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France Unleashes Strikes Against ISIS in Syria; Global Manhunt Underway for French Citizen; Belgium Releases Five People After Arrests; More Evidence Developing in Paris Terror Attack Investigation. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 16, 2015 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:07] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers watching in the United States and around the world. I'm Anderson Cooper live from Paris.

A lot to report on in this hour. ISIS speaks to the world just a short time ago. A new propaganda tape surfaces, praising the attacks in Paris and vowing to unleash new carnage elsewhere. The new ISIS targets French allies, including a threat of a strike on Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, police launch more than 150 raids here in France. And just within the last few hours, this sweep in neighboring Belgium. Some two dozen people are now in custody. More than 100 others are under house arrest.

Also, a global manhunt now underway for this man who may have been involved in the attacks. Salah Abdeslam is a 26-year-old French citizen who was born in Belgium. One of his brothers died in the attack. Another has just been released from custody in Belgium, where prosecutors had arrested him as part of the investigation. In fact, of the seven people arrested in Belgium, five of them are now free.

Next hour, we're going to hear from the leaders of France and the United States. President Francois Hollande will address the French parliament and Barack Obama will discuss the U.S. role in France's airstrikes on ISIS. So there's a lot ahead in the next hour, as well as in this hour.

I want to begin with our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh, who is joining us this morning from Irbil, Iraq.

Nick, what's the latest about this new threat from ISIS?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is very much relevant to their usual language, goading on their enemies but very specifically referencing the attacks in Paris here, and also saying that they wish to make a similar assault on Washington, the U.S. capital.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): We say to the countries that participate in the crusader campaign, I swear to god, a similar day that France went through, you will go through. I swear to god as we struck France and its stronghold Paris, we will strike America and its stronghold, Washington. With god's will.


WALSH: Now they have consistently made similar threats. And this carries all the logos, the hallmarks of the usual ISIS propaganda. But it's the timing, Anderson, this renewed threat that's so important. Clearly in the hours since the attacks, they have worked hard to get these people on camera, to put this together, to make it quite clear that they are unbowed, that they are actually goad and want this fight. That's always been the ISIS message. Apocalyptic beckoning on the end of days, despite coalition air power above them.

They seem to want to go to goad on their opponents, who they call the crusader mission, as the U.S. and its allies. Perhaps a bit, too, to say they're unbowed and try and attack more recruits, Anderson.

COOPER: And, Nick, in terms of actions against ISIS, both in Syria and Iraq, what have we seen over the last 24 hours?

PATON: Well, first of all, the French in a very strident and somewhat say symbolic politically toned message carried out 20 separate explosions from airstrikes, performed by 10 jets of a sortie of 12, which were predominantly around the suburbs of Raqqa. Activists saying that two major areas, the stadium and the museum, they're not used for those purposes anymore. They're kind of headquarters and jails mostly. Got the majority of the strikes here and other targets around Raqqa.

At the same time, too, the U.S. coalition was hitting around Raqqa and the other roundabouts, too. About four separate attacks there. But 116 of a series of vehicles out to eastern Syria, an area called al- Bukamal, that were traveling in the assistance of ferrying oil around for ISIS. Remember, they make a lot of money from the oil black market. They were taken out by a series of AC-130 gunships and A-10 crafts. So a lot of fire power aimed at that oil distribution network, trying to undercut ISIS funds, coupled with the French now making that very clear statement against the capital, the self- declared caliphate Raqqa -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Nick Paton Walsh from Irbil in northern Iraq. Nick, thanks very much.

There's more on the global search for the man involved in the attacks. Remember, there are multiple investigations going on not just here in France, also in Belgium and other places. We're joined by CNN international correspondent Clarissa Ward here in Paris.

