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Special Forces Searching Brussels Neighborhood; We Stand With Belgium's People; Police Looking For Man In White Seen In Surveillance Video; At Least 30 Dead And 230 Wounded In Brussels Attacks; Hillary Clinton Reacts To Brussels Terror Attacks. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired March 22, 2016 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Terrorism as struck Belgium.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the airport, two explosions which authorities believe were coordinated suicide attacks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE.)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard an explosion and all the ceilings is coming down. And the second explosion went and then everything is black.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Immediately, there was panic so people were shouting and running around. People were on the floor. People were injured.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An hour later and a few miles away, another explosion. This inside of busy metro.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a lot of smoke. We heard and we saw the blast.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The metro immediately stopped. Power turned off. Lights turned off.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They've lifted that terror threat level to four. This is only the second time since the second world war that this has happened. The first was in the immediate aftermath of the Paris terror attacks.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
We're following breaking news. Here are the details as we know them right now. Belgian police are circulating this photograph from the airport. It was taken from a closed circuit T.V. camera at the Brussels airport earlier today. Police say they are looking for the man in white in connection with the attack but they haven't named him as a suspect.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the terror attacks and a massive manhunt is underway right now to find those responsible, the planners, the bomb maker, the accomplices.
The death toll is high. At least 30 people dead in the bombings at the airport and at the subway, 230 more were injured in the attacks. Those numbers could clearly go up. Attacks that seemingly caught everyone off guard.
Here's a picture of president Obama on his historic trip to Cuba right now being briefed along with his national security adviser, Susan Rice. And just a little while later, the president of the United States had this to say about the attacks in Brussels.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will do whatever is necessary to support our friend and ally, Belgium, in bringing to justice those who are responsible. And this is yet another reminder that the world must unite. We must be together, regardless of nationality, or race or faith in fighting against the scourge of terrorism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Also right now, the United States State Department has issued what's called a shelter in place order for all Americans in the Brussels area.
And security has been stepped up in various American cities, as well. Here in Washington, D.C., SWAT teams with sniffer dogs are scouring the airports. And in New York, police are making similar moves in what they describe as an abundance of caution.
Let's go live to Brussels right now. Our Nima Elbagir is following the late breaking developments. Nima, Belgium Special Forces, they're now searching the neighborhood of Schaerbeek. What do we know is happening right now?
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well this is what we're hearing from eyewitnesses inside Schaerbeek, Wolf. One woman who is next door to one of the houses that's being searched described police special forces' officers combing the area. They also -- she also said that there is a police security cordon around the Schaerbeek train station.
Everyone that is going in is being searched. Their bags, their items are being searched. This seems to be a part of that ongoing manhunt for that man in the picture that you showed a little earlier, the man in the white coat. That picture was released by authorities after the minister of the interior confirmed that they had to deal with a controlled detonation. They found what they believe appeared to be a third suicide belt.
Just to remind our viewers that one of these attacks was confirmed here. One of the detonations, one of the two detonations, at the airport was confirmed as having been carried out by a suicide attacker. So they found a third belt they believe and they detonated it in a controlled explosion.
[13:05:00] The sense we're getting from authorities is that belt is linked to the man they're still searching for. Belgian security forces tell us, Wolf, that their working assumption right now, stressing this is still very much early hour -- the early hours of the investigation. But their working assumption right now is that this is linked to the network that carried out the Paris terror attacks -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And ISIS has, as you point out, formally declared it was responsible for organizing these two terror attacks in Belgium right now. Is there a sense, Nima, that the timing of these two horrible terror attacks coincided, were related to the arrest the other day of Salah Abdeslam, one of the terrorists involved in the Paris attacks?
ELBAGIR: Absolutely. In the -- in the immediate aftermath of that arrest, Belgium -- the Belgian foreign minister, the Belgian chief of security, all of them were reiterating that this isn't over. That, in fact, if anything, the vigilance needs to be stepped up because their fear was and their intelligence was that this network, this -- that a new network had really been built up around Salah Abdeslam in his -- in Salah Abdeslam in his months on the run. And that they were planning on carrying out new attacks.
