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Belgium Raises Threat Level; New Information About Raid in Saint Denis; Interview with State Department Spokesman John Kirby; Terror in Mali. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired November 20, 2015 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:11] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening from Paris.

A major new development in the terrorist attacks here in the manhunt that followed and remains underway. State run media in Belgium, where several planners lived reporting that authorities have now raised the terrorist alert level from Brussels to the maximum warning of quote "imminent threat in the capital region."

Joining us now here in Paris is CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank.

It was just I think two or three days ago that they raised it to the second highest level. This is a huge -- dramatic turn of events. They have now raised into the top possible level. What's that actually mean?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: It's unprecedented. It's never been at level four which signifies a serious and imminent danger of terrorists' attacks. Clearly, there is some intelligence that is really warning them in Brussels tonight. I mean, it is for the Brussels region in particular. Could this be linked to some intelligence about the movements to Salah Abdeslam, I think it is probably something bigger than that because unprecedented to raise it all the way up to four and after all they have known that he has been on the run these last few days.

COOPER: Salah Abdeslam, he is the -- what was believed to be the eighth terrorist involved in Friday night's attacks here in Paris one week ago. Last seen en route to Belgium. You know, there is an international arrest warrant out for him. His whereabouts are unknown. But do you think this goes beyond just one man?

CRUICKSHANK: I think this likely goes beyond just one man. They are worried that there are some kind of terrorist plot in the works in Belgium --

COOPER: In terms of this warning, so, what, stay away from public spaces?

CRUICKSHANK: It is quite extraordinary. Stay away from public spaces. Stay away from railway stations. Stay away from airports.

COOPER: That's what the government -- CRUICKSHANK: Shutting the airport down, you know, like overnight, I

mean, you know, they say there's going to be a press conference to explain this to the general public tomorrow. They are going to put a lot of security precautions in place across Brussels tomorrow. But this, obviously, follows the fact that there was a significant Belgium link in these Paris attacks. There's just concern about all the Belgians who have gone and fought in Syria, more than 100 believed to have come back, perhaps intelligence suggesting that some of those may be plotting something this -- something that has them --

COOPER: The other question, of course, and we should point out this just occurred. We don't know the intelligence behind it, but there have been a number of raids over the last several days throughout Belgium, perhaps intelligence, something has been gathered that led them to raise the level from those raids.

CRUICKSHANK: Yes. They have been shaking the tree. I mean, they have been arresting all sorts of people linked to the plotters, their contacts, the concern has been that there's a sort of significant logistic call support structure in Belgium behind these attacks.

I have been speaking in the last few days to Belgium officials. They say the bomb maker is still at large or bomb makers are still at large so that could be one factor here at play, Anderson. But a lot of concern in Brussels, and I've been speaking to the people from the heart of the investigation, and they have struggled to get a handle on this. The French, the Belgians, all this week, struggles to get a handle on this. Many sleepless night, double overtime shifts, triple overtime shifts. They are really racing around trying to prevent the next attack. And the concern is that ISIS has this Belgian and French plotters back in Raqqa in Syria who have been trying to send as many recruits as possible back to Europe to launch a string of rolling attacks.

COOPER: I want to go to our correspondent, Drew Griffin, who is joining us from Brussels right now. He joins us on the phone.

Drew, dramatic turn of events raising the threat level in Belgium to its highest level, unprecedented.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): Yes. And it came in just a bit of a surprise. This was a night of revelry here in Brussels. There were a lot of college students on the street earlier. We did see a heavy, heavy presence of military police walking up and down along with the local police, but that was yesterday, Anderson. But the current level threat was just raised and warnings people to stay away from crowded bars, crowded cafes, and I'm looking across the street at a very crowded bar, although it is pretty late here in Brussels.

But this does come as a shock. This also comes as days and days and days of almost daily raids have been looked for the terrorist suspects, Salah Abdeslam. They still don't know where he is. But, again, there must be some reason. As they say they have done threat analysis and decided just tonight, just early this morning, early Saturday morning, to raise the level to the highest level they have. COOPER: And, Drew, there's been reports, and we should point out,

these are unconfirmed by CNN, that the suspect on the run, on the loose, whereabouts unknown, may have made calls to friends over the last several days, correct?

