Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

What Paris Attacks Mean for U.S. Fight Against ISIS; Manhunt Underway for 8th Paris Attacker; French President Declares War. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 16, 2015 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:13] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Kate Bolduan, joining you live from New York.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman, live in Paris, for CNN special coverage of the hunt for the attackers and the masterminds behind the horrific terror attacks that rocked this city.

Just moments ago, French President Francois Hollande said, "We are at war, France is at war," but he says, it is not a battle of civilizations because ISIS represents no civilization.

Here are the latest details in the Paris terror attack investigation. An urgent international search is under way right now for the brother of one dead attacker, Belgian-born French citizen, Salah Abdeslam. Belgian Specials Ops failed to catch him in a raid in a Brussels neighborhood this morning. Police tell the public he is dangerous, do not approach him. They had him. They questioned him on a highway on the way to Belgium not hours after the attack but let him go.

We have more information, also, about the ISIS connection. Two members of the terror group are thought to have masterminded the Paris terrorist attacks. They are believed to be in Iraq or Syria right now and have French and Belgian connections. CNN's French affiliate, BVM, reports six attackers, six of the eight people believed to be primarily responsible for the attacks on Friday, spent time in Syria.

As I said, French President Francois Hollande addressed a joint session of parliament a short time ago. He calls Syria the biggest terrorism factory the world has ever known. And he promised more air strikes there. That on top of the 20 bombs dropped overnight.

And within the last hour, just a few minutes ago, President Obama addressed the G-20 summit in Turkey. He spoke to reporters there shortly after. He talked about what the Paris attacks mean for the U.S. campaign against ISIS. CNN's Jim Acosta asked him some pretty tough questions.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And I think a lot of Americans have this frustration. They see that the United States has the greatest military in the world. It has the backing of nearly every other country in the world when it comes to taking on ISIS. I guess the question is, and if you'll forgive the language, is, why can't we take out these bastards?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is not, as I said, a traditional military opponent. We can retake territory. And as long as we leave our troops there, we can hold it. But that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.


BERMAN: The president was very defensive, also very angry at the round of questioning, which suggested he will not do enough or is not tough enough against the battle of ISIS. The president said, what I will not do is pose, he says, he simply does not have time for that.

I want to bring in our Clarissa ward here in Paris for the latest on the investigation.

Clarissa, all sorts of leads being followed, not just here but in Belgium as well.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. Authorities are really pursuing every lead. They're knocking on every day. Overnight and early, this morning more than 150 raids. Those raids resulting in more than 100 people under house arrest, 23 people now under arrest. Weapons were found, including a rocket launcher. Military clothing was also found. But it's not clear how specifically these raids relate to Friday's attacks.

The main manhunt that is currently under way is very much about finding that eighth attacker. And the primary suspect in terms of who that eighth attacker could be is Salah Abdeslam. He is the brother of one of the men who blew themselves up at the Bataclan Theater. In fact, he was actually stopped by police a few hours after the attacks, John. He was questioned and then allowed to continue on his way. It's believed he was driving toward Belgium. We saw a series of raids also this morning in Belgium. So far, though, no word on where he might be -- John?

BERMAN: And there are French media reports, Clarissa, that six of the eight attackers had spent time in Syria. First, you reported on the 150 raids that took place overnight are still presumably ongoing. You said not clear how they are connected to the investigation of the terror attack on Friday, but some of these raids have turned up things like a grenade launcher, not to mention serious weaponry and arms like the Kalashnikovs.

[11:05:00] WARD: Absolutely. This is a very serious situation. The police don't want to leave anything to chance. They're going and knocking on the doors of anyone who might be related to this attack or who else might be related to a broader network that helped these attackers facilitate and orchestrate these attacks. This was a complex and sophisticated attack, the likes of which Europe really has not seen before. And you heard President Hollande there, John. He said this was

planned in Syria, organized in Belgium with complicity from inside France. That's why you're dealing with such a challenging atmosphere for security officials, not just here but across the continent. There are free borders all throughout central Europe. People go and fight jihad, French nationals inside Syria, and then they come back. But they don't come back directly to France. They go through Latvia, they go through Belgium, making it almost impossible to track all these different moving parts.

BERMAN: Not confined to France, not confined to Iraq or Syria, as well.

Clarissa Ward, thank you so much.