And their worry was that essentially by shaking the hornet's nest that they could be pressing fast forward that any of those accomplices seeing him going into custody, concerned about potentially what could emerge from any interrogation of Salah Abdeslam might push fast forward on any of their planned plots. Although they haven't formally confirmed that this is what has -- what has emerged today, what has unfolded today, but it is definitely the working assumption from the sources we're speaking to -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And the other working assumption, I'm told, is that ISIS wanted to prove it's very capable of launching these kinds of attacks right at the heart of Europe, coming on the heels of the arrest of Salah Abdeslam.
Nima, stand by. We're going to get back to you in a little while.
For a small country, Belgium is right now home to a very large jihadist network. It's a pipeline for militant fighters heading to Syria and Iraq as well as serving as a planning area for terror attacks.
So, why were these attacks, to some at least, a surprise? Let's discuss what's going on with two guests, our CNN Terrorism Analyst Paul Cruickshank and the former NATO supreme allied commander, retired Admiral James Stavridis. Thanks to both of you for joining us. And, Paul, let me begin with you. You know Belgium. You were born there. You grew up there. This is a country on very high alert right now. What did the authorities miss? PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, they clearly, you
know, missed something because the attack got through. I think if you rewind a week ago, to about exactly this time a week ago, they got intelligence about an address in Brussels which they then searched. The intelligence was that address that had a link to Paris attacks where they weren't expecting to find anybody at that address. So, when they got there, they got into a fierce gun battle with three ISIS operatives inside. One of them was Salah Abdeslam. Abdeslam managed to escape. They eventually got him.
But inside of that residence, they found a Kalashnikov. They found detonating explosives. They found an ISIS flag, ammunition, all suggesting that some kind of attack plot might be in the works in Brussels. They were covered, that explosive, those weapons, but it would appear possible that this wider cell had other safe houses in Brussels, an attack that they were planning, perhaps an attack that they accelerated, after the Belgians stumbled upon their safe house in the (INAUDIBLE) district in the west of Brussels.
BLITZER: Admiral Stavridis, you're now the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, but you were the NATO supreme allied commander. This NATO is headquartered just outside of Brussels. How concerned should NATO, its allies be that they could be a target of these kinds of ISIS attacks right in Europe?
ADMIRAL JAMES STAVRIDIS (retired), FORMER SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER, NATO: Well, first of all, Wolf, I think the big surprise is that we had not already seen a terrorist jihadist attack in Belgium. The country is rife with large segments of the population that are highly radicalized. As the NATO commander for four years, I lived in this vicinity. Every day, I saw local intelligence that led me to believe this was going to happen. And the authorities have rounded up people over time.
In terms of NATO as a target, NATO will be a hard target for the terrorists. The bases are well defended. The military is quite capable. They're well armed. I suspect we'll see more attacks on soft targets like we did here at the airport.
BLITZER: What does it say to you that the State Department, and you spent four years living there at NATO headquarters in Belgium, Admiral, has issued this shelter in place notice to all Americans who may be visiting Belgium right now?
[13:10:07] STAVRIDIS: I think it's very good advice. As Paul Cruickshank has mentioned several times today, we don't know the full extent of what additional ammunition is in the locker, so to speak. Clearly, this is a jump attack. When the leader was captured, I think a lot of elements flushed. There could be another round or two. The prudent thing is stay tight, stay indoors, let the authorities do their thing.
BLITZER: And, Paul, you agree that the timing of this attack today, coming a few days after the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, is related?
CRUICKSHANK: I think -- I think that's very plausible, given the fact that he was starting to cooperate in some way with investigators. Some of his co-conspirators, his associates may have been worried that he was giving up intelligence about their plans. When he was in hiding in this safe house in the western district of Brussels, he was there with a senior Algerian ISIS operative, somebody who was calling the shots in the terror attack in Paris in touch in real time with the attack teams in Paris, providing them with instructions, a senior operative within the group.