[20:05:12] GRIFFIN: There have been reports of that. They have not been confirmed at all. It is actually waved off some of the very reports. And keep in mind that, you know, the heavy police presence, raiding, I guess you would say, just about every address that they can possibly link to this suspect, his friends, his family, other members of this ring that pulled off this terrorist attack, so there has been a lot of police movement in and around the neighborhoods. But, so far, no sighting whatsoever, even though this guy's face is just about everywhere you look.

COOPER: And in terms of - I mean, you talked a little bit about it, but you know, with the raids going on, how tight has security been on the streets in Brussels?

GRIFFIN: Honestly, except for the presence, there's not been a lot of stopping of people. Nobody is being checked. There is not any bag checks or anything like that like you might be getting on and off of public transportation. Just a heavy presence of walking patrols, heavily armed walking patrols.

We did see one interesting thing yesterday when we went to a little French border town (INAUDIBLE), as people were coming back from France into Belgium on a small road, there were some police checks taking place, almost like a border check back in the old days, but that was the only thing we saw out of the ordinary that would affect the average citizen of Belgium.

COOPER: Drew, in addition having Paul Cruickshank here, just been joined by CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton with addition to founding strategic risk and leadership consulting firm served 26 years in air force intelligence.

Colonel, thank you for joining us. You were obviously aware of this, this raising of the threat level in Belgium. What do you think of it?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Anderson, I think what this shows is that there is something as Paul mentioned that is going on here where there is going to be some type of dragnet that they are going to be doing. So they are going to take all the elements of national power that they have, such as the law enforcement, the military potentially, as well as any type of intelligence services they can bring to bear on this. What hay are going to do is they are going to try to find this guy. And that seems to me as if they may have an indication that he is there or there is something else going on in terms of a plot. And if that's the case, then they clearly have to raise the terror level like they did.

COOPER: And I mean, this is concerning for a number of factors. I mean, there was another person believed to be in one of the vehicles during Friday night's attacks. His identity at this point not exactly clear. There have been some reports, new reports, by the way, that the ring leader may have actually taken part in the attacks on Friday night. There was some CCTV footage of him. He was seen near one of the vehicles that was abandoned here in a Paris suburb. That's all new information.

But to your point about the suicide, the explosive desk, we don't know who manufactured them. Where they were manufactured. Was it here in France, in Paris, was it in Belgium where they brought in, and is that person out there, are there others out there, and larger network in Brussels?

CRUICKSHANK: Yes. And I think this may go beyond just a few extra people on the run. I mean, this is a very significant step. The Belgians would not have taken the step lightly. I know the people who run the threat center over there, you know, they are absolute professionals, and it's a big step because, clearly, the general public in Brussels wake up tomorrow morning extremely worried. This advice basically is stay home as far as I can see. I mean, don't go to any crowded spaces, no public spaces where crowds gather. That would suggests they are worried that there is a possibility of imminent terrorist attack against a crowded venue. And of course, that is exactly the type of venue that terrorists would want to target. We saw that here in Paris on Friday.

COOPER: And in normal times might not have much protection. And, Drew is again joining us now from Brussels. I believe he has made his way on camera.

Drew, I mean, what, it's 2:00 a.m., and it just past 2:00 a.m. here in Paris. I imagine this news has not really filtered out to people in Brussels and elsewhere in Belgium at this point?

GRIFFIN: Not at all, Anderson, not at all. And when you read this warning, I guess, is what you call it, it's kind of chilling considering where we are, avoid places with high concentrations of people in the Brussels region including concerts, major events, train stations, public transport, and places of high commercial concentration. That basically is everywhere in this town. I'm sure you have been here many times, Anderson. And, I mean, you can see behind me, they are stringing, literally stringing the Christmas lights for the Christmas market that's about to open just in the square behind me.

The government says it's going to have some kind of announcement to the public tomorrow morning. I imagine that's when most people in Brussels find out about this. And I can only imagine their reaction when they are being told, basically, don't go out on the street and don't go into high concentrated areas of people.

[20:10:20] COOPER: Yes. I mean, it's rare you have, Drew, a government telling people to stay off of public transportation. That gives you a sense of the seriousness with which they are taking this.

