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Interview With California Congressman Adam Schiff; Terror in Belgium; U.S. Officials: Belgian Attacks Connected to Paris Terror Cell. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 22, 2016 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN GUEST HOST: Two separate ISIS attacks timed an hour apart kill 30 people and injure at least 230 others. And now a massive global manhunt is under way for the man in this picture, an ongoing raid in Schaerbeek, Belgium.

A helicopter has been flying overhead, a sniper training his rifle out of the chopper. Police already uncovered a bomb with nails for shrapnel, chemicals and an ISIS flag.

I'm Anderson Cooper, in for Jake Tapper.

We start THE LEAD with breaking news.

This is a still taken from surveillance video inside the Brussels Airport. Belgian prosecutor says these are the men who unleashed terror on the city. The two men on the left, according to the prosecutor, were probably suicide bombers. Now European police asking for help identifying the man on the right in a hat and light-colored jacket. They think he survived the attack.

CNN is working its sources on both side of the Atlantic right now.

But I want to start with Fred Pleitgen and Atika Shubert in Brussels.

Fred, you're in a suburb of Brussels. There's been a flurry of police activity, raids in just the past hour. What's been going on?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's been a fairly big raid that has been going on here, Anderson.

When we got a little over an hour ago, there was a lot of police activity near this cordon that you see right behind me. And what was going on was that there was a police chopper that all of a sudden showed up and it hovered above the area for I would say at least half- an-hour and there was definitely someone with a rifle who was in the open door of that helicopter, repeatedly pointing at some sort of area.

It also had a searchlight on. But we have also seen there's a lot of police vehicles going into the cordon, a lot of them going out. The here military has been around as well. The latest we have from the authorities here, Anderson, is that apparently they have recovered some chemicals, some explosives, some nails as well as ISIS flag.

So, clearly the raid here has netted something. It's unclear whether anybody has been taken into custody. But also the entire area inside the cordon has been emptied of people. They have taken all civilians that were inside into buses, taken them all out. They have waiting out here for hours, as they conduct these search operations inside.

You can see behind me there still are a lot of cops around, there's still a lot of activity with police vehicles going in and out of the area right now.

COOPER: All right, Frederik Pleitgen, thanks very much.

I want to bring in Atika Shubert, who is at the Brussels Airport, the scene of the start of the terror attacks earlier this morning.

All of this comes just four days, Atika, after the capture of one of the world's most wanted men outside the same city, Salah Abdeslam. He's the sole surviving attacker behind November's Paris attacks. Are Belgian security officials operating under the assumption today's events are connected to his apprehension?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is one of the possibilities they are looking at. They're trying to see whether or not any of the suspects you see in that photo from the surveillance video may be connected to Abdeslam.

What analysts and experts have been saying is that this is not an attack that could have happened overnight, however. This is something, especially with the types of explosives being used, must have taken a lot of planning. So this has gone at least several weeks, possibly months of planning in the works then to build the kinds of bombs used in both the airport attack and the metro station attack.

What happen we know happened at the airport was that there were two explosive devices at least, possibly a third. Two of them detonated, however, and they -- the prosecutors and police believe they were detonated by suicide bombers. In that photo, you see two men dressed in black, each of them wearing one glove.

What police are looking at now is whether or not that glove actually hid a detonation device. So this is the line of investigation that police are looking at, trying to identify the men in those photos, but also specifically what kind of explosives, what kind of detonation device was used. That will tell them a lot about who was the man who actually made these bombs.

COOPER: Also what sorts of explosive, and whether it does have any connection to any of the suicide vests that were used in the Paris attacks.

Atika, I want to bring in our CNN justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, who is joining me in Washington. She has the latest on the investigation.

What are you hearing?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you, speaking of the bombs, that right now the residue from those bombs is being tested in a laboratory. And also authorities are trying to identify the man in the white jacket we saw in that picture.


The belief is that there are more people connected to that man's network. And the concern right now to prevent follow-on attacks.


BROWN (voice-over): This airport surveillance picture shows three men suspected in the terror attack in Brussels today. Belgian officials say the two men in black carried out the suicide attack at the airport, and they believe the black gloves they're wearing on their left hands may have been to conceal detonators.

Right now, a massive manhunt is under way for the man in the white jacket on the right. The first explosion ripped through the crowded Brussels Airport at 8:00 a.m., sending people running for their lives. The halls of the terminal filled with smoke. Terrified passengers dropped to the floor and huddled together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard an explosion. That was the first one.

