Return to Transcripts main page


Manhunt for Tri-State Bomb Suspect; Possible Larger Terror Cell May Be Involved in 3 Explosions; Elizabeth, New Jersey, Major Address Media; Obama Speaks on Bomb Explosions; Tri-State Bomb Suspect in Custody. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 19, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: There's a manhunt underway and a possible terror cell at work in New Jersey and New York. Police are now searching for this man, Ahmad Khan Rahami, in connection with all three incidents, bomb locations in both states, over the past 48 hours. We are told he was just added to the terror watch list. He's believed to be scene here on surveillance video carrying a duffel bag. This was shortly before the blast in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. That was the blast that injured 29 people Saturday night.

This is what we know about this man right now. He is a naturalized citizen from Afghanistan, 28 years old. He lives in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Authorities say he could be armed and dangerous right now. And anyone with information should contact the FBI immediately at 1- 800-577-TIPS.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Investigators also tell CNN that it's possible a larger terror cell may be involved in the three explosions over the weekend. The first before the start of the charity race in Seaside Park, New Jersey, on Saturday, then the dumpster explosion in Chelsea Saturday night. An undetonated pressure cooker bomb was found four blocks away in New York. And in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where five pipe bombs were discovered near a train station over night -- you saw right there. One of the pipe bomb devices was detonated by a bomb squad robot. Police raids are currently underway there. The mayor of that town tells CNN that the raids are definitely related to the Chelsea incident. All three of the incidents are now connected.

The mayor of the town will be joining us shortly.

First, let's get the latest from CNN's Evan Perez, with new information on the ongoing manhunt.

Evan, what are you hearing right now?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We know that once the FBI figured out who this guy was yesterday, late yesterday, they were able to add him to the watch lists to make sure he was not going to be able to leave the country. Obviously, the first place they checked to make sure, the TSA, the CPB, Border Patrol, that he's not able to leave via the airports or through the borders. That was a top concern. Yesterday, they spent several hours trying to find him before they finally decided it was time to put the photograph out to make sure that wherever he was that he could be found as quickly as possible, guys. Because this is obvious an urgent situation given the fact you have seen the bombs found in Elizabeth last night.

BERMAN: So is this just this man being sought right now, Ahmad Khan Rahami, or are there others as, because the notion he could possibly be connected to a cell that has been tossed around all morning.

PEREZ: Right. Exactly. That's the big question. The fear was that he was part of a larger group. There are some images recovered in the surveillance video that appear to show other people that may or may not be connected to him. That's what the authorities are working on right now. We don't know whether or not, and how many other people might have been assisting him. The belief is that he probably did not act alone. But that is something the investigation will have to show. At this point, they just don't know.

BOLDUAN: So they sent out this to be on the lookout for this man, Rahami. Are you getting a sense that they are focusing in any one place in their manhunt right now?

PEREZ: I think when you see them put out a BOLO is because they have run out of the obvious options they had, that the FBI had. They don't normally put this out until they have finally run into a brick wall. And that is exactly what has happened now. They are very much concerned he's armed, and given the fact that he has the capability to build devices that are lethal, that could be lethal, that is very much top concern to get him as soon as possible.

BERMAN: What about the five guys apprehended overnight, taken in for questioning, or who were questioned after their vehicle was stopped on the road, any connection to this man?

PEREZ: We still don't know. The FBI has not put out any clarity as to whether they are connected. The initial concern was they were, I'm told, and our producer working with as well, he says that the people are telling him as well that some people have been crossed out. In other words, there were some initial concerns and some of those people have now been cleared, but we don't have the full picture yet. Until here's arrested, until Rahami has been arrested by the FBI, we are not going to know how far this goes.

BOLDUAN: Evan, hold on a second.

We'll take you to Elizabeth, New Jersey. The mayor of Elizabeth, New Jersey, is addressing the media now. Let's listen in.

J. CHRISTIAN BOLLWAGE, (D), MAYOR, ELIZABETH NEW JERSEY: No specific address of the raid that happened during the African-American parade. It was sometimes between 3:00 and 4:00 that I was made known that they were looking at Elizabeth sources. Other than that, no addresses, no names at that time.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Into effect with the problem working all day long, has there been much contact or any contact?

