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Terrorist Plows Truck Into Crowd Killing 84 and injuring more than 200; Berkeley Student Missing In Nice; Obama Condemns Horrific Attack In Nice; Third Major Terror Attack In France In 18 Months; White House Update On Terror Attack In France; U.S. Offers Condolences And Assistance. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired July 15, 2016 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Wherever you are watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
We begin with the tragic aftermath of that horrific terror attack in Nice, France. Authorities now say 84 people were killed, more than 200 were injured, including 52 who remain in critical condition right now.
We're also learning more about the victims and the attacker that plowed a truck into a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day. At the scene, a child's flip-flop left on the ground. Officials say 10 children are among the dead. The street that was littered with bodies has been cleared.
An American who eye-witnessed the attack describes the chaotic scene last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL DELANE: All of a sudden, you heard screaming. We just saw hordes of thousands of people of -- it seemed like thousands of people running towards us. And if you didn't run with them, then you would have been just trampled yourself. So, we just ran along not knowing anything, not knowing what was even going on but just trying to escape.
At the same time, I was thinking, well, maybe I shouldn't be running. Maybe I should be looking for a place to hide because we couldn't hear any bullet shots. The music was so loud that it was literally just screaming and running that we saw. So, it was -- it was just mass confusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The man who drove the truck into the crowd has been identified as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a 31-year-old French-Tunisian and a resident of Nice. He came to France in 2005 from Tunisia. He was shot and killed by police. We learned the identity of two Americans killed in the attack, Texan Sean Copeland and his 11-year-old son, Brodie. They were vacationing in Nice with other family members.
We've also just learned that a student from the University of California at Berkeley is missing following the attacks in Nice.
The French President Francois Hollande has called for three days of mourning. Also, a state of emergency is being extended for three months. At a news conference today, president Hollande vowed, and I'm quoting him now, "We can overcome this evil because we are France."
The beach front promenade in Nice was packed with people. Witnesses say the attacker fired from his truck, then accelerated down the street zigzagging and running over anyone in his path. The truck traveled more than a mile before police were able to shoot and kill the driver.
We're covering this story from every angle. Our Senior International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is near the scene in Nice. Our International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson is outside the attacker's apartment. And our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto, he's here in Washington watching all of these developments.
First to you, Clarissa. What's the latest where you are?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're here. You can see the beginning of the Promenade Des Anglais right behind me. This is one of the most popular tourism destinations here in Nice which is a city that is beloved by people all over the world, and, of course, by French people themselves. A very popular vacation destination.
Police have sealed this off completely. But we actually managed to get behind that screen and have a look at what was going on there. We were not allowed to take any pictures or any video.
But let me just describe to you what it was like. Incredibly eerie, Wolf, just empty. You could hear a pin drop. There were some blankets on the ground, not clear exactly what they were covering. A tent which had been destroyed, lying twisted on the ground. Also, the wreckage of bicycles that had been crumpled by the force. Flowers left by mourners. Really, just the surreal thing to see in a place that is normally teeming with people.
At one stage, I saw a truck go by and the back was filled with crumpled bicycles. And also, more disturbingly, Wolf, crumpled baby strollers. This would normally be full with thousands of people gathered here, Bastille Day, France's independence day. They would have been watching the fireworks.
Today, however, the atmosphere far more solemn and far more tense. And when President Francois Hollande, the French president, when his motorcade went by here, it was very interesting to see. A very different vibe to what we saw in Paris. [13:05:04] People were angry. We heard at least one person shout, you're a murderer. And many here do not feel as secure as they believe they should -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And France, Clarissa, was just preparing to lift its state of emergency put into place after the November terror attacks in Paris and now this. The French president saying he wants to extend that state of emergency for another three months. How are the people responding to this latest attack where you are, specifically? They must be so angry.
WARD: They are angry. And it's so interesting to see. You know, if you go out and talk, there are large crowds of people, and they're having debates, Wolf, discussions about politics, about whether the government is doing enough, about whether there was enough policing, about whether we should be calling this terrorism. There are a lot of acrimonious feelings coming to the fore.
As I said before, it is a radically different vibe to what we experienced after Paris. People now want answers. And they've heard the French prime minister, Valls, say this morning, we must mourn our dead. We stand in solidarity.
But we also have to accept that these events will continue to happen. That, essentially, this is the new normal in Europe. And when I was talking to people all around here on the streets, they say, no, we don't except that. This isn't good enough. We want better security.
BLITZER: Clarissa, stand by.
Nic Robertson is outside the attacker's apartment in Nice. Update us, Nic, on the search of that apartment.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, Wolf, what we heard from the prosecutor earlier was him describing Mohamed Bouhlel as somebody who had a violent past. That he had been brought to -- brought to court, tried, found guilty of threatening behavior with a weapon, given a six-month suspended sentence earlier in the year.
