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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Utah Congressman Chris Stewart; Holiday Security Fears; Terror Investigation; Official: Two Paris Bombers Traveled Through Greece. Aired 18-19:00p ET
Aired November 20, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hundreds of raids fail to find a primary suspect who is still at large and still a terror threat right now. And, tonight, the search is expanding and a state of emergency in France is being extended.
Explosive twist. As stunning new video emerges, we're now learning more about the raid that left the Paris attack mastermind dead, and, tonight, new evidence that a woman in the hideout did not kill herself after all. So, who actually triggered a suicide bomb?
And holiday security fears. As Americans begin their Thanksgiving travel, the FBI is now on alert for Paris-style attacks that might be unleashed by ISIS or copycat killers.
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 the breaking news in the Paris terror attacks and a deadly terrorist siege that claimed the life of an American.
Gunmen stormed a Radisson Hotel in West Africa in the capital of Mali, opening fire with assault rifles and trapping dozens of hostages. We have just confirmed that one U.S. citizen was among the at least 21 people killed.
Also tonight, a notorious Islamic terrorist group reportedly is claiming responsibility with help from a branch of al Qaeda. As many as 170 guests and employees were captive in the hotel for hours, including about a dozen Americans. They were freed after Mali security forces launched a counterattack. U.S. special operations troops helped with the evacuation.
Also breaking now, officials say a relative of the mastermind of the Paris attacks did not blow herself up in a raid, as previously thought. New video obtained by ABC News shows the suicide bomb exploding during that raid on an apartment in suburban Paris and authorities now say it was a man who was wearing the suicide vest that detonated, but they have not identified him.
We have our correspondents, analysts and newsmakers standing by. We're covering all the news that is breaking right now.
First, let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Jim, what are you learning about the Radisson Hotel attack and the death of that American?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this confirmation just coming in, in the last few moments from the State Department, confirmation that one American killed in this hostage siege and the State Department warning that it's possible that U.S. casualties from that attack could rise.
We do know that at this point they believe that all U.S. government workers there have been accounted for. They are still doing their count at this hour. Regardless, it is one more measure of the extend and reach that ISIS groups, that al Qaeda-tied groups can show their power far beyond their borders.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): A surprise attack that became an hours- long siege as gunman storm this popular American-owned hotel in the capital of Mali, holding guests and hotel staff hostage. It began around 7:00 in the morning U.S. time at the Radisson Blu, the attackers carrying AK-47 assault rifles slipping past security in a disguised car.
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.
SCIUTTO: Throughout the day, the best information had been that all Americans were safe. Now we're learning at least one American killed.
It's possible that that casualty total could rise. We do know that many Americans were rescued from there. And we have tonight completing claims of responsibility, two groups, al-Murabitun, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, both of them al Qaeda-tied groups.
And I have to tell you, Wolf, that in light of all the attention that ISIS has been grabbing in Europe after those horrible attacks in Paris, this is a horrible competition for attention among these groups. You can imagine a group like al Qaeda trying to show its relevance and trying to show the degree of its threat by carrying out an attack like this now on a Western target -- Wolf.
BLITZER: At least 21 people killed of several nationalities and now we know at least one American dead as well. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.
Let's get to the Paris terror investigation right now. Exactly one week after the Paris attacks, a dangerous fugitive still at large, despite nearly 800 raids conducted by French police.
CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, is joining us live from Paris.
Nic, a number of breaking developments tonight. What are you learning?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Wolf, another one of the attackers has been identified.
New videos emerged that shows the ringleader of the attacks shortly after the attacks very close to one of the vehicles used in the attacks. These details still, however, not enough -- the details in the intelligence so far not enough for the police here and in Belgium to be able to round up and capture one of the big suspects they are looking for still, Salah Abdeslam. (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; 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's 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.
MANUEL VALLS, FRENCH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): In under two hours, heavily armed and meticulously prepared terrorists killed mercilessly, ending 130 lives and injuring hundreds, many of whom are still fighting for their lives.
ROBERTSON: Wolf, what the investigators are now learning is going to certainly give them more leads to go on, but, of course, this is just the beginning of the investigation.
