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Interview With Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton; Terror Investigation; ISIS Video Suggests New York Suicide Bomb Plot; Mastermind of Paris Attacks Possibly Killed in Raid. Aired 18-19:00p ET

Aired November 18, 2015 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Bomb revealed. ISIS publishes a picture of what it claims is the bomb that downed a Russian passenger plane in Egypt planted inside a soda can. What does it reveal about the terrorists' bomb-making capabilities?

And fake passports. Five Syrian men carrying counterfeit Greek papers detained in Honduras, was their next stop the United States? We're learning late-breaking details.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news, a disturbing new video just released by ISIS suggesting a terrorist suicide bomb plot against New York City. The video shows a bomb being assembled and a man wearing the device hiding it under his jacket, followed by scenes of crowded Manhattan streets.

And, in France, authorities are now analyzing DNA from body parts to see if the mastermind of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was among those killed in an extraordinary raid. Police fired more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition during the operation which they say thwarted another plot.

A woman identified as Abaaoud's cousin detonated a suicide bomb and part of the building collapsed, leaving human remains scattered.

And in Honduras, authorities have detained five Syrian men traveling on fake passports who they believe were trying to go to the United States. A police spokesman said the men had already traveled through five other countries.

We're covering all angles of the breaking news this hour with our guest, including Senator Tom Cotton, who is a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents and our expert analysts, they're also standing by.

Let's get the very latest first from Paris and our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. Jim, there are major new developments unfolding.


And one of them, a new video, a new threat tonight, in fact, the second American city that has ISIS threatened in the last 48 hours. On Monday, it was the capital, Washington, ISIS saying that after striking the capital of France, Paris, they would strike America in its stronghold, and now today ISIS threatening New York City.

This is viewed as a prime target for this group, an aspirational target, one they have been talking about for some time, but in this video you see a new and haunting threat.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Alarming images from an ISIS video apparently threatening an attack on New York City. CNN is only airing a few frames of the video, which shows the French president speaking along with people arming themselves with what appear to be explosives, then scenes of Herald Square in New York.

Parts of the video first appeared in an April rap video produced by ISIS, but tonight they suggest a new warning. All of this comes as suspected ISIS terrorists were arrested here in Paris. In the early morning hours, heavy gunfire and explosions, as French police raid an apartment building in a Paris suburb Saint-Denis, suspected terrorists hiding out inside, and police say planning another major attack.

FRANCOIS MOLINS, PARIS PROSECUTOR (through translator): The police officers faced great difficulty. An armored door resisted the explosives launched in the raid. There was uninterrupted gunfire for almost an hour.

SCIUTTO: French authorities arrested seven people, including this man, who appears to have been stripped down. It's unclear if that's because police were searching him for explosives.

Amateur video captured another suspect ordered to the ground, quickly handcuffed by police. Two other suspected terrorists were killed in the raid, including a woman who blew herself up, that woman believed to be the cousin of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of Friday's deadly rampage across Paris.

MOLINS (through translator): One body was torn apart and not identifiable. Early evidence indicates the explosion was caused when a woman detonated an explosive vest.

SCIUTTO: French and Belgian police zeroed in on the apartments after interviews, intercepted phone communications and bank records led them there. Investigators also had intelligence that Abaaoud himself was present.

The French authorities say he's not in custody and it's unknown whether he was one of those killed. The raids took place north of Paris near the Stade de France, one of the locations hit by terrorists on Friday. Residents describe a terrifying operation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They told us to lie down on the floor, don't move and turn off the lights.


SCIUTTO: The man who owns one of the apartments told CNN affiliate BFM-TV he did not realize who he had rented them to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If I had known something, do you really think I would have let them stay here?

SCIUTTO: Several police officers were wounded in the raid, and this police dog killed.


SCIUTTO: Wolf, we have taken a closer look at the video tonight. We have seen that some of the images are not new. They were in a previous rap video put together by ISIS and in fact some of those images, for instance, of Herald Square, they appear to be stock images.

But it's been updated with current comments from the French president and just want to give you a reaction because we're just getting that now from the New York Police Department. They note as well that while some of this video footage is not new, and I'm quoting from the statement, "The video reaffirms the message that New York City remains a top terrorist target."

