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Extra Security Deployed In Times Square; New York Man Charged In Attack Plot; Suspect Wanted To Join ISIS; Man Planned Attack On Bar; 6,000 Officers Expected In Times Square; NYPD Says No Credible Threats; Helicopters Being Utilized; Extra Security Ahead Of Celebrations; Obama To Announce Executive Action On Gun Sales; Fire At Dubai Hotel Near World's Tallest Building; Dubai Hotel Fire. Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired December 31, 2015 - 13:00   ET

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


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: -- in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks so much for joining us.

In just 11 hours from now, probably the most iconic of New Year's celebrations takes place in New York City in Times Square. We've already seen celebrations in places like Hong Kong and in Sydney, Australia. And those have gone on without a hitch, amid stepped up security as those cities, like New York, protect against possible terror attacks.

CNN Justice Reporter Evan Perez is in our New York bureau following this story for us. Before we even get to Times Square, Evan, let's talk about this breaking news out of Rochester, New York, a little upstate from New York City. We've learned that a man from that area who may have actually been planning a New Year's attack in the name of ISIS. He has been arrested and charged. What can you tell us?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, Brianna. His name is Emanuel Lutchman. He's 25 years old. He was arrested yesterday by the FBI. According to the FBI, he was in touch, or he claimed to be in touch, with a member of ISIS overseas who was directing this planned attack which was to take place today. He was plotting to attack a restaurant and bar, perhaps kidnap somebody. The plan involved knives, bombs and possibly a pressure cooker bomb.

This was a plot that was being cooked up with someone who was actually working for the FBI, an undercover informant. One of these informants was paid $19,000. There was a second informant who was also involved who was paid $7,400 for working with the FBI.

And, again, Lutchman is somebody who apparently had a mental health background, mental health history, mental health problems and served some time for a robbery offense in New York State. I think we have a picture of him that we can show from a previous arrest here in New York State.

And, really, Brianna, this case kind of illustrates not only the reach of ISIS. You know, the past year has been one in which there have been a number of record number of arrests, 60 so far this year. And, really, all over the country. Pretty much every corner of the country, there are people who are consuming ISIS propaganda online and, according to the FBI, coming up with plots such as this one.

And we'll see whether or not any more of these come forth today. But it's definitely been a busy year. And today is particularly busy for the FBI, keeping an eye on plots all over the country, threats all over the country.

KEILAR: Any credible ones when it comes to the big Times Square celebration?

PEREZ: The Homeland Security Department and the New York Police Department says that they know -- both say that they know of no credible specific threats. But, you know, one of the things that happens here is people hear those words and they think, well, there is nothing going on.

And, if you remember, just days before the San Bernardino attack, the Obama administration noted that there were no credible specific threats. And that's the thing that always worries the FBI and the intelligence agencies are the plots that they don't know. People who are off the radar completely --

KEILAR: Yes.

PEREZ: -- like the two -- the couple in San Bernardino.

KEILAR: It doesn't mean people shouldn't be concerned. Keep your eyes --

PEREZ: Exactly.

KEILAR: -- peeled on this New Year's Eve. All right, Evan Perez, thanks so much.

PEREZ: Thanks.

KEILAR: I want to talk more now about the security situation in New York City for New Year's. Joining me now, we have New York mayor, Bill De Blasio. Thank you so much, Mayor, for joining us. And you've said that you are going to have the biggest police presence ever for a New Year's Eve celebration. Tell us about what that means, the officers, the multiple agencies that are coming together for this.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR, NEW YORK CITY: Well, Brianna, we're going to have about 6,000 police officers in Times Square to keep everyone safe. It's a very, very extensive process of screening that we go through for anyone who goes into Times Square to enjoy this celebration.

Look, this is one of the great events in this country each year. About a million people are expected. It is a fantastic party. We're going to keep it safe. It's going to be one of the safest places in the United States tonight because 6,000 police officers. Lots of additional measures. Lots of security measures you can see, lots you can't see that will keep people safe.