Clarissa, if you can, sort of bring us up to date on what you've been monitoring for the investigations.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, there's a lot of moving parts here. It's been a very busy morning. Not just here in Paris, but across France. We heard the Interior minister saying that more than 150 raids across the country, 23 people arrested. More than 100 placed under house arrest. Weapons confiscated, including heavy weapons, a rocket launcher. Military clothing found in one house. And the focus now really of this investigation is on trying to find the eighth attacker.

[09:05:04] You remember ISIS said there were eight attackers. French officials said that there were only seven attackers dead. That means one attacker still on the loose. And the focus of the investigation, the focus of this manhunt, is apparently a man called Salah Abdeslam. He is the brother of one of the attackers who blew himself up at the Bataclan Theater. He was actually stopped by the police after the attacks. He was questioned as he was driving towards Belgium. But he was allowed to go on his way.

And, Anderson, there are some real serious questions here about a possible intelligence failure on the behalf of French officials because we now know that all five of the attackers who have been identified spent time in Syria, and four of them are known to be French nationals -- Anderson.

COOPER: So, Clarissa, the man who the arrest warrant has been issued for, who was apprehended and then let go, is it believed that he is the man who drove the vehicle that was found yesterday in a French suburb that has Kalashnikovs in it? Because as far as we understood yesterday, the driver of that vehicle who most likely drove that vehicle during the attacks on the restaurants was still at large. Is that believed to be one and the same person?

WARD: That's correct, Anderson. So we know they found that abandoned getaway car yesterday in Montreuil. It's a Parisian suburb. It is believed that possibly Salah Abdeslam, who is the brother of one of the attackers, was the person driving that vehicle, that he is, indeed, possibly the eighth attacker.

But French authorities, Anderson, are really trying to keep tightlipped about this. There's a lot of information out there. A lot of people involved, being questioned, being detained. Because there's a sense that even beyond these eight attackers, this had to be orchestrated and facilitated by a much larger network. And French authorities are really trying to drill down, find out the facts and walk -- drill down on that network.

COOPER: And Clarissa, it was really the vehicles that were the first link to the Belgium connection, isn't that the case? That the first vehicle that was found outside of the Bataclan concert venue, which was -- had been rented in Belgium, which had Belgium plates, that was the first concrete link that led authorities to Belgium, where they're now conducting raids.

WARD: That's the first link, Anderson. I think what it really highlights is the difficulty that European authorities have in trying to monitor these situations. This is not like the United States. There are many different countries here with very free, porous borders between them. You have French nationals hunkered down in Belgium, planning an attack on France. That's really illustrating the challenges that authorities face when they're trying to drill down on these networks, monitor all the different communications between these men, and they're operating from multiple different countries and passing back and forth through the borders without any inspection.

COOPER: Clarissa Ward, we'll continue to check in with you. As we said, we're anticipating comments from France's president, a joint address to the French parliament as well as the French nation. A historic address. It's very rare to have an address to both Houses of Parliament, as well as to a televised address to the French nation.

Then also, a statement being made by President Barack Obama. We'll bring those both to you as they happen. Supposed to happen at the top of 10:00 on the East Coast of the United States.

Also, I want to focus on what is going on in Belgium. Clarissa was talking about the raids that have taken place here in France. We're learning new details about a group of terror suspects who were arrested over the weekend in Belgium.

Joining me now is our CNN senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir who is there.

Nima, bring us up to date now. What's been going on in Belgium over the last several hours?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we understand from the Belgium prosecutor that those arrests, those who were taken in during those arrests, have now been released, including the brother of one of the attackers, the so-called eighth attacker, who is part of the -- who is the focal point of the international manhunt, Salah Abdeslam.

We're here in Molenbeek, where for the last few hours there's been what appears to be a standoff that we have seen many of the officers withdrawn but we are now seeing forensic experts go into the house that was at the center of that standoff with police. A number of controlled detonations. The bomb squad was down here a little earlier, Anderson. And we now understand that this operation is continuing elsewhere in the city.

