Return to Transcripts main page


French Say Abdelhamid Abaaoud Dead; ISIS Video Shows Threat to New York City. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 19, 2015 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:20] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan, joining you live from New York. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world AT THIS HOUR.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman, live in Paris. This is CNN's special coverage of the takedown of one of the world's most- wanted terrorists.

Let's get you up to speed with the very latest. The dramatic news. Abdelhamid Abaaoud is dead. The man believed to be the planner, the architect of Friday's attack that stole the lives of 129 people here in Paris, killed. French officials say prints from his hands and feet confirmed that he died in the stunning raid in the suburb of Saint- Denis yesterday, his body riddled with bullets before he could carry out another act of terror. French officials have linked him to at least four foiled plots in Europe this year.

And at this moment, investigators are tracing links to several more known jihadists. This news comes as yet another attacker, Salah Abdeslam, is still on the loose this morning. He was last seen on the road to Belgium. Today, new raids in Belgium, where so much of the planning and organizing for these Paris attacks happened.

As I said, so much news to go over today. The major development, the death of the planner, Abdelhamid Abaaoud.

We'll turn to CNN diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, for more on this -- Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, we know that he's been identified through forensic analysis. The prosecutor told us the building was badly collapsed. Obviously, his face and picture are very well known to French authority, so what we heard from the prosecutor today, that it had multiple impacts on his body. Not clear if it was from the first sniper shot and the subsequent fuselage of bullets or if it was because he had some kind of explosives near him, was caught in an explosion are or the explosives that went off when his cousin, the female suicide bomber there, detonated her suicide vest. But the prosecutor said very clearly, they identified, and the interior minister making very clear this is not the end. It is the beginning. This man has connection with other known jihadists. That's what the interior minister said, they will continue investigating those connections.

We also understand that the reason French authorities were able to begin to know they need to look urgently for this man on their own soil is because they got a tip-off from Moroccan officials. Abaaoud, a Belgian national, but Moroccan origin. Moroccan sources who told the French two days before this raid that he was on French soil. The French then being able to zero in on telephone intercepts to know the location to go to. But the big headline from the interior minister today, this man he called -- he said he played a decisive role in Friday's attack, was involved, connected with four of six terror plots the government said it thwarted since spring this year -- John?

BERMAN: The Moroccans told the French about him being in France on the 16th. The attacks here in Paris were on the 13th. That gives you a sense, though, of how much more is needed in terms of speed of communication between countries right now and the battle against terrorists like this.

Nic, any sense of what they're investigating now? If they believe there are other terror cells still at work here in Paris.

ROBERTSON: OK. I was outside that apartment in Saint-Denis until late in the night. The police told me the operation there would probably continue for another 24 hours. Substantial physical damage. What they will be looking in there is any cell phones, any recent written communications, any computers, any hard drives that can give an indication to where Abaaoud was in the previous days. They got from the Moroccans two days prior to that raid that he was here in Paris.

So, what was he doing before? What were his foot steps on the important days leading up to the attack on the 13th, Friday? Who was he speaking to? Where is he going? That will lead police to the next stage of where the interior minister hinted they're going, the connection with other jihadists. So as the police go through that apartment -- the two apartments there, that will provide them a level of information. Of course, they say they arrested -- took into custody eight people, three of them, they say they arrested in connection with these terrorism offenses. So, they will be talking to them as well to generate more information. The government here has told us the prime minister, the interior minister has also said as well, the French president, that the raids on homes of suspected jihadists around France will continue. The legislation that's been debated and passed today will make that easier. So, I think we can expect, from what we're hearing from the interior minister, to expect more operations to target more of the people that they will undoubtedly find were in connection with Abaaoud in the recent weeks -- John?

[11:05:29] BERMAN: They staged more than 100 raids a night every night since the attacks here last Friday.

Nic Robertson, here in Paris, thank you so much.

We have breaking news from Belgium as well. Six anti-terror raids launched there today. We understand at least nine people have been detained now in connection with the attacks here in Paris.

I want to get to Ivan Watson right now, who is in Belgium, with the very latest.

