Return to Transcripts main page


Brussels at Highest Terror Alert Level; Officials: "Imminent" Terror Threat in Brussels; Airstrikes in Syria; Mother Battles Against ISIS Recruiting; U.S. Citizen Among 21 Dead in Hotel Terror Attack; Little Boy on the "Bad Guys"; Remembering the Victims. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired November 20, 2015 - 21:00   ET



[21:01:07] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it's a chilly early morning here in Paris and a chilly new day dawning right now in Brussels, which has just gone on maximum terror alert. Officials there warning of a "imminent" threat to the capital, fallout almost certainly from the attacks here seven days ago, and the ongoing manhunt for one of the gunmen who lived in a Brussels neighborhood. We know, obviously, there had been multiple raids throughout Belgium in the last seven days. CNN senior investigator correspondent Drew Griffin is in Brussels. He joins us now. Drew, explain what this new terrorist alert means.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's their highest level, it means that there is a serious and imminent threat, this is according to the press release from the interior minister, and this is the first time that a region, an entire region in Brussels has gone to this level for threat assessment.

They're basically advising the public, I mean, I could read you what it says, but it basically says stay away from groups of other people, stay away from concerts, theaters, from, I assume Christmas markets like being set up behind me. Really somewhat unprecedented for Brussels. They have been making these threat assessments since 2006, and, apparently, according to a release tonight, because of an analysis that was done by their ministry of threats, they had decided to put this out.

You know, it's the middle of the night here and most of the people have not gotten word. there is going to be some kind of a government announcement we are told tomorrow morning, Anderson?

COOPER: And Drew, we don't know if this relates directly to the eighth terrorist suspect who is believed to have been or at least gone heading towards Belgium at last point he was seen when he was pulled over. It's known he took part in the terror attacks here in Paris on Friday. His whereabouts are still unknown, obviously. There's a massive manhunt. But there had been a lot of raids in Belgium over the last seven days. GRIFFIN: Yeah, there was a raid just yesterday, early in the morning yesterday, nine different locations. Now, some of them were not directly related to the hunt for Salah Abdul Salam, but two of them were. One person was taken into custody and was held in connection with that. The rest of the people that were taken into custody have been released.

So police here are still actively searching and serving out search warrants in that investigation. They, obviously, believe he still may be here, but as far as any definitive information on where he is, they really don't seem to have any idea, and I would think because of the breadth of this kind of terror threat warning, that to me says that they really don't have a handle on everything. They don't have a specific threat. They wouldn't release an imminent warning this wide if they had a specific threat that they were actually going after.

COOPER: Yeah, Drew, thank you for the report.

I want to bring in CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank, also CNN military analyst, Cedric Leighton, who in addition to founding a strategic risk and leadership consulting firm, served 26 years in air force intelligence, joining us as well is senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward who spent the day at the terror hideout in Saint-Denis, the police raided on Wednesday (inaudible) in the lengthy shootout and the explosion that followed.

Certainly, Paul, this is a major development, and again, to just piggyback on what Drew said, the idea that this really covers the Brussels region is unprecedented.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Unprecedented. They would not have taken this step lightly. They are essentially shutting down Brussels tomorrow, telling people not to go to train stations, not to go to airports, not to go to any public spaces. They're clearly very, very worried indeed about the potential, but obviously Belgium was a stating point for this attack in Paris on Friday, and there are still people at large in that fall, but I think this probably goes beyond that, just because it's so unprecedented to ratchet this up all the way up to level four, where there's a serious and imminent threat of a terrorist attack.

[21:05:03] And I think back to that plot that Belgians plotted, in Eastern Belgium, in Verviers, that was actually Mullenbach base cell, which Abdelhamid Abaaoud was coordinating from Greece. They had very major plans to launch terrorist attacks probably in Belgium back in January, gathered (inaudible), all the materials you need to make TATP, and they'd also gathered police uniforms, and that made the Belgians believe that they may be trying to gain access to sensitive sites by posing as police officers, and just think of the panic that would ensue if the people -- the public think of that to protect them, all of a sudden, they're terrorists and they're armed with (inaudible).

And so they all -- they've had a lot of ingenious planning, these ISIS recruits, these Belgian and French ISIS recruits. There's still a network in Syria which is trying to propel them forward to launch attacks. It may well be the plan all along was to do something in Belgium as well as France just because of the number of Belgian recruits that were recruited into the network.

