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Terror in France; Officials: 3 French Terrorists Killed; Report: AQAP Claims Responsibility for "Charlie" Terror Attack

Aired January 9, 2015 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: A nation gripped in fear, as two terrorist standoffs take place at the same time, and they both end in the same chilling and bloody fashion.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

Breaking news in our world lead, smoke, explosions, gunfire, herds of hostages being led away in fear. Now three alleged terrorists are among the dead after a long rampage and manhunt across France.

Another suspect, a gunman's girlfriend, an alleged accomplice, may have slipped away, a woman wanted in connection with the murder of a police officer. What could she know about the plot? What could she know about the bigger picture?

And we now know that the three dead terrorists knew each other, and all had ties to foreign jihadist groups, at least according to them. One may have even crossed paths with an American-born al Qaeda leader, Anwar al-Awlaki. How many more are there like him, sleeper cells? How many could be in the U.S. and in other places in Europe right now?

That was the scene today in Paris, France, at the site of a police siege, four more innocents killed.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with breaking and disturbing news. Just this hour, new pictures appear to show the woman more than 80,000 French security forces are trying to find. They appear to show her pointing a weapon directly at the camera and posing, one might even say affectionately, with one of the dead terrorists killed by police earlier today.

CNN has been unable to verify the authenticity of these photos. The new images, however, do as urgency to the already massive manhunt under way. This woman is linked to the terrorist brothers who shot and killed 12 people at the offices of "Charlie Hebdo," a satirical magazine.

But those men, Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi, are now dead, killed at, of all places, a print shop. Also killed by French authorities, this man, Amedy Coulibaly. He was wanted for that other deadly police shooting in Paris yesterday. He holed up in a kosher supermarket, taking hostages, some of whom, tragically, did not make it out of that supermarket alive. CNN is also learning Coulibaly spoke to French journalists from inside

that kosher market and he told them that he was targeting Jews specifically.

Let's go right to Chris Cuomo. He has been camped out in front of the magazine offices of "Charlie Hebdo," where this nightmare started to unfold on Wednesday morning.

Chris, so much activity today, duel sieges, three terrorists dead, even more innocent lives lost, and now news of a phone call that reporters had with the dead terrorist.

Chris, what did he tell these French journalists about why he attacked this market?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It's pretty remarkable, Jake.

These journalists wound up getting all three terrorists on the phone, or at least the older brother from one set, and this guy here at the kosher market. And what he got from them, the journalist says that the terrorist called him, said he was trying to get in touch with the police. The journalist started asking him questions and he said, yes, he is connected to the brothers.

However, he said he did not do the massacre with them at the offices of "Charlie Hebdo," that his part of the plan was to attack the police and, of course, he did that with his accomplice. He shot two police officers, one of whom was unarmed, a woman, and she died from her wounds. He then took the hostages at the kosher market.

They asked him, the journalist, why did you pick that place? He said, "I like that place," the president of France has interpreted as an anti-Semitic attack. We do know that he took a lot of hostages. He also told the journalist, "I killed four of them."

The information was given to the authorities. It was held until the assaults were over. And we do know now of course four hostages did lose their lives inside. He also said something else that doesn't make much sense. He said, "I am with ISIS."

As you are well aware, one of the brothers said that he was with AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, that he went to Yemen, that he was working for the sheik and that's who financed him. For the other man to be telling the truth, it would mean that this was like an ISIS-AQAP joint venture, which no expert will entertain.

So the question is, how much of what he said was accurate? We know he killed people inside. We don't know about his targeting. But the affiliation with ISIS doesn't seem to make any sense, Jake.

TAPPER: Chris Cuomo monitoring developments for us in France, Chris, thank you.

And, obviously, when we know who the victims are inside that supermarket, we will report them to you.

Let's go right now to CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. He's also in Paris, close by to the scene.

Jim, a dramatic day today. As we heard, one of the Kouachi brothers allegedly spoke to the BFMTV journalists and talking about -- before the ongoing operations, but in the midst of the siege. But that call wasn't released until after it was all over. What exactly did he say?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It was a truly remarkable moment in this day, a phone call coming from inside that first standoff, hostage standoff scene.

And in that phone call, he said that they were doing this for al Qaeda in Yemen. It's not the first time we have heard this. Earlier in the day, apparently, the attackers told a driver of a car that they hijacked, tell the media that we're carrying out this attack for al Qaeda in Yemen, which is also what an eyewitness to the shooting said on Wednesday shortly after they stormed the offices of "Charlie Hebdo," draw a direct line between AQAP, one of the most feared terror groups from a U.S. perspective as well, to three tense days in Paris that ended in just a handful of very tense minutes this afternoon.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Two tense standoffs in two parts of the city, the first at a printing shop in the northeast, another at a kosher grocery in the east, Parisians holding their breaths for hours.

