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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Terror Investigation; Terror in Mali; Interview with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. Aired 16-16:30p ET

Aired November 20, 2015 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:11]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Jake Tapper live in Paris, France. And this is THE LEAD.

We are covering two major breaking stories this hour, the terror siege in Mali, in Africa, and, of course, the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks. They were one week ago today. In fact, a week ago this hour, news broke that the peace of Paris was being shattered in the city.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Welcome back. We have some breaking news for you out of Paris, France. Several people have been killed and seven others injured following a shooting in central Paris late Friday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That was just the beginning, unfortunately.

At this point one week ago, the siege of the Bataclan concert hall had just begun. And today, as the death toll in France rises to 130 from those ISIS terrorist attacks, 130 people killed mercilessly, as the French prime minister put it today, the United States was assisting French special forces in a counterattack to another terrorist atrocity in the West African nation of Mali after gunmen there stormed a hotel and opened fire inside.

We are now told that all the hostages are out, including six Americans. But at least 21 people are dead. And the gunmen may not be giving up.

CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is following this all live from London.

And, Jim, apparently, these terrorists are affiliated with al Qaeda?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake.

An al Qaeda-linked group claiming responsibility for this attack, another example of terror groups based in the Middle East extending their power far beyond the region.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Guests and hotel staff were held hostage during an hours-long standoff at a hotel in Bamako, Mali, several killed by two or possibly three attackers.

The situation began around 7:00 a.m. at the Radisson Blu hotel in the West African capital, the attackers arriving carrying AK-47 assault rifles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Apparently, the people entered the compound of the hotel with a vehicle with diplomatic plates. They came and immediately they started shooting at people, at least, before entering the hotel.

SCIUTTO: The approximately 170 guests and hotel staff were trapped inside trying desperately to escape.

MICHAEL SKAPOULLIS, SURVIVOR: When I opened the door, I saw on the floor bullets. So I gently close the door, and I walk, and I went out and I walked wall to wall. I went back in the gym. And from the gym at the side door, I left the hotel.

SCIUTTO: Bodies were found in the halls of the hotel. And at least six who were injured were taken to a local hospital, according to the Malian health minister, the remaining hostages freed after Malian soldiers and U.N. special forces stormed the hotel, guiding them to safety.

A member of the U.S. Special Operations Forces in Bamako at the time assisted. Among those who were rescued were an American, as well as Air France and Turkish airline crew members and international guests from around the world.

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: About a dozen Americans, including chief of mission personnel in that -- were rescued.

SCIUTTO: The hotel popular among Westerners was hosting a large delegation for peace talks in the former French colony. It's been battling Islamic extremists with the help of the U.N. and French forces. Two al Qaeda-linked groups claimed responsibility for the attack.

STEPHANE DUJARRIC, SPOKESMAN, OFFICE OF THE U.N. SECRETARY- GENERAL: These attacks are taking place at a time when the peace process in Mali is making good progress. The secretary-general deplores any attempt to derail the implementation of the agreement.

SCIUTTO: French President Francois Hollande, still reeling from the Paris attacks, pledged to provide necessary support to help Mali resolve the situation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: U.S. special forces have been in Mali for some three years now. They are training Mali special forces to fight the terror threat there now. This may seem very far away, Jake, but this has been on the radar screen of U.S. counterterror officials, the military for some time. It's a very real threat and another demonstration of the extent of terror from al Qaeda, from ISIS far beyond their safe havens in the Middle East.

TAPPER: Jim Sciutto in London, thank you so much.

[16:05:00]

Even though Mali is thousands of miles away, this being -- is being looked at in France as another attack on France. The French military has been involved in Mali for two years now fighting al Qaeda and their affiliates and pushing them back, or trying to, from the capital.

Joining me to discuss this is CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank. Also with me is Melissa Bell, international correspondent for France 24, who's covered Mali extensively and joined us last week when the story of the French attacks were breaking.

Paul, first of all, do you believe that this is the work of an al Qaeda affiliate? Or is there just not enough information to go on yet?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, it's not 100 percent authenticated, but it's looking that way at this point.

