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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA
Raid For Mastermind in North Paris Yields 2 Killed, 7 Arrested; Suspects in Raid Were Stop Before Another Planned Attack; Impact on U.S. Following French Raid. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired November 18, 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] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan, joining you from New York. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world AT THIS HOUR.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman, live in Paris for CNN's special live coverage of an extraordinary turn of events here, the frantic search for the terrorists responsible for the attacks in Paris last Friday. And there have been dramatic developments all morning.
Targeted this morning, perhaps the ringleader of the attacks here on Friday. Did they get him? Is he dead? That is the big question right now. This is how it started, gunfire, powerful explosions in a northern neighborhood of this city, Saint-Denis. Seven terror suspects were arrested. Two suspects, two terror suspects killed, including a woman who blew herself up wearing some kind of explosive device early on in the operation. The raid and the resistance at one apartment. There were a couple sites that were targeted there, maybe as many as three. The force in the resistance so violent that the entire floor of a building collapsed there.
As we said, the target of these raids, the alleged Belgian terrorist, the alleged ISIS terrorist, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. It is a man who was believed up until yesterday to have been in Syria or Iraq. But there is intelligence they had reason to believe that not only was he in France but this northern neighborhood of Paris. Was he killed this morning? Is he one of the two people dead? DNA testing under way right now to try to figure that out.
Also today, police sources tell CNN this raid came just in time. It came just in time to foil some kind of plot that these terror suspects were just getting ready to spring into action. The French interior minister says the police quick actions prevented more crimes and more murders. Certainly seems as if they reacted very, very quickly to whatever intelligence they had.
Take a quick look at how it all unfolded this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But unusual that they were moving in the crowd here, looking for something and have now moved down the street. You can still see one of them here still operating. They're showing their photo to -- oh, and an explosion has just gone off. This is still very much an ongoing operation. That was quite a large explosion in that direction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: That was our Atika Shubert in the Saint-Denis neighborhood as some kind of flash bangs were going on. That was several hours after they heard an enormous amount of gunfire. As we said, the raid and response so violent that an entire floor of an apartment building collapsed.
Our Clarissa Ward in Saint-Denis is standing outside live that building right now.
What a scene behind you, Clarissa.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Yeah, we've managed to get onto a rooftop here from which we can see the building behind me. I'm just going to duck out so that we can push in and take a look at that apartment building that was the focus of these raids. We can see forensic experts have been moving around inside those rooms. They've been taking photographs. And you can see the aftermath of those blasts that were heard. All the windows have been blown out. You can see the pockmarks of heavy weaponry around those windows.
And we've spoken to a number of residents and eyewitnesses who told us that it all started at about 4:30 a.m. they heard gunfire. They heard grenades. And then at about 7:30, they started to hear some more intensive explosions. Now, we know that two people were killed in this building right behind me. Seven people were arrested.
And I'm assuming we've seen those forensic experts in there. They're taking photographs. They're moving around. I'm assuming they're collecting DNA samples because, of course, the question that everybody wants to know the answer to is whether or not it is possible that, in fact, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged ringleader of Friday's attacks, was in this building. Perhaps he escaped. Perhaps he was killed. We still have a lot of questions. This is a very fluid situation.
Now, after the raids were carried out on the two apartments in this building, the focus then moved for police to a nearby church. And we were there as we heard police banging down that door, trying to break into that church. It took them some time to get in there. They then filed in. They spent some time looking around. Then they exited. It didn't seem that there was anything actually inside the church.
But certainly a sense here among residents, John, that this is a situation that's unprecedented. This is Paris, France. People here have never seen or experienced anything like this. You know, looking at these windows with all the glass blown out with the walls pockmarked from heavy weaponry, this really is uncharted territory for French people. There's definitely a sense of fear and a sense of apprehension as to when and if they are going to be able to find not just the alleged ringleader of these attacks but also Salah Abdeslam who is the alleged eighth attacker and even a ninth suspect. So the network keeps growing. The search keeps growing. And so far, more answers than questions -- John? [11:05:32] BERMAN: And this operation played out over about seven
hours where you are in Saint-Denis. And as you correctly point out, they do not know if they got their target, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. They do not know if they got him. They are inside there testing right now.
What is clear is they thought he might be there, which is why they brought an enormous amount of force to bear. Give us a sense of what was used and exactly how they staged this operation, Clarissa.