They go on to say there is no specific or current threat. But I will tell you, Wolf, you speak to New York Police Department officials, you speak to U.S. intelligence, U.S. counterterror officials, they know that ISIS aspires to attack major U.S. target, cities such as Washington and New York certainly at the top of their list.

And while they don't have credible, specific information, they take that threat seriously. That's the way this group operates. This is the new world we live in. It's the way that they view this group and it showed a new capability here frankly on the streets of Paris, Wolf.

BLITZER: They got to do it, especially after what happened Friday night in Paris. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, for that.

I want to stay in Paris.

Our senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is on the scene there. She's in that Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, where the raid unfolded overnight.

Clarissa, what are investigators doing at the scene right now?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's pretty quiet here now, but this is one of the toughest neighborhoods in Paris and still residents told us they have never seen anything like this, seven hours, more than 5,000 bullets fired.

We actually managed to get up on the roof behind the building where those raids took place and we could see investigators on the scene. These were forensic experts all in white. Some of them were taking photographs. They had cameras, they had flashlights and they were taking samples because, of course, the key aspect now of this investigation is to try to find out who was in that apartment and who was killed.

We know two people were killed, one woman who blew herself up believed to be the cousin of the alleged ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, and another person we know was killed by a police sniper. We don't yet know who that person was. But as long as the alleged eighth attacker, Salah Abdeslam, and the mastermind or ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, are on the loose and not accounted for, you can be sure that nobody here is in Saint-Denis or anywhere in Paris is going to be sleeping well tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, these are the two most wanted men in the world, I would suspect, right now.

Clarissa, thanks very much.

Cell phones believed to belong to the terrorists helped lead police in Paris to those apartments in Saint-Denis.

Our justice reporter, Evan Perez, first reported the news of that critical discovery for us.

Evan, now you're getting new information from your sources. What are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there was no doubt the information that was found on this cell phone in particular, that message which appeared to be like a go message, were very key for investigators in France trying to unravel this network.

We know that the FBI and U.S. intelligence have been turning over more information that is helping to drive some of the hundreds of raids that you have seen that French authorities have carried out in the last few nights there in Paris.

I'm told that essentially there is so much chatter going on that they are detecting, that this is no lead that is too small not to turn over. That is something that's changed after Friday night.

BLITZER: You're also getting more information about those five Syrians who have just been detained in Honduras with fake passports supposedly trying to make their way here to the United States. What can you tell us?

PEREZ: Well, Wolf, this is part of a larger trend, really. And we had -- earlier this week, we had authorities in St. Martin, the Dutch part of the Caribbean island, detain three people who they said were of Syrian descent who also similarly had fake Greek passports. They detained them. They have now been sharing that information

with U.S. law enforcement. We are not sure, we don't know and U.S. law enforcement certainly doesn't know yet whether these people were tied to any extremist groups or any -- there is no indication that that's the case.

What they believe is happening is that the U.S. is sharing a lot more information with countries in the region to give them access to a database of false passports. Interpol has that information as well, and that that perhaps is allowing countries to stop some of these people.


There is an underground trade of false documents, Wolf, that is driving some of the migrant traffic across the world, really. And Honduras is only part of that. And so what I'm told by officials is that they certainly in light of Paris have been making sure that they are sharing that information, asking countries, not only to secure their own borders, but also keeping an eye on the idea that terrorists might try to exploit the false document trade, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Evan Perez, thanks for that report.

Let's talk about all of this and more with Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee, as well as the Armed Services Committee. He's a combat veteran that served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator, thanks for coming in.

We have lots to discuss, but, quickly, this so-called ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud, do you know if he's alive or dead?

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Well, Wolf, I seen the published reports that suggest he died.

He has tried to fake his death before in the past to throw authorities off the trail. This should be something that the French authorities can verify relatively quickly. His family is alienated -- I should say he is alienated from his family.

You would think they would cooperate and DNA testing would be able to demonstrate pretty soon whether it was Abaaoud who was killed.

BLITZER: Because the earlier suspicion was he was in Syria, in Raqqa, with the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Did the U.S., for example, -- and you have been briefed well -- did the U.S. know he was actually supposedly in France?

COTTON: Wolf, I don't think anyone knew that he was in Europe already and specifically in France preparing for these attacks.