It really reinforces how so many of the roads in the investigation to what happened in Paris are leading right back here to Molenbeek. And this comes as CNN learns from a source within the investigation that the suspected mastermind that is believed to be a Belgian national who goes by the name of Abu Umar Al-Baljiki, also known as Abdel-Hamid Abu Oud, who lived just a few streets away from the street I'm standing on here.

[09:10:02] Really gives you a sense of how this investigation isn't just centered here in Molenbeek, but it's also within a really tight geographical perimeter. It does feel like this is a very close-knit network and it's one that authorities here believe extends far beyond what we're seeing now, Anderson.

COOPER: And Nima, just to be clear, because it is confusing, there's a lot of moving parts and a lot of different people involved, the so- called eighth attacker, the man who was pulled over by authorities after the attacks on his way to Belgium but was then let go, there is now an international arrest warrant out for him. But the man you mentioned who's believed to be the mastermind of these attacks, who is a Belgian national, he's still believed to be in Syria, isn't that correct?

ELBAGIR: Absolutely, he is believed to be in Syria where he recently, just in the last few months, also managed to get his 13-year-old brother over to, which caused just an extraordinary -- ripples of shock within this community. We've been speaking to a lot of people here. They really find it extraordinary that it isn't just from within them that this terror threat has come, but from such a tight- knit group. I mean, just neighborhoods facing back on to neighborhoods, Anderson.

COOPER: And this man who is, again, alleged to be the mastermind of this latest attack in Paris, he was also believed to have been the person behind the attempted attack on that train that was thwarted by several American citizens.

ELBAGIR: And supposed -- and suspected of being at the heart of so much of the recruitment efforts here. CNN has been speaking to the Belgian justice minister. He spoke a little while ago to Ivan Watson, and he very openly admitted that the big problem isn't just those going out to Syria. The big problem here in Belgium and in many other parts of Europe is that they haven't been able to keep tabs on who has been able to come back and forth. So this continuing traffic of jihadis, and the ease with which they are slipping through European borders, and are able to recruit, it seems, pretty extensively, that is now the focal point.

And we're hearing some very candid statements from officials here that Belgium needs to figure out a way to cease being, and this is a direct quote, "the weak link in the war on terror," Anderson.

COOPER: Nima Elbagir, we'll continue to check in with you.

And again these are fast-moving developments, which is why we have correspondents all throughout the region. All throughout Europe and the Middle East, as well. We want to try to bring together as many strands of this investigation as possible in real time for you.

French authorities have launched a massive sweep, as you heard from Clarissa Ward, carrying out some 150 raids. One home targeted belongs to the family of one of the suicide bombers.

Now it's in a suburb that's northeast of Paris. And that's where we find CNN's Fred Pleitgen.

Fred, what is the scene there and bring us up to date on what's happening.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. Yes, the police raided this place very early in the morning hours here. It was interesting, we were speaking to some of the neighbors and they were telling us that in the very early morning hours, there was a SWAT team, a special police team that came in here and took three people out of this house.

Now we understand that they are relatives of the attacker. One of the attackers of the theater that was hit. His name is Samy Amimour. He's 28 years old. And his story really is one that shows also the difficulty of intelligence and trying to prevent attacks like this one. He's 28 years old. He's been on the watch list of the French authorities for quite a while now. He's been on it since 2012, when he apparently tried to go to Yemen. They then issued a surveillance warrant for him. He then didn't abide by that survey warrant. They tried to arrest him but at that point he'd already gone to Syria.

Now what happened then was that his father, according to French media, also traveled to Syria to try and bring his son back and to stop him from joining ISIS. That did not succeed. And so then late last night, the parents of Samy Amimour learned that their son was, in fact, one of the attackers who went into that theater, gunning down dozens of people and, in the end, blew himself up with that suicide vest.

And so certainly, obviously, the people here very shocked. The police operation is going on. We hear that police units are still combing through his apartment, which is just a short drive away from here. But it certainly shows how hard it is for the authorities to keep tabs on the jihadists and how big that link to Syria actually is -- Anderson.

