Return to Transcripts main page

AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

International Manhunt for Paris Attack Suspects; Hollande, Obama Talk Paris Attacks, ISIS; Paris Attacks Add to International Migrant Crisis. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired November 16, 2015 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: But this city, this country in no way returned to a state of normalcy.

Happening right now, there is an international manhunt under way for a French citizen suspected of being involved in the deadly attacks here in Paris. Anti-terror forces in France and Belgium staging raids, bringing in suspects, confiscating weapons and computer equipment. According to affiliate, BFM-TV, they believe six of the Paris attackers, six, spent time in Syria.

Joining us now to discuss the efforts to find these terrorists involved in planning and pulling off these attacks, CNN contributor and terrorism expert, Jean-Charles Brisard; and Regis Le Sommier, associate editor-in-chief of Paris Match.

Jean-Charles, to you first.

Six of the eight attackers known or believed to have spent time in Syria. This is exactly what people fear, this revolving door between French citizens and Syria, people going there and coming back.

JEAN-CHARLES BRISARD, CNN CONTRIBUTOR & TERRORISM EXPERT: Yes, this is no surprise. We experienced the first wave of jihadists or terror plots conceived by sympathizers from inside Europe. Now we see the returnees, like Nimush (ph), Mini Nimush (ph), same way, he returned from Syria. We see now the returnings. This is what we must fear over the last two years, is the return of people who have been trained to use weapons, explosives, and very much trained to carry out terrorist attacks of large scales here in Europe.

BERMAN: A scale that, in the United States, that we don't have to deal with. 1,000 people are believed to have gone from France.

BRISARD: We're speaking of 2,000 individuals involved in the jihadi networks, whether in France or abroad. And 600 of our citizens currently fighting alongside terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq.

BERMAN: Regis, last night, we saw something remarkable, more than 150 raids. Could be more at this point because they're still ongoing, around this country. Not clear the exact connection between these raids and the terror attacks on Friday, but it does show that French authorities have a list. I mean, they have their eye on a lot of people. They have a lot of doors they want to knock down and go inside.

REGIS LE SOMMIER, ASSOCIATE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, PARIS MATCH: Well, of course, you know, they have, you know, the now famous notes, you know, that a number of people are having around the country. You're talking about the raids that -- some raids, of course, happened in Belgium. No surprise, like my colleague said, that these two countries, Belgium and France, France has the biggest contingency of jihadists in Syria. Regarding population, Belgium has the biggest also.

BERMAN: Per capita --

(CROSSTALK)

SOMMIER: So, those two countries, of course, there's no surprise. Unfortunately, there's no surprise that such a horrific act, such a horrific attack happens in France.

BERMAN: What is it about Belgium? I'll ask you first, and then, Jean-Charles, to you. Was it easier to plan in Belgium, do you think, this attack? Is there less scrutiny there than there would be here?

By the way, our American viewers should know, there's effectively no difference between traveling between Belgium and Paris. You can drive right across the border. There's no border.

SOMMIER: Of course, it's a Schengen environment so there is no border. I covered the 2003 bombings in Casablanca. It was an already Belgian connection there. The Madrid bombing in 2004, same connection with Belgium. There seems to be an easiness in Belgium to get weapons. Probably it's more easy to have weapons in Belgium than is in the --

(CROSSTALK)

SOMMIER: The legislation in France is probably a lot trickier. And also, you know, I think the police force and intel in Belgium is probably, you know, limited, more limited maybe than in France. That's my take.

Maybe Jean-Charles has --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Jean-Charles, what about that? What about the borders? We talked about Schengen, the open borders in Western Europe. Do you think there will be any tightening there?

BRISARD: Let's be clear on this, it's now 10 months since France and other governments, since the "Charlie Hebdo" shootings, have had to reinforce and to be able -- simply to be able to control the passports of Schengen citizens, meaning our own citizens when they enter the Schengen zones. Because it is impossible today to do that on a systematic way. We just -- we just can't check the foreigners. Not our own citizens. The problem is today, the threat is from our own citizens returning from Syria and Iraq. We've also asked to enforce Europol, to create a real platform to exchange information on these individuals between all the open countries. We've also asked for P&R, European P&R, passenger reports, to be able to exchange passenger information among countries, including for internal flights. This is not done 10 months later.

[11:35:02] BERMAN: It's an enormous problem, the scope hard to grasp.

Jean Charles, Regis, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up for us, ISIS now warning that the United States, other countries could suffer the same fate as France. The terrorists identify the American city that it plans to hit next.

Also coming up for us, the terrorist attacks add a new layer of complication to a growing, huge international refugee crisis. Despite an appeal from President Obama, some U.S. officials are now vowing to block Syrians seeking refuge in the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

[11:40:02] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Kate Bolduan, joining you from New York.