The details that they have got about this, identifying one of the suicide bombers, the name that they have so far as we know is potentially still a fake name. He was traveling with his brother posing as a refugee coming out of Greece. The brother was using fake documents. There is still a lot of digging here for the police to get to the bottom and make all the connections they need to make here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, certainly is. Nic Robertson in Paris for us, thank you. Also tonight, there are still lots of unanswered questions about
the raid in suburban Paris. How did the mastermind of the Paris attacks die and who was actually wearing a suicide vest that exploded?
Let's stay in Paris.
Our senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is getting more information.
What are you learning, Clarissa?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
We spent the entire day at the scene of the apartment where the raid took place, and there are still forensic experts going in and out of there, still a tent pitched outside the apartment. They are still taking samples, taking DNA samples, trying to work out the identity of the third man who we now know was killed inside that apartment alongside 26-year-old Hasna Aitboulahcen and also Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader or architect of Friday's attacks.
We now know -- almost 72 hours after that raid went down, we now know from French officials that it was not Aitboulahcen, as originally was threat , who actually detonated her vest, but likely one of the other two men.
At this stage, we don't know, Wolf, was it Abaaoud or was it the third man? Who was the third man? People wondering if it could possibly be the eighth attacker, Salah Abdeslam. But when you watch those videos, Wolf, you saw that ABC News video of the moment that the blast detonated.
You saw the force of the glass flying out of the windows, flames coming out of the windows, and you can imagine the scenes, the carnage that those forensic experts have been contending with inside the apartment. People here essentially realizing they may have to wait quite a bit longer still to work out who the third person was in the apartment and who actually detonated that vest, because we now know it was not Abaaoud's cousin, Hasna Aitboulahcen -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lots of answered questions still a week later, exactly one week later. Thanks very much for that, Clarissa Ward reporting from Paris.
Joining us, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
As you know, the State Department now confirming an American citizen was in fact killed in that Radisson Hotel terror attack in Mali today. Have you been told anything about this American, whether it was civilian, military personnel? Any information at all? REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), UTAH: Wolf, I haven't. I wish that I
had. I'm sure that will be forthcoming.
As you know, Congress isn't in session, so that slows things down just a little bit. But I'm sure we will find that information shortly.
BLITZER: Based on what you do know and you suspect -- and I know you're an expert in this -- you get briefed all the time. Is it just a coincidence that this Mali terror attack at the Radisson Blu Hotel happened a week later than the Paris terror attacks? Is it coincidental or do you think there is some sort of connection?
STEWART: I don't think there is a connection, in the sense that these are rival groups.
And you have got a lot of people -- as you said in your introduction, there's a lot of terror groups that are seeking for attention and to make a statement to the world, but it reminds us we live in a dangerous and a chaotic time and it's becoming more so. And I think America has to take steps to try to stabilize this very chaotic situation, this very chaotic part of the world.
And I'm disappointed, because I just don't think administration has done that yet. And the American people are waiting for our president to lead on this. And once again, I just think we haven't seen the leadership out of the White House that many of us have hoped that we would.
BLITZER: What can you tell us about the manhunt in Paris and Belgium? It seems the European security services, law enforcement, intelligence, they seem to be overwhelmed right now, given the hundreds of suspected terrorists are still at large and apparently a lot of terror cells at large as well.
STEWART: Oh, that's exactly right. And it's not just hundreds of suspected terrorists, but there are thousands, maybe 4,000 to 5,000 that they identified in Europe and particularly in France, but not only there, that have traveled to Syria or to Iraq or Afghanistan to receive war training and then been able to come back into Europe.
And we need to be aware as well that many of those, once they are in Europe and they have a visa, they are able to enter the United States as well. And I -- having spent a lot of time with Director Comey and others, they are aware of that. They're extraordinarily troubled by that, as I think we all should be at this point.
Once again, we don't know the details, but we do know we have got an enormous challenge ahead of us, as does France, as does all of Europe.
BLITZER: You think these ISIS threats against targets in New York City or Washington, D.C., are credible, based on that ISIS propaganda video, two of them released this week?
STEWART: Yes, not terribly. I think those are more message than they are reality. We're very
aware of the specific threats. We're not aware of very specific threats right now. We have been in the past. We have been successful in countering some of those threats. There is no question about that.
But I do think we need to always be aware that, if not tomorrow, the next week or the week after, they are clearly want to -- they clearly want to target the United States. They clearly want to damage us, to damage our values. And it's just kind of a matter of time before I think that they may have the ability to do that, which is once again why we have to be so careful.
