Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Bomb Threat in Germany; Terror Investigation; Sources: Terrorist's Cell Phone Recovered. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 17, 2015 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:20] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Jake Tapper live in Paris, France, right near the Place de la Republique. And this is THE LEAD.

We are going to begin today with some breaking news.

Just four days after suicide blasts outside that French soccer stadium, a German soccer stadium is being evacuated over a bomb threat as well. German police say there was concrete evidence that someone wanted to set off an explosive device in the stadium. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other members of the Merkel government were, we're told, on their way to the friendly match between Germany and the Netherlands to show defiance in the face of terror here in Europe when this happened.

A German official is now telling us that as of now no explosives have been found and no arrests have been made. There also are furious developments today into the investigation right here in Paris. Officials saying they have now a cell phone that they believe one of the ISIS terrorists who struck on Friday used.

In just the past couple of hours, we learned that French police are searching for a second suspect possibly connected to the Paris terrorist attacks along with the wanted man, of course, Salah Abdeslam.

First, I want to talk about this Germany bomb scare, however, with CNN terror analyst Paul Cruickshank.

Paul, this is a fast-developing story. But what do we know right now about this threat? Did they find a bomb at all?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, if you look at all of language that's sort of come in from German officials, they seem to be talking about intelligence coming in, that some kind of intelligence led them to take these moves, to evacuate the stadium.

Clearly, with intelligence, it can be very, very specific, but they have got to run it down, and it could come from all sorts of different sources. We don't know what type of source it might have come from. But given what happened in Paris on Friday, given the sort of intelligence that appears to have come in to them in some way, shape or form, they can't take any chances with the leader of Germany, Chancellor Merkel, present there. They're not going to take any chances in this sort of climate. So I

think it remains to be seen what the evidence is, as the local police chief sort of talked about. We don't know what that is. Clearly, they want to run it down, make sure people are safe, given all the terrible events of...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: And, certainly, as you and I have talked about today, and, sadly, in the last few months and years, it's not uncommon for terrorists to strike in rapid succession.

CRUICKSHANK: It's not uncommon. And there are two factors here. One is the sort of copycat phenomenon where people get inspired by what they see in Paris.

For these supporters, they're absolutely electrified by what they saw happening, the ISIS supporters and there are plenty in Germany. But there's also obviously concern there could be a broader ISIS conspiracy at play.

What I think we're seeing happening with ISIS is they're subcontracting the different language groups, the English speakers, the French speakers, the German speakers, to organize attacks back in their home countries.

That seems to be the way they're going right now. And with this plot in Paris, it was the francophone speakers, the French and the Belgians, some people who climbed up the hierarchy from France and Belgium within ISIS trying to organize this, it appears, and recruiting some youngsters and others to get involved, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Paul Cruickshank, thank you so much.

French authorities also conducting more than 100 raids overnight, not only to track down the terrorists who helped pull off this carnage, but to head off any possible new attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Time may be running out for this man, 26-year- old Salah Abdeslam, said to be the eighth terrorist, and the only one who survived Friday's attacks.

Authorities are now finding new clues. Today, the French public learned that Abdeslam and the other terrorists spent time inside this hotel, south of Paris, where they prepared their massacre and left a trail of evidence hauntingly close to these residents.

(on camera): We are told that police were here on Saturday searching one or two rooms here at this budget hotel south of Paris. Local press reports say that police believe that Salah Abdeslam, one of the Paris terrorists, rented rooms here and they found in the rooms pizza boxes and also materials that may have been used to make suicide vests.

[16:05:03]

(voice-over): Investigators say Abdeslam rented the rooms just two days before the attacks. "It makes me scared," this man tells us, "because I have family. I have my family in here. I have my uncle and his wife and kids."

This little girl and her grandmother told us they saw the police come around 11:00 a.m. the morning after the murders. "They broke down the door," she says, adding that she, too, is scared.

CNN obtained these photographs showing the door to the terrorists' rooms on the fourth floor seemingly kicked in banged up, and left open, and still more details about the attackers. This bar in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek was registered to Abdeslam's brother Ibrahim, who blew himself up Friday.

CNN has learned the bar was shut down for dug-related offenses just eight days before the deadly attacks. This morning came even more clues, this abandoned black car discovered and linked to Salah Abdeslam. It was rented in Belgium, where the terrorists' two other vehicles are known to be registered.

CNN's Atika Shubert was there as French police in plainclothes pounced.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And what we believe they are doing -- as you can see, residents here still very much on edge -- what we believe they are doing is asking people what they saw.