Now, the police did visit this apartment earlier today. They broke the door down to get into the apartment. I looked through the key hole of the door, and you could see that there were drawers on their sides. A lot of things sort of lying out of the drawers. There were some -- like a computer screen on the floor of the apartment there.
The police have now sealed it off and moved on. But we've talked to neighbors here as well. One of the neighbors here, upstairs, said she is so shocked -- so shocked to learn this about the attacker, because she said she knew him as somebody who was friendly to her. Not particularly communicative. Friendly. Helped fix the toilet in her apartment. But she didn't ever see him be angry.
Another lady we talked to in the apartment here described him, however, as being odd. And this is something we've heard from other neighbors. She said he had a very, you know, fixed look. He would stare. He wouldn't really engage her in the eyes. He would just nod at her. He wouldn't actually say hello. She said he used to come and go from the apartment maybe four times a day. He would always have his bicycle with him.
What we've heard from a prosecutor today is that when he went to get into that refrigerated truck late last night, he rode down there on his bicycle. The prosecutor says they caught that on CCTV, closed- circuit television footage. And when they opened up the truck as well as the weapons, the fake weapons and the real handgun they found inside the truck, they also found his bicycle.
But the description that we get here is a man who was something of a loner. Also going through, perhaps, a significant change in his life in the not too distant past, separating from his wife. His wife took their three young children to live not far away from here in another part of Nice. That's another part of his background, again, for the police trying to put all of this together to figure out why he did this. Was he connected to some bigger organization -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, stand by for a moment.
Jim Sciutto, you're watching the U.S. part of this. I know the president has pledged total U.S. support to the French in this investigation. In fact, the president just ordered that all U.S. flags be flown at half-staff in honor of the victims. There, you can see the -- over at the White House, the flag flying at half-staff already. But they will be flown at half-staff now for the next few days in honor of the victims of this terror attack.
What kind of role will the U.S. play in this investigation?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. has a very close intelligence-sharing relationship with France, particularly on counterterror issues. I have spoken with a U.S. intelligence official who, like the French said earlier today, say that this attacker was not on the radar before. He was not known to be a suspect. That's, of course, a key issue.
You may remember, during the Charlie Hebdo attack in January of last year in Paris, that the Kouachi brothers who carried it out had actually been on the radar of French counterterror and then taken off. They were not seen as a priority.
This particular attacker -- and, again, there's no claim of responsibility. He has not attached himself to any terrorist group, including any Islamic terrorist group. But if he were to, relevant information that he was not known to the authorities before.
[13:10:05] So, what do they do now? The U.S. shares with the French all it knows. And also, they're going to be looking at communications here. And the U.S. has tremendous surveillance capability that it often shares with the French, in the wake of attacks like this, to see if he was talking to anybody from terror organizations such as ISIS. I'm told that there is no evidence of that yet, but that is something that they're checking now as well.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, thanks very much. All -- everyone, stand by.
The French ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud, is with me right now. Mr. Ambassador, my deepest condolences to all the people of France. A horrific series of terror attacks.
First of all, what can you tell us about this individual, this one terrorist?
GERARD ARAUD, U.S. FRENCH AMBASSADOR: Well, this individual, as it was just said, was unknown from our intelligence services, so he was not on our radar screen, in terms of radicalization.
But on the opposite side, I -- he was a petty criminal. You know, really, he had just a suspended conviction, you know, by the court for violence. So, the question is whether he has a relationship with ISIS or whether it was religiously radicalized. We don't know. So, we are investigating, his computers, his family, his former -- his ex-wife so that we can conclude what does -- what does this mean.
BLITZER: Why is France being so heavily targeted by these terrorists right now?
ARAUD: Well, I think it's history and geography. History, we have been the colonial power in North Africa and also in Syria and Lebanon. So, in a sense, for a lot of people from this country -- because the terrorist was not French. He was really Tunisian. In a sense --
BLITZER: He came from Tunisia to France in 2005. But over these past 10-11 years, he did not receive French citizenship?
ARAUD: Well, he had -- no. He had a sort of green card. You know, he has the French green card. So, you know, for the people -- from all these people, in a sense, France is a symbol of the west because we were the colonial power, because they speak French, because they look at the French T.V. And also, the fact is, in terms of geography, we have the (INAUDIBLE) community in Europe.
BLITZER: The largest.
ARAUD: The largest, sorry. Yes, the largest. And most of them are (INAUDIBLE) which means they are very sensitive, also, to the propaganda of the Islamic (INAUDIBLE) faith.
