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Cartoonists Under Threat; Baltimore on Edge; Texas Shooter was an ISIS Sympathizer. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 4, 2015 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:07] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The sound of gunfire has the city of Baltimore back teetering on the edge.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead. This is what the fragile piece in Baltimore looks like today, a single bullet sending citizens back out on to the streets and police back in riot gear, proof that Baltimore remains a powder keg.

Also in our national lead, cartoonists have been put in the crosshairs by ISIS across the globe, in Copenhagen, in France, and now in the United States -- a gunfight stopping two would-be ISIS terrorists before they could kill Americans.

The world lead. It's the most covert country in the world, but now new information out of North Korea. An NYU student is locked up in the hermit kingdom.

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

We have some breaking news for you off the top this afternoon out of Baltimore, a city block turning into an active crime scene right now, police lining shoulder to shoulder with riot shields as residents are flooding the streets, a flurry of police activity sparked by this scene just minutes ago. You can see, if you look, a suspect lying on the ground there on the left side of the screen, just blocks away from one of the hot spots of last week's riots, that burnt-out CVS, you may recall.

Police say a gun went off. Already, we have two conflicting narratives about what may have happened. Police and witnesses are giving very different accounts, officers again lining the streets, trying to cordon it off, but also no doubt bracing for the now amped- up possibility for protests and potentially for violence.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's on the scene of this incident in Baltimore.

Brian, police came out just moments ago trying to explain what they know, what they think happened. What can you tell us?


We just got this update from Lieutenant Colonel Melvin Russell of the Baltimore Police Department. There was an incident here near the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and North avenue a short time ago. A gun did discharge. Now the scene is calming down now. There was a cordon of police officers across the street here a short time ago. They have since folded and kind of moved back up the street.

And there are people milling around here. The situation has calmed down. What we can tell you is from Lieutenant Corner Melvin Russell again. He said there was an incident here near the intersection of Penn and North. They observed, the police observed an adult black male armed with a handgun walking. The police approached him. There was a short pursuit on foot, according to Lieutenant Colonel Russell.

The police never discharged their weapons. This person's gun apparently went off somehow. Whether they -- this went off in the course of an apprehension, it's not clear, but the gun did go off. It did not hit anybody. There were no injuries. The suspect was apprehended without being injured. That may be a point of clarification that we just got.

They say -- the police -- the Baltimore police say this suspect was not injured. He did not want to go with the ambulance, but they took him away in an ambulance just out of an abundance of caution. We asked if the officers ever drew their weapons. And police said they didn't have that information, but they do say that the police never discharged their weapons and that the only reason a gun went off was because it was this man's weapon that discharged inadvertently in the course of them pursuing him, but this man -- this man was not injured.

There are people milling around here. It's a little bit tense, as people kind of approach the corners and approach our position. But, again, the police which had been here a short time ago, Jake, and had cordoned off this section, have now moved off. Traffic is moving fairly normally. And that's what we know at this hour, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Brian Todd, thank you so much.

Evan Perez is also live in Baltimore.

Evan, police sources just detailed their version of what they say happened in this incident, giving an impromptu briefing minutes ago. They say the suspect has no injuries. What did they tell you?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it was a very confusing situation, even for the police.

What we now know is that this suspect was seen, this man was seen on one of these police cameras, or crime cameras, they call them, and he was seen with a gun. And that's why police officers went to try to detain him, to arrest him.

And, according to them, according to the account we have been told by police, he tried to toss the gun when they were pursuing him, and that's when the gun went off. It was a revolver. They say they have proof on camera of what happened. They're trying to download this camera -- this video to make sure that perhaps they can reassure the public. But, as you can see, as Brian was just describing, this is a very tense area. It's a very tense situation, and people aren't buying anything the police say. And so this is the situation that the police are now dealing with. There is a lack of trust. And so even a simple incident like this can end up being misunderstood, Jake.


TAPPER: That's right, on social media out there, a lot of people sharing uninformed opinions about what may have happened, no doubt igniting what's a combustible situation.

Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Athena Jones also live in Baltimore.

Athena, what are people there close to the scene telling you? Were there any witnesses?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is what's been difficult to find out.

I can tell you, Jake, we came up on the scene, and even from blocks away, people were telling us that the police shot a kid. So, when we got up close, there was a young -- there was a woman surrounded by cameras saying too many people saw the police shoot this young man. This is someone who was claiming to be an eyewitness.

But, of course, the police have a different story. And we just heard Evan and Brian explain what the police say happened. The problem here -- and Evan just touched on this -- is the lack of trust. There's an incredible amount of distrust in this community of the police.