GRIFFIN: Absolutely. And we don't have the facts behind why they made this threat, only that their agency that does this, the OCAM, considered a threat analysis, and for some reason tonight decided to raise this level from three to four. And only in the Brussels region, so the rest of Belgium is at a level three, which was the level that was raised to earlier in the week.

COOPER: Yes, Drew, stay with us. Cedric Leighton, Paul Cruickshank, as well.

This is just one of the string of developments in the stories. Senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward is joining us now,

Clarissa, you have spent the day in the St.-Denis neighborhood where the apartment was raided, and where they are still examining things, aren't they?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's incredible. It's nearly 72 hours now, Anderson, after this raid, and we're just only just beginning to learn what actually transpired. What we know, what we learned today, is that the female, the 26-year- old (INAUDIBLE) who is believed to be the cousin of the architect of this attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was not the suicide bomber. You remember French officials had indicated early on that she was the suicide bomber. That was a key factor we learned today.

The second key fact we learned today is that three people were killed inside the apartment during the raid, no two, as we had originally been told. So we know that along with Abaaoud and a (INAUDIBLE), there was a third person killed. All we know is that he was a man. We don't know more than that. We don't know who did detonate the suicide vests. Was Abaaoud? Was it this other unidentified man? But I can tell you, Anderson, from having spent the day there, there is still forensic experts in and out all day combing through. And when you look at the video and you see the force of the blast and that glass flying out, you can imagine the sort of carnage that must have been left behind inside.

COOPER: Is it known how the woman who authorities thought actually have detonated the suicide device? How she actually died, whether it was in a blast from somebody else detonating it or whether she was shot to death?

WARD: We still don't know. We still don't even know, actually, how Abaaoud died. And I think what we are seeing today, you know, in the sort of initial excitement of hearing that Abaaoud was dead, we are now entering a much more sobering reality of, OK, but there is still lot of missing pieces of the puzzle. They still have this eighth attacker unaccounted for. We know have this third unidentified dead man in this apartment. We have 120-something raids last night. This is still a fluid situation. It's still an active manhunt.

COOPER: All so, more information now, which, you know, days ago, we reported that one of the bombers at the stadium had, perhaps, got an in to Europe through Greece, landing in the island of Leros on October 3rd. Now authorities are saying a second bomber at the stadium also entered on the same day.

WARD: So that's right. We now believe they travelled as a pair, the two of them, traveling on that refugee route from Turkey to Greece into central Europe, both of them traveling on what are believed to be fake Syria passports, raising the possibility that perhaps they were, in fact, European nationals exploiting the refugee crisis, and trying to get back in Europe undetected.

COOPER: And this report, which I just read, and, I mean, has it been confirmed that Abaaoud may have actually taken part in the attacks on Friday. That there was CCTV footage of him near the vehicle that was abandoned.

WARD: At this stage, we simply don't know, Anderson. We simply don't know. I think that French authorities probably know a lot more than they are letting on in this stage.

COOPER: Because in the video, there was a video taken by cell phone camera video of the vehicle that we believe Salah Abdeslam was in.

WARD: And there was a driver.

COOPER: Right. There was another person in who was not identified.

WARD: And that was the sort of ninth suspect or the ninth attacker. We don't know. Was that Abaaoud? Was that someone else?

COOPER: It would be a fascinating development if this ring leader actually took part directly in the attacks themselves.

LEIGHTON: Absolutely. Because that shows a much more tactical organization so a very streamlined organization that has very few people wherein they are actually engaged at a tactical level. That's not normal in when you have these broader and bigger terrorist organizations.

COOPER: Although, for a guy who his owned father described him as a psychopath, it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine he would want to actually take part in the killing.

LEIGHTON: Not at all. And that is somebody like that would derive pleasure, unfortunately, from those kinds of actions.

COOPER: A lot to cover in the two hours ahead.

Just ahead tonight, the new concerns about possible holes in U.S. security exposed by Paris attacks. U.S. officials now saying at least one of the attackers could have traveled to the United States if he tried. They are not saying he did. They are just saying based on what intelligence knew about him and did not know about him, at least one of them, perhaps more, could have travelled to the U.S. A lot more on that ahead.


[20:18:36] COOPER: And welcome back. If you are just joining us, the breaking news, Belgium officials warn of a serious and imminent terrorist threat now in Brussels. They have raised the alert level to the maximum level.

