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Officials: Jihadists Might Have Planted Bomb with Timer; ISIS Group in Sinai Linked to Insider Attacks; FBI: 'Race War' Plot Targeted Black Churches. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 10, 2015 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now: explosive mix. U.S. officials suspect an insider planted a military-grade explosive with a timer aboard the Metrojet airliner which blew up over Sinai. Now, an Egyptian source says state security has investigated anyone who had any contact with the doomed plane before it took off. Will Egypt let the U.S. see any evidence? I'll ask Egypt's foreign minister.

ISIS threat. The ISIS affiliate in Sinai is known for high-profile attacks using insiders. They're led by a mysterious cleric, a violent jihadist. Did he direct an attack on the airliner?

White supremacist plot. Two Virginia men arrested for allegedly plotting to blow up black churches and Jewish synagogues, planning acts of violence against Jews. We have details.

And Carson's credentials. Ben Carson's self-described violent past, including a knife attack, is playing big in the Republican campaign. Will it actually help him?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news. Egyptian security has now investigated every person who was involved with the Metrojet airliner before it took off on its doomed flight over Sinai. That word from an Egyptian source, who says investigators seized all the cameras, sensors and related information at the Sharm el-Sheikh Airport.

Egypt has now publicly embraced the idea that this was a terror attack, but some U.S. officials are piecing together what they believe is a likely sequence of events with a catastrophic explosion over Sinai. All 224 on board were killed.

There are working scenarios that an insider planted a bomb military grade explosives with a timer aboard that plane in Sharm el-Sheikh. Our correspondents, analyst and guests, they have full coverage of today's top stories.

Let's begin with our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. Jim, a number of U.S. officials now laying out how the Russian airliner may have been brought down. Is Russia now coming around to the idea that this was, in fact, a terror attack?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you'll remember that early on, some Russians officials had dismissed terror. But today the prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, saying that terror cannot be ruled out, but really, the Russian government's actions speaking far louder than words here.

Today, Russian authorities announcing the extraordinary step of shutting down all Russian flights to and from Egypt, citing poor security there.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, Moscow declaring it unsafe to fly to Egypt for months. Russian officials acknowledging in public for the first time that terrorism could have brought down Metrojet 9268.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV, RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The likelihood of a terrorist attack still cannot be ruled out. That is why such a decision was made.

SCIUTTO: U.S. officials are now piecing together clues, though they have no forensic evidence shared by Russian or Egyptian investigators. Some U.S. analysts believe the most likely scenario is that jihadists planted a bomb with a timer on the plane by someone that had access, rather than a passenger sneaking it through the security system. U.S. officials tell CNN.

However, a senior intelligence official cautioned that much of the evidence so far is circumstantial and amounts to hearsay. With no access to debris, bodies or the cockpit voice recorder all normally essential parts of any crash investigation. Russian investigators have promised to share any evidence of an explosive if they find it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I can say with full confidence, in case there are any traces of explosives, they will definitely be found.

SCIUTTO: They have come to no conclusions. U.S. counterterror agencies are already preparing heightened security measures for airports in the region with direct flights to the U.S.

The U.S. continues to analyze communication intercepts between ISIS in Sinai and ISIS leadership in Syria, detailing elements of the incident after the fact. Possible sign that ISIS or an ISIS affiliate carried out the attack.

If this doesn't end up being ISIS, it would represent ISIS coming of age as international terrorist group.

SCIUTTO: With Russian forces now on the ground and in the air in Syria, one question is how Moscow would respond to what would be the deadliest destruction of an aircraft by a bomb since Pan Am 103.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I expect the Russians will take some action. How they'll respond? We hope that they would help us in our battle against ISIS, as in ISIL.


SCIUTTO: Part of the working theory among U.S. intelligence is that, if this was indeed a bomb, the device may have used a military grade explosive, based on the size and signature of the incident that took this plane down, as observed by U.S. surveillance assets.

