Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With California Congressman Adam Schiff; Terror Investigation; Urgent Manhunt for Suspected Bomber, Other Terrorists; Clues Point to Deadlier, Portable ISIS Bomb; Politics of Fear. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 23, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now: the manhunt.
A frantic search under way for the surviving terrorist behind the triple bombing that left dozens dead, hundreds more wounded -- in Brussels tonight, concern that there could be, could be more terror cells planning more carnage across the West.
The plot. New details emerging about the coordinated attacks, bombers setting off explosives in two locations at near -- both nearby at nearly the same time. Was the plan directed by ISIS in Syria? And did the terrorists move up what was supposed to be an Easter holiday attack because they feared police were closing in?
The bomb-maker. CNN has learned the man behind the Brussels explosions may also have built the suicide vests used in the Paris attacks in November. Now there's deep concern the bombs built for this attack packed in suitcases may represent a frighteningly lethal and new kind of powerful and portable bomb.
And the warning. The State Department issuing blunt and disturbing advice to Americans planning trips to Europe, what to avoid, where not to go, as the U.S. says it fears new terror attacks may be in the pipeline.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. New details about the Brussels terror attacks and new confusion about how many ISIS terrorists remain on the loose right now and how they fit into the group's power structure.
Sources tell CNN the man in the light jacket and dark hat in this surveillance picture most likely got away. What's not clear is if he was the terror cell's mastermind or simply a guide for the suicide bombers.
Also tonight, new information about the suspected bomb-maker and the alarming possibility ISIS could be capable of building more sophisticated, more portable and potentially deadlier bombs. Some experts now say the bomb used in Brussels was a hybrid of a suicide vest and a car bomb, all of this as the U.S. State Department warning Americans that traveling to Europe right now is risky because of what the U.S. government is calling a threat of "near-term terror attacks."
I will ask Congressman Adam Schiff, a top member of the House Intelligence Committee, what he can tell us about the briefings he's received. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they are all on top of all of the breaking news.
Let's begin with our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.
Pamela, you have been working your own sources, as well as keeping up with the investigation. What are you learning about the suicide bombers and their possible accomplices?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We're learning about missed signs, Wolf.
In fact, Turkish authorities say one of the brothers at the airport was deported back to Belgium last year for his ties to terrorism. And the other brother had an Interpol red notice issued this year for terrorism charges. Yet both of them were able to wreak havoc in Brussels yesterday morning along with a man connected to the bombs used in the Paris attacks.
BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, CNN has learned the alleged Paris bomb- maker, 24-year-old Najim Laachraoui, was one of the suicide attackers. A Belgium counterterrorism official tells CNN investigators believe he's seen here on the left in this surveillance image from the Brussels Airport.
Authorities say Belgian national Ibrahim El Bakraoui, pictured in the middle, was the second suicide bomber. The unidentified man on the right is still on the run. Investigators say he dropped off a large bag of explosives before fleeing.
FREDERIC VAN LEEUW, BELGIAN FEDERAL PROSECUTOR (through translator): His bag had the strongest explosives. A few moments after the bomb squad arrived at the scene, the bag exploded. Fortunately, no one was hurt by that bomb.
BROWN: El Bakraoui's brother Khalid detonated his own bomb at a metro station in downtown Brussels an hour after the airport attack.
The taxi driver who drove the three attackers to the airport led police to the Brussels residence where he picked them up. Inside, investigators found bomb-making materials, including acetone and hydrogen peroxide, also detonators, a suitcase full of nails and screws and about 33 pounds of the explosive called TATP, enough to make multiple bombs.
In a trash can on the street nearby, investigators found a laptop, on it, messages from Ibrahim before the attack stating he was "in a rush" and if he takes too long, he will end up with him in jail. Belgian investigators believe he was referring to Salah Abdeslam, one of the ringleaders of the November Paris attacks who was captured last week.
Investigators believe Abdeslam was likely supposed to take part in the Brussels attack, and after his arrest, the cell accelerated their plans. As the manhunt continues for additional suspects, officials warn the threat is not over.
MANUEL VALLS, FRENCH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): A war has been waged against us and we must be totally determined in fighting this scourge.
BROWN: And the concern among intelligence officials tonight is that there are others who are part of this network still on the loose in Europe and plotting right now to launch more attacks in the near future -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Pamela, thank you.
The toll of the Brussels attacks now is up to 31 dead and 270 people wounded. In addition to searching for the plotters, police in Brussels are collecting more evidence from the killers' home.
