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ISIS Claims Responsibility for Belgian Terror Attacks; U.S. Officials on Guard against Copy Cat Attacks; Rep. Eric Swalwell Talks Terror Attacks. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 22, 2016 - 11:30   ET



[11:31:08] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: We continue to follow breaking news on the terror attack on Brussels, Belgian, this morning. We have new information coming in.

Let's give you the state of play of what we know now about these attacks. At about 8:00 a.m., local time, two explosions ripped through the departure lounge at the Brussels International Airport. You're looking at video of the aftermath. This is where everyone would be before they would go through security. At least one of the explosions, we're told by authorities, was a suicide bomb. Investigators are looking at the possibility -- they're calling it a working theory -- that the other possibly could have been a bomb inside a suitcase. Belgian media are now reporting that a Kalashnikov assault rifle was also found in the airport.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: One eye witness just told us he heard no gunshots inside the airport.

About one hour later, 9:00 a.m., local, another exPLOsion at a metro station, this one at the metro station, the Maelbeek metro station. It's in the heart of the international center, the capitol of Europe. The European Union located around there.

The total casualty count. At least 28 dead, 166 injured. That's according to Brussels fire department. That could change.

The city is on lockdown right now. Belgium has raised the terror threat to the highest level it has.

Now new information, ISIS has just claimed responsibility for the attack.

The ambassador to the United States from Belgium just told us, moments ago, he can't say for sure that the threat is over. He does fear that there could be more attacks. He also told us that, as far as he knows, it may, these attacks may be connected to the arrest and capture of Salah Abdeslam, the last fugitives alive from the Paris attacks that took place in November.

One final thing, there are raids taking place across Belgium right now, a furious manhunt for anyone who might be involved with the attacks. You're looking at video of them this morning.

Let's bring in Nic Robertson who can bring us the latest on what's going on -- Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: One of the other details we're learning is the fact that a nuclear power plant in Belgium has been evacuated of all of its nonessential staff. A lot of questions raised why are authorities doing that? What's the background?

We know one of the suspects that was rounded up in Belgium after the Paris attacks earlier this year, when his house was raided by Belgian authorities, when his apartment was raided, police there found video recordings from two different cameras that were positioned outside the house, the home of one of Belgium's top nuclear physicists. That, therefore, gave authorities an understanding that perhaps ISIS was planning some sort of sabotage, some sort of attack on those very secure facilities. We understand today that all nonessential staff were withdrawn from the facilities. Essential staff remain on site.

When we try to analyze all the decisions being taken today and the media in Belgium was asked not to speculate or report in extreme detail to tip off what the police are doing.

There's one key thing the Belgian authorities have that the French authorities didn't have after the Paris terror attacks that wasn't available in the United States after 9/11 attacks, that wasn't available in London after the 7/7 attacks, and that is, in custody, one of the potentially, of the network that's perpetrating this attack. We've heard, over the weekend, from Salah Abdeslam's lawyer that he's cooperating with police. We don't know the level of cooperation. We have no idea if he's giving genuine or leaving false trails. But the authorities in Belgium right now will have, if you will, that ace in hand, a man in their grasp that they can talk to face to face who can provide potentially, potentially key, useful information about all the different things that could happen today. So potentially, some of the reaction and movements we're seeing from the police will be in response to information they're generating and phone conversations they're aware of, potentially, also from Salah Abdeslam, one of the key planners and perpetrators in the Paris attacks.

[11:35:45] BOLDUAN: Nic Robertson, thank you so much.

Nic Robertson is keeping a close eye on exactly what the state on the investigations in Brussels, especially on all of the raids that are ongoing as we speak throughout Belgium. We're being careful to keep a close eye on that.

And to Nic's point, when he was talking about the arrest and the interrogation of Salah Abdeslam, the Belgian ambassador to the United States just told us he said he was wanted to be careful about making any connection, but said that there may be a connection with the arrest of Salah Abdeslam on Friday and what we are seeing, these terror attacks in Brussels today. Let's look now at the focus here at home in the aftermath of all of

this. Authorities in the United States, they are on heightened alert, beefing up security in major cities and at major transportation hubs and landmarks throughout the country.