COOPER: And Fred, it's also an important point to make note, I mean, yesterday, we focused so much on the belief by French authorities that at least one of the suicide attackers at this stadium snuck in from Syria using the path that so many refugees and migrants have been using. And that the first evidence that there was somebody who infiltrated among legitimate refugees and migrants to come in.

[09:15:01] But so, what we're really seeing today in all these raids is that so many of the people involved in this attack were people who were born here or who grew up here. Who were part of this society and, yet, turned against it.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. You're absolutely right. And who had been crossing European borders for quite a long time. If we look at the link to Belgium, for instance, a lot of the people living in Belgium, who started their attacks from Brussels, for instance, they were actually French citizens.

And so, they would rent a car, for instance, in Brussels and drive it down to Paris. Then be part of the attack there. The fact that Europe has these open borders is certainly something that doesn't necessarily make things more easy, because the coordination between the intelligence service clearly is something that isn't really working very well.

And so, certainly, you can see that many of these people have grown up in France, went to school in France. By all accounts, are very much embedded into the French society. And yet, did, as you say, turn against it and perpetrate these attacks after going to Syria to then join ISIS, and then coming back using their European passports, Anderson.

COOPER: Fred, appreciate your reporting. We'll continue to check in with you.

Still to come in this hour, 10,000, that is the number of terror suspects who could be hiding in France right now. More on the growing number, next.


[09:20:44] COOPER: Welcome back.

CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto joins me now.

You've been looking at the idea of homegrown terrorists, the number of suspects here, suspected militants, suspected -- potential terrorists.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's a remarkable number. In America's terms, it's an order of magnitude bigger than the number in the U.S. We've heard 5,000 suspected terrorists here, jihadists, people suspected of having ties to terrorism.

The truth is, the number is even larger than that, because when you add in some 4,000 who are suspected of being radicalized and others connected to them, the figure you get is 11,000 people in France's so- called FES (ph) system, which is, in fact, a monitoring system that allows you to be put under surveillance, not arrested, just showing the scale of the problem. Twice as what we think.

As you note, that's a combination of people coming into the country, say they've gone to fight in Syria, but also people who are purely homegrown. I spoke earlier today with Bruno Le Maire. He's a conservative politician who's currently a presidential candidate.

Here's what he had to say about that dual prong threat.


BRUNO LE MAIRE, FRENCH OPPOSITION MP: We know French citizens coming back from Syria might be the threat against France. We know also there are French citizens in France who never have been to Syria or Iraq, that might be also be a threat against French citizens.


SCIUTTO: In this attack, we're seeing this demonstrated. What we know about those seven, possibly eight attackers, at this point is some were French. Some from the south of Paris and others believed as many as five, went and fought in Syria and came from Syria.

COOPER: That's one of the things that's so, I think, hard for people here to understand and, frankly, in the United States, as well. How somebody who grew up in the society, was born in this society, who is a second generation immigrant, who can turn against the very society that they grew up? SCIUTTO: Turn against it in the worst ways imaginable, to commit

murder repeatedly in cold blood. It's remarkable and it shows the power of ISIS' ability to radicalized people, often times based purely on the Internet, not even face-to-face. It's a remarkable power to extend their influence.

COOPER: Jim Sciutto, appreciate the reporting.

The deadly Paris attacks, that's what we have been focusing on, of course, for the last several days. They're not only sparking fears about ISIS' reach but also concerns about a backlash for Muslims living in the region.

Arsalan Iftikhar is a senior editor with "The Islamic Monthly". Adam Deen currently works as a terror expert at the Quilliam Foundation. They both join me right now.

Arsalan, let's start with you. In terms of what you're seeing now, what we have seen here in France in the last several days, what concerns you most in the days ahead?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR, THE ISLAMIC MONTHLY: Well, Anderson, I think the thing that concerns me the most is something that ISIS refers to in many of their writings as a quote, unquote, gray zone. Is tries to do with these, quote/unquote, "spectaculars" is essentially deteriorate this gray zone of co-existence between Muslims and Western societies. They actually want to see an increase in Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crimes so it will increase the recruitment pool.