Our senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is in Brussels for us tonight.
Clarissa, tell us what you are learning about the man believed to be the bomb-maker.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we're trying to ascertain at this stage is was he the sole bomb-maker, the man responsible for putting together the explosives both in the Paris attacks and here in these Brussels attacks? Or is he one of several bomb-makers? Are these bomb-making skills now more readily available to these young ISIS recruits?
But here's what we know about Najim Laachraoui. He was 24 years old. He was born in Morocco. He is known to have traveled to Syria, Wolf, in 2013, meaning that he was definitely on the radar of authorities. There was an Interpol red alert out for him. In that red alert, it details he was believed to have involvement with terrorist organizations, that he was believed to have expertise in terms of dealing with explosives.
And we know that he was very closely involved with the Paris attacks because his DNA was found at the scene of one of these bomb-making factories. In addition to that, we know that he was wiring money at a Western Union to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was the ringleader of the Paris attacks.
There will definitely be a sense of relief here in Belgium knowing that he is dead, that he is now confirmed to be the other suicide attacker in those airport bombings. But certainly there are a lot of questions as well as to how he was able to elude capture for so long when authorities were -- when he was so well known to authorities -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's very disturbing. I have got to tell you. Clarissa, what else are you learning about the man on the run seen in the light colored jacket in that airport surveillance image? The one with the hat on? What are you hearing about him?
WARD: Well, Wolf, authorities are being extremely tight-lipped at the moment. That's been a common theme in the last few days.
I think there's a sense here that they don't want the media to get wind on any of their leads because they don't want it to spread and potentially contaminate one of the sites or tip off one of the terrorists. What we do know is that he is the primary focus of this manhunt. You have seen this image now so many times. Of course, he looks very distinctive next to the two men in black. He's wearing a lighter jacket. He's wearing glasses and a cap, potentially possibly an attempt to disguise his face.
Perhaps what's most noticeable is that unlike the other two men, who are both wearing one glove each, those gloves likely used to conceal a detonator, he is not wearing any gloves. That could be a sign that he was never intended to act as a suicide bomber.
We know that in his suitcase there was the largest amount of most powerful explosives. But what we don't know yet is, did he get cold feet? Did the bomb just not detonate, and perhaps most importantly, Wolf, where is he now? We heard Belgium's prosecutor earlier on saying there is still a number of wanted people potentially armed and dangerous at large. This is very much still an unfolding and ongoing situation, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly is, Clarissa. Thank you, Clarissa Ward in Brussels for us.
Let's get some insight. Congressman Adam Schiff of California is joining us. He's the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: You bet.
BLITZER: I know you're well briefed.
What can you tell us about this third suspect, the guy with the hat, the white jacket? He's at large right now.
SCHIFF: Well, obviously, there's an intensive manhunt for him.
We're trying to do everything possible we can to support the Belgian efforts. When they're able to identify people, when they're able to produce selectors, phone numbers or whatnot, we run them through our system to try to find out, are there any leads that we can help supply?
We're doing everything we can. But I think it's important to know while the manhunt is certainly focused on this one person, there's a broad concern that there may be a great many other facilitators and plotters.
BLITZER: Hundreds of others?
SCHIFF: Potentially throughout Europe. I don't know that there are hundreds within Belgium.
BLITZER: All ISIS-related, ISIS members, if you will, organized by is, not just what they call lone wolves?
SCHIFF: Well, I would -- this would include a category of people who are foreign fighters who have returned home, as well as people like that were involved in the Brussels attack that may be homegrown radicals that have now affiliated with ISIS, that have made contact with foreign fighters, or may have had some communication with ISIS in Raqqa.
BLITZER: What about the bomb-maker, Najim Laachraoui? He was killed. Normally, the bomb-makers, you don't want to see them dead because they want -- ISIS wants them to build more bombs. This is a technical skill they have. How do you explain that?
SCHIFF: well, I don't have confirmation myself that the bomb-maker is dead. Now, the Belgians may be confirming that. I don't know.
BLITZER: That's what they are saying.
SCHIFF: But I think that the materials, frankly, are quite readily available.
And ISIS is doing its best to disseminate the skills necessary to make these bombs. So if this bomb-maker blew himself up, as you say the Belgians are confirming, unfortunately, there are many others to take his place.
And this is why this effort has to be so intensive. Unfortunately, they have demonstrated the capacity to resupply. They had people obviously in Paris that detonated themselves. And there are more that are willing to do the same.
