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Obama: We Will Destroy ISIS; Major European Cities on High Alert; Jason Rezaian Sentenced to Prison; Possible Motive in Mali Attacks. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired November 22, 2015 - 07:00   ET



[07:00:16] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will take back land that they're currently in. We will cut off on their financing. We will hunt down their leadership. We will dismantle their networks and their supply lines, and we will ultimately destroy them.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Tough words from President Obama against ISIS calling them, and this is a quote, "killers with good social media", and vowing to dismantle that network, as you heard.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: In the meantime, Brussels is still on lockdown for day number two as a planned security meeting now with officials is pushed back.

BLACKWELL: Good morning, everyone. Good to be with you. I'm Victor Blackwell.

PAUL: And I'm Christi Paul. Always good to have you on board with us here.

Let's start again with the president whose rhetoric is really ratcheting up when he's talking about ISIS. His message for the terrorists, as you just heard there, is -- you will be destroyed.

BLACKWELL: Yes, that was the president at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur just a few hours ago, using some of his strongest language yet in a really strong tone, promising to take out that terror group.

Senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta has the very latest for us.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Victor and Christi, President Obama sharpen his rhetoric on ISIS, saying repeatedly at a news conference that the U.S. will destroy the terror group, but he also continued to make the case, he has argued throughout this foreign trip, that the world should not overreact in the battle against terrorism.

OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Overseas for more than a week, but well aware of a fearful nation back home, President Obama sounded more like a leader at war.

OBAMA: Our coalition will not relent. Destroying ISIS is not only a realistic goal, we're going to get it done and we're going to pursue it with every aspect of American power and with all of the coalition partners that we have assembled. It's going to get done.

ACOSTA: At a news conference in Malaysia, the president once again defended his strategy for defeating ISIS, but instead of brushing off questions about his policy as he did last weeks, he acknowledged Americans are deeply worried.

OBAMA: We're not afraid. To not elevate, to somehow buy into their fantasy that they are doing something important -- they're a bunch of killers, and we fight them and we beat them.

ACOSTA: The president said he just may be able to join forces with Russian President Vladimir Putin to wipe out the terror group, after the attacks in Paris and on metro jet airliner.

OBAMA: I discussed with President Putin in a brief pull-aside, his need to recognize that he needs to go after the people who killed Russian citizens.

ACOSTA: And he called on Americans to show compassion to the thousands of Syrian refuges he wants to welcome into the U.S., despite poll numbers showing Americans are resistant to the idea.

OBAMA: Refugees who end up in the United States are the most vetted, scrutinized, thoroughly investigated individuals that ever arrive on American shores.

ACOSTA: The president also appeared to have choice words for Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want surveillance of these people.

ACOSTA: And the GOP front-runner's proposals to conduct more surveillance on Muslims in the U.S.

OBAMA: We must absolutely reject that we are somehow at war with an entire religion. Prejudice and discrimination helps ISIL.

ACOSTA: Knocked back on his heels was widely panned the somewhat cerebral president ended this foreign trip speaking from the gut, urging Americans to avoid giving into fear.

OBAMA: Hello! How are you all doing?

ACOSTA: A point he punctuated with a stop to a refuge center in Malaysia, a visit Mr. Obama reflected on as he left the country.

OBAMA: If you are a parent and you saw those kids and thought about what they had gone through, the notion that we couldn't find a home for them anywhere in the United States of America? That's -- that is contrary to our values. The most powerful tool we have to fight ISIL is to say that we're not afraid.

ACOSTA (on camera): As soon as the president returns to Washington, he is scheduled to welcome French President Francois Hollande for a critical meeting on a war against ISIS.

[07:05:01] It's a war Hollande wants to ratchet up. The key question is, will President Obama join him -- Victor and Christi.


PAUL: All right. Jim, thank you.

Meanwhile, major European cities on high alert this morning because of those terrorists, including Paris, of course.

Our senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen is leading our coverage there live this morning.

Hi, Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, guys. Yes, you're absolutely right. This morning, it is 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon here actually.

Now, Paris remains on high alert, however, it is a beautiful fall day and people are still coming out to the makeshift memorial here on Place de la Republique, which, of course, has been in place since last Friday, since those awful terror attacks and people here paying their respects, laying down flowers, and also just coming for a moment of silence to remember those who were killed.

But you're absolutely right, Paris is very concerned about safety here and, of course, the Belgium capital of Brussels as well. And Brussels remains mostly shuddered for a second day running. People heeding the government's call to staying off the streets and away from public gatherings.