We were just talking with several people on the street here, and they used some colorful language. One of them said, we don't believe stuff they say, meaning the police. We don't believe basically anything they say. They didn't use the word stuff.

One other called them professional liars. And they said, you know, the police are saying that this young man was not shot. The gun went off, but he was not shot, he was not injured. A police officer told us he helped put the young man in the ambulance and that there were no injuries.

And yet the police have said that they took him away in the ambulance as a precaution. The folks on the street here say, look, no one gets an ambulance ride for no reason. They just don't believe the story that the police are telling.

It is calm, as Brian said, but it still shows you that a lot of people around here have a lot of questions about what the police say happened and are disinclined to believe it -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Athena Jones, thank you so much.

Let's bring in Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott. He's one of the city leaders who has been pleading for peace after the protests for Freddie Gray turned violent a couple weekends ago.

Councilman Scott, thanks for joining us.

We're seeing police in riot gear facing off with angry members of the community once again. How concerned are you that people will react before we know all the facts about what may have happened today?

BRANDON SCOTT, BALTIMORE CITY COUNCILMAN: Well, I'm concerned, but also concerned that we have members of the media who are being irresponsible.

We know one news outlet, FOX News outlet, said that they saw it happen. And when you do stuff like that irresponsibly, the media is supposed to report what they know, not what they think or with emotions. So, that's what we're supposed to do. It's the responsibility of the media to report what they know in order to help with these situations.

And we have to be concerned any time there's an incident like this, because emotions are still high, tensions are still high in that neighborhood and throughout our city. But I think we can get through it.

But I just want to ask, if the national media is going to stay in Baltimore, to please start to cover some positive things. There was just a press conference here at City Hall with my Councilman colleague Councilman Costello and Beat the Streets, a wrestling organization.

There are so many great things going on with young people in our town, that we do not have to continuously show the negative about Baltimore.

TAPPER: Amen on the members of the media being responsible, to what you said there, sir.

Police are saying no one was shot. There are witnesses who are claiming that they saw police shoot a suspect as he ran away. What does it say to you that we're getting such vastly different accounts of what happened? And have you spoken with any credible witness who contradicts the police version of what happened?

SCOTT: No. I have only heard from what the police know, and I have only saw what I saw in the media. And we know that some media sources were not credible.

So, I think what we have -- any time you have a volatile situation like this, and you have 100 people around, you're going to get 100 different stories. We know that there's crime cameras there. We hope that the crime cameras will show. What we have to do is be patient, see what happened.

When that young man gets to the hospital, we're going to know if he was shot or not. If they have a gun that they found on the scene, we're going to know whether it was his gun or someone else's. We will be able to find out that information. We have to remain calm, remain patient.

TAPPER: That's right.

And, as we reported earlier, we're hoping -- the police are hoping to get the camera from the street, and download those images so people can see exactly what happened, and not just go by rumor.

Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott, thank you so much. We appreciate your time.

In other national news today, in New York City, a painful reminder of the dangers that police officers face every day on the job. We just learned that hours ago, after an officer who was shot while sitting in an unmarked car went to the hospital, he has died from his injuries; 25-year-old Brian Moore was a member of the New York City Police Department's Anti-Crime Unit.

Investigators say that he and another officer were fired upon while sitting in an unmarked car Saturday night, when they attempted to approach a man who appeared to be hiding something in his waistband. The suspect has since been identified as 35-year-old Demetrius Blackwell. Blackwell made his first court appearance today -- I'm sorry -- made his first court appearance yesterday. He did not enter a plea.

If convicted, he could face life in prison. That officer did die just hours ago.

Our other top story today, a shooting in Texas at an event featuring cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. We're just now learning the identity of the second shooter. Plus, U.S. law enforcement now looking into possible -- possible links to international terror groups.

That's next.


[16:14:12] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Also in national news today: Today, police say ISIS sympathizers tried and failed to gun down cartoonists who were drawing the Muslim Prophet Mohammed in Texas.

Last night, in a Dallas suburb, two men toting automatic weapons stepped out of their car and opened fire. They were targeting what organizers referred to as an art exhibit featuring cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. They called it a free speech event, though others have criticized the group for needlessly trying to offend Muslims.

Minutes ago, law enforcement sources identified Nadir Soofi as the second gunman. Officials told CNN earlier in the day Elton Simpson from Phoenix was the other shooter.

CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown is live in Garland, Texas.

Pamela, law enforcement had at least one of the gunmen on their radar dating all the way back to 2006? [16:15:05] PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We

know one of them, Elton Simpson, was on the FBI's radar, that there was an open investigation on him. But sources tell me there was no indication that Simpson and his roommate, Nadir Soofi, were planning this attack, even though just hours before they arrived in the black car behind me, one of them sent an ominous text.