BLITZER: The timing of this terror attack in Brussels, did it occur because the other day they rested one of the suspects, one of the terrorists from the Paris terror attacks, Salah Abdeslam, and that they thought he was talking and they said, you know what, we better do this before we get rounded up ourselves?
SCHIFF: I think almost certainly it accelerated the plot, but that plot had to be already in the works. It was just too sophisticated with multiple targets and multiple parties involved.
BLITZER: So, Abdeslam, the guy arrested, was he going to be part of these additional plots, based on what you are hearing?
SCHIFF: Well, certainly, if the reports are accurate about what was found on that laptop, it looks like he was going to be part of these plots.
What his role may have been, I don't know. Whether he would have tried to live another day to organize yet another plot, still to be determined.
BLITZER: Is he cooperating now? Is he sharing important information with authorities in Belgium?
SCHIFF: That's not something that I'm able to speak to today. And I think part of the concern, frankly, is that may have led to the acceleration of the last plot, the belief by others that he was talking. And I just can't confirm whether that's accurate or not.
BLITZER: All right, Congressman, stand by. We have more to discuss, including this pretty extraordinary State Department travel alert issued warning Americans maybe this is not a good time to go to Europe because of near-term terror attacks.
Much more with Congressman Adam Schiff when we come back.
BLITZER: We're back with the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, as we follow all the breaking news on the latest ISIS terror attacks.
A State Department spokesman tells me about a dozen Americans were hurt in the terror attacks. And some U.S. citizens, including diplomats and family members, right now remain unaccounted for.
Also breaking now, an extraordinary State Department warning to Americans about travel to Europe, not just Belgium, but to Europe.
Let's get some more from our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.
Elise, the warning talks about the possibly of what they describe as near-term attacks. Does it get more specific?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: No, Wolf.
They definitely think there are attacks throughout Europe, but nothing specific to any specific country or place. This is not an unprecedented move, but it's a big deal. The State Department, as you know, doesn't issue a caution of this nature lightly, particularly ahead of Europe's busiest tourist season.
But with about those dozen Americans injured in the Brussels attack and many more missing, officials are warning ISIS attacks could be coming in Europe and Americans need to be extremely vigilant. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
LABOTT (voice-over): With officials warning ISIS is on the loose and a massive manhunt under way, the State Department is taking the rare step of urging Americans to think twice about traveling to Europe, warning that terrorists -- quote -- "continue to plan near-term attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants and transportation."
A dire assessment ahead of the summer travel season. A former House intelligence chair says such a dramatic warning is likely the result of alarming intel, pointing to the possibility of more terror.
MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What they know is that probably Brussels was not the only target set. Paris was not the only target set. There are likely other target sets in Europe.
LABOTT: ISIS fighters, many trained on the battlefields of Syria, are returning home to carry out their jihad in the West, sometimes infiltrating the influx of migrants fleeing the violence.
Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, has important symbolic value. It has emerged as a hub for jihadis planning European attacks. The Paris attackers capitalizing on lax security crossed into France from Brussels. And the weapons used in the "Charlie Hebdo" attack last January were also smuggled from across the border, steps to shore up security not coming fast enough.
JOHAN VERBEKE, BELGIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Europe is a Europe without borders. And Brussels indeed, as a capital of Europe, is centrally located. And that means that it is perhaps a platform where people come, meet, arrange, plan, and that kind of thing.
LABOTT: Intel experts say Belgium remains ill-equipped to tackle the problem.
ROGERS: They have nine different police districts. Some of them don't speak the same language. They have a hard time sharing. Their signals intelligence is very old.
LABOTT: The European Union with no common defense or intelligence body has failed to share vital intel with Belgium and the U.S.
GILLES DE KERCHOVE, EUROPEAN UNION COUNTERTERRORISM COORDINATOR: We're likely to have more plots. That doesn't mean they would succeed. We need to scale up extremely quickly European response.
LABOTT: And the State Department just announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will be traveling to Brussels on Friday. In addition to offering condolences for the Belgian people in the wake of the attacks, he will also meet with Belgian and European Union officials to talk about the investigation and efforts to fight ISIS, including how the U.S. and E.U. can better work together to share intel on these threats, Wolf. [18:20:14]
BLITZER: Certainly, a lot of work needs to be done. Thanks very much, Elise, for that.
Let's bring back Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
What are you hearing about the State Department warning of near-term attacks and Americans should be very cautious about going to various locations in Europe right now?
