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Brussels Threat Alert at Highest Level; Inside the World of ISIS Women in Raqqah; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 23, 2015 - 14:00:00   ET




CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: momentum building against ISIS as the British prime minister visits Paris and prepares to put

his case for strikes against Syria.

But will his own Parliament approve this time?

And as Brussels remains in terror lockdown, I'm joined by the Belgian ambassador to the United Nations.

Also ahead: Syria's women, stories of survival and defiance, living under ISIS.




AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour, live in New York this week.

The war on terror is being fought on the streets of Europe as well as in the skies over Syria and Iraq. Paris police tell CNN tonight that part of

the suburb called Montrouge has been sealed off. That is after they discovered an article they say resembles a suicide vest in a garbage bin.

A bomb disposal team is onsite and authorities are trying to work out if it contains explosives.

The French president, Francois Hollande, will visit the White House on Tuesday. He'll urge President Obama for more support in the war against


That as France has started launching airstrikes from the carrier, Charles de Gaulle, stepping up its aerial bombardment of ISIS' self-declared

capital of Raqqah in Syria.

Earlier today, the British prime minister David Cameron went to Paris to show solidarity with Hollande. Both paid their respects to victims of the

Paris attacks at the Bataclan concert hall where 89 young people were slaughtered.

And this week, Cameron will try again to get Parliament to accept that the U.K. cannot sit on the sidelines and must join coalition airstrikes against

ISIS in Syria. This comes as the heart of Europe is on partial lockdown.

Streets in Brussels, Belgium, usually bustling with tourists, sightseers and residents, have been practically empty for the past three days because

of fears of an imminent Paris-style attack.

The Belgian prosecutor's office says a suspect arrested on Sunday night has been charged in connection with those Paris attacks. It was a single

Brussels neighborhood, Molenbeek, that had been home to at least three of the Paris attackers, mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud, Brahim Abdeslam and

his, brother, Saleh Abdeslam, who is still alive and on the run.

The Belgian interior minister has promised to, quote, "clean up" that neighborhood.

Joining me now right here is Belgium's ambassador to the United Nations, Benedicte Frankinet.

Ambassador, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Tell us exactly why your city is under lockdown and your prime minister says possibly until Wednesday.

FRANKINET: Yes. Well, it's under lockdown obviously because the priority is to make people safe. And after what happened in Paris, I don't think

any government was in a position, given the information that was available, to take any chances. So --


AMANPOUR: Except that it's a long time, it will be five days in a major European city, the heart of the E.U.

And what is the specific threat?

FRANKINET: This we don't know. Obviously, there are indications that a possible attack -- as you say, Paris-style -- is possible. And we have, I

think, very good cooperation with the intelligence services on the French side. We have had excellent cooperation at that level.

And we have a system in Belgium where we analyze threats on a day-by-day basis, where, I think, the indications that we have received made the

government come to this conclusion, that we needed to take these kind of measures.

AMANPOUR: So as we said, Saleh Abdeslam, one of the brothers, who didn't blow himself up and who did escape and has been the subject of a manhunt

and an arrest warrant is still on the run. There were reports that perhaps he had moved from France to Belgium to Germany.

Can you tell us anymore of that?

FRANKINET: Not much. I think, as you have said, we know he didn't die in Paris and he is probably come back at some stage to Belgium and, obviously,

he is one of the people that we are looking for. But for the moment, and you have seen with the latest news, we haven't found him.

AMANPOUR: Give me your best analysis information about where these Paris attacks were planned.

Were they planned in Belgium?

FRANKINET: I think there is a combination, obviously, of a triangle between Syria itself, Belgium for some of the suspects, obviously, and then



FRANKINET: -- some of probably Paris also.

But I think for me to speak about it is a lot of speculation also. I suppose it's a triangle.

You know, in a way, radicalization only became terrorism because some of these people went to Syria. And that's where they acquire the necessary

experience to carry out what they did in Paris.


AMANPOUR: But you must be incredibly worried as a government, the highest per capita number of European jihadis going to ISIS are Belgian.

FRANKINET: Obviously, we are very concerned. And as you know, Belgium is a very open society. We have many people living in Belgium, coming from

very different backgrounds.

And it -- I really want to point out the fact that many of the people who have come to live in Belgium are very much law-abiding citizens, and that

we are talking about a very small group of people. But since we have not discovered this now, this phenomenon, and I think we have been watching

very carefully what is happening with people who leave Belgium to go and fight in Syria and what people who are coming back.

Obviously much more still needs to be done.

AMANPOUR: What, though?

What can you do?

The prime minister has pledged hundreds of millions of euros, what, for more intelligence?

Is it a resource problem now?

