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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Breaking News in Paris Investigations; Russia Confirms Bomb Brought Down Flight 9268; Source: West Tried Targeting Paris Mastermind Abaaoud; DHS Raised Red Flags in May about Man Believed to Plan Paris Attacks. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 17, 2015 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] AMANDA DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, is coming well, so, too, the British prime minister, David Cameron.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I hope the rain stops.

Amanda Davis, thanks so much.

Thank you for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello.

AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan, joining you live from New York. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world this hour.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman, live in Paris for CNN's special coverage of the attacks here and the hunt for the men behind them still on the run this morning.

And there are new developments in just the last few minutes, including what has been found inside the attackers' hotel rooms.

But first, five new arrests in Germany. German media report three men, two women taken in custody in the city of Aachen, less than 100 miles from Brussels. No word on how the people might have been involved, but they are said to be connected.

Also Belgian authorities say they were already familiar with at least three suspects before Friday's massacre, including the dead attackers, Bilal Hafdi and Ibrahim Abdeslam.

Also this morning, new information on the ISIS leader, believed to be the mastermind of the attacks. French authorities indicate that Belgian citizen, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, had been targeted in the past for other plots, but that he could not be found. Right now, his whereabouts an even greater priority.

We want to get to the breaking new on the investigation. It has to do with two hotel rooms rented in the south of Paris, what was found inside.

Joining me is CNN's Jake Tapper and Atika Shubert. Jake, you were at this hotel. Inside authorities found syringes they

believe could be connected to these explosive belts worn by the assassins?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. We went to a suburb, in the industrial area, south of Paris, a Budget Hotel, and on the fourth floor, there were two apartments. Residents told us on Saturday police went there, raided the apartment because one of the terrorists, Salah Abdeslam, was there, rented rooms. What they found there, after bursting through, police say, according to local media reports, are pizza boxes, but also, as you say, syringes, tubes, other materials police are now checking with forensic too if they were used to make the vests.

BERMAN: So crucial. We know TATP, believed to be a substance in these deaths, is very volatile. There's been talk it would be hard to transport it over long spaces and distance, so it would make sense if those vests and devices were made here in Paris. Also interesting, these rooms rented by Salah Abdeslam, on the run right now, the focus of an international manhunt here and in Belgium.

TAPPER: These are low-rent apartments so there are individuals there down on their luck, immigrant families. Also we're told by some of the residents that indigents, homeless people could get housing there. But it's a very -- it seems to be a very transient and temporary quarters where people don't really know each other. It wouldn't be a bad place to go if you're just popping in and planning on spending a couple days without people paying attention.

BERMAN: A couple days. Any sense how long they were there?

TAPPER: Not as of now. Not as of now. They were there at least two days before the attacks and police were there, we're told by residents, Saturday, the day after the attacks.

BERMAN: The day after the attack, police were already looking inside those hotel rooms.

Jake, thank you so much. Stand by.

I want to go to Atika Shubert, because there's been another discovery today, an abandoned car connected to these events -- Atika?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a black Cleo with Belgian plates and rented by Abdelhamid Abaaoud. It's right here where I'm standing. You can still see some broken glass. We were here when police arrived and started going door to door, asking people what they saw, showing them a photo of the car, asking them specifically, when did they recall seeing this car parked here? They asked for the CCTV video of that cafe here.

Now, the timing is crucial. What's interesting is that this is the 18th arrondissement. Nothing happened here during the attack. But if you look at the ISIS claim of the responsibility, they say there were attacks in the 10th, 11th and 18th. Now police are looking as to whether or not Abdeslam intended to carry out something here and what happened to him. We're talking to two men in Belgium who reportedly brought him from France over there to find out exactly where he may be now.

[11:05:09] BERMAN: Interesting to see that car, the pictures of that car there, found there in the 18th district here in Paris where ISIS say they have planned to carry out an attack but none happened.

Atika Shubert, thanks.

Jake, thanks so much.

A lot of new information here in Paris.

Kate, back to you.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

John, thanks so much.