BOLLWAGE: Well, yeah, because they tried to stay open after 10:00 at night and the neighbors would call the Elizabeth Police Department and the Elizabeth Police Department would have to respond and let them know there's a city ordinance, that they have to close at 10:00. At which time, when the police came, they would close.


BOLLWAGE: I haven't checked the records, but it was an ongoing problem throughout the years. It was not something --mostly on the weekends when they thought they would do more business.


BOLLWAGE: That was part of their lawsuit against the city, that it was based on their beliefs. But I attended the neighborhood here and also talked with the neighbors. That had absolutely nothing to do with it. It was a lawsuit and the enforcement measures that had nothing to do with beliefs, religion or anything else.

[11:05:28] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do we know what -- (INAUDIBLE)


BOLLWAGE: A father and two brothers. The father's name is Mohammad.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Where are the bombs that were found?

BOLLWAGE: If they are not in Quantico, Virginia, they are on their way. They were taken from here to the Middlesex Fire Academy, in Middlesex County, which they will be transported to Quantico, Virginia, for further analysis.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do we know what it was in the Verrazano stop that led them to Mr. Rahami?

BOLLWAGE: I'm not aware from whatever information led them to the sources to pull that vehicle over. I imagine it was surveillance that was going on, but the city of Elizabeth was not involved in any of that information until we had our own incidents here last night and early morning.


BOLLWAGE: Let my assure you, the FBI and the state police and the Union County prosecutor's office and the Union County Sheriff's Department, the Elizabeth Police Department, since I was made aware of this shortly after 9:00 last night, have been nothing but diligent, effective, and very efficient in not only tracking down leads but accumulating all the debris and any of the fragments from the bomb that exploded last evening. And the two men that actually turned this in are absolutely terrific.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you elaborate on the evidence that lead them here?

BOLLWAGE: I'm not aware of the evidence that led them here, except for the traffic stop that occurred outside of the Verrazano Bridge. That traffic stop led to a search warrant which brought them to this location.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you heard about a fingerprint on the exploded devices?

BOLLWAGE: I have not heard about a fingerprint. I am not sure there are some. I'm not even sure they were able to exam fingerprints yet. Anybody saying that they have examined fingerprints this soon would probably not be correct. It's en route to Virginia. And it left at about somewhere between 4:00 and 5:00 this morning. So what is that, a six, seven-hour ride? It probably hasn't gotten there yet.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you been told if bomb-making material were found in the apartment?

BOLLWAGE: I have not been told. At about 12:30 today, I'm going to get a full briefing from the ATF and the FBI, with Senator Menendez, Senator Booker and Congressman Albio Sires. We were coming here for a 12:45 press conference at fire headquarters to announce a Safer Grant where we were getting $5 million to hire 36 new firemen. So the Senators are still coming to Elizabeth. And we'll have a full briefing at that time, which I will gladly brief all of you at some point after that.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you. We appreciate it, Mayor.

BERMAN: All right. You have been listening to the mayor of Elizabeth, New Jersey.

We do have breaking news to tell you about right now. We just got word from the White House that President Obama will be making a statement at 11:30. So about 22 minutes from now. The president is here in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly at the Palace Hotel in New York. 11:30, a statement from the president. Unsure whether he has any news or developments that he will be announcing. We'll bring that to you live when it happens.

BOLDUAN: This will be the first time we hear from the president on this. That is important. And we'll bring you that.

But we were just listening right there to the mayor of Elizabeth, New Jersey, where the raids and the searches are really going on as we speak. What we heard there from the mayor, it sounds like -- to be quite honest, there are a lot of moving parts and information is coming in real time. It almost seems like not everyone knows what is going on. But the mayor does believe, the latest thing he knew was that a traffic stop led to a search warrant that led them to Elizabeth, New Jersey, to where the raids are ongoing.

We'll bring in Evan Perez on this.

Because it almost seems there is a bit of a lack of, not a lot of communication. There is a lot of moving parts right now.

PEREZ: Right. There is a lot of lack of clarity for us. The FBI has a fuller picture of what is going on.