Meantime, we are learning that the attacks here in Paris have exposed holes in U.S. security including in the visa waiver program. We are also told there are growing concerns that some of the attackers could have slipped through the U.S. watch list and screening system if they had tried. No evidence that they did. But if they had tried, we are now understanding that they might have been able to get to the United States.

Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, joins me now.

What more are you finding out about that? What exactly does that mean, that they could have possible gone to the U.S.?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, my colleague Evan Perez and I have been speaking to law enforcement officials, intelligence officials, counterterrorism officials, and we learned that there is growing concern as more becomes known as Paris attackers, various U.S. watch list and other measures may not have been enough to stop some of them from traveling to the U.S.

Now, we learned at least one of them had a clean enough background that he likely would have been able entered the U.S. through the visa waiver program. In other words, he wouldn't have raised raise red flags.

Four of the attackers were on the broad watch list of known or suspected terrorist suspected called tide. And at least one was of them was on the no fly list. So one of the four was on the no fly list before attacks.

Part of the issue, Anderson, lies on the incomplete information that European countries have on their citizens who are suspected of radicalizing or joining terrorist groups as seen in this case. And there's also a divide among U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism agencies about the effectiveness of the watch list. I can tell you, Anderson, that one U.S. intelligence officials we spoke to insists that human sources and other methods used by intelligence of border patrol agencies would have filled the gap in the watch list system. But some law enforcement officials dispute that and they have expressed serious concerns about how little was known about the attackers, Anderson.

[20:20:27] COOPER: Yes. I mean, this is all because of the visa waiver program which allows travel to U.S. from certain countries for what, up to like 90 days without a visa. Is that program, itself, under review?

BROWN: In fact, we learned, Anderson, just tonight that the administration, the Obama administration, in the coming days is expecting to announce plans for additional steps to be taken with European countries that participate in this visa waiver program, if you will, that could be an acknowledgement of the security gaps in the wake of the Paris attacks. As you point out, citizens of these 38 countries, they can apply to come to the U.S. without a visa for up to 90 days.

I will point out that the travelers are screen by all databases. And if there's any security concern whatsoever, then there would be -- that person would need to take additional steps to get a visa from the state department or it could be denied. But officials, again, Anderson, saying that they are very concerned and that more needs to be done to make sure those gaps are not there.

COOPER: Yes. All right, Pamela Brown, appreciate the reporting on that. Thank you very much.

There's a lot ahead in this hour. I want to bring in Ali Soufan, a former FBI supervisory special agent.

First of all, Ali, I just want to ask about this Brussels threat level. What do you make of the fact that it has been raised really just in 45 minutes or so, to a level that we have not seen before. They raised it several days ago up to the second highest level. But now, they are telling people, and, again, many people in Brussels have not heard the news yet, they tell people to stay away from, really, from public areas, public transportation and the like.

ALI SOUFAN, FORMER FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT: Well, it seems that they have some actionable intelligence, either intelligence that came through, you know, sources, or different methods, something is imminent and something might happen over there. And they are taking all precautions in order to inform their public and inform the people, and to raise awareness of law enforcement and intelligence in Belgium.

As you know, what happened in Paris and what happened in Belgium is very closely connected to each other. And between France and between Belgium, you know, they add up to almost half of the foreign fighters from western countries. We probably have about 4500 between France and Belgium. We have more than 2,000 foreign fighters that people - that means people from that area who travel to conflict zones in Syria and Iraq and join ISIS.

So I'm sure that there is significant threat and the investigation off the attacks in Paris and what resulted of the operation in St.-Denis in the suburbs over there. I'm sure that generated a lot of leads that is being followed by law enforcement, all across the continent, especially in Belgium.

COOPER: When you hear that one of the attackers could have traveled to the U.S. under this via waiver program. It doesn't necessarily mean he would have actually made it through U.S. passport control without raising suspicions. How alarming is it to you?

SOUFAN: Well, it's very alarming that the Europeans still have a problem in sharing intelligence with each other, let's not even talk about the United States.

COOPER: Right.

SOUFAN: I mean, you have Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is very well-known to the intelligence services in Europe. He is actually known to the people in his own neighborhood. He was featured in ISIS videos. He was in the (INAUDIBLE) magazine. And he was actually was able to travel from Syria to France, coordinate attacks in the streets of Paris undetected because of the lack of sharing of information.