BROWN: Minutes later, a second blast inside the airport.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hear an explosion. Now the ceiling is going down. And then I just go under the sink. And then the second explosion went. And everything is black.

BROWN: An hour later, just a few miles away at the Molenbeek metro station in the heart of Brussels, a third explosion. The tunnel filled with smoke as passengers tried to find their way through the dark to safety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't explain. It looked like war. It's unbelievable. It's really hard.

BROWN: Brussels is put on lockdown.

CHARLES MICHEL, BELGIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We feared a terrorist attack would happen and this is what happened. At the airport and at a metro station in Brussels, terrorists have committed murder.

BROWN: The Molenbeek metro station is just one mile from where police raided an apartment and captured Salah Abdeslam last week, one of the suspected ringleaders in the Paris attacks last November. Investigators believe that same terror network is responsible for today's attacks. As victims in Brussels, some of them wrapped in blankets, are

transported to safety, police fan out across the city searching for anyone who was involved.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm so scared. I feel like it's the end of the world.


BROWN: And investigators believe these attacks were already in the works before Abdeslam was arrested and then that they were accelerated after his arrest. Investigators said, over the weekend, meantime, Abdeslam was cooperating, but the question now remains how much he knew about these attacks there this morning -- Anderson.

COOPER: The fact that the investigators earlier had said he was cooperating, the question is, did that then encourage any of these attackers to accelerate their plan?

BROWN: Right. And the squeeze has really been on. We saw raids there happen over the weekend. As one official said, the more you put the squeeze on, the more there's going to be a reaction.

COOPER: Yes. All right, Pamela Brown.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thank you very much for being with us.


COOPER: I understand you have just gotten the latest briefing. What can you tell us, first of all, about the people in those photographs? Do you know anything more about them?

SCHIFF: Well, all I know at this point is that there's reason to believe that they may have come from that location where the search was conducted and there may be some witnesses that are knowledgeable about their transportation to the airport.

So they I think are connected to this location. But there's still a lot we don't know. We don't know, for example, whether they were in communication at some point with Abdeslam, whether they were part of the same facilitation ring that was connected to Paris. Certainly, a lot of modus operandi looks very much the same, the nature of the targets, the nature of the -- potentially the explosives.

But, again, we're still waiting for all the specifics.

COOPER: So, the neighborhood that's being searched right now, it's believed at least one or more of the people in that photograph at the airport came from that neighborhood?

SCHIFF: They certainly believe, I think, that the attackers may very well have come from that location. I don't know that they know for sure that it's connected to the people

in the photograph, although that photograph, given that you have two people with the one glove certainly, looks like there's reason to believe that they may have been implicated.

COOPER: Is it clear to you whether that the person who is believed to have gotten away, the person in the hat in that photograph, is a coordinator in a larger sense?

We know, in the Paris attacks, Abaaoud, who was believed to be sort of on-the-ground coordinator, he actually took part, we now know, in some of the attacks. Do we know if the grouping that was at airport is directly connected to the group at the subway station?

SCHIFF: I think we all assume that that's the case, that this is one cell that was operating that attacked multiple targets at the same time.

It would be extraordinary if that wasn't part of a coordinated effort.

COOPER: Right.

SCHIFF: But there still be others that are out there now, which is why I think Brussels is still very much on a heightened state of alert.

There are a lot of people have come back from the fight, as I'm sure you have pointed out. Belgium produces more per capita to the fight in Iraq and Syria than any other European country. So, still a lot of people at large and the extent of this facilitation ring, we don't yet know.


And I think people in Paris, Berlin and elsewhere can't afford to rest right now either.

COOPER: Certainly, an attack like this does require a fair amount of planning, extensive amount of planning. It's not something that could have just been ginned up in the last day or two.

SCHIFF: No, I think Pamela was exactly right about that.

The effect of the arrest of Abdeslam, particularly if he was talking and even if he wasn't, if there were public reports that he was talking, that may very well have caused the other plotters to say we need to move now.

And it may be that the attacks could have been far worse had that arrest not been made. It may have accelerated the timetable, maybe not allowed as extensive an attack as might have been planned.

COOPER: In terms of cooperation, there was so much concern in wake of not only the "Charlie Hebdo" attacks, but about the Bataclan and the other attacks in Paris more recently, about cooperation within Europe.