SCHIFF: Well, this is extraordinary for the State Department to be warning travelers about something as broad as Europe. Usually, it's very very country-specific.
But I think it's reflective of the fact the intelligence community does have information that there are plots and a great number of people that are unaccounted for, different targets within Europe. So the State Department evidently decided to be extraordinarily prudent and provide these kind of warnings.
BLITZER: I assume you agree with Mike Rogers they wouldn't issue a warning like this unless there was hard intelligence of near-term attacks?
SCHIFF: I don't think they'd do it without considerable intelligence that there were attacks potentially in several European capitals or other cities.
This had to be a very weighty decision. You can imagine the impact on Europe. They're already reeling from these attacks, and now they potentially could be reeling from the economic consequences. It's a big step for the State Department to undertake something like this, absolutely.
BLITZER: The State Department says about a dozen Americans were injured in these two terror attacks, three real bombings in Brussels, and that others remain missing right now, including some diplomats and family members. What, if anything, can you tell us about that?
SCHIFF: Well, this -- I don't have any more specific information on that, but it's extraordinary if you can account for all your people, because that's the first thing that happens after a terrorist attack, is that our embassy will reach out to our people.
They will try and make sure that they get in contact, they know where people are. So anyone who is not accounted for is the subject of great concern.
BLITZER: Have you heard any indication that Americans were specifically targeted in these attacks?
SCHIFF: I have not heard that.
Now, we have seen public reports that the location of some of these bombs may have been near some of the American carriers. It's also, I think, pretty evident, though, in terms of the metro, that this was an attack also on the whole fabric of Europe, on many of the European institutions. They were, I think, as much a target, if not more, than we were, certainly in terms of the metro.
BLITZER: U.S. officials have told CNN, Congressman, that there were warning signs out there, what they call nonspecific chatter in the weeks leading up to these terror attacks in Brussels. Here's the question. Could it have been prevented?
SCHIFF: I don't know.
It certainly could have been prevented perhaps if Belgium had greater capacity, but could have been prevented in the sense we have intelligence? Were there dots that we didn't connect? I don't think that's the case. We have been aware that there were ongoing plots against cities in Europe.
There were concerns about Brussels, but there have been concerns about Paris and Berlin and many other cities as well. We often get a lot of information about the general timing and the general location. What we generally don't get, unfortunately, is very -- specifics about on this date they're going after these targets.
BLITZER: What's especially worrisome is that these terrorists apparently were known to Belgian authorities. Interpol had what they call a red notice on one of the suicide bombers. Yet they were moving around in daylight, if you will. And no one was picking them up. It looks like a major security failure.
SCHIFF: It was certainly that, when you consider the fact that Salah Abdeslam was in Molenbeek.
I was in Molenbeek just a few weeks ago.
BLITZER: He was one of the Paris bombers. He was on the loose for four months, and hiding in plain sight in his hometown.
SCHIFF: Well, he was right in that Molenbeek neighborhood. When I was there, the police were quite active in the neighborhood. There have been arrests, it seems like, on a weekly basis, if not more.
But the fact that it could continue to serve as a logistical hub for additional attacks, even when the Belgians were pressing the way they were, when they were in a state of heightened vigilance, that says that -- really that the Belgian services don't have the capacity to deal with the magnitude of the problem, both from foreign fighters, as well as Belgians who are radicalized at home now.
BLITZER: There are now reports that ISIS has trained at least 400 fighters to target Europe. Can you confirm that?
SCHIFF: I can't confirm the number, but I can say there is a large number of people.
SCHIFF: Potentially hundreds. If you include both foreign fighters that have returned from the fight, as well as people that didn't leave for the fight, but in communication with ISIS, it could well reach those kind of numbers.
BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks for coming in.
SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the investigation and the manhunt for the surviving bomber and if possible accomplices who remain are at large.
Plus, we're getting new details about the frightening new kind of bomb used in the Brussels attack.
Some experts believe it's a hybrid of a suicide belt and a car bomb.
BLITZER: We're getting more details about the alleged ISIS bomb-maker and a frightening new kind of explosive device used in the Belgium attack.
CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into all of this for us.
Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, new information tonight from investigators about the three suspects at the airport.
[18:30:02] A Belgian counterterrorism official tells our Paul Cruickshank this man on the left is very likely Najim Laachraoui. He is described by officials as an ISIS bombmaker. They believe he blew himself up at the Brussels airport yesterday. Also new tonight, we have new concerns from terrorism experts that the
kinds of bombs these men used are newer, more portable, more lethal devices than we've seen in the past.