One thing this highlights is some gaps in our intelligence collection, in part because of so-called end-to-end encryption, whether it's in a PlayStation4 or an app like WhatsApp or even iMessage on in iPhone. Increasingly, terrorists are able to use encrypted communications to avoid very capable intelligence services like France's service.

And that's something that we need to consider as a society, whether or not we want terrorists and child pornographers and drug traffickers to have access to these kind of very powerful encrypted tools.

BLITZER: I want to get to that in a moment. But wrapping up on this terrorist leader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the whole notion, as you point out, that he once faked his death, do we know, do you know if there were other co-conspirators out there and there were other plots in the works right now?

COTTON: Well, I can't comment on specific plots, but I can say that we should assume that there are other plots going.

The show opened with a report about this video about striking New York. I feel like we have come full circle with the Islamic State now, because Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, when he was released from American custody during the Iraq War, reportedly told his American captors, "I will see you guys in New York."

It's clearly the intent of the Islamic State to strike us here in the United States. And that's why we have to go on offense in the war against the Islamic State to fight them where they are before they fight us here in the United States.

BLITZER: Earlier in the week, there was a video threatening Washington, D.C., by ISIS, now this revamped, revised video threatening New York City. What changes need to be made?

COTTON: There is no doubt that their intention is to strike the United States.

We now see that they have the capability to strike not just in Paris, but in Lebanon, where they killed dozens last week, and civilian airliners coming out of Egypt a couple weeks ago.

I think it's important, Wolf, that we all ask ourselves this question, you, me, senators, congressmen, President Obama, the American people. What would we do after a Paris-style attack in New York or Washington or Little Rock? We should do that now, whatever it is.


BLITZER: What are you recommending?

COTTON: Well, first, we need to significantly increase the campaign against the Islamic State. We need to significantly increase the number of bombing runs we're conducting in Iraq and Syria.

Just in the last few days, the French have struck headquarters and command-and-control elements in Raqqa. We struck several dozen, over 100 oil trucks. Why weren't we doing that weeks ago? Why weren't we doing it months ago?

It's because we have too restrictive rules of engagement. More troops are going to have to go to the Middle East. Some of them are going to have to be American troops, not necessarily trigger pullers or door kickers out on the front lines, but the kind of professional support troops that the local forces need, whether it's the Iraqi security forces or the Kurds, or what have you, those artillery, intelligence, logistics, and so forth.

Ultimately, we are going to have to be the leader though in this coalition and that's something that we just haven't done yet.

BLITZER: President Hollande of France, he is going to be in Washington on Tuesday to meet with President Obama. And then he's going to Moscow to meet with President Putin. He wants a worldwide global attack force basically to try to kill ISIS. Should the U.S. be part of that?

COTTON: We shouldn't be part of a coalition with Russia, because Russia...

BLITZER: Why not? If the Russians want to destroy ISIS, what is wrong with aligning with them in that narrow area?

COTTON: Unfortunately, Wolf, Russia's actions speak for themselves.

Even after that aircraft was blown out of the sky two weeks ago, Russia's bombing raids in Syria still predominantly are striking coalition-backed opponent forces of Bashar al-Assad, not the Islamic State. Russia has aligned itself with the Shiite axis of Bashar al- Assad and Iran.

That is the catalyst for the Islamic State. To expect Russia and Iran to fight the Islamic State is like expecting gasoline to douse a fire.

BLITZER: But they have increased their assaults on various ISIS targets as well, right?


COTTON: They have, but, remember, Vladimir Putin is a former KGB spy. This is what the Russians called dezinformatsiya. Information operations distract from what their real objective is, which is to be a power player in the Middle East, keep Assad and his regime in power and to humiliate the United States and to frustrate us at every turn.

BLITZER: He's clearly furious, though, that 224 Russians, almost all of them Russians, on that -- on Metrojet airliner were killed by ISIS and he says they are going to pay a heavy price for that. Let's see what he does.

All right, stand by. We have much more, Senator Cotton, to discuss.

We have a lot more information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. We will take a quick break. We will be right back.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, a new video just released by ISIS directly threatening New York City, showing images of Manhattan, also a suicide bomber with a vest and a jacket, the direct threat to the city of New York coming after Paris.

The former police commissioner in New York City Ray Kelly is joining us right now on the phone.

Commissioner, how seriously do you take this threat against your city?