[17:05:08] But this assessment is hampered, like the rest of the investigation, by the lack, Wolf, of any hard, forensic evidence, namely, for instance, any other normal investigation of a plane crash. You of course, look at wreckage and test for explosive residues.

But because they don't have at this point and haven't had that kind of intelligence shared with them by either Russian or Egyptian authorities, they cannot make that determination with confidence at this stage.

BLITZER: And Egyptians have not yet invited U.S. experts to go to that site to look for that kind of evidence.

SCIUTTO: Despite offers.

BLITZER: U.S. has offered to speak to the Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry. I'll ask him why that invitation has not come forward. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto.

More on the breaking news we're following right now. We're learning that Egyptian security carried out a major sweep of the Sharm el- Sheikh Airport immediately after that Metrojet airliner exploded. CNN's Ian Lee is joining us now from Sharm el-Sheikh.

Ian, what are you learning?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. We're learning exactly what happened in the hours between the plane crashing and that information being released to the public. Egypt's state security locking all information pertaining to that flight. They're also locking down the CCTV, the scanners, the sensors, all information that was obtained prior to that flight.

We're also learning that anyone who handled, from the baggage to the check-in to the caterer, they were all individually interviewed by state security before this information could be leaked out.

And this is important, Wolf, because they didn't want anyone to tamper with this evidence. That's why they locked it down, and they wanted to make sure they could interview everyone before they left for -- left the airport.

BLITZER: What are they saying, Ian, about how a potential bomb might have cleared security?

LEE: My source, Wolf, is telling me that security is very tight at the airport, that it is tighter for employees of the airport than it is for passengers, and that all vehicles that enter the airport are scanned, not just with dogs sniffing them but also metal detectors, bomb detectors, saying it is very tight.

But he did also say that a bomb potentially could have made it past if it was sophisticated enough.

BLITZER: Ian Lee at Sharm el-Sheikh for us. Ian, thank you.

The ISIS affiliate in Sinai has claimed responsibility for the downing of the Metrojet airliner. That group has already showed just how dangerous it is, and Americans have been among the targets. CNN's Brian Todd taking a closer look at this part of the story.

What are you finding out, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we're getting new information about this very dangerous group called Wilayat Sina. We've got new details on who their leaders are, their operational capabilities and some of the deadly attacks they've launched on Egyptian and western forces.


TODD (voice-over): July of this year, a guided missile slams into an Egyptian warship in the Mediterranean.

January 2014, an Egyptian military helicopter blasted out of the sky with a surface-to-air missile. High-profile strikes claimed by ISIS in Sinai, the terror group's lethal affiliate, also known as Wilayat Sina.

MOHAMMED SABRY, AUTHOR, "SINAI": They've launched countless IED attacks, including one which wounded four Americans in September. They've killed Egyptian security forces with sniper fire, and targeted their commanders.

They have led assassination attempts against higher-up security figures. Some of them were undercover and successfully assassinated them.

TODD: They're particularly skilled at operating on the inside.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: ISIS in Sinai have a proven track record of infiltration. They've managed to recruit a number of insiders inside the Egyptian military, inside the Egyptian police forces.

TODD: Their ability to pull inside jobs explains why U.S. officials say they're a possible suspect behind the downing of the Russian passenger plane. If they did that, it would represent a dramatic, new tactic, using another part of their arsenal.

CRUICKSHANK: This is a group that's amassed a stockpile of high explosives, including military grade explosives, including C-4.

TODD: The U.S. counterterrorism official tells CNN, Wilayat Sina is one of ISIS's most active and potent affiliates. The official says they pledged their allegiance to ISIS last year and have adopted ISIS's branding and brutal tactics.