TAPPER: According to the French interior minister, security forces have carried out at least 128 new raids just overnight. That's nearly one for every victim of the terror attacks. And more are sure to come.

(on camera): The City of Light is a city on edge. Earlier this evening, a bomb threat was called in against the Eiffel Tower. Police officials tell us it was apparently a false alarm. But those policemen on the ground here, the Gendarmerie, are still telling us to keep away.

(voice-over): Meanwhile, raids continue in Paris and beyond as authorities hunt for Abdeslam and evidence of the horrors play out. Meanwhile, those living in these towns wonder how close they may have come to the killers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: We're joined now by CNN's senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward.

Clarissa, thanks for joining us.

We have a major, potentially, breaking story right now. Police now say they have a terrorist's cell phone? What happen can you tell us about that?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

Officials are telling CNN that at one of the scenes they have found a cell phone and they do have reason to feel pretty optimistic that this might nab some good intelligence for you. We don't know who was actually holding the phone, but we do that apparently a text message on the phone saying something to the effect, OK, we are ready.

Again, we don't know who was the recipient of that text and who was the sender of that text, but certainly police now hoping that they can really start to use this phone to drill down on any potential network that would have been involved in facilitating these attacks, because, of course, Jake, one of the great frustrations for officials in dealing with these types of jihadis and ISIS fighters has been they're very technologically savvy, they're street-smart, they use encrypted software, they communicate through Surespot and telegrams.

They ditch their cell phones. So, cell phone like this, with those messaging systems intact, could potentially, potentially be very valuable.

TAPPER: Not to mention, obviously, they have these tremendous networks in Europe, not to mention in Syria and Iraq, of course, but in Europe, where they can reach out and get refuge, get hidden, get ways to get back to Syria and Iraq. This could potentially, potentially help them track down some of those people in the networks.

WARD: Exactly, and try to put some of these missing pieces together. What we know is that eighth attacker is still on the loose, a second suspect. But even wider than that, Jake, we're looking at a cross- continental network here that was facilitating and orchestrating and helping arm these men and prepare for the attacks.

TAPPER: All right, great reporting. You so much, Clarissa Ward.

While police analyze the cell phone and while the manhunt for the potential eighth ISIS terrorist gets more urgent by the second, a lot of the overall investigation is now focusing on this alleged ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud.

CNN chief security national correspondent Jim Sciutto is here with me in Paris.

Jim, what does U.S. intelligence say about Abaaoud?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: They share the same feeling as French security sources, and that is that he was a key figure in this.

What we learned today is that he has been on America's radar screen going back to May, the Department of Homeland Security warning not only about his connection to plots here, but also that he was planning capability for a mass casualty attack somewhere in Europe, which is, of course, what we saw unfold on the streets of Paris on Friday.

So, right now, what we're seeing happening, not just here in France, but across Europe, is a massive manhunt for other attackers who may not be found, but also suspects they don't know yet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, an international manhunt is under way with raids across Europe, searching for suspects known and unknown, police in action in Germany, and, in France, more than 100 raids, including on the apartment of Salah Abdeslam, the alleged eighth Paris attacker who is still on the run, and now a second unnamed suspect in the deadly rampage.

[16:10:06]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first priority of the French authority is actually to stop a possible second attack. They want to make sure that whoever is part of that group of people, they're not also planning another attack in the coming days.

SCIUTTO: As investigators trace the network behind the Paris attacks, the trail consistently leads to this alleged mastermind, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. The Belgian national believed to be hiding in Syria is the suspected driving force behind Friday's attacks in Paris, a January plot in Belgium to kill police officers, and a failed attack on a high-speed train in August thwarted by three Americans.

He's been on the U.S. radar as well. The Department of Homeland Security intelligence assessment published in May warned that ISIS had developed capability to plan and carry out complex attacks in the West and noted that Abaaoud appeared to have faked his death in Syria to help elude authorities while traveling between Syria and Belgium. With an estimated 11,000 terror suspects, French authorities say they are simply overwhelmed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have the number of policemen to monitor 10,000 people. So the situation is intelligence and we have to improve our intelligence system to detect -- better detection of jihadists. That's the problem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And, Jim Sciutto, that was great piece, but we also know we heard the CIA Director John Brennan say that he thinks there are plans in the pipeline, that's his term, in the pipeline, that ISIS has to strike in the U.S. You have some breaking news on that.

SCIUTTO: I spoke to a senior U.S. law enforcement official to basically dig down on exactly what Director Brennan was speaking about, and the senior law enforcement official told me it is not only an ISIS aspiration to attack in the U.S., but U.S. believes that they likely have plans in the pipeline, that they're plotting those attacks, laying out the plans for them.