Ivan, what do you know?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, that's right. That series of raids taking place in and around the Belgian capital, Brussels. Now, several of these raids were conducted in connection with the investigation into the Paris attacks. You had at least two people detained for questioning. Belgian investigators say. And then there were another series of search warrants and raids that were carried out in connection with a case that has been open since the beginning of 2015, police here say. And that's into a man named Bilal Hafdi. He is a resident of Belgium, also one of the suicide bombers from the Paris attacks. He had been on the radar of Belgian investigators for some time when he was believed to have left Belgium and gone to Syria to join the ranks of ISIS. But what the Belgian investigators say they did not know is that he had somehow gotten back into Europe. They only discovered he was back in Europe when his remains were found among all the carnage in Paris. When asked about the reaction to the deaths of Abaaoud, the federal prosecutor's office here said that they don't really have time to rest on any kind of whirls. They're busy right now searching for another key suspect, that fugitive, Salah Abdeslam, who has been missing sin the Paris attacks, whose car was found here in Brussels after the Paris attacks, after a brief questioning period by French police when he escaped the dragnet there. He's still very much wanted. Authorities here very worried what he may be capable of, as long as he is still a fugitive -- John?

BERMAN: That's right. He very much still on the run right now. As we see, probably the most wanted man in Europe.

Ivan Watson, in Belgium, thank you so much.

I want to bring in CNN terror analyst, Paul Cruickshank, here with me in Paris.

Paul, Abdelhamid Abaaoud dead. Three things, I think, that are crucial here. One, it's amazing that he was here in France in the shadow of the Stade de France, the stadium attacked Friday night. Number two, it's amazing they pulled this off. They killed him within days of this attack. Number three, and this may be the most important for us right now, what does this mean going forward for the battle against would-be terrorists here in Paris? Does it disrupt or slow down possible operations?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I think it does disrupt. Abaaoud was probably going to be part of second wave, another spectacular attack when all of the world's media was here in Paris. They had very heavy weapons. This was the second team, it's almost certain at this point they were about to launch an attack, we've been told that by sources, officials. This is the worrying thing. This is part of a wider network. A half dozen Belgium and French is recruits, climbed up the hierarchy, many are now in Raqqa, where they're training, fresh recruits coming in from Belgium, France, other countries, giving them one or two weeks training and sending them back to launch attacks. This is laid out to me by intelligence officials. A key figure in this network working together with Abdelhamid Abaaoud

was Fabien Clain, who is 10 years older than Abaaoud and is likely playing a more senior role in this conspiracy than Abaaoud, because he's older and they've been working in tandem and some of these other recruit fighters to plot a wave of terrorist attacks against Europe. And the interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, was talking about this. He says out of the six terror plots in the last six months, four were orchestrated by Abaaoud. But it was Abaaoud working together, they believe, with Fabien Clain. And Fabien Clain has a long track record of jihadist activity. He was friends with Mohamed Merah, who killed the Jewish school children in 2012 in southern France, in prison for a while in a network with al Qaeda, the same group as ISIS. And back in 2009, he was involved in plotting against the Bataclan concert hall here in France.

Not only that, John, he claimed responsibility for this attack for ISIS. We have that audio. We're working, efforting to get it onto CNN. Claiming responsibility for the attack, saying that it was partly targeting "that idiot, who is the head of the French republic. The guy claiming the attack is still at large in Raqqa, working with Abaaoud, working to push even more of these recruits back. All of that very alarming.

[11:10:28] This threat stream is nowhere near over. It's just beginning. ISIS is starting to push down the accelerator when it comes to international terrorism, targeting not just the West, but also Russia. It's going all out right now.

Why is that the case? One theory is that they have this apocalyptic vision that they want the West, they want Russia to go in, in a big way. They're trying to provoke it because they think the end of days is coming. It will be a last battle in this town in Syria, where, according to one of these prophecies, which isn't authenticated, but they believe there's going to be this end-of-days battle between the armies of Rome and armies of the Muslims. They're trying to make that happen more quickly. They think they're agents of God. That's part of the calculation from a rational point of view, also to electrify that base around the world. It's then retaliation.