Has that gotten better, to your understanding? Data sharing, information sharing?

SCHIFF: Only marginally better.

And Europe really has this predicament. They have to decide, are they going to let people move freely? If they are, they're going to have to have information move even more freely. They have tried to break down some of the stovepipes, but sometimes it requires legislative or parliamentary action.

There's still I think a lot of suspicion within the European Union, a lot of criticism. You can see French authorities criticizing the Belgians. That doesn't foster greater cooperation.


COOPER: And just in terms of the logistics, it seems like Belgian authorities are in many senses overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people and by their capabilities.

SCHIFF: That's absolutely right.

And Belgium has made a decision to ramp up their intelligence capabilities, ramp up their personnel, but it takes time to train those people. And even I think when they ramp up to the degree that they have planned, they're still going to be inadequate to the task because you have so many foreign fighters that have come back.

And given the refugee and migrant flows, keeping track of who has come back into the country is enormously difficult. And if you don't have enough information to arrest those that have returned, if you can't prove they have had material support to terrorism, then you have to watch them or try 24/7, which is incredibly manpower-intensive.


Congressman, we appreciate you coming in. Thanks very much, Congressman Adam Schiff.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: We have much more breaking news ahead, including law enforcement around the world on high alert. What's being done here in the United States to protect soft targets like the ones attacked in Belgium?

All of that and more ahead.


[16:16:27] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

COOPER: And welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Anderson Cooper, in for Jake Tapper.

We have breaking news just in to CNN. Two senior U.S. officials tell CNN they believe today's deadly terror attacks in Belgium are tied to the Paris cell that massacred 130 people last year, the same network with Salah Abdeslam was a part of. Abdeslam was arrested, as you may know, just this past Friday after months of being on the run.

The terror attack in Brussels is also raising the alarm here at home. Local state and federal law enforcement officials stepping up security measures of transportation hubs and landmark sites.

Let's go right to CNN's Rene Marsh live at Reagan National Airport in Washington.

In Brussels, Rene, the attack happened in the departure area before anybody actually went through security. It's traditionally the most vulnerable part of an airport. Authorities have been worried about this kind of attack obviously for a long time.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. After this Brussels attack, it is a deadly reminder to show how difficult it is to protect these so-called soft targets. We're talking about areas outside of the security checkpoints, airport entrances like where I am, train stations.

And although the federal government is saying there is no credible threat, the security response we've seen throughout the day clearly shows that the attack overseas has stoked some increased concerns for the U.S. transit system.


MARSH (voice-over): This scene in Europe has led to this scene in the United States. New York is adding police and National Guard with heavy weapons to locations around the city. High visibility, anti- terrorist patrols can be seen in the subway system where officers are checking bags for explosives and the city's three major airports has seen stepped up security.

BILL DE BLASIO, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: Expect to see extraordinary NYPD presence out over the coming days as a sign of our readiness to protect people at all times.

MARSH: Airports and cities across the country, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles, have also ramped up the security presence.

Police Chief Patrick Gannon oversees LAX, one of the world's busiest airport.

PATRICK M. GANNON, CHIEF OF L.A. AIRPORT POLICE: We never want to be predictable. We also feel if you're predictable, you're vulnerable.

MARSH: So-called "soft targets" like train stations and U.S. airports have long been a security concern. Areas like passenger drop off, airline ticket counters, baggage claim, and all other areas before the security checkpoint are potentially susceptible.

GANNON: We employ our own intel analysts that provide us with airport specific and transportation system specific information that helps us in our daily deployment of our officers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The canines that are stationed here are trained. I think they're the best in the country.

MARSH: In the nation's capital, bomb sniffing dogs and SWAT can be seen on patrol. Amtrak police are conducting random bag checks, an ongoing show of force around the country.


MARSH: And we just got word that TSA will deploy what's called "viper teams" to major airports across the country. These are specialized teams using everything from canines to advanced screening technology to further enhanced security that's already in place. So, they're all taking this seriously -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, understandable. Rene Marsh, thanks very much.

Let's right to our panel or terrorism experts and talk about what they're learning about these attacks.

[16:20:01] Senior editor at "The Daily Beast," Michael Weiss, who co- wrote the book "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror", and CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem, and CNN national security commentator, Mike Rogers, who's the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Chairman Rogers, let's start with you.