The subway system is still closed as a security meeting that was scheduled for this morning has now been pushed back to this afternoon local time.

Our own Drew Griffin is live in Brussels.

And, Drew, is there any indication of what this meeting was supposed to bring and why it was pushed back?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the meeting was supposed to be an evaluation of this threat level, threat level four, which caused basically the shutdown of public facilities here in Brussels. We do not know why it's been pushed back to five. It may just be a logistic thing.

But at the same time, Fred, we are seeing not a decrease but increase in security measures. We've just got a tweet from the emergency center about a half hour ago that anybody taking a railway train, should be at the railway station at least 30 minutes prior to boarding of the train because of new security measures there. Of course, the police and the soldiers continue to walk the streets and many, many, many of public facilities are closed, many of the restaurants are closed, the bars are closed, anywhere where there are large groups of people that would have gathered, that is what the prime minister says we need to not have at this time in Brussels until this current threat is over with -- Fred.

PLEITGEN: Well, that -- that is pretty incredible, you're saying they are tweeting out information for people to come to railway stations earlier because of the security situation. How do people deal with that in Brussels? I mean, normally, on a Sunday with weather the way it is, you know, people would be out on the street and people would be going out.

GRIFFIN: Yes. Well, you do see people walking the streets and there are some shops open but not that many. I think people are dealing with this much better on a cold Sunday than they will on a busy Monday. There is a 50/50 chance, according to the education minister who spoke to a newspaper, that schools may be closed tomorrow. So all these evaluations have to take place.

Like I said, there's not a lot of panic, there's certainly no panic at all. And there is not a lot of complaining, but this is Sunday. It is cold. I think people are just, you know, taking everything in stride. I think it will be a much different tale to tell if people wake up in this city tomorrow and the metro is still closed, the buses are still on limited duty, and many public restaurants and facilities are closed -- Fred.

PLEITGEN: And, Drew, you know, we have been talking about this ever since you got to Brussels, about the fact it seems that the Belgian intelligence services seem to be playing catch-up. It seems as though they missed a lot of things. The area of Molenbeek for instance is an area that's been known for a very long time for extremist activity.

Do you get a sense from talking to them now that there is a fundamental shift in their attitude and that they are fundamentally going to crack down harder on the extremists they have in that country and also the weapons pipeline that has been going through there?

GRIFFIN: I think absolutely. This was a wake-up call, not just because of this terrorist attack, with so many ties to the neighborhood you spoke of, Molenbeek, with so many of the Paris attackers coming from there and perhaps planning their whole entire adventure there.

But also, it's been linked to a half a dozen terror attacks in Europe. All coming here either terrorists coming to buy their weapons there or plotting there, or just simply being from there. You know, Molenbeek has a high concentration of young Muslim youth and of the foreign fighters, the Belgian foreign fighters who have gone to Syria and come back, there had been 130 of them, Fred, 85 live in Molenbeek. The government is taking it more seriously.

[07:10:00] The interior minister actually said that he would like to do a house-to-house, maybe not search, but more akin to a count, a number count of people that live there just to get a handle on how big a problem it is, who is living in Molenbeek. They don't seem to know.

So, there is intense scrutiny going to be played out here in Brussels as they give more money, more attention to this counterterror intelligence information gathering, Fred.

PLEITGEN: All right. Drew Griffin, thanks very much for your insight there, on the streets of Brussels on this early Sunday afternoon local time.

Now, also new this morning, we have shocking images of the Paris apartment where a third unidentified terror suspect blew himself up during that raid that, of course, led to the killing of the alleged ringleader of the Paris attackers. Take a look at these images from the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. You can see holes, smash in the walls, you can see bullet pockmarks on the walls as well, and rooms are just simply absolutely covered in debris.

Now, police say entire floors of that building were destroyed and a whole ceiling blown off during that massive blast that occurred. Plus, "Reuters" is reporting the ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud's brother has also been arrested in Morocco. He was actually one of the people that led to the information that led to the important raid there in Saint- Denis.

I want to bring in our own senior international correspondent Atika Shubert who joins me right now.

Atika, you were there when that raid happened in Saint-Denis. And seeing those pictures, you probably understand why the apartment looks the way it was.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, there were 5,000 rounds of ammunition fired there in the battle there. There are a more than 100 police SWAT teams, tactical units. So, it was a really extensive operation.

But I think what caused most of that damage frankly were the control detonations to sort of clear the area. That probably what collapsed the floor, for example, and the ceiling on one of the apartments.