RAYMOND KELLY, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: I think you have to take all threats seriously.

You know, they are trying to panic people, obviously, in the aftermath of Paris, but pretty much they have tried to do what they say they were going to do. Obviously, they are not always successful, but they lay out a plan. And they publicly put it forward. And I think we have to assume that they are going to try to follow through with that plan.

BLITZER: You think there are ISIS terrorists already in place, let's say, in New York or Washington, D.C.? A video earlier in the week threatened Washington, D.C., the nation's capital.

That there are ISIS plotters already in place ready to carry out a suicide attack along the lines envisioned in this new video?

KELLY: I think the big concern is the aspirational effect of ISIS.

It may not be people that have been dispatched from overseas, but we have seen the lone wolf phenomenon. We have seen many, many people radicalized in their basement watching videos.

Mohammed al-Dininki (ph), communications director of ISIS, has put out the message many, many times to do what you can to kill. Kill, kill, kill is some of the messages he puts out. That has an effect on some people.

And so the lone wolf threat, I think, is the type of thing that we have to be concerned about here. But, obviously, we have to be concerned about all of the potential threats, but that -- the inspirational power of ISIS is significant.

BLITZER: Because, in Paris, as you know, that was not a lone wolf or two. This was a highly coordinated, pretty sophisticated plot, multiple locations, a lot of people involved. And, apparently, there was a second plot ready to do and that's why French police went into the French suburb overnight and did what they did.

And they're saying there are other plots under way as well. I guess the question is, I know there are lone wolves out there, individuals who might be inspired to do awful things, but is there potentially a coordinated plot like this?

KELLY: Sure.

I mean, it's obviously a possibility. I mean, we are a free and open society. There are lots of people who come in, come out from overseas, people that are -- that can be U.S. citizens. We have seen primarily only U.S. citizens that have planned to commit jihad in the United States, not only, but certainly some of them.

So we can't exclude any of this. We need a 360-degree perimeter. We can't just look at lone wolves. We can't look at small groups. We can't look at threats only from overseas. I think the French had some unique problems. They were just overwhelmed by the number of people that they have. They're still overwhelmed at the number of people that they want to watch, the number of people that they are suspicious of.

We don't have a number that comes close to that, although, as Jim Comey said, there's about, I think, almost 900 investigations going forward. So that's still a lot of people, even though, proportionally, I think we have the resources to handle it better than the French have.

BLITZER: Commissioner Kelly, thanks very much for joining us.

KELLY: OK, Wolf.

BLITZER: And good luck to the people in New York City, of course.

We're back with Republican Senator Tom Cotton. He's a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committee.

Do you want to comment on what we just heard from the commissioner?

COTTON: Well, I agree with Commissioner Kelly that we have to assume the Islamic State wants to strike New York or any other American city and that's why we have to get back on offense in the war on terror.

And we have to assume that they now have the capabilities to do here what they did in Paris, which is a coordinated military-style assault that requires training and planning in advance, or what they did in Egypt to that Russian aircraft, which is smuggle a small bomb onto an aircraft that is American or that is en route to America and that we have to take that seriously.


BLITZER: Let me show you the picture that they have now released.

This is ISIS, a picture they released. Take a look at this, soda can, supposedly with a detonator, explosives. That was, they say, put in the cargo department in a suitcase on that Russian Metrojet plane taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh going to Saint Petersburg, blowing up 23 minutes later, killing all 224 people on board.

First of all, do you think that's legitimate, the picture they released?

COTTON: I have no reason to doubt that it is.

More importantly, I have no reason to doubt that they are developing that kind of capability. Remember, al Qaeda, especially al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, has been trying to take down a civilian airliner with these kind of advanced and unobtrusive bombs for many years, and they have failed.

Now they are going to be in competition with the Islamic State to try to take down another airliner. It's never a good time when you have Islamic terrorist groups competing with each other to see who can kill more Americans with the most advanced weapons.

BLITZER: Because they seem to have some pretty good, sophisticated bomb-makers, if they could do that.

COTTON: Yes. Well, just look at the suicide vests in Paris.

Those aren't just going out to a crime-infested neighborhood and picking up an AK-47 on the street. You don't just get suicide vests on the street. That takes real skill in bomb-making.

BLITZER: Senator Cotton, thanks very much for coming in.