As you know, today, all the minister of interiors in Europe had to meet in order to figure out a way how they can share intelligence with each other. That's something that we learned the hard way after 9/11. Unfortunately, 14 years later in Europe, they are still trying to figure out that situation.

As for the visa waiver program, I think after the phenomena of foreign fighters became really wide and important, I think there was robust changes in the program. Homeland security, for example, added additional criteria for the application process. And all this information can be shared and will be shared with the national counterterrorism center. There are actually additional criteria in the system and security criteria into these system that was added. And, you know, he might probably be able to travel to the United States, but I am really not confident that he will be able to enter the United States.

So I think the system has been reviewed multiple times. And I think homeland security did a good job in adapting the threat of foreign fighters, and especially of foreign fighters who come from the 38 nations that are participant nations of the program.

[20:25:22] COOPER: Ali, before I let you go, I mean, as some who used to work in law enforcement as long as you have and hasn't not much experience with radical Islamists or jihadists, are you concerned about Syrian refugees being admitted to the United States, I mean, given all the rhetoric that is going on right now. Do you think that people should be worried about?

SOUFAN: First of all, I think there are so many more important things to worry about at this point. I mean, if you look at the Syrian refugee situation, every refugee is going to take between 14-18 -- 18 to 24 months for processing. So we are not going to go to our offices on Mondays and find hundreds of Syria refugees around. This is number one.

And number two, the Syria refugees go through -- any kind of refugee who applies to the United States, and there's probably about I think, you know, a few hundred thousand refugees that apply every year to the United States. And from Syria, we are going to take about 10,000, I believe, in the next fiscal year.

But if you look at all, you know, there are more security checks and vetting, multilevel system of vetting for each and every one of these individuals, more than anyone who is applying for a visa, more than anyone who is coming to the United States, to the regular immigration process. So I think at this point we need to put that fear in context. I'm not really fearful about this. I'm more fearful about ISIS, about Al-Qaeda, about what they are planning to do about the threat in Europe, and about, you know, the situation in the U.S. to be honest.

COOPER: Yes. Ali Soufan, always good to have you on. Thank you.

Still ahead, more on female jihadi, who was she, who was the woman, what links did she have to the ring leader behind the Paris attacks? We are going to search for answers in the French neighborhood where she grow up. We are going to bringing you that story, those details ahead in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Authorities today have said the woman they thought detonated a suicide device in in Saint Denis, in fact, didn't detonated a suicide device. She was killed. They are not saying at this point, how she was killed, whether she was killed when somebody else detonated this suicide device, or she was shot to death, or just killed in the - collapsing of the rubble. That - but we wanted to know more about this woman. Who she was. People in the neighborhood where she lived, have described her as a party girl, as fun loving. She was killed in the raid. Officials now say, and I want to repeat this, they now say she was not a suicide bomber, however, she was part of this group that was in the apartment in Saint Denis with the ring leader of the Paris attack.

So, the question is, what caused this young woman to join them? CNN's Atika Shubert went to the French neighborhood where which she lived searching for answers.




ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These were the last words of Hasna Aitboulahcen.

Earlier, police had said the 26-year-old had detonated an explosives vest as police closed in. But now, forensics teams have determined that the bomb was actually triggered by either the alleged ring leader Abdelhamid Abaaoud, or the other so far unidentified suspect killed in the operation. Investigators are now struggling to understand how a young woman described as modern and fun loving, veered into the path of this deadly terror network. Until a few weeks ago, she lived here with her family. Police brought her mother and brother in for questioning on Thursday.

We're in the neighborhood of Aulnay-sous-Bois, and this is where Hasna Aitboulahcen was living. It's a rough neighborhood at the best of times. But even as we approached her building, we were threatened by her neighbors.

At her old high school, at the local market, many knew the family, but none would talk to us on camera. By the dance school she once attended, one vendor claimed to have dated her, and described her as a party girl who liked to drink and smoke. The local pharmacist described her as a normal, modern, young woman. The mayor of Creutzwald, where she moved to as a teenager told us she had, quote, a chaotic upbringing, brought up in a foster home after her parents divorced.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): She's really a girl who was a bit crazy, she loved life, she loved having fun, she was a girl who has very little to do with Islam, and you never saw her practicing the faith. So, when I see this about her, the image of the veil and everything that happened on Sunday, that's what really surprised me. She was a girl who had nothing to do with Islam. So, that image of her is the opposite because she did not represent Islam.