Let's bring in our national correspondent, Deborah Feyerick, at Penn Station, the busiest rail hub in the U.S., with the latest.

Debt, what are you picking up from your sources?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can tell you that the NYPD is using all sources here and oversees. They're trying to determine if there's any possible connection. The mayor said there is no known threat, but still authorities are doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing, and that's making sure they're running every possible lead to ground overseas in terms of contacts and other law enforcement there.

We've been here for about an hour. It's a little bit empty. We've seen an increased presence. That includes heavily armed tactical teams. We've seen K-9s sniffing bags. And there's an announcement coming over saying that the bags will be checked. They're not creating a climate of fear. They're letting people know there's a situation ongoing. The same thing happening in trains and airports in Washington, Los Angeles, Boston, and also Miami, a heightened sense of alert there.

We can tell you -- and, Kate, you mentioned there, about whether this is connected to Salah Abdeslam, with President Francois Hollande and the prime minister in Belgium, one thing that was interesting is that during the middle of the press conferences on Salah Abdeslam, President Hollande mentioned that they would be checking people when they fly. It seemed came from out of nowhere. It was unclear if there was a procedural warning, this is good security, or whether there was something more, and authorities going back to trying to figure out why that was said.

We can tell you surveillance cameras at the airport in Belgium, they are being checked in Brussels to see how those individuals got into the airport, what their method was, and what it was they were carrying. Authorities do have some leads on who the individuals may be, and so they are looking at that closely as well. The scope of this network, even to authorities in Belgium, completely mind boggling in terms of the numbers of arrests, provisional detentions and those at large -- Kate, John?

BOLDUAN: Deb, thank you very much. Keep a close eye on the security situation here at home as well.

BERMAN: Let's bring in a panel to discuss what's going on, CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank, co author of "Agent Storm, My Life Inside al Qaeda"; Michael Weiss, CNN contributor, co author of "ISIS, Inside the Army of Terror, and senor editor for "The Daily Beast"; and Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University Law School. Paul, you're furiously working your Blackberry sitting next to us over

the next few minutes. I want to get the latest on the investigation from you in addition to the information we're getting that Belgian authorities have shared a surveillance photo, possibly a suspect at the airport, showing three men pushing a luggage cart.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: We're trying to confirm that photo. I've seen it. We're trying to confirm it before we show it on air. There is a photo which has been distributed by several Belgian media organizations of potential suspects. If you rewind to last Tuesday, almost exactly a week ago, Belgian police launched a search on a property. They weren't expecting anybody to be there. Inside were three ISIS gunmen, including Salah Abdeslam. And when they searched that residence, they found an ISIS flag. They found a Kalashnikov, ammunition, and denoting explosives, suggesting an attack was potentially in the works. ISIS has now claimed responsibility for this attack. They haven't offered proof, but they say they carried it out in revenge to Belgian air strikes in Iraq.

The working assumption right now is that the broader network that carried out the Paris attacks was also responsible for today's attacks in Belgium, and it may well be that cluster of men around Salah Abdeslam who carried this out.

[11:40:50] BOLDUAN: And, Karen, on this point of a possible connection from today to the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, as Nic Robertson points out, what they have here is something unique to other terror attacks. You have someone in their hands with knowledge. They're interrogating, and according to his attorney, is cooperating. To what level, that's a question. Talk to us about what that interrogation looks like and how that changes after this morning.

KAREN GREENBERG, DIRECTOR, CENTER ON NATIONAL SECURITY, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: Yeah. Well, unfortunately before this event they announced to the press that Abdeslam was talking and cooperating. So you have to wonder where's that disconnect between him giving information and now we have an attack. You can be sure they now have the upper hand if they didn't already in this interrogation, which is to say here's what you didn't tell us. But it doesn't bode well. If he was willing not to talk, who knows what's going to happen now?

There are a number of disturbing things about this attack. And you can feel the sort of chaos and shock from this, even though we've seen a number of terrorist attacks. One of them is that this looks like al Qaeda. This is from the al Qaeda play book. This is suicide bombing. This is using explosives and targeting civilians in mass circumstances.

So the question is what are ISIS's mans in terms of the intersecting networks. It's not just a follow-on attack. It's what are the networks? How do they intercept? Where are they? And what are the plans? That's what they want to know. They'd like more people in custody, not just this one.