But authorities were waiting for their moment. Several loud explosions, gunfire and, in a flash, near simultaneous raids bring two hostage standoffs to a rapid and a violent end. The first standoff near Charles de Gaulle Airport, the assailants, the Kouachi brothers.

Cherif Kouachi in the middle of it all answers a call from a French television statement.

"We are just telling you that we are the defenders of Prophet Mohammed. I was sent, me, Cherif Kouachi, by al Qaeda in Yemen."

The result there summed up in a tweet by the French ambassador to the U.S. -- quote -- "The two terrorists are dead. The hostage is alive."

Those two terrorists the same brothers whose attack at the offices of "Charlie Hebdo" magazine on Wednesday left 12 dead, and began a tense, riveting three days of attacks, manhunts and hostage-taking.

A witness describes his nervous encounter this morning with one of the terrorists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We were standing in front of the door to the factory. I shook the hand of Michel (ph), the owner, and the terrorist. He introduced himself as a policeman.

I then got into my car and left. And Michel, the owner, let the man into the factory. As I left for the periphery, someone told me what had happened. And I was shocked.

SCIUTTO: Just minutes after the first raid in East Paris, we witnessed the second operation live on CNN's air.

(on camera): Now I'm hearing gunfire, multiple shots, automatic fire. I'm going to stop speaking there just so you can hear it as well as I am. It's continuing.

Another explosion. It's all happening about 300 yards from where we are.

(voice-over): An untold number did not survive, the hostage-taker, Amedy Coulibaly, dead, his companion, Boumeddiene Hayat, escaped in the confusion. Both were wanted in the fatal shooting of a police officer in Paris on Thursday, that attack just a few hundred feet from a Jewish school.

Then on Friday, with shoppers preparing for the Jewish Sabbath, witnesses described a terrifying scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We heard someone scream, in French, I think, then in Arabic. It was a little stifled, so I couldn't understand what he said. Then, really in just a brief moment, that was followed by the arrival of police officers. And they started to get down, hide behind cars and they started exchanging fire.

SCIUTTO: A Western intelligence source says Amedy was a close associate of Said Kouachi, the younger brother,as recently as 2010. Their association since is unclear, just one of the mysteries from a violent three days here in the city of lights.


SCIUTTO: Before the raid took place, they'd put the entire neighborhood around that East Paris kosher market on lockdown.

One of the consequences of that is that many parents were kept away, separated from their children who were in school. The school was on lockdown, the parents outside the police cordon. I spoke with many parents who were crying to the police they wanted to get to see their children, make sure they are safe.

And it was only more than an hour after the raid ended that they were allowed to reunite. We saw many moments. And, Jake, I know you can identify, as I can, with this as a father, many tearful reunions, a sense of relief.

And I'll tell you, tonight, Paris, as President Hollande said in his address to the nation, knows that the threat of attacks isn't over. This is a country that is still on alert.

TAPPER: A country and a continent, in fact, with MI5 delivering remarks also about terrorist attacks perhaps likely.

Jim Sciutto in Paris, thank you so much.

Just in to CNN now, the prosecutor of Paris, France, is set to hold a press conference this hour. It is scheduled to start in just over 20 minutes at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time, 10:30 local time in Paris. And we will bring that to you live as it happens.

But right now, I want to go to Isa Soares, who is also in Paris right outside that kosher supermarket.

Isa, we heard the president call the attack on the Jewish-owned market an anti-Semitic act. Police presence still very heavy in the area. You have talking to people in France, in the neighborhood all day. Tell us what you're learning about this attack.


Yes, things are getting slowly back to normal. If I just move out of the way very quickly, you will get a cameraman to see the streets have now reopened, people coming by. The train actually is just going to pass us by in a minute or two.

But I was asking people earlier today if they thought this attack was targeted at the Jewish community in France. Many were saying -- many in this area here were saying to me, no, this is targeted at Parisians. Of course, this was a kosher restaurant, kosher grocery store, pardon me, and people, Jewish people were there, as were a lot of Muslims also shopped there.

But, interestingly enough, I heard your conversation a minute ago or two with Jim Sciutto. And pardon me whilst the train goes past, everything going back to normal now. And there was also a similar phone call between CNN's affiliate BFMTV and the person, the terrorist inside the store.

And this -- I'm going to look at my BlackBerry very briefly, and I hope people don't find this offensive, because I want to make sure that we get a sense of the conversation that the terrorist had, Coulibaly, as he's known, had with them.