And we have added now in New York City, over the course of this year, a new 500-person specialized anti-terror squad within the NYPD, our critical respond command. We put that in our last city budget. That's now up and running. These are officers who are heavily armed, well trained specifically to prevent terror incidents, 500-plus officers full time. You'll see a lot of their presence tonight as well.

KEILAR: Is this one of the big concerns for you, this idea that maybe there are no credible threats when it comes to this huge celebration in Times Square. But, you know, but we just heard Evan's report there. Before San Bernardino, there wasn't a credible threat. It's this sort of a Morpheus (ph) challenge that you deal with when you're a city official.

DE BLASIO: Well, it's true, there's always things that are out there that we may not know about. But I'd like to note, Brianna, for one thing, New York City has a tradition. Over 14 years now, the NYPD has done an extraordinary job of preventing terror attacks. There's been a number of plots that were threatened, a number of plots that were thwarted. The NYPD has an extraordinary intelligence gathering capacity of its own and we work now increasingly more closely with Department of Homeland Security, with the FBI, et cetera.

[13:05:07] One of the things I think we can say in the past is that different agencies didn't always communicate optimally. Now, that communication is much, much stronger so you see plots like the one up in Rochester, New York which is a couple hundred miles from here. You see plots like that caught in time. That has been what's typical.

Now, from time to time, there is a lone Wolf who we don't have an indication of. That's a reminder to all of us to be vigilant. The phrase, if you see something, say something, actually is a very meaningful phrase. You may get an indication. Someone's behavior changes. They say something to you that suggests a problem. The authorities need to know that. One of the things every citizen can do is let the authorities know if they sense something that could be a danger. Obviously, if you see a suspicious package. I think the fact is that most of the time, the vast majority of the time we do have an indication of the problem in time to do something about it.

KEILAR: And we just heard from someone not too long ago who did security for time -- this Times Square celebration for 10 years. And he said that, look, people are standing around for hours. And they have really nothing to do but kind of look and watch and wait and so that's what they're doing.

I do want to ask you about something that we've seen out of Belgium, in Brussels. Officials actually canceled their New Year's celebration, canceled their fireworks because of the threat of terror. Paris canceled fireworks. They're toning down that celebration. Can you imagine that ever happening in New York?

DE BLASIO: I can't except for the most exceptional situations. We have 35,000-member police force. It's actually going to grow by several thousand next year in patrol strength. We have the capacity here to take a celebration like this and to make sure it's exceedingly safe. We did that with the pope's visit back in September. At the same time his holiness was here, 170, I think it was, leaders from around the world were here for the U.N. general assembly. That came off without a hitch. The Thanksgiving parade had several million people at it. That came off without a hitch. We have the capacity.

And, as I said, now a 500-plus member anti-terror dedicated force that specializes. And you'll see them tonight. You'll see lots of police officers in regular uniforms with regular weaponry. But you'll also see the heavily armed officers from our critical response command. We can protect people in a very special way here in this city.

And anyone who goes into the celebration area goes through not one but two magnometers (ph) and gets a very, very careful screening. So, you're right, with this kind of concentration and focus, this is going to be a very safe place tonight.

KEILAR: Yes, they are dedicated people, for sure, to go through that, to celebrate in Times Square tonight.

While I have you, Mayor, I want to ask you about an announcement that we're expecting from President Obama, that he's going to take executive action when it comes to guns. That he wants to, through his power alone, expand back ground checks on gun sales going after the so-called gun show loophole where when you have owner-to-owner sales, there's sort of a way to avoid a background check. I imagine there's going to be a legal challenge. I also know that you would support this move. How do you see this playing out? What are you concerns here?

DE BLASIO: I think the president's right. I appreciate the boldness of the action he's taking. Look, from a New York City perspective, too many of our people have died because of the illegal guns that got into the hands of criminals. Some of our police officers have died because of illegal guns in the hands of criminals. We're sick of it.