This was posted on a Sahara jihadi media, also a claim from both al-Murabitun and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Now, al-Murabitun is Mokhtar Belmokhtar's group, this one-eyed Algerian terrorist that the Americans tried to target in Ajdabiya in Libya in June. Not clear if they killed him or not. But his group has claimed responsibility for attacks before in Bamako in March, attacking a restaurant popular with expats there.

And it's also the same group that carried out that hostage siege at the Ain Amenas gas complex in Southern Algeria, where there was a great loss of life in 2013. This may well be al Qaeda sort of trying to compete with ISIS to a certain degree.

There was a lot of anti-French sentiment in this claim of responsibility, saying it was retaliation for that international force in Mali which is very much a French-led force, and also calling for the release of jihadi prisoners inside France.

This is al Qaeda taking their war to France.

TAPPER: And how big, Melissa, how big a problem is terrorism in Mali?

MELISSA BELL, FRANCE 24: It remains a huge problem, Jake, simply because although the French intervention that began in January 2013 managed to return to Bamako the territorial integrity of Mali, pushing back the terrorists, which is a huge part of the country. If you look at a map of the country, there's a very clear division between the northern part, which has been the scene of this Tuareg rebellion for many years and where Tuareg populations live in the southern part, where quite different populations live.

And it was as though -- those Islamist groups and there are several of them operating in Northern Mali swept down and got close to Mopti, which marks that sort of geographical divide between the two, in January 2013, that Paris decided to intervene, went in, pushed them back with the help of Malian forces which thus far had been incapable of dealing with this renewed threat reinvigorated by the massive arms that have come in the wake of Libyan revolution.

More men come as well to help the Islamists who joined forces with the Tuaregs. France managed to push them, gave back to Mali its older borders, the ones that match -- gave back Mali proper. But, of course, what it couldn't do in such a vast part of the world when you're talking about the entire region, which is very hard to police, as you can imagine, hugely inhospitable, largely uninhabited, to push back the groups entirely has proven very difficult.

And so what you're seeing is that in some parts of this part of Northern Mali, these groups to continue to operate. Al-Murabitun, we have heard from today, who have claimed responsibility for this, but also Ansar al-Din and a number of other groups. And as we have been saying, what's interesting about this attack is that it is a group, al-Murabitun, affiliated with al Qaeda.

A number of groups in the region have gone the way of the Islamic State, three of them recently in Algeria, in the Sinai, seen a number of groups that have traditionally affiliated to al Qaeda switching sides to the winning team for now. This is one that had stayed close to al Qaeda, but continues to pledge allegiance to al Qaeda and has nothing at all to do with the Islamic State organization.

TAPPER: And, quickly, if you could, Paul, you really think al Qaeda and ISIS in a way are trying to like out-horrify each other, to commit worse atrocities than the other?

CRUICKSHANK: They hate each other and they're certainly competing with each other for recruits in the global jihadi movement.

Don't count al Qaeda out, though, because al Qaeda is playing a long game. It's embedded in Syria. It's very strong there in Syria. There's an affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, which built up quite a lot of local support. It's strong in Yemen. It's resurgent to some degree in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region.

We saw that big raid on the al Qaeda training complex near the border just a few weeks ago, but clearly ISIS are getting all the headlines right now. And they have a lot on their side in terms of all these recruits joining them, all the energy from these attacks. And so, you know, the worry is they're going to compete, one-up each other and the result is going to be more days like last Friday in Paris.

TAPPER: A sick and twisted competition. Melissa, quickly, if you could, is the Radisson Hotel -- and we

don't mean to pick on that brand of hotel, but are hotels in general soft targets?

BELL: Well, this is a hotel that shouldn't have been. You're talking about the heart of world ministries are in Bamako.

It's a very closely guarded part of the city. The hotel itself, you have to get through checkpoints to get inside it. Your car is checked. The boot of the car is checked. And so we don't know exactly whether they stole the diplomatic cars that allowed them to get in or whether they fired them -- at their arrival in order to slip into the place.

[16:10:05]

But they got past huge amounts of security just to get in. Why they targeted this hotel, it is a hotel traditionally used by municipal forces, so the U.N. forces that are operational in Mali at the moment. The French forces there also use the hotel. It's always full of foreigners. It's a very busy hotel. It's a large hotel and it was obvious target for anyone who is able to get in.