And so, Abdeslam, presumably, would have been told about whatever plans they had in the works. Perhaps he was even part of some future plans to launch attacks. And so, perhaps they decided to accelerate whatever they were planning. Clearly, the fact they had detonated and Kalashnikovs and ammunition this apartment wasn't just to protect themselves from police necessarily. It could also have been used to plot some kind of terrorist attack.
The Paris attacks, Wolf, they were planned from Belgium, staged from Belgium, coordinated from Belgium, multiple safe houses across the country. We're talking about several dozen individuals in Belgium who all basically came back from ISIS' so-called caliphate in Syria.
BLITZER: And very quickly, Admiral Stavridis. Before I let you go, I got to ask you about Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front runner's comments to me yesterday that this is a good time for the U.S. to reduce its involvement with NATO, stop spending so much money on NATO commitments, let the European allies, Germany especially, pick up the expense. Your reaction as the former NATO allied commander.
STAVRIDIS: Well, I know one constituent that Donald Trump made very happy and that's Vladimir Putin. That's been Putin's objective is to get the United States and Europe separated. That kind of thinking is highly dangerous and the events today tell us why. We need to be cooperating internationally, interagency, working across the Atlantic to deal with what is clearly a global challenge -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Admiral Stavridis, thanks very much. Paul Cruickshank, thanks to you as well.
Authorities here in the United States, right now they are clearly on guard. They're beefing up security at major transportation hubs and landmarks. We're going to hear from the former U.S. secretary of state, the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. She's standing by live. We're going to go speak with Hillary when we come back. These are live pictures coming in from Belgium right now. That city on high, high alert.
[13:17:46] BLITZER: Let's bring everyone up to date now on the breaking news, the terror attacks we're following in Belgium. The city of Brussels right now on very high alert, indeed on a virtual lockdown after this morning's bombings. ISIS has now formally claimed responsibility for a total of three explosions which rocked both the airport and the main subway station. (VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: At the international airport in Brussels, the blast tore through the departure hall collapsing part of the ceiling. At least 10 people are said to have been killed in that attack.
And take a look at this. This is a closed circuit TV picture from the Brussels Airport. Police say they're looking for the man in white in connection with the attack, but they have not named him as a suspect.
About an hour after the airport attack, a third explosion ripped through a metro station near European Union offices in Brussels. Authorities say 20 people were killed there.
The fight against ISIS and the prospects of terror on American soil, they have been major issues, obviously, in the presidential race here in the United States. We're going to speak with the former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, in few moments. She's the Democratic presidential candidate.
But Paul Cruickshank, our terror analyst, is still standing by.
Paul, as you take a look at this statement that ISIS release, and I was reading it very carefully, they make the point that -- and I'll read a sentence to you from it. "Islamic State fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices on Tuesday targeting an airport and a central metro station in the center of Belgium, capital of Brussels, a country participating in the international coalition against the Islamic State." Factual question, is Belgium really participating in the war against ISIS in either Iraq or Syria? Are there any Belgium troops, aircrafts, fighters participating in this war?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, Belgium is involved in the anti- ISIS coalition. They are involved in strikes against ISIS in Iraq and the Islamic State, the so-called Islamic State, has threated Belgium because of that involvement in the anti-ISIS coalition. Belgian and French ISIS fighters have appeared in lots of videos, threatening gun and bomb attacks in Belgium. Exactly the kind of attack that you saw play out today.
[13:20:17] There's really been a steady drum beat of terror in Belgium going all the way back to May of 2014 when you had a French ISIS operative, Mehdi Nemmouche, carry out a gun attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels killing four. Fast forward to January 2015, there was a major gun and bomb plot thwarted when Belgium commandos went into an ISIS safe house in eastern Belgium. That plot was coordinated by Abdel Hamid Abaaoud, who was also later the ringleader of the Paris attacks. There was also an attempt on a passenger train traveling from Amsterdam through Belgium to Paris by another ISIS-linked recruit. So there's just been this steady drum beat of terror in Belgium. The Paris attacks were staged and organized from there, wolf.
