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Former Gitmo Detainee Released; Senior Al Qaeda Leader Killed; Texas Terror Warning?; Stopping the ISIS Threat in the U.S.; Officials: Police Investigation Doesn't Support Charges. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 7, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The FBI director says the bureau sent a warning about the Texas shooter just hours before his terrorist attack.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead: today, new evidence that a dead Texas gunman had direct contact with an ISIS recruiter, as startling information comes straight from the FBI director, saying that his agency warned local police about Elton Simpson, one of the shooters, just hours before his attack.

The sports lead. Tom Brady coming out strong today against an NFL report suggesting that he likely knew those footballs had been deflated purposely. And Q.B's -- quarterback's -- the quarterback's lawyers are trying to take the air out of the league's case.

And in national, an unarmed man shot and killed by the LAPD caught on camera. But before the video is even out, the police chief suggests his officer may be at fault. So, just what does the video show?

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

This afternoon, we learned that a senior al Qaeda commander has been killed by the U.S. -- more on that in a moment.

But, first, we're going to have some breaking news in our national lead and a bulletin from the FBI to local Texas police just hours before that thankfully foiled terrorist attack there, warning that an ISIS-inspired gunman could be coming to wreak havoc.

Today, FBI Director James Comey said his agents tipped off local law enforcement counterparts about that man, one of the two shooters, Elton Simpson. Thankfully, a local police officer shot and killed both Simpson and his partner before they could slaughter any attendees at a controversial event featuring cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.

Let's get right to CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown. She's in Phoenix, where the now terrorists lived.

Pamela, what exactly did this FBI bulletin say? And what else are investigators learning today about these gunmen?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, what we're learning from the FBI director, James Comey, Jake, is that FBI agents saw the tweets from Elton Simpson referencing that controversial event in Texas and that is what prompted the FBI to send that warning to Garland police just a few hours before the event.

But we're also learning that the FBI had no idea that Simpson and his roommate, Nadir Soofi, was driving from their house here in Phoenix, Arizona, to Texas to launch that attack.


BROWN (voice-over): FBI Director James Comey tells CNN in an off- camera meeting with reporters today federal investigators had seen Elton Simpson's extremist social media comment referencing the cartoon event in Garland, Texas, and alerted local police three hours before the event started.

Comey also said he knows there are other Elton Simpsons out there.

For the first time, we are hearing directly from gunman Elton Simpson, talking about his Muslim faith in a 2012 fund-raising video at an Arizona mosque.

ELTON SIMPSON, GUNMAN: When you come together and you pray five times a day, it provides for you a form of weaponry to go out into the real world.

BROWN: Simpson's online presence showed a more extremist view. CNN has learned he not only communicated publicly on Twitter with known terrorists, but also messaged privately with Mohamed Hassan, an American born member of Al-Shabaab, the al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, and Junaid Hussain, a British-born ISIS recruiter and hacker.

U.S. investigators believe Hussain and Hassan each helped radicalize Simpson, encouraging him to carry out an attack. But it's believed Simpson chose the target. An evangelical pastor close to Simpson says he was not surprised to hear Simpson's name connected with the Texas terror attack.

VOCAB MALONE, PASTOR, ROOSEVELT COMMUNITY CHURCH: He had expressed to me admiration specifically for bin Laden. He used the word hero, which surprised me at the time, but now that I understand his thinking better, it's actually not that surprising.


BROWN: Now, in Simpson's case, we have learned that the FBI shared a picture of him and a possible license plate.

But it's unclear whether that information made it to the officers on the street there in Garland or played a role in that quick reaction from the Garland police officer in killing those two suspects -- Jake.

TAPPER: Pamela, what more do we know about his communications with this ISIS recruiter?

BROWN: Well, we're learning more about Simpson's contact with Junaid Hussain. He is this British ISIS fighter believed to be in Syria. He was initially known as a prominent hacker within ISIS.

And now U.S. officials are really concerned about his ability to recruit, to reach out to Americans here living in the U.S. like Simpson and inspiring them to launch an attack. So, what we have learned is that there wasn't just Twitter communication between the two, but that there were also private messages between Hussain in Syria and Simpson here.


And I can tell you that that is what is so concerning to U.S. officials who are investigating this. Who else is Junaid Hussain communicating with privately urging them to launch similar attacks, Jake?

TAPPER: Pamela Brown in Phoenix, thank you so much.

Let's bring in CNN justice reporter, Evan Perez, who has been working the story.

Evan, what more can you tell us in terms of the specifics of this warning from the FBI to local police?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I will tell you, we were in this meeting with the FBI director.