And we need stronger gun regulation in this country. It has to be fair. It has to respect Second Amendment rights. I think the president is absolutely right to say, here's a loophole where the background checks aren't being done properly. We need to close that loophole. We need to make sure that terrorists don't get those guns.

We all know, there's thousands of people on the no-fly list who can walk into a gun shop or go to a gun show and get a gun. That's unacceptable. It's certainly unacceptable for New York City. It's unacceptable for the whole country, in my view. We need to make sure that our families are safe and our law enforcement officers are safe by getting rid of these illegal guns.

So, the president's on the right track. And I think, bluntly, that this horrible series of events, you know, the campus massacres that became all too common, what happened in San Bernardino, all of these events are, I think, increasingly causing the American people to look for some middle ground on the gun issue. I think the president is doing something to bring us toward that kind of progress.

KEILAR: Mayor Bill De Blasio, thank you so much. Happy New Year to you. Good luck. We hope this is a wonderful New Year's. We will be watching, of course, because our special coverage starts at 8:00 p.m. with --

DE BLASIO: Thank you.

KEILAR: -- Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper.

DE BLASIO: Happy New Year, Brianna. Enjoy.

KEILAR: All right, you too.

And I do want, now, to go to some breaking news.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: These are live pictures. This is a massive -- taped pictures. We just turned this around. These are from moments ago from Dubai in the UAE. These are -- this is catastrophic right here. These are unbelievable images of a fire at a -- it's the Address Hotel. Authorities, right now, are on site trying to address this.

[13:10:05] But this is a luxury hotel in Dubai. You can see onlookers there. It's unclear right now what the situation is, if there are injuries. It's a five-star hotel there, 63 stories, according to reports that I'm reading. And this is something that right now -- 300 meters tall this building. It's actually not far from the New Year's Eve fireworks display that was there in Dubai.

We're going to continue -- and this is actually -- this is actually new video that we're -- that we're bringing in. This is, obviously, very alarming, the images that we're seeing of this fire just engulfing the side of this luxury hotel, 63 stories high, in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates on what is a holiday. So, we are seeing that there are onlookers there who are looking, obviously, at what's going on. A lot of smoke filling the air.

We're going to be staying with this as we try to assess what's exactly going on. This just came in moments ago. We, at this point, have two views of what is -- of this hotel there in the UAE. This is a luxury hotel, five star. As you can imagine on a holiday like this, there would be a number of folks who were staying there.

And we don't know, at this point, pardon me, what the cause of this fire is there in Dubai. All we know, at this point, is that this fire has broken out. This is in the downtown area of the city. This is the Address Hotel. And authorities are there onsite working to address the incident.

This is what the Dubai -- this is what the government there in Dubai, what officials there in Dubai, the media office for them, are saying on their Twitter account. This is a hotel that when people go to Dubai, they would stay here. This would be something that is very much a draw. And you can see right now, from the pictures that we can make out, there are what appear to be the floors on this one side of the Address Hotel completely engulfed in flames. This seems to be moving very rapidly. And this is -- these are pictures that were just turned around moments ago to show you of this hotel in Dubai. We're trying to get more information as our international desk is working to look at more details on this.

But, at this point in time, just, again, to recap what we're seeing. This is a fire. It's a skyscraper. It's a luxury hotel that is 300 meters tall in the downtown area. This is -- the cause of the fire, at this point, unknown. There are at least 20 stories, we believe, and you can see by the pictures there at least, that have been engulfed by flames. We're seeing, at this point, debris. And it's unclear exactly what it is raining down from this inferno that is engulfing a significant part of the Address Hotel in downtown Dubai.

No injuries reported, at this point. But, at the same time, it's very early and authorities are trying to assess the situation. They're trying to address this. And there's, not at this point, a lot of information. We're trying to figure it out. You can see people there on the scene looking at the hotel. Some of them are responders. A lot of people just caught by surprise as they see this in downtown Dubai.

So, again, this is what we're monitoring. This is a fire at a hotel in Dubai, a luxury hotel that's 300 meters. We're getting more information. We're going to have some more for you after a quick break.