Of course, the majority of your citizens are law-abiding. But actually, a handful, a large handful of killers were able to operate right there;

Abaaoud, Abdeslam brothers, operate right there and wage this terrible slaughter in the heart of Europe.

What do you need?

What does your government need to make sure this doesn't happen again?

FRANKINET: I think it has to happen at very different levels. The first one, which I think is in everybody's mind, we also need to find a solution

for the situation in Syria, at the diplomatic level and that we see some progress. But that has gone on for very long.

Second, we need to ensure immediately the security of our citizens as has demonstrated in what happens now.

Third, we have to work together with many other European countries because, as you know, Europe is very much an open space also for these people.

AMANPOUR: So do you think, as was a lot of talk after interior ministers on Friday, that there will start to be a much more rigorous checking?

I mean, are we in a place where Schengen and some of its openness is just going to have to give way to more security?

FRANKINET: It's definitely in the cards. It has been put on the table and, of course, the idea with Schengen is that we had to have the control

on the external borders of Europe. And we see now that maybe that has not been the case.

AMANPOUR: Well, it hasn't been the case. It's not a maybe. It hasn't been the case.

FRANKINET: Yes. And so, basically, at least for a certain time, I think it -- the issue has been brought up to the European conversation that we

need to look at these issues of border control.

AMANPOUR: So you have the macro. You've got the government, the police, the intelligence. But then you have also the parents.

I'd like to play a part of an interview that our correspondent, Nima Elbagir, did with a mother whose child was radicalized. Just listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a nightmare.

As a mother, you feel, did I not give him enough love?

Maybe I didn't give him enough love?

He's not my son anymore.


AMANPOUR: So she says, "He's not my son anymore,: and she's questioning her role.

You know, what would you say to parents? I mean, some of whom, frankly, have told us that they have tried to get authorities, whether in Belgium,

whether in France, where -- to recognize that their children are being radicalized and stop them from leaving or intervene.

FRANKINET: Yes. I think that's the last and the most complicated part. It's the what do we do for the future. And what do we do with parents,

with families, with children, who feel themselves disenfranchised and who have turned maybe first to petty criminality and then to radicalization and

then to terrorism.

So that's a much longer-term effort that we have to do.


AMANPOUR: Is society up to it?

Does it have the patience?

Does it have the people, does it have the resources?

Because it really does look like, you know, if we needed another signal that all these disenfranchised neighborhoods needed to be fixed and looked

into -- although, let's face it. Some of these terrorists are not disenfranchised and not disempowered and come from perfectly decent


FRANKINET: Yes. So I think we are only starting and only looking into what are the ways. And I think that, for instance, the role of the mother

is very much also in our mind because they can -- they are the ones who are suffering the consequences but they are also the ones that can --


FRANKINET: -- talk about their children.

There -- it's a very long process; I think that we really have to take in the schools, in the communities and, frankly speaking, it is still very

difficult to understand what makes a young person take this step and join a terrorist group.

AMANPOUR: Do you feel, finally, that this is a game-changer? Are we finally going to see governments really do what they have to do?

FRANKINET: Well, I certainly hope so. I think it was a big weight of gold (ph).

But on the other hand, I really have to insist that it's not the first time that the Belgium government has started taking measures. It's been going

on for quite a while already.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Frankinet, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

FRANKINET: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: And while Brussels shuts down, Russia makes a show of support. Fighter pilots, scrawling, quote, "for Paris" on the bombs they're about to

drop on ISIS targets in Syria.

And after a break, we turn to Syria's rebellious women, challenging ISIS and also Assad. That's next.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

For two years, ISIS has called Raqqah the capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria, ruling with fear and with violence, stonings,

beheadings and threats to any dissenters. People's lives, of course, changed overnight when they took over. And none more so than the city's


Few understand the horror they face better than my next guest.

Journalist Azadeh Moaveni met three women who recently fled Raqqah and ISIS and are now living in secrecy in Southern Turkey. She joins me from


And journalist Zaina Erhaim is the director of "Syria's Rebellious Women," a film about women who are fighting to save the city of Aleppo. She joins

me here on set in New York.

Welcome to you both.

Can I first ask you, Zaina, because you have been working with these women. You have been in and out of Syria, your own homeland.

They are against Assad, right?

Or are they fighting a double-pronged war, the women of Aleppo?

ZAINA ERHAIM, JOURNALIST AND FILM DIRECTOR: Actually, not only the women but all the activists in Aleppo are the main target for both Assad and the

regime. So for all of us, even the civilians, the regime and Assad are equally evil. And if any of them has captured the city that I'm living at,

that is Aleppo, we're all going to be killed. So whoever is activist against Assad, it's only common sense for him or her to be against ISIS as


AMANPOUR: And is that happening?