To be clear for our audience, that does not mean a credible and specific threat, they're going to attack X target on X day, but they do believe this is not just an aspiration, that they are laying the plans, laying the groundwork and it's something certainly that U.S. law enforcement is taking very seriously. TAPPER: And the importance of this, I think, to underline, it's not

that there is a definitive plot against the United States, but that months ago, intelligence and national security officials didn't think ISIS was capable of something like that and now they have completely reexamined what this terrorist group, the evil of which they're capable.

SCIUTTO: That's exactly right. You saw that even here, that they knew it was an aspiration for a group like that, ISIS, to carry out a mass casualty attack. They proved that aspiration.

I wouldn't say it's a sea change in the way that the U.S. looks at ISIS. They have been taking it very seriously for some time, but clearly as they look at this group, it's not just a hope for this group. They are laying the groundwork. They're taking steps. They're making plans.

TAPPER: They have proven what they can do. Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.

More than 100 raids, foiled bomb plots, not to mention a series of attacks in recent weeks killing hundreds of innocent people. Did we just transition into a new phase in the war on ISIS? What's the strategy going forward? We will ask the man just put in charge of the global coalition to destroy the terrorist group next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:47] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Live in Paris.

Breaking news into CNN just this last hour, quote, "OK, we're ready," unquote. Counterterror and intelligence officials telling CNN that chilling message was found on a cell phone, sources believe belonged to one of the Paris terrorists.

That cell phone could theoretically help investigators fill in the glaring gap about how it is that ISIS terrorists managed to conceal their plans from police, from intelligence, from the national security apparatus.

France has already responded to the terror with bombs in Raqqa, in Syria. But how does last week's night of horror change the equation in this larger war against ISIS?

Joining me right now to discuss this is Brett McGurk. He is the president's special presidential envoy to the coalition in the fight against ISIS.

Brett, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.

So, just, frankly put, do these attacks on France, the bloodiest day in France since World War II, does this make your job any easier in terms of rallying support and getting other countries to get more skin in the game to take on ISIS? BRETT MCGURK, PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY, GLOBAL COALITION TO COUNTER ISIS:

Well, Jake, we're here today in Paris, I came here with Secretary Kerry for meetings with President Hollande, with senior French officials, mainly to express our sincere condolences for these terrible attacks on the victims, but also to express our resolve on behalf of the United States and the entire global coalition as we stand with France as they respond to the attacks.

TAPPER: They did respond, right? They bombed Raqqa.

MCGURK: Well, Jake, you know, the minute after these attacks happened, just a few hours afterwards President Obama convened his national security team and we said immediately, we're going to do all we can to help our French partners, oldest ally in the world, respond. We came from Paris -- we were in Turkey for the G20, you just felt a sense with the world leaders that the world has really galvanized now against this threat.

And that's what it's going to take. This is a global challenge, a global threat, foreign fighters are pouring into Syria from a hundred countries all around the world. We have made some inroads into that, but we need to do more.

But the world is galvanized now. We're going to do all we can to defeat and destroy this barbaric terrorist organization.

[16:20:01] And just a couple weeks before the attack, we went on offense in areas of Syria, in northern Iraq. We took their main road linkage between Mosul and Raqqa. We wanted to do that before, it took us months to set up those operations. They were successful, we cut off that main road linkage.

We're going to be putting U.S. Special Forces into northern Syria to help enable a push on Raqqa, to isolate Daesh and ISIS in Raqqa.

So, we're going to do all we can to take the fight to ISIL. And the conversations with France was about to how help them respond and they're doing airstrikes in Raqqa as we speak.

TAPPER: And one of the questions I got, after I reported on the French airstrikes against Raqqa, against targets I think there were many about 15 targets, recruiting center, training center, one of the questions I got was, why wasn't the U.S. already hitting these sites, as it's been reported, and the Pentagon has said, it's about seven sorties a day against ISIS in Syria, more in Iraq. Sometimes the jets come back and still have their bombs because they haven't been given permission to drop them.

Why hadn't the U.S. already hit those sites?

MCGURK: We're doing airstrikes in Raqqa almost every day. In fact, just four or five days ago, we did a target operation against Jihadi John, based upon intelligence sharing we had with a lot of our partners. We think that was a very effective operation. We're going to continue striking in Raqqa. But we were also focused the last couple of weeks on supporting forces on the ground. So, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces as they went into Sinjar, we did for example 40 strikes in a single day. As we support forces on the ground, you see airstrikes significantly intensify. So that's something you're going to see.

