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Brussels Bombing Suspect on the Run; American Injured in Attack; Obama States We Will Destroy ISIS; Brothers Had Ties To Paris Attacks; John Kerry Heading To Brussels Friday; Concerns Over Belgium's Security Measures. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 23, 2016 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Right now, President Obama is renewing his promise to defeat ISIS, a day after the terror group claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks in Brussels. Here's what the president said just in the past hour, during a news conference in Argentina.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've got a lot of things on my plate. But my top priority is to defeat ISIL and to eliminate the scourge of this barbaric terrorism that's been taking place around the world.

This is difficult war. It's not because we don't have the best and the brightest working on it. It's not because we are not taking the threat seriously. It is because it's challenging to find, identify very small groups of people who are willing to die themselves and can walk into a crowd and detonate a bomb.


BLITZER: Belgium, meanwhile, remains at its highest security alert level and will stay there as long as accomplices to yesterday's terror attacks remain on the loose. A manhunt is underway for this person. Belgian authorities say he left behind a bag at the airport that contained the largest of all of the explosives. It detonated after the others but caused no injuries.

We're also learning that Interpol has now issued a so-called red notice for one of the two brothers who carried out the suicide attacks. The wanted notice to European law enforcement went out to Khalid El Bakraoui. You see him here on the left. He carried out the suicide attack at the metro station.

We also know that Salah Abdeslam was supposed to be part of Tuesday's attack but he was arrested only a few days earlier in an anti-terror raid. Abdeslam was linked to the Paris attacks as well. Authorities believe his arrest may have accelerated the timeline of these bombings in Brussels.

Let's get some more on today's dramatic developments in Brussels. Joining us now, our Senior International Correspondent Clarissa Ward and our Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen. They're both joining us live from Brussels.

Fred, you're over there at the apartment where authorities found large amounts of explosives. It was aired that the brothers, the suicide bombers, were -- and they left behind a computer. What can you tell us about the explosives, the apartment, the computer? What are you learning?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it really appears as though the apartment here in the Brussels district of Schaerbeek was the main hub for creating those devastating bombs that were used both in the airport in Brussels as well as the Brussels metro station as well.

The authorities, after a massive raid that carried on throughout the better part of the night which we actually watched unfold for almost the entire time, say that they have discovered in that apartment at least 15 kilos, or 40 pounds, of TATP explosive that was still left over. Remember, this was on top of what they actually packed into the bombs that they put into the airport and into the metro station.

They also discovered chemicals that could've made further bombs. They discovered nails, bolts and screws which, of course, is something that's often mixed into the explosive devices to make them even more deadly. They discovered an ISIS flag.

And what's also very important is they discovered a laptop. And that laptop was in a garbage can just outside this apartment complex. And they say on that garbage can was something like a last will of one of the bombers saying that he felt the authorities were onto him and he felt he that he had to act quickly with this plot, otherwise he would end up in the same place as Abdeslam which is, of course, in the custody of the Belgium authorities -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment. We're just getting this word in from the State Department. The spokesman, John Kirby, saying that secretary of state John Kerry will travel to Belgium on Friday to meet with officials there, express the U.S. condolences. The statement goes on to say that he will reiterate the strong support of United States for Belgium efforts to both investigate these attacks and continue contributing to international efforts to counter violent extremism. That statement coming in from the State Department spokesman just now.

Clarissa, you're there. You're on the scene for us. Officials fear another attack there could be eminent as well. What are you seeing, as far as security is concerned? How are people coping there knowing there are other suspected terrorists at large inside Brussels and Belgium right now and they may be plotting and planning?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that was perhaps the headline that we heard from Belgium's prosecutor earlier. That there is still a number of suspected terrorists at large, on the loose, potentially armed. And yet, as you can see behind me, there is quite a crowd of people gathered here. They have been here all day. They gathered initially to hold a moment of silence to essentially commemorate all those who lost their lives in yesterday's attacks.

And then, they sort of spontaneously erupted into applause. We've heard cheering, lots of chanting behind me as well. They've been saying, (INAUDIBLE.) We're all together. We're all together. So, there is absolutely a sense of defiance or certainly resilience here.

[13:05:11] Now, looking around, you don't see that much in the way of obvious security. I have seen some soldiers heavily armed. But when I was watching closely, I did see a number of plain clothes' security officers. Obviously, Belgian authorities are keen for people to be able to get back on the streets to be able to grieve together as a nation, to be able to show their solidarity and their defiance.

But this is still a very high state of alert. Authorities here do not want to take any chances. As Fred reiterated, there are a number of people, potentially, on the loose. And they just don't want to take any chances -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Clarissa Ward, thanks very much. Fred Pleitgen, thanks to you. We'll get back to you.