SHUBERT: But investigators still don't know how she became so deeply involved with the ring leader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, and why she was there on that fateful night that police closed in. Atika Shubert, CNN, Paris.


COOPER: Well, a lot to talk about. Joining me again, is CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank. And you know, it's fascinating you are hearing that guy say, look, she was not very religious at all. We hear that time and time again, for all these people who are, you know, pretending to be so pious, pretending to - that they have read the Koran. I mean she really just radicalized recently, most people who knew her said she never even opened up the book.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We see that time and time again, this very quick radicalization and people telling these youngsters this is a chance to redeem yourself, to come back to the proper path. You are being corrupted by the infidel West, and that's why you were going to parties, alcohol, drugs. All that and kind of stuff. So, the message that's given to them is this is the way to redeem yourself, by joining the cause. And with her, well, she had a cousin, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who by all accounts, was a very domineering personality.


He is a guy that essentially kidnapped his own brother Unis in 2014 from Belgium, and brought him all the way to Syria.

COOPER: And he was, like, 13 years old?

CRUICKSHANK: He's 13 years old. He's one of the youngest kids ever to join ISIS. And his brother, essentially, brainwashed him, forced him to go, abducted him, and so I think they'll be looking at, did he do the same with his female cousin over the last several months in some way, shape, or form.

COOPER: Yeah. I want to return to the situation in Brussels where they have now raised the terrorist threat level to the highest level. Have you ever heard of them doing that?

CRUICKSHANK: This is unprecedented. The only time it's ever gone up to four is very specifically for Jewish institutions in May of 2014 following that attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels by Mehdi Nemmouche, French ISIS fighter. They put it up to four for a while for Jewish institutions. This is for the whole Brussels region. It's suggesting how something specific incredible, only intelligence pointing them in the direction that there may be a terrorist plot in the works, and they are saying that it's potentially imminent, that this is a very, very serious warning. And it also suggests they do not have a handle on it, that they don't know where these plotters are or where they are coming from. Because if they knew that, they would go and arrest them. They would not necessarily put the threat level way up to maximum level.

COOPER: Which is a pretty broad threat level for an entire city, region, telling people to stay out of public transportations, stay out of public areas, and we should point out, this occurred just about, I think, 30 or 40 minutes before we went on air at the top of the hour. So, it's very recent, and a lot of people in Brussels have not even heard about it.

CRUICKSHANK: For all intents and purposes, Brussels is shut down tomorrow. I mean, you can't go to the airport according to the advice. You can't go to train stations. Are they even going to keep the airports open and the train stations open? There's going to be a lot of extra security checks. It would appear on all sorts of roads and sensitive locations. All public gatherings, concerts, theater, football matches, you name it. None of those things will be able to take place tomorrow according to the status.

COOPER: All right. Paul Cruickshank, just ahead, new details in the other major story what they were following, the massacre at a hotel in Mali in Bamako, in the capital of Mali, at least 21 people are killed, now we know including one American. Details ahead.



COOPER: Well, seven days after the attacks here in Paris, there is breaking and now less troubling - no less troubling news elsewhere. At least one American fatality now in the massacre that enfolded today in the former French colony of Mali. It happened in the capital city of Bamako, at a Radisson Hotel with as many as 170 people inside. Heavily armed gunmen, overpowering security, firing everywhere, taking hostages, reportedly cutting one victim's throat. When it was over, at least 21 people had been killed. Later today, State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed the worst. We spoke just a short time ago.


COOPER: John, I know there were a number of Americans inside that hotel. I understand you confirmed that one American was killed?

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We can sadly do that, Anderson, yes, we know that one American citizen was killed in this deadly attack. We were glad that so many were able to get out of the hotel alive, and we are grateful for the support that we got doing that, but, sadly, yes, one American was killed.

COOPER: Has that person's family been notified?

KIRBY: Family notifications have been made, obviously. Out of respect for their privacy, we're not going to release the name, and that's really a decision for the family to make, but our thoughts and prayers are certainly with them tonight.

COOPER: Yeah. As are ours. Do you know, this one - have all Americans now been accounted for?