The terror news that isn't confined to France today to France today, a major announcement came in this morning from the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin. He's now saying it was a bomb that brought down the Russian jetliner over the Sinai Peninsula two weeks ago. His investigators found residue indicating about one kilogram of explosives was used in that bombing. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, you will remember, but now the Russians are offering a $50 million reward for more information. Putin vowed retaliation, saying this, in part, "We need to know all their names. We will search wherever they may be finding. We'll find them anywhere on the planet and punish them." On that note, Russia launched a new round of air strikes on ISIS in

Syria over.

Joining us to discuss all this, senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, reporting from Moscow; and Nick Paton Walsh, joining us, once again, from Erbil, Iraq.

Matthew, first to you and this announcement from Vladimir Putin, the Russian government, Russia initially hesitated that it was terrorism that brought down this jet. So what more is Russia saying they're going to do to track down those behind this?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Initially, it expressed concerns about saying it was terrorists or a mechanical error. Now they're out in front, basically, being the only ones, the first once to confirm that it was, in fact, a terrorist act and that it was a bomb that brought down that MetroJet aircraft leading to the loss of all 224 lives on board.

The head of the Russian Federal Security Services, the FSB, the successor organization to the KBG, saying it was a bomb, a terrorist act, a bomb weighing around -- equivalent of 2.2 pounds of TNT on board. The explosion of that device, he said, explains why the fuselage was scattered of the aircraft over such a wide area. Vladimir Putin very quick and swift in his response, vowing revenge, also saying that the campaign of air strikes inside Syria won't just be continued, but they'll be stepped up, quote, "to make sure that the criminals understand that revenge is unavoidable." So the Russian president clearly pointing the finger of blame at ISIS inside Syria for this and carrying out a huge upswing in air strikes as retribution for that attack.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about that. Let's go over to Nick.

Nick, you've been following the air strikes. We're talking about air strikes coming from France just yesterday. What are you hearing about this latest barrage of air strikes on Raqqa overnight by Russia?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The barrage overnight appears to have been a lot of that was France, according to activists who reported seven in about a six-hour window, from about 10:00 local time, one of which hit what they say was the parking garage. These terms, the stadium museum from the night before last, are basically structures ISIS has taken over and use as headquarters and styles jails. We're still trying to work out the damage on ISIS by this. The same activists in Raqqa are saying at this stage they believe no civilians have been hurt by these air strikes. It isn't clear quite when the Russian munitions that U.S. officials say struck Raqqa went in, how many, where they hit, and quite how the Russians got targeting to hit certain areas.

I have to point one important thing. The U.S. has been scouring Raqqa for months to hit. It appears suddenly that a number of targets, some nominated by the United States intelligence, potentially, or chosen by the French, became widely available, a large number in a short period of time. Some suggests that's more political messaging, hitting old sites or sites previously -- I'm speculating here -- maybe U.S. rules of engagement didn't permit them to attack. A huge upswing here. We don't know the impact on civilians or, frankly, ISIS at this stage. Raqqa, the people living there, have suffering so much under ISIS, who won't let them leave, now they have bombardment, most revenge for Paris, but being felt by those in the civilians in the city right now -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: A key question you pose. We'll talk about it later, why now, why those targets become available so shortly after the attacks in Paris, and now we're talking about in response to the Russian jetliner being downed.

Nick, thank you so much.

Matthew, thank you as well.

Let's go back to Paris, back to John in the center of it all -- John?

BERMAN: All right, Kate, thanks so much.

We're getting new information right now about the man that many believe to be the mastermind behind this attack. A Belgian citizen believed to be in Syria or Iraq. A man named Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Again, a Belgian man, 27 or 28 years old. And now we're learning that the United States may have had their eyes on this man, suspicions about him. Let's get more on this from CNN justice reporter, Evan Perez, joining

from us Washington; and also here our terrorist analyst, Paul Cruickshank, in Paris with me.

Evan, first to you.

The Department of Homeland Security, they knew about this guy. They talked about this guy. They'd even warned about this guy.

[11:10:28] EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John, the apparent link between the Paris attacks and the earlier plots center on Abdelhamid Abaaoud. A U.S. Homeland Security intelligence report earlier this year warned about Abaaoud's plot that was broken up by Belgium police in January. Police believe he was a ring leader in a foiled attack to attack Verviers. French authorities believe he was involved in the plotting of the Paris attacks.