What are the women doing in Aleppo?

What have you been filming, what have you been training them?

ERHAIM: Well, two of the women, when ISIS captured Aleppo City, that was in 2013, they actually protested against it in front of their main quarter,

headquarter. And they were beaten harshly by them. But they kept doing so, until the rebels could actually just kick ISIS out of the city.

And, until now, none of us, none of them can actually go to any of the ISIS areas. We're stuck just in the rebel-held areas.

AMANPOUR: Who holds Aleppo right now?

ERHAIM: It's the Free Syrian Army, the rebels --


AMANPOUR: So it is the rebels, the moderate rebels, who are against ISIS and against Assad?

ERHAIM: Yes. It's impossible for any journalist to work either in the regime or ISIS are. I think the only area where journalists are capable of

doing any work is the rebel-held areas.

AMANPOUR: Let me get back to you in a second on these women who are fighting.

Azadeh, in London, you wrote an amazingly compelling article, interviewing three women, who had basically --


AMANPOUR: -- volunteered for the female ISIS brigades, if you like.

Tell me about, first, what drew them to it?

These are perfectly normal women who like partying, who like music, who like social media.

What was it that flipped them?

AZADEH MOAVENI, JOURNALIST: Thank you, Christiane. I think, you know, my experience, in talking with them, I think their experiences resonate with

what Zaina is saying. I think when the uprising first broke out, they were in the streets chanting, "We won't follow the regime." They were anti-


But their town, Raqqah, was taken over, first by Nusra, then by I.S. And I think life became increasingly difficult. It became very, very hard, if

you can imagine, you know, what towns who are in the grip of the mafia must be like to survive, to function, without, in some way either fleeing or

ultimately collaborating.

I mean, they didn't believe in the ideology of ISIS. They didn't believe in the caliphate. They wanted to go on and continue their studies --

marketing or English literature. But it became impossible to move around the city as a woman; it became impossible for their families to earn a


And slowly life was sort of have suffocated. The possibilities were suffocated. So I think for them it was a choice really of desperation.

AMANPOUR: Azadeh, as we have this conversation, we are showing some pictures of Raqqah before ISIS took over. And of course now it's under

heavy bombardment.

So it was a choice, you say, for them. And they took the choice that they thought might make it better for them and their families. But then they


What was life like for them?

I mean, they had to marry what turned out to be suicide bombers.

MOAVENI: It was. I think they had no idea what it would involve. It unfolded progressively. The compromises started small and then they got

bigger and bigger and more onerous.

I mean, first they had to police their neighbors and stand there while women they had grown up with were lashed for coming out, for wearing the

wrong things.

Then eventually, you know, it became more and more, seeing stonings in the town square, having to find out that their husbands had volunteered for

suicide operations without telling them. You know, everything was a compromise. They couldn't even decide whether to have children.

The ISIS commander said, no, you have to use birth control because we want men to be, you know, encouraged to go to martyrdom operations. And if they

have little babies, they will be less inclined.

So everything was under control ultimately of the command. And I think at a point when both of them, two of them became widowed and were asked to

marry again almost immediately, they thought that they couldn't take it anymore.

AMANPOUR: Zaina --


ERHAIM: I just, if I can --

AMANPOUR: Yes, Zaina --

ERHAIM: -- because I was in Raqqah in December, 2013. ISIS was there then. But I was very much in shock from the powerful women, who were just

doing their dress, their hair are done and they were wearing dresses and just working in front of the main headquarters of ISIS, just to bother


AMANPOUR: So defying them and trying to --


ERHAIM: -- and even those who were wearing veils, they were putting this very bright pink lipstick. But they were neglected. They were left alone,

when ISIS could defeat Ahrar al-Sham (ph) and took over all the whole city. They were just left alone.

I think now we're just seeing the effects of that. But we are forgetting how powerful those women were. But they were not supported enough.

AMANPOUR: Well, are they?

What did you make of that, that they were powerful when ISIS first took over, they were defying them?

And then you told the story of these three women, who married into ISIS and actually who then fled.

They fled, right?

I mean, you found them in Turkey?

MOAVENI: They did, they did flee. I mean, they had to plot very elaborate escapes. One of the -- you know, two of them were helped with -- by

friends within ISIS itself. So I think we learn from that, that it's not impermeable, that organization.

But I think, absolutely, they told me, they said, at first, at the beginning, the world was not paying attention to what was happening in

Raqqah. They were not paying attention to our rebellion.

A lot of them said, the reason why things became progressively more harsh was because women were resisting. They would wear whatever they wanted.

And then they would bribe to get out of the repercussions.