BLITZER: Because yesterday, the -- your president, Francois Hollande, in his statement to the people of France, he spoke of Islamic terrorism, Muslim Terrorism. He used that phrase. The phrase, as you know, President Obama doesn't like using.
ARAUD: Well, you know, it's not a first time that we are using this expression. My prime minister said, after the attack in November, that we were attacked by radical Islam. You know, really, so, again, the question is now to know whether this precise terrorist, you know, was really acting on -- as a lone wolf or part of a network.
BLITZER: And you're cooperate -- the U.S. is cooperating. What is the role of the U.S. right now? Because I know you're the French ambassador of the United States. I assume you've been in touch with your counterparts?
ARAUD: Well, we have a very, very close relationship, intelligence relationship. The secretary for Homeland Security, Mr. Jeh Johnson, was at embassy one hour ago. Not only --
BLITZER: The French embassy here in Washington?
ARAUD: Yes, in Washington. Not only to present his condolences but also to reaffirm the will of the United States to help us and to support us.
BLITZER: And so, basically going forward, how do you stop these kinds of terror attacks in France?
ARAUD: I don't know. You know, really, and it looks as a sort of endless tragedy. Every week, you know, really. But it's not only --
BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, let me interrupt for a moment.
BLITZER: The White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, is speaking about this terror attack. I just want to listen in.
JOSH EARNEST, U.S. PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE (live): -- terrorist attack. And President Obama had an opportunity earlier today to telephone President Hollande and relay his condolences to the people of France on behalf of the American people. France is, after all, our oldest ally.
And so, it should be no surprise that President Obama didn't just offer condolences, he offered significant security cooperation and any assistance that they need to conduct their investigation and to take steps to try to prevent something like this from happening again.
The president's top counterterrorism advisor, Lisa Monaco, had an opportunity to telephone her counterpart today. And our secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, has been in touch with his French counterpart today. Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, has been in touch with the French ambassador to the United States today.
And I can tell you that a range of U.S. officials, and law enforcement, and the intelligence community, and at a variety of Homeland Security agencies, have been in touch with their French counterparts to discuss the situation and to pledge cooperation.
[13:15:02] So, this is, obviously, something that the U.S. government will be monitoring closely in the days ahead, and we'll be offering our strongest support to the people of France in this very difficult time.
QUESTION: What about the message (inaudible). That is not something that we've seen before or at least I think in recent terrorist attacks around the world. What kind of clues does that method -- what does it say about the attack?
EARNEST: Well, there's still a lot -- there's still much more that needs to be learned about this particular situation.
There's more about this individual that French authorities have identified as the perpetrator. There's more that needs to be learned about his background, about other people that he may have associated with; anything that would provide some insight into how the attack was planned, how was carried out, and whether or not he received any instruction or direction about doing so.
So this is -- you know, we are in the early stages the investigation, but as French authorities begin to collect the information that could help answer those questions, they'll be able to rely on the strong support and the capabilities of the United States government.
QUESTION: Does the message or the guidance from the President and the U.S. government after terrorist attacks has been, and people shouldn't give into terrorists, they should (inaudible). After -- there seems to be an attack every week or every ten days or so, so can that still continue to be the guidance or the message that's coming from the government as we're seeing this happen on such a regular basis?
EARNEST: Well, let me answer that question in two different ways.
I think the first thing is, the kind of advisories that are issued with the federal government are consistent with the advisories that the federal government is offering to federal employees, particularity U.S. citizens who are working at diplomatic facilities around the globe.
And we believe that it is good practice to ensure that the information that's being shared with federal employees to ensure their safety and security, it's important that we share the information with U.S. citizens as well so they can take appropriate precautions. Those advisories regularly encourage you to be vigilant, to be aware of their surroundings, and we certainly would encourage people to follow that advice.
What's also true is that the United States government in an effort to protect the American people and to protect the interests of our allies around the world, expends significant resources in countering extremists, fighting terrorism and protecting the American people. And one element of that strategy is deepening our coordination with our allies, including our allies in France.
So the President is determined to continue to do that work. And in the days ahead we will see more of it.
QUESTION: Lastly, on a difference subject, do you have anything at all to say about Donald Trump's choice on Governor Mike Pence as a running mate? I mean, he made it official today.
EARNEST: You mean the TPP-supporting, Medicaid-expanding Mike Pence?
QUESTION: If that's what you want to call it.
EARNEST: No, I don't have any comment on it.
QUESTION: Is there any information thus far that shows that the Islamic is responsible for the attack?
EARNEST: French investigators are still looking very closely at what sort of connections this individual may have to extremist organizations.
There been no claims of responsibility that we have seen thus far, but we'll obviously look to that as a potential clue about what may have contributed to this particular terrorist attack. But at this point it's too early to draw any firm conclusions about who may -- whether or not this individual had ties to a broader terrorist network, or was part of a broader terrorist conspiracy.