What police found in that raid in Verviers in January looks a lot more ominous in hindsight of the Paris attacks. They found weapons, precursor chemicals to make the explosive TATP. That's the same explosive that was used in the suicide vests worn by the Paris attackers. They found a web of jihadist connections across Europe to safe houses in Greece and Syria. And authorities believe Abaaoud faked his own death in Syria so that he could travel back and forth between Syria and Belgium undetected. All of this information was known to Belgian authorities and to U.S. authorities. And still nobody could stop this Paris attack.

BERMAN: Evan, thank you so much.

Interesting to note that DHS report full of footnotes from Paul Cruickshank's reporting on Abaaoud.

You've had your eyes on him for some time. DHS relying on a part of your information as well. Paul, you have information about another individual, another believed to be operating within ISIS in Syria.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: That's right, John. This comes from "le Monde," reporting they managed to identify one of the people claiming responsibility in those ISIS videos claiming responsibility for the Paris attacks. They believe that individual is Fabian Clan (ph), a senior French ISIS operative in Syria. He's been very active over there. European security officials tell me they think that he had a hand in at least two plots targeting Europe, that attempted attack on the train in the summer, and also an attempt to attack churches here in Paris in April. I think it's quite possible he is working with Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Fabian Clan (ph) is also believed to be one those behind the French ISIS magazine, a magazine repeatedly calling for terrorist attacks in France. He's somebody that was part of an AQI recruiting network in France in the 2000s. He was in prison and then he went and joined ISIS after he was released.

I think the scenario we're looking at now is a number of French ISIS fighters who have climbed up the ranks of ISIS and have basically been tasked by the ISIS leadership to launch a series of rolling attacks against Europe, against France. Another name to throw in the mix, Saleem Bengalim, who had ties to the Karachi brothers, also now believed to be with ISIS, all these guys operating in Raqqa, Syria.

BERMAN: If what you're telling us is true, if this Fabian Clan (ph), the Frenchman, claimed responsibility for this attack, as seen on that ISIS video, it eventually means there's this Western cell, right, this Western group operating within the ISIS leadership in Syria and/or Iraq, planning these attacks across Europe?

CRUICKSHANK: Absolutely right. Here's how they think it works. They think the French, the Belgians, so on, working together, then there's the Germans, Austrians and Germans working together, then there's the Brits and Americans and Canadians working together. All of these recruits are kind of moving in and around their own language groups in Syria, and they're being basically contracted by the ISIS leadership now to go back and to hit all these various countries, which are targeting ISIS and Syria and Iraq. You can also add the Dutch fighters to that mix. There was a very specific threat against the Netherlands in that claim of responsibility. I think the Dutch authorities will be very, very concerned about that as well. So, they're using all these different language groups to go back and launch attacks.

[11:14:35] BERMAN: Fascinating, new information. Again, a man believed to be on that video, claiming responsibility for this attack here.

Paul Cruickshank, thank you very much. We'll check in with you in a little bit because this is new information.

There's breaking news from the neighborhood where many of the terrorists lived in Belgium, including a revelation about a bar owned by one of the attackers. Wait until you hear this.

Plus, security in major cities across the United States being ramped up right now after the CIA director says that more attacks are likely in the pipeline.

This is CNN's special live coverage from Paris. We'll continue right after this.

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BOLDUAN: This is CNN special live coverage of the attacks in Paris and the manhunt for the terrorists behind them.

Red flags were raised back in May about the man who is believed to have planned these attacks. An intelligence assessment by the Department of Homeland Security says Abdelhamid Abaaoud appeared to have faked his death even in Syria to allow him to travel back and forth two Europe. DHS also warned in this intelligence assessment then, which was in May, that ISIS had developed the capability to launch complex operations in the West.

Joining me now to discuss is a Republican Congressman Mike McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Mr. Chairman, thank you, as always, for joining me. REP. MIKE MCCAUL, (R-TX), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE:

Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: I do know that you received a classified briefing last night, and you cannot obviously give us the details, but on the issue of the mastermind, how confident are you at this point that this man, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, is the mastermind behind the Paris attacks?