TAPPER: Melissa, Paul, thank you so much for your expertise. We appreciate it.

There are also major new developments, as we mentioned, in Paris one full week now after the attacks. One of the terrorists is still on the run and French authorities have now released the identity of another one of the killers, a suicide bomber who blew himself up outside the France-Germany soccer game one week ago.

There appear to be strong indications that this terrorist also smuggled himself in amongst Syrian refugees. There are also new stunning details about the raid where police killed the ringleader of the Paris attacks, a well-known terrorist with ties to ISIS leadership, Abaaoud. And it turns out the female suicide bomber who we were told blew herself up in that raid didn't commit suicide at all.

CNN's Nic Robertson is watching all the latest developments for us.

Nic, Salah Abdeslam, the eighth suspect in the terrorist attacks last spotted on the road to Belgium six days ago, do authorities know anything about where he might be now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: At the moment, they don't.

Or if they have some leads on it, they're not making them public at the moment. What we have learned, if we remember here, Salah Abdeslam, rented several of the vehicles. It's believed he was involved in that shooting attack outside the restaurant. The Fiat vehicle that was used in those attacks was found in a suburb of Paris. Well, today, it's been announced that Abaaoud was caught on CCTV

camera footage at a subway station very close to where that car was dumped off at around 10:00 p.m. Now, that car was used in the attacks at around 9:30, 9:40. That would just about give him enough time to drive the vehicle out to that tube station and then make his getaway.

So that was one of the details that we're learning here. There are other developments as well. This is how they look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Tonight, the international manhunt for the eighth attacker, Salah Abdeslam, is increasing in scope. Authorities have expanded their search area from France and Belgium to now include the Netherlands.

Abdeslam, now one of the most wanted men in the world, is being sought in connection with the attacks which have now taken the lives of 130 people. It is believed Abdeslam has spent time in the Netherlands, also new details about the woman heard in this audio in the raid in Saint-Denis. "Where is your boyfriend? He's not my boyfriend."

French prosecutors now say 26-year-old Hasna Aitboulahcen was not the one who detonated a suicide vest, as seen in this video obtained by ABC. Rather, prosecutors say, the vest was worn by a man. And the woman was killed from the resulting blast.

And we are learning more about the suspect ringleader of last week's attacks in Paris. CNN has learned Abdelhamid Abaaoud was spotted on CCTV footage the night of the attacks at the same time the attacks were going on at a metro station in a Paris suburb. That is the same area one of the cars used in the attack was found abandoned.

Abaaoud was killed in a raid Wednesday in Saint-Denis, one of nearly 800 raids around France in the past five days. The siege lasted more than seven hours. Here, you can see the police advancing before the final confrontation, which also killed his female relative, Hasna Aitboulahcen.

French authorities now say a third body, an unidentified male, has been found in the rubble of the razed apartment building among the devastation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: And that other detail about the suicide bomber who detonated his explosives at the soccer match outside the stadium there, he along with one of the other suicide bombers there, now we know that they took a ferry together to get out of Greece. One of them was traveling on a fake Syrian passport.

TAPPER: All right. Nic Robertson, thank you so much.

Not long ago, a U.S. congressional delegation met with French officials. They got new information on the investigation here in Paris and what's next for this city. I will talk with a lawmaker who was in that meeting about how last week's attacks impact the global war against ISIS.

Stay with us. We will be back after this quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And what's next for this city. I'll talk with a lawmaker who was in that meeting about how last week's attacks impact the global war against ISIS.

Stay with us. We'll be back after this quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BERAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper live in Paris.

This time last week, we were just starting to get word that something horrible was happening in this city. In the week since Parisians have tried to go back to their everyday lives as much as possible, the French Senate today voted unanimously 336-0 to extend the state of emergency across France for three additional months.

Now, we've seen terror raids across Europe. We've seen police battling suicide bombers while executing arrest warrants.

[16:20:01] Soccer stadiums evacuated for fear of another terrorist attack being imminent. And we've also seen an outpouring of grief and solidarity with the French people.

Here with me in Paris to talk about it all, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat of Hawaii. She is a member of both the House Armed Service Committee and House Foreign Affairs committee, and a veteran recently promoted to major, I believe.