Let's talk a little bit more now about what comes next in Brussels and in the rest of Belgium, for that matter all of Europe right now. Joining us, retired U.S. Colonel Cedric Leighton, CNN Military Analyst. He's a former U.S. intelligence officer and a former official over at the NSA, the National Security Agency. Also joining us, Shahed Amanullah. He's a former senior advisor for technology at the U.S. State Department. He spent some time in the Belgian suburb, Molenbeek.

First of all, Cedric, there are some arrests. They're looking for more. Potentially, there are a bunch of sleeper cells out there as well. How do they go ahead, in Belgium, with their limited capabilities, clearly, and, let's put it bluntly, not necessarily great work that they've done so far to round up all of these terrorists?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (retired), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, that's exactly the problem. What you see is the situation where they almost got them. It was very clear that, you know, these terrorists were feeling the heat from the police. But they just didn't have the action in the part of actionable intelligence that they really needed. They had the intelligence but they didn't have it to the fidelity that they needed. This was evidenced by in the way they handled the raid on Friday that captured Abdeslam.

But what they also needed was the ability to go in and actually prevent the attack. And they didn't have the information that they needed to do that. And that's the significant weakness in the intelligence structure in Europe as well as specifically in Belgium.

BLITZER: And, Shahed, you've spent some time over there working in the communities in Brussels, elsewhere in Belgium. There seems to be, according to U.S. officials, a code of silence among some of the youth there. And that's perhaps why Salah Abdeslam was able to hide out for four months without getting caught.

SHAHED AMANULLAH, CO-FOUNDER, AFFINIS LABS: Well, you know, these young people are really caught in limbo. They're caught in a place where they don't feel like they're part of their parents' generation and their homelands and they don't feel like they're a part Belgium's (ph) society. And when you toss on top of that a culture of crime in the area, these people, they just holed (ph) themselves up. They just want to be safe.

If they felt empowered and they felt that they could be out there, be in public, see people that are falling through the cracks, they may be willing to do that. But they're scared like a lot of other people. These young people are really, really feeling isolated in fighting.

BLITZER: So, if people knew, young people, or maybe some not so young, that a terrorist, the most wanted man in Europe, Salah Abdeslam, who was directly involved in the Paris terror attacks, if he was hiding out, they wouldn't go to law enforcement? They wouldn't say, I think we know where he is? They would just be silent?

AMANULLAH: You have to understand, these people are really just holed up in their homes. I mean, it's a high crime area. They don't want to go out at night. But, you know, if they're given a culture where they feel safe in their communities, where they feel like they can go out and get to know their neighbors, then they would do that.

BLITZER: How do you fix that?

AMANULLAH: Well, you know, you fix that by, first of all, dealing with the law enforcement problem there right now. It's a very high crime area. There's no opportunities and there's no jobs. People feel scared to get out of their homes and their communities. Create spaces where they can come together in community situations, learn entrep inertia (ph), get to know their neighbors, be more integrated and divulge in society.

BLITZER: Are Belgian authorities on top of it? Do they know what they're doing?

AMANULLAH: Well, I -- from what I saw on the ground, I saw -- I saw, really, a hands-off situation. And that's never going to help anybody. It's not going to help law enforcement. It's not going to help the integration issue.

BLITZER: Because here's what worries a lot of people. Belgium, it's not only a major European country. European Union is there. NATO is headquartered there. The U.S. has enormous interest there and they fear what happened -- the U.S. fears what happened there could happen here.

LEIGHTON: Oh, absolutely. And, you know, when you talk about NATO, the NATO headquarters is actually directly between the airport and the metro station that were bombed. Both of those were bombing targets. And it shows how vulnerable, potentially, not only NATO institutions are but also European Union institutions. And when you look at all of this, you know, Shahed is absolutely right. It's community policing that is part of this effort. But there's also the part where the authorities really have to have a structure where they, in essence, revamp their entire political Oedipus and really think about how they interact with citizens, even new citizens.

BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE), Shahed. The Muslim youth who are troubled inside Belgium right now, is it just Belgium or throughout Europe?

AMANULLAH: Well, you have the situation throughout Europe but I think it's useful to look at Belgium specifically, because you have Moroccan youth or descendants of Moroccan immigrants. But you also have descendants of Turkish immigrants.

[13:10:08] Now, the Turkish community is much better integrated. They've run people for parliament. They are much better socially, economically. And you'll notice that none of these people came from that community. So, you have a local analog that is part of the solution (INAUDIBLE.)

BLITZER: Most of these young people were Moroccan immigrants?


BLITZER: Or born in Belgium but their families were from Morocco?

AMANULLAH: Were in the Moroccan community, yes.