And said -- he basically said that -- he said he's linked to the Kouachi brothers and the attacks were synchronized. He was asked by the journalist, are you still in touch with them, why is it synchronized, in what way? He said, no, we're just synchronized from the beginning. They started at "Charlie Hebdo" and I started with the policemen.

He went on to say -- and this is very interesting -- and we haven't been able to confirm this. He said that four people were dead at that time. That meant, if this is true, that he'd already killed four people before the police stormed in.

And then he went on to say, the reason he's doing what he's doing, Jake, is because he's defending oppressed Muslims and says he chose the kosher market because his target was Jewish people, which tucks really into what the president was saying today, really saying, President Hollande, this was an anti-Semitic attack.

And I was here last year. I actually put a piece together for your show, looking at the rise of anti-Semitism here in Paris that we have seen given the events that were happening in the Middle East, in Gaza. We saw so many protests. We saw shops being burned. I spoke to a Jewish man who had his shop completely torched.

I said to him, you were born here. What are you going to do? He said, I'm leaving. I said, where are you going? He said, I'm leaving at the end of the month. I'm going with my family and my sister. He said, my sister can no longer go out in the streets by herself to get -- that's the environment in which we are living, in which we're working in. It's just not good enough.

And I think attacks at the beginning of 2014 were up 40 percent, Jake. So it really paints a picture at how much damage this has done to this community here in Paris -- Jake.

TAPPER: It does. It does. It does, indeed. Isa, stand by, if you will.

We just got some new video taken from inside the supermarket as French police laid siege upon it and took out the gunman Amedy Coulibaly. Here it is. You can see the police going into the kosher supermarket, firing their guns.

You can see his legs. That's it. We're going to cut it off there. But that appears to be the gunman Amedy Coulibaly, as police shot him after he had -- by his -- by his own words in an interview with a French television station, he had -- and there are the -- the hostages running out, having been freed after the French police took out this terrorist.

Let's roll it one more time. This is truly astounding video. This is the kosher supermarket earlier today. Amedy Coulibaly, a terrorist, who had said he had killed four hostages already, is inside the supermarket.

French police -- that is him there. You'll see him there. We're going to stop the video there. He is killed.

And then the French police go inside and take out the hostages. There, obviously, four were killed. But there are a number who did make it out. You can see them on the left side of your screen.

Obviously, a trauma that most of us can't even imagine.

We're going to take a quick break. We're expecting the prosecutor in Paris to speak in just a few minutes. These stories rapidly changing.

We're getting new information about one of the brothers and his travel to Yemen as well as the American terrorist, the American-born terrorist with whom he may have met. He claims to have met. How long was he there in Yemen? What training did he get? How responsible is al Qaeda in Yemen, AQAP, for this attack?

We're going to talk about all of that, coming up next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We continue with CNN's breaking news coverage of this massive French

manhunt or womanhunt, rather, still under way for the sole surviving terror suspect.

We're learning more about the brothers who murdered 12 at the "Charlie Hebdo" office on Wednesday. CNN has confirmed that the older brother, Said Kouachi, traveled to Yemen in 2011, and he trained with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, also known as AQAP.

Now, counterterrorism officials are taking a closer look at the younger brother's terror ties. I want to run that video one more time if we could. This is just remarkable we have of the siege of the supermarket where French police were going after Amedy Coulibaly who had taken hostages.

You see French police going inside. Coulibaly had already said to local TV in France that he had killed four hostages already. So here at French authorities, the French police going after him. He runs towards the bullet, you'll see. We'll stop the video there.

And then after he is killed, French police go in there to rescue the remaining hostages, on the left side of the screen. You see them running out, grateful their lives having been in serious peril for hours, a terrifying ordeal.

Let's go right to CNN's Barbara Starr. She's been speaking with her sources at the Pentagon about the terrorists' connections to outside terrorist groups, groups outside France.

Barbara, what are you hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we now know, Jake, is that said Kouachi went to Yemen in 2011. But what's he been doing since then? As he been back in France as a sleeper cell? What has he been up to? That is a very big question.


STARR (voice-over): U.S. officials believe when Said Kouachi spent several months in Yemen during 2011, he got more than just weapons training. He got the attention of top leadership of the dangerous al Qaeda affiliate there known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It tells me that he had access to senior levels of the al Qaeda organization in Yemen. Who else had access? Was he there with somebody? Did he travel with somebody else?

Number two, it tells me that Awlaki was in contact with people we didn't know about.

STARR: The U.S. is urgently trying to put the pieces together. The working assumption is that Kouachi met the Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric who led AQAP external operations. It would have been just months before Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike. The U.S. is also trying to determine if Kouachi may have even met with Ibrahim al-Asiri, AQAP's master bomb maker, according to U.S. officials. Kouachi may have received some bomb-making training.