BLITZER: We know that two of those bombers, those suicides bombers in Paris in the attacks last Friday night were traveling, what, from Greece to Paris. There is some suspicion they were actually posing as Syrian refugees as they made their way to Paris. What are you hearing about that?
STEWART: Yes, well, I think they may be the case. We don't know for certain yet.
But we do know this. As I have been saying all week regarding the Syrian refugees, we cannot adequately vet these individuals. They can show up at these stations that process these refugees. They can do that without proper identification. It's not like they show up with a birth certificate. We can't talk to their families. We can't talk to their friends. We can't do background checks on them.
We know their travel history, their work history. If they weren't in that program of the refugees, we know that ISIS wants to do that, that they claimed that they will and declared intention to do that. So I think that's why many of us have been so careful about this refugee program and make sure that we're doing the first thing first and that's to protect American citizens.
BLITZER: Congressman, we're getting some new information into THE SITUATION ROOM on next week's holiday travel plans, concerns about terror.
If you can, stay with us. We are going to take a quick break, much more with Congressman Stewart right after this.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, CNN now learning that some of the Paris terrorists were previously known to U.S. officials.
Our justice reporter, Evan Perez, is working the story for us.
You're getting information from your sources, Evan. What are you learning? EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there is
growing concern that at least one of the Paris attackers and possibly more had clean enough backgrounds that they could have traveled to the United States under the visa waiver program.
Now, officials tell CNN that one of the attackers was on the no- fly list, at least one of them. Four were on the watch list known as TIDE. There are 1.1 million names on the TIDE list. This is the lower-level list. The no-fly list is highest level security list.
There is disagreement, however, among law enforcement and intelligence agencies about how well the watch list would have worked to stop these attackers from traveling here. One intelligence official tells me that human sources and intelligence methods would have filled those gaps, but law enforcement officials are very concerned that that's not the case.
This is not a new concern. This is something that's come up before. The Homeland Security Department in the past year added new requirements for information in order for European travelers, for people coming from these 38 countries that participate in the no-fly list to be able to travel to the United States.
And just one sign of the concern from the Obama administration, Wolf, is, we're hearing is -- that they are trying to fill some of these gaps by getting more requirements from European countries to provide additional information. We're expecting to hear more about that in the coming days, I'm told.
BLITZER: We certainly will. All right, Evan Perez, thanks very much for that.
Let's dig deeper right now.
Joining us, Michael Weiss. He's the senior editor at The Daily Beast and also the co-author of the book "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror."
Michael, you heard Evan's reporting. At least one of the Paris attackers, possibly more, had clean enough backgrounds that they potentially could have traveled to the United States under what's called that visa waiver program. How many others are out there potentially who could do so?
MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There are quite a few, Wolf.
One of the problems we have in this country is we that have this sort of honeycomb structure of intelligence agencies and security bureaus and they are supposed to all be coordinating with each other, but they don't always.
You will recall, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, was also on a watch list or a no-fly list. That didn't stop him from flying to Russia and then coming back. This has happened before in, you know, our long, arduous history of international terrorist incidents. I think the real problem, though, is, look, it's not that these
guys are necessarily going to come to the United States from other countries of origin. It's exactly what has happened in Paris could replicate itself here. They will grow up here. They will be born here, grow up here and become radicalized or proselytized remotely by either ISIS or al Qaeda ideology.
I mean, the sermons of Anwar al-Awlaki, who was the Yemeni cleric, al Qaeda cleric who was killed in a U.S. drone strike a few years ago, are readily available to all and sundry. And his stuff actually cuts both ways. I mean, groupies and fellow travelers and adherents of al Qaeda love him and listen to him and the same goes for ISIS.
There is even a brigade on the ground in Syria named for him that ISIS controls. This is sort of cookie-cutter stuff what we're hearing. It adheres exactly to a kind of typology that has become all too familiar since 9/11.
BLITZER: As sick as it is, these kind of terror operations, whether in Paris, over Sinai, in Beirut, elsewhere, they simply seem to encourage the recruitment process for these young people to join ISIS.
Michael, let's talk about what happened at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali in Africa today. One American among at least 21 people killed in that attack -- it's looking -- it's looking like this was an al Qaeda-linked operation. Is that the information you suspect as well?