PLEITGEN: Because they were afraid still exploited ordnance there, is that right?

SHUBERT: Exactly. They already had one person detonate a suicide vest inside and they were worried of more explosives. But it makes the forensics work that much more difficult, trying to identify who was in the apartment. Now, they've identified at least two, but the third man remains unknown.

PLEITGEN: Hashim Abaaoud, the brother of the alleged ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud, what do we know about him and what sort of information he might be giving to the authorities?

SHUBERT: Well, this is interesting, because he was actually arrested about a month ago in Morocco. It's not clear why he was arrested but he's been in custody. When the Paris attacks happened, Morocco said let's take a look at the unusual suspects and see what we got. They realized from information from Abdelhamid had crossed over into Paris. And so, that was really the tip-off, the information they needed to know that the ring leader was, in fact, right here.

PLEITGEN: Moroccan intelligence that they said gave them the tip-off to the Saint-Denis apartment, right?

SHUBERT: Absolutely. Well, what they did was they gave him the tip- off that he was from Paris. From there, they were able to trace the cell phone of his cousin, Hasna Ait Boulahcen.

PLEITGEN: Who was with him in the apartment?

SHUBERT: She was with him in the apartment and she was wanted for minor drug offenses. So they already had a tap of her phone and that's when they sort of made the link.

PLEITGEN: Salah Abdeslam, by all accounts, from what we know, the last of the attackers still on the loose. We are learning more about his escape. What is it?

SHUBERT: Yes, it's very curious. We are not sure exactly what happened but it looks as though he may have been intended to carrying out an attack on the 18th district, 18th arrondissement. He rented a car. He parked a car there and went dark. And several hours later, he called two friends from Belgium, come pick me up, which they did.

Now, according to his lawyer that described what happened he got in the car, he seemed very nervous, but he didn't have any weapons but a bulky coat on. In retrospect, they believe he had an explosives belt or suicide vest underneath, but they were stopped three times by police. He was calm throughout. But I mean, you can imagine the kind of situation they must have been in.

PLEITGEN: Yes, absolutely. Thanks very much, Atika Shubert, for keeping an eye on the situation and on the investigation. That is, of course, still very much going on.

SHUBERT: And still to come, President Obama's strongest words yet against is. Is what he said enough to stop the criticism he has been receiving over the past couple of days and past couple of months?

Plus, inside the ISIS propaganda machine. The message is as important as the violence. New details about this group and the access it gets. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [07:17:53] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

PAUL: CNN getting word today about "The Washington Post" bureau of chief Jason Rezaian who has been held in Iran. He has now been sentenced, we understand, to prison. You may remember, he is "The Washington Post" bureau chief detained in Iran in 2014, accused of espionage and convicted then of spying on Iran.

And again, we are just getting word he has now been sentenced to prison. The verdict we understand has been issued but it hasn't been officially handed down to him or to his lawyer yet. And, because of that, we are told we cannot get more details on exactly what this will entail.

But, again, there has been such a fight to get him back. He has, of course, claimed that he is innocent of all charges, but just today, sentenced to prison. As soon as we get more information on it, we will certainly get it to you.

BLACKWELL: And let's turn now to President Obama. As we mentioned at the top of the show, the president is sharpening his message on ISIS, calling the terror group a bunch of killers with good social media. Listen.


OBAMA: They are a bunch of killers with good social media. And they are dangerous and they have caused great hardship to people.


BLACKWELL: All right. Joining us now to discuss, CNN politics senior reporter Eric Bradner.

Eric, I want to start with some of the criticism the president has faced just hours before the attack in Paris saying that ISIS had been contained. Are we hearing something new in the content here? Or is it solely the tone that is changing?

ERIC BRADNER, CNN POLITICS SENIOR REPORTER: It's really the tone. So, what Republicans on the presidential campaign trail have been criticizing is that President Obama hasn't changed his strategy. He hasn't announced any sort of new approach or ramped up attacks, a swell of new ground troops, anything along those lines. Their criticism is that he sort of lecturing Americans on how to react to these Paris attacks and other attacks.

[07:20:02] And this is certainly a change in tone, sort of responding to the criticism that he has heard over the last couple of days. But, Victor, there is no real change in strategy here and that is what he has been criticized over on the presidential campaign trail lately.