Their most public figure is Abu Osama al-Masri, a mysterious jihadist whose blurred face appears in the group's propaganda videos. His voice, in an audio message, claimed responsibility for the downing of the Russian plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is someone who seems to be educated, more educated than they are, very well-versed in Islamic scripture, young, at least less than 40 years old. He's obviously a spokesperson, but also he is what we call a shadahi (ph), a person that they go to for religious justifications on their different attacks.

[17:10:05] TODD: But al-Masri, analysts say, may not be an operational leader. Two men named Shadi el-Manaei and Kamal Alam fill those roles. Experts say ISIS in Sinai did have a so-called emir, named Tawfiq Farij, who they say drove around in an explosive-laden vehicle and was killed in a car accident last year.


TODD: But analysts say it's not clear who their overall leader is right now. Partly because of this group's obsession with secrecy and partly out of deference to ISIS's top leader in Syria, Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi, to whom they have pledged their absolute loyalty -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, could they have taken direction from al-Baghdadi, directly, or ISIS other top leaders in Iraq and Syria, for that matter? Who ordered them, if anyone did, to bring that plane down?

TODD: U.S. officials right now, Wolf, say so far there is no evidence that ISIS leadership in Syria and Iraq ordered the downing of the plane, but they also have a caveat: that could change as the investigation proceeds.

Analysts point out, there's been communication between two groups. And the downing of the plane does fit with the agenda of ISIS's top leaders in Iraq and Syria to attack the countries that are targeting them in that region -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much. Very dangerous situation in Sinai.

And remember, there are still 750 American soldiers in Sinai, part of that U.S. peacekeeping operation there that's been in business since 1979.

Joining us now, Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. He serves on the House Armed Services Committee, as well as the foreign affairs committee. She's an Iraq War veteran.

Congresswoman, thanks very much for joining us. How confident are you that this was a bomb that brought down this plane?

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Aloha, Wolf. I think all of the indications that we're seeing, all arrows are pointing in that direction, that this was somehow a bomb that was planted on this plane that caused this unfortunate tragedy. I think this is a true wake-up call, not only to airports in Egypt but

really to all of us. We've got to look at the vulnerabilities that exist in our own airports.

And I think in two major areas, one -- and you've mentioned this before -- CNN talked about this story a few months back, about how our TSA screeners missed 96 percent of fake weapons and bombs that the Department of Homeland Security tried to get through their checkpoints. That's an extremely alarming statistic.

And I think the sick thing, and this is the biggest vulnerability that we have is lack of serious vetting as well as screening for all of the other employees that have access to our airplanes, baggage handlers, those who are loading the baggage into the plane. Those who are working kind of behind the scenes here is something that really needs to be addressed.

BLITZER: It certainly does. We're going to have more on this part of the story in a moment, Congresswoman. But first of all, how confident are you that it was, in fact, ISIS who planted this bomb, killing all 224 people on that plane?

GABBARD: Well, I think if we look at ISIS's track record of claiming responsibility for other attacks and other things that they've done, usually those are things that have been prove to have been true, that they did, in fact, conduct these terrorist acts.

So when you listen to the chatter and you hear the information that's being put out about ISIS taking responsibility for this, the investigation will continue.

But I think we've got to operate under the understanding of this is possible, and it could happen. And we need to take action to address the vulnerabilities within our own airports to make sure that we don't allow it to happen here.

BLITZER: And airports abroad that have direct flights to the United States, as well.

Congresswoman, stand by. We have more to discuss, including the Russian role in all of this. Should there be greater U.S.-Russian cooperation in this war against ISIS? Stay with us.


[07:18:35] BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Congressman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. She's a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committee. And she's also an Iraq War veteran.

Congresswoman, there are reports that the bomb was likely made, at least in part, by what's described as an easily attainable military- grade explosive like C-4. Does that give you an indication who might have carried this out, how sophisticated the bomb might have been?

GABBARD: I think this points to the concern that we have here, Wolf, with regards to these Islamic extremists, ISIS terrorists in the Sinai region but also those operating in other parts of the country and Syria and Iraq is how they're getting their hands on these kinds of sophisticated weapons.