We know from the sources that they have concluded that he's likely tied, Rahami is tied to all the incidents. That's why they're in Elizabeth because there was an incident last night with the pipe bombs.

BOLDUAN: There's still a lot we don't know specifically.

PEREZ: There's a lot we don't know about him. We believe he lived in northern New Jersey. And one of the things that everybody is trying to figure out right now is, everybody who he's been in touch with, anybody he's spoken to on the phone, every one of these people will be tracked down and talked to by the FBI to try to put a picture together of what he's been doing incidents began.

[11:10:08] BERMAN: Evan, standby for a moment. I want to give you an opportunity to work your sources because the information is coming in just now.

While we wait, we are bringing in Anthony May, a retired ATF explosives investigation; and Phil Mudd, CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official.

Phil, I want to start with you here.

There's a manhunt underway for a person who is believed to be connected to three incidents, three explosions in the tri-state area over the last 48 hours. That, in and of itself, is a remarkable moment here in this city, but how are they going about in your mind? How do you engage in a manhunt like this in an area like this?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It's broader than a manhunt, John. There's two pieces. One, you have an individual identified. If you think of your own life, cell phone, e-mail, social media, he's got a network presumably of information around him to allow the feds to look at data over the past days, weeks, figure out where he's been, where he's withdrawn money, where his vehicle has been, where he's registered for an apartment. But there is a parallel piece of equipment that is important. One of the first questions is, who is he talking to in this. Are there others out there with additional explosive devices? It is not just a manhunt for them but figuring out if there's a cell you have to stop now.

BOLDUAN: And, Phil, what then is the impact with that mind with authorities putting out this "to be on the lookout?" Putting his picture out there, putting his information out there, obviously, there's a lot of decision to do so. But how does someone like Rahami react to this?

MUDD: I think he goes underground. The first question is whether he has a place to go underground. Think of the opportunities the feds have to hunt for him now. They can find his apartment, his license plate, they can find his friends and find his family. The opportunities you have to move when they can draw a circle around an individual like that are substantial. Number two, he can use an ATM card anymore, or a credit card or a passport. So as the days pass, his ability to get out of the web gets tighter and tighter. He can't move.

BERMAN: His world is shrinking and shrinking very fast. Anthony May, explosives expert here, we have a remarkable piece of

evidence, the likes of which you rarely have in an investigation like this, which is an unexploded bomb. An unexploded bomb found in Chelsea a couple of block away from where the bomb did go off. Based on what you've seen in the pictures and heard in the reporting, what does this tell you about the person that made it? We should be clear, we don't know that Rahami who made the devices, but what does it tell you about who did?

ANTHONY MAY, RETIRED ATF EXPLOSIVES INVESTIGATOR: It's interesting in the fact that it was found where it was. It almost appears that if this guy is connected to the Elizabeth, New Jersey, pipe bombs that he is on the run, he's ditching his devices, he's giving up on his attack plan. But the device that was found, the pressure cooker intact, gives a wealth of information, not only from the construction of the bomb, how it was constructed, but there is also trace evidence there, the DNA evidence. All of this is very useful in the investigation to develop leads and link back to the builder.

Now what is interesting -- now I know CNN broke a few minutes ago that all three bombings are connected -- we've got a series of bombings that are using different types of devices, which is not normal for a single bomber.


BOLDUAN: What does this tell you -- sorry, go ahead.

MAY: Well, just to say, they try to stay in their comfort level. For example, if they are comfortable building pipe bombs, they will build pipe bombs. If they are comfortable with the pressure cooker, they'll go with that. This may tell us there may be more than one individual involved. This individual may be the carrier, the mule. There may be a bomb builder out there. There may be a safe house with more devices built up. That is what should be alarming to the community out there. And the community can actually help in this investigation.

BOLDUAN: From the picture we have now, we've got -- you've got 29 people who were injured, no deaths, though. And when you count up how many explosive devices we're talking, how many bombs, just short of 10, and when you look at the whole scene together, look at the scene together, no deaths, though, you did take a close look at the pictures and images out from the Chelsea incident.

What does that tell you about the level of expertise of whoever put this together?