BROWN (voice-over): Investigator researched the Arizona home of Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi today, looking for clues that led to Sunday's foiled attack.

CROWD (singing): God bless America --

BROWN: The incident occurred at a controversial art exhibit showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

POLICE: Obviously, they were there to shoot people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were actually walking out and the officer blowing a whistle, and they're telling people to get down.

BROWN: Police say the two men pulled up in a dark colored sedan. A police officer and a security guard stationed there had gotten out of their police vehicle. The attackers jumped out of their car wearing bullet-proof vests and started shooting from assault rifles. The police officer shot back, killing both suspects.

POLICE: Under the fire he was put under, he did a very good job and probably saved lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to take a while.

BROWN: Security moved the 200 people attending the controversial event to a secure location.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need everybody to remain calm.

BROWN: None of the attendees were hurt. Simpson is believed to have sent this tweet just hours before the attack with the #texasattack.

He also linked himself to a known British born ISIS fighter who later went on to tweet out details of the attack.

Simpson was the focus of an FBI terror organization for several years, and 2011, he was found guilty for lying about plans to travel to Somalia to engage in violent jihad.


BROWN: And we learned from a law enforcement official that recently the FBI reopened an investigation into Simpson but it's unclear the extent to what he was being monitored.

Less is known about his roommate Nadir Soofi. But, Jake, I can tell you, law enforcement was concerned about this controversial event. In fact, just a few days ago, the FBI and DHS sent out a warning to law enforcement agencies across the country about potential threats related to this event.

TAPPER: Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Pamela Geller is the organizer of last night's event and founder of the men freedom defense initiative and she's here now.

Ms. Geller, thanks for joining us. We're glad that you're OK after last night's events.

Have you spoken with the officer who was shot?

PAMELA GELLER, ORGANIZER, DRAW MOHAMMED CARTOON EVENT: No, but I made inquiries after him and to send my deepest sympathies to his family. He has been released, and I -- thank God he's alive, and he's a hero. When you consider opening fire on a very well-coordinated attack, Jake, it was done exactly after the event was over.

So, people would be funneling out in a small area, and if you opened fire on close to 300 people, imagine the carnage. So, kudos to the Garland police. They were superb.


GELLER: And, of course, we had to come with our own priority security team, because that's now the price of freedom of speech in the United States in 2015.

TAPPER: Well, I want to get to the event in a second, but I do want to ask about security, because a source tells me that a joint intelligence bulletin titled "Mohammed art exhibit and contest in Texas on 3 May likely to prompt extremist reaction abroad, violence less likely at home."

That was the name of the bulletin. And that bulletin says that the event that you were holding carries a certain risk of being targeted by terrorists because of the recent attack at "Charlie Hebdo."

Have you been in touch with law enforcement at all about the risks in holding this event?

GELLER: Well, I have been in touch with law enforcement, as I'm sure you know, any of us that engage in this work in defense of freedom of speech get death threats on a regular basis. So, yes, I had been in touch with them, but, no, I had not been made aware of that bulletin, and clearly it's not the "Charlie Hebdo" attack. These attacks on free speech now are ever since 2001, and prior.

And this event we had, you know, the reporter on the story, Pamela Brown, couldn't identify it without saying controversial, and controversial, and controversial, and controversial.

Free speech is controversial -- I don't think so. Shooting people for free speech is controversial. This was -- well, no. I'm sorry. TAPPER: Shooting people is horrific. Controversial has to do with

words. And I would say like shooting people is potentially murder and much worse than controversial.

GELLER: Yes, I understand it's much worse than controversial, but the shooting is not even described as that. But our event in the sense of free speech is.

TAPPER: Look, let's just get this off the table. Nothing justifies the attack, the violent attack. There is no justification.

[16:20:01] But I do want to ask you about your reasons for holding the event, if you'll permit me.

GELLER: Of course.

TAPPER: "Charlie Hebdo" ran its magazine in the name of satire and criticism and the magazine continues to attack every religion, every political party, all shorts of leaders. What was the purpose of holding an event that specifically focused on drawing the Prophet Mohammed?

GELLER: Well, that's where the war on free speech is coming from, and it's interesting to me how you describe this French weekly. When I was a kid, there was a magazine called "Mad Magazine" that lampooned everybody and it was funny, and nobody took it so deadly seriously. That's where we are and I think it's wrong.

Why this event there? Because, in the wake of the "Charlie Hebdo" slaughter, Muslim leaders held a stand with the prophet conference, supporting the Sharia restrictions on free speech, against free speech, and they weren't even buried yet. OK?