Let's bring you up to date on the very latest on the Paris terror investigation, as much as we know right now.

An urgent international search for the brother of one of the dead attackers. The man they're looking for is the Belgian-born French citizen Salah Abdeslam. They are warning the public that he is dangerous and not to approach him. The U.S. director of the CIA, John Brennan, says that he expects ISIS has more attacks in the pipeline. At the very same time the terror group released another video threatening the United States. Although the FBI and homeland security departments say there is no specific or credible threat against the homeland at this time.

Meantime, France's President Francois Hollande has addressed a joint session of parliament a short time ago, a rare and historic speech. Hollande promised in that speech more air strikes against ISIS in Syria and planning -- and is planning to add 5,000 new positions to the national paramilitary police force and he also declared France is at war.

A short time ago in Turkey, President Obama talked about how the administration is dealing with the terror group. The latest on U.S. strategy against ISIS. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have always understood that this would be a long-term campaign. There will be setbacks and there will be successes. The terrible events in Paris were obviously a terrible and sickening setback.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: After all this, the investigations still ongoing on how this attack was planned, who all was behind it.

For that, let's get to CNN senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, joining us from a suburb of northeast Paris where raids have been going down.

Fred, the latest we've heard is there have been 150 raids since the attack. Are they all connected to Friday's attacks?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, most were not connected to Friday's attack. They do, of course, occur in that wider security environment of these emergency measures that have put in place. The French authorities are raiding many places, looking for weapons, looking for suspects that generally are part of the Islamist scene here in this country.

However, the raid where I am, outside of Paris, that was in direct relation to the attacks that happened in Paris on Friday. And this is because one of the attackers, his family lives here, and he was identified today. His name is Sami Amimori (ph), 28 years old, who was run that raided the Bataclan Theater, of course, shot many inside and blew up a suicide vest to kill himself. It really is a case study on how difficult it is for law enforcement authorities in France to deal with a person like that. He showed up for the first time in 2012. Authorities noticed him because he tried to travel to Yemen. Authorities stopped him.

In 2013, they put him on a watch list for surveillance. He didn't do what they wanted him to do, so they issued an arrest warrant and he escaped to Syria. His parents tried to get him out of Syria. His father traveled to Syria to try to get him back. His mother notified authorities and asked them for help. A couple days ago, obviously, they were informed that their son was one of the attackers in the Paris attacks that happened on Friday. So, this is certainly an individual where the writing seemed to be on the wall, where authorities were informed, but at some point, it seems they lost track of him. And I was in the place where he lived, in his house, fairly nondescript area. There's people all around there. Police are still searching through that area, seeing if they can find any clues as to the wider network behind this -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Really startling.

Fred, thanks so much.

As Fred mentioned, this one attacker, he was one of those that traveled -- visited Syria. News outlet, BFM, has reported all six attackers all traveled to Syria.

Let's head back to Paris where John is.

Hey, John. BERMAN: Kate, thank you so much.

As you said, six of the eight terrorist traveled to Syria. We'll explain more of why that is so important right now.

I want to bring in CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto; also CNN terror analyst, Paul Cruickshank.

Jim, you literally just ran onto the set, because we're getting new information about someone believed, perhaps, to have been a coordinator of this attack, a Belgian citizen, Abdel Ahmed Abuhud (ph), now operating in Syria.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Even more crucially than that, that it may go up to the highest ranks of ISIS, their leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. This is what I've been told by France's former top counterterrorism judge, who is still briefed regularly on the investigation, and, in fact, in touch with U.S. Intelligence as well. French authorities believe that Abuhud (ph) is the ring leader of this operation, that he gave the orders, coordinated, et cetera, from the base in Syria, dispatched those attackers here to Paris.

What's interesting about Abuhud (ph) is he is extremely close to Baghdadi, very close to him. And it's the assessment of French authorities that he would not carry out a plot of this magnitude without the OK of Baghdadi. In addition to that, and why this fits -- this is a credible connection for them is that Baghdadi's grand plan has been, in effect, establish the caliphate, establish your base in Iraq and Syria, and then bring the war to the West, mimicking, to some degree, Osama bin Laden. He had his base in Afghanistan, brings his war to the West. Connecting those dots, in light of their belief of Abuhud's (ph) chief role, they believe Baghdadi would have given approval.

[11:45:41] BERMAN: This is the archetype of the attack that ISIS has threatened, in a way, their ultimate goal.

French President Francois Hollande, Paul Cruickshank, said this attack was conceived in Syria, planned in Syria, organized in Belgium, carried out in France. Now, we know, perhaps, the connection there might be this Belgian man, Abuhud (ph).