You had earlier in your program video showing these terrorists with these surface-to-air-type missiles, with anti-aircraft missiles. How are they getting these weapons? Where are they getting them from? And I think this is a serious thing we've got to look into.

BLITZER: If this was in fact ISIS, what was their motive? Was their motive to go after Russia, which has become increasingly aggressive in Syria right now, including against ISIS? Or was their motive to go against Egypt, the government there, the government of President al- Sisi, clearly fighting these ISIS terrorists in Sinai?

GABBARD: I think it's hard to speculate on exactly what their motives would be. But you look at what's happening on the ground. Look at President el-Sisi in Egypt. He has been one of the most outspoken critics of Islamic extremism, and he has taken many serious steps within the country of Egypt to crack down on Islamic extremism.

[17:20:11] We can look at the actions that Russia's taken in Syria, going after these Islamic extremist groups like ISIS, like al Qaeda, and understanding the seriousness of the threat that they pose.

I think we forget sometimes how close Russia is to Syria, and their very real concern that they have thousands of fighters going from Russia into Syria. They've got over 2 million Muslims in Moscow alone. And so they see that it's a very real concern, these foreign fighters coming back and attempting to radicalize others within their own country, as an existential threat.

BLITZER: The vulnerabilities at -- potentially at U.S. airports and international airports that fly directly to the United States, they're pretty significant. Is the DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, doing enough to address these -- these apparent holes in airport security?

GABBARD: Well, I think everyone is really looking to identify exactly what these holes are. I think we've got to take them very seriously as, at the same time, we are looking at the holes in our own security system here in our domestic airports.

We can't underestimate the threat that we are seeing is possible here. And we've got to work with these other countries, work with those who have these direct flights coming into the United States to make sure that those holes are plugged.

BLITZER: Tulsi Gabbard, thanks very much for joining us.

GABBARD: Thanks, Wolf. Aloha.

BLITZER: Aloha to you, too.

Coming up, U.S. officials suspect an insider planted a bomb with a timer aboard that Metrojet airliner which blew up over Sinai. An Egyptian source says state security has investigated anyone who had any direct contact with that doomed plane. I'll speak about that and more. Egypt's foreign minister, he's standing by live.

And two Virginia men are now arrested for allegedly plotting to blow up black churches, Jewish synagogues, planning to attack Jews here in the United States. Stay with us.


[17:26:46] BLITZER: Top story. CNN has learned that Egyptian security has now investigated every person who was involved with the Metrojet airliner before it took off on its doomed flight over Sinai. It comes as U.S. officials suggest that an insider planted a bomb on the plane before it took off from Sharm el-Sheikh Airport.

Joining us now on the phone is the foreign minister of Egypt, Sameh Shoukry.

Foreign Minister, thanks very much for joining us. How confident are you that it was, in fact, a bomb that brought down this plane, killing all 224 people on board?


I think it's something for the investigation to determine. We're taking every precaution and not ruling out any possibility, which is why we've increased our security in Sharm el-Sheikh Airport, why we are taking serious (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the media related to the possibilities of is this is a terrorist act.

Egypt has been at the forefront of the fight against terrorism and the brutality of these organizations. We can't rule everything out. But we're not in a position -- the independent investigation, if concluded and reaches a definitive cause of the downing of the flight, that we can categorically say it was terrorism. So despite the fact we are taking precautions and addressing all of the potential possibilities.

BLITZER: Has anyone at the airport been arrested or detained by Egyptian authorities so far?

SHOUKRY: Not to my knowledge. You know, I'm outside of Egypt. I'm in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for the American -- Latin American Arab summit. But I have no information that any arrests have been made.

BLITZER: Will Egypt invite investigators from the U.S., for example, from the FBI or the National Transportation Safety Board, to come to Egypt, to physically inspect the wreckage in Sinai?