BERMAN: I don't know there's a rationale point of view. But Fabien Clain, this man still in Raqqa. Any sense of why Abdelhamid Abaaoud, any sense of why he was here, running or helping orchestrate these operations?

CRUICKSHANK: Because they felt, clearly, he would be a good organizer here, working with these youngsters that he knew. I mean, he grew up with two of his brothers, right, we've been talking about, the Abdeslam brothers. They were part of a gang toll in Molenbeek. They've known each other for a long time. Being able to come into the country with people he's known, evaded security services with in the past, all that's been very useful to ISIS. So, I think they felt that they -- you know, they could send Abaaoud back, you know, be a sort of local team leader here. But some of the more senior French brains behind this operation, including the guy who claimed responsibility for is, are still there at large, doing more of this pressing the accelerator, fasten your seat belts. BERMAN: Paul Cruickshank, very dire warning to hear that.

Yes, Abdelhamid Abaaoud is dead but the man who claimed responsibility, Fabien Clain, still alive and in Syria.

New this morning, China is promising revenge after ISIS said it killed a Chinese hostage. Could this change the situation on the ground in Syria?

Plus, new ISIS video depicting ISIS suicide bombers preparing for an attack on New York City. What intelligence officials say about this video. Is it a real threat?

This is CNN's special live coverage. Stay with us.


[11:17:01] BOLDUAN: Welcome back, everyone. We're following breaking news this morning out of Paris. Officials there confirm that the suspected ringleader behind Friday's terror attacks was killed in that police raid and fire fight in Saint-Denis.

Also, new this morning, ISIS put out another propaganda video warning of a potential attack on New York City. In that video, which we're only going to show a few still frames of, you see what appears to be an explosive device being put together, a man zipping up a jacket over possibly a suicide vest, and images of some of the city's most popular tourist destinations, including Times Square.

Boris Sanchez is in Times Square for us.

Boris, city officials came out quickly to respond to this video, saying that the city is not going to be intimidated. But what extra security measures are they talking about or are you seeing there in light of the threat?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, so far this morning we've seen the standard police presence in Times Square, plus added tactical team that are heavily armed, patrolling, going around the area. We've seen several canine coming around, obviously, bomb- sniffing dogs.

As you mentioned, New York City officials yesterday saying New Yorkers shouldn't be intimidate. They also say this isn't something that's new. New York has received its fair share of threats before, as well, if you recall in 2010, an attempted car bombing in Times Square, that Nissan Pathfinder that the detonator fizzled and ultimately didn't explode. So, while crews are being vigilant, they don't want New Yorkers to be worried. In fact, they say it's better to go about your lives as usual.


BILL DE BLASIO, (D), NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: The people of New York City can rest assured that extraordinary efforts are being made every single day to keep them safe. This is the finest police force in this nation for 14 years since 9/11. This police force has consistently protected the city against terrorist threats. And it will continue to do so.


SANCHEZ: The other thing that's important to point out, not only are the threats against New York not new, but the video itself that was put out by ISIS yesterday, chunks of that, specifically the chunks showing that bomb going into someone's jacket, those are actually recycled from a previous ISIS video in which they made several threats. Again, for New York City, it's not really something that's new, though as we've seen today, officers are being vigilant -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Boris Sanchez, in Times Square for us, thank you so much.

For more on this I want to bring in CNN national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem, a former top official at the Department of Homeland Security.

So, Juliette, you have this new threat. You also have this in light of -- right in the aftermath of these horrific attacks in Paris, and you have city officials here in New York saying it's not new and they don't have any credible threat they're tracking but they're going to be vigilant. But after these horrible Paris attacks, if you're sitting at DHS right now, how seriously are you taking this video?

[11:20:00] JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST & FORMER TOP OFFICIAL, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I think you have to take it seriously, but recognize that there is no specific threat. It would be utter negligence not to take it seriously in light of what happened in Paris. But I want to remind people what that means. What does it mean to take it seriously? Part of it is you try to minimize the risk, so that's the intelligence sharing that we know is going on. Sort of those, you know, the investigation the FBI said it's going to be more aggressive. You minimize the risk. You maximize the kind of protections that Boris was just describing, the dogs, you know, having a physical presence. Then you maintain a very rigorous response capability. You know, first responders. Remember yesterday the head of the New York Police Department said, people need to be engaged. If you see something, notify police. You know, so there's three pieces to this response. All of them working in tandem. And that's the smart thing to do. As I said, it would be negligence not to do it at this stage.