BOLDUAN: John, thanks so much. We'll get back to John in a moment.

A huge part of the focus of the investigation right now is in Belgium, as John and Clarissa were just talking about, where a manhunt is under way for the eighth attacker. And just a moment ago, to reinforce what Clarissa was just saying, French President Francois Hollande, he said the Paris attacks were planned in Syria and organized in Belgium.

Let's go to Belgium where CNN International senior correspondent, Nima Elbagir, is there with the latest.

The raids this morning in Belgium, they did not turn up the man they were looking for, Nima. What more have you learned about the investigation and where things go right now there?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was a pretty extensive raid, heavily armed officers, bomb disposal squads, in fact, a number of control detonations, but, no, not the eighth attacker, not the man they were looking for, not yet, Kate.

But what we have been seeing over the last few days, it really does reinforce everything we're now hearing from the French president, that all roads in this investigation are leading back here to Molenbeek. You have one of the three brothers who were involved in this, investigators believe, was living here in Molenbeek. The third is on the run. You have Belgian authorities say, out of the seven arrested this weekend, five have been released. Two have been charged with terrorism-related offenses. So, finally, there does seem to be some movement.

But obviously, given the scope of this investigation and given what is at stake here, it doesn't really feel like it's moving fast enough. Belgian authorities are very keenly aware of that. We've had the justice minister only today talking to CNN and he admits that they really haven't been able to keep the kind of focus and attention on these they should have been. These jihadis are moving to Syria and moving back in. While they're aware they're going to fight in Syria, there's not enough awareness when they move back into Belgium or France. The operation is ongoing. There isn't a sense yet how deep this

network extends, but everything we're hearing, Kate, brings the story back here to Molenbeek and Brussels.

BOLDUAN: And, Nima, as they look into the backgrounds of these men involved, there's also the most immediate and urgent focus right now in Belgium of trying to find, locate, track down, bring in this eighth attacker. Obviously, that did not happen this morning when Special Ops tried to get him. But do they have a sense that he's even still in Belgium? Do you know how far this has gone yet in trying to pin him in?

NIMA: What we're hearing from the prosecutor's office is they really don't have that much of a specific sense about a location or even about a search parameter. They're trying to narrow it around known locations, known accomplices. And given that his brother lived here, given that the man that those authorities in France dealing with the investigation believe was the mastermind of this, he lived only a few streets away from where I'm standing now, they feel quite comfortable in focusing their investigations on this neighborhood. In fact, on a very narrow parameter. There is so much at stake. One of the concerns we're hearing time and time again and seeing with our own eyes with the heavy presence of those anti-explosive squads and anti- bomb robots is this concern that, given the way this attack was carried out and the use of suicide vests, that prosecutors, authorities, the police officers on the front lines of this, that they're having to go very slowly and tread very carefully, Kate, because there's, of course, a lot of fear about what they might find when they do find that eighth attacker.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Nima Elbagir, there in Belgium for us, where a huge part of this investigation is focused right now. Nima, thank you very, very much.

Let's head back to Paris where John is on the ground -- John?

[11:10:06] BERMAN: Kate, thank you so much.

We just showed President Obama at the G-20 in Turkey. He was giving a press conference with press there. That a big moment.

Also a very big moment here in France today where the French President Francois Hollande addressed a joint session of parliament. Just the third time, essentially, in 100 years where he has done such a thing, address a joint session. He had remarkable language.

I think we have a sound bite I'd like to play you right now. Let's listen.


FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translation): France is at war. The acts committed in Paris on Friday evening, these are acts of war. They cause at least 129 deaths and many injured. And they constitute an aggression, an attack against our country. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: I'm obviously joined by Christiane Amanpour right now.

That language there, very stark, "France is at war." Language, by the way, somewhat different tonally than we heard from President Obama.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Incredibly different. From Obama, the president of the United States, you did not get the sense that this is a turning point. From France, because this happened on French soil, you get the very sense that this is a turning point, but what does that mean?

BOLDUAN: He does mean three things that he laid out. He asked for a three-month extension of the state of emergency, which is remarkable. France hasn't been under this situation since the Algerian attacks way back when. A three-month extension of that, which allows for warrantless searches and the kinds of raids we saw last night. In addition to that, he wants the power to strip suspected terrorists of French citizenship, which is not something that exists right now. So he's asking for more power now to fight terrorism here now.