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERROR ANALYST: Abuhud (ph) could be the brains behind this plot? There was already increasing circumstantial evidence pointing towards his involvement because of a Belgian counterterrorism expert, Gieve van Baddan (ph), just told us, he was actually friends way back when with a guy at large right now on the run, Abdeslam, Salah Abdeslam. They were friends back in 2010. They were even tried in the same criminal case together in 2010 in Belgium. And Abuhud (ph) has some form of international terrorism because he was the ring leader of that major plot in Belgium in January, which was thwarted by Belgium security services.

BERMAN: Right in the wake of "Charlie Hebdo." CRUICKSHANK: Right in the wake of "Charlie Hebdo." He was in

touch with that cell from Greece. He was the key point to the ISIS leadership, perhaps al Baghdadi, as Jim was pointing out. He was making all these telephone calls to the cell in Belgium. The police eventually went in. There was a big commando raid and they seized TATP, they seized --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: TATP, which, by the way, the explosive used in the vests here in the suicide attacks among the attackers.

SCIUTTO: And this is another point made to me by French authorities. They believe, of course, Syria the home base, in effect, for these attacks, but Belgium was, in effect, a staging area.

BERMAN: Forward operating area.

SCIUTTO: Forward operating area. Although many of the attackers were French, two from the south of Paris, as French authorities say, they believe that was intentional, that Belgium doesn't have the capability, doesn't have the resources to monitor as France does. They took advantage of that, in fact, to stage the attack and come across the border here.

CRUICKSHANK: One more very important fact from Abuhud (ph), and this is reporting from "le Monde," there was a French ISIS fighter who came back to France, arrested in August, and he backed out of plots to launch an attack against a concert venue in France. When he was interrogated, according to "le Monde," who did he say was behind this plot? Abdel Ahmed Abuhud (ph), the same guy now suspected to have been behind the Paris attacks. What did he say in that interrogation, according to "le Monde?" That there were more attacks coming. So the French had strategic warning there are a string of terrorist plots being hatched by the ISIS leadership in Syria against France. The concern is there are more in the pipeline now. And I think that's why --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: John Brennan just said there are more in the pipeline. Abdel Ahmed Abuhud (ph), a name most of our viewers will not know, but one that could become increasingly important.

Jim Sciutto, reporting a man close to the senior ISIS leader, Baghdadi.

Paul Cruickshank and Jim reporting now, all eyes on him as a possible planner of this attack in Syria, organized in Belgium, carried out here in Paris.

All right, these attacks here, putting a dark cloud over an already serious refugee crisis across this continent. Now a growing list of U.S. officials say they will not help. They will not come to the aid of anyone fleeing the Syrian civil war. Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:53:29] BOLDUAN: One of the world's greatest fears in the face of the massive refugee crisis facing Europe has come true. One terrorists involved in the deadly attacks in Paris made his way into Europe posing as a Syrian refugee.

CNN affiliate, BFM in France, also reports that French officials believe that six of the eight attackers spent time in Syria.

Let's bring in our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, who is in Greece where authorities say that at least one of the terrorists made their way into Europe posing as a refugee.

Arwa, you have covered this massive refugee crisis in Europe, but how did this man infiltrate the refugees, and what more are you learning about him?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the sad reality is that it is not very difficult to actually blend in with these masses of refugees and migrants making their way from Turkey to Greece and then onwards to Europe. This individual, a passport was found at one of the scenes of the Paris attack, and that passport is traced back here to the small Greek island of Leros. And the population is 8,000. This individual, according to the Greek authorities, came through here on October 3rd on what the French are saying was either a forged or perhaps stolen Syrian passport.

But here's the thing, with or without valid identification, people can still come to Greece to the various European entry points and declare themselves refugees, because the scale of the crisis is so great that many of those fleeing Syria are fleeing without their documentation. And what happens is that once an individual reach's Greece's shores, they begin to be processed. If they have identification, it is faster. If they don't, there are people on site who try to vet, verify their stories, verify their identities to the best of their capabilities. And then everybody is fingerprinted and put into the system. The problem is that they are not fingerprinted and put into a centralized global database, which doesn't even really exist. So if no one has any red flags raised at this stage, and there's very little reason why there would be, then they are very easily move on from here and onwards to Europe. And this is of great concern not only to the intelligence community, but to the refugees themselves, Kate, because they are afraid of the blowback.

[11:55:57] BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And the crisis, as you said, not lessening at all. And how will the world now respond in the face of this?

Thank you, Arwa Damon.

Our special coverage for all of you continues live from Paris right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)