TODD (voice-over): This man on the right, a suspect on the run, still unidentified tonight, considered one of the most dangerous men in Europe. He's believed to have been a leader of the suicide bombers at the Brussels airport, tasked with making sure the others carried out their attacks.
Belgian investigators say the same terrorist cell masterminded the Paris and Brussels attacks. And tonight, experts worry the Brussels bombings have revealed a disturbing hybrid terrorist capability, combining the portability of a suicide vest with a more powerful explosive in a suitcase.
(on camera): What kind of flexibility does it give them to be able to pack something, maybe with the explosive power of a car bomb into this?
RAFI RON, FORMER ISRAELI AIRPORT SECURITY CHIEF: This is -- certainly, it gives them a lot of flexibility.
TODD: This photo shows the three men pushing suitcases on carts, believed to be the bombs. Two of the men are wearing only one glove each. Investigators tell CNN they think it's possible each man's glove hid a detonator.
One kind of explosive do they use? One possible clue is what police later found in an apartment raid.
FREDERIC VAN LEEUW, BELGIAN FEDERAL PROSECUTOR (through translator): Fifteen kilograms of explosives, TATP, a 150 liters of acetone, 30 liters of hydrogen peroxide, detonators.
TODD: TATP, a peroxide-based very unstable explosive that packs a nasty punch. This video shows TATP combusting just from a tiny film canister.
BRIAN CASTNER, FORMER AIR FORCE BOMB DISPOSAL TECHNICIAN: TATP is one of the most sensitive explosives known to the bomb tech community. It takes very little initiation to set it up.
TODD: It's so delicate that just trying to make a bomb with TATP can be deadly. If a terrorist is successful in making one, he has another advantage.
CASTNER: It can be more dangerous because it's difficult to detect.
TODD: Bombs that are difficult to detect, easy to make, combining massive explosive power with enough maneuverability to navigate through a crowded airport. A tactic so effective, experts worry it will be repeated.
RON: Certainly, something that we would see quite a lot in the future. The number of casualties is usually high, and the effect the terrorists want to achieve as a result is also very high.
TODD: Now, does this kind of bomb, do these tactics mean that's passengers are going to be screened at the entrances now to airports?
Terrorism expert Rafi Ron says that would create other security risks, like long lines of passengers at the curb. They might be exposed to bombings or drive-by shootings. No easy answer to this, Wolf.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right. What kinds of measures, Brian, can help thwart this kind of an attack at airports?
TODD: What this may require, Wolf, is more law enforcement officers roving near the entrances and near ticket counters using detection dogs, behavioral screening methods and other measures. But that he says may not prevent attacks like the ones we saw in Brussels.
BLITZER: Nothing is perfect, I guess.
All right. Brian, thanks very much.
Let's get some more insight from our experts. I want to bring in CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, our justice reporter Evan Perez, and former CIA official, the CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd.
Is it a surprise, Evan, based on all the reporting you're doing that this new kind of bomb hadn't been used before?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's quite similar to other things we've seen. TATP has been used, for instance, by Richard Reid, Najibullah Zazi tried to use this with some subway bombings. What ISIS has been trying to do and their operatives in Europe are trying to do is test new ways. They've been getting better, more sophisticated. Some of their early attempts failed miserably. They're getting better at trying to do this.
BLITZER: It seems so much more deadly this hybrid bomb. You don't just wear it on your vest.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORIM ANALYST: It's a curious evolution from what we've seen over the past 15 years. For years we've been talking about skilled bombmakers who want to get bombs into enclosed spaces secretly like aircraft, like backpacks into trains.
Here you have an evolution not necessarily in the bombing material, TATP, but in the conception of the attack. Forget about trying to be secret. We're going to go into a public place with a massive device where you are suggesting, the casualties could be a lot greater.
BLITZER: Certainly could be. Paul, you've been doing a lot of reporting on this bombmaker. What have you learned about him?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Najim Laachraoui, the suspected bomb maker, they don't know yet for absolutely sure that he was the bombmaker but they found his DNA at the Paris attacks bomb factory in Brussels.
[18:35:02] So, he was either handling the devices or making the devices. They believe he was possibly the bombmaker. They need to come up with a conclusive evidence of that.