WEISS: Yes, and it wouldn't surprise me.
One of the things I keep saying is ISIS and al Qaeda are now in a state of both cold and hot war with each other, hot on in ground in Syria, where Jabhat al-Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate, is actually fighting ISIS in some instances, but cold in the sense that, look, ISIS has had a banner quarter-year in the last three months.
Look at the attacks that they claimed credit for or been accused of perpetrating, the bombing in Ankara which killed over 100 people, the Metrojet airliner in the skies of Sharm el-Sheikh which killed over 200 people, the worst bombing in Lebanon since the close of the civil war since 1990, and now this gruesome Paris atrocity.
Al Qaeda feels left out. They feel like sort of that they are sort of the J.V. team, to coin a phrase, and they're trying to catch up. They're trying to regain the narrative and regain the sort of luster. And, as I have also said, there is a generational divide here.
The cooler brand, believe it or not, is ISIS. These are the younger guys. They are not your grandfather's jihad. So, al Qaeda feels like it has got to kind of keep pace with what ISIS is perpetrating on the international sphere. And now as ISIS is escalating its foreign operations, you're going to see more of this. You're going to see al Qaeda follow ISIS atrocities and vice versa.
BLITZER: You know, I want to show our viewers this map of what was going on in Mali. We're talking a look, showing how close this Radisson Hotel in the Mali capital is to the U.S. Embassy in Mali.
The suspicion is that they could be going specifically after Americans or Westerners. Is that the suspicion you share?
Well, look, Americans are -- that's the golden egg for both of these franchises. You know, this is -- we are, as they put it, the far enemy. We are the world's only superpower. All evil, the root of all evil begins and ends really in Washington.
So, if they can capture or kill Americans, they would -- that is the absolute ultimate goal that they have. But, look, we don't know -- part of this -- their strategizing or part of their target selection is, what can they get away with?
Now, an embassy or a hotel that is near an embassy in Mali, that is one thing. When ISIS comes out and says, well, we're going to turn the White -- we're going to burn the White House black, that is something else. That seems more like bravado.
But, again, absolutely, one of the things ISIS would love be would the deployment of U.S. ground troops into Syria, at least in such a way that wouldn't really pose a direct threat to Raqqa or Deir el-Zour, their kind of heartland area, but that would give them the opportunity to do what they did with Muath al-Kaseasbeh, the Jordanian airman, take a hostage and then turn it into the kind of propaganda spectacle that I don't need to tell you or your viewers we could expect.
So, absolutely, they are looking to go after and kill Americans wherever they can find them.
BLITZER: Michael, stand by. We have more to discuss.
There is more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM as well, including new details of that terrorist attack on the Radisson Hotel and the American who is among at least 21 people who were killed.
We will also go back live to Paris for the breaking news on the investigation into the terror attacks there. Tonight, the death toll has climbed.
[18:32:37] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. We are now learning that and an American is among at least 21 people dead in that terror attack and siege at a Radisson hotel in West Africa. Gunmen with AK-47s stormed the hotel in the capital of Mali trapping dozens of hostages.
Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is following the story for us. Jim, what else are you learning?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this confirmed just in the last hour that an American killed among the 27 killed in that attack. U.S. State Department now focusing on trying to account for all other Americans who might have been there. It is possible that that casualty total will rise. We do believe we've been told the U.S. embassy staff, U.S. military staff have been accounted for there.
We know at least one U.S. special operations soldier was involved in assisting Malian special forces as they helped lead hostages out of that building there. There has been about two dozen U.S. special forces there for a couple years now training those Malian special forces and a reminder the French have ground troops there, as well.
The U.S., France, its allies have been aware of the terror threat there for sometime.
You have two groups claiming responsibility. Both of them with ties to al Qaeda, including al Qaeda and the Islamic Magreb, that's al Qaeda basically in northern Africa. This is a group that attacked a western refinery in North Africa a number of months ago and as you have to look at this, you have to wonder about the connection here.
ISIS carrying out a major attack a week ago, al Qaeda to attempting to establish its relevance, to attract attention. This is how these groups think. It's how they work. It's how they compete. It's possible that they are competing for attention with this attack.
Mali, it's been a hotbed of terrorism for some time. The U.S., western allies, doing their best to help Mali to deal with this threat, but it's a very severe one there.