With a French passport and the ability to return to Europe, he was a prime AQAP recruiting target.

MUDD: There are a thousand questions here that an intelligence professional is going to have to sift through in the coming weeks. And we haven't even hit the tip of the iceberg yet.

STARR: U.S. officials believe it was only said that went to Yemen. But hours before he died, his younger brother, Cherif, told French media, he, too, traveled there.

CHERIF KOUACHI (through translator): I was sent, me, Cherif Kouachi, by al Qaeda in Yemen. I went there. And sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki financed my trip.

STARR: CNN has not independently confirmed the authenticity of the recording. The details of Said Kouachi's connection to Awlaki are critical because officials say it may give them hints if the al Qaeda organization has other operatives in the West waiting to attack.


STARR: Now, all of this said, what U.S. officials also don't know is whether the Kouachi brothers were inspired by al Qaeda, by AQAP, or were they under direct orders to launch that attack -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

This just in now, "The Intercept", that's a publication online, reports an al Qaeda source now says AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack against the office of "Charlie Hebdo," which claimed 12 lives two days ago.

CNN has not independently confirmed this information. But let's go to Jeremy Scahill. He's the editor for "The Intercept". He broke this news and he joins me now on the phone.

Jeremy, tell me everything you know.

JEREMY SCAHILL, THE INTERCEPT (via telephone): Jake, a source within al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula provided me with two statements. The first statement did not claim responsibility but instead praised the attack and said it doesn't matter if they were directed by any specific jihadi organization. The point is that they were Muslims and that they were in Paris to avenge the disgracing and demeaning of the Prophet Muhammad by this French publication.

A short time later, then, I received a far more direct statement that claims that AQAP indeed directed this operation. They used the phrasing that some asked the relationship between al Qaeda and, I'm quoting directly, "between al Qaeda organization and the brothers who carried out the operation." Was it direct? Was it the operation supervised by the al Qaeda wing in the Arabian Peninsula?

"The leadership," continuing with the quote, "of AQAP directed the operation and they have chosen their targets carefully as a revenge for the honor of the prophet."

Jake, I'm also -- I also understand from a source within AQAP that release of an Arabic language statement from the leadership of AQAP is going to happen very, very soon.

TAPPER: Jeremy, are these two different sources or is it the same source that changed his tune a little bit?

SCAHILL: Jake, this is the same source. I wouldn't characterize it as changing of the tune. What I think happened is that AQAP was trying to determine at its highest level how they were going to respond to this. And so, I was able to get insight while they were in the midst of deciding what to put out as an official statement of what the current thinking was within the organization.

TAPPER: All right. Fair enough.

And we know that one of the Kouachi brothers, one of the two who carried out the attack and were killed today by police, told French media that he had been in touch with Awlaki and this, in fact, was directed -- it was directed by Anwar al-Awlaki, that's the American- born cleric who was killed by a U.S. drone operation in 2011. So, that -- at least on its face, that would seem to match up that this is an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operation, I guess, Jeremy?

SCAHILL: Well, in the earlier statement, in the first statement that we published from this AQAP source, Anwar al-Awlaki is referenced a number of times in the context of them asking, was his assassination, his death by the hands of the U.S. drone justified? And implying that the individuals who carried out this attack in Paris were motivated by Anwar al-Awlaki.

You should remember, and I know you know this, Jake, that in June of 2010, AQAP published the first edition of its magazine, English language magazine called "Inspire" magazine. And in that magazine, Anwar al-Awlaki had an article in which he called on Muslims around the world to target four assassinations, cartoonists who participated in the demeaning of the Prophet Muhammad. There was a cartoonist, Molly Norris in Seattle, Washington, who had to change her name and go underground and was under federal protection and I believe she still has not emerged as a result of believing that there's a real threat against her.

Jake, I also should tell you something that was a little bit strange in the communications I had today with AQAP is that they pointed me to the most recent issue of "Inspire" magazine, the 13th edition of it, which was released just in December. And if you look in that magazine, there is an image of a Muslim man kneeling in prayer. And there's a caption underneath it and he is next to a pot that was said it's similar to the cooking pot used by the Boston marathon bombers. And it says underneath it, "If you have the knowledge and the inspiration, all that's left is to take action." Below that, Jake, on the next page is a picture of a French passport. And my understanding is that was meant as a foreshadowing of the attack on "Charlie Hebdo".

TAPPER: Very interesting. Jeremy Scahill with "The Intercept", thank you so much. We're going to take a very quick break.

When we come back, we're still waiting for the Paris prosecutor to speak on the latest on the hunt for the female terror suspect. That's expected to start any minute. We'll have it for you live as soon as it starts.

Stay with us.