[11:20:18] MCCAUL: I feel very confident. He was flagged back last January. A plot was disrupted. He escaped arrest. We believe he did go to Syria. This is not like what we seen, this radicalization over the Internet of a one-two man operation, a guy with a knife. It is a highly sophisticated external operation driven out of headquarters, Raqqa, Syria, that involved eight individuals, but also a conspiracy that could be as wide as 20 individuals. That's the difference between this case and prior ones, the fact that ISIS is demonstrating this new capability to not only pull off a plot this coordinated and sophisticated, but as Russians acknowledged today, to bring down a Russian airliner with a bomb. This is a new chapter in terrorism for ISIS. They're doing things we only thought al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were capable of doing. They're now the game in town. And I can't tell you how high the threat level really is.

BOLDUAN: Mr. Chairman, you said -- we've been talking about eight attackers but you think this could reach this plot in Paris could reach to as many as 20 individuals involved?

MCCAUL: We believe there's a wider conspiracy net. I don't know the exact number but there are a lot of other individuals involved. I think the interesting thing is that even though Homeland Security did flag this individual, and there were some general warnings, the specifics in terms of communications went undetected. That's a real concern for us. As you and I have talked about --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Many times, yes.

MCCAUL: They are learning how to communicate in what's called dark space. They go into a dark platform, but even if we have intelligence capabilities or a court order, we can't see what they're saying. So, in this case they said France went under the radar. That's precisely why they did.

BOLDUAN: Precisely the huge challenge this poses in trying to stop these attacks before they play out. When you're talking about this individual, you're highly confident he's the man behind it. You also talk about the fact that he was flagged back in January. Do you have any information, can you confirm that the United States and the coalition forces and allies have targeted Abaaoud in the past to target and kill him? John Kerry was asked about this. He wouldn't go there. I'm wondering if you can.

MCCAUL: You know, you can't get into target packages. That's very classified, highly classified information. We have targeted Hussein, who we successfully killed in Raqqa, who is sending these Internet directives to attack military, who inspired Garland, the New York plot, Fourth of July, and also many others, including possibly Chattanooga. And so -- look, let me just say, he's been on our list and radar. He escaped from Belgium, went back. This is where the cell actually took place, was in Belgium, the cell that pulled out these attacks. There's also some German -- some individuals in Germany associated with the plot as well.

BOLDUAN: Yesterday, you wrote to President Obama, in light of all of this, calling for a temporary suspension or a pause in accepting refugees, Syrian refugees, to the United States. Got a couple questions for you on this. But real quick, have you heard back from the White House?

MCCAUL: No. In fairness, the letter was recently sent. My concerns are this. We know that at least one -- or possibly two of the eight attackers had exploited the refugee program to get in country and pull off this terrorist attack. We know from ISIS themselves, in their own words, they said that they will exploit the program to infiltrate the West. What we want from the administration is assurances that we can probably vet and screen these individuals before we bring 10,000 Syrians into the United States. Just as they pose a threat to Europe, they potentially can pose a threat to the United States. And I don't want to be complicit with the federal program, if you will, that can bring terrorists in because my first and foremost duty is to protect the American people.

BOLDUAN: Mr. Chairman, Syrian refuse geese, though, have been coming into the United States already as the Syrian -- as the chaos in Syria has played out. For those who are already here, are you concerned about them? Are they a threat?

[11:25:02] MCCAUL: We don't monitor them. They come in under this program and then they go to these communities. We have absolutely no monitoring of these individuals. You know, again, before we start to bring in another 10,000 population that the president has talked about, we need greater assurances this can be done properly. The problem is I've had the FBI testify before my committee and Homeland Security expressing their concerns about the risk that this could pose to Americans because we don't have intelligence on the ground in Syria to know who they are. We don't have the proper databases to vet them against. If you don't know who they are, how can you give assurances we're protecting Americans from potential terrorists? We're a compassionate nation. We've been, you know, a nation that allows immigrants in. We have to do this one right and smart because the last thing we want to do is open our shores to terrorists coming inside this country.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, it's great to see you. Chairman Mike McCaul, of the House Homeland Security Committee, always appreciate your time. Thank you.

MCCAUL: Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

Still ahead for us, police in Paris are now searching hotel rooms where the suspects stayed before the attacks. And investigators say the terrorists left some things behind.

Plus, we have more breaking news. CNN's Erin Burnett just spoke with the brother of the attacker who's on the run. You'll want to hear his message. That's next.

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