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At Least 11 Dead in Shooting in France; Underlying Concern of Terrorism in U.S.

Aired January 7, 2015 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Remember, that's where they keep the black boxes, so that will be very important.

But let's get back to what is happening in France right now. We have Jim Bitterman in Paris.

Jim, this has been a developing situation throughout the morning. We know that this took place at the satirical magazine. They've been in trouble with Muslim extremists in the past. They've been targeted, firebombed, in fact. And now this. Do we know what the provocation was? And do we know what the latest is?

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know the answer to that. We're going to hear more, I think, in coming hours here, Chris. But the fact is the president himself, President Hollande, went to the scene this morning. He is the one that is the source of that information about 11 people being dead, four seriously wounded. And he called it a terrorist attack, so I think we are safe in calling it a terrorist attack.

Well, exactly which terrorists might have been behind this is not clear, except that what you mentioned before, "Charlie Hebdo," the magazine, has been the target of terrorist attacks before from Islamic extremists, largely because it has targeted in its cartoons, particularly, but in its editorial, as well, the Prophet Mohammed.

It has provoked a lot of ire in the Islamic community here. And of course, should be remembered that, in fact, this is not an isolated attack. We had just before Christmas, had an attack by an Islamic -- an avowed Islamic fundamentalist, against two police officers, who were attacked with a butcher knife. He was killed at the scene.

We're not clear what happened to the assailants this morning. But as you mentioned, 11 dead, according to the President Hollande, and four seriously injured. There may be two police officers among those dead -- Chris.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Jim, it's Alisyn here. As we understand it just today, this newspaper did tweet out a cartoon depicting al- Baghdadi, the head of ISIS. Here is the cartoon. They say in French, they have him saying, "And above all, health," as though sort of this is his New Year's message to his followers. And then they tweet out their messages, "And also, best wishes." We have no idea if this is connected to the attack today. But this is an example of the types of satirical cartoons that this newspaper has stood up for. I mean, as you were saying they had a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed

back in 2011 that then prompted the firebombing on their offices.

You were you telling us, Jim, what you know about what was happening inside the offices at the time of this attack.

BITTERMAN: They were apparently in the middle of their editorial meeting, their morning editorial meeting, discussing what they were going to put in the newspaper for this week, when this attack took place. And if that's the case, then there would have been all the upper echelons, the management of the newspaper there: the editors, reporters, and cartoonists. And probably the people, the very people responsible for the kind of satire that has so irritated the Muslims. But other people, as well.

The magazine has been just absolutely merciless in attacking religions in all forms; made fun of the pope. It's made fun of Jews. It's targeted religions of every stripe.

But I think it's the -- it's the Islamic targets that have provoked the most response, especially that firebombing in 2011. The other thing is, of course, is that the French have been fearing exactly this kind of attack. Because of the fact that so many French young people, up to 1,000 according to some estimates, have gone off to the Middle East, to Iraq and Syria, have been trained by ISIS and military means, and it was clear from eyewitnesses this morning, that this attack was pretty well-planned. The two assailants were carrying Kalashnikovs and, according to one report, rocket launchers, when they attacked the newspaper this morning, Alisyn.

CUOMO: Jim, let's get a little bit deeper on that. First, let's remind people what we're dealing with in terms of scale. According to the French president, this is a terror attack. That's how they're taking it right now, in terms of their investigation. The numbers so far, very disturbing and early. At least 11 people have lost their lives. Police officers have been injured in pursuit of these two heavily armed gunmen who came in.

Jim Bitterman reporting from Paris that they had Kalashnikov rifles, maybe also an RPG, rocket-propelled grenade launcher. And we were looking at some of the video that you're feeding into us, Jim, the bullet patterns on the windshields of those police cruisers and the size of the holes in the plate window of the actual edifice of the building. These are very tight ranges of bullet, which as we both know, you and I, too well, suggests skill in shooting. And those are big holes, which suggests that they had bigger rounds they were using. What does that mean, in terms of who they may be dealing with here?

BITTERMAN: Well, it means they clearly were well-armed. And one of the things that we've seen here over the last few months is the French investigators, intelligence officers rounding up gangs of people they think were planning these kinds of attacks.

And in that process, they have come across weapons caches, and they've foiled attacks, they believe, up until now, anyway. They've foiled a number of other attacks that were in planning stages, as many as a half dozen over the last two or three months. But the question now is, you know, what went wrong here? Why didn't they detect this? Why weren't they able to spot this in advance? The early signs.