So it was a steady progression of things becoming more and more pushed and then more and more repression at the same time. But I think Zaina makes a

great point in that Raqqah before was a place, where, as you can see in those pictures, young women were going to university. A lot of the women

in the city went out without their hair covered. You could sit in parks and mix freely.

I mean, this was a society where, really, you know, young women had aspirations and were living much freer lives than any generation before


AMANPOUR: Zaina, you are wearing a head scarf because it's quite conservative, Aleppo, where you come from. And you're going to have to go

back and work. So this is something that you do for your professional survival.

What about the women who you are reporting on, the documentary you've made?

A lot of them go out to the front, right?

They go as paramedics. Tell me a little bit --


AMANPOUR: -- about the war effort that the women there are mounting.

ERHAIM: The main idea of the films that I made is just to show the extra difficulties that women have to face in this war circumstances, besides the

daily barrel bombs, beside the masculine arming society that they are living at. These society have been ever being so conservative.

So even for local women, they're not used to see a woman with a camera standing in the middle of the street filming. So they had all type women

that I found had many other issues dealing with their parents, like leaving the house and living in another area for a married girl is a big thing.

So I tried to highlight these extra difficulties that the women are facing. Besides, some of them got arrested by the regime because they volunteered

to help injuries. Others, they have been beaten by ISIS, because they've protested against them.

AMANPOUR: Do you and the women who you've been focusing on, your fellow residents of Aleppo, what do you all make of this shift of attention away

from Assad as the main propagator because the figures show that the vast majority of people who have been killed in Syria have been killed by Assad

and his barrel bombs?

And now the world's attention on ISIS?

ERHAIM: I think what the ambassador has just said, it's if you want to deal with ISIS, the first thing that you have to do is find a solution for

Syria. And I don't believe there is any solution for Syria with Assad in power.

The whole world is still dealing really with the symptoms of the sickness but they're forgetting the main thing. I feel like everything is just

hitting or killing a tourist there or that. But they're not dealing with the terrorism that is being fueled by Assad's existence.

AMANPOUR: And last question to you, Azadeh, one of the women you profiled who had fled ISIS, you describe how they also recruited and met and sort

of, you know, sort of brought in foreign women, particularly British women.

Give me an idea about how they thought or how were the foreign women, the British women, treated in Syria once they got there?

MOAVENI: Well, the foreign women immediately were taken into, you know, a separate realm of life in Raqqah. They had more privileges; they could go

to the hospital for free; they didn't have to stand in line, queueing for bread. They had more freedom of movement, even reportedly the women I

spoke with told me they had more intensive military training. They could go to the front line. You know, what they did there, unclear, but they had

the freedom to go to there, to the front line at certain moments.

So it really became a -- almost apartheid system where, you know, the foreign women who had come in and the foreigners more generally had great

privileges. And this was resented greatly by the locals, who felt like, we are from Raqqah. We are the people of here.

And even within this life we have been swept up in, even here, we are being oppressed by the structure of the I.S. command itself. So they were very

resentful to foreigners.

AMANPOUR: Azadeh Moaveni, Zaina Erhaim, thank you both so much for joining me today.

And from the women fighting on the front line to those battling ISIS online, as Internet vigilantes Anonymous and another groups continue to

wage digital warfare on the group by hacking and closing down thousands of their social media accounts, they are now Rick rolling the extremists.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): So they've chosen to use Rick Astley's 1987 hit, "Never Going to Give You Up" to drown out any information that ISIS could

find useful.

When we come back, more virtual combat. Imagine Belgium's furry fight for freedom. We'll explain next.





AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, as the Belgian capital, Brussels, ends another day in lockdown, we imagine a world where a tale of defiant humor

has clawed its way to the surface as the terror threat reached the highest level over the weekend.

Belgium's security forces asked citizens for social media silence to protect their operations across the city.

Well, Belgians went above and beyond that call of duty, as the #BrusselsLockdown hashtag that could have revealed police plans instantly

became littered with kittens, making it nigh on impossible to pore through the tweets and find anything, apart from cats trapped in the lockdown.

Furry feline fury against the would-be attackers or kitty contentment in the nation's newfound cat power.

In thanks, the government tweeted out some kibble to the new cat pack, saying, "To all the cats who helped us last night, help yourselves."

It's not quite monde frites (ph), but it is a little whimsy for a capital in dire need of some.

And some exciting news before we go tonight, our program, this program, is now available as an audio podcast. From start to finish, you can now

listen on the go. Search your favorite app or go to to subscribe and download.

That is it for our program tonight. And remember you can always see all our interviews as well online at and follow me on Facebook and

Twitter. Thank you for watching and tonight goodbye from New York.