COOPER: And we don't know -- I mean, at this point, it's early days, colonel, we don't know the full plan that was in place. You know, a lot of people in your -- particularly in France, point to Belgium as sort of the weak link in the intelligence network, in the ability to really have a firm grip on the number of jihadists who are there.

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, that's certainly true, Anderson and a lot of people on the street here in Paris will say absolutely those kinds of things. Now when it becomes to the actual performance of the Belgian security forces, it's actually a lot better than the popular impression is.

COOPER: It is.

LEIGHTON: But having said that, they certainly don't have the resources that the French security services have or the English security services, so there is a major difference and you can't expect them in a resource-constrained environments which all the European countries have right now to get to the level that would be a pervasive security environment where these kinds of things couldn't happen. That's just an impossible thing, and unfortunately, we are paying the price for it right now.

COOPER: Clarissa, it's fascinating, we really see this in (inaudible) in Belgium where so many of these guys involved in these attacks here in Paris came from or used to live, they all kind of know each other, and how often these cells are really comprised of people who have history together. They met in prison. They were in a gang together. They did petty crimes together. They were doing burglaries together and the like.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think you're seeing two major shifts in jihad. The first major shift is recruitment. Recruitment used to be done in mosques. The jihadists or the mujahideen were Arabic-speaking people in caves in Afghanistan. The whole thing was way more abstract. Now, these are your own friends who are recruiting you from the battlefields of Syria and they're doing it on telegram and Surespot and WhatsApp. So that's been a change.

The other major change is who is being appealed to, and you're seeing so many of these young men who have criminal records, who have backgrounds on the streets, who've been involved with gangs, who are suddenly drawn to the jihad, and what criminologists say is that really creates this toxic brew, you have the radical zealot meets the petty criminal, he knows how to buy weapons, he knows how to stay below the radar, he knows how the police work, and that is a very dangerous and very powerful combination.

COOPER: You also -- as we said, you spent the day in Saint-Denis where the raids took place just the other morning. There's a lot of new information about actually now what happened. The reports we had yesterday were very early, early hour reports. Authorities thought it was a female suicide bomber, the female cousin of the ringleader detonated a suicide device. They now say that's not the case at all.

WARD: Exactly. So it's a quickly developing situation, nearly 72 hours after this raid took place. We're still just starting to get a better picture of what actually happened in this apartment. And there's two major developments that we saw today. First of all, the cousin of Abaaoud is not now believed to be the one who detonated the -- that explosive vest. She in fact was likely killed by the impact or perhaps by police bullets during the course of the raid. The second thing is there was a third person who was killed in the apartment. We know nothing about him except that he is a man, and so the question is, who is that third person?

COOPER: Did they just find his body or his -- or parts of his body?

WARD: Well, they certainly have just told us that they have found his body.

COOPER: Right.

WARD: So obviously, there's a lot that they're not sharing with the media immediately, but what I can tell you Anderson, having spent the day there, there are still teams of forensic experts going in and out of that apartment, day in and day out. There's still a tent set out just next to it. They're taking samples, they're trying to work out who was in that apartment, who was this third person, how does it all relate to this larger picture that we're now seeing spread across Belgium. And so I think well yesterday everyone was sort of excited to hear that Abaaoud had been killed, now there's a sense of, OK, but this is still an ongoing operation. There are still people at large.

[21:10:01] COOPER: And, Colonel, the potential for intelligence gathering from that apartment itself could be critical, just as they gathered intelligence from cellphones that were found near the scene, just as they gathered information from the cars that were left behind here in France. There could be cellphones, there could be computers, there could be other things in that apartment.

LEIGHTON: Absolutely. So not only is the forensic investigation ongoing, but there's also an intelligence investigation that piggybacks off the forensics. And what you see is basically something just like what happened after Osama Bin Laden was killed.

You will find that, you know, when we went in there with the U.S. Special Forces, they combed that place as best as they could and gathered troves of data, that's exactly what the French authorities were doing here as best as they can, and they're going to use as much information that they can from cellphones, from other sources, even talking to neighbors, and kind of building that web of intricacy there, where do these people go? What did they do? Who did they talk to? And how did they move forward? How did they plan the operation?