COTTON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

Just ahead, much more of our breaking news. We're going back live to Paris, where officials now say a bloody overnight raid punctuated by explosions and gunfire, stopped a terror cell from launching a new operation.

And ISIS claims this bomb built with a soda can brought down that Russian airliner over Sinai, killing all 224 people on board. So does that pose a major new threat to air traffic?


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. ISIS just released new video that seems to be suggesting a terror suicide bomb plot against New York City. The video shows a bomb being assembled and a man wearing a device hiding it under his jacket, followed by scenes of crowded Manhattan streets. This follows the ISIS threat to strike Washington D.C., and the ISIS attacks on Paris that killed at least 129 people. Let's go back to our chief national security correspondent, Jim

Sciutto. He's in Paris for us.

Jim, this is very disturbing ISIS video.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's the second U.S. city that ISIS has threatened in a video just in the last 48 hours. As you referenced, Wolf, on Monday a video threatened Washington D.C., ISIS calling it the stronghold of America, saying they would attack there after they carried out attack here in the stronghold of France, as they called it. Now, you have a threat to New York.

Now to be clear, we've reached out to the New York Police Department. They say there is no credible or specific threat. They note, as we noted ourselves when we looked at this video, that not all the images are new. Some of it are repurposed from a rap video that was published several months ago but updated with recent comments from the French president.

But -- and the NYPD makes this clear, as well, they know -- U.S. terror officials have told me this, as well, counterterror officials -- that New York is certainly an aspiration target of ISIS. And it is one -- a threat that U.S. officials take very seriously.

And I'll tell you, speaking to French security officials here this week, I've asked them that same question. As you look at their capabilities here in France, what is your assessment of their capabilities in the U.S.? And they certainly take it seriously.

Keep in mind, Wolf, the U.S. working very closely with French authorities. You have a permanent FBI field office here. That was beefed up this week.

I've been told by U.S. law enforcement officials that they are cooperating very closely with the French, exchanging information. They take this threat seriously. It's not the same level. They aren't the same numbers as the Europeans face, but that threat to the U.S. is considered real and something that the U.S. has to keep an eye on.

BLITZER: They certainly do.

All right. Jim Sciutto in Paris, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on the deadly, the dramatic raid that may have killed the mastermind of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. At least two people died in the extraordinary operation, including Abaaoud's cousin, who detonated a suicide bomb.

CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson, he's in Paris right now. He's in the suburb of St. Denis. The investigation is continuing there right now. Any new developments?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, Wolf, we're just a few yards away from the house where the attack took place, where the police went in and stormed in, arresting those terrorists who were inside the building.

I'll just step out of the way here, but you can see, and we've been able to see the teams in their forensic -- white forensic overalls coming in and out of the building on the left of your picture there. Also, what you're seeing there are -- carpenters there. They're helping shore up the building. They've got power saws. They're sawing through the heavy lumber they've got laying there, taking it into the building.

We heard the prosecutor explain to us earlier on that you see more debris coming out of the house, other workers bringing other material out of that house there.

The prosecutor explained before -- they hear the power saws going. What the prosecutor explained before was that getting that forensic evidence to prove whether or not Abdelhamid Abaaoud was killed in that premises, the building, the prosecutors said, was in poor shape; they needed to shore it up. And that's what's going on there right now.

According to one of the police officers we talked to a little while ago, he said that this work could take another 24 hours at this premises to complete here. There's a police line here. The police are screening local residents very carefully before they let them get into their houses in this neighborhood here, Wolf.

[18:35:11] BLITZER: There's clearly a fear that other terrorists could still be at large, other plots could be underway, as well.

All right, Nic, thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper into all of this with our terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank. He's in Paris. Also joining us, the former assistant FBI director, our CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, and the former CIA official, our CNN counterterrorism analyst, Phil Mudd.

Phil, if this terrorist, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was in that apartment when it was blown up and he was killed, even -- a lot of body parts, they would be able to determine fairly soon whether or not he's the guy who was killed.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Should be able to. You don't need much to do DNA analysis. You get a piece of a pinky, you can do analysis on that. Remember also, there are people taken out of that apartment, co-conspirator. One of the first questions you're going to have for them is, "You better talk and tell me who was in there. Who died? Who didn't die? Who's still on the loose?"

So you've got both the DNA and the opportunity to talk to people...