KIRBY: We believe that we're still actually working through the accountability of all American citizens in Bamako. There are still some works to be done on that. As you know, when you travel overseas, you don't have to tell the State Department where you are and what you are doing. So, our embassy is still working with authorities to do a proper accounting, but we do feel that we have a good handle on those Americans who are at the hotel.

COOPER: So, you feel that all the Americans that were actually inside that hotel have been accounted for?

KIRBY: We have a pretty good feel for that. I won't say definitively, Anderson, it's possible that there could be more American casualties there. I don't want to speculate, but we do know that we got quite a few out and, sadly, we did lose one, but we're still doing accounting on this, and I couldn't say definitely right now that each and every one is accounted for.

COOPER: John, thank you very much.

KIRBY: Thank you.


COOPER: Well, that news of at least one American fatality came as the full, and frankly, horrible picture of what happened snapped into focus. Chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto has more details.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A surprise attack that became an hour's long siege as gunmen stormed this popular American-owned hotel in the capital of Mali. Holding guests and hotel staff hostage. It began around 7:00 in the morning, U.S. time, at the Radisson Blu Hotel, the attackers carrying AK-47 assault rifles, slipping past security in the disguised car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Apparently, the people entered the compound of the hotel, with fake - with diplomatic plates. They came, and immediately they started shooting at people at least before entering the hotel.

SCIUTTO: Approximately 170 guests and hotel staff were trapped inside trying desperately to escape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I opened the door, I saw on the floor bullets, so I gently closed the door, and I went out, and I walked wall to wall, I went back in the gym, and from the gym, out the side door, and I left the hotel.

SCIUTTO: Throughout the morning, reports that some hostages were released. Still fears of mass executions eventually push assault teams to act.

[20:45:02] Police stormed the building, killing some of the attackers. Sources tell CNN at least one member of the U.S. Special Operations forces in Bamako at the time helped get hotel guests to safety. Once inside, police find bodies in the hallways, but also survivors. Among those rescued, the State Department says about a dozen Americans. The hotel, popular among Westerners was hosting a large delegation for peace talks in the former French colony. A country, which has been battling Islamist extremists with the help of U.N. and French forces.

STEPHANE DUJARRIC, SPOKESMAN FOR UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY GENERAL: These attacks are taking place at a time when the peace process in Mali is making good progress, the Secretary General deploys any attempt to derail the implementation of the agreement.

SCIUTTO: The French president Francois Hollande still reeling from the attacks in Paris pledged to provide, quote, necessary support to help Mali resolve the situation.


COOPER: And that was Jim Sciutto reporting. This all brings back memories of a number of attacks, the attacks in Mumbai, of course, seven years ago, almost to the day, a lot has changed, though, since then. Especially when it comes to all these tactics, handling active shooters in public places. Dan Reed directed extraordinary documentaries, "Terror in Mumbai" and "Terror at the Mall," about the mass killings at a Nairobi shopping center. He joins me now. Thanks so much for being with us.

First of all, let's talk about Mali. When you see that attack, a small number of gunmen moving in, able to take 170 people under some form of control, what kind of -- what attack is it similar to?

DAN REED, DIRECTOR/PRODUCER, "TERROR IN MUMBAI": To me, this is most similar to the mall attack in Nairobi, the Westgate mall attack at the end of 2013. It's a small - in Westgate, it was four gunmen, I think this was between two and five, reports differ. They go in, and the idea is to take a number of hostages, but really, not to negotiate, but to use the hostages as a kind of buffer and really to kill as many people as possible in the first half hour.

COOPER: Is taking the hostages to buy time so that they can kill more people elsewhere?

REED: Taking the hostages is, yeah, it's -- in my view, these attackers arrive on the scene, and they expect to be killed very quickly. Usually, it's the lack of an effective counterattack that gives them the time to try improvise to what do we do next? Okay, let's take some hostages. Let's use those as a buffer and try to kill as many more people as we can until the security forces kill us. There's a kind of - there is a new term in the al Qaeda playbook, which is Ingemazi (ph), which is ...

COOPER: Ingemazi. REED: Ingemazi, which is a way to describe a type of al Qaeda operative who goes into the midst of the enemy to cause as much damage as possible. They dress to look like commandos, like police commandos, which is why here in Paris a lot of people thought the attackers in January, in particular look like the French police commanders.