COOPER: And the fact that there's still so much we don't know a week after the attacks in Paris about what occurred here one week ago, I mean, two people believed to have taken part in those attacks, they -- whereabouts unknown, a man hunt out for one of them, but we don't know the identity of the second person who may have been in one of the vehicles with Salah Abdeslam.

We don't know who made the suicide devices, whether that was here in France, whether that was in Belgium or elsewhere, how many other vests or suicide belts that are maybe out there. There's still a lot of pieces to the puzzle.

CRUICKSHANK: Anderson, that reflects the fact that authorities themselves, security agencies here in France, in Belgium, and elsewhere have been scrambling all week to understand the threat, and there have been many sleepless nights, I can tell you, I've spoken to a lot of people involved in the investigation, and they are chasing absolutely everything right now.

They fear that there could be something else in the works, a third act planned potentially, I mean, thank God they thwarted that imminent plot the other day by going into the safe house. I mean, that would have been potentially a terrorist spectacular with the whole world's media here to cover it, and ISIS is just increasingly ambitious. They're going more and more into international terrorism. There's a network behind this in Syria, French and Belgian recruits have climbed up the hierarchy. There's a senior ringleader in the Paris plot, a suspected senior ringleader, Fabien Clain who was working hand in hand with Abdelhamid Abaaoud. They clearly felt Abaaoud was dispensable, they could send him back, but there's some senior brains plotting more outrageous in Europe.

COOPER: Paul Cruickshank, Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you, Clarissa Ward as well.

We're going to take you to Syria, inside Syria just ahead where Nick Paton Walsh reports from the frontlines of the battle against ISIS. He was able to get close to the terror group's stronghold. We'll hear form him.


[21:16:32] COOPER: Belgian authorities expected to all but shut down Brussels tomorrow warning the "imminent" terror threat and with new developments in the hunt for the killer who once lived in a Brussels neighborhood, there obviously remains a lot to keep an eye on here, and it's not just Brussels and Paris, it's Raqqah in Syria, the ISIS stronghold.

Since the terror attacks here in Paris one week ago, France has been hitting Raqqah with airstrikes. Our Nick Paton Walsh was actually able to get close to the city near the frontlines where Kurdish fighters are battling ISIS. I spoke to him just before we went to air tonight.


COOPER: So Nick, what's it like there on the frontlines?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have to say towards Raqqah, we were 20 miles away from it earlier on today, and it is quiet. There are a small handful of Kurdish fighters defending that particular frontline and they do occasionally come under fire from ISIS.

Raqqah itself is still far in the distance, but it is remarkable to be close enough to be able to hear (inaudible) fighters talking about the uptick in French airstrikes, then and also to see quite their reaction to those airstrikes as well.

In fact, only today we are hearing from Raqqah is Slaughtered Silently, one of the Raqqah activist groups who get pretty good information. But they say -- they believe four Russian missile strikes hit the west of that particular city, and at the same time, they also say that in fact, ISIS tried to launch four homemade rockets in the direction of the Kurdish frontlines.

Very much an area of heightened tension now, and Anderson, the remarkable thing to see and feel is that despite the broad recognition, frankly, that the Kurdish forces don't have the numbers to make the move on Raqqah, the talk amongst them is that onslaught is imminent, however farfetched that may sound. They want extra west in help and they feel somehow the move on the capital of the self- declared caliphate is somehow in their grasp, Anderson.

COOPER: So Nick, for somebody who's living in Raqqah who wants to try to get out, is that possible? I mean, can they leave?

WALSH: We don't know at this stage, unfortunately. We do know ISIS have had a (inaudible) sealed grip on that area since they moved in last year, controlling who comes in, who goes out.

We also hear that perhaps it's beginning to crumble slightly because some activists are suggesting that perhaps ISIS' leaders have tried to leave from the east of the city, potentially towards Mosul in Iraq, but finding that journey really tricky because the (inaudible) we saw ourselves had taken the town (inaudible) on the main highway between Raqqah and Mosul.

But still, you can't possibly imagine that under the volume of airstrikes they've seen in the past three to four days, that hasn't somehow had an impact on their ability to look after the city or at least repress it. But the reports of the civilian casualties have been so far, few and far between one instance two nights ago now of seven dead when a fuel truck was struck to the south of the city.