If, in fact, it's true now that what we're hearing from some U.S. officials that this is linked to the cell involved in the Paris terror attacks, that's an extraordinary development, the fact after months of a massive manhunt in Belgium, even in France, that a cell was able to be operational and carry out another deadly attack?

MIKE ROGERS, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Absolutely. So, they weren't able to penetrate the electronics of the cells' communication, that's a very important factor. The very fact that the nine districts in Belgium, these nine different police districts don't cooperate very well, they don't have good information sharing, don't even have the same language in some cases, made it very, very easy for a group of individuals who wanted to protect the people around them to do just that.

So, these cells, and my fear is they're looking for one person. You have two suicide bombers them that have a logistics trail to them -- everybody from the development of the materials needed, to the training needed, to the radicalization process, meaning you've got to go through a process if you're going to be a suicide bomber and in their mind get to heaven, all of that means there are a lot more than three people you're talking here.

So, all of that, you see the heavy reaction in Belgium.

(CROSSTALK) COOPER: Michael Weiss, to the chairman's point, we now know in the Paris attacks there was a greater level of central coordination than we had thought in the initial days and weeks after the Paris attacks. It wasn't just that guy Abaaoud, who was controlling things there were actually calls made by the attackers and text messages sent to phone numbers in Belgium, in Brussels, so the likelihood that this involves more than just three people in that photograph and whoever was involved directly in the subway attack is gray.

MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. I've talked to John Charles Bressard, a counterterrorism official in France who told me the network originally thought to be maybe 15, 20, meaning the perpetrators of the Paris attack, now, you're looking at something more along the lines of 30, perhaps even greater, 40.

There was a guy, Mohammed Belkaid, who was in the safe house that was raided when Salah Abdeslam was captured. Belkaid was killed himself but he was seen to be, Anderson, the senior-most ISIS official with respect to the network. And it doesn't really due to call them the Belgium or the French network, because these borders are so fluid, it's really a francophone network and you have a mix of different nationalities.

This guy, he was Algerian by descent. He was about 35, 36, lived in Sweden and had transgressed through multiple countries in Europe, including France, Germany, I think even perhaps Austria, and we know this, by the way, because his name was listed in that tranche of ISIS documents that Sky News published a week ago showing foreign fighters and the very kind of meticulous bureaucratic recordkeeping that ISIS does for everybody coming in to the so-called caliphate.

They want to know where these guys have been, they want to know what their background is, the country of origin, they want to know if they're married, they have phone numbers in those documents for family members of the foreign fighters. And there were phone numbers listed for Mohamed Belkaid, next of kin, believe it or not. He's dead, but there's no question this was interlinked and coordinated and absolutely U.S. intelligence are thinking that this is related to the Paris attacks.

You know, ISIS will now have accelerated any imminent or prospective attacks that have been planning in the last several months.

COOPER: And, Juliette, in the wake of the Paris attacks, there was trying -- there was a hunt, trying to figure out who the bomb maker was who made the vests. As far as I understand, he was never apprehended, he was never even really identified. So ,the question is, is it the same bomb maker involved in the production of these explosives which will be found out, I guess, through forensic examination of the devices themselves of the type of explosives. But is that person still out there and operational?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, if the forensics match, the answer is yes, one has to assume, and picking up on what was said earlier, the idea that we're only focusing on one guy we see in the photograph is ridiculous. The reason why Belgium is under lockdown and considerable press lockdown is that there's a massive sweep going on right now. It's going to be over-inclusive. They're going to arrest many more people that are likely guilty of anything, until they can either lower the temperature a little bit, and also in the hopes that they catch someone that they couldn't otherwise get absent this attack.

And that is going to unfold. You hope you can get one bomb maker but obviously the apparatus that planned Paris, the planned Belgium today, and that also kept people hidden for the four-month gap in between is an extensive apparatus.

[16:25:05] And that's why the U.S. has to respond, because you don't know where that apparatus is. People are nervous here in the United States. What they're seeing are well-honed plans. These are the ratcheting up of the homeland security apparatus that I was a part of on the local, state, federal level.

And so, what you're seeing is simply the light switches going on in the U.S. and you're seeing a lot of deployment of assets of mass transportation and public areas.

COOPER: Yes, it's incredible when you to think that Salah Abdeslam was able to stay out and hidden for all of these months in an area in a city like Brussels which is not an enormous city.

We're going to have more from our panel in just a moment. More also on the Brussels bombing, details as they're coming in, as law enforcement continues raids right now.