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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Tennessee Shooting Investigation Continues; Rep. McCaul Calls Chattanooga Attack ISIS Inspired Shootings; Interview with Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired July 17, 2015 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper.
Our breaking news, an ISIS-inspired attack, that's what the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee just called the carnage in Chattanooga. Speaking at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, Congressman Michael McCaul said terror has struck America. And if it can happen in Chattanooga, Tennessee, it can happen anywhere.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: In my judgment, in my experience, is that this was an ISIS-inspired attack. And I believe yesterday was one those that got through. This is the event we have been most worried about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: This investigation is still very much ongoing. McCaul cited no evidence tying the shooter directly to ISIS. And the FBI said minutes ago it knows of no ISIS link or link to any other terror group.
But whatever the gunman's motivation, the damage is done, two separate military facilities attacked,four Marines killed. And we now know their names, Lance Corporal Squire K. Wells. Skip, he was called. Staff Sergeant David Wyatt, Sergeant Carson Holmquist, and Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan. He survived two tours in Iraq. He earned two Purple Hearts, only to have his life stolen back here at home.
Let's right get to CNN's justice reporter, Evan Perez, with the latest on the investigation.
Evan, there was the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee saying it was ISIS-inspired, and then there was the FBI agent in charge in the field down there saying they know of no link to ISIS or any other group. Is there a way to hash out what's really going on here?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the FBI basically saying not so fast. There's a lot of work left to be done here, John. They do -- they are
looking at the possibility that this was ISIS-inspired. It's the obvious choice given, how much attention we have been giving to ISIS in the last year or so. But the FBI says that, at least at this point, there is no indication yet that this was inspired by anything other than by this gunman himself.
We know that he traveled to Jordan last year, according to the Jordanian government, has now confirmed that he did travel there last year. He carried a Jordanian passport and travel documents, but he was not a citizen there. He was a citizen of the United States. And now the FBI wants to know who was he meeting, who was he associating with there? Did that have anything to do with what happened yesterday in Chattanooga?
That is obviously one of the top questions. The Jordanians say they are assisting the FBI with any information they can get. A second part of the key information there from the FBI at that press conference in Chattanooga had to do with the separate investigation into how he obtained his arsenal.
According to the FBI, he had two long guns and one handgun with him, John, and the question is, who helped him obtain those? At least one of those was -- might have been purchased illegally, might not have been legal purchases. And so now the FBI is looking to see whether or not there's a prosecution it can bring against someone who might have assisted this gunman.
The -- really, there's another phase of the investigation that is now going to begin, which is going to be back here in Washington. And at Quantico, they're looking at his devices, his computers, his cell phones to see who he was communicating with, to see who, if anybody he -- might have inspired or might have directed him to carry out these attacks. But so far we don't believe that it was -- at least right now, we don't know there was anything that was carrying out.
Another part of this investigation, John, was really the description of the gunfight that happened yesterday in Chattanooga. The police chief there, Fred Fletcher in Chattanooga, described this harrowing scene, and here's how he described what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRED FLETCHER, CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE, POLICE CHIEF: That everyday bravery that can all too often be taken for granted. Immediately after those reports of gunfire, officers began searching and located the gunman driving down the highway.
Chattanooga police officers immediately began following and chasing that vehicle between the first and second locations. Eventually, officers encountered the suspect at the second location. That suspect soon made his intent, his cowardly, homicidal intent, clear.
Officers of the Chattanooga Police Department did not hesitate. They engaged that person, that gunman immediately, aggressively, with the sole intent of making sure that he harmed as few community members as possible.
That assailant, that gunman struck one Chattanooga police officer with gunfire. As he went down, his teammates who were responding equally as aggressively came to his aid. They put their hands on him, dragged him from under the gunfire and bravely returned fire to ensure that he was safe and the gunman remained engaged.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PEREZ: It's clear, John, the actions of those police officers saved lives. They killed the gunman and that's how this ended yesterday.
BERMAN: Described as a tremendous amount of gunfire they faced there. They showed enormous bravery. Evan Perez for us, thanks so much, Evan.
BERMAN: I want to go now to Victor Blackwell. He's been digging on the scene there in Chattanooga.
Victor, what is the latest?
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John the FBI is revealing just how prepared this shooter, Mohammad Abdulazeez, was for a gunfight, telling us that he had two long guns and at least one handgun and a vest prepared to carry extra ammunition.