BLITZER: Well, we'll stay on top of it. Shahed, thanks for all the good work you've been doing. Cedric, thanks to you as well.

Coming up, Belgian security officials are criticized for letting their security measures slip. Are there serious problems with intelligence sharing in Europe?

And Donald Trump takes on Ted Cruz again. This time over a picture of his wife, Melania.


BLITZER: Following the attacks in Brussels, government officials from around the world are expressing doubts Belgian security forces can handle ISIS terrorist cells in their country. In a "Daily Beast" article, a senior U.S. intelligence officer likened the Belgian security forces to quote, "children." And in an interview, the Australian prime minister, Malcom Turnbull, said, quote, "It's a sad state of affairs in Europe. They've allowed their security measures to slip."

Let's discuss these comments and more. I'm joined by Texas Republican Congressman, Matt Thornberry. He's the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. MAC THORNBERRY (R), TEXAS: Thanks for having me. BLITZER: Do you agree with those comments that Belgium security

officials, law enforcement, counterterrorism officials are not necessarily doing the job as well as they should?

THORNBERRY: Well, I agree with that, what you just said. They're not doing the job as well as they should. They have some long-running problems because most law enforcement in Belgium is done by locale. And so sharing information among the various localities is not something that they've done a good job at. And they've been trying to improve since the Paris attacks, but obviously they've not been improving fast enough. I also agree that information sharing across Europe is not as good as it needs to be. And so there's room for improvement across all those countries.

BLITZER: The Belgian interior minister, who's in charge of domestic security there, said yesterday - he said that although authorities in Belgium knew some kind of extremist act was being prepared in Europe, they didn't know it focused in on Belgium. He said, "we never could have imagined something of this scale." That's pretty amazing when you think about all the warning signs that were out there, all the intelligence pointing precisely to this kind of terror act.

THORNBERRY: Well, exactly. I think most of the intelligence community on both side of the Atlantic have been expecting some sort of attack somewhere, you know, in any moment. But I'm struck by that comment because if you'll remember, the result of the 9/11 Commission was a failure of imagination. And so the extent to which any of us put blinders on and assume it can't happen here just aids the terrorists and gives them more room to roam and to carry out their attacks.

BLITZER: In a statement after the attacks you said this, and I'll put it up on the screen, Mr. Chairman. "The U.S. stands with Belgium, but we all can and should do more to defeat ISIS. That does not mean that the U.S. must solve all the problems of the world, but it does mean that America is a unique force for good."

What are two or three specific things that you think the United States needs to do right now to defeat ISIS?

THORNBERRY: Well, number one is, intelligence is key. Remember what we have done in recent years and that was leak to the terrorists how we gather information. And that has given the terrorists a real leg up. So beefing up intelligence-gathering, domestically, in Europe, and in Iraq and Syria and other places of the world is key. Secondly, we have been rather half-hearted in going after ISIS in Iraq and Syria. We have been limited by a number of factors, concern about civilian casualties, concern about various things and so it's been a - kind of a slow escalation of our military efforts. And you don't defeat a cancer of this kind by slowly racketing up. You've got to hit it with a sudden shock. So it's more of an attitude, a seriousness with which you take this problem than it is anything else.

BLITZER: Well, shouldn't the U.S. be concerned about civilian casualties, losing innocent people in the course of trying to destroy ISIS? THORNBERRY: Of course we should be concerned. The question is, when we

are letting the tail wag the dog. In other words, when military commanders have got to go up the chain of command several steps in order to authorize an air strike, by which time the people you are trying to strike are long gone. So it's the micro management of - from the White House that has - and others that have helped inhibit the effectiveness of our military operations.

BLITZER: We - I was talking the other day to Donald Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner. He suggested reducing U.S. involvement in NATO. This is before the Brussels attacks. Reducing U.S. expenditures as far as NATO is concerned. Are you with him on that?

THORNBERRY: Well, I have not paid a lot of attention to the statements made in the presidential campaign. I will say, I think NATO is very important not only for attacking ISIS but for deterring Russia and Putin, as well as its involvement in Afghanistan. So, look, ISIS is a worldwide problem. It is an attack on civilization. And civilization had better get its act together in order to be serious about defeating this enemy. Nobody should assume that what happened in Brussels or what happened earlier in Paris is only going to be confined to those cities. This cancer will spread until we apply appropriate remedies.

[13:20:08] BLITZER: But, very quickly, because we're out of time, Mr. Chairman, NATO has not, as an organization, agreed to get involved in the war against ISIS. They've laid back. There's a division among the NATO allies. A lot of people are frustrated by that. Are you?