COOPER: Police ...

REED: Yeah, police - correct.

COOPER: Your documentary on Mumbai, which is just extraordinary, ten Pakistani terrorists, basically, paralyzed the city for days, killed 170 people. How similar are these Paris attacks on last Friday to Mumbai? I mean you have multiple locations hit, multiple attackers, multiple teams.

REED: The Paris attacks are very similar to the Mumbai attacks, multiple targets, as you say, many teams fanning out throughout the city, the city become paralyzed by fear, and unexpected attacks happening all over the place. The difference is these attackers had suicide belts, they blew themselves up, that's a difference in style, if you like, in operating procedure. And also these attacks were shut down much more quickly. The French police shut down all the attacks within about three hours.

COOPER: It's, perhaps, I guess, the sign of more things to come, but, again, your documentaries are just extraordinary. I urge everybody to see them if they have not. I mean, the other thing also about Paris, obviously, we don't know that there was a central controller directing them. There's no evidence that there was, which is in Mumbai, what was so extraordinary. There was a central controller in Pakistan telling them, OK, watching TV coverage and saying, OK, kill the hostage now.

REED: In a way, this is a more worrying development. Because whereas in Mumbai, you had a controlling voice. You had ten gunmen being spoken to all the time on their cell phones, being told step by step what to do. Here you have a much more kind of loose self-starting lone wolf type operation where the gunmen go and do what they want.

COOPER: And it's possible, it's unconfirmed yet, but there's some belief that now the ring leader may have actually participated in the attacks himself on Friday night. Again, Dan, thank you so much for being with us. Really fascinating stuff. We cannot say it enough. We are going to be airing both Dan's documentaries this weekend. If you have not seen them, you really should, tomorrow night, 9:00 Eastern, "Terror in Mumbai," it's an extraordinary piece of work. Then at 10:30, "Terror at the Mall", they truly are worth watching or watching again tomorrow night here on CNN.

Up next, though, in this hour, the little boy whose concern over the bad guys struck a chord with people around the world.

[20:50:03] You've probably seen this video. It was watched millions of times around the world. We're going to bring you the rest of my interview with that little boy, Brandon Le, and in his own words, you'll hear how he's coping now.


COOPER: Now to a story we've been following all week, a father trying to ease the mind of his six-year-old son in the wake of last week's attack. The conversation was seen worldwide after a French TV crew recorded it, and a crew from "The Petit Journal" they posted it on Facebook. I sat down with the pair to find out how Brandon is coping after that video was made. Here's what they had to say.


COOPER: What did you tell Brandon? How did you explain it to him? Because that's something I think many people here have been trying to figure out, how to tell their kids about it.

ANGEL LE: I said to him, you have to come to this place for show, to people that we love them too, and we don't forget them, and he know people, so I said, maybe the best way to make him understand is bring him to the place and explain it to him.

COOPER: What was it like, Brandon, to see all those -- the people there, and the flowers and the candles, what did you think?

BRANDON LE: I love the flowers.


COOPER: What kind of flowers do you like? Do you like pink ones or white ones? Yellow?

BRANDON LE: I love blue ones.

COOPER: The blue ones? Did you - were there a lot of candles also?


COOPER: Did you understand why people were there?


ANGEL LE (speaking French)

BRANDON LE (speaking French)

ANGEL LE (speaking French)

BRANDON LE: Speaking French.

ANGEL LE (speaking French)

BRANDON LE (speaking French) COOPER: Do you want to stay in France, Brandon? Because you said before you maybe wanted to go somewhere else.

BRANDON LE (speaking French)

ANGEL LE (speaking French)

BRANDON LE (speaking French)

COOPER: There is flowers everywhere.


COOPER: You are very brave and very smart.

ANGEL LE (speaking French)

BRANDON LE: Thank you.


COOPER: Thank you.


COOPER: Very, very cute. A lot of families are trying to figure out what to say to their kids. A lot of kids are confused about what's happened here over the last week, and, no doubt, what will happen in the future. There's much more ahead from here in Paris. We continue to follow the breaking news tonight, major developments out of Brussels, Belgium, where officials have raised the terror alert to its highest level warning of an imminent threat. Details ahead.