And we were all shocked when he dropped this information on us. We knew that the FBI had set up this command center there because they were trying to warn the local authorities of potential threats to this event. And so they were looking not only for Simpson. There were other people that they were also keeping an eye on.

Simpson was added to the list three hours before this attack actually was carried out. And that simply, as Pamela said, was his picture, license plate, just in case, be on the lookout. But this is something that never actually made it to the officers on the street. This was a generalized warning that he was interested in this event. He had expressed interest online. And so he was among a number of people that they were looking for.

TAPPER: The FBI was at the event.

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: Why were they there?

PEREZ: Well, because this event had attracted so much controversy, Jake, down there. And they knew that there were extremists online who were making threats to the event. And that's why there was such a heavy police presence.

And the FBI had put up a command center with the intelligence analysts to be able to get that information out quickly.

TAPPER: And I think I know the answer to this one, but having issued this bulletin warning about Simpson, why was the FBI not following him? Why were they not surveilling him?

PEREZ: I got to tell you, the scary -- the scary part of what the FBI was talking about today is that he -- has hundreds of people that they are trying to look at. Each of these people take so much manpower to track. They had no idea this guy was planning to do this. And so it wasn't -- they weren't watching him that closely.

TAPPER: It was keep an eye out for this guy, but we don't know where he is?

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Turning to more breaking news in the war on terror, just hours ago, the Pentagon confirmed to CNN that Nasr Ibn Ali al-Ansi, a key commander for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- that's the al Qaeda affiliate -- al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen -- has been killed.

Al-Ansi was the AQAP spokesman who issued the lengthy statement you might recall taking responsibility for the slaughter at the offices of the French satirical magazine "Charlie Hebdo." U.S. officials would not say specifically how he was killed. But al Qaeda in a video announcing his death said that a U.S. drone took him out.

Let's get right to CNN senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh. He's live in Beirut.

Nick, good to see you. Do we know where and when this happened?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It seems to have happened in mid-April, possibly in the Southeast of the country, an al Qaeda stronghold known as Mukalla on the coast down on the southeast.

It's not entirely clear whether this was one drone strike that particularly targeted al-Ansi or whether in fact it was also one that was reported on round about mid-April which seemed to kill other media spokespeople as well from that particular group.

But it's a staunch blow, Jake, because this was a very public figure, the man who claimed that the "Charlie Hebdo" attacks were organized, funded, run by AQAP in Yemen and also the man who announced the death of Luke Somers, the American journalist and hostage killed after American raid to rescue him went spectacularly wrong.

A significant blow for them at a time when they were trying to reestablish themselves in jihadi circles, given the ascendance of ISIS -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Nick, give us an idea of where al-Ansi was on the AQAP hierarchy. Was he a senior-level leader? Was he mid-level? Obviously, he had a very public role.

WALSH: I think it's fair to say he was in their top dozen officials, but, more importantly, a public face. And while there may have been others above him, like, for example, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, who is the leader of AQAP, above him in sort of the food chain, so to speak, he was very much one person you would see in social media who delivered the public message of that particular group.

As I say, at a time when they were struggling to gain traction in extremist circles, those "Charlie Hebdo" attacks were a bid, them claiming responsibility, way to put themselves back on the jihadi map. But also now too concerns that, given the turmoil inside Yemen, the civil war between the Houthis and the forces loyal to the current president, Hadi, backed by Saudi airpower, that that turmoil has given them extra breathing room to work.

And we have just heard from the secretary of defense, Ashton Carter. He wouldn't confirm this was a drone strike, but said they are finding ways to continue to pressure AQAP. We will have to see exactly what that does to their operational capability, they being the group that have sworn foremost to attack the United States -- Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh in Beirut, thank you so much.

"You are free to go," those words spoken just hours ago by a judge to a man who had pleaded guilty before a military commission to killing an American soldier.


The former Gitmo detainee just minutes ago walked out of prison after the judge said, there's no proof that he will do it any -- do it again. But is he really a changed man? That's next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Also breaking in the world today, Omar Khadr was locked up at Guantanamo Bay, having been captured in Afghanistan at the age of 15. But he is now walking free after a court ruling today. He had claimed responsibility for killing Army Sergeant 1st Class Christopher Speer, who died during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan.

Before a U.S. military commission in 2010, Omar Khadr pleaded guilty to war crimes. He was returned to his native Canada in 2012 to serve out the remainder of his sentence.

[16:15:01] But today, a Canadian court of appeal justice granted him bail.