Still, he's believed to have gone to Syria in 2013 from Belgium. The Belgian authorities were aware of this. He was even convicted in absentia in a trial in Belgium but he managed to slip back into Europe. He was possibly picked up by Salah Abdeslam because he was in a car with Abdeslam on the 9th of September, as it crossed the Hungary/Austria border. He then came back in to Belgium.
And during the night of the Paris attacks, he was coordinating the attacks in real time from Brussels in touch with those three attack teams in Paris, Wolf. And then was part of that network that helped Abdeslam hide after the Paris attacks. And, obviously, then planned this follow-on attack in Brussels. BLITZER: Usually, Phil, they don't want these terror organizations,
the master bombmaker with a lot of skills to be a suicide bomber because those skills then disappear. They want to keep the bombmaker for future operations. What does it say to you that if, in fact, he's the master bombmaker and blew himself up in this suicide attack, he's gone now?
MUDD: Couple of things it tells me. First, you're right. In a lot of situations, for example, al Qaeda in Yemen, the bombmakers are so hard to come by, you don't want to sacrifice them because it's not easy to build these devices. They're volatile.
I think this signals a couple of things. You have a commitment to conduct an attack by the bombmaker. He wants to participate. But also that noose is closing. We've seen in the last day or two, one of the individuals saying I thought I was going down. We've got to do something.
He might have figured I don't have any time left, anyway. I've got to go.
BLITZER: What's the FBI role right now, Evan? You've been doing some reporting on this, in this investigation and the concern something like that could happen here?
PEREZ: Well, I think it's somewhat what Phil is getting at. I think the FBI is there partly because they are interested in the bomb and how it was made, and really one of the interesting things I think that's been happening is this idea that perhaps there's a master bombmaker who is teaching these guys in Syria and sending his graduates to Europe.
So, perhaps this bombmaker was someone who, you know, just one of many they have that they've sent to Europe. So, that's the reason why they were willing to let him go and have him blow himself up. The FBI is very interested in the device, Wolf. They know this device was made from a lot of homemade components, things that you can get at beauty stores in the United States if you are going to buy large supplies of beauty supplies, you are going to trip wires for the FBI. The FBI is going to come knocking on your door.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more information coming in.
There were about a dozen Americans injured in these terror attacks. And other Americans right now including U.S. diplomatic personnel and their families are unaccounted for. They are missing right now. Here's the question, were Americans targeted?
Much more when we come back.
[18:42:45] BLITZER: We're back with our terrorism and justice experts. Following today's breaking news, the manhunt for the suspected bomber and another terrorist involved in the Brussels terrorist attacks.
Phil, you know, about a dozen Americans were injured and there are a whole bunch of Americans still missing right now, unaccounted for, including some diplomats, family members. The fear is maybe these Americans were targeted by these terror attacks.
What do you think?
MUDD: I don't buy that. I think we have -- what we have is classic terrorism branding. That is, since 9/11, we've had the attacks in Madrid a decade ago, that's a transportation site, attacks in London, we had al Qaeda tried to take down an aircraft over Detroit. This is ISIS saying, we're going to go back to the same locations, same vulnerabilities, in this case, with the same people, and you can't stop us.
BLITZER: Paul Cruikshank, is there any evidence, do you think, these terrorists were deliberately looking for Americans?
CRUICKSHANK: Well, we haven't heard any evidence of that so far. But we know during the Bataclan attack, which was the very same cell, the Bataclan hall in Paris, they were asking where is that American rock band, the Eagles of Death Metal, because they wanted to target Americans. And the reason they said that was because both America and France targeting ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
So, I think it is certainly possible that they would have been on the lookout for Americans. They would have hoped Americans would be at Brussels international airport. Many Americans travel through that airport, Wolf.
BLITZER: Evan, what are you hearing?
PEREZ: Well, Wolf, actually, from talking from intelligence and law enforcement officials, they think it's probably the opposite. Just the location of this explosion was closer to actually a Belgian airline. There was an American airline -- a U.S. airline nearby, but the cluster of people that were injured was largely Belgian nationals, people who are traveling on a Belgian airline, not a U.S. carrier.
That said, I mean, if you are going to carry out an attack in Belgium, you're going to hit a lot of Americans, U.K. citizens, people from all over Europe because it is the center of Europe.
BLITZER: What does say that, these terrorists, some of them had lengthy criminal records, they were well-known to prosecutors, well- known to law enforcement. Yet they were free if you will, and they could plot a terror attack like this.
MUDD: Wolf, on this show, I've got to tell you, I can't figure it out.