As this is coming into focus, of course, the investigators here on the scene and the community, they're trying to get an answer to that difficult question, why?
BLACKWELL (voice-over): A young boy dressed as a Marine salutes as he and his mother pay their respects to the four U.S. Marines killed Thursday.
As the city grieves, law enforcement is desperate seeking an answer to why this area college graduate went on a deadly rampage. The shooter, Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez's background is being carefully examined. Officials say he was not on their radar and not in any U.S. terrorist database.
BILL KILLIAN, U.S. ATTORNEY: The active shooter's situation is being treated as a terrorism investigation.
BLACKWELL: Officials are interviewing friends, searching his family's home, and looking at his social media footprint for any clues and any link to terrorist groups.
ED REINHOLD, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: Obviously, we're looking at any foreign travel that he may have performed. BLACKWELL: Twenty-four-year-old Abdulazeez drove up in his rented
silver convertible Mustang to a military recruiting center and a strip mall in Chattanooga. From the car, witnesses say he pulled out an AK- 47-style rifle and opened fire, riddling the building with bullet holes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He leaned over into the passenger seat and pulled out the rifle and I saw the black handle. And then he brought the barrel up. And as he brought the barrel up, he started shooting and he just went back and forth shooting. And then he dropped the clip and put a new one in.
BLACKWELL: Police then identify him and follow him for at least some portion of a seven-mile drive to a Naval reserve facility. Police say he rammed through the gates, then killed four Marines before he was then shot by a Chattanooga police officer, according to a official.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somewhere between here and there, they identified the vehicle and the suspect. They followed him and they engaged him to and at the other scene. And they put themselves in tremendous, tremendous risk to protect this community.
BLACKWELL: We're learning more about the four Marines who were killed. Thomas Sullivan from Massachusetts was an Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient. Skip Wells was from 21 years old from the Marietta, Georgia, area, just got out of boot camp; 27-year-old Carson Holmquist of Wisconsin did tours in Afghanistan. And David Wyatt is said to have been 38 years old from Tennessee, a husband and father.
Adding to the confusion is an inconsistent portrait of Abdulazeez as an accomplished college graduate who was well-liked by his peers. He was also a mixed marshal arts fighter.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He always fit in. He had a big group of friends. He was never bullied or treated like an outcast. He was pretty popular, really, always a real funny guy.
BLACKWELL: He was also a devout Muslim who prayed at this mosque and others in the Chattanooga area.
Today, flowers and prayers continue in a city that's trying to make sense of it all.
BLACKWELL: And while we're getting more information, there is one detail that still is not clear, when these four Marines were shot and killed.
We heard from the police chief that the officers in his words immediately and aggressively engaged the shooter, but we are not hearing exactly when in this chronology the Marines were killed. The FBI is saying that -- quote -- "They're still trying to figure that out" -- John.
BERMAN: Yes, within the fence, but not within the facility itself. You're exactly right, Victor, no can exact timeline there. Victor Blackwell in Chattanooga, thank you so much.
I want to bring into this conversation right now CNN terror analyst Paul Cruickshank and senior fellow for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies Daveed Gartenstein-Ross.
Paul, let me start with you.
The FBI says one of the things they are most definitely looking at right now is the shooter's travel to the Middle East within the last year, to Jordan, possibly for a while, possibly many months in Jordan. What's the menu of options in Jordan? If you wanted to going to go to Jordan to meet with possible terrorists or terror groups, we don't know that he did it, but if you did want to do that, what's there?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: John, ISIS has a significant footprint in Jordan, significant support in Jordan.
More than 2,000 Jordanians have traveled to Syria and Iraq, many of them joining up with ISIS. There are believed to be more than 10,000 Islamic extremists in the kingdom. There's a significant sort of refugee inflow from Syria; 600,000 refugees have come in. There is concern about radicalization in that community.
There have been pro-ISIS demonstrations in Jordan in places like Zarqa when the caliphate was announced. It may not be too difficult to find sort of pro-ISIS connections in the kingdom, and of course also able to travel into next-door Syria and Iraq.
BERMAN: Of course, we have no indication of that yet.
The FBI made perfectly clear they said no indication that he was directed by or inspired by anyone but himself.
Daveed, it's interesting. There's sort of a pass the buck mentality right now in many of these Middle Eastern countries. Kuwait says he was born here, but he's not Kuwaiti. Jordan was saying, yes, he lived here, but he's not a Jordanian citizen. He's Palestinian.