[13:13:48]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:17:05] KEILAR: We are following some alarming breaking news coming out of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This is the Address Hotel. It is a luxury hotel right there in the downtown area. This is a place where many foreigners stay. And it is engulfed in flames. These are picture from al Arabiya that we turned around just moments ago.

What we are able to discern from the amount of damage so far is that a significant portion of the hotel has been engulfed in flames. Now keeping in mind, it's also hard to figure out exactly what part of the complex is -- has been taken over by this fire because this is not just a hotel, although it is a luxury hotel with hundreds of rooms that many foreigners will be staying in certainly at a very busy time like New Year's, but it also includes a residential area.

So this is a hotel and a residential area. There is a mall in this building. There are a number of restaurants. This is a huge very busy complex. It's actually located basically in the shadow of the world's tallest skyscraper there in Dubai, which you probably would definitely know if you'd seen that. But at this point in time, we know that evacuations are underway. And you can see in these what are really horrific pictures are the fire just climbing up the stories here of this 63-story building.

I do want to bring in Maha Abouablnebin (ph). She is a resident in Dubai. She was actually just evacuated from this hotel. Maha, can you tell me what -- what you just saw?

MAHA ABOUABLNEBIN, EVACUATED FROM THE HOTEL (via telephone): Yes, we were sitting at the restaurant, which is on the terrace overlooking the lake and the building and we noticed behind us, in the back of the hotel -- like of the hotel, saw a small flame. Like -- it looked like a mezzanine level. And there were people on the stairs having dinner like to left of it. And then it was like, oh, my God, that's not like a flame for heat, that's like fire. And then all of a sudden it started kind of growing.

And then -- sorry. And then immediately we decided we needed to get out of there because we saw debris falling from the building and it brushed (ph) pretty quickly. And I'll have to be honest with you, those people were professional. They got us out calmly. They evacuated everybody quickly. All the staff knew exactly what to do. We were really impressed with how easy we got out of there.

Then all the fire trucks started coming in. The (INAUDIBLE) immediately went from kind of a sparkling glitter for the holiday to a very plain kind of light that looks like they might not be showing (ph) the show. And they evacuated everybody in the hotel into the mall. And then we evacuated out of the mall into the street. We're heading to our car now.

KEILAR: OK, so was this -- this was happening during the fireworks display that took place very close by?

[13:20:00] ABOUABLNEBIN: No, no, no. It was 9:35. It took place at 9:35. So we were all having dinner. People were just having dinner. The fountain (ph) was doing its normal show every 15 minutes.

KEILAR: OK.

ABOUABLNEBIN: The fireworks display didn't start until midnight, which is another hour and 35 minutes from now.

KEILAR: OK. So it was the -- it was sort of the display there at the hotel, the fountain display.

Give us a sense of where this is. This is -- and also before I actually ask that question, you said that people -- the staff, they were able to evacuate you very quickly. Did -- could you tell, in terms of people --

ABOUABLNEBIN: Yes, we -- they knew exactly what to do. Like we knew -- they took us through back stairways. They guided us down. And everyone pretty much remained calm. At first we thought it was a small fire, they can contain it, but then it quickly escalated and then we're like, we've got to get out of here.

KEILAR: Were you able to see if any of the residents or any of --

ABOUABLNEBIN: The employees and everyone was moving very quickly. But this hotel, everyone was -- it was fully packed. There was a lot of dignitaries there. We could see a lot of secret service type of personnel there with (INAUDIBLE) royal families and other people that were there. And so it was a full house.

KEILAR: Where -- where are you visiting from?

ABOUABLNEBIN: I live here. I live in Dubai. My family was visiting from the states.

KEILAR: OK. OK, your family was visiting and you were out there in the restaurants. There are a number, besides the restaurants here, there's a number of hotel rooms. There's a number of residential -- there's a residential part of this hotel. For how quickly this was moving --

ABOUABLNEBIN: Yes.

KEILAR: Do you -- do you feel that they were able to evacuate those people as -- did you see any of the people who are residents?