AMANPOUR: That's exactly right. What we're hearing from a lot of people is that there have been a lot of failures, failures of intelligence, failures in terms of budget cutbacks, in terms of just pure policing and security and military operations. But we're also hearing -- and this dovetails with President Obama -- that certainly from French officials, there needed to be a double downing of the strategy to eradicate ISIS in Syria and end the Syria war. Even President Obama said that this really won't be finished, we cannot reclaim territory from ISIS in Syria until the war is over. The question is, how do you do that? President Obama says the strategy is working. Most strategists say, no, it's not. President Obama says ISIS is contained. Most strategists say, well, actually, how can you say that? Because you have ISIS now against Russia and the aircraft. You have ISIS in Sharm el Sheikh in the Sinai. You have ISIS in Libya. You have ISIS hitting Beirut. Now you have ISIS hitting Europe. ISIS again, in a taped message, threatening Washington, D.C., by name, and all other members of the coalition. So, many analysts are saying, now with Russia, you have to divide and conquer in Syria. You know, take different areas of the country, smother with air strikes and go into those specific areas and eradicate is from Raqqa and other places where they are. That's the only way it's going to happen.

BERMAN: You said you talked to analysts who say the strategy is not working. For some, that's charitable. Some analysts say, what strategy? Which is different to begin with.

What other notable thing French President Francois Hollande said -- and this is similar to what President Obama said -- the French president said, this is not a battle of civilization because ISIS represents no civilization.

AMANPOUR: I think that's right. Again, that's a very, very different tone and different words that were used after "Charlie Hebdo." Then they were saying, ISIS is attacking our way of life, our civilization, declaring war on our civilization, also al Qaeda, because it was a joint thing, ISIS and al Qaeda back in the "Charlie Hebdo" attacks. Now they're saying, they are attacking us. And, again, using language like, "This is an army of terrorists, jihadis, and we need to destroy them." So they believe -- he's using different language than President Obama. He says, this is not an army. These are insurgents. Hollande is saying, this is an army.

[11:13:03] BERMAN: Interesting to see. Of course, French President Francois Holland at war now in France with these raids overnight, in Syria, with the bombing raids overnight.

Christiane Amanpour, thank you so much.

Coming up for us, France making good on its vow to destroy anyone plotting to harm its people. They dropped bombs, as we said, 20 bombs on targets in Syria. But were the terrorists prepared for that? Did they have time to get away?

And then what's next in the war against ISIS in France, in Syria, in Iraq, in Europe and, frankly, in the United States as well?

This is CNN special live coverage.


BERMAN: This is CNN special live coverage of the terror attacks here in Paris. I'm John Berman.

BOLDUAN: Hi, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan, joining you here in New York.

And France is striking back. French President Francois Hollande is declaring -- he declared very firmly today, France is at war.

Let's discuss all of this. Joining me now is the CNN military analyst, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona; and joined by CNN military analyst and former member of Joint Chiefs of Staffs, Colonel Cedric Leighton; and CNN's senor international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. Nick is still in Erbil, Iraq, with the latest on the air strikes that France has now been committing in Syria.

Nick, first to you on the air strikes.

France hit back almost immediately. 20 bombs dropped. I want to get your take on what is the very latest on the air strikes in Syria and their impact, especially in light of what we just heard today from President Obama, saying that their strategy, his strategy is the right one in taking on ISIS and that it is working.

[11:19:47] NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here's what we know happened last night. The French launched 12 aircraft, 10 did the bombing, 20 explosions, a number of targets hit. Mostly in the suburbs around Raqqa but two key buildings in the center, basically, headquarters and jails for ISIS. A total of 30, 24 explosions, depending on who you're listening to, and the coalition, too, evidence in the air over Raqqa last night, hitting targets far from it, and also close to it as well. So, a lot of air power being used. And the French President Francois Hollande saying more will come.

You heard President Obama justify strongly that air strike policy. They're not dealing with a conventional state. They're dealing with an insurgent group. They may seek to try to take out specific targets, weaken their infrastructure. Frankly, at the end of the day, no matter how long you listen to the same justifications for what people say is a non-policy out of the White House, there is an undeniable truth to the fact that a large ground force of foreigners isn't going to fix the problem in Syria. There are a number of different groups in there who have local support, who are not pro- Western, by any stretch of the imagination. As we've seen in Iraq, often a foreign military force is a lightning rod for insurgent activity and focuses minds against the outsiders. There are no good military strategies here.