On the other hand, if you're dealing with people who got French passports and French identity cards because they're French young people who have been radicalized, it's very, very difficult to sort of spot them, unless they would use something like cell phones or talk about planned actions over the Internet or something like that.

It's a very difficult problem for authorities, and it's the kind of thing that they've been concerned about and have been talking about for the last couple of months here.

CAMEROTA: Jim Bitterman, stand by. Stand by for us, if you would. We'll be back to new a moment. We want to go to Barbara Starr now at the Pentagon to see how U.S. are responding to this attack in Paris. Barbara, can you hear us?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Alisyn, Chris.

This is grabbing the attention of U.S. law enforcement, counterterrorism and intelligence officials very quickly early this morning here in Washington. For the very reason that Jim was just talking about. This has been a major concern.

Just yesterday counterterrorism officials were telling me the newest estimate is some 3,000 westerners have gone to Iraq and Syria to fight. And the concern has been about them coming back to western Europe, possibly even coming back to the United States.

Of course, we do not know exactly what has transpired here in Paris and who is behind this.

But this is the underlying concern. These types of radicalized young people, perhaps going to the region, coming back into Europe and launching these types of attacks. We've seen the lone wolf attacks before. Generally U.S. Has come to believe that many of them are self-radicalized people with long histories of criminal violent behavior. That has been something that they've been watching.

But the U.S. security services have very directly in recent months been working with the French because of the concerns. And in fact, the counterterrorism officials I was speaking to just yesterday said they've been having greater success in trying to identify these people, and trying to catch them before they come back into Europe. So this has been a huge concern.

The forensics of this attack, as Jim and Chris were just talking about, is going to be something that the FBI, U.S. counterterrorism officials are going to want to look at. How was it carried out? What type of weapons were used? What was the planning behind all of this? Because they're going to be looking for clues that could potentially lead them to other situations -- Chris, Alisyn.

CUOMO: All right, Barbara. Stay with us on this. Let us know what you hear as it's going forward. Nobody gets information sooner than you.

And as you said, the forensics, that bullet pattern especially on that windshield is a very tight pattern. Usually suggests some level of training or really close proximity.

Let's get somebody who understands what's happening, in France specifically, because they have a very unique issue that you're dealing with. That is Peter Beinart. He's CNN's political commentator, contributing editor to Atlantic Media, a senior columnist for "Haaretz."

It's good to have you here with us this morning, Peter, though not for this reason.

Now, in France, they're talking about people coming back from jihad, but in France specifically, you have an exploding population of Islam, which is fine. But within it there are extremist elements, specifically in and around north Paris, which is where this is going on right now. What do we need to understand about the threat there?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think people predicted this when the war against ISIS started. That France in particular was the country most vulnerable.

France has a very large Muslim population, larger proportionally and in raw numbers than its neighbors. It's also done a relatively poor job of integrating its Muslim population into the larger society. There were riots several years ago in largely Muslim and immigrant areas around Paris.

So you have this combustible mix of this very toxic global Salafi jihadist ideology, with a lot of people who just have the same kind of resentment that people who are poor, unemployed, maybe eel some degree of racism. And so it's that toxic mix that I think we've seen playing itself out in France, in a variety of different ways, over the years. And of course, this is a horrific example.

CAMEROTA: Barbara Starr was just talking about how officials are worried about lone-wolf attacks and people returning from the Middle East. How do we know that that's what this is? We don't know that this is a lone-wolf attack. Maybe it was orchestrated by ISIS.

Al-Baghdadi, interestingly, just today, this satirical newspaper magazine put out a cartoon of al-Baghdadi. So they -- this is what they do. They make fun of leaders, regardless of if they're Christian or Jews or Muslims, and they often have to take the brunt of these retaliatory attacks.

BEINART: Right. Or it's -- possibly, it's some hybrid, where you have someone who had some training. Because it's suggested you might have had some military training here. They were operating on their own initiative. But they had gotten more training.

I mean, the idea of lone-wolf attacks is always -- they're very hard to stop. But the damage is not as great as a coordinated attack, because these people don't know what they're doing so much. The frightening thing here is maybe it is someone working on our own initiative, but they've had some military-style training so they can actually do more devastating damage.

CUOMO: Again, that bullet pattern on that windshield could be one of two obvious things. One, you know how to fire, because it's not easy to control an automatic weapon. Or two, you were very close. That may also play into it.