[18:45:01] The intel in law enforcement business, you've got a phrase we use, case management. In case management, you are always sitting on risk.
Who are the players? Do they have access to weapons and explosives? Where have they traveled? And you're triaging that risks every day.
If you've got four months and people named in red notices, a couple of days I get. Four months, I don't understand how case management is working here. These guys should have gone down.
BLITZER: Paul Cruickshank, you heard Adam Schiff, the top Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee say that he thinks it's probably true there are probably hundreds of ISIS terrorists roaming around Europe right now involved in these plots. What are you hearing?
CRUICKSHANK: Well, here's the arithmetic: 6,000 or more European extremists have gone to Syria and Iraq, joined up with groups like ISIS, most of them perhaps joining ISIS. And at least 1,500 have come back. Many of those people experienced in killing. And so, there's a very grave concern about the terrorist threat that ISIS poses.
ISIS has created an external operations division dedicating to hitting Europe, dedicated to hitting the West. That report is up to the top leadership of is. So they are ratcheting up the international attack. They have all these extremists in their ranks who they can train and then send back.
So, it is an alarming time for European security officials, wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by. We're going to move on.
I want to get to some other important news with their latest primary contest overshadowed now by the terror attacks in Brussels, both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, they have been talking very tough, suggesting everything from mass surveillance to torture to nuclear strikes, if necessary.
CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has been looking into all of this.
Sunlen, a lot of fallout from their remarks. What's the latest?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. That talk tough -- tough talk from both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz is receiving a lot of heat today in what could be a preview of a potential general election argument, Hillary Clinton going right after both of them today, calling their response to the terror attacks wrong and dangerous.
SERFATY (voice-over): Tonight, the terror attacks in Brussels are reverberating through the presidential campaign.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need unpredictability.
SERFATY: GOP front-runner Donald Trump saying he would potentially use nuclear weapons to stop ISIS.
TRUMP: I'm never going to rule anything out because at a minimum, I want them to think maybe we would use them, OK?
SERFATY: Trump also telling, Wolf, that he would support waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods.
TRUMP: They can chop off heads and they can drown people in cages and heavy steel cages and we can't waterboard. So, we have to change our laws and we have to be able to fight at least on an almost equal basis.
SERFATY: Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is outlining a contrasting counterterrorism agenda.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can't let fear stop us from doing what's necessary to keep us safe. Nor can we let it push us into reckless actions that end up making us less safe.
SERFATY: Taking aim not just at Trump but Ted Cruz, who is calling for stepped up policing of Muslim communities in the U.S.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is that ostrich- head-in-your-sand political correctness that has made America so vulnerable.
SERFATY: Cruz was rebuked by New York City officials for his comments, including the police commissioner.
BILL BRATTON, NYPD COMMISSIONER: He doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.
SERFATY: And the mayor.
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: I just have to say it's reprehensible. His comments are not about safety and security. It's demagoguery.
SERFATY: Cruz in New York today pushed back.
CRUZ: And the mayor's response is essentially, who are these terrorists of which you speak?
SERFATY: This on the heels of a split decision in Tuesday's western state contest, and a new endorsement from former rival Jeb Bush.
CRUZ: What's we're seeing all across the country is the momentum is with us. I'll tell you one of the things that shows that is this morning, Jeb Bush endorsed our campaign.
SERFATY: And as the Trump/Cruz feud intensifies, their wives are now being drawn into the fight. Sparked by an anti-Trump super PAC Facebook ad showing an old modeling photo of Trump's wife Melania.
Trump blaming Cruz for the ad tweeting, "Be careful or I will spill the beans on your wife."
Cruz denies his campaign had anything to do with the ad.
CRUZ: That should be beneath Donald.
SERFATY: Heidi Cruz is also weighing in. HEIDI CRUZ, WIFE OF SEN. TED CRUZ: There are a lot of things that
Donald Trump and his campaign say that have no basis in reality.
SERFATY: Her husband using a line from "The American President" to punch back at his rival.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want a character to debate, Bob, you better stick with me because Sydney Ellen Wade is way out of your league.
CRUZ: If Donald wants to get into a character fight, he's better off sticking with me because Heidi is way out of his league.
[18:50:00] SERFATY: And Donald Trump doubled down on all of this today, picking up on Cruz, channeling Michael Douglas there, tweeting, quote, "Lying Ted Cruz steals foreign policy from me and lines from Michael Douglas. Just another dishonest politician."