That sort of gives you a sense of the complicated legacy in the Middle East.
DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: And also he has a complicated legacy himself.
As was discussed, he is apparently devout, but at the same time fairly recently was arrested for drunk driving. He's somebody who is described as being very much American, very well assimilated, mixed martial arts fighter.
But also if you look at his blog, he also very much expresses his religious identity in a very Salafi manner. There's a lot to untangle here. And the reason everyone is being so careful is because unlike a lot of cases that look very similar to this, you don't have a smoking gun yet as to motive. BERMAN: No, and there are things here that are missing. Despite the
fact it looks similar in many ways, 24 hours after the fact, there are still some key ingredients missing right now. That's what investigators are poring over.
Paul Cruickshank, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, thanks so much.
Exactly what did motivate this attack in Tennessee? The FBI is treating it, investigating it as an act of terrorism. Others say the gunman could have been inspired by ISIS. What is being done to stop the next terror suspect before they strike? We're going to ask a key member of the House Intelligence Committee next.
[16:15:54] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper.
You are looking at live pictures right now of one of the scenes where the gunman opened fire yesterday. Two shooting scenes, at the end, four marines were killed.
At this moment, law enforcement continues to hunt for clues in these shootings in Chattanooga.
In the meantime, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee called it an ISIS-inspired attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX), HOMELAND SECURITY CHAIRMAN: We've seen too much of this traffic. There are too many warning signs. The targets are identical to the targets called by ISIS to attack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Now, he did not offer evidence connecting ISIS directly to the attack just yet. And the FBI earlier today told us they have found nothing yet linking ISIS or any other terror group to this young man. Again, not yet.
Joining us is Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana, the first Muslim to be on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.
REP. ANDRE CARSON (D-IN), PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: An honor to be here. Thank you for having me.
BERMAN: We just heard from Chairman McCaul not more than an hour ago who said he believed this is an ISIS-inspired attack. You are privy to some evidence that we are not. At this point, have you seen any evidence linking this man to ISIS or any other terror group?
CARSON: The National Counterterrorism Center has reported that we have yet to establish a link between this incident and ISIL. As a former police officer, my heart goes out to the first responders. As someone who comes from a family of marines, my heart goes out to those families.
And it's clear, the Homeland Security Committee just held a series of meetings this past week on modifying or correcting or improving our countering violent extremism strategy. The administration has done a phenomenal job of taking the same approach.
I'm deeply concerned that we are now seeing across this country elements of extremism and those who would attempt to do harm to our country by making political statements. And that's across the spectrum. I don't think any one religion has a monopoly on extremism or even extremism for that matter. A few weeks ago, we saw someone walk into a church and kill innocent men and women.
And so, it's unfortunate, but what we must understand is that our law enforcement community is doing a fantastic job at trying to get to the bottom of this attack.
BERMAN: The law enforcement committee did a wonderful job yesterday killing this man before he could cause anymore carnage.
There is some concern today that our men and women in uniform for not being protected to the extent they could be at some installations. At this recruiting center, for instance, at any recruiting centers around the country, military are not allowed to be armed. Do you think that's something that needs to be reconsidered right now, given the threat that everyone seems to agree exists on military, even in this country?
CARSON: The military leadership I speak with regularly, they're wrestling with some of their internal controls and improving ways in which their military personnel can be safely secured. We saw an incident a few weeks ago in my neighborhood in D.C., at least, a navy yard, where we had another incident where security was jeopardized.
And so, I think that for those who have made a commitment to protect our nation during wartime and non-war scenarios, I think it's important that we equip them with the necessary tools so they can protect themselves and protect us.
BERMAN: To be clear, you're saying maybe they should have guns?
CARSON: I don't think it's out of the question.
Now, I think for specific training purposes and circumstances, the military has made decisions as to have some of those who hold post to be unarmed. But as I said, I've met with leadership in the military, they're looking now at internal controls in which they can improve so that we don't this situation occur again.
BERMAN: It's interesting. One of the Muslim community centers down there attended by the shooter canceled its Ed celebration today.
[16:20:01] It's the end of Ramadan. You, of course, have studied this quite a bit. You say the Muslim
community is one of the biggest allies that our intelligence community has.
What would you advise the Muslim community right now in Chattanooga to be doing down?