Apart from that, nothing we're hearing of, but hard to get a full overview of what's happening inside Raqqah because of how ISIS runs it, Anderson.

COOPER: Yeah. Nick Paton Walsh, stay safe, Nick, thanks.


COOPER Well, Michael Weiss is the coauthor of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror and senior editor at the Daily Beast and as well as a CNN contributor. He's done a sense of reporting on ISIS. I spoke with him a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Michael, the question of what exactly is going on inside Raqqah right now, I mean, how much of ISIS command and control is still there, do we know?

MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, most of it is still there. You know, they alternate between Raqqah and Mosul.

[21:20:05] But look, the upper echelons of the organization is populated by Iraqis, right? Raqqah is their capital, their Washington, D.C. is Abdul Khalid, the defector told me. They have a headquarters there. They've got their Sharia court there. They've got administrative services, prisons, you name it. Training camps in the Raqqah countryside, also in the Aleppo countryside particularly surrounding the two towns, they control Manbij and Al-Bab.

If they lose Raqqah, they're not completely out of the picture, but that is a hammer blow defeat. I mean, that would be the beginning of the end for them.

COOPER: And one of the things you detailed in your article is just how extensive the operations, I mean, the setup that they have in Raqqah is, and how extensive control is that ISIS has on the city.

WEISS: Completely. I mean, it's a totalitarian -- I'm always of using the word "state" because you sort of do their propaganda for them, but it does function like a quasi-state, and they absolutely exert the level of population control that frankly you don't see outside of, you know, these sort of authoritarian regimes that have dominated the Middle East since the end of World War I or I should say since, you know, the end of World War II really.

Saddam Hussein comes to mind, and, again, here's where their influence in the Iraqi Mukhabarat and the military intelligence services and you know, the sort of republic of fear security apparatus that had been constructed by the Baath Party over several decades informs the way ISIS rules.

COOPER: And just like a totalitarian state, I mean, the arms of state security monitor each other and turn on each other, seems like there's all these different sort of competing state actors.

WEISS: Exactly.

COOPER: Who are looking to go against others who are also supporters of ISIS.

WEISS: Exactly. I mean, they have four main security branches, domestic intelligence sort of like their state security, like their FBI or their Shin Bet, military intelligence, they've got a foreign intelligence apparatus, and they have something that's sort of a cross between a national police and an interior ministry.

And you're quite right. All of these guys spy and inform on each other, much like the Assad Mukhabarat in Syria does. You know, these guys compete, not only for prestige and dominance to impress their higher ups, the amir or the wali, which is the governor, but they also -- they are tasked by different (inaudible) or departments to keep an eye on what each of them is doing.

This is a complete climate of fear and paranoia and population control. The way that they've been able to take terrain is exactly what you said and what I've been alluding to. It's trade craft. So they're rich, right? They control the oil fields of Syria, they made a lot of money trafficking in hostages, they charge taxes on both the Islamic and non-Islamic populations they lord over. They charge fines, civil penalties. What do they do with the money?

Well, one of the things they do is they dispatch sleeper agents into non-ISIS held territory, pre-Syrian territory, equipped with $300,000 to $400,000 and they tell them, go found your own katiba, your own battalion, or better yet, infiltrate an existing one, and then with all that wealth, you can sort of creep your way to the top, and before long, you'll be the top commander, the brigade commander and whether or not the rank in file realize it, you're going to manipulate them. You will steer them in our direction. That's how ISIS took over a third of Syria.

COOPER: Which certainly raises lots of questions about what it means for the U.S. and others who want to support different factions, who exactly are they supporting. Do they really know who they're supporting? Michael Weiss, again it's a fascinating article to read in the Daily Beast, Michael, thank you.

WEISS: Sure, my pleasure.


COOPER: Just ahead, one of the biggest challenges in the battle against ISIS, vulnerable young men and women being actively recruited online. How to keep them from becoming radicalized. A mom who lost her son has become a force in the fight against ISIS. We'll talk to her ahead.


[21:28:01] COOPER: The attacks in Paris have created a new sense of urgency on many fronts, including how to keep young people from joining ISIS in the first place. Most of the Paris attackers have been identified were born in Europe, at least three were French nationals. The father of one of the terrorists actually went to Syria to try to convince his son to abandon ISIS. So many families have lost sons and daughters to the terror group, a mom in Canada lost her son is now waging her own war on terror. Here again is senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin.


GRIFFIN: Chris Boudreau may not look like it, but right now she is battling ISIS.

CHRISTIANNE BOUDREAU, SON DIED FIGHTING FOR ISIS: These recruiters are really slick and they make you believe that it is something different than what it is and he kept stalking her online, and a couple times she'd ignore him, and he'd blow up. GRIFFIN: A 23-year-old woman from the U.S. is being stalked, close to

joining ISIS and traveling to Syria. The woman's family contacted Boudreau, and an intervention began.

BOUDREAU: Proud of her.

GRIFFIN: And that's a success story so far?


GRIFFIN: In less than two hours in her Calgary home, three separate families reach out to her, desperate for help.

BOUDREAU: Shouldn't even be happening to your family.

GRIFFIN: They call, they find her for one reason, she has lived this nightmare.

BOUDREAU: There's Damian raiding the pantry and the fridge again.

GRIFFIN: Three years ago it was her son who became the target of a radical Islamic recruiter. Canadian authorities now believe Damian and several other young Muslims were recruited straight out of a downtown Calgary mosque and literally led to the battlefield without their families suspecting a thing. Chris' son, Damian would be dead in months, killed fighting for ISIS just outside Aleppo, Syria.

BOUDREAU: How can somebody take such a bright mind and twist it and convince them that they are doing the right thing? They believe they are doing right.


[21:30:01] COOPER: Earlier, I spoke to Christianne Boudreau and also CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward who's done a lot of reporting on ISIS.


COOPER: Christianne, as we watch, your son Damian was recruited, radicalized without your family suspecting a thing. Looking back, what do you think was the biggest sign that you may have missed that might help other parents out there?

BOUDREAU: I think the biggest thing was just the switch in his personality. Going from a really peaceful, settled young man, very social, open, sharing his ideas, open with the family, bringing his friends in. He went from that to very secretive, private, taking all his phone calls outside so we couldn't hear, friends stopped coming by, he wasn't traveling the same circles, and he put his youth group ahead of family activities, and you could tell he was much more agitated and bothered by various ideas.

COOPER: Clarissa, you've done extensive reporting on this, even traveling to Syria, meeting with westerners. Is this the kind of story you hear -- you've heard a lot? WARD: Yeah, I mean, there really isn't a one size fits all approach

to radicalization. You see some young men who are more vulnerable, who are attracted to groups like ISIS because they want to have a sense of belonging, they want to have a sense of meaning and purpose in their life. They want to be part of that brotherhood. Other guys who maybe have more criminal backgrounds, more street kids, and they are attracted to the idea of being able to make an impact, being able to make a mark, having power, getting to pose with heavy weapons.

COOPER: And you were saying that often the parents of those kids who had been in trouble in the past are often pleased initially that their kids now seem pious, seem interested in a religion.

WARD: Exactly. I think initially, parents sometimes miss some of the signs because they're so glad that their sons are no longer staying out all night, using bad language, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, using drugs, stealing cars, whatever it may be. There's an initial embracing of the change because it seems that their children kind of have their lives more in order, and it takes a while before they realize that sometimes it's actually something far more sinister that's taking place.

And interestingly, one thing I've noted, again, it's not for everyone, but several of the young jihadists that I talk to, western jihadists inside Syria and Iraq lost their fathers during their teenage years so I think there's also a sense of yearning, of longing, of stretching, wanting to become something and fill those footsteps.

COOPER: Christianne, you meet with families whose kids are being recruited by radicals, are in danger. What do you say to them?

BOUDREAU: All the best that we can do is try to redirect them and try to engage in a tighter relationship. So we try to coach the families if that youth is still here and still in their home country, try to help them reconnect, find out what the driving factors are, find out what their motivations are, and try to redirect in a positive way, try to remove some of the panic in their emotions so that they're not pushing them away with that essential emotional panic. If their loved ones already traveled, that we want to keep the connection open, try to keep as much normalcy as we can in the conversation so they're not finding a reason to cut their families off completely so that we can keep those channels of conversation open for regular dialogue.