BLITZER: Well, you think those guys that they arrested are going to talk?

MUDD: They may. My experience is this depends on personal psychology. You'd think they'd be so hardened that they won't talk. As soon as that emotional bubble is broken, some people turn around and say, "I'm scared. I'll be happy to talk to you." Not common but it happens.

BLITZER: You think they'll talk?

FUENTES: They might.


FUENTES: I'd agree with Phil that it happens.

BLITZER: Senator Risch of the intelligence committee was here with me yesterday. He said four of the terrorists who were involved Friday night in the killing of all those people -- 129 people were killed -- they were known to U.S. intelligence, known to U.S. officials, but it's unclear if they were known to French officials. If they were known, Tom, to U.S. officials, wouldn't they automatically have been known to French officials?

FUENTES: Yes. The U.S. provided that information back in the spring, the information that led the U.S. to put them on the watch list here. So that was shared. That's been shared.

BLITZER: That was shared.

FUENTES: Yes. That doesn't mean that they know exactly where they are or what they're up to at that moment, especially if they were presumed to be in Syria or some other location.

BLITZER: So is it your assumption that at least four of those individuals who committed those heinous crimes Friday night were under surveillance, were being watched by French police?

FUENTES: Well, that I don't know. I don't know. Because the French don't have enough resources to watch everybody they're supposed to be watching. And they're like us. We have over 1 million people on our watch list here in this country. We're not watching 99 percent of those 1 million people.

They have the same issue over there. They don't have as many, but then they don't have as many intelligence and law enforcement services to deal with it.

BLITZER: Paul Cruickshank, you've done a lot of reporting on this. What is your assessment, based on the assumption that at least four of those individuals were known to the U.S., and as Tom says, if they were known to the U.S., they presumably were known to the French. You're there. What are you hearing?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, look, Wolf, I mean, the basic fact is some of these individuals were on the edge of the radar screen at French security services and the Belgian security services and, of course, they were also known to a certain degree, therefore, by the United States intelligence services.

But the problem is there are so many of these individuals now traveling over to Syria, 6,000 or so from Europe, 1,500 already back.

And the other problem is that ISIS is starting to move up their gears in terms of launching international terrorist operations. And my understanding from talking to officials today is that it's -- there is a group of about a half dozen Belgian and French operatives in ISIS who have moved up the hierarchy, who are the brains behind this operation. They include Abdelhamid Abaaoud, but they also include Fabien Clain, who's a French jihadi 10 years older than Abaaoud. And Abdelhamid Abaaoud may actually look up to him. Originally from Reunion (ph), who have had a long track record of involvement with terrorism.

And back in 2009, before he eventually left for Syria, he was involved in a threat stream here against the Bataclan music hall, Wolf.

And so this group that's been very active in Syria. They're based around Raqqah. And their M.O. at the moment is to try and talent-spot these fresh recruits coming in to give them very, very quick training, one or two weeks, and then send them back to launch attacks. All of this has been told to me by officials there.

BLITZER: Let's talk, Phil Mudd, about this new video that ISIS has just released. Reprogrammed; some of the scenes were taken from a rap video they put out earlier in the year, I think in April. But it's a clear threat to New York City.

Earlier today, I spoke to Mayor de Blasio of New York. He said there's no specific credible threat. Now this video comes out. What's your analysis? How seriously is New York in danger, potentially, right now?

MUDD: I watched the interview with the mayor, and I've got to say respectfully, "Are you kidding me?" When you're assessing a terror organization, there are two elements that you assess: capability and intent.

[18:40:05] In terms of capability, clearly, ISIS has a European capability, based partly on the thousands of recruits that have gone there.

The FBI has said they have investigations in every state in this country, and several hundred North Americans have gone there. And now we have a statement of intent earlier about Washington and today about New York. And we still have officials saying we don't have a threat? What kind of warning do you want?

BLITZER: Well, he said there was no specific credible threat.

MUDD: If I'm a federal official or a state official and I have this kind of specificity of capability and intent, we were warned by al Qaeda in 1998 and we said this is overseas. We were warned by ISIS now, and we're saying we don't see it on the ground, so we're not certain. Not clear to me why we're saying we don't see a credible threat. I see one. It's pretty clear.

BLITZER: What do you see, Tom?