MAY: Well, I would say that the level of expertise of placement is very unusual. Now the development of the bomb, if the bomb that went off in Chelsea is like the pressure cooker that was recovered, that's a very devastating device, especially with the fact that it had B.B.s, ball bearings, extra shrapnel. But from examining the photographs, and admittedly, that puts me at a disadvantage, but looking at the photographs, it appears the pressure cooker was placed inside of this metal portable trash bin. That container actually sort of operated as and open recent bomb container, meaning that when the explosion went off, the explosion took the path of least resistance. Most of the debris, everything went upward and out, which may have saved a lot of lives in that area.


[11:15:24] BERMAN: Phil Mudd, the devices here, for a lot of us, don't feel that different than what was used in Boston at the marathon bombing. Those devices made by two brothers, these we're not quite sure, but they are made with basically household items. It's the type of thing that anyone can do with a little bit of research on the Internet and whatnot.

You know, what does it tell you, again, about the thinking of the person who did it?


BERMAN: Go ahead.

MUDD: No, I'm sorry. I thought the question was for me.

MAY: It tells me, as we were discussing, these devices are the kind of materials that you would find in the al Qaeda magazine. They will tell you in magazine, available on the Internet, how to make these in your home. But there are other characteristics that add to this picture of potentially an individual either on the run or not thinking through this. We just talked about the fact that he put it into a metal container, which will contain the blast. You also typically in these incidents find an effort to maximize casualties. It didn't look like that happened in this case. You find a suicide bomber, didn't happen in this case. And often you find an iconic target, like a military recruitment base, a police station, where you can instantly understand why the bomber placed the device there. We didn't get that in this case. So you have to scratch your head and say, what was going on here in the last hours before this individual acted, John?

BERMAN: Confusing when you piece together the places where bombs were found.

All right, Phil Mudd, Anthony May, thank you very much.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys.

Staying close to this. We'll take you live to the site of the New York bombing. This, as world leaders are now in the city, converging in the city for the U.N. General Assembly. And President Obama, as we just learned a short time ago, will into speaking live. A lot of moving parts.

BERMAN: And top of all of this, we have breaking developments in the terror attack inside the mall in Minnesota. The man who carried out the stabbings has now been identified. You're going to hear who he is exactly, and how the federal government, how officials I.D.'d him.


[11:21:27] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: We have breaking news, information in to CNN moments ago. Ahmad Khan Rahami, the man now believed connected to all three explosive incidents in New York and New Jersey over the last two days, now they are in custody.

BOLDUAN: Let's bring in Pamela Brown, out justice correspondent in D.C., on the phone with us.

Pamela, you're picking this up. What are you -- oh, you're live in living color. Tell us what you've got.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Sources tell me and my colleague, Shimon Prokupecz, that he is in custody. The suspect, 28- year-old Ahmad Rahami is in custody after a shoot-out with police in Linden, New Jersey. That's 10 minutes from Elizabeth, New Jersey, where officials found explosive devices there earlier, last night and today. They have been looking at that and tracked him down in Linden, New Jersey. There was a shoot-out with police and we are told that one officer was injured in the shoot-out. At that time, officers were able to make the arrest. A very chaotic scene. A lot unfolding at this time. There's been this manhunt for the suspect right here shortly after the bomb exploded in Chelsea on Saturday night. They were able to identify Rahami through surveillance and other investigative means. So this manhunt was under way. We know there was a device in Seaside, New Jersey, that went off, as well as the devices that were found nearby in Elizabeth, New Jersey. So officials connected him, the suspect here, to all three of those explosive devices, including the one on 27th Street in New York. And so they have been looking for him. They do believe he may be connected to others and may be part of a terrorist cell of some sort. That is still under investigation. The fact that they have him in development in this investigation.

Back to you.

BOLDUAN: Pamela, thanks so much.

Just to recap, the headline here, he man you see on the screen, Ahmad Rahami, they have him in custody in Linden, New Jersey after a shootout where at least one officer was injured in the shoot-out. That we're learning right now.

BERMAN: Let me just add, we are about a minute away from President Obama, who will be holding a news conference, or making a statement. He's here in New York City for the U.N. General Assembly meeting. Presumably, the president has this information. Let's listen in.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- about the explosions that occurred here in New York City and New Jersey and the other device that had been found in New Jersey. I've been monitoring the situation closely and receiving frequent updates from my team and I've just been briefed again by FBI Director Comey.