WARD: Well, from what we've heard from local residents, there were stun grenades. There were heavy weapons, a lot of gunfire. Of course, those explosions -- and it's difficult, John, for people to determine which explosions may have been the attackers inside that apartment blowing themselves up, as we've heard, and which may have been controlled detonations from the authorities. We know that there were a variety of different security forces on the ground. There was a military presence reportedly at one point. There were regular police. There were paramilitary police forces. So it's fair to say that this was an enormous operation with hundreds of troops involved. And when we were outside that church, we saw something like 40 police cars, sirens wailing, pulling out of the location. The raid appeared to be over. And now it's really up to these forensic experts in that apartment building just behind me to try to determine who was in that apartment and what they may have been plotting.
BERMAN: Yeah, and now the scientists are taking over. And their job so crucial because everyone wants to know, did they get him? Did they get Abdelhamid Abaaoud? That's the big question right now.
Clarissa, stand by.
I want to bring in Paul Cruickshank.
Paul, you have information about this raid, about how they went in and about what they're doing now to find out if they got him.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: That's right, John. Speaking to a senior Belgian counterterrorism official, he says that the key information that led to this raid in Saint-Denis was an intercepted communication, a wiretap, which indicated that a relative of Abdelhamid Abaaoud was at this safe house, suggesting that perhaps Abdelhamid Abaaoud himself was also there because the French had other strong indications that he was in Paris. So they moved forward with this raid in the middle of the night. They went in with quite some force, the French commandos. But they were met with fierce resistance from the people inside. There was a female suicide bomber who blew herself up. And in order to try and neutralize the suspects inside the building, they had to use, as Clarissa was saying, some really powerful munitions. The sorts of things you'd use in war, powerful grenades and munitions. And that reduced some of the building to rubble. A floor collapsed. And it's been very difficult for them to identify the bodies because the body remains are sort of scattered everywhere. And so right now they're efforting DNA analysis to see if one of the people killed inside the residence was indeed Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the suspected brains behind the operation.
BERMAN: Paul, stand by.
I want to bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, as part of this conversation.
Jim, as Paul points out, they have body parts to work on right now. They don't necessarily have Abaaoud's DNA.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: They would need to have his DNA to match it. And even that would take time for them to be sure. So that's a key question.
I mean, we should note that police said that when they went into this apartment, they believed that they had intelligence that he might be there. That was one of the reasons they moved in so quickly and with so much force. As Paul said, the key clue that led them to this place was an intercepted communication. And I was told and one of the clues that we know they've just gathered in recent days were the cell phones collected from nearby the dead bodies of Friday's attackers. That a key clue. So the question is, who was on the other side of the calls that those attackers made --
SCIUTTO: -- on Friday. That led them to this cell.
BERMAN: And, Jim, there's been criticism for how the French and the Belgians may have handled intelligence prior to Friday's attacks. But since Friday's attacks, if this raid today was connected to cell phones that they picked up on the scene of the attacks on Friday, they moved very quickly.
[11:09:55] SCIUTTO: Credit where credit is due. This was the subject -- the result of good police work, good and very fast and urgent police work. They had this apartment under surveillance just since yesterday. There was a call in the last couple of days that led them there. This is acting very quickly. It gives you a sense of just how urgent they are. They're not going to leave anything to chance. But it also shows that they're throwing resources at this and they're making progress.
BERMAN: Paul Cruickshank, if you're still there, the word we got from police sources this morning was they believed they got there to Saint- Denis this morning just in time. They staged this raid, killing two suspected terrorists, arresting seven more, just in time, just before they believe they were about to launch some kind of attack here. What can you tell us about that?
CRUICKSHANK: Well, yeah, I mean, they were very worried that they were about to go and launch something here in Paris. The world's media is now here. And so the idea would have been potentially that they had this first attack on Friday, launching the attack at the stadium, the Bataclan, the other locations, the restaurants, that terrible loss of life. But now the entire world's attention is on Paris. And five days later, if they were able to launch another spectacular attack, that would be absolutely traumatic to this city, to this country, to this continent, and indeed the entire Western world. And I think that may have been their exact intention. Given the suicide vest, the explosives, these -- it does not seem this was some kind of logistical support network. All the indications, I think, are that they were about to move forward with something really quite terrible here in Paris -- John?
SCIUTTO: That's the thing. To keep clear, we just doubled, in the last several hours, the arithmetic of this group because, as of Friday, you had the seven dead attackers. Then they talked of one, possibly two attackers involved in that still at large, one of which -- one of whom they have an international arrest warrant out for. As Paul says, this was not a support network. They had the weapons, explosives, et cetera --
BERMAN: This was a cell that was getting ready to do something.