Let's go to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, the Canadian government is appealing the decision. Could we see the U.S. government also try to intervene? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Not at this time. At

least it doesn't appear so because, of course, it was the U.S. that agreed to the arrangement to ship him back to Canada in the first place. At this time, it is the Canadian government that is objecting to the judge's ruling. The judge apparently feeling he didn't pose a danger to society.

Now, he is out on bail while all of this is being appealed. There are restrictions on him. He will have to have a curfew -- he stays with his lawyer. He will have to have a curfew between 10:00 at night and 7:00 in the morning. He'll be subject to electronic monitoring. His communications will be monitored.

Look, he now until this gets a final resolution essentially is a free man. Canadian press is reporting there have been a number of instances where he has gotten support from people in Canada, some students trying to visit him, help him with his education, help him socialize if he is going to be back in the general population of Canadian society.

Remember, he was captured at the age of 15. He is now in his late 20s. So, he has never been an adult -- as an adult, he has never been a free man. This will be a new experience for him.

But in terms of the Canadian government, they would like to see him back in jail and serving out his full sentence -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon -- Barbara, thank you so much.

While Khadr admitted to killing a U.S. soldier, today on Capitol Hill, Congress is rushing to find out how to stop people across the globe planning to do the same. Lawmakers holding an urgent hearing about how ISIS and other terrorist groups weaponize the Internet to recruit over social media.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is here to about this threat. He's a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. And he testified at that hearing that I just mentioned.

Daveed, thanks for being here.

Just to touch on Omar Khadr, I have seen criticism about his release from national security experts saying, this is somebody who has never renounced terrorism and this was a mistake.

What can you tell us about Khadr?

DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS, SENIOR FELLOW, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: It's hard to assess him without having access to where he is right now and what he is saying to people. There certainly is a lot of co controversy surrounding it. But, you know, I don't have the kind of information that I would need to really be able to assess that controversy.

TAPPER: In terms of your testimony today, you said that ISIS has been in a decline since October. So, why has that not seemed to have a decline in recruiting? It seems like they are being able to recruit people more than ever.

GARTENSTEIN-ROSS: Two reasons. One is that ISIS' decline has been in the Iraq/Syria theater. And, you know, their overall message and strategy is one -- it's a winner's messaging strategy. That's why sometimes the U.S. government messaging about ISIS, and ISIS's messaging are exactly the same. Both tend to emphasize the group's brutality, which is romantic while they're winning, but not as romantic while they're losing.

Now, while they've been losing in Iraq in particular, they have expanded aggressively into Africa. That's really switched the narrative to being about just Iraq to their international presence. The second reason that it's not really well-known is that they do a very good job exaggerating and sometimes manipulating the media, even convincing major media outlets they control territory that they don't, such as the city of Derna in Northern Libya.

TAPPER: Interesting.

Obviously, social media has been a big way that ISIS has recruited and continues to recruit. It seems clearer and clearer that this British ISIS fighter radicalized in some ways one of the Texas gunmen, one of these would-be terrorists killed earlier this week. This British ISIS operative has had his accounts on Twitter shut down several times.

Do you think for intelligence purposes it's better to shut these accounts down or is it better to keep them open so the U.S. and other Western intelligence agencies can monitor them?

GARTENSTEIN-ROSS: I just think it's better for them to be shut down. And, you know, this has been a big debate for a long time because there are legitimate concerns on both sides, the intelligence value versus radicalization potential.

But we now really have powerful test case in ISIS. You have far more foreign fighters who have gone to the Iraq and Syria theater than who went to Afghanistan during the entire course of the Afghan-Soviet War. It's been an enormous magnet, and it's helped radical groups to really dominate the landscape within Syria.

We can really see now the power of social networking in terms of mobilizing people to action, not just to radical thoughts. In this case, Elton Simpson previously wanted to go over to Somali and join Shabaab. He had been radicalized previously. But it seems that where Junaid Hussain was spurring him to take action.

TAPPER: To combat recruitment, the Pentagon and other agencies of the U.S. government have tried to walk into the world of social media themselves and discourage recruitment.

[16:20:01] How has that gone? Is it effective at all? Or is it considered something of a joke?

GARTENSTEIN-ROSS: It hasn't been particularly effective thus far as far as most observers believe. A lot of the videos they put forward had been somewhat crude. The production values haven't been the best. But part of it I could caution that it's not clear exactly what they

are trying to do. A lot of observers gauge it by, well, they haven't been successful of de-radicalizing people. But maybe their goal is to disrupt. Maybe they're measuring success based on different metrics.

