Return to Transcripts main page
THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Trump vs. Cruz; More ISIS Attacks Coming?; "Dotted Lines" Link Brussels Attacks to ISIS in Syria. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired March 24, 2016 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Sources tell me ISIS has plans to hit Europe again and soon.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Breaking news: a new warning from U.S. counterterrorism officials that more attacks are on the way, as the manhunt for ISIS terrorists intensifies.
Plus, new information tonight from counterterrorism officials, including a second suspect now wanted in the Brussels bombings, as we learn that ISIS leadership in the Middle East may have been calling the shots for this cell.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald, you're a sniveling coward, and leave Heidi the hell alone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: The brand-new sound, Senator Ted Cruz coming back hard at Donald Trump over his latest tweet about Mrs. Ted Cruz.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BROWN: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.
And we begin with breaking news in our world lead. U.S. counterterrorism officials are warning that more terror attacks could be on the way in Europe, this as we learn that two people are now wanted in connection to the Brussels terror attacks and they may only represent a fraction of the danger that is out there right now.
Multiple sources tell CNN that U.S. officials believe more people connected to the Brussels terror cell are at large in Europe and plotting attacks in the near future. Maps found in the apartment raid indicate other potential targets have already been selected, and officials say they don't know if the recent raids or arrests have stopped them or if they're still being planned. There's evidence these guys are floating around in Europe and haven't
been rounded up yet and hope to large an attack, one official told me, adding: "There is a constant drumbeat and fear something else is going to happen."
That concern was reflected in the State Department alert, warning U.S. citizens traveling to Europe that terrorists continue to plot near- term attacks. As Belgian police hunt for the terrorists responsible for Tuesday's carnage, intelligence officials have the tough task of unraveling the plot before another unfolds.
Let's go straight to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, who's also live in Brussels.
Nick, what are you learning?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pam, some news tonight from the man known as the ISIS bomb-maker linking the Paris attacks, where he had a very technical role to these Brussels attacks too, where he's thought to be behind the main explosive devices.
Najim Laachraoui, now, this man's family giving a press conference, but there were no cameras, in which they -- quote -- "firmly condemned" his actions, his brother Mourad making it clear, in fact, that they hadn't spoken to him since he left for Syria back in 2013.
At that time, they warned the police. This formed part of a pattern of warnings about this man and the other men involved in these attacks that appear to have been missed by Belgian authorities. Tonight, they have lowered the threat level from its highest, from four down to three, but the political ramifications and questions about what they did and didn't do are growing.
WALSH (voice-over): Screams amid the devastation. Firefighters tend to someone who looks severely injured. A taxi driver shot this video while searching for his son who he'd just dropped off at the airport.
Tonight, the manhunt intensifies for the terrorists behind the bloody scenes. Three of the attackers are dead and authorities are looking for two others. This man in white captured on surveillance footage at the airport is on the run, and now word of a second suspect caught on a security camera holding a large bag at the attacked metro station.
His whereabouts and whether he's dead or arrive are unknown. Belgium's interior minister responsible for preventing attacks on the homeland offered to quite today, admitting that Belgian authorities may have missed to chance to stop Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the airport bombers.
JAN JAMBON, BELGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): Given the facts, I think it is justified that people ask questions, that people ask how is it possible that someone was released early and we missed a chance when he was in Turkey to detain him? WALSH: Bakraoui was arrested in Turkey in 2015. He was then deported back to Europe, where he was set free.
(on camera): What happened with the information?
(voice-over): We pressed Jambon on how the mistake was made, but he refused to answer our questions.
(on camera): So there were a number of occasions in which there were very clear warnings about the links between all these attackers and the potential for terrorism?
Remarkable decision by the interior minister here to not answer any questions at all, despite the growing evidence of substantial information being passed to the Belgian government about the links between all these attackers and terrorism.
(voice-over): With suspects still on the loose, commuters in Brussels fear another attack may come.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to be careful because they're walking around between us. It's maybe today, it's maybe in a month, it's maybe in one year, but they're still going on.
WALSH: Now, what were those warnings?
Well, Khalid El Bakraoui, a red notice on Interpol against him, Najim Laachraoui, red notice on Interpol against him, sought after the Paris attacks, Ibrahim El Bakraoui deported from Turkey to Holland, and the Dutch now saying that they never actually got a warning about terrorism from the Turkish and received an e-mail 26 minutes before the man's flight took off.
So many questions here and, frankly, ones loud enough and reverberative enough for the interior minister to offer his resignation, but frankly because they consider themselves to be "at war" here, he's keeping in his job right now -- Pam.
BROWN: Yes, clearly, a big disconnect here and the question is could these attacks have been prevented. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you very much.
I want to bring in the panel now, CNN terrorism analyst and former CIA official Phil Mudd, CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank. He's editor in chief at "CTC Sentinel." Also with me, CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer. He's a former CIA operative.