SCIUTTO: Of nine people, seven arrested, two killed. You've gone from eight or nine from Friday's attack to 18, in effect. That's a significant increase but thankfully we are talking about an attack thwarted, successful police work as opposed to a second attack on the streets of Paris.
BERMAN: All right. Some key questions remaining, which we'll get to in just a moment.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, if this man, in fact, was in Paris this morning, perhaps dead, perhaps arrested, how did he get back here? This is a guy they have had their eyes on, French authorities, Belgian authorities. U.S. Authorities knew about him. How was he able to move from Syria back to Paris?
Also, the phone wiretaps. What other intelligence do they have that led them to this site in this neighborhood, and what else are these phone discussions telling them about what might happen next?
This is CNN's special live coverage. It continues right after this.
[11:17:01] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Officials say this morning's raid in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis came just in time. They say the terror suspects were about to move on some kind of operations.
Let's go there. Let's go to CNN senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, in Saint-Denis with the very latest.
Fred, we just saw Clarissa Ward on a rooftop where this raid went down. You're on ground level. What are you hearing from your vantage point? What kind of neighborhood are we talking about here?
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's sort of a working-class neighborhood, Kate. I would say I'm 50 yards from where all this happened. There's a police cordon behind where I am. Of course, in the early-morning hours of today, the people here were rocked out of their sleep by several concussions, several explosions, and a lot of gunfire.
I was speaking to someone earlier today as this was going on who said he was absolutely terrified and heard these gunshots ricocheting on his street. He was told in no uncertain terms by the authorities to get back inside and to lay low.
What they did then, Kate, is they put out a bit of a bigger cordon around the area. They moved in a lot of forces and, of course, used very heavy weapons to blast their way into that apartment. After that female suicide bomber had set off her device and blown herself up as the first initial police officers tried to get in, then it really turned into a waiting game. And for a long time, we were seeing police special operations forces outside of the area, some of them with shields, obviously thinking about making a move to get in. However, at that point in time, it seems as though the police had
cleared the area.
Now, what's going on right now, Kate, is that the area here is coming back to life a little bit. People are going out once again. But again, that immediate area outside where all this happened is still very much cordoned off. Police there are setting up what seems to be 360-degree cameras so they can still keep an eye on what's going on. But certainly some terrifying moments and a major standoff what was going on here.
And as you said, the police there saying they believe they acted just in time. And certainly judging from the response they got from the terrorists that were inside that apartment, they probably are right, Kate.
BOLDUAN: And have you been able to hear any more from others in the neighborhood? You say this is a working-class neighborhood. We heard from the video the blasts and the gunfire that you could hear while Atika Shubert was live overnight, I can imagine what it was like for someone living in that neighborhood.
PLEITGEN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it was absolutely terrifying. It's interesting, I just spoke to one gentleman who lives here. And he had a little baby. He said, of course, the little baby was terrified as well. They were hearing all of this unfold. It started off with some very heavy gunfire and then came those explosions. And all of that went on for a very long time. And they were sort of, you know -- the occasional explosion that was going on for hours after the initial raid started. And people we've been speaking to are saying, look, they know that this is sort of a working-class area. It's an area also that does actually have a fairly high crime rate. But it certainly is not an area where they would expect something like this to happen.
And the other thing, of course, that really frightens people is that this is the second major terror event that's gone on in their neighborhood in just a couple days. Keep in mind the stadium where several suicide attackers blew themselves up, the Stade de France, is only a couple hundred yards away. So people are extremely concerned about what's going on, downright frightened to think that something like this could have been going on in their neighborhood -- Kate?
[11:20:42] BOLDUAN: Absolutely, Fred.
Fred Pleitgen on the ground there in Saint-Denis where this massive raid and firefight happened earlier this morning.
I want to talk about all of these latest developments and also what intelligence there was before and now and the impact of that here in the United States.
Let me bring in Congressman Will Hurd. He's a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. He also spent nine years as a clandestine officer for the CIA.
Congressman, thank you very much for joining me.
Importantly, you were in a classified briefing last night. I was looking at the list. You guys were briefed by the head of DHS, the FBI, the Counterterrorism Center, and even more. Did they give you any sense of other attack operations like this one that we're talking about overnight with this raid, other attack operations in the pipeline, the scope of what you're looking at here?