But you asked me a question. I just want to answer you fair, completely. And so, we held an event in defense of free speech. The objective was, first, to show depictions of Mohammed over the past 400 years where they didn't slaughter people for drawing them in pieces of artwork.

So, we know this is being used by Islamic supremacists who seek to impose the Sharia restrictions on free speech in the West, and it's working.

TAPPER: Right.

GELLER: It's working, because the media won't run cartoons. If the media had run the cartoons in 2005, if all the media had, there would never have been this power given to it. Now, anyone that runs cartoons is targeted. But if all the media ran it, you couldn't kill everybody.

TAPPER: Well, that's a separate issue, but I want to ask a question about the specific event, because this morning, when you talked to Alisyn Camerota on "NEW DAY", you made sure to distinguish between peaceful Muslims and those pro-jihad. You have nothing against those that are peaceful. But who do you think was offended by your event last night? Do you

think it was the only the ones who are pro-jihad, or do you think maybe you also offended some of the peaceful Muslims you referred to?

GELLER: If I offended some of the peaceful Muslims, that's the price you pay for living in a pluralistic, free, open society. Inoffensive speech needs no protection. Offensive speech needs protection.

It's not the Eighth Amendment. It's not the Ninth Amendment. It's the First Amendment. It protects all speech and most of all political speech, because who would decide what's good and forbidden? The Islamic State? These two gunmen?

You know, remember, these were -- this contest was for political cartoons. Mohamed cartoons.

TAPPER: Yes. Political cartoons, cartoons are political critique, and with political Islam, which is imposing restrictions on free speech, we are lampooning it.

And what's interesting is the winner of the contest is a former Muslim. Bosh Foreston, who drew a brilliant cartoon. We should be able to have this conversation. We can't have an event discussing or showing Mohammed cartoons or a Mohammed play? This is America. This is not Saudi Arabia.

TAPPER: I'm not questioning your right to hold the event. I think there might be some who are questioning the wisdom of it, but I understand what you're saying.

Pamela Geller, thank you so much for coming with us. Appreciate it.

GELLER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up next, we just smoke to the imam at the mosque that both of the gunmen would be terrorists attended. Did he see any signs that they could have been planning this attack? That's next.


[16:27:26] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

More now on our national lead: Last night, police in Texas stopping two men from carrying out a terrorist attack. Now, today, police in Phoenix are combing through the apartment of the two dead gunmen, who shared the apartment. The shooters were shot and killed before they could murder any of the attendees of a controversial event where invitees completed to draw pictures of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.

CNN's Kyung Lah is in Phoenix. She spoke just a few minutes ago to the imam from the mosque attended by both dead gunmen. Take a listen.


USAMA SHAMI, PRES., ISLAMIC COMMUNITY CENTER OF PHOENIX: Yes, two members that, they didn't show any signs of radicalization or any signs of even thinking about those things in that manner. So, when that happens, it just shocks you. You know? How good did you know these people? That's the question that people ask themselves.


TAPPER: And Kyung Lah joins us now.

Kyung, what else did he have to tell you?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can hear how confused he sounds in that tape, because he says he didn't know. He knew Elton Simpson for some 10 years. This is the president of the mosque. He saw this man worshipping very regularly. He says he didn't see any sorts of violence, as far as the other man, Nadir Soofi, he had a pizza shop, a young son he brought with him to the mosque. He says, it's not the profile, he didn't see it coming. And that's really the story that we're getting from a lot of people here in this apartment complex.

The two men lived in that -- you see that balcony over my right shoulder, that's where the two men lived. A lot of the people in the community saw the men and they did see them working on that cobalt vehicle -- the same vehicle, at least matching the same description of the vehicle used in the Texas shooting. So, a lot of people saw that vehicle. There was even one neighbor I spoke with who said she tried to buy that vehicle.

But a lot of the people here said that they did not see that outward sign of radicalization. It just didn't raise any red flags here.

TAPPER: Kyung Lah in Phoenix, Arizona -- thank you so much.

Let's bring in former FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente.

Sir, thanks so much for being here. What is your preliminary assessment so far of this attack last night?

TIM CLEMENTE, FORMER FBI COUNTERTERRORISM AGENT: Well, looking at the tweet sent out prior to the attack tells us a lot about the attackers. Basically it was an oath of fealty to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, letting them know, we are now your followers. And the last line, make dua is asking the believers to pray for them in whatever act they're about to do.

So, this forces ISIS to now do some kind of formal response, because ISIS has to own them.

TAPPER: Do you think these are entirely self-radicalized individuals that may not have even had contact with ISIS?