But I think you're going to see an intensification. The French are moving the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to the Eastern Mediterranean to intensify the airstrikes. We're moving A10s into Incirlik air base, we're moving F-15s into Incirlik air base, that's the pressure Daesh, ISIL in its last remaining stretch of territory with the Turkish border. President Obama discussed that with President Erdogan in Turkey just three days ago.

Bottom line here, we made progress over last year taking back about 25 percent of the territory that ISIL controlled a year ago. We've set a foundation to accelerate those efforts. But make no mistake, we're going it defeat these guys, we're going to decimate their networks, not only in their phony caliphate, but also globally, with the international foreign fighter networks as they try to cross borders.

TAPPER: What's your response when you hear public officials and some ex-military officials say the rule of engagement are too strict, the U.S. is so worried about any possible civilian casualties that they're letting bad guys get away? Is that possibly true?

MCGURK: Well, we're careful. We don't want to, you know, collateral damage is something that matters to us. We have to -- to defeat these guys, we have to mobilize local population to fight. So, we have been very careful.

But I think that criticism is really misguided. We're very focused on making sure our strikes are effective. Just two days ago, Jake, a lot of talk about the fuel truck as it continue to fuel, again, phony caliphate, particularly between Mosul and Raqqa, we have begun to hit those trucks, we hit 116 the other day, and focus on economic infrastructure.

Why are we doing that now? Why didn't we do it before?

It takes a while to really develop intelligence we need to have a granular picture, so when we do airstrikes, they're particularly effective. The intelligence we have now against the economic infrastructure came from a special forces operation that our guys did going into Syria, very difficult operation, to target Abu Sayyaf, who is the number one financier for ISIL. That operation happened some months ago, but we collected more information in that raid than any special operations read in history, and we know a lot more against ISIL now and we're putting that intel against to use.

And as President Obama announced just a few weeks ago, we're going to put more special forces into northern Iraq to do more of these operations, get more intelligence, to intensify our pressure against these terrorists.

TAPPER: Well, you say that the U.S. and the coalition has taken back 25 percent of the land ISIS has seized in the last year or so, they do seem to be expanding globally. You have Russian passenger jet, the bombings in Beirut, obviously, the horrific attacks here, possibly something else going on in Germany right now. We're still looking into that.

The American people are home and they are afraid. They are afraid that ISIS is going to hit them there. What do you tell them?

MCGURK: It's a terrorist organization, and we have to all we can to bring the entire world behind us as we move to defeat them, destroy the networks and share information with all of our friends to cut down the foreign fighter blows.

We've have been effective at home. We've done all we possibly can. We know we have. Secretary Kerry mentioned today in a couple of interviews, we have broken up plots, of course, goes unreported, we don't talk about that, because it leads to more information to break up more plots.

But we are vigilant. Our Homeland Security Council, our FBI, our Department of Justice, our intelligence community are vigilant on that side of the fight. And we are going to be aggressive and intensifying our fight in Iraq and Syria and, of course, in the broader region.

But this is going to be a long-term challenge. But I'll tell you, Jake, the thing about Paris, why we're here to express solidarity with the French people and our partners and our friends, what we felt in Turkey with the G20, was that the world now really is galvanized to take this threat with the utmost seriousness and to basically decimate and suffocate the networks.

[16:25:10] That means in Iraq, Syria, but also globally. We've got to share more information, we have to target foreign fighter flows and that's what we're going to do. In the last year, we have had about 40 countries pass very aggressive laws to cut down on foreign fighter networks, about 15 countries have broken up sales.

What we are doing through the coalition, we set up a structure to share information rapidly, so not just take the cell or one capital or another, but to coordinate efforts to collapse those foreign fighter networks. So, that's something we're working to do. We have more information now about these networks than we did before. It's not enough. We have to work even harder. That's why we signed with the French, a information sharing, intelligence sharing agreement just yesterday.

So, Jake, this is just really difficult but we are going to do everything we can to defeat and decimate these networks not only in Iraq and Syria but globally.

TAPER: Well, I know everyone watching is wishing you the best with this very, very difficult job.

MCGURK: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks so much. Brett McGurk, the president's special envoy to the global coalition that's fighting ISIS. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

MCGURK: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: As authorities investigate the Paris terrorist attacks, Russia is now announcing what intelligence officials have been suggesting for weeks, that it was a bomb in fact that brought down that Russian passenger airliner, killing 224 people, including 25 children. We'll have more on that developing story, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)