BERMAN: Michael Weiss, you literally wrote the book on ISIS. I don't think it should be lost on people this didn't happen in a vacuum. Everyone has been watching Brussels for months. In some ways, it's the hub of is activity inside Europe. This is where the Paris attacks were staged. This is where Salah Abdeslam was captured on Friday. Nevertheless, four days after that, ISIS, which has now claimed responsibility -- we have to confirm it, but they claimed responsibility -- carried out the attack that killed 28 people. How does this speak to their capabilities?

MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: They have networks throughout Europe that I think are far more extensive than European officials can fathom or can at least account for. I was speaking to an ISIS defector when I interviewed and profiled in October for "The Daily Beast." I spoke to him today. He told me that the numbers of operatives that have been sent to Europe are greater than he himself had known. He said that Germany is a perspective target of ISIS. I've talked to U.S. intelligence officials who say Spain and Italy, they're hearing a lot of chatter and signals intelligence about wanting to go there. That is for symbolic reasons. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, back in 2014, said if God wills it, we'll conquer your Rome. That's in proximity to Italy and Libya where ISIS has created a strong garrison and fallback base, is a factor there. With respect to Spain, it's the Islamic war.

Look, this is really the second plank of their strategy, and we're remiss to say this came out of nowhere, that they just started doing this. Zarqawi was clear. I 2004 and 2005, he perpetrated a devastating spate of suicide bombings in Amman hotels, three hotels blown up, hundreds of people killed. There was an aborted chemicals attack that was AQI planned in Amman that was intercepted and stopped by the Jordanian intelligence authorities. But this foreign operation of ISIS, this has always been a mainstay of their endeavors. The difference now is, as the caliphate, so called, as begun to contract, as they're losing ground in northern Syria around Kobani, going back over a year, they have put a renewed emphasis on striking the West in the West.

And look at the targets here today. I mentioned this in an earlier segment, an international airport, so they'll have killed foreign nationals from god knows how many countries. And that sends a signal to each and every one of the countries that we're striking all of you as if on your own soil. And then a popular metro stop that, as Paul and others pointed out, that is literally underground from a major European, supranational institution. They could have killed bureaucrats, people that will have interviewed at some point on international news organizations such as this one. They're trying to send a message that they're among us and sleeping in our neighborhoods. I mean, Salah Abdeslam was caught one block away from his childhood home.

The war on terror has given birth to so many terrible cliches, "hearts and minds," "hiding in plain sight." What else are you supposed to call this? This is not just in the heart of Europe, but the capitol, the capitol of the European Union and NATO. It's terrifying. I'm sorry, but there's no other word for it.

[11:45:52] BOLDUAN: The symbolism is striking. And Paris was seen as a wakeup call to European nations and the world.

I wonder, at this moment, after this attack, what is the message that is then sent. If Paris is a wakeup call, what is this?

If you could please stand by, we'll get a quick break in.

We have some very important new information coming in about the raids that are ongoing throughout Belgium, as well as the claim of responsibility coming from ISIS.

We'll continue to follow the breaking news right after this.


[11:50:57] BOLDUAN: Welcome back to our continue breaking news coverage here in the deadly terror attacks in Brussels. Belgian authorities have given a surveillance photo to the U.S. Joint Terrorism Task Force. It appears to show three men who could be the suspects in the airport attack, although nothing has been confirmed and that obviously has not yet been put out.

BERMAN: Want to know what U.S. officials are hearing right now about the investigation.

Joining us is Congressman Eric Swalwell, of California. He's on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thank you for joining us.

I know your official briefing is coming shortly. Do you have any preliminary information, especially about this photo we are learning about, three possible suspects at the airport?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL, (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, John and Kate. We mourn the loss of life in Belgium and stand with our ally of over 180 years.

It has the signature of ISIS. They claimed responsibility now and it demonstrates that ISIS has a reach across Europe. They have attacked the seat of power for NATO and the European Union. And this -- our fear is it could inspire lone wolves here in the United States. We can't be paralyzed by fear at home but this can't go unanswered.