The weapons, if Jim Bitterman's reporting is correct at this point, which is that they were using Kalashnikovs, as we know, one of the easiest to get, most commonly favored terrorist weapons because of its ease of use and low maintenance level. So those are all over the place. That's very suggestive.

And when we're talking about why this would have happened. Al- Baghdadi is the head of ISIS. They make fun of him. This happens in the middle of the day. It is six hours ahead from the East Coast of the U.S. into Paris. So this is 1 p.m., 12 noon this happened. What does that mean to do something so brazen, middle of the day?

BEINART: Well, we've seen ISIS is nothing if not brazen. I mean, they've been boasting around the world about these horrific things they've been doing in the Middle East.

You know, in a strange and sick kind of way, this reminds me a little bit of the attack on Sony. You know, you've got the mocking of a figure. And then you've got this attack on a totally soft target. This is not like 9/11. Nine-eleven was at the Pentagon and yes, the World Trade Center, these were symbols of American power.

What's so frightening about this is the idea that you now have a global battlefield that extends to utterly soft targets in the media. Because they're considered to be mocking. You know, again it seems to me this is part of a larger pattern of an assault on freedom of speech from various totalitarian actors that is very frightening.

CUOMO: No suicide component here, either, as reported to this point.

BEINART: Right, right, right.

CUOMO: It seems that the gunmen involved, two heavily armed gunmen, fled the scene, took on police officers.

BEINART: Right, right.

CUOMO: So no obvious suicide component. Unusual, as well.

CAMEROTA: Let's find out more about this assailant. Peter stick around for a second. We want to go back to Jim Bitterman, who is live for us on the scene. Jim, what do we know about the assailants? Are police still looking for them? Have they been captured, killed?

BITTERMAN: Well, precious little, Alisyn. And I'm taking it from the fact that we don't know that the police have not captured them. I think if they would have captured them, we would have gotten word right away that they were in custody or that they were dead. The fact that they're not saying anything suggests to me that, in fact, they're still in pursuit of the people who are involved in this.

We saw the interior minister himself going out to the scene, as well as President Hollande. They've been out to the scene themselves, and I think we're going to hear more from their various offices when this clears up a little bit here.

But at the moment, we do not know what's happened to those assailants. We do know that among the dead may be as many as two police officers. There are 11 confirmed dead and four seriously injured. So the police did give pursuit. They were chasing them. But what happened at that point, we don't know.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Jim, with the assailants on the loose, as we believe, it makes us here -- I mean, certainly our ears perked up when we heard that French officials were racing to the scene, including the French president and the interior minister. I mean that seems dangerous for, perhaps they're laying in wait. Perhaps there's a second wave of attack. That's not something we would do in the U.S., is send, you know, Barack Obama to the scene of a terrorist attack. I mean, this is -- what are they doing in Paris?

BITTERMAN: Well, I think -- I think that both the president and the interior minister want to show that they're in charge here; that they're in control; that they're doing something. Because this is going to upset the French in a way that previous attacks have not. This is going to be something that's going to be very startling and shocking for people.

And as a consequence, I think the politicians want to show that they're on top of it, despite what risks they may be taking. But I think the risks were probably minimal. Because, as you can imagine, after this took place this morning, the place was swarming, the area was swarming with police. So I don't think there was too much risk.

But in any case, I think that the two leaders wanted to show that they were on top of this situation, because it's the kind of thing people are nervous about, anyway.

CUOMO: Well, and obviously, look, it's so brazen, clearly caught off- guard, which is somewhat understandable. The middle of the day, Paris time. Two heavily armed gunmen walk into the offices of a satirical magazine that had just put out a tweet -- a tweet about the head of ISIS, named al-Baghdadi. They're referencing him, saying, "And above all, health," making some New Year's gesture and on the bottom they tweet "And by the way," you know, something -- "Best wishes, by the way." Something, you know, satirical, which is what they do.

Now France has just elevated its terror level to its highest. So Jim, clearly, they were caught off-guard by this, and they are reacting in a very defensive posture, even if they are coming down here to show control. The question is what will it take to get it under control? Who did this? And what's going on right now? And as you're saying, we just don't know.

BITTERMAN: I think at this point, we have to say that -- you know, just to point out a little thing that, "Above all, health" is sort of standard French post-New Year's greeting to each other. You know, happy New Year, and above all, have good health. And the magazine was clearly drawing attention to that.