REP. WILL HURD, (R), TEXAS: Well, they were very clear. Secretary of DHS and Director Comey were very clear that they don't think there are any credible current threats to the homeland.
But what was interesting is that they showed this evolving intelligence picture after getting information on the attackers that were killed. They're learning about their accomplices, and they're looking for folks all over Europe. And there's a lot of information exchanged that's happening between the U.S. and our European partners. And that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies are taking that information and trying to look backwards to see if there's any other clues to potential future attacks.
BOLDUAN: Congressman, you talk about the evolving nature of the intelligence. I do want to get to that especially. But in this briefing, were you told or given any sense on the U.S. side that they believe that the organizer of these attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, that he was in Paris? Because all of the information flow to this point was that he was not. Maybe he was in Iraq. Maybe he was in Syria. And now this raid overnight was based on information that he could have been not only in France but in Paris.
HURD: There wasn't any conversation about the actual location of the mastermind behind these plots. I think the conventional wisdom is that he was somewhere in Syria and Iraq. But again, in a situation like this, it's constantly evolving, constantly changing. And if he is in Europe, the dragnet around him is going to definitely be tightening, which is a good thing to take a player like this off the battle space.
BOLDUAN: Congressman, what does it say for the fact that all the conventional wisdom was that he was in Syria or in Iraq and that he moved into Paris, into France undetected? HURD: Well, we don't know if we can confirm that he actually has
moved into Paris. I haven't seen that level of intelligence. And I think the important thing is in looking at all this to figure out how we can use this in the future.
One of the things that -- you know, I sat on the task force to look at the threat of ISIS to the homeland. And one of the things that was pretty shocking to me is the lack of information sharing amongst our European partners. We were sharing tens of thousands of names of known terrorists. And many of our European partners were not checking known travelers against that information. I think Paris showed it needed to change. I think the French changed after "Charlie Hebdo." And I think our European colleagues have a long way to go to improve the amount of information sharing that should happen in order to keep Europeans safe and ultimately keep Americans safe as well.
BOLDUAN: It does seem that this has exposed that among other things. Now, it's interesting that you point out that information sharing. We have heard from a couple other members of Congress over the past couple of days saying that four of Friday's attackers, that they were known to U.S. Intelligence. From what you heard in this briefing and from your sources, do you get a sense that they -- these four attackers that were known by U.S. Intelligence, were they on U.S. watch lists that would have prevented them from flying into the United States?
HURD: I think that those individuals that have being identified have been on watch lists. And I'm pretty confident any new information that is gained from these investigations, those names are going to be immediately put on watch lists to prevent them from coming to the United States. This is something that's incredibly critical. And I've seen how information sharing within the U.S. Intelligence community has changed from 2000 when I first joined the CIA to when I left in '09, and it's even changed significantly since I've been in Congress. So I think this -- we can always be doing better. We should always be looking in ways to do better. But our level of information sharing is way more significantly interconnected in the United States than with our partners in Europe.
[11:25:22] BOLDUAN: And real quick, Congressman, next week is one of the busiest travel days, if not the busiest travel week of the year. You say there's no credible threat right now that you're hearing from all of the intelligence heads that would know to the homeland. But what are we going to be seeing in terms of at U.S. airports? Are we going to see more security? What are you hearing?
HURD: We are -- weeks ago, prior to these Paris attacks, Director Johnson has encouraged TSA to do additional screening, and not only at local airports but at airports that feed from the Middle East into the United States. So they've taken additional measures. A lot of those measures haven't been publicized because we don't want the bad guys to know what's happening. But those kinds of things are happening every single day. And the men and women in law enforcement are looking to figure out how do we learn -- how do we take the information we're learning from these attacks to continue on protect our homeland.
BOLDUAN: Not just learn but learn fast, as we saw overnight how quickly and how importantly that quick action is.
HURD: Amen to that.
BOLDUAN: Congressman, thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.
Let's get straight back to Paris where John is -- John?
BERMAN: All right, Kate. Thank you so much.
In this neighborhood just north of Paris, Saint-Denis, forensic experts poring through an apartment, a destroyed apartment right now, investigating body parts to see if French authorities killed Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the man believed to be the ringleader behind the Paris attacks on Friday.
We're going to go back to that neighborhood, tell you what people there saw this morning and what they knew about the folks living inside.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHUBERT: But very unusual that they were moving in the crowd here, looking for something and have now moved down the street. You can still see one of them here still operating. They're showing their photo to -- oh, and an explosion has just gone off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)