BOLDUAN: Juliette, one of the other important pieces of information in light of the Paris attacks, the suspected ringleader, we've been told, was able to move really undetected in between Syria and Iraq and Europe, ending up in Paris, in France, without authorities knowing. It wasn't until days after the Paris attack that French authorities were alerted that this ringleader was in France. Could that -- kind of leads me to wonder, could that happen in the United States? Could someone like Abdelhamid Abaaoud travel into the U.S. without U.S. knowing?

KAYYEM: Probably not. I would say highly likely not. Let me just explain the European rules and the border controls are just loose. That is part of what the European Union is about. And clearly one of the intelligence failures was the lack of real-time communication about who was going where. The challenge for France is they just had too many people going to Syria. And what you're seeing now is France's presumption, is if you went to Syria, you're bad news. So all of these sweeps are, you were in Syria, we are going to assume you are bad news, which may be the smart thing to do. The United States does not have that problem. I mean, there are some foreign people who come -- who are from here, they go fight. We tend to know who they are. Much more difficult for them to get back into the country. In terms of border controls, we know if someone went to Turkey, say, and then goes missing for a couple months and then comes back. No system is perfect, but the likelihood of someone who is well known terrorist slipping through at this stage, through a lawful system, is pretty negligible. I certainly know after Paris, everyone is on the lookout for those watch lists.

BOLDUAN: Do you think those watch lists, or the communication around the people on those watch lists, are things changing after these Paris attacks?

KAYYEM: Oh, absolutely. Look, any time there's an attack like this, the system, the security system, will ratchet up. There's no question about it. And it ought to in response to what we've learned about what happened in Paris. And so that is what's happening on the Department of Homeland Security side, but also on the state and local side. So, when I -- when you see more cops in New York or other major cities or maybe a response that seems sort of out of control or out of proportion as we might have seen in D.C. the other day, when someone committed suicide and the whole city shut down. That's just a natural reaction. It's hard to -- I don't want to excuse it, but it's somewhat of a natural reaction. Things will mellow out, so to speak. We saw that after 9/11 as people learn and incorporate the lessons learned. But right now, it is the assumption by the FBI is that they are going to begin to look at these people who might have traveled to Syria, the immigration and travel controls are much stronger. And just, you know, I have to say this every time I'm on air, America's radicalization problem is a -- there are issues. We don't have an epidemic like France and England. I mean, what we're going to find out from what happened in France is that's their own citizens. So, to the extent we keep our heads here in the United States, we are embracing people, we are -- we are an open society, that may actually be a long-term security effort and a long-term security success, because we just -- we're not France and England and Belgium right now. And that's good news.

BOLDUAN: When you talk about lessons learned, it sure seems there are a lot of lessons still to be learned from these horrific attacks.

Juliette, thank you so much.

KAYYEM: Thank you.

[11:24:30]BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, it wasn't just Paris. The ringleader behind one of the worst attacks against the West in recent history, he had other targets. What we're learning now about his other terror plot. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: I'm John Berman, in Paris. The breaking news from here, Abdelhamid Abaaoud is dead. He is the ringleader, the architect, the planner for the attacks last Friday in this city that stole the lives of 129 people. He was killed in that daring raid in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, in the shadow, literally, of one of the sites of the suicide attacks on Friday, the Stade de France, where three attackers blew themselves up as people were leaving that stadium. This man now dead in this attack yesterday.

We also learned that France learned of his presence here partly on a tip from Morocco. Morocco said he was here in Paris, but critically, they only told French officials after the attacks on Friday. The attacks were Friday. Morocco informed France, we believe, on Monday.

We to want talk about the implications, both the successes and failures in this intelligence operation.

Joining me now, CNN senior anchor and foreign correspondent, Christiane Amanpour -- thank you for being here -- CNN terror analyst, Paul Cruickshank; and also Manuel Lafont from the European Council on Foreign Relations.