COOPER: Christianne, I'm trying to imagine people watching this, and I imagine there's some people who are skeptical that a parent wouldn't realize something was going on, and obviously, we've heard from many parents time and time again, and in your case especially, that they did not know, that they did not see that. How do you sort of convince somebody or explain to somebody how a parent might not realize what was going on?

BOUDREAU: Well, it's very easy not to realize. First of all, if you have no understanding of the issue, it's not something that's out there in the schools. It's not something we're educating everybody about. We're trying to create awareness, but it's not out there necessarily. Plus, if you're close to your child emotionally, you always want to think in the best for them, so if they are going through positive change, like Damian did when he first converted, he was very positive. He was bringing people home again. Very open. Working. We saw great positive changes. And that's what we try to attach ourselves to. And that we don't want to see him like we're overly panicking about nothing, and that's very difficult to understand within ourselves as a parent. Are we going too far? Are we panicking too much? Maybe it's nothing. You try to dismiss it and hope that they're going to find their way.

COOPER: Christianne Boudreau I appreciate you speaking out with us, thank you and Clarissa as well, thank you.


COOPER: Coming up next, breaking news in the attack on a hotel today in the capital of Mali, in Bamako, 21 killed including we're learning one American whose brother is speaking out tonight about the sister he lost.


[21:38:42] COOPER: As we continue to monitor breaking news out of Belgium, there's breaking news as well out of the former French colony of Mali where gunmen struck a hotel this morning in the capital, Bamako.

Among the 21 killed by terrorists, at least one American, Anita Datar, according to the Washington Post, an international development worker from Takoma Park, Maryland.

In a statement just out, her brother says, "Anita was one of the kindest and most generous people we know. She loved her family and her work tremendously. Everything she did in her life she did to help others, as a mother, public health expert, daughter, sister, and friend."

Our thoughts are certainly with her and her family tonight. A moment ago, President Obama said that she and the others who perished would be remembered of the joy and the love they brought to the world.

More now in the attack from CNN from Robyn Kriel.


ROBYN KRIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Gunmen stormed the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako at around 7 a.m. Friday morning, firing automatic rifles and taking dozens of hostages.

As many as 170 people were inside the hotel at the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two to three people entered the hotel with a AK- 47, they came, and immediately they started shooting at people at least before entering the hotel. KRIEL: The hotel is popular with foreigners with guests from France, China, India, Turkey, and the U.S. staying there at the time. Witnesses reported hearing gunfire and explosions coming from inside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw bullets on the floor in the lobby.

KRIEL: A Chinese tourist shot this video from a window of the hotel as Mali security forces surrounded the building. With the help of U.N. troops, they launched a counterassault to rescue the hostages. At least two U.S military personnel assisted outside the hotel.

a state department spokesman says about a dozen Americans were rescued. By late afternoon, all the hostages had been freed or escaped.


COOPER: And Robyn Kriel joins us from Nairobi, Kenya, where she has been monitoring developments. Who's claiming responsibility for this attack, Robyn?

KRIEL: Two separate groups said that we know of at the moment, Anderson, the al-Qaeda and the Islamic Maghreb, as well as al- Murabitoun.

Now, al-Murabitoun is interesting because they claimed responsibility for a bombing at a bar inside Bamako just a few months ago as well as a hotel bombing in Central Mali. Quite similar modus operandi to the bombing -- rather the attack this morning on the hotel in the Raddison Blu Hotel inside Bamako.

They also attacked very, very early on a Friday morning, and how the number of people hostage 17 people died in that siege. Twenty-one have died in the Raddison Blu Hotel siege. That is for now.

COOPER: Robyn Kriel reporting. Robyn, thank you.

Newspaper Reporter Jerrah Mamadou was on the scene today. He obviously witnessed a lot, captured some of it on camera. He spoke to one of our producers a short time ago.




COOPER: A war scene in Bamako. Joining us now is France24 correspondent and international affair editor, Melissa Bell, has done extensive reporting from the region. Thank you so much for being with us. What do we know about this group that's claiming responsibility?

MELISSA BELL, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS EDITOR, FRANCE24: Well, it's called al-Murabitoun. It is a group of a man called Mokhtar -- Belmokhtar whose death has been speculated on many times in the past.

COOPER: He's taking over that oil refinery in Algeria.