And keep in mind, there are a number of targets in any of these countries.
What is particularly worrisome about this attack is that it appears that the attackers, two, possibly three went into that hole under the cover of diplomatic plates, getting by the security around the hotel. They do their best to prevent attacks like this, that they used diplomatic cover to get in -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto with the latest on the Mali terror attack. Thank you.
Let's go to Paris right now, more on the terror attacks there, and the manhunt for a primary suspect who has been on the run now for a week despite nearly 800 raids conducted to track down the terrorists.
Our international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is in Paris for us.
What are you learning tonight, Nic?
[18:35:09] NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think there have been a couple of interesting and significant developments through the day. Saleh Abdelsalam still on the run, questioned where is he? No one knows. But there have been questions, was he the third man killed by police in that raid in Saint-Denis, the suburb of Paris, all those bullets fired, 5,000 rounds in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Was he the third man that police now say that they say that three people died in that apartment. It's not clear.
The interesting detail that we have learned today that clears up, if you will, or gives us a more complete picture of the events of last Friday night is the ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud, his -- he was seen on CCTV footage at a metro station in a suburb of Paris, a subway station about 10, 15, 20 minutes after the attacks took place on Friday.
Now, that would give him just enough time to drive one of the cars that was involved in the attack and was found just a couple blocks away from that subway station. It would have given him time to drive from that attack and dump the car near the subway station and it is caught on video at the subway station.
Did he do that? It's not clear, but that's the way the facts and the evidence are beginning to stack up.
Now, that car itself was rented by Saleh Abdelsalam, the man still on the run. He was also Saleh Abdelsalam, the man still on the run was also involved in that shooting attack with the two men, the ringleader and the man
still on the run involved in that shooting attack together, did they both flee in the car, dump it near the station, lead to the very, very important for the police right now. Wolf?
And I think the other detail that has emerged that is going to have growing significance and relevance here is another of the attackers has now been proven by ferry ticket purchased in Greece that he appears to have been posing as a refugee before he got here to Paris to become a suicide bomber at the sports stadium last Friday, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yeah, very disturbing development on that front as well.
All right, Nic, thanks very much.
I want to bring in our experts to discuss what we're learning. Joining us our CNN contributor Michael Weiss, our terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, our law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes and our CNN military, retired major general James "Spider" Marks.
Guys, stand by for a moment. We're getting more information into The Situation Room. We've got to assess what is going on. More of the breaking news when we come back.
[18:42:24] BLITZER: We're back with our terrorism experts. We're following breaking news, an American now among the at least 21 people who died in that terror attack on a Radisson hotel in Mali.
This as we learn new details about the raid that led to the death of the Paris attacks we know the woman that died in the raid Hasna Aitboulacen wasn't necessarily the suicide bomber originally thought in that Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, but we don't know who the male wearing that suicide vest was. How does this all change the narrative, if it does?
MICHAEL WEISS, AUTHOR: Well, I mean, I'm not sure that it does. You know, there was a lot of attention paid to the fact that this could have been a female suicide bomber and it's somehow unique or counterintuitive to have a woman blow herself up when in fact it's actually fairly common, especially in Russia in the Caucuses. I mean, you have various insurgency groups including those
now loyal to ISIS and they have a term for it, it's called the Black Widow.
In fact, before Metrojet, the Russian airliner that ISIS blew up a few weeks ago, you had had in 2004, two commercial airliners taken out in the skies above Russia by these Black Widows.
So, it is a fairly frequent occurrence to see, at least in certain geographical, you know, areas where jihadism is predominant, that women will be repurposed for this kind of attack.
It also creates a false sense of security. You know, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, he did this almost conscripting women. There was a rather gruesome episode in Iraq in the town called Talafar (ph) where al Qaeda in Iraq had strapped suicide bomb vests to I think they were mentally disabled, a 13-year-old girl and
3-year-old girl, this was at the early days of the U.S. war in Iraq and they walked into a police station or a military check point and blew themselves up. They were not volunteers, I need to stress, but this is the point. You know, when you see a woman you're supposed to think, well, she can't possibly commit an act of terrorism but it happens all the time.
BLITZER: That's a pretty scary sight.