But it looks like a focus now of different nations trying to use air power, perhaps getting Turkey to seal that border more effectively. Frankly, without crossing that porous border, ISIS are in a much tighter spot. That can begin to turn things around. And while it's ridiculous, frankly, to say ISIS is contained, there's untruth that the territory around Syria and Iraq has gotten smaller. We were in Sinjar as the Peshmerga take that down. But they're in Afghanistan, increasingly in Libya. They're not a global phenomenon that's shrinking -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Nick, thank you so much.

You saw firsthand in Iraq, as you saw them try to retake Sinjar.

Let me bring in Colonel Francona and Colonel Lighten now.

Colonel, I want to get your take on what you heard from the two world leaders. You hear from President Obama. He has very strong defense of U.S. strategy, coalition strategy. He's not proposing a change in strategy. He's saying we have the right strategy and it is working. But then, almost at the same time, you hear from the French president declaring, very definitively, France is at war.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, there's such a difference in the way these two presidents have looked at this, Kate. And I think the big issue here is that if we are actually going to degrade and defeat ISIS as the president -- our president has originally said, you really have to change one major element of the U.S. strategy, and that major element is, in placement of ground troops. We have to do so in an organized and coherent fashion. What we're seeing right now is a very piecemeal strategy, if it is even a strategy at all. That is really what we're dealing with. This piecemeal approach is not going to solve the problem. No matter how hard President Obama tries to defend this, the piecemeal efforts are not going to defeat is.

BOLDUAN: But -- Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, let me bring you in on this. The president, obviously, he was asked about the criticism that the

U.S. has the wrong strategy and is not leading in this fight. He said very firmly that putting in a large amount of U.S. ground troops would be a mistake.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: And I agree with him. I don't think we need a large number of forces, American forces on the ground, but we do need ground forces. They could be the Kurds. They could be Iraqi troops once they're better trained. But there has to be a ground component to this. We can't do this alone from the air.

And what the French did last night in Raqqa, what we're doing every day and every night in Syria and Iraq, is trying to contain ISIS, but it doesn't degrade or destroy them. So, we've got to move beyond where we are.

Where we are right now -- and I agree with the Colonel -- isn't working. There needs to be a more robust presence. Also, the air attacks are anemic, at best. 20 bombs? That's not -- I know the French papers called this a massive air strike. 20 bombs is not a massive air strike.

BOLDUAN: Real quick, Colonel, I want to get your take on this. Francois Hollande said he's going to be meeting -- he just announced he'll be meeting with President Obama as well as president Putin to discuss joining forces. What does that announcement mean? What does that look like in a week, in two days?

LEIGHTON: Well, in two days is probably looks like we're starting real discussions between the U.S. and Russia, probably at the operational level of the military. In a week, it looks like they're going to be perhaps even combined operations between Russian and American forces.


BOLDUAN: That would be a huge change.

LEIGHTON: That is a huge change. What we're seeing is the merging of the Russian and American efforts in Syria. And that's something that we had thought would never happen. But that's exactly what I believe is happening right now.

[11:24:41] BOLDUAN: Wow. We'll see as the changing -- as it seems that this Paris attack has changed a whole lot beyond even just changing the lives of so many in Paris and beyond.

Colonel, great to see you.

Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, thank you as well.

Nick Paton Walsh, great to see you. Thank you.

Coming up for us, a brother of one of the Paris attackers, he is still on the run. Now investigators warn that he is dangerous and should not be approached by any stretch of the imagination. New details in the international manhunt to find him and anyone else that helped unleash terror in Europe, coming up.


[11:49:36] BERMAN: I'm John Berman, live in Paris. I want to welcome our viewers in United States and all around the world.

I'm standing in the Plaza de la Republique. This is the gathering point for thousands of Parisian. They've been coming here for days to light candles and leaving flowers. There are more people on the streets here today. It's 5:30 in the evening here. People now headed home from work. Most did return to work today. Kids returned to school. But this city, this country in no way returned to a state of normalcy.

Happening right now, there is an international manhunt under way for a French citizen suspected of being involved in the deadly attacks here in Paris.