And Cruz today called this gutter politics, a new low, he says, Wolf, for Donald Trump.
BLITZER: Sunlen, thanks very much. We're going to have more on the breaking news coming up right after this.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking developments in the Belgium terror attacks and their impact on the U.S. presidential race.
Let's bring in our senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar, who is following Hillary Clinton's major foreign policy speech in California today.
[18:55:01] Also with us, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and Rebecca Berg, national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics".
Coming off of last night, Gloria, how is the path for the Republican nomination looking for Donald Trump?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he's chugging right along there, Wolf. You know, the interesting thing about Donald Trump is the unease with which conservatives still regard him and his frontrunner status. You can see that Cruz won last night and got all the delegates in Utah. You see conservatives trying to rally other conservatives around Cruz like Jeb Bush, for example, today.
Usually at this point in a race where you have somebody who is such a frontrunner, the party usually tries to coalesce and gather around this person and prop them up. At this point, just the opposite is really occurring, which is the party is continuing to split and fracture and will continue perhaps until the convention.
BLITZER: Brianna, you know, Hillary Clinton, she hit both Trump and Cruz today in ore speech on counterterrorism. But here's the question: will those hits be effective?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, that's a very good question. Republicans, Wolf, would actually see this as a vulnerability for Hillary Clinton, foreign policy, because she was secretary of state during the rise of ISIS. But Hillary Clinton and her campaign feel like they're in a really good place to show that she has a broad base of knowledge on foreign policy and to label these Republican frontrunners.
Just look at some of the things she said today. She said, they're in over their heads, "loose cannon" was one way she described Donald Trump, dangerous and wrong, cowering in fear and hiding behind walls. She's trying to paint these Republican frontrunners as not knowing what they're talking about and not having the temperament to deal with foreign and the safety of Americans.
This is something -- you know, Hillary Clinton is not always comfortable with personality politics and selling herself, but this is clearly an area, if you saw the speech today, where she was much more comfortable.
BLITZER: Rebecca, what do you make of the escalating fight right now between Cruz and Trump?
REBECCA BERG, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: It certainly is escalating today, Wolf, with this fight over their wives of all things. But what I make of it is this is showing us essentially where this race is going, and where it is right now. These are the two heavyweights in the Republican race.
John Kasich obviously is still running. He says he intends to keep this fight going until the convention, but he's not racking up delegates. He didn't win any yesterday. And, in fact, in Arizona, he came in behind Marco Rubio, who is no longer in the race. So, he's not one of the leading candidates at this point, and really, it's a race now between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, at least at this point.
What's really interesting about the race at there stage is that Republican elites, so Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, people you wouldn't necessarily expect to support Ted Cruz are rallying behind Ted Cruz because they're seeing him as the best chance to take out Donald Trump. Donald Trump recognizes that, and he's going after that group.
BLITZER: It's pretty amazing these Republican leaders are now saying Ted Cruz is the guy.
BORGER: OK, they loathe Ted Cruz. They cannot believe it themselves, but when they take a look at Donald Trump and they believe like Hillary Clinton in many ways that he is too erratic, that he is not dependable, and they don't know what they're going to get with them, at least with Ted Cruz, whom they don't like, and by the way, whom some of them have said to me, they consider him dangerous, at least they figure they know where he stands.
And I think right now, Wolf, there's talk about a third party. If there is one, it's only because they want to save their candidates down ticket, down ballot who are running for the Senate and give them an alternative because they say may just say, you know what, we can't endorse Trump in a presidential race.
BLITZER: Brianna, listen to President Obama today going after Ted Cruz on carpet bombing. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I hear somebody saying we should carpet bomb Iraq or Syria, not only is that inhumane, not only is that contrary to our values, but that would likely be an extraordinary mechanism for ISIL to recruit more people willing to die and explode bombs in an airport.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Looks like he's really stepping into the -- even though he is in Argentina, he's getting increasingly involved in politics.
KEILAR: He certainly is. He's clearly concerned about his legacy. And it's almost a bit of a tag team situation, Wolf. Today, Hillary Clinton was quoting the New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton when he said that Senator Cruz doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. She said that quote out loud today here in Stanford. She said that Ted Cruz saying this doesn't show that he's tough. It shows that he's in over his head.
So, both of them really trying to work it, labeling Ted Cruz, as well as Donald Trump.
BLITZER: Brianna Keilar is out in California -- guys, thanks very much. We're going to stay on top of all the political news, the race for the White House.
That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.