Paul, is it known how this female cousin of Abdelhamid Abaooud, the so-called mastermind of the Friday night terror attacks in Paris, how she was
involved, if she was involved in this terror cell?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Wolf, investigators are still trying to piece that all together, but given that she was in this safe house when they are about to go and launch one of the worst terrorists atrocities potentially in European history suggests perhaps some degree of complicity. And what I can say and what investigators do say is that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, her cousin, had a track record of brainwashing family members, recruiting family members into ISIS.
In 2014, he brought his younger brother when he was just 13 years old, Yunis (ph), all the way to Syria to join ISIS, essentially kidnapped him. The family were very, very upset, obviously about this. And this young kid thought to be one of the very youngest ISIS fighters.
So possible certainly that she was involved, but investigators trying to piece that all together.
BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, these suicide vests that these terrorists were wearing, they're pretty sophisticated. Not that easy to make, right?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's right. Sophisticated. So, they've got some safe house somewhere, probably in Paris, where they're making them, where they've got the explosives, vests, raw material, everything they need to do it. And we do not know if they identified the bomb maker, arrested him, killed him.
So far, it's all these credits going to Abaaoud by being the mastermind. I think the real mastermind is the one that's got his hands on that bomb maker. They still are somewhere on the loose.
BURNETT: And there was also a bomb maker who made that bomb that blew up that Russian plane, Spider, killing 224 people on the flight from Sharm el-Sheikh, in Sinai, in Egypt, to St. Petersburg in Russia. Somebody had to make that bomb, as well, and that was very sophisticated, the small compact nature of it in a soda can.
JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely, Wolf. What this really talks about is the depths of their trade craft, where they are learning these skills. Do they have to go to Syria to get these skills, or can they acquire these skills online where they are, whether it's in Belgium or France. And then the other thing is the network that exists and the opportunity for intelligence folks to work -- each one of these individuals has a narrative and we can backtrack each one of those narratives and we begin to thicken the enterprise of the intelligence that allows us to do forensics that Tom is really talking about.
How do we get into this, how do we identify the next individual that might take that next step?
BLITZER: Because you got to learn the lessons of this to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Michael Weiss, actually you interviewed a man that claimed to be an ISIS defector. What did he tell you about how these ISIS fighters are moving across borders?
MICHAEL WEISS, CO-AUTHOR, "ISIS: INSIDE THE ARMY OF TERROR": Well, he said, you know, the border has been somewhat restricted in the last few months because ISIS lost terrain in northern Syria largely at the hands of these Kurdish militias. He says that, you know, there used to be at the height of the -- when the coalition announced the war, he said this was the global casting call for the Mujahideen. And he gave me a figure that frankly I didn't believe. I'd ask to him several times.
He said 3,000 people a day were trying to cross to join ISIS at that point. So, this was a little over a year ago. He said now, the deluge has been it's reduced to a trickle. It's very difficult.
When I interviewed him in Istanbul, he told me it costs him about $1,000. He had left ISIS-held territory, but nonetheless was in Syria. It costs about him $1,000 round trip to cross the border and then cross back, and he had to be smuggled because it's true, Turkey at the border is better at keeping it invigilated and closed off.
There is one border crossing that ISIS uses, frankly, the entire caliphate is dependent upon it, Bab al-Salama. And actually, what's interesting about this, Wolf, is that on the Turkish side, it's obviously controlled by the Turkish government. It's on Syria side, it's controlled by Free Syrian Army or, you know, anti-Assad rebel groups that are not ISIS, but ISIS holds them hostage to the fact that if they don't allow ISIS trucks and material and oil to cross that border, ISIS can simply cut off the energy supply to a third of Syria and just bathe Aleppo in darkness.
So, like I say, they operate not just a terrorist organization but as a mafia, you know, and as a -- I mean, I really don't like calling them a state or certainly not a functioning state, but certainly they do operate like a quasi-failed state, redolence to the one that Saddam had presided over for decades or indeed the one that Bashar al-Assad now presides over in an increasingly shrinking, you know, expansive terrain in Syria.
So, you know, the uptick you're going to see now like I say, stay where you are in your home cities, your hometowns and just -- we'll communicate with you remotely. You don't have to make immigration and join the caliphate here.
BLITZER: And unlike al Qaeda, ISIS clearly has land that they control significant amounts of land in Syria and Iraq and they also have a lot of cash, a lot of money from oil revenue, from gold that they stole from the banks, from other cash, as well -- a lot of money.