FUENTES: Agree. It's a continuous threat nonstop. It's a nonstop drumbeat that they've been putting out to attack, to attack everywhere, and especially in New York and especially in Washington D.C.

So as soon as a couple people see this and decide to do it, they're going to launch.

And you know, in the United States, these terrorists, the ones that come here from Europe, even in addition to the ones we have, all they need to do is bring a toothbrush. Any 14-year-old in New York or Washington or Chicago can get a gun.

BLITZER: Paul Cruickshank, on that picture that ISIS released of that soda can that they say blew up -- there was a bomb inside -- blew up that Russian airliner, killing all 224 people on board. Here's the question: Why would they make that -- why would they tell the world how they did it? Under normal circumstances they'd want to keep that secret, presumably, to do it again.

CRUICKSHANK: Well, we saw the same thing with al Qaeda in Yemen with the underwear device, that they released a lot of details about that. The same with the printer bomb devices.

Perhaps it's because they want to send a signal to western security agencies that, you know, they were indeed responsible for this.

But it could just be propaganda. It could just be an attempt to make themselves look 10-foot tall in the eyes of various supporters.

They're making a huge amount of propaganda right now, both with this attack against Russia and this attack against France. What they're saying is they're tacking the eastern crusaders and the western crusaders.

And it appears that the United States and Russia right at the top of the list, co-equal enemies of ISIS right now, Wolf. The question will be, can the United States and Russia get together to defeat this terrorist group?

BLITZER: And Phil, you know, the sick thing is the release of these kinds of videos, whether threatening New York or the picture of the soda can bomb inspires bothers to join ISIS. That's a propaganda tool for recruitment.

MUDD: That's right. I think the reason they put out the video is partly inspiration. They're saying, "Look, there is authenticity behind the attack. It's not just our claim. Here's actually the device that we used."

There's one second piece of this. I think they're rubbing our noses in it. What they're saying is you spend billions of dollars and thousands of lives. Here's a Coke can. Here's an igniter. We'll destroy your entire infrastructure that you put up to fight us with these simple tools.

BLITZER: Sick, sick, sick. All right, guys. Thanks very much. We'll stay on top of breaking news.

Much more coming up. It's unclear right now, after a bloody anti-terror raid, could DNA testing reveal that he was actually killed in the operation?

And ISIS claims that bomb built from the soda can brought down the Russian Metrojet airliner. Has the terror group reached a new level of bomb-making ability? We have new information.


[18:48:09] BLITZER: We're following breaking news -- a photo of what ISIS claims is the bomb that downed that Russian plane in Egypt, killing 224 people. The picture appearing on the terrorist group's online propaganda magazine. And that attack, along with the Paris attacks, has airlines and passengers around the world increasingly nervous.

Our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh is working this part of the story for us.

Rene, this is all happening just before one of the busiest travel periods here in the United States.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the world is on edge and that means the slightest notion of a threat would prompt major reaction especially when it comes to aviation security.

I spoke with several former ATF agents who say this new photo from ISIS could be the explosive device used to bring down the passenger plane, but there is a healthy dose of skepticism. Despite that, ISIS is holding this photo as proof it downed MetroJet 9268.


MARSH (voice-over): This is the bomb ISIS claims they used to bring down the Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula. The picture posted in an ISIS propaganda magazine shows what appears to be explosive material concealed in a soda can, along with wires and a detonator with an on and off switch. CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the photo.

The article says ISIS, quote, "discovered a way to compromise the security at the Sham el-Sheikh International Airport," where MetroJet departed and a, quote, "bomb was smuggled onto the airplane."

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA: We will search for them everywhere, wherever they are hiding.

MARSH: The news comes one day after Russia's President Vladimir Putin said nearly two pounds of explosive material blew the passenger plane out of the sky. ANTHONY MAY, RETIRED ATF EXPLOSIVES ENFORCEMENT OFFICER: There

is doubt as to whether or not it's the device used to bring down the Russian aircraft.

MARSH: This retired ATF agent says the on and off switch on the detonator means a suicide bomber had to be in the cabin of the plane ready to flip the switch, raising questions about how someone could get on the plane with the device that could easily be detected by screening machines.

[18:50:16] MAY: With this type of device, it has a very high metal signature from the soda can to the battery to the switch to the wires. A completely assembled device like this would be difficult to circumvent normal security.

