Return to Transcripts main page


Orlando Terror Attack; Possible Attack Thwarted at L.A. Pride Parade; Interview with Senator Marco Rubio; Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 12, 2016 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:03] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Pamela Brown coming to you live from Orlando. Thank you so much for joining us on this breaking news story. The worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

BLITZER: The president of the United States ordered all American flags lower to half-staff today in honor of the 50 people senselessly shot dead by one heavily armed man.

Why he did it is still a mystery. The gunman is dead, taken out by Orlando police officers after a long, tense standoff.

We're learning right now a lot about the shooter and are working to verify much of it -- Pam.

BROWN: And we have learned, Wolf, that the shooter was born in New York in 1986. His parents are from Afghanistan. He was a security guard here and lived about an hour and 45 minutes away and we have learned from law enforcement sources that he rented a car, drove here to Pulse nightclub and opened fire.

This was the most popular night of the week, Latino night. This gunman killed 50 people, more than 50 were wounded. Most of them are still in the hospital. In total more than 300 people were in that nightclub when the gunman opened fire.

Now officials are calling this an act of terror. It is underscored by a U.S. official who said the gunman swore his loyalty to ISIS and mentioned the Boston marathon bombing in a 911 call after he started shooting.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: This is sad, it's disgusting. It's clearly an act of terror. You just can't imagine it happening anywhere in our country. I of course never want to happen it in my state. I can tell you, we're going to work hard. No one is ever thinking about doing this because our justice is swift here, and we have severe penalties.

I've asked for a moment of silence at 6:00 p.m. tonight nationwide. As soon as I think about this, I think about having daughters and having grandkids, and you don't ever want to have a call like this that you lost a loved one. And so my heart goes out to everybody involved.


BROWN: And law enforcement sources I've been speaking -- have spoken to the family, the ex-wife of this gunman, they say they're simply perplexed by this possible connection to ISIS. They say that the gunman didn't have any clear ties to religion. He wasn't overtly religious. But they do say that he had an anti-gay sentiment. In fact, the father told investigators that just recently in Miami the gunman got upset when he saw two men kissing.

We also know investigators have been speaking to the ex-wife who said that he had a temper, that he had anger management issues. They had a very short marriage. But right now investigators are piecing together what the motive was and whether this was a hybrid motive with hate crime combined with terrorism. We will wait and see what the answers to -- are to that, as investigators look at the gunman's electronics and other pieces of this investigation and continue to interview those close to the gunman.

We are also learning the names of the victims of this horrific tragedy. They have been identified as Edward Sotomayor Jr., Stanley Almodovar, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, and Juan Ramon Guerrero. Those are four names out of the 50 killed at Pulse nightclub.

And because of what the shooter, this terrorist said to a 911 operator, the investigation is a global one.

CNN's Brian Todd is following that part of the story for us. So, Brian, what tack is the FBI taking right now given this ISIS connection claimed by this gunman?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're pursuing all the threads that they can, Pamela, at this hour. Here's what we can tell you about the suspect right now. He is identified, as you mentioned, 29- year-old Omar Mir Seddique Mateen. He was born in New York. According to the FBI, they first became aware of Mateen in 2013 when he made inflammatory comments to co-workers, alleging possible terrorist ties.

Then in 2014, he came to their attention again because FBI official Ronald Hopper says Mateen had been in contact with Moner Abu Salha. Now Abu Salha, according to our terrorism analysts, traveled from Florida to Syria, received training, traveled back to the United States then went back to Syria and staged a suicide bombing -- excuse me -- against Syrian forces killing more than 30 people. That attack occurred in May of 2014.

But analysts say Abu Salha did that on behalf of an al Qaeda affiliated group and not ISIS. According to U.S. and law enforcement officials Mateen called 911 more than 20 minutes into the attack in Orlando this morning to pledge allegiance to ISIS and he mentioned the Boston marathon bombers. As far as the investigations into Mateen, the FBI says the interviews

with him turned out to be inconclusive. Now also as Pamela has been mentioning on his possible motive, a U.S. official telling CNN investigators have talked to his family who indicated that he had expressed anti-gay feelings in the past.

[17:05:01] He worked as a security guard for a private firm called G4S Secure Solutions. He worked for them for almost nine years.

Also tonight, we have spoken with a lady who says she went to high school with Mateen. She says she actually went to Spectrum Junior Senior High School with him. It's a combination school there. That is an alternative school in Stewart, Florida. This woman says that Mateen on the graduation list for the class of 2004. She told us he was not someone who stood out to her at least to possibly do something like this -- Pamela.

BROWN: Brian Todd, thank you for the latest.