We have more to discuss including how they are doing, what they are doing next. But I want to let our viewers know that they can help the victims of the Paris attacks. Here's what they do -- go to CNN.com/impact, and you will be able to find out how you can literally impact your world.
[18:50:00] We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Terror on two continents. A U.S. citizen now confirmed to be among the at least 21 dead in the terror attack on a Radisson Hotel in Mali. This as we learned new details about that raid that led to the death of the Paris attack mastermind.
[18:55:00] Let's go back to our terrorism analyst.
Paul Cruickshank, does Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader of this whole terror attack, and their accomplices, is there any indication that some of them slipped through Europe posing as refugees? CRUICKSHANK: Well, the French investigators here have said that
two of the suicide bombers at the stadium did exploit the refugee processing system. They came through Greece, the island of Leros, on the same day with fake Syrian passports. No one is suggesting that they were actually refugees. But they appear to have exploited the refugee processing system.
All of these attackers that have been identified so far are either French or Belgian. I think there's some expectation that this will in end turning out be Belgian and French as well, Wolf.
I think it's also worth pointing out that there have been hardly any cases of refugees coming in and them being a terrorism nexus. I can think of only two. One of them being in Germany just a few weeks ago, German investigators were looking in to somebody who was claiming to be an ISIS member at an asylum processing center and back in may when a Moroccan traveled on one of the boats and was sent back because of the ties to the Bardo museum attackers in Tunis.
But they really haven't been more than half a dozen cases that I think of, Wolf, and that's important to stress because there's been a lot of hyperventilation on this issue, but it's certainly a theoretical concern because of the southern European countries like Greece, just do not have the capabilities to monitor all of this.
There's really a soft underbelly right now and people can't get through. Think of all of those Greek islands, Wolf, and all those ferries, all those different points that you could get in.
BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, how much concern should there be that the terrorists could push as Refugees, make their way into Europe or may be into the United States?
FUENTES: There should be a concern, because there's no way to do a background on them. I think this movement that they're going to have the FBI director certify, who they are going to go to, to do a background check? Do they go to Assad, the guy that we've said we're trying to kill and overthrow and ask him for background checks? Do they go to ISIS and say, these guys are fleeing your territory, do they have a criminal record? Do we go to the Free Syrian Army?
There's no one in Syria to do a background check with. So they are guessing. And they think maybe by locking them up for a couple of weeks in the process, that somehow people will fallout of that process. You know, that's great. But it's not reliable.
BLITZER: The international manhunt that is under way right now for Salah Abdeslam, one of the terrorists on the loose right now.
Does it look to you, Spider, that he actually had some sort of exit plan, exit strategy in place or he just got lucky he escaped?
MARKS: No. I would suggest that he had a plan in place. I don't think any of these terrorists has serendipity design where they are going to go next. He clearly knew what his role was in this and his rule for the long term is how can I now live to fight another day? His objective is to continue to try to turn, recruit some more,
return to Syria, as necessary, or to stay in place and just hide out until he can get new marching orders.
BLITZER: Michael Weiss, the Paris attacks, the huge propaganda went for ISIS that probably helped them in their recruitment. Will they try to continue these attacks now if they assume they have momentum?
WEISS: Of course. They are planning all the time. I think the real worry in Europe and indeed in the United States is what else have they got up their sleeve? I mean, it's important to emphasize this, Wolf, and Paul was absolutely right.
Just the facts of the way is' security operation works, the people that they appoint to be security chiefs, whether this is in territory held in Syria or in Iraq, they tend not to be Syrians, OK? Iraqi's lead the organization at the top but the middle cadres are people from foreign countries and be that Tunisia, Algeria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or European countries, such as Belgium, France, Great Britain.
This is the real issue. The people that are going to probably perpetrate these attacks will not be Syrian nationals themselves because Syrians who are part of ISIS don't have that capability by and large. This is what the ISIS defector told me.
BLITZER: It's a scary, scary situation and, unfortunately, it's not ending by any means.
Guys, thanks very much for all of that good analysis.
It's been one week since the attacks in Paris. Tonight, we're remembering the people of France and our thoughts are with them as they continue to recover from the horror and go on with their lives.
Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
CNN special coverage of the Paris attacks continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".