It seems to me, however, it should be pointed out that, while that came out this morning, the fact is, this attack was in the planning for some time, one could assume. Because it -- clearly, these gunmen knew what they were doing. They knew what time they wanted to attack, when there would be the maximum number of people around the newspaper. And they knew exactly what the security situation around the newspaper.

So I think -- you know, I think that there was some planning that went into this. And it's not surprising, because the newspaper has a tradition of doing this. Going all the way back to 2006 was one of the very first, very satirical attacks they committed on Islam. And they've had problems ever since then, off and on over the years. This, of course, the worst.

CAMEROTA: Jim, stick around. We want to go back to Peter Beinart, who is here in our studio. We're just getting word that there is some chilling video that exists of this attack. It shows the gunmen with weapons in their hands. We're not sure who took it. It was posted online. Then it was quickly taken down. That would be a hallmark of ISIS, if there were some sort of publicity. I mean, who knows if this was just a neighbor or a surveillance video that caught this. But obviously, they like to publicize their attacks.

BEINART: Absolutely. Right. It's been a form of recruiting for them. It's kind of hard to imagine, but it really has.

I mean, I think the other thing that's worth noting about today is there were also attacks today, a huge attack in Yemen on a police academy and a suicide bomber in Istanbul. I'm not saying these things were connected. They probably weren't.

But it just reminds us that we are in a kind of world war here. I mean, this war against ISIS, we saw Australia just -- not -- you know, recently that terrible incident in Australia. This is having ripples across the globe as people who are supporters of this movement are fighting on a whole range of flanks. And it's really remarkable, almost mind-boggling how many different kind of ripple effects this military campaign is having at a time when a couple of years ago, the Obama administration was talking about the war on terror really being on its way over.

CUOMO: But the change isn't ISIS, right? ISIS is one organizing principle by any other name. It is this call for lone-wolf attacks. That's what you saw in Australia, somebody who was, you know, certainly self-radicalized. Right? And now we don't know who these people are.

But that's the concern that reverberates back here in the United States. Is that you can have people. These are two men did this. Heavily armed, but just two men wound up taking almost a dozen lives, at most recent count. And now we don't even know if the police were able to get them. They took on the police, as well. It doesn't take many people to do a lot of damage.

BEINART: Right. And it's worth noting, actually, that the United States has actually suffered fewer of these attacks, recently compared to countries in Europe and elsewhere. I think it's maybe partly because of the skill of our law enforcement. But I think it's also actually a testament to the fact that the United States has done a better job of integrating our own immigrant and Muslim population into the country, which is part of the reason that we don't have some of the social fissures in the same way that you're seeing in France.

CUOMO: Right. Now we have a still frame of some of the video that I'm looking at now. We are not showing it to you, because we don't know where it comes from, and we don't know what its value is. But it does seem to show someone with an automatic weapon, apparently taking on someone who's on the ground who seems to be in similar pseudo- military dress. We don't know who they are. We don't know if they're a police officer. And we also don't know who took this video.

So there are obvious two possibilities. This is the still of it. The video was taken offline very quickly. Obviously, you see it. It's apparent for what it is. We don't know who was on the ground. We don't know who took this video or for what purpose. It could have been surveillance video that was taken, or it could have been that there was somebody else involved that was trying to capture the event.

CAMEROTA: We want to go to Harris Rafiq now. He is the outreach officer for a think tank dedicated to reducing extremism. He's live for us in London. Harris, give us your thoughts.

HARRIS RAFIQ, OUTREACH OFFICER, QUIDEM: This is a horrendous attack. It's something we don't quite know who actually has undertaken the shootings. We know some of the details in terms of there were at least two people, and they're on the run now and they're being chased down by the authorities in France.

There are indications and there are facts that suggest that this may well be an Islamist-inspired terrorist attack. But it is still a little bit too early. Because this magazine has been known for satirizing people of the far right, other denominations, et cetera. So it could really be anybody.

But there are facts and evidence that do suggest that this may well have been an Islamist-inspired terrorist activity.

CAMEROTA: Harris, in fact, there was a tweet that this satirical magazine put out just this morning of al-Baghdadi. He appears to be giving his New Year's greeting to followers. It says, "And above all, health."

Is it -- I mean, this just happened this morning. But it seems as though the attack was better planned than this. Do you think that they're connected?