MARSH: U.S. officials have run the names on the passenger manifest list and found no red flags for anyone on board. Is previously claimed responsibility for the attack that killed 224 people. But if this is the bomb, it would be the first piece of evidence that the group has put forward.

MAY: The soda can has Arabic writing that puts it in the region. The detonator, a blasting cap is a commercially manufactured cap that we have seen in that region.


MARSH: More skeptical bomb experts question why the explosive material wasn't shown, why ISIS didn't produce video proof of the video making this bomb, and as millions of Americans prepare to travel for the holiday, they should expect longer lines at the airport, at TSA. They will be spending more time not only checking passengers but also luggage, and also random swabbing of hands and luggage to check for explosive residue.

BLITZER: It's going to be holiday next week, and a very, very busy travel season here in the United States.

Rene, thanks very much.

Much more on the breaking news right after a quick break.


[18:56:00] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. A slickly-produced ISIS propaganda video shows a construction of a suicide bomb, a bomber zipping up his jacket over the device amid scenes of Manhattan.

In France, meanwhile, authorities are analyzing DNA from body parts recovered after a bloody police raid at a home near Paris to see if Abdelhamid Abaaoud is among at least two other people who died in that gun battle.

Also breaking now, amid growing fears that terrorists may be hiding among Syrian refugees, officials of Honduras have just announced they've detained five Syrian men who arrived with fake reports and may have intended to travel to the United States.

Concerns about terrorists possibly traveling with refugees is resonating out there on the U.S. presidential campaign trail.

Let's go to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. She's in Charleston, South Carolina.

Sunlen, the Paris attacks, the ISIS threats against the U.S., they're now a major part of this race for the White House.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And many candidates like Jeb Bush here in South Carolina are really trying to capitalize on this moment, this renewed focus being on national security.

But Ben Carson, he is trying to recover from what many see as a series of foreign policy blunders.


SERFATY (voice-over): With the country focused on the threat of attacks at home in the nation's security, tonight, the GOP candidates are jostling to define themselves as leaders, capable of handling a terror crisis.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This brutal savagery is a reminder of what's at stake in this election.

SERFATY: Jeb Bush at the Citadel today trying to define the election as a choice for commander in chief, casting himself as a safer option, the seasoned hand.

BUSH: We are choosing the leader of the free world. And if these attacks remind us of anything, it is that we're living in serious times that require serious leadership.

SERFATY: An attempt to draw a clearer contrast with the political outsiders and front-runners, Dr. Ben Carson and Donald Trump.

Carson especially finds himself playing defense over his foreign policy credentials after one of his advisers told "The New York Times," quote, "Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him give one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East."

Ben Carson now says that man, Duane Clarridge, is not one of his advisers, but in an interview admitted he does face as steep learning curve.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I know a lot more than I knew. A year from now -- a year from now, I will know a lot more than I know now.

SERFATY: Those comments come on the heels of the former neurosurgeon suggesting to debate moderators that China is involved in Syria. CARSON: I have had several sources that I've gotten material


SERFATY: An assertion that the White House and experts call false.

Today, in an attempt to staunch the bleeding, Carson published this op-ed, detailing his own plan to fight ISIS, part of which calls for the hacker group Anonymous to monitor social media, to block users using inappropriate behavior and religious hate speech.


SERFATY: Tonight, Donald Trump piled on tweeting, "How does Ben Carson survive this problem? Really big."


SERFATY: And a new poll out by Bloomberg tonight shows that terrorism in the threat of ISIS is specifically the top concern on the voters' minds, Wolf. So, clearly, this will continue to shape the race going forward.

BLITZER: Out on the campaign trail, Sunlen, you're in South Carolina, one of the early primary states, I guess what happened in Paris, the national security debate, that's now dominating, right?

SERFATY: It absolutely is. Jeb Bush was down here talking at the Citadel and talking to the cadets about his plan for ISIS going forwards. Now, this speech was preplanned before the Paris attack, but certainly Jeb Bush adding in many lines referencing what he would do with ISIS going forward and also how he feels about the Syrian refugees coming in to this country.

That's a big issue that really divides many of the candidates on the campaign trail -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty, reporting for us -- Sunlen, thanks very much.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

CNN's coverage of the Paris attacks continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTRONT".