Return to Transcripts main page

CNN'S AMANPOUR

Bombs in Brussels Have Killed 31 So Far; French Investigators Use DNA Identification for Suspect; King Phillippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium Visited Victims of the Brussels Attacks. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 23, 2016 - 15:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [15:00:22] GILLES DE KERCHOVE, DIRECTOR OF JUSTICE AND HOME AFFAIRS, EUROPEAN UNION: When you are confronted with people confronted to die, to

blow themselves up, it's extremely difficult to prevent. (END VIDEO CLIP) CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Plus, the latest on the investigation. Two brothers with criminal records and an unknown suspect, believed still at

large; and the country's Health Minister tells me many of the wounded are suffering severe burns.

Good evening everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. Shock, sadness and even anger as ISIS blows up in the very

heart of Europe and the same scenes play out again, in a familiar loop, since the Paris attacks.

The bombs that ripped through Brussels have so far killed 31 people and wounded 250, some are so severely injured that the death toll is likely to

rise say the authorities. We've just learned that INTERPOL, the International Criminal Police Agency, in fact, a Red Notice for one of the

bombers, Khalid El Bakraoui, who police say was the Brussels metro suicide bomber.

They say his brother, Ibrahim blew himself up at the airport and they are trying to identify the two men seen here on either side of Ibrahim. The

one on the left is presumed dead, while the man on the right is thought to be still at large.

Now the massive influx of migrants and refugees makes security much more difficult and the ongoing wars in Syria and Iraq provide training grounds

and easy access to weapons. As the democratic world vows never to surrender, thousands of miles away in Argentina, the U.S. President, Barack

Obama, promised again to destroy ISIS. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I've got a lot of things on my plate, but my top priority is to defeat ISIL and to eliminate the scourge of this barbaric

terrorism that's been taking place around the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Now, Belgium is on its highest security alert, but thousands came out to gather in the Place de la Bourse earlier today to share in a

nationwide moment of silence. And that is where, now, as night has fallen, we find our Nima Elbagir.

Nima, let's talk about the latest in the investigation. I'm getting some very trusted sources, French sources, telling me that DNA identification

has got them comfortable in saying that the suspect Najim Laachraoui was one of the dead at the Brussels Airport. What are you hearing?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well we have been hearing reports in Belgian media that it's Najim Laachraoui, but we haven't

been able to pin it down from this end, Christiane. If it is Najim Laachraoui, and given that the Belgian authorities have said that the man

in the light colored coat that they are seeking him, then the presumption then would be that that's the gentleman - that that's the man to the left

in that surveillance picture. If it is, indeed Najim Laachraoui, then this really would finally close the loop, in terms of linking the two attacks,

the networks that carried out the Paris attacks and the network that has carried out this attack.

Laachraoui is widely believed to have been the bomb-maker in the Paris attacks. DNA linked him to the Schaerbeek apartment where the bomb in the

Paris attacks - the bombs in the Paris attacks were believed to have been made. There was already a very intense manhunt being carried out here in

the days leading up to this attack, for Laachraoui.

The fear that authorities had, Christiane, was with the capture of Salah Abdeslam, and now looking back at these comments with hindsight, there's

this really horrifying sense of foreshadowing, the Sunday after Salah Abdeslam's capture, the Belgian Foreign Minister said that their biggest

worry was now that they knew, at the time, that there was a network being built around Abdeslam, ready to carry out new attacks, their worry was that

his capture would accelerate those attacks.

As these different linkages start being formed, that is now the picture that's emerging, that, indeed, Salah Abdeslam's capture triggered that

network to fast forward what they were planning and we saw this horrible event unfold yesterday.

AMANPOUR: And, again, you know, in this ongoing security attempt to connect the dots, if, indeed it is Laachraoui that is the dead suicide

bomber that we have yet had formally identified by the Belgian authorities, that does connect a major dot, as you said, between France and Belgium,

these two attacks within four months of each other.

What about the other figure that was captured on that CCTV, who is expected, apparently, to still be at large?

ELBAGIR: Yes, the man in the light-colored jacket. They have - there is an intense manhunt going on for him, and horrifyingly he had left behind

what authorities are saying is the largest bomb, and that detonated, mercifully, not injuring anyone because authorities had already cordoned

off the scene; but that had the largest amount of explosives in it.

It was the taxi driver who picked those three up from their residence in Schaerbeek and took them to the airport that has led authorities back to

Schaerbeek, that has given them the most important lead to pull together all of these threads; and it's the Schaerbeek apartment where they found

the rest of the explosives, with the signatures on them, that they've been matching now to try and really pull together who remains in the network.

These are - even before they became involved with these radical networks, most of the individuals involved with these plots, the two brothers, the

two suicide bombers, Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui were, even before this, very dangerous men, involved in horrifically violent crimes. So now

imagine them radicalized. Imagine with that entrenched ideology, and one of their compatriots similar to them on the run. There's a lot of tension

here in Brussels over all of this Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Yes; again, as everybody waits to see the final confirmation by the Belgian authorities, let's just repeat again how and why Laachraoui is

so important.

He's apparently 25 years old; apparently he has been in Syria; and, apparently, according to the French, played a key role in the Paris attacks

and his DNA, as we know, as found at the Stade de France and he was under a fake Hungarian name, as we also know. Again, they believe that to be, at

least the source in Paris, one of the dead who has yet to be formally identified, having blown themselves up at the airport.

Nima, thank you so much, indeed.

So, why, after Paris, did Belgian authorities fail to connect the dots? Gilles de Kerchove is the EU Counterterrorism Coordinator. I spoke to him

earlier from Brussels, in his first television interview since the attacks.

Mr. de Kerchove, welcome to the program.

DE KERCHOVE, via satellite: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Tell me what your feeling was when this news broke?

DE KERCHOVE: It was a mix of deep emotion, bad feelings and sadness, and at the same time anger because I've been through that so many times and

we've been so mobilized to prevent this, to happen again, that you feel - you really feel bad, as I said.

AMANPOUR: Well let me dig down on that anger because I'm sure a lot of people feel that way. Who could have believed that something like this,

under such a microscope, especially since France, especially since the capture of Abdeslam? Who could have thought that something like this could

have happened?

I do want to ask you, because INTERPOL has now just said that a Red Notice for one of the Bakraoui brother, Khalid El Bakraoui, who was the metro

bomber, Interpol had a standing Red Notice for him and also for another one of those who is linked with him, Najim Laachraoui. I mean, honestly, why

is it that this man was not picked up?

DE KERCHOVE: I cannot answer the question myself. I would say, when you are confronted to people ready to die, to blow themselves up, it's

extremely difficult to prevent. We have done a lot of progress, in terms of information sharing, in terms of border management, but still not enough

it seems so. It's very disappointing.

AMANPOUR: Within four months they have conducted very bold raids in the heart of Europe. We've seen what's happened in France. We've now seen, in

the heart of Europe, Brussels, where you are all based, we see a brazen, blatant terrorist attack on two key installations, you know, right under

the officials' nose; and, as I say, a Red Notice from Interpol.

Let me just put this to you, maybe you can react to it: the Turkish authorities, apparently President Erdogan has said today that in June 2015,

Turkey detained and later deported one of the individuals behind the attack in Brussels. He said Belgian authorities had failed to confirm the

suspects links to terrorism, "despite our warnings". They knew, according to Turkey, and they failed Mr. de Kerchove.

DE KERCHOVE: We'll see. I'm not aware of this, and I don't know whether it's accurate or not. I'll try to get that confirmation from the Belgian.

I cannot really comment on this. This is - you know, we are confronted, not only two or three dozens of people. We are here in the hundreds, if

not in the thousands of people who went to Syria and Iraq. That makes the job much more different than before.

AMANPOUR: Okay; you're absolutely right. Belgium, proportionately, has the most number of jihad's going to Syria, and more than 100 have come back

to Belgium, probably a lot of them in Brussels; but, again, you have the success earlier by getting this fugitive Paris ringleader, or organizer,

Abdeslam, and under your noses, or under the noses of the Belgian authorities, another cell with heavy weapons, high caliber explosives is

planning, and, in fact, carried out this devastating attack yesterday. It beggars belief, what is your solution? What do you, the authorities, have

to face this war?

DE KERCHOVE: Again, I'm sorry to - it's boring to repeat always the same, but more of the same, quicker and more forcefully. I'm asked to report to

the heads of state in government nearly every three months, three months on how members are populating the database, how they do maximize the different

European platform, like Europol, like the sharing information system. We're not fully there yet, and I do my best to put pressure, to report, to

confront the ministers with the blunt figures and we are making progress, but not quickly enough. I have to acknowledge this. What can you say when

you have been witnessing that terrible attack?

AMANPOUR: And so what do you suggest then is the solution? People are suggesting that the whole security response needs to be reinvented?

DE KERCHOVE: It is true, I have said that before, that maybe the country, because of a huge debt and the need to save money, maybe has not invested

in the security sector the way it should and this is not fixed by the current government. So a lot of money is now earmarked to improve

security, but it's not only Belgium; it's the way the member states work together.

Tomorrow the Ministers of Interior will meet in the afternoon and we spend the whole day brainstorming on exactly what is it that they want to say and

discuss. At the core of it, it's again, the way we will use the database and share information in Europe, mobilize all the players, the security

players and the law enforcement agency.

Over the years we have set up specific database for specific purposes. We need to make sure that they are at their (inaudible), among themselves,

that we can trust the data between all these, and check fingerprints, for instance, in these database. That will require difficult discussion with

the European Parliament because in Europe we are extremely sensitive about striking the right balance between security and freedom. Our European

Parliament took four years, if not five years, to agree on what the so called "passenger name record file," allowing the police to get access to

data on passengers. Five years. Why? Because it was considered to be highly sensitive. It is not as sensitive for me, as it is, as it seems for

the European Parliament, but we managed to reach an agreement and I'm very confident that this will be adopted in the coming two or three weeks. This

is significant progress.

AMANPOUR: Do you feel, at this stage, then, that this is, in fact, the new normal and we are going to be faced with this kind of attack for the

foreseeable future, particularly with the war in Syria and Iraq, where they have training grounds, where they have access to weapons and all of that?

DE KERCHOVE: I think for a while. As I've said before, we're likely to have more plots. That doesn't mean they will succeed. If you see the

number of people arrested in the U.K., in France, in Germany, in different parts of Europe and the number of cells which are dismantled, this means

something, that there is a lot of people close to or plotting. But, we are likely to have that more, as I said before, because I think Daish is

feeling bad, feeling on the defensive, and we want to do so. So that's the reason why we need to scale up, extremely quickly, the European response.

AMANPOUR: It's very troubling indeed, and we really appreciate you being with us to discuss this. Gilles de Kerchove, thanks for joining us from

Brussels.

DE KERCHOVE: My pleasure.

AMANPOUR: Now, after a break, as Belgian doctors and nurses battle to save lives, the nation's Health Minister tells me many look like war injuries.

My interview, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:17:31] AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. Today, King Phillippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium visited victims of the Brussels attacks at

the city's Erasmus Hospital. Scores of people have been injured, many of whom suffered severe burns from the bombings. I spoke to the nation's

Health Minister, Maggie de Block, as she shuffled between hospitals and a cabinet meeting with the prime minister. I asked her about the ongoing

operation to care for the injured, and, of course, whatever she knew about the latest on the investigation.

Can you tell me, definitively, the absolute latest numbers of dead and wounded?

MAGGIE DE BLOCK, HEALTH MINISTER, BELGIUM: Well, we have about 260 injured people due to the two attacks, and we have now 31 dead people, but the

number of dead people is still possibly changing because there are very severe injuries and these people are still in critical condition. So we

don't know if they will survive or not.

AMANPOUR: Can you describe some of the most severe injuries, and about how many are the most critically injured?

DE BLOCK: All patients are now in 25 different hospitals because they have such severe injuries and surgeons tells me they are like war injuries, lots

of burns, heavily burned people, but also scratched through to the bones, the explosives and several amputations were needed, and really bad

injuries.

AMANPOUR: Were the worst injuries from the metro blast or from the airport attack?

DE BLOCK: From both.

AMANPOUR: From both.

DE BLOCK: In the airport, the ceiling had come down so that caused lots of injuries; and in the metro there was heat. So they are heavily burned.

AMANPOUR: Do you have all that is necessary, whether it be blood, whether it be skin grafts -

DE BLOCK: Yes.

AMANPOUR: -- whether it be any kind of medicine or doctors, even, enough nurses and facilities to take care of all these people, all at once?

DE BLOCK: Yes, we do. We have very much doctors in our hospitals. There is also a lot of expertise in specialized treatments for burns. We have

military hospital in Belgium, also, which facility is heavily burned people. So there is enough expertise in our country -

AMANPOUR: So some of the wounded, Minister de Block, are at military hospitals as well; is that correct?

DE BLOCK: At first 55 people were sent to the military hospital yesterday, but now some have been relocated because they have had first treatment and

now they want to be closer to their families. Others have been sent to the military hospital because their burn injuries were too heavily to treat in

other hospitals.

AMANPOUR: It is obviously a horrendous situation for you. As a cabinet minister you are, obviously, taking part in the emergency sessions with

your colleagues and with the -

DE BLOCK: Yes.

AMANPOUR: -- prime minister.

DE BLOCK: Yes.

AMANPOUR: What is the latest you can tell me on the investigation?

DE BLOCK: Well the investigation is now going on and the conditions, the explosions on several places, make it not easy for the teams to gather all

the information. But for me, as I'm concerned, I'm concerned for the patients and then I'm glad that we have such huge capacity in our

hospitals. Our medical teams who have done really medical miracles; all the patients I've been talking to, they say it was very fast and effective. So that is

also why we prepared this mass emergency plan.