RAFIQ: No, not at all, because this attack has been, if you look at the groupings of the shots that have been fired, if you look at the way that these perpetrators came in, the weapons that they had, the tactics that they used and the way they made their escape, and especially during the middle of the day in busy Paris, this has been planned for a while. This has been well-coordinated. These are people who knew what they were doing. These were people who had been training to do this and had some training with weapons and ammunitions to carry this out.

So I don't think that it's possible that this tweet was sent out, and then all of a sudden two guys happened to decide that they were going to pick up some weapons and go down and carry out some shootings. This was coordinated and planned for a while.

CUOMO: All right. So Harris, let's find another piece of the puzzle here, which is this video that was taken off the Internet. Here's what we've been able to get so far. Let's see what it shows us. Let's just watch and listen for a second.

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(GUNSHOTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(GUNSHOTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(GUNSHOTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: All right. They're going to recue that one more time so you can see it again. And what is it? It's obviously the assault in action. It seems to have been taken by somebody who is obviously living nearby. I don't speak French, so I don't know what they were saying.

But you saw one of the gunmen moving along. Let's watch it one more time and then we'll discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(GUNSHOTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(GUNSHOTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(GUNSHOTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: I don't speak French, but obviously, they're talking about someone is using an automatic weapon. We don't know whether the person there, Harris, Peter, Alisyn, was one of the gunmen or one of the victims running away, but you hear a flurry of gunfire. This obviously took some time.

We don't know -- Harris, you were referring to what the tactics were and how they did this. What do we know about what they did? They came in, we heard from Jim Bitterman, with Kalashnikovs and maybe an RPG -- an RPG is not a sophisticated piece of equipment -- to do something like this. What do we know about how they did this?

RAFIQ: Well, at the moment we know very little. I mean, these guys are certainly people who had been trained for a while. And some people talking about self-starters, some people talking, using the terminology of lone wolves. We don't actually know yet who they are and what type of tactics they actually used.

But if you look at some of the images that we've seen, certainly I saw before I came into the studio, certainly images of gunshots on the screen of a car. The bullet holes were very, very closely grouped. This means that these guys knew what they were doing and actually had some very sophisticated level of training and were good marksmen. The shots were very closely grouped.

So certainly, they knew what they were doing. They'd received some training. And the way that they made their escape, because it's very, very difficult to -- certainly, with CCTV monitoring, and everything else -- it's very difficult to escape after committing an act like that. But they seem to have done that for now.

We still need to wait and see what more comes out, what more images we see, what more video we see, et cetera.

CAMEROTA: We have a little bit more information. Reuters is reporting that the words "We have avenged the prophet" were shouted during this attack and during the shooting. That's from Reuters. We haven't been able to confirm that. But "We have avenged the prophet." That appears -- that would fit, certainly, into the history of the attacks on this satirical magazine.

RAFIQ: Absolutely. I mean, this particular magazine, as is the culture in Europe to poke fun at religious authorities of the establishment, et cetera, have been satirical in the past and posted images, published images of the Prophet Mohammed, peace upon him. And if these reports are true, then certainly this is a much deeper attack than just ISIL. This is something that individuals have taken to heart. And this certainly would indicate that this is Islamist inspired.

CUOMO: All right. So let's take a look again at the video that we've been able to get here, Harris, and let's start at the beginning and tell everybody what we know at this point.

We're going to show you right now video of what is being called a terrorist attack that happened in Paris in the middle of the day. Take a look and a listen, and we'll give you the details.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(GUNSHOTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(GUNSHOTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: You're looking at a repeat of moments of progress in what is being called, again, a terrorist attack. That is from the president of France. This is what we know at this hour.

In the middle of the day in Paris, two heavily armed gunmen attacked the satirical magazine called "Charlie Hebdo," which has been in trouble with Islamist extremists in the past. They had once done a satirical cartoon about the Prophet Mohammed. This morning they put out a tweet about the leader of ISIS, al-Baghdadi. And then this happened.

The latest count, 11 people have lost their lives. The two heavily armed gunmen are still on the run. Three police officers, at least, have been injured in trying to get them. And we're told from reporting that they may not have even entered the offices. This may have been an outside assault by trained gunmen, attacking the people inside this windowed-off office area.

CAMEROTA: And we also know that they were in the middle of their editorial meeting. There were reporters; there were cartoonists; there were executives at this meeting. It was in the middle of the day when the gunfire opened.

Again, 11 people, as Chris just said, at least, have been killed; and we believe the gunmen are still on the loose. So we will have the very latest breaking details on this terror attack in Paris right after the break for you. Stick around.

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