I want to go back to Wolf Blitzer in Washington -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela, law enforcement agencies at every level right now, from local, state, federal, the FBI clearly in charge right now of this investigation. They're fully engaged. They're looking at the gunman's background, at his family, possible connections to terror groups overseas.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is joining us from Fort Pierce, Florida, right now where the man identified as the gunman in this massacre actually lived.

Polo, what are officials telling you? What are they learning about this man? Were there any indications that he was inclined to this kind of level of mass murder?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if you talked to his neighbors and they will tell you, no, that that's not the case. And as you mentioned we now know who was responsible for this. We know what he did. But the question , that lingering question is why. And the answer to that could possibly be in a condo that's really just down the street from where we are, in this neighborhood in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Again, rather thrust into the national -- international spotlight now is of course investigators right now outside of Mateen's condo, potentially waiting for the proper paperwork to eventually make their way in. We know before in other non-related cases law enforcement typically at least take a look inside a suspect's home or apartment as a safety check, and then eventually go back to actually process the area for evidence with a warrant in hand. That could potentially be what's happening right now.

I walked over just a short while ago, Wolf, I can tell you that everybody is basically in waiting mode. They have a large command center that you may be able to make over -- make out over my shoulder here. Just past where the media is essentially staged out. And they've even brought in some of those large flood lights. It's obviously an indication that law enforcement expect to be here not just hours but perhaps days as the people in this neighborhood are left asking that very important question, the how their neighbor could have been capable of such a brutal attack -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What kind of house did he live in there? Have you had a chance to speak to any of the neighbors?

SANDOVAL: What's interesting is that we haven't really run into any of the actual neighbors at this point who live in the apartment complex or condo, rather. Really more of a townhome setting. That is because we haven't seen a whole lot of movement in the actual complex itself. So at this point what we're trying to find out if it was either partially or entirely evacuated. We'll be making our way back there again.

But then you walk a few steps, and then you're basically in a relatively normal neighborhood, three or four-bedroom homes, family homes. The people here, though. The folks that I've actually had an opportunity to speak to, that don't actually live in the complex. They don't really recognize the man. Of course all of them asking exactly how he would have been capable of carrying out such a terrible attack -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Polo. We'll stay in close touch with you as well. Polo, thanks very much.

Let's discuss the latest developments with our panel of terrorism analysts. CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen is here, as well as counterterrorism analyst Paul Cruikshank.

Peter, we're getting -- we're getting more information about this terrorist Omar Mir Seddique Mateen. And it's providing a picture of someone who was clearly on the FBI's radar.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, and it is typical in these cases that the FBI has -- that somebody like this has come to their attention. Now we saw this with Major Nidal Hasan who killed 13 people at Fort Hood. We saw this in the Boston marathon case, where the older brother who was the main perpetrator of the attacks was interviewed by the FBI, but you know, we also live in a country -- a rule of law country, you can't keep investigations open on people indefinitely, and so these investigations all of sudden are closed, that the reason what the FBI calls derogatory information that would really lead to a case being open.

BLITZER: And this particular incident, Paul Cruickshank, was at a gay club, servicing -- serving the LGBT community, it was very popular, it was packed at that 2:00 a.m. hour, 300 to 400 people there. This was a -- it was by no means a coincidence that he went after a gay club, given that clearly his hatred of gays based on what we're hearing already.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: That's absolutely right, Wolf. In addition to that he may have calculated that this would play well to ISIS' base, who are viscerally and viciously homophobic. That this may inspire more of these kind of attacks in the west. He's certainly done everything that he possibly can to allow ISIS to take ownership of the attack by making that 911 call while he pledged allegiance to ISIS, Wolf.

[17:10:12] What investigators are going to have look out is, was this just an ISIS inspired attack?

BLITZER: All right.

CRUICKSHANK: Or did he perhaps have some connection at that time --

BLITZER: Hold on one moment, Paul. Hold on one moment. Representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR, a Muslim advocacy group, is speaking out right now. I want to listen in.

IBRAHIM HOOPLER, NATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS, CAIR: In the name of God, the compassionate and the merciful. My name is Ibrahim Hooper. I'm the national communications for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. Obviously, we're here on a very sad day to offer the Muslim community's heartfelt condolences and condemnation of this horrific crime in Orlando.

And we'll hear from a number of national and local Muslim leaders, beginning with CAIR national executive director, Nihad Awad, that's N- I-H-A-D-A-W-A-D. National executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

NIHAD AWAD, NATIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CAIR: Thank you, Ibrahim. Good afternoon. I woke up this morning to the shocking news. I could not believe what I saw on the screen, the shooting in the nightclub in Orlando. And I started, of course, to worry about, you know, what kind of crime, and as we went through the day, we -- the number of the victims has increased. And unfortunately, as you all know, more than 50 people have been murdered in cold blood.