CARSON: Well, I think that they're doing what they should be doing. There are numerous folks in the Chattanooga community who are a part of the law enforcement apparatus, who have been helping with information and intelligence. And there are those who have ongoing interfaith efforts where they're reaching across the aisle, to Jewish brothers and sisters, to Christians, to Sikhs, Hindus, and even non- theists, and coming up with strategies countering violent extremism strategies in which we can keep our community safer.
Now, I think the work is already being done in that phenomenal community. But, unfortunately, there was an incident that we need to watch more closely. And understand that every day, every week, there are threats against our nation and there are Muslims in our law enforcement agency whose are helping to thwart these attacks and you'll never hear about them.
BERMAN: Congressman Andre Carson, thanks so much for being with us. Really appreciate it, sir.
CARSON: What an honor. Thank you.
BERMAN: Up next, the Pentagon has identified the four marines who lost their lives in Chattanooga. The details we are learning paint a picture of honor and valor.
Plus, how did he go from a top student known for his smarts, his charm, his humor described to me as a country guy -- how did he go from that to a killer?
What we are uncovering about the gunman, his history and really, shocking details about his family, that's ahead.
BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
We continue to follow all the new developments in the Chattanooga shootings. Four marines murdered there. We're learning a lot now about the shooter's background, which could provide more clues into his motives.
CNN's senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has been digging deeper into his past.
Drew, there's new information coming in just now. What are you learning?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we keep learning more and more about the overseas travel. The FBI at a news conference that just finished said they are very interested in this person's travels over especially in Jordan, who did he contact, where.
We also just heard from a very long time friend of Muhammad Abdulazeez, John. And he is telling us that something happened overseas that when Abdulazeez came back, he distanced himself. He became a different type of person. There was some kind of a change going on there.
So, it's obviously something that the investigative threads are leading to as to what could have changed this person from what we were talking about yesterday, this all American kid who grew up in a nice neighborhood in Chattanooga, went to high school, college, had everything going for him, and then suddenly to snap into this killer, this mass murder.
The other thing we have learned, which goes a little deeper into his pass is this idyllic family wasn't so idyllic apparently. They had a real rough time in 2009. The mother filed for divorce, claiming that the husband, Mohammad's father, abused physically, mentally and sexually, her, beat the kids, even had filed for a temporary restraining order. That was all resolved within a month, but there was an agreement reached at the end of that resolution that the father would agree not to hit the kids and that there would be some counseling going on.
So, there was trouble in the family back in 2009. Now, we understand there's a lot of focus going on to what happened overseas and the extended trips that Mohammad took overseas, and that is where the threads of investigation are heading. Along with looking at everything else, how he got the guns, et cetera -- John.
BERMAN: Right. Something happened overseas, that's the word from a friend. Something had to happen overseas, the word we've been hearing from terror analysts for the last 24 hours. Thank you so much, Drew Griffin.
The recruitment center on Lee Highway yesterday, the scene was pure chaos. One witness described the shooting there in this way, it was one shot and then it was just endless shots.
I want to talk to a witness right now. Sally Bryer -- she was outside the center when the gunman opened fire. Her step son was inside the center.
Sally, thank you so much for joining us. First of all, how are you doing today, how is your stepson doing?
SALLY BRYER, WITNESSED MILITARY CENTER SHOOTING: We're doing much better. Thank you. We're a little shook but we're OK.
BERMAN: What did you see yesterday in that parking lot?
BRYER: Oh, my God. I saw the gentleman drive in. He drove very slowly, nonchalantly. Very close to the buildings. He stopped right in the middle there of the recruiting stations.
And then, all of a sudden, he leaned over to the passenger seat of his car. He was in a convertible. And he pulled out this rifle and then he just started shooting going back and forth two times.
He -- the clip dropped out of the rifle and he put another one in and continued doing the same thing. At that point, I got frightened and I laid down in the front seat of my car.
BERMAN: Smart. As he is shooting and shooting and shooting.
We've been told that the military personnel inside that recruiting center, many of whom are combat veterans, they helped people inside get out. They told people to get down on the floor, crawl out the back and get to safety. Your stepson who was inside I believe has he described what it was like to be inside while this was going on?
BRYER: Yes, sir. He said that one of the recruiters as first thought it was the marines next door doing a training mission. And then they decided it was not, it was for real. And that's when Jacob and his recruiter came running out like little jackrabbits, really, and running after the vehicle.
BERMAN: They chased the vehicle on foot?
BRYER: Yes, sir, they did.