So, that's why it's even more important for our western nations to embrace their Muslim communities and Diasporas in order to strengthen this gray zone and not deteriorate it.

COOPER: Adam, you know, one of the things that the foundation does is attempt to counter the narrative that groups like ISIS and other extremist groups, radical groups are giving, especially to young people.

How do you go about doing that, particularly with these young people who, as we keep saying, grew up in Paris, grew up in Belgium, grew up even in the United States, and have decided to embrace this message, which is so antithetical to what they grew up with?

ADAM DEEN, FORMER ISLAMIST: Firstly, what we do is we identify the problem and we isolate it, where many fail to do.

What we have to understand, the problem here is the ideology. It's the driving force behind the recruitment drive of ISIS. And the ideology consists of a toxic cocktail of Wahhabism which is a very literal and harsh reading of the Islamic text, which is devoid of any ethical content. And what we also have is Islamism, which is a politicized version of Islam, which seeks to impose its understanding on people.

[09:25:06] And for the last 20 years, these toxic views have been propagated within Western society. What that does, it creates a theologically intellectual landscape. When the likes of ISIS call out to young Muslims who are already being indoctrinated with these kinds of erroneous views. It's not surprised that they gravitate towards such a calling.


COOPER: Arsalan, does it make sense to you, why somebody who grew up here would gravitate to this kind of a calling?

IFTIKHAR: Well, Anderson, you know, I've done work with the foreign ministry in the past and traveled to Paris.

What we have to keep in mind is that in many parts of these Muslim suburbs, there is an excess of 25 percent unemployment rate. The discrimination against French Muslims is a pandemic really. I mean, employment discrimination, access to public -- the public sphere. I mean, there is a great deal of civil rights issues.

COOPER: But, Arsalan, there are plenty of societies where people have unemployment and people are not resulting to shooting up and killing and beheading their fellow countrymen.


COOPER: Isn't it a cop out to simply point to unemployment and discrimination?

IFTIKHAR: No, but, Anderson, you asked what some of the issues that the French Muslim community, which represents 10 percent of the population has to deal with. And I'm telling you the work that I've done with the French government in terms of the stuff that they're doing, in terms of trying to ameliorate and bridge that divide. That's what I'm talking about, in terms of the gray zone.

I mean, this is what ISIS seeks to destroy. And, you know, the more discrimination of the Muslim communities, their recruitment will grow. And that's why I think it's important for the western communities to embrace their Muslim communities even more so to ensure the gray zone is strengthened and not deteriorated.

COOPER: Adam, I mean, do you believe that it's issues like unemployment, it's issues like discrimination which lead to this? Again, that happens in a lot of places and you don't see people turning like we are seeing here?

DEEN: Not at all. Not at all. It's very dangerous to blame these factors for the rise of extremism.

If we're going to combat this, this menace, then we have to not down play the importance of ideology.

I can bring my own experience as a former extremist. I was in my late teens. I was not in a poverty region. I was not disenfranchised. I was not a reject within society.

I was not angry. I just wanted to learn my faith. I encountered extremists and they put me on a journey. And I ended up becoming a senior member of an extremist organization, known as al-Muhajiroun, which is now referred to as ISIS U.K.

So, we have to be careful we don't make these excuses, because then we won't be able to combat this menace, which is an immensely growing problem.

COOPER: Adam Deen, appreciate you being with us. Arsalan Iftikhar as well.

A lot more to cover in the hour ahead. In our 10:00 hour, we're going to bring you live comments, address to joint sessions of parliament from France's President Hollande, and then subsequently President Barack Obama will be speaking, as well.

Still to come at this hour, terrorists hiding among refugees. Did more potential attackers slip through with refugees and migrants? Details on that, ahead.