In addition, I've had a chance to speak with Governors Cuomo and Christie, as well as Mayor de Blasio. We've seen what was apparently a pipe bomb go off in New Jersey in Seaside Park, where it could have seriously injured our U.S. Marines and spectators who were there for a race.

The bombing in the Chelsea neighborhood here in New York injured more than two dozen people. We are extremely fortunate and grateful that nobody was killed. Our prayers go out to all of those who have been injured. We want to wish them a speedy recovery.

I especially want to commend all the outstanding police and first responders in both New York City and New Jersey for their extraordinary professionalism and their quick response, which surely prevented even more people from being hurt, and ensure that people got assistance quickly.

The investigation is moving rapidly, and as is my practice, I'm going to leave it to the FBI and law enforcement to provide details.

[11:25:02] I think everybody is aware at this point that there is a person of interest who is the focus of the investigation, and the FBI can give you further details in terms of how that is proceeding.

I told Governors Cuomo and Christie and Mayor de Blasio that they and their teams will continue to have all federal support as they move ahead with their investigations in tracking down every lead and working to keep the people of this city and of this region safe.

Law enforcement is asking for the help of the community, and so to everybody in this region, I wanna repeat what we've said before. If you see something suspicious, then you need to say something. Contact local law enforcement.

In the meantime, I would ask that the press try to refrain from getting out ahead of the investigation. I am extraordinarily happy with the cooperation that's been taking place between the FBI and state and local law enforcement officials. They are moving smartly on this investigation.

It does not help if false reports or incomplete information is out there. So try to, as much as possible, stick to what our investigators say because they actually know what they're talking about.

Meanwhile, I know that the United Nations meetings here every year already create an additional workload for New York. But given the U.N. meetings, we also have a particularly high level of federal resources here to help as needed. We're gonna make sure that everybody's working together seamlessly as one team to get to the bottom of what happened, to find those responsible and to make sure that justice is done.

Meanwhile, while all this is going on in New York and New Jersey, we're also focused on the stabbing attack at the shopping mall in Minnesota. At this point, we see no connection between that incident and what happened here in New York and New Jersey. Our attention there is on the people who were injured, and again, we are very grateful that no one lost their life. Thanks to the quick action of a brave off-duty police officer, the suspect was killed and we avoided more people being hurt.

I had a chance also to speak with Governor Dayton this morning. I assured him that we will provide all the assistance that he needs in the investigation. The FBI is investigating the Minnesota incident as a potential act of terrorism. We will direct the full resources of the federal government to make sure that the investigation goes forward aggressively.

And finally, I want to take this opportunity to reassure the people in this city, in this region and Americans across our country that our counterterrorism and law enforcement professionals at every level, federal state and local, are working together around the clock to prevent attacks and to keep us safe.

They are the best of the best. Over the years, they have thwarted many plots and saved many lives and we are incredibly grateful for their service, today and every single day. We will continue to lead the global coalition on the fight to destroy ISIL, which is instigating a lot of people over the internet to carry out attacks.

We are gonna continue to go after them. We're gonna take out their leaders. We're gonna take out their infrastructure. They're continuing to lose ground in Iraq and in Syria. And later today, I'll be meeting with Prime Minister Abadi of Iraq to discuss the need to sustain that momentum.

As we take away more of their territory, it exposes ISIL as the failed cause that it is and it helps to undermine their ideology, which over time, will make it harder for them to recruit and inspire people to violence. And we're gonna continue to enlist tech companies and community and religious leaders to push back against online extremist content and all messages of hate.

You know, at moments like this, I think it's important to remember what terrorists and violent extremists are trying to do. They are trying to hurt innocent people but they also wanna inspire fear in all of us and disrupt the way we live to undermine our values.

And so even as we have to be vigilant and aggressive both in preventing senseless acts of violence but also making sure that we find those who carry out such acts and bring them to justice, we all have a role to play as citizens in making sure that we don't succumb to that fear.

[11:30:00] And there's no better example of that than the people of New York and New Jersey.