ABOUABLNEBIN: They wouldn't -- they wouldn't let anyone go into the hotel. Everybody that was outside on the terrace, and on the restaurants and on the balcony, they wouldn't let anyone go into the hotel. They blocked it off.

KEILAR: They blocked it off. I think our concern at this point is there may have been some people in the hotel and we're still waiting to get some information about casualties.

ABOUABLNEBIN: Yes, they were trying -- they didn't want to put more people in the hotel because they were trying to evacuate the people in the hotel. So everyone that was outside, they moved them through outside corridors and back stairwells to get out.

KEILAR: Tell us --

ABOUABLNEBIN: So we landed like on the property of the waterfront where we went straight into the mall.

KEILAR: Tell us about the timing of how quickly you saw this grow from what was just sort of a small thing that you weren't sure about whether or not it was a fire, to then you being outside and seeing the -- the hotel engulfed in flames.

ABOUABLNEBIN: Well, no, it was about five, seven minutes. We said it. We're like, this was small and then it was pretty quick. Within five, 10 minutes, we decided we were out. And then the whole building just -- the whole front of it started to engulf. And the smoke -- we were already out by the time the smoke started being an issue. (INAUDIBLE).

KEILAR: Tell us a little bit about this hotel, Maha, and also where it's located. The kind of, you know, why people come to the hotel. I understand a lot of foreigners stay there.

ABOUABLNEBIN: Yes, I mean, we were in the hotel because we didn't want to be in the middle of all the crowds down at the base of the (INAUDIBLE) building. There's a lot of people down there. So we decided to stay across the bay so we were away from all the crowds. And that's -- we were away from (INAUDIBLE) between us and the (INAUDIBLE) is a big lake where they do the fountain shows. KEILAR: All right, and so is this a particular busy time, I imagine,

as people are -- I mean it's already a very busy city. But as you said, there were crowds outside. People are getting ready for the New Year, for celebrations.

ABOUABLNEBIN: Yes. I mean last year they said that 1.5 million people were here. They said (INAUDIBLE) they were expecting about a million people tonight. But I have to be honest, it's super well organized. Everyone feels safe. Everyone's calm. I don't know how they did such a great job. But like it's been really fast.

KEILAR: Do you think -- I don't know if you've seen -- have you seen the latest pictures, Maha? Have you been able to see the hotel from the outside?

ABOUABLNEBIN: I'm looking at it now. I'm looking at it now. It's all the way up to the top of the building. It's engulfed in smoke. The flames are all over the front side of the facade of the building. We were there. We saw debris coming off of it. But it was just a small section of the hotel. Now it's the entire front of the hotel.

KEILAR: Maha, did you hear anything -- did you hear --

ABOUABLNEBIN: We were up there. We were up on the 42nd floor.

KEILAR: Oh, wow.

ABOUABLNEBIN: Around 8:00 and we came down for dinner. I feel bad if anyone's stuck in there.

KEILAR: Do you have -- do you have concern that people may be? Did you hear anything over loud speakers where they would have been evacuating people?

ABOUABLNEBIN: I don't know. I don't know. I don't -- I mean I'm sure there was people in the hotel. There's high-end luxury apartments and suites. People -- some people bought penthouses and watched the fireworks and their show from their rooms. They didn't' have to leave the hotel. They have a front-facing view of the entire show.

KEILAR: And we've actually just watched all of the lights go out there on the top of the Address Hotel, which is a number of hotel rooms, also residences there. So, obviously, power supply seems to be taken out from part of the billion here.

So, Maha, you were on the 42nd floor at 8:00 p.m. and --

[13:25:02] ABOUABLNEBIN: We came down -- we came down for dinner. We were up on the 42nd floor at a resident apartment, came down and had dinner. And then --

KEILAR: And then at about 9:30 was when you saw this happen, right?

ABOUABLNEBIN: (INAUDIBLE) we're fine. Everybody's fine.

KEILAR: So you were up there at 8:00 p.m. And then at about 9:30 -- ABOUABLNEBIN: Hello?