QUESTION: The President is going to be speaking this afternoon, can you tell us a little bit about what he hopes to get across?
EARNEST: The President had previously planned a -- primarily a social gathering with a diplomats from around the world who are based here in Washington, D.C. This is something that the President and First Lady have hosted here at the White House in the past.
And I think it's an appropriate time for the President to speak to those diplomats about the resolve of the United States to working together with the rest the international community to fight terrorism and to fight extremism.
This is not something that the United States will be able to do alone, And in fact, we benefit significantly and our national security is greatly enhanced by our ability to cooperate and coordinate with our allies and partners around the world.
That's certainly what we've seen in the context of our counter ISIL campaign -- 66 nations that are working together to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist organization. But our efforts to cooperate with the international community have benefited the United States in a variety of ways, that includes our efforts to reach an international agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, that includes our efforts to confront what our officials at the Department of Defense describes as a significant national security problem, which is climate change. And the United States did reach an agreement last December with the 193 nations to take it coordinated approach to fighting carbon pollution and addressing climate change.
These are all good examples of the way the national security of United States and the day-to-day lives the American people are enhanced by the strength of our alliances and partnerships around the world.
QUESTION: During the Paris attacks last year and the Brussels attack earlier this year, the President and other White House officials talked about the need for a better information sharing and intelligent sharing in Europe. And I'm wondering whether the White House has proved that intelligence has approved -- whether more needs to be done?
EARNEST: Well, there certainly is more that needs to be done. But why don't we talk first about what progress we have made just since November. And the United States and France had made important progress in enhancing our security relationship. Shortly after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November, the Secretary of Defense and the office of the Director of National Intelligence that did succeed in working with the French to reach a new or enhanced information sharing relationship. The that sharing that information does enhance our national security and it certainly enhances the ability of our military and our intelligence community to take steps to protect the American people.
Earlier this year, the President's top counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco travel to France and completed an arrangement with her French counterpart to further enhance our security and intelligence cooperation and information sharing with the French. This information could be used for a variety of purposes, including mitigating the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, disrupting potential terror plots and even preventing future terrorist attacks.
[13:23:14] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to continue to monitor Josh Earnest over at the White House, going into some specifics on French cooperation with the United States in counterterrorism.
Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to the United States, is still with us.
You listened closely to what he had to say. He also told us when Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, went to the French embassy here in Washington today, you met with him. That conversation you had with him, was there a specific request you made of the United States for assistance in this investigation?
GERARD ARAUD, FRENCH AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: No, no specific request, because as it has been described by the spokesman for the White House, our cooperation has reached really an unprecedented level now. And in this precise case, we first we have to know whether the guy actually was lonely or whether he was acting in a framework of a network.
BLITZER: Do you have any indication whether he was inspired, let's say, by a terrorist organizations like ISIS, or in the preliminary review of his media, of his social media on this laptop or his computer or whatever, have you seen any indications of that?
ARAUD: I don't have the result of the investigation on his computer - on his computers. But so far, if you refer to the testimonies of the neighbors, it doesn't appear as extremely religious. Actually, doesn't appear as religious at all. So we have to try to guess whether we are in assault of Orlando case or San Bernardino case, you know, these lone people who suddenly decide that they want to kill.
BLITZER: The cooperation between France and the United States in counterterrorism is strong, but in the past, correct me if I'm wrong, it has not been that great between France and ironically other European countries in terms of exchanging information. Is that right? [13:25:03] ARAUD: Well, as you know, we have a (INAUDIBLE) system
called (INAUDIBLE), but the problem is that all the members of the European Union, you know, should feel - feed the system, and some of them don't do it. So we have to make the (INAUDIBLE) system much more effective.
BLITZER: It's a horrible situation, what happened in Nice yesterday. Mr. Ambassador, thank you for coming in. Once again, our deepest, deepest condolences to you, all the people of France on this horrific, horrific attack. Thank you.
ARAUD: Thank you very, very much.
BLITZER: All right, Gerard Araud is the French ambassador to the United States.
Coming up, the French president, Francois Hollande, visited some of the dozens of the injured in the Nice terror attacks. We're going to have a live report on the injured from just outside the hospital in Nice.
BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Let's get some more now on our top story, as France reels from yet another terror attack. Thousands of people were packed along the promenade in Nice. The French president, Francois Hollande, called it one of the most beautiful towns on the planet. This video shows you the crowd celebrating Bastille Day, enjoying the traditional fireworks.
[13:30:00] But moments later, a truck plowed through the crowd, killing at least 84 people. More than 50 right now remain in critical condition. Among the dead, many children. President Hollande spoke about the loss shortly after