BLITZER: And we're getting these tweets from ISIS supporters out there. Very chilling words, as you know, Paul. They say this, quote, "what will be coming is worse." All right, stand by. Paul Cruickshank is standing by. We're going to
speak with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, when we come back.
Once again, these are live pictures coming in from Brussels, Belgium, right now. That city on high alert.
[13:25:30] BLITZER: We want to welcome back our viewers here in the United States and around the world.
The fight against ISIS and the prospects of terror on American soil, they certainly have been major issues in the U.S. presidential race. Let's talk about that, talk about today's terror news, the breaking news we're following, what it means for the United States, indeed for the international community. The former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is joining us.
Secretary, thanks very much for joining us. I should call you Madame Secretary.
Let's talk a little bit about what the U.S. should be doing right now to strengthen European anti-terror operations before these terrorists shift their attention to here in the United States.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Wolf, look, I think we've got to do several things. As I've been outlining and speaking out about for some time, we do have to defeat ISIS where they hold territory in Syria and Iraq. We're making progress, but we have a lot to do. We have to shut off the flow of foreign fighters, foreign funds, foreign weapons and we've got to take them on, on the Internet. You know you can put walls around your country, but you don't keep out the Internet. And that has been a major tool for radicalizing, recruiting, propagandizing that ISIS is quite sophisticated at using.
We also have to do more to coordinate our intelligence and law enforcement efforts with our European friends. I have experience, as secretary of state, in urging European nations to toughen their own laws. And there's been some progress, but I would respectfully say not enough. I think after Paris and after this terrible event in Brussels there must be more.
We also have to keep working with Muslim nations because it's going to take a coalition to defeat ISIS, to shut down the arch of instability from North Africa to South Asia. And here at home, we've got to recruit everybody into being our first line of defense. You know, after 9/11, as New Yorkers well remember, we had a program, if you see something, report it. If you hear something, report it.
BLITZER: Well --
CLINTON: We got a lot of reports and that meant reaching out and making everybody feel like they had a role to play in preventing terrorist attacks. BLITZER: Let's talk specifically about soft targets, like airports for
example. I know security has been built up. But if you were president of the United States, what would you do specifically to make sure that the kind of terror attack we saw today in Brussels, what we saw in November in Paris, what else needs to be done here in the United States?
CLINTON: Well, we have to toughen our surveillance, our interception of communication. We have to also toughen, as you say, soft targets with, you know, greater police presence. There is no getting around that. As I understand from the early reporting, the -- one of the two attacks was by a suicide bomber. The terrorists are getting more sophisticated about what they use in these bombs to try to escape detection, like what we have at our airports. We have to continually be learning and getting ahead of these thugs and criminals in order to prevent them from doing what they did in Brussels.
BLITZER: This is what Senator Ted Cruz, the Republican presidential candidate, told me yesterday. He spoke about you. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need a commander in chief that defends America. And defending America means defeating radical Islamic terrorist and defeating ISIS. What is completely unreasonable is Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's consistent pattern of refusing even to say the words radical Islamic terrorism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, go ahead and respond to the senator.
CLINTON: Well, that's a -- that's a long debate that people like him try to stir up. You know, I call it radical jihadist terrorism because, you know, it is clearly rooted in Islamic thinking that, you know, has to be contested first and foremost by Muslims around the world. But I think it's a mistake. I've said that repeatedly. George W. Bush said it, that -- to, you know, do anything that implies we are at war with an entire religion, with one or -- you know, 1.2 or 4 billion people is not oy wrong, it is dangerous.
You know, right here at home, we need to be reaching out and including Muslim Americans and communities where they live in our first line of defense. We don't need them to feel that if they hear something or see something that they can't report it. We want them to report it. We want them to be part of our protecting the United States. And the same goes for Europe. So, you know, I think these debates about semantics really misses the point.