up trying to train people, terrorists, to attack U.S. troops.

You know about this guy?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, I remember this guy. This is from 2007 when he went over to Pakistan. I was on detail from the CIA and the FBI. We had three guys as your reporter mentioned going over to Pakistan.

If I were at the agency or the bureau today, this is news for celebration. Pretty simple reason why -- if you look at a case like this, I think most Americans would say the significance of this case is that this guy, an American, is going to come back home and conduct an attack. Instead, you should look at him as a force multiplier. What we called at the business at the CIA a facilitator.

He's not going to burn himself by coming back. He's going to serve as the conduit or known in Pakistan who understands the West, how you travel, how you stay out of the clutches of law enforcement and he also understands al Qaeda in Pakistan. Those people are really hard to come by.

So, this is a great catch not because he was a potential bomber but because he could have trained tens of bombers.

TAPPER: Let me ask you about these two women arrested in New York City. The most recent case, just the most recent one, of people wanting to commit terror or join terror groups. People here in the United States, 30 such cases in the past 18 months. How many more do intelligence officials think are likely out there?

MUDD: If I were sitting at the table at the bureau, I'm guessing you're looking at dozens of people like this, maybe a few more. Remember, we got 100 plus go over just to join ISIS. I'm not talking about Somalia, I'm not talking about Nigeria, I'm not talking Pakistan.

The interesting contrast between the first case, that fellow from Pakistan, the American citizen sent back to New York, that's a quality problem -- a high quality terrorist, very difficult to get. The problem in this case that you're seeing in New York, this is a quantity problem. If you look at the criminal complaint, and I have looked at it, these people should be charged for criminal stupidity. They were contacting people and doing things that any terrorist worth his salt would never do.

But when you are facing dozens or hundreds of people like this, you've got to depend on a hundred of them or 200 of them all to be stupid. That quantity problem is something that eventually will explode in our faces. You can't deal with that many cases at once and expect that you'll catch every single one of them, even if they are stupid.

TAPPER: Does this tell us anything about al Qaeda, the actual threat that al Qaeda poses to the United States right now? Is it mainly through these apparently self-radicalized individuals in the United States reaching out through social media and the Internet?

MUDD: I think it tells us more about what I would call al Qaedaism. That is the movement al Qaeda rather than the actual group al Qaeda, which has been damaged. That is these folks have probably never met an al Qaeda person. They have very limited contact with al Qaeda.

Fifteen years ago, we would have worried about somebody like this going to train in Pakistan. Today, more and more of them are saying, hey, that's really difficult to do, it's hard to get over there, law enforcement's gotten better. Why do we bother to do that? Why don't we stay out of the sort of law enforcement net by avoiding communications, by avoiding travel and staying home? Tougher to catch these people even if they are as incompetent, as these two women are.

TAPPER: All right. Phil Mudd, thank you so much.

MUDD: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, the gunmen reportedly separated the Muslims from the Christians and then they proceeded to slaughter the Christians. More than 100 now confirmed dead in a horrific terrorist attack on a university. That's next.

Plus, brand new information on the Germanwings co-pilot's online searches in the days before the crash. Now, one official is saying his actions account -- amount to premeditated murder. That's ahead.


[16:27:40] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The world lead, more terror around the globe. At least 147 people, most of them students, have been killed in Kenya by terrorists linked to al Qaeda. Students at Garissa University were forced to run through a wall of gunfire as terrorists from the group al Shabaab rushed their campus.

Right now, Kenyan forces say everyone who had been held hostage by the terrorists from al Shabaab has been evacuated. Al Shabaab, of course, is the group linked to al Qaeda, also responsible for the vicious slaughter at the Westgate Mall, and the group has threatened to bring the same kind of terror felt in Kenya today to the Mall of America here in the United States.

Let's go now to CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon.

Barbara, lay out how this horrific attack went down.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it started at morning prayers and tonight as it concludes. Kenyan authorities are saying that at least four gunmen have been killed and more than 500 students now fully accounted for, still raising concerns about this al Qaeda group and what they may be up to next.


STARR (voice-over): It is a blood bath at a college in Kenya, 147 people killed and dozens injured when heavily armed gunmen from al Shabaab, an Islamist militant group, stormed Garissa University in southern Kenya. An eyewitness reported the attackers burst into early morning Christian prayers and then began separating Muslim and Christian students, killing the Christians.

Not a surprise that terrorists went after a large student population, nearly impossible to fully protect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kenya is such an important target for al Shabaab because Kenya has been the primary driving force behind operations against al Shabaab in the region. They are the biggest, biggest enemy for al Shabaab.

STARR: Kenyan troops have taken the lead in attempting to push al Shabaab out of its traditional strongholds in Somalia.

Kenya's president trying to reassure his country, calling up more police recruits.

UHURU KENYATTA, PRESIDENT OF KENYA: I also take this opportunity to urge Kenyans to stay calm as we resolve this matter.

STARR: The siege ongoing for hours as Kenyan security forces fired back and rescue forces tried to move in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have been hearing the gunfire. Military tanks have also moved into the university compound.