KEILAR: You had about -- can you hear me, Maha?

ABOUABLNEBIN: I can hear you.

KEILAR: So you were at about 8:00 p.m., you were at dinner and you came down to what level of the hotel where you started to see that there was smoke at 9:35.

ABOUABLNEBIN: We were on the ground floor level. They have a restaurant there on a terrace overlooking. We were up at a penthouse suite on the 42nd floor with friends and then we came down for our actual dinner. But there was a lot of people that were having parties in their room. A lot. We heard them.

KEILAR: OK. So you -- what we're understanding now, we're getting a report, was that it was the 20th floor where the party started. So when you actually saw some sort of smoke or fire, was that on the ground floor? Where was that that you saw?

ABOUABLNEBIN: No, no, it was up a level. It was up. It wasn't on the ground floor level. We could tell. I don't know if it was the 20th floor, but it was -- if it started where the rooms are because there were balconies and there were terraces.

KEILAR: And what floor do the balconies and the terraces and the rooms start on, about?

ABOUABLNEBIN: I don't know, to be honest with you. I think it's like 16.

KEILAR: OK, so it's like a --

ABOUABLNEBIN: Because one elevator bank was from six to 16 and then I think 16 and up is where it starts. I don't know. I don't know. I don't want to give you information that's not right.

KEILAR: OK. OK, Maha, stay with me. I just want to talk about some of the pictures that we're seeing right now on CNN. These are people being evacuated from this hotel residential restaurant mall complex, just like our guest who is on the phone with us, Maha, was. She is describing a situation where, you know, she had been, like so many people, in this building, up dozens of stories in what is, you know, this is a 63-story building. She was up at floor 42, gathering with friends, as so many people she says in this building are doing on this holiday. This is a building that has a great vantage point to the fireworks display there in downtown Dubai. And so that's why a lot of people are there. They're not even going to the fireworks. They're having parties in their homes, watching fireworks from their windows, from their balconies.

This, again, is the Address Hotel in downtown Dubai. A very busy area on a very busy New Year's Eve.

I do want to bring in now Jonathan Gilliam. He's a law enforcement analyst for CNN, but he also manages -- has managed security in the past for other giant events.

Jonathan, you're looking -- these pictures are -- these are horrific. And what we're hearing from one of our guests is that this all happened very quickly. And we do understand that a lot of people were there on this New Year's Eve in what is their home, having celebrations ahead of the fireworks display which were to come about two and a half hours after this started there in Dubai. What's your reaction to what you're seeing?

JONATHAN GILLIAM, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST (via telephone): Well, I'm telling you, I don't know how long ago this fire actually started, but that has spread so rapidly that it is very alarming to me, first off, just looking at this from a securities standpoint. I'm not clear how a fire could spread that quickly to the entire side of a hotel. So, you know, my concern here is not only for the people that are inside and those people that may be celebrating in and around that hotel and evacuating those people. But in the chance that this could be related to some type of a terrorist incident, as people evacuate, you know, you have to try to keep the security awareness on the outside because of the date this is, the fact that celebrations are going on. But this is looking absolutely horrific. This is literally -- seems to be engulfing this building fast.

KEILAR: This is horrible are these are actually pictures from -- are these pictures live or are they from moments ago? OK, these are actually live pictures. And we do understand -- we're -- so we're seeing sort of part of the midsection here of the Address Hotel.

Jonathan, we're being told that -- OK, so just to keep in mind for our viewers, this is a 63-story luxury hotel. This is a skyscraper there in downtown Dubai. We're hearing, Jonathan, from authorities that this may have started on the 20th floor. What does -- what does that tell you?

GILLIAM: Well, that doesn't tell me too much. I was reading a report just a minute ago. They said that it started from the outside of the hotel. That is interesting to me. I'm not exactly sure what they meant by that when they reported it.

[13:30:05] But, you know, it's hard to tell because I don't know the structure of this building. It -- is the 20th floor or where this started, is that a lobby?