BLACKWELL: So, there is a difficult balance here, the president has to strike. He acknowledged that he doesn't want to elevate them, doesn't want to call Abaaoud a mastermind here, of course, but he has to walk this thin line to not underestimate them rhetorically as he called them a bunch of killers with good social media. Well, they have accomplished much more than just taking lives. They've taken a large swath of land across the Levant.

BRADNER: Yes, exactly. His argument there is a difference between actually being in the oval office and being the president and being on the campaign trail where, you know, he was a big critic of a lot of foreign policy measures that he hasn't managed to sort of roll back entirely back in 2008.

So, yes, the president is arguing there is a different responsibility level here. He is arguing that the United States' strategy is working and that attacks, like the one in Paris, are sort of, if not one-off events, at least certainly not the kinds of events that require a wholesale change in strategy.

And evidence of that is his insistence that the United States stick with its plan on accepting 10,000 Syrian refuges next year and it has come under a lot of criticism lately, especially from Republicans like Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, but the president has sort of said that it's about American values, keeping those values and that that is the best sort of antidote to these terror attacks and to ISIS.

BLACKWELL: And the president also talked about the wildcard in this situation which often is Russia and if President Putin will become more involved with the coalition in fighting ISIS terrorists, instead of focus primarily on supporting Assad. And from the president's words overnight, it doesn't seem he has made that case to sway Putin.

BRADNER: Right, right. No, that's absolutely right. It sounds like the United States and Russia are not yet on the same page. The president was still sort of applying pressure on Putin, but not indicating that the two countries had found a way to work together.

Now, obviously, it's Bashar al Assad, the Syrian strongman who is the big sort of divisive point here. The United States wants him, Russia is supporting him. And so, these two countries that are both fighting ISIS can't seem to get on the same page with that problem hanging over them.

Now, what can be done about that, whether there is a way to cooperate, at least in part, remains to be seen. But, no, the president's rhetoric on this has not changed. He has been doing these international meetings for several days now, a big foreign trip and not come to any sort of resolution with Russia that will change the strategy and have the two countries working on the same page.

BLACKWELL: And we'll see if that changes after the admission that was a bomb that took down the MetroJet 9628 flight a couple of weeks ago and this now, $50 million reward that's been put up by the Russian government for information leading to the people who placed it there.

Eric Bradner, thanks so much.

BRADNER: Thank you.

PAUL: More breaking news out of Mali this morning, in terms of that attack, that attack on a deadly hotel, or a deadly attack on a hotel, I should say. Twenty-two people dead, and we are learning now, there may be word of a possible motive. Finally, we will let you know what we have heard.


[07:27:22] PAUL: New details and developments right now in the deadly hotel attack in Mali. Twenty-two people remember were killed on Friday, including one American. Well, CNN now has new details about a possible motive.

CNN's David McKenzie is live outside the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali with breaking details.

What are you learning, David?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christi, what we are learning from our sources on the ground here is that motive of this al Qaeda-linked group and one other group has claimed responsibility of this attack is, in fact, because of the local situation here in Mali.

You may see a U.N. vehicle passing past me. They are investigators on the scene trying to get forensic evidence together. There were peace talks going on at the time of this attack, and it seems attackers they were trying to derail the peace talks here in this country.

Mali has been cut in two in recent years because of Islamic jihadists pushing in and trying to take the capital similar to the situation of is in Iraq and Syria. But it does seems that this, though, attacking Western interest, was try to derail a local issue here, though, by getting attention on attacking Western people in the hotel, they certainly were able to kind of put their agenda on the map -- Christi.

PAUL: So, David, I'm wondering what survivors are saying about this new news.

MCKENZIE: Well, they are saying this was a horrible event, that unfolded at 7:00 a.m. in the morning on Friday. We spoke to a man who worked here and saw the gunmen coming in and, in fact, looked him in the eye as he passed by. He was wearing blue shirt, a cap, jeans, and had a Kalashnikov rifle and shooting at random anyone that moved.

People tried to move out of the area into the service elevator but they were stuck at that point and effectively the gunman came in and shot at them. Many people were able to get into their rooms and barricade themselves in as the gunman moved through the hotel.

And the response by the security services appears to be pretty swift. So, the Malians coming in with assistance from America and French and Belgians and others were able to clear this hotel of the gunman but --

PAUL: All right. We apologize. Obviously, having some technical difficulties there, but thank you to David McKenzie for the very latest from Mali. > BLACKELL: All right. President Obama calls ISIS killers with good social media, but it's more like a media machine. This terror group has slick videos and magazines and highly effective at spreading the online message there. And we are learning more about the process here and the access ISIS gives its propaganda producers.