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Manhunt for the so-called eighth attacker, Salah Abdeslam spreading; Airstrikes are pounding ISIS positions in the Syrian city of Raqqa; House passed the bill to suspend the program allowing Syrian refugees into the United States; 11-12a ET

Aired November 19, 2015 - 23:00   ET



[23:00:10] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: 11:00 p.m. on the East Coast, 5:00 a.m. in Paris. This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

The manhunt for the so-called eighth attacker, Salah Abdeslam spreading tonight, that as French authorities confirm the terror leader of the Paris attacks Abdelhamid Abaaoud is dead, killed in that police raid.

Meanwhile, ISIS releases a video threatening to conquer Rome and blow up the White House. We are not showing the complete video because we don't want to give undo attention to their propaganda.

And here at home, the FBI closely watching dozens of people they think pose the highest risk of trying to carry out a copycat attack.

Let's get right to the latest on the investigation on with CNN's Fredrick Pleitgen live for us in Paris.

So Fred, the latest tonight on that search for Salah Abdeslam?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Absolutely, Don. The latest that we have is that the search for Salah Abdeslam has apparently now been expanded to expand not only France and, of course, Belgium but also the Netherlands which is, of course, the neighboring country to both France and Belgium.

Now, the Netherlands authorities have come out and they said that the search has not technically been expanded. They say it has been going on all the time because, of course, this is a global international manhunt that has been going on. But what we do know is that Salah Abdeslam in the past has spent time in the Netherlands. And so, it would be interesting to see whether or not he might try to go back to that place.

And one of the things that we have to keep in mind is well, Don, is that this appears to be the guy in the cell from Friday's attacks that was sort of responsible for logistics. He rented some of the cars. One of the cars that was rented was actually found in a Paris neighborhood here very close to where the ring leader then was later killed. So this is certainly someone who knows how to get around Europe and certainly this part of Europe in particular. LEMON: Fred, do we know when he was last seen?

PLEITGEN: Yes, I mean, that is one of the things that really puzzles many people in this investigation, Don. The last time that he was seen was shortly after the attack, when he was checked by the police. He was checked by the police. He was taken into custody. He was questioned and, then, Don, he was released. That is one of the big sort of failures that people are talking about. That at that point in time, the authorities did not keep him in custody because the cops didn't apparently stop him, didn't feel that there was any reason to keep him in custody.

Now, where he was last seen was on a highway outside of Paris. And that highway leads to Belgium. But knowing that area a little bit, Don, those highways up there, they also branch off into the Netherlands, they branch off into Germany. Once you are past the greater Paris areas you can go in a lot of directions.

LEMON: And there is much concern that he may still have a suicide vest with him?

PLEITGEN: Yes, sure. I mean, there is a big concern because everywhere that so far the authorities have encountered the terrorists that were involved in the cell suicide vest were involves as well. Of course, most of the attackers on Friday's attacks had suicide vests. And them, of course, you had the cousin of the ringleader who blew herself up when the authorities came over to raid their apartment in a neighborhood to the northeast of Paris. So certainly it appears as though these people have a lot of access to explosives. And it seems like explosive vests was one of their main tools of choice. So certainly, there is the concern that he might be armed. You might be talking about rifles. But you certainly also might be talking about suicide vests explosives as well, Don.

LEMON: What did the French prime minister say tonight, Fred, when he addressed the parliament?

PLEITGEN: Well, I mean, he said that he wanted additional powers. He said that he wanted the France and other countries to get tougher on combatting ISIS. But he also warned that there is still of course a very big threat of terrorism for France, but for other European countries as well.

One of the things the French have been saying is that they believe that there need to be pan-European effort to combat ISIS, to combat terrorists and that European needs to get tougher in securing its borders, making sure that these people don't get into this country. They believe that some of them actually went through the migrant route that everybody is talking about not through the Balkan states through Turkey as well. So this is certainly something what the French are saying. We need to crack down on this. We need to get tougher on terrorism. But also, of course, they strike a very defiant tone and that they say they are going to fight this out in the end and they vow to destroy ISIS.

LEMON: Fred, NBC News spoke with the commando led of the Bataclan raid on Friday night. Let's take a listen to that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Took position at the enter of the theater. And then we discover like - I mean, more than maybe 7,000, 8,000 people were lying on the floor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Laying on the floor, tons of blood everywhere. No sound, nobody was screaming.


LEMON: Fred, even almost a week later, the details that are emerging are really horrifying.

[23:05:00] PLEITGEN: Yes, they certainly are, Don. And you know, I was able to speak to some of the people who survived that particular raid, the Bataclan raid. And you know, one of the things that they keep talking about is just that awful sense of vulnerability. It is that sense that they really had nowhere to go. They have nowhere to run. That if the attackers find them they will kill them immediately. And there is no one can save them.

I spoke to people who hid out in a room and really tried to breathe as little as possible because they were so scared. They talked about other people there shivering. And of course, you have that police officer there talking about people who were on the ground and essentially not moving, obviously, trying to play dead and not make the attackers recognize them. It really was an awful scene and that is something that many people that have described what went on in that Bataclan Theater which, of course, was also the raid that actually did go on for quite a while where the attackers went inside, shot the place up, started executing people then rounded people up and kept them there before that raid finally happened. And then when the raid did happen they blew themselves up. It must have been an absolutely traumatizing event, of course, for those who survived, for those who lost loved ones in that. And it is also quite frankly, they are traumatizing event for this nation as a whole and certainly explains why there has been such a strong response from the French both as far as law enforcement is concerned here in this country. But also as far as their military response and bombing targets in Syria is concerned as well, Don.