Paul, first to you, because we have some new reporting now, this information from officials that other attacks in Europe are in the works, possibly from people connected to the Paris and Brussels cells. it's clear that even before the Brussels attacks, this particular group of people had bigger plans that what they eventually carried out, right?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Pam, that's exactly right.
And Belgian officials believed there were going to be two attack teams involved in the conspiracy to launch a bigger attack in Brussels, in Belgium in the weeks to come. But the second of those nodes had to accelerate their plans when the first team were arrested.
And they believe that the members of that first team included Salah Abdeslam and the overall plot ringleader, Mohammed Bakkali. Now, they were inside a safe house last week when Belgian security services stumbled upon them. They weren't expecting them to be there.
They went in, there was a big gun fight, and Salah Abdeslam managed to escape for a little while, for three days. When they went inside that residence, they found Kalashnikov. They found an ISIS flag. They found ammunition. They found detonators.
All of that suggested that that team were planning a Paris-style attack in Brussels, a gun and bomb attack in Brussels. Investigators were not, however, able then to roll up the second team in time before they launched an attack. But they are believed to have accelerated their attack plan. They had an extraordinary amount of explosives, enough for a team at least twice as big. This could have been twice as bad, Pam.
And just to think that Salah Abdeslam is right now in custody, Phil, his lawyer initially said he was cooperating and then these attacks happened, and we still have two unidentified people on the loose or more that could be connected to these attacks. He's not really cooperating at all, it seems.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't think he was from day one. Look, the question isn't as simple as, did he know whether an attack was imminent? Maybe. I doubt it. But maybe the answer is, he didn't know. That's not the right question. That is what his lawyer is talking about.
The right question is, do you know where they're mixing explosives? Immediately after the event, the first thing you're going to do is to take that screen shot from the photo in the airport and say, who are these guys? He ought to be able to identify them. Tell me every location you guys ever used, every operative that you ever talked to.
My guess is what happened here is he started offering information that was chaff. He started talking about details that were interesting, but not pertinent to this plot, maybe because he thought his friends would escape, maybe because he thought they would attack quickly. But I don't believe he ever cooperated. Otherwise, they could have busted this.
BROWN: And then there's a lot of questions why the attorney came out and said he was cooperating. Bob, to you. We just learned of the second terrorist involved in the subway blast. Do you think that there were more bombers at that train station or airport? Just a couple of days later, we're learning about more people now.
BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think there were.
There were probably multiple attacks planned, assaults, maybe with Kalashnikovs, more explosions. This is typical ISIS tactics. They wanted to carry off something like was carried off in Paris on the 13th of November. It would really have scared the Belgians.
And I think they pulled the trigger on this early and they really couldn't coordinate a bigger attack. But what worries me is, how big is that network? Clearly, the Belgians don't know.
Where are they cooking this stuff? Fifteen kilos is a lot. You can cook it in a kitchen, but where were they -- that's a lot. They had to have a facility with venting and all sorts of things to cook this much TATP, so where is that?
And then I don't think we have gotten to the bottom of this. If there are more attacks in Brussels, I wouldn't be surprised.
BROWN: All right. So much to discuss here, gentlemen. Please stick around.
It was only one day after his lawyer said that he was cooperating with the police, as we were just discussing, that the terrorists associated with Salah Abdeslam carried out their plot. Could that message have been their signal to go? That's next.
BROWN: And welcome back to THE LEAD.
New chilling information reveals how sophisticated ISIS has become in launching devastating terror attacks, so sophisticated, ISIS may have orchestrated the deadly explosions in Brussels all the way from its stronghold in Raqqa, Syria.
I want to bring in CNN justice reporter Evan Perez.
You have some new information, Evan, just about how much of a role the mother ship played in the attacks in Brussels following the Paris attacks, right?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It appears that ISIS' ability to launch these attacks externally has become a lot more sophisticated than intelligence officials really even believed a year ago.
A year ago, a lot of people thought that ISIS was more interested in controlling territory and expanding its hold and building its caliphate. And then the Paris attacks happened. And they finally were able to see that they not only had an external operations division, but also they had all of these operatives.
[16:15:06] In the past year, they have managed to sneak in these bombers and these bombers are now in place to carry out these attacks. It's more of a dotted line back to Raqqa. They send these bombers to Europe and they give them money and some training, but it's up to them exactly to decide when to strike and where.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And it's interesting, because it's sort of in the middle of lone wolf with what we saw with al Qaeda, because it's more coordinated than your lone wolf attack but not as sort of controlled as al Qaeda, right?
BROWN: I mean, they basically say, here's money, here's resources, here's a support network. Go decide, what you're going to do, right?
PEREZ: Exactly. It's more of a hybrid approach. Essentially, al Qaeda was very much obsessed about controlling these operations and making sure these operatives had instructions and they were trained from the beginning to the end.
In the case of ISIS, we've seen a little bit more of a hybrid division. You see these operatives have a lot more leeway in deciding how to do it and when to do it. They are sent back to Europe and then they're plugged into a network that has control of their family, sometimes their neighborhood friends and so on, and they're ready to go whenever they're told.