After the attack in Paris, I asked the hospitals to have another view at their mass plans and they organized the major catastrophe exercises, which

I hoped we would never have to use them but it was, I called it, a worse- case scenario but, unfortunately, yesterday, we needed those plans.

AMANPOUR: Well it's obviously very interesting to hear you say that you put those into effect right after the catastrophic Paris -

DE BLOCK: Yes.

AMANPOUR: -- attacks. Given the number of Belgian citizens who have gone to fight with ISIS, given the hotbed, I'm sorry to say, that exists in your

capital there, weren't you really preparing, didn't you expect this to happen, in other words?

DE BLOCK: Well we certainly were prepared, but we hoped it never would have happened. After Paris we know that Paris is a much less than two

hours from Brussels. So we know if it can happen in Paris, it can happen in Brussels. So we took all the necessary measurements to - measures to

avoid it, but unfortunately they struck at two places on one day.

AMANPOUR: How could these people have been able to continue plotting right in the heart of your community? Who is at fault, Minister? Is it citizens

who are not reporting suspicious activity? Is it, you know, I don't want to say chaos, but sort of apparently intelligence links that are not

shared, too many different types of intelligence and police that are not sharing information? What is it at the heart of this that needs to be

fixed so that these people can be discovered earlier?

DE BLOCK: I am, for the moment, taking care of the patients and I think that is what I have to do. The questions you ask, and other questions,

will be answered in the coming days or weeks. You have a lot of questions; so do I but I'm not the one going to answer them today.

AMANPOUR: My principal question to you is, is this not a war that has been declared, and you may find this happening more often, sadly, we all, in

different European capitals, may find this is the new normal that we have to accept for the foreseeable future? As a cabinet minister, do you feel

confident that your officials, your police, your intelligence, all the other officials get it, get what we're all living with now?

DE BLOCK: I think, um, we say to the citizens that we take all measures so we could give the good example. Citizens are, today, in Brussels, are

already getting on the train. We will reinstall our social life and we have confidence that we will take the necessary measures to avoid this in

the future. So, why wouldn't I be one of those people to have confidence?

AMANPOUR: All right; Minister Maggie de Block, thank you very much indeed for joining us today.

DE BLOCK: Okay; thank you.

AMANPOUR: And just to go over again what is breaking news according to very senior French sources, they try to establish names and a definitive

link between the Paris attacks and these Brussels attacks. Very senior sources told me that, obviously, French intelligence and other forensic

officials are, with the Belgian team, scouring for evidence there because of what they have found at the Stade de France, they believe and they are

prepared to say, the French, that Najim Laachraoui, the man whose DNA was found at the Stade de France, is believed to be one of the dead suicide

bombers at the Brussels airport. They tell me that this is due to DNA identification. He is apparently 25 years old, has been in Syria in

February 2013; and he also, I'm told by my French source, played a key role in the November Paris attack.

He apparently was living under a fake name for a while in Hungary, that name being Soufiane Kayal.

So, that is already what I'm hearing from very senior and trusted sources in France. The Belgian authorities are not quite there yet, Nima. What

can you tell us about what the Belgian authorities are saying? Are they saying the same?

ELBAGIR: Well Belgian counterterror officials are telling us that they do believe that this is Najim Laachraoui who was the second suicide bomber at

the airport, but they're not quite ready yet to say the DNA and the fingerprinting back it up. They say they're still cross-referencing it,

but, at the moment, they're working assumption is that this is Najim Laachraoui.

Just to recap, again, you've already outlined that his DNA was found in the Stade de France. It was the fact that his DNA was found on the suicide

belts at the Stade de France that first led authorities to believe that he was the bomb makers in the Paris attacks. Then, back in January

counterterror officials told CNN, here in Belgium, that they intercepted phone calls between him and Abaaoud, the Paris ringleader, in which

Soufiane Kayal, as he was then known by his alias, now known to be Najim Laachrauoi, appeared to be the one giving the instructions. Bomb-maker,

key conspirator and now Belgian counterterror officials tell us believed to have been one of the suicide bombers killed himself in that airport attack,

Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Nima, thank you. That is a very important piece of this puzzle, and obviously links, definitively, Paris and Brussels, and thus makes it

all the more concerning that these cells are able to operate in the way that they have been able to. So, we'll continue to watch this, and, of

course, Nima, you'll be watching to see what happens of the manhunt, presumably, underway for another of those airport bombers, that one who is

presumed still at large because those security cameras showed three people. There was Ibrahim, the brother. There was apparently Najim Laachraoui, and

also, we're looking for that one in the white, who apparently is still at large.

Nima, thank you so much, from Belgium. And, when we come back, we ask, must we now imagine a world where these kind of attacks are part and parcel

of daily life, following a frightening pattern; next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END