LEMON: Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much. Appreciate that.

We are learning more about the incident that happened on Friday and more about the raid that killed the leader of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud.

CNN's Nic Robertson has more on how it all went down.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 4:20 a.m. on Wednesday, an elite French police unit closes in on an apartment building in the Paris superb of Saint-Denis. Intelligence, wiretaps, bank transfers, have led them to this low-income neighborhood. Their target, this man, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspect ringleader in a string of terror plots.

Police make their way to the third floor but an explosive charge fails to open the security door. A ferocious gun battle erupts and continues for an hour. Three people are quickly arrested. But there are now still two or three people inside, including a woman. They throw grenades. Police fire 5,000 rounds into the apartment.

After the scene quiets down, police send in an attack dog named Diesel to check for signs of life. Diesel is shot dead. A police sniper shoots one of the terrorists inside. Injured he continues to fire back. A police officer shouts to the woman, where is your boyfriend? She yells back, it's not my boyfriend. Then a loud explosion. Police say the woman detonated a suicide vest. It turns out she is the cousin of Abaaoud.

But it is several more hours before police can enter the building where they find a scene of carnage. Two men are detained but there are the remains of two or even three bodies inside. French forensic experts raise to discover whether Abaaoud is one of them. But amid this could be a carnage, they have to move slowly.

More than 24 hours pass before the prosecutor's office in a two-line statement says the bullet-ridden body is Abaaoud's.

BERNARD CAZENEUVE, FRENCH INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): Among the six attacks that have been avoided or foiled since spring of this year, Abaaoud seems to have been involved in four of them.

ROBERTSON: A victory against terrorism but many questions remain.

The French had no idea that Abaaoud was back in Europe. Had slipped across the borders undetected. It was a tip from Moroccan intelligence that led the French to belief that Abaaoud had left Syria and was back to begin a campaign of terror. The question for France now and for all of those on the continent is, are there any more like Abaaoud who slipped undetected into Europe?

Nic Robertson, CNN, Paris.


LEMON: All right, Nic. Thanks for that.

When we come back, airstrikes on ISIS in Syria, are they working? And how much do we know about the terrorist stronghold?

Plus, new ISIS threats coming just as the holiday travel season is about to begin. How seriously should Americans take all of this?


[23:13:11] LEMON: The leader of the Paris attacks is dead. French police say Abdelhamid Abaaoud died in a raid on a house in Paris. And the manhunt for terror suspect Salah Abdeslam is expanding tonight.

Meanwhile, airstrikes are pounding ISIS positions in the Syrian city of Raqqa. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in the Middle East tonight.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Don, we know that the airplanes are again over Raqqa. We don't know the numbers of strikes at this stage. We do know that they have been headed towards the west of the city too and frankly from eyewitnesses we know that even in the middle of the afternoon, a 20-minute period, tens of kilometers away from that city you could hear lengthy, intense rumbling as explosions clearly hit that town.

Now, it has a large population. Many of who have been brutalized by civilians forced to stay in the city and could well be in unintentionally in the cross hairs of these strikes. We know that the first civilian casualties came in last night seven, maybe six killed when a fuel truck was targeted. We don't know who dropped these bombs when each has comes through. But we do know the Russians did that day say they were aiming for oil infrastructures.

So many air forces in the skies above Raqqa. So much vengeance, frankly, on the part of the Russians and the French and there are key tenant of the U.S. coalition strategies as well. There are reports from activists that ISIS leadership has tried to leave the city perhaps heading east towards the Iraqi city of Mosul. They will have a job trying to get there because the Peshmerga have cut off the main route in Iraq near the town of Sinjar. We saw that ourselves last week.

There is definite sense of pressure against ISIS on the ground. No doubt about that. There is a definite expectation in Syria that the Kurdish forces of mass to the north around that city may start moving against it very soon. They don't really have the numbers. They don't really have fire power, but they might be going for it anyway. And they could be potentially American special forces advising them to.

So a lot are moving here. A lot of changing dynamics. And the real sense too I think that it's the civilians in Raqqa now whose fate is so important. Whatever happens from the airstrike surely must put their fate paramount particularly if they wish to defeat ISIS and have some kind of a functional society afterwards, Don.

[23:15:23] LEMON: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you very much for that.

Joining me now is Rick Francona and major general James "Spider" Marks. I'm so happy to have both of you here this evening, gentlemen.

General Marks, to you first. France and Russian have increased their airstrikes against ISIS in response to attacks. Are these airstrikes working and how would we know if they are working?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, all the airstrikes are working, so the short answer is yes. And there is a routine assessment that takes place after every strike. I mean, a lot of intelligence capabilities will focus in on what occurred what we called the effects of the strike. It used to be called bomb damage assessment that really had a kinetic feel to it. But now, we are looking for effects. Did we achieve the effects that we were trying to achieve on this particular strikes? So, you get a good sense of that attack and that targeting cycle.

So clearly, what France is doing, adding to what the coalition is doing and what Russia is doing, stepping up their aircraft and the types of munitions they are launching, it is quite effective. But clearly, there is room to improve in terms of the amount of the airstrikes that could be taking place. We really could up the volume here and make this an ear bleeding campaign that really gets a lot more movement out of ISIS forces on the ground. That might on aviate the immediate need to put something on the ground.

LEMON: Are you speaking directly to the commander-in-chief right now, general?

MARKS: I'm not.

LEMON: You're not.

MARKS: I'm not, Don.

LEMON: Yes. How much do we really know about what is happening on the ground, though, inside Raqqa? How do we get information from there, general?