SHOUKRY: Definitely my understanding is that there has been an American application to become part of the investigation. Some of the manufacturing of the engine, which we accepted an investigator; we accepted immediately. And that team can have whatever it advises it needs to undertake the full investigation and to be part of the investigative team.

BLITZER: Because I know that there are -- there's an impressive FBI delegation that's permanently based at the U.S. embassy in Cairo. Will you allow FBI agents to go to Sinai and investigate, take a look at the area themselves?

SHOUKRY: Well, this is related to the international regulations that govern the investigation, allow advisers to the investigative team. That would be a decision on the part of the U.S. to create its own team and include the FBI, if that is possible within the international regulations that govern the investigative process.

BLITZER: But let me just be precise, Minister. Are you saying that Egypt will allow Americans, American investigators, to participate, actually physically be there in Sinai?

SHOUKRY: Egypt has already accepted the application of American investigators that are associated with the manufacturing of the engine to become part of the investigative team. They are free to incorporate whatever advisers they deem are necessary for them to undertake the responsibilities.

BLITZER: Including going to Sinai?

[17:30:23] SHOUKRY: Of course. They have to be in Sharm el-Sheikh, and they have to be given full access to the crash area site. And they will undertake the same and have the same accessibility to all of the international investigators that are currently part of the team, whether French, or Russian, or Irish, or German.

BLITZER: All right. So I just want -- I have one more final question on this part, Minister. So NTSB, National Transportation Safety Board experts, engine experts and FBI agents, all of them, potentially could be part of this U.S. team at Sharm el-Sheikh in Sinai?

SHOUKRY: Again, the U.S. is part of the team because of the manufacturing of the engine, and the team will then be regulations of the international investigative process, are free to have whatever consultants, advisers that they deem necessary to undertake their responsibilities.

BLITZER: Has the U.S. and Britain shared its intelligence with Egypt?

SHOUKRY: No, they have not.

BLITZER: And when you ask to see that intelligence, what do they say to you?

SHOUKRY: Well, we have -- there has been the request by the head of the investigator, in his news conference, where he encouraged those who have information to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) so as to facilitate their investigation. I hope there will be a positive response to that request.

BLITZER: Because we're told the U.S. shared intelligence with Russia, so it's curious why they haven't shared it with Egypt. But you don't have a really good explanation for that, do you?

SHOUKRY: I suggest you ask them.

BLITZER: We'll ask them, indeed. We will certainly ask them. Finally, Minister, do you believe ISIS in Sinai, that terrorist group,

which has caused so many violent terrorist attacks over these past couple of years already, do you believe they have the capability to pull off an attack like this?

SHOUKRY: Well, from what we've seen in terms of their sophistication in planting explosives in the Sinai and targeting our security forces and the equipment that's provided to them, and we -- it's a surprising sophistication of that sort of weaponry which is usually available to take (ph), they are certainly a force to be reckoned with. And we are undertaking everything that we can to -- to eradicate this threat, because it is harming Egyptians. It is harming foreigners. And we've seen the brutality of these organizations when they have killed Americans, Egyptians, the Brits, and Croatians, most recently.

BLITZER: Good luck, Minister. Thanks very much for joining us.

The Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, joining us from Saudi Arabia tonight.

Let's bring in our experts, our national security analyst Peter Bergen; and our counterterrorism analyst, Phil Mudd. He's a former CIA official.

Your reaction, Phil, to what we just heard from the Egyptian foreign minister that is saying, yes, Americans will be allowed to go in and investigate, but the U.S. still hasn't provided Egypt with the intelligence available that could help in this investigation.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, one, Wolf, I did not hear him say that the Americans can investigate. He was careful. He said the Americans have an interest in American-built engines. If you parse that, I could see him saying, "You can participate in the team that looks at the engines and where they might have fallen in the desert, but you can't have access to the entire area where the plane went down." He was careful about using language that was linked to one specific part of the aircraft.