BROWN: And Salah Abdeslam, let's he's really a key player here. He's been arrested, as we know. A couple of days later the attacks happened in Brussels. But his lawyer made that statement that he was cooperating.
How are intelligence officials viewing that in light of everything that's happened?
PEREZ: They're viewing it very curiously. There's a lot of suspicion because as soon as that message goes out is when we see the acceleration of this attack. We see, according to the intelligence that's now been gotten from some of the searches that at least one of them wrote on his computer that they were -- they had decided to accelerate their plan to carry out these attacks simply because they knew that Abdeslam was probably talking to authorities.
So, perhaps, that's the word that goes out from Abdeslam's lawyer that he is cooperating is the signal forego. Now, we're not saying that the lawyer knew that was the case, perhaps this was unwitting. In any case, once he was captured, they knew that their time was limited.
BROWN: Just really quickly, indication he knew about what happened in Brussels? Do we know if he's aware of what happened?
PEREZ: Well, there's no doubt that whatever he knew, he did not tell them. He could have stopped this attack if he had provided that information. BROWN: OK. Evan Perez, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Terrorists hiding in plain sight not even on police radar. Are there too many to track?
Plus, the mass transit system here in the U.S., could an attack like this happen here? I'll ask the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee just ahead.
[16:22:23] BROWN: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
And breaking news coming in this hour, multiple sources telling CNN that more attacks are in the works in Europe after the deadly bombings in Brussels that killed 31 people.
So, just how large is the terror network and how close is it to planning another attack?
I want to bring back my panel, CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd, CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, and CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer.
Paul, first to you, intelligence officials can't say for sure who ordered Tuesday's attack in Brussels, but it has the hallmarks of ISIS in Syria. ISIS, of course is claiming responsibility, but what does Tuesday's attack say to you about ISIS' support system and financial resources?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: It tells me, Pam, that they have very significant capabilities indeed. And they just have a very large recruiting pool of European recruits in Syria and Iraq, more than 6,000 European extremists believe to have traveled to those countries, many of them joining up with ISIS.
And in the last six months or so, there have been various ISIS recruits who have been arrested in Europe and they have been interrogated and CNN has got hold of some of these interrogations. There was one French ISIS recruit who talked about a factory in Syria to launch terror attacks back in Europe. By that he meant that they were putting a lot of resources, a lot of energy into launching attacks.
And there's a group of Belgian and French ISIS operatives who have really been intensity planning these operations and it's that same group who were behind the Paris attacks and the Brussels attacks. Both those attacks carried out by the same cell. And with the Paris cell, nine of those attackers were featured in an elaborate ISIS video indicating that the ISIS leadership really did sign off on the plan.
BROWN: And I think it's troubling for a lot of people that months after the Paris attack people were operating under the radar in Belgium and launched these attacks. Belgian's interior minister suggested that Tuesday's attack was an intelligence failure. You say this country has a history of not sharing information and even a culture of arrogance.
Do you think that could change?
BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: I think it better change, because it's the back door of terrorism for Europe, something has got to change. I mean, the Belgians have a very dysfunctional police, they always have.
[16:25:03] When I was in the CIA, they never responded to trace requests. You know, they just were not very good and they' very disorganized. It's a country that's ethnically divided.
And then you have these large North African communities of origin, North African origin, which are isolated and the police clearly have no sources in them.
And now that the Islamic State knows how to go off the grid and knows how to make bombs that go off a can vet people that will commit suicide in these operations, we have a serious problem. This is a new threat that I have never seen in my life, and I've never seen a worse equipped police force as the Belgians.
BROWN: It's terrifying, considering, Phil, the threat that is in Europe right now, all of these fighters in Syria being trained to come back to Europe to launch these attacks. I imagine Belgian officials are under a ton of pressure right now to work with their foreign partners.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: For a lot of reasons, we haven't discussed. People are focused on Belgium, rightly so. But the information being picked up, things like DNA, phone, every security service on the planet, the British, the French, the Americans, want that information now because I've got to determine whether there's any linkage to my home country.
So, the first question is I want to help the Belgians but I want the data now. I don't care whether it's about Belgian citizens. I don't care about whether it violates your laws. I want it now because I've got to prove in my country. And the final point is if you're sitting in a seat in America, you also want the data to determine if you can identify who sponsors these kind of fighters back home.
The Belgians do not have the capability to use a drone or an aircraft to take a cell, especially a drone, in Syria. The Americans do. So, one of the questions you've got to be focused on is, can I take this back and find the people who trained the bomb makers so there's not another one of these?
BROWN: No doubt about it, people in intelligence services all around the world are very busy in the wake of this.
Phil Mudd, Paul Cruickshank, Bob Baer, thank you so much for that.
And police right now are looking for information about a new unnamed suspect who could be a second bomber at the Brussels metro station. Is he alive and on the run? New details on him, up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)