THORNBERRY: Yes, of course. I'm not saying NATO is perfect. And, as a matter of fact, NATO had better step up to the challenges that civilization faces or it will be irrelevant. On the other hand, it is helping to share information among the various countries and do a variety of things today that are useful. But it needs to do more. And that was what my - point of my statement, everybody needs to do more, including us.

BLITZER: Matt Thornberry is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

THORNBERRY: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Coming up, a Utah teen who witnessed the Boston Marathon bombing, narrowly escapes death in Brussels.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How strange is this for your family to be involved in two - two of these?

CHAD WELLS, FATHER OF INJURED AMERICAN: I think two's enough for a lifetime now.


BLITZER: You're going to see the emotional moment when he finally calls his very worried parents back home as we learn more about what's next for his recovery.


[13:25:43] BLITZER: The bombings in Belgium killed 31 people and wounded another 270. Among those wounded, approximately a dozen Americans, including several young Mormon missionaries from Utah. But one of those missionaries has an eerie connection to another bombing in Boston. Kyung Lah has the story.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Every phone call, you've got to hope it's him, right?


CHAD WELLS, FATHER OF INJURED AMERICAN: We're on - we're on pins and needles every phone call.

LAH (voice-over): The call that might be from their son Mason, 19 years old, 20 months into serving his Morman mission in France and Belgium. Mason Wells was with his missionary partner, Joe Empey (ph), and elder Richard Norby (ph), dropping off Fanny Rachel Klain (ph) at the Brussels airport.

WELLS: And then at departure, one of the bombs went off there and that's when Mason was injured.

LAH: All the them were hurt but expected to survive. The Wells, who live just outside Salt Lake City, haven't been able to speak to their son. They know he was close enough to the blast to be hurt, burns and foot injuries.

LAH (on camera): What is it like being parents and having your son in the middle of something like this?

WELLS: I think the word is - you feel - you feel helpless. You feel scared because there's not a lot you can do.

LAH (voice-over): This isn't this family's first time in the center of a terror attack. 2013, Mason and his father had just left this block in the Boston Marathon when the first explosion went off. Moments later, Chad Wells explaining what he saw to Wolf Blitzer.

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": Chad Wells, are you on the phone right now?

WELLS: Yes, Wolf, I'm on the phone. I can hear you.

LAH (on camera): How strange is this for your family to be involved in two - two of these?

WELLS: I think two's enough for a lifetime now. I - I am - I am just dumbfounded, to be honest. And all I can hope is that the Boston experience gave Mason some peace, because I know that he was in the turmoil right there when the blast happened and it was pretty chaotic from what I heard.

LAH: And you have the map here to sort of trace his travels.

WELLS: Yes, didn't expect him to be in Belgium, but he started in Rohan (ph).

LAH (voice-over): The Boston terror attack didn't quell Mason's desire to serve his church internationally. As a witness in this second attack, the Wells hope their son's mission, centered on peace, holds lessons.

WELLS: So I think this is a good wake-up call to not only the citizens of America and Belgium and France, but to the world, that we need to come together as humanity and not pull ourselves apart.

LAH (voice-over): As we're finishing our interview -



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And tell me about your head, honey.

LAH: The call from Mason.

WELLS: Mason, I'm going to catch a flight over to Paris.

LAH (on camera): What was it like to finally hear his voice?

WELLS: That was amazing relief. Pure joy to hear Mason's voice, to know that he's alive, he's OK.

LAH: Now you heard Chad Wells there planning travel to Brussels. He hopes to be by his son's bedside as soon as possible.

As far as the other two Utah residents, Richard Norby and Joe Empey, they were both wounded, shrapnel wounds, as well as burns.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Salt Lake City, Utah.


BLITZER: What an amazing story. Fortunately, they'll be OK.

We're just beginning to learn the identities of some of the attack victims, 36-year-old Adelma Tapia Ruiz, was a native of Peru. Andena (ph), the Peruvian state news agency, reports that Ruiz had lived in Belgium for six years with her Belgian husband and twin three-year-old daughters. They were waiting to board a plane for New York for a family reunion. The news agency says the daughters and husband had left the boarding areas just moments before the explosion.

We're also learning about Leopold Hecht, a native of Belgium. He was a law student there in Brussels. The school says Hecht was killed in the metro station attack. And Olivier Delespesse was also killed in the metro explosion. That according to his employer. He worked for a government ministry which represents French speakers in Belgium.

Our deepest, deepest condolences.

For more information on how you can help the victims and loved ones of the attacks in Brussels, just log on to You'll be able to impact your world.

[13:29:48] Up next, as Belgium mourns the victims of the terror attacks, the United States issues a new warning, a very dire warning, for Americans abroad and at home. We're going live to the State Department for the very latest.