What's clear, though, is that ISIS is a foe that moves at the speed of social media. It can radicalize people. It can get groups to join it. And the U.S. government is very bureaucratic.

It has trouble competing in a communications way at the speed of the Gutenberg bible. And that's a real problem. We are not set up to compete in the 21st century field of co conflict.

TAPPER: What's the biggest threat? Does it remain al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula which is still strategizing and trying to come up with a big attack? Is it is, Khorasan group? Is it ISIS, lone wolves?

What do you think is the most concerning?

GARTENSTEIN-ROSS: Lone wolves are the most likely, but also likely to do the least damage. In terms of the others, the real answer is we don't know. If I were putting my money, I'd put on the Khorasan Group. But we actually don't know which of them is in the best position to launch an external operation that would hurt the United States.

TAPPER: All right. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, thank you so much. Appreciate as always.

That battle against ISIS -- so much of it is fought in this digital universe. And now, a federal court has ruled what intelligence officials would argue is one of the most important weapons in this war is not something that has been legally sanctioned. Today, a three- judge panel said the NSA program that gobbles up telephone metadata, quote, "exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized under the Patriot Act." The program had been mostly secret for nearly a decade until, of course, Edward Snowden leaked documents confirming its existence.

The ruling today says the NSA can no longer vacuum up information from wireless companies, information such as when you're calling, where you are calling from, whom you are calling, how long you talk to them for, your phone number, even if you are dialing from an iPhone or an Android device. Still, the decision did not declare the program unconstitutional, further setting up a potential fight over the law in the U.S. Supreme Court.

A shockingly obverted mission from North Korea in a CNN exclusive. A man with close connections to the government's inner circle outright said North Korea has a long range missile that can strike the United States. The admission came when the usually covert country allowed a rare interview to a North Korean insider. We also got a rare look at Kaesong industrial park that divides North and South Korea by land. It's one of the only partnerships between North and South Korea.

Will Ripley got a look inside and has more from Pyongyang, North Korea.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, getting this kind of access to the Kaesong industrial complex is very rare. It's been years since CNN has been allowed to visit.

It's located near the heavy armed border between North and South Korea known as the DMZ. But in this complex, you have South Korean-owned companies almost fully staffed by North Korean workers. There are 52,000 workers there. They bring in about $90 million in wages which are paid directly to the government in Pyongyang. And this when it was established more than a decade ago was supposed to be a symbol of cooperation between the North and the South.

But what we discovered on the ground there is that, well, it's been very difficult to keep things moving forward considering all the political difficulties between the two countries. There have been escalating military tensions. There have been economic issues that have been raised. The North is demanding a wage hike and the South is resisting that.

And so, while these companies more than 100 of them continue to do business, they face a lot of difficulties. There is great uncertainty about what the future might hold for the last remaining symbol of cooperation -- Jake.


TAPPER: Will Ripley, thank you so much.

Coming up next, it's a revelation that could potentially derail the case against the six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. How did the prosecutor and the police investigating the officers end up with conflicting findings?

Plus, the NFL says Tom Brady likely knew the footballs were not up to snuff. So, what does one of the man who caught passes thrown by the star QB have to say about this?

Well, we'll talk to him ahead.


[16:28:28] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The national lead now: could the case against those six police officers in the death of Baltimore's Freddie Gray be starting to fall apart? That is the question that some officials in Baltimore are now asking now, that it has been revealed that there are some key differences between the state's investigation into the officers and the one conducted by Baltimore City police.

Lawyers for at least two of the six officers are now latching on to the inconsistencies to bolster claims that their clients have been unfairly charged. CNN's Rene Marsh is live in Baltimore.

Rene, what is the prosecution's response to those challenging her case against the officers?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Marilyn Mosby, she is standing firm on her decision, saying that the evidence that they found during her independent investigation supporting the charges filed.

So, what we have here in Baltimore, two dueling investigations. You have Baltimore City police investigators on one side and investigators with the prosecutor's office on the other.


MARILYN MOSBY, BALTIMORE CITY STATE'S ATTORNEY: From the beginning, we knew that this was a serious case. We have been working independently.

MARSH (voice-over): Two independent investigations, one by Baltimore police, the other by the Maryland state attorney's office.

CNN has now learned both investigations are in conflict. One point of contention: the knife found on Freddie Gray.

MOSBY: The knife was not a switchblade and is lawful under Maryland law.

MARSH: Baltimore state attorney Marilyn Mosby says under state law, the knife is legal, making Freddie Gray's arrest illegal.

But the police investigation contradicts that.