BOLDUAN: The question is what is the answer? What can the United States do? The president, speaking in Cuba, said he pledged to do whatever is necessary to bring the Belgian attackers to justice. You also are a top Democrat on the CIA Subcommittee of the House Intel Committee. What more do you want to see the United States do to help your European partners.

SWALWELL: Keep pounding ISIS in Syria and Iraq. That's the node. That's where they operate. Right now they are able to dispatch fighters up through Turkey and into Europe, and that's what threatened Europe so greatly.

But also, here at home, Americans should rest assured our law enforcement community and intelligence officials are working day and night to understand if those individuals have reached the United States, or if they have been able to inspire people at home. They are going to redouble their efforts.

But we have to be perfect and ISIS only needs one attack to kill innocent people. Keep pounding away. It is not going to go away overnight but there has been progress made in Iraq and Syria on the battlefield.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, we have heard from all of the presidential candidates at this point. Some of the Republican candidates are calling on President Obama to come home, to deal with this crisis and help our European partners. Do you think the president needs to come home from his planned trip?

SWALWELL: The president can operate anywhere in the world. He's demonstrated that. He has -- he's being briefed by intelligence officials. I think the president, like Americans, will go about his business and make sure that those in command and in position are acting accordingly. We need to trust that's going to happen.

As I said, right now, we stand with the Belgian people and they should know we see this -- I believe, as an attack on America at an international airport with Western travelers.

BERMAN: Congressman Swalwell, thank you so much.

SWALWELL: Thank you.

BERMAN: We want to bring in CNN security analyst, Juliette Kayyem; and CNN intelligence analyst, former CIA operative, Bob Baer.

Juliette, you worked in Homeland Security. Salah Abdeslam, one of the remaining terrorists from November was just captured on Friday. Your contention is the attack happened in spite of the fact he was captured but because he was captured on Friday. Explain.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: I think we have to look at the evidence. He's captured on Friday. He's captured alive. We discussed on Friday, whether he was talking or not, the Belgian officials were disclosing over the weekend he would not only cooperate and they were using the word collaborating, and suggesting he was giving all sorts of anyone. Anyone in the field would know it makes terrorists nervous about capture or disruption and they are going to advance their target and their attacks. We are going to go on the assumption, based on the knowledge of how ISIS works, that these are related, and that even though this might have been anticipated, it is very hard -- we can't say this enough -- to fortify every potentially soft target. It's the nature of the game here. We will learn a lot about whether this could have been disrupted faster or, in my mind, whether they shouldn't have closed the mass transportation and subways since the attack took place an hour later.

[11:55:32] BOLDUAN: Interesting point. Especially when you look at the airport attack. It happened in the departure hall. It is the least secure and busiest part of any airport, especially in the European airports with how big the halls are with all of the ticketing kiosks right there. Bob, the most immediate question, how do you find the people that did

this, who are connected to this. We know there are ongoing raids happening. From the intelligence standpoint, there's a question of how did you miss this? I'm sorry that may sound a little rough. How do you miss a major plot like this four months after "Charlie Hebdo" -- not "Charlie Hebdo" -- four months after the Paris attacks and right after the arrest of Salah Abdeslam?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: I think we have to realize these people have gone black. They understand data mining, which we relied on the last 15 years. They understand encryption. They understand hidden apps and the rest of it. It doesn't matter what they are, they know how to stay off police radar.

On the other hand, we have gone the other way and given up human sources, not tried to get in to the communities, hoping to figure it out with algorithms and data mining, and I think that is a huge mistake, and we are seeing in Brussels. We can go on about the Belgian police being incompetent. They were alerted to this a long time ago. They are doing the best they can. They do data mining with the best software there is. But it's not enough because these people their tactics have advanced.

Secondly, we have to understand that airports and metros are indefensible, especially against these homemade bombs, which are easy to make once you have a little practice with them, the TAPT, acetone, peroxide. All of these countries in Europe are very vulnerable and the police are sort of at a dead end.

BOLDUAN: Guys, stand by for us. A lot more coming up.

BERMAN: Yeah. CNN's special coverage will continue.

Again, a photo being given to U.S. intelligence by the Belgians believed to throw three suspects at the airport moments before two explosions were set off there. We will bring you the latest just ahead.