On the passage of intelligence, let's be clear: as an intelligence professional, there's a problem here. You might go into the Egyptians and say, "We have information directly from ISIS that indicates their culpability for this event," but the specifics on how you're collecting that intelligence come from the same sources in ISIS that you're going to want to keep collecting on so you can take down those individuals in the future.

If you're not careful with this stuff, ISIS is going to realize how you're intercepting them. They're going to switch communication channels, and your ability to take down the cell that does this is going to decline. It's not just about the investigation. It's about protecting the intelligence for the future.

BLITZER: If they say that U.S. investigators will be able to participate in investigating the engines, those engines on that Airbus are Pratt and Whitney U.S.-made engines haven't those engines been dispersed? The wreckage is all over Sinai right now. So if they say going ahead and investigate the engines, they've got to go there to the scene, right?

MUDD: That's not clear to me. When I listen to him speak, for example, I could hear him, behind what he's saying might be things like, once we can acquire engines and bring them to a safe site where we're reassembling the aircraft, you can have access.

Another immediate question I would have if I were the FBI: can I have access to other pieces that you're collecting? For example, the interviews of the people in the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh.

My interpretation of what he said was, you will not get access to that. If you -- the word "access," to me, means you can participate with Russians and Egyptians and the entirety of the investigative effort, and he certainly did not say that.

BLITZER: Yes, well, that's a good point.

Peter Bergen, what's your reaction? Do you have the same analysis THAT we JUST heard from Phil?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Largely, although he did actually say that the investigators could go to Sinai. I mean, he said that fairly definitively when you asked him.

And the fact is, this does seem to be moving the needle quite a lot from the previous Egyptian position. I mean, saying, yes, the FBI could come in, NTSB could come in.

And also, by the way, saying at the end, when you asked him about the strength of ISIS in Sinai. I mean, you can see that this is a very violent, very effective organization that has access to the same materials that states have. So therefore, conceding, yes, a bomb, you know, is certainly not out of the question.

BLITZER: Clearly, the U.S. and Egypt are the two governments they've got to work out the cooperation. The intelligence cooperation and the physical investigation cooperation, as well.

All right, guys. We're going to have much more on the breaking news coming up.

We're also getting some other breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We have details of what the FBI is now calling a white supremacist plot to bomb black churches, Jewish synagogues and start a race war in the United States.

Also, Dr. Ben Carson's stories about his violent teen years attracting more attention from Donald Trump.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you try and hit your mother over the head with a hammer, your poll numbers go up. I never saw anything like it.


[17:41:46] BLITZER: Breaking now: word of arrest in what the FBI is calling a white supremacist plot, among other things, to bomb black churches and to provoke a race war here in the United States. The affidavit says, the suspects also plotted attacks on Jewish synagogues and attacks against Jews.

Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, has been working her sources.

Pamela, you've gone through the documents, the U.S. District court documents. What are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Some disturbing allegations in those documents, Wolf. The FBI arrested these two alleged white supremacists in Chesterfield, Virginia, who the FBI says plotted to kill black people and people of Jewish faith in furtherance of their extremist beliefs.

The complaint says they planned on, quote, "shooting or bombing the occupants of black churches and Jewish synagogues, conducting acts of violence against persons of the Jewish faith, and doing harm to a gun store owner in the state of Oklahoma."

These men, Ronald Cheney and Robert Doyle, allegedly met with other associates who were in their white supremacy group to discuss this plot. And according to the FBI, they later met with an undercover FBI agent acting as an illegal arms dealer. The FBI says these men placed orders for automatic weapons, explosives, and a pistol with a silencer.

And it's interesting to point out in the complaint one of the men was reported saying he was suspicious about the undercover agent who was acting as that arms dealer and suspected it was a federal operation, but that did not stop them from allegedly moving forward with their plans. And they were arrested earlier this week when the FBI says they attempted to purchase those weapons.