BELL: Precisely. The very deadly attack in 2013 on that oil refinery, and that's really when his name shot to international notoriety. He was thought back in June that he'd been killed in an American strike in Libya. And at the time, the French President (inaudible) in Southern Algeria said that as far as the French believed he was dead. Now, there's some doubt about that given what his group has been able to carry out.

It is a group that's affiliated to al-Qaeda. There are a number of groups that operate in Northern Mali which has been in the hands of -- spent some time in the hands of Islamist beyond 2012.

The French intervention managed to push them back, but of course not to stamp out the presence of the groups entirely. And this includes al-Murabitoun. Of course, you're talking about a part of the world where the borders are very porous, it's very inhospitable, largely uninhabited, the whole region. And these groups operate fairly freely in many parts of Northern Mali, Southern Algeria.

COOPER: Do they have much support there?

BELL: There are actually not that many people that live there. The problem with that part of the world is that they just -- there's the Tuareg population that's ...

COOPER: Right.

BELL: ... been wanting independence for a very long time. And what happened in 2012 when they were able to take over that part of Mali was that the Islamist have joint forces with the Tuaregs and the Malian army simply couldn't cope, hence the puts -- then -- took over power in Bamako leading to the Islamist being able to take these more grounds in going as far as sort of not quite physical, but geographical border that divide Southern Mali from Northern Mali.

[21:45:18] So still these groups continue to operate. And I think what surprised everyone is that this group was able to carry out this attack.

COOPER: In the capital.

BELL: In the capital. In a highly secured part of Bamako where there are checkpoints wherever you go, where all the ministries in the Malian capital are. And this particular hotel, you actually physically have to get your car through a checkpoint, the car is searched, the boot is open. Security guards have to look at everything before they allow you in. So-- Which is why, of course, the use of the diplomatic plates ...

COOPER: Right.

BELL: ... is necessary to get this group in. But it was a highly organized attack on the part of Bamako that is difficult to get into, which gives you an idea of the strength of the group ...


BELL: ... even now.

COOPER: Right. It's fascinating. (inaudible), I appreciate your reporting. Thank you so much. It's just an amazing amount of information there.

There's a lot more to tell you about orders going on in Mali and also here in France and in Belgium.

Still ahead, explaining tragedy to a child. The tough conversation between a dad and son that became the focus of international attention following the Paris attacks.

You may have seen the video of a reporter from Le Petit Journal talking to a father and son about guns and flowers. And we caught up with the father and son to see how they're doing now.



[21:50:03] COOPER: Now to a story we've been following all week. While standing at the memorial behind me days after the Paris attack, a father tried to explain to his young son what happened here.

Their conversation ended up being viewed millions of times around the world after the French T.V. outlet, the show, Le Petit Journal recorded it and posted it on Facebook. Here's a piece of that exchange.




COOPER: We were able to track down the father and son. I sat down with Brandon and his dad, Angel Le to see how they're doing now.


COOPER: What did you tell Brandon and 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, I said you have to come to this place to show to people we love them too, and we don't forget them. And he know these people is dying. So I said to him maybe the best way to make him understand is bring him to the place and explain 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: I love the flowers.

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

BRANDON: I love blue ones.

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


COOPER: Yeah? Did you understand what -- why people were there?



COOPER: Do you want to stay in France, Brandon? Because you said before maybe you wanted to go somewhere else.


COOPER: There's flowers everywhere.


COOPER: You're very brave and very smart.


BRANDON: Thank you.

COOPER: Thank you.


COOPER: Very brave and smart and adorable. Still ahead, our special tribute to the men and women who lost their lives here in this city one week ago.


[21:58:47] COOPER: While eating dinner and enjoying a soccer game, dancing. This is what the victims of last week's attack were doing when terror struck.

In all, 130 were killed here just seven days ago. And tonight, the city remains in mourning. Despite a ban on public demonstrations, Parisians gathered at memorials to mark the anniversary.

And we want to take a moment and step back to honor those victims by sharing with you the names that have been made public.

And one last item before we go. We have just gotten photographs of the Washington D.C. area woman who was killed this morning in Mali. Anita Datar, just 41 years old, a public health expert, veteran of the Peace Corps, a fallen hero.

That does it for us. CNN Tonight with Don Lemon starts now.