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Yes.

TAPPER: Is that correct?

Thanks so much for being with us, Congresswoman. So, you just met with the congressional delegation meeting with French officials. You also laid flowers I believe at one of the memorials.

What did you learn from the French officials in terms of the state of investigation?

GABBARD: Well, first of all, it was heart wrenching to be here at Place de la Republique and see the faces and the candles and the wreaths that have been laid down for those who are victims of this attack. We laid flowers from Hawaii, laid down at the restaurant where the student from California was shot and killed just one week ago.

We met with French foreign ministry officials and others today to talk about what they're doing, where they're at, what are some of the areas where they can see that we can work better together on as two countries. In one of the issues that came up actually was the issue of the open borders, all across Europe and the fact that there is a very real threat from European passport holders, foreign fighters who are going in through Turkey into Syria and coming back into their communities in different countries, really without much tracking or much intelligence on exactly who's doing that, because you can travel across borders without even having to show an ID card.

So, someone could take your airplane ticket, or your train ticket and travel across borders throughout Europe without even having to show an ID card. And it might not even be you.

So, this is an issue that I raised with them that is of great concern within the U.S., that if a jihadist who is a European passport holder wants to come to the United States and attack --

TAPPER: There's a visa waiver program.

GABBARD: There's a visa waiver program that would allow them to do that within hours, to get on a plane within hours without having to apply for a visa at all.

TAPPER: And you've proposed suspending the visa waiver program.

GABBARD: I proposed actually over a year ago, on September 11th of last year, I proposed a bill that would temporarily suspend the visa waiver program for these specific countries that have high numbers of foreign fighters. That we know they've got thousands of people who are traveling into Syria, fighting with ISIS and then coming back in.

TAPPER: I can't imagine the French authorities are happy about your proposal.

GABBARD: They were not opposed to it. And they were open to it and they understand the threat that exists. I think here now I think more than ever, they understand the threat that exists from these individuals who were going and doing that and wanting to come back into these communities and perpetrate these horrific attacks.

TAPPER: I have to ask you about the fact that you've been very forceful saying that you think the United States should stop trying to defeat Assad and just focus on defeating ISIS. A lot of people say Assad is a bloodthirsty tyrant who's killed hundreds of thousands of his own people. How on earth could you want him to stay in power?

GABBARD: You know, the same things were said about Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The same things were said about Gadhafi in Libya. Look at the state of these countries today. They have been overrun and are filled with chaos. And ISIS and Islamist extremist groups have only grown stronger in these countries and are terrorizing the people there.

TAPPER: So the world would be better with Gadhafi and Hussein and Assad -- GABBARD: ISIS, our enemy, would not be as strong as they are

today if those actions were not taken to overthrow those secular dictators. And this is the situation in Syria that I think we've got to be very clear on as a country is, there are two wars that the United States is waging right now. One is to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad. And the other is fighting against to defeat ISIS.

The first war -- to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad is illegal because Congress hasn't authorized a war against -- to conduct that action. And secondly, it's counterproductive because it directly helps ISIS, al Qaeda, al Nusra, these Islamic extremist groups in Syria whose goal is to overthrow Assad, take over all of Syria, gain control of this whole territory, establish their Islamic caliphate and present a disastrous humanitarian crisis far worse than we're seeing now, and a greater threat to the world.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat of Hawaii -- thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

GABBARD: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: At first, investigators thought a woman set off that suicide vest inside a French apartment, but now, they say it was a man who set it off. Next, what else we're learning about that raid.

Plus, are ISIS terrorists high on drugs when they commit these heinous cowardly acts? A new report says powerful stimulants may be fueling and funding some of the terror group's actions.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:29:31] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper live in Paris, France, where we are continuing to learn more about that raid two mornings ago, the raid that left the ringleader of the ISIS terrorist attack group dead.

Now, the Paris prosecutor's office says that a female relative of the ringleader did not apparently blow herself up during that raid as they had initially said she had. Instead officials say it was a third man, an unidentified man who set off a suicide vest. They just also disclosed today that they found this third body as well.

With me here is CNN's Clarissa Ward.

Clarissa, what do we know about who this woman was and how she did die?