BLITZER: One of the two suspects, one of these two men said all of this was in preparation for a race war in the United States. What do we know about that?

BROWN: That's right. The FBI says that it was given information through confidential sources and surveillance that the men were concocting a plan to kill a jeweler and then use that money to, quote, "purchase land, stockpile weapons and train for the coming race war."

Another man was arrested for conspiracy to commit a robbery as part of that.

The details in this criminal complaint, of course, are especially alarming in the wake of the killings of nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina, by the white supremacist, Dylann Roof, who as you may recall, Wolf, said that he wanted to launch a race war. There are these groups in the U.S., these white supremacy groups, anti-government fanatics and extremists that the FBI keeps tabs on; and it is very concerning after what we saw in Charleston and elsewhere.

BLITZER: Certainly is very concerning. Did they identify the jeweler that they wanted to rob in order to get money, if you will, to buy these weapons?

BROWN: Well, not in the criminal complaint. It just says it was a jeweler who they had identified and who had thousands and thousands of dollars' worth of jewels that they were targeting; and they wanted to use those proceeds to carry out their plot, according to the FBI, and start this race war.

BLITZER: I read this criminal complaint. It's pretty chilling...

BROWN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... when you read the whole thing. All right, Pamela. Thanks very much.

The Republican presidential candidates, they're getting ready for a debate that's supposed to focus on the economy. But Donald Trump is focusing in on Dr. Ben Carson's claims about being a violent teenager.


TRUMP: This is the only election in history where you're better off if you stabbed somebody. What are we coming to?



BLITZER: We're following the last-minute jockeying as the Republican presidential candidates prepare for tonight's debate. It's supposed to focus in on jobs and the economy, but Dr. Ben Carson's campaign just released a video ridiculing the news media for questioning Dr. Carson's life story, especially what he's written about his violence and his temper as a young boy, as a teenager. Even Donald Trump is sounding surprised about the campaign's twists and turns.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a strange election, isn't it? Man. You stab somebody and the newspapers say, you didn't do it. And you said yes, I did. I did it. No, you didn't. Yes, I did. I stabbed him and it hit the belt. And they said you didn't do it. If they said I didn't do it, I'd be so happy.

[17:50:03] This is the only election in history where you are better off if you stab somebody. What are we coming to?


BLITZER: All right, joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM, our CNN political commentators, S.E. Cupp and Ryan Lizza, along with our senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson. Nia, the -- the Donald Trump attacks on Dr. Ben Carson, we know what

Donald Trump did, he effectively -- he hurt Jeb Bush a lot early on when he was going after him with his low energy and all of that. Can he do the same thing to Ben Carson?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, he's been trying to do this since mid-September. He once called Ben Carson an OK doctor who hired a nurse. That didn't really work. He criticized his religion. He's talked about his abortion views. He hasn't, I think, yet found a criticism that sticks to Dr. Ben Carson, and I think in some ways, it's partly because they have different audiences.

Carson appeals to evangelicals and women, white women, and Donald Trump appeals to a different subset of the Republican Party. So I think that's in many ways why it hasn't really worked. We'll see if he tries this at the debate tonight. Going into that last debate, he was getting rough with Ben Carson, but in that debate, they were kind of -- they kept kind of a bromance, I think, in that last debate. So we'll see what he does tonight.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, the weird position that Trump is in is that the obvious area to go after Ben Carson is that he's not very substantive.


CUPP: On serious issues.


HENDERSON: Not even comedy, right.

CUPP: Which would be a first for Trump to do, though.


CUPP: And so, you know, the one sort of -- the one, you know, weakness that Carson has, Trump really isn't able to exploit because he has the same faces and the same criticism.

BLITZER: Because he always says he's such a nice man, Donald Trump referring to Ben Carson.


CUPP: But.

BLITZER: I hope he's not in any trouble, but then he goes on to sort of try to ridicule him.


RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: Classic because he knows that Ben Carson is the guy in the race that is -- has the highest favorables. Republicans really like this guy. So Trump has to take him down a little bit more subtly. I think this stuff works. Trump gets attention no matter what he says, right? So if Trump is raising an issue about a candidate, it is guaranteed to get coverage. When he raised immigration or the low-energy stuff with Jeb, it gets covered because Trump is the candidate that the media is more obsessed with than anyone else.

CUPP: I love that he says that this is a weird election.


CUPP: As if he's removed, has nothing to do with the fact that this has been a weird election.

HENDERSON: Yes. Yes. Thanks to Trump, it's weird, right?

BLITZER: It is a very weird election. And the focus in on going after the news media now, which is a staple that a lot of people do that among Republicans, if you will, the mainstream, the liberal news media. That necessarily -- tonight, if the moderators, FOX Business moderators, if they ask tough questions, it's difficult to go after them.

HENDERSON: Well, I guess but we've seen Donald Trump do that pretty effectively after that first debate. He certainly went after FOX, specifically Megyn Kelly, and just FOX more broadly. So it always works and maybe it will work this time.


HENDERSON: You've seen Carson kind of -- or Carson's campaign say, oh, they're going to move on, and these questions are fair, but it's just such a guaranteed applause line.

LIZZA: This is the first debate like this where I feel like the story going in is as much about the media as it is about the candidates.

BLITZER: Explain what you mean by that.

LIZZA: Well, ever since the CNBC debate, which was widely panned by Republicans, the Republican candidates have been criticizing the press, saying that they're not fair, and a lot of the Republican candidates have been trying to change the rules of the debates to make them what they think would be more fair. So I think there's a lot on the line for the FOX Business reporters. They have to -- I hope that they don't cave, you know.

In this business, you're always what they call working the refs, right? The candidates are always working the refs, working us in the media --

BLITZER: Going into the debate.

LIZZA: Going into the debate to try and soften us up. I think they're trying to get the moderators to ask easier questions, frankly.

BLITZER: Well, both moderators, Maria Bartiromo. CUPP: Yes.

BLITZER: And Neil Cavuto, they keep saying they want to ask substantive, economic-related questions.

CUPP: Yes.

BLITZER: The economy, after all, is issue number one.

CUPP: Well, and I expect them to. Look, I think, you know, if you're Chris Christie or Ted Cruz, right, who really exploited those moments in the CNBC debate to go after the moderators for their really dumb, dumb questions, that's actually not their go-to move. Chris Christie is the first to say, I'm not going to talk about process, I'm not going to whine and complain, I'm just going to go in and get the job done. Even being demoted to the undercard debate.

It is the go-to move for Trump and Carson now to criticize the media, to talk about gotcha questions. They've been doing it since they got in the race. They do it no matter what they're asked, it seems. So I would expect no matter what Cavuto and Bartiromo ask, I would expect one of their moments to be an attack of the question, the moderator and the media.

BLITZER: SE, thanks very much. Ryan, Nia, guys, we'll be watching, of course.

After tonight's debate, tune in to CNN for highlights and complete analysis. Watch a special edition of "ANDERSON COOPER 360" tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Coming up, U.S. officials put together what they say is a likely scenario for the downing of that Metrojet airliner over Sinai, suggesting an airport insider helped plant military explosives with a timing device.

[17:55:08] And a major security scare at a busy U.S. airport. Why armed officers boarded a flight in Miami and ordered passengers to put their hands up.


BLITZER: Happening now, explosive theory. We're getting new information from U.S. officials about what kind of bomb may have ripped apart a Russian airliner and who may have planted it. I'll ask the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee what he's learning and whether the U.S. is keeping any information from Egypt as the country's foreign minister just told me in an exclusive interview.

[18:00:04] Security shocker. Armed officers board a flight in Miami, scaring passengers as they search for a man with a suspicious bag.