So as a Muslim, as American, I would like to make this statement. Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers with the victims -- the victims and their families. We offer condolences to the families, and we pray for the recovery of the survivors.

This is a hate crime. Plain and simple. We condemn it in the strongest possible terms. It violates our principles as Americans and as Muslims.

Let me be clear. We have no tolerance for extremism of any kind. We must not tolerate hateful rhetoric that incite violence against minorities. Religious freedom is the cornerstone of our beliefs as Muslims and as Americans.

Today we must stand united. For many years, members of the LGBT-QIA community have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Muslim community against any acts of hate crimes, Islamophobia, marginalization and discrimination. Today, we stand with them, shoulder-to-shoulder. The liberation of

the American Muslim community is profoundly linked to the liberation of other minority groups -- blacks, Latinos, gay, Jewish, trans, and every other community that has faced discrimination and oppression in this country. We cannot fight injustice against some groups and not against others.

Homophobia, transphobia, and Islamophobia are interconnected systems of operation and we cannot dismantle one without dismantling the others. Homophobia and other forms of phobia take lives in this country every day, and we must stand up for the victims and for their families. The criminals, the terrorists, and extremists behind this kind of attacks mean only to divide us, and turn us against one another. We cannot afford to let them succeed. As Muslims, as Americans, now is the time to speak out and make it clear that we will not give into hate and we will not give into fear.

We heard in the news that the alleged perpetrator called in and he pledged allegiance for Daesh or as we call it ISIS. I have a word for ISIS and their supporters. How would you stand before God and answer to your crimes against innocent people, thousands of innocent people, Muslims, Christians and other minorities?

[17:15:05] You do not speak for us. You do not represent us. You are an aberration, you are an outlaw, or as we call it in Islam they are outlaws. They don't speak for our faith. They never belong to this beautiful faith. They claim to, but the 1.7 billion people are united in rejecting their extremism, their interpretation and their acts and senseless violence.

And to those politicians who may try to exploit this tragedy, we ask them to respect the victims and their families. This is not the time to score points. This is not the time to exploit fear. This is the time for unity and faith.

Thank you.

HOOPLER: Next we'll hear from Rizwan Jaka. He's in two roles today. He's on the Board of the Islamic Society of North America and he's the chairman of the Board of the All-Dulles Area Muslim Society, one of the larger mosques in the Washington, D.C. area.


Rizwan Jaka, R-I-Z-W-A-N, last name, Jaka, J-A-K-A. First, I will read a statement from the Islamic Society of North America, ISNA, the largest and oldest community based and some organizations in North America. ISNA offers its condolences to the victims of the families of the Orlando shooting victims. We stand with the victims of this senseless act of violence and mourn with the families of the victims and pray for their ease and comfort during this time of difficulty. We are outraged by this horrific shooting.

Our president of the Islamic Society of North America, Azhar Azeez, A- Z-H-A-R, A-Z-E-E-Z, said today. ISNA sends its condolences and prayers to the families of the victims. We urge the communities to stand united against all acts of violence. We encourage our members to donate with the immediate short-term needs of the grieving families and our members in Florida to visit to donate blood today to help the victims of this horrific shooting.

That concludes the Islamic Society of North America's statement. Now I will read on behalf of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, the second largest mosque in the nation with 11 branches and satellites in Virginia and D.C. representing 25,000 --

BLITZER: Very strong statements coming in from leaders of the American Muslim community, condemning what they call this horrific crime in Orlando. Our hearts, our thoughts, our prayers are with the families, the victims, family victims of this horrendous crime, a hate crime, according to Nihad Awad, who's the national executive director of CAIR, the Council for American-Islamic Relations.

Awful, awful situation unfolding. We also heard very strong words of support for the families from these Islamic leaders here in the United States condemning ISIS. Bitterly condemning ISIS.

Peter Bergen, very strong words from the American Muslim leadership.

BERGEN: Yes, I mean, this is very important they said this, would be a kind of counters -- you often hear that the Muslim American community doesn't condemn terrorism and it was kind of standard line a lot of people use. That's total nonsense. These groups repeatedly condemn terrorism. It's just sometimes, I know we covered this live, that's great. But these groups are often getting out there with statements condemning ISIS, condemning terrorism.

This is not the first time this group or other groups like it have made very strong statements against ISIS. We heard from one of the leaders of one of the largest mosques in the United States, not far from here from the Dulles mosque. And you know, the leader of that mosque has signed on open letter, part of a group of clerics condemning ISIS.

And so, yes, and also, they're trying to get ahead of what they know is going to come tomorrow, which is Donald Trump is going to give a speech tomorrow which will address this. And they're trying to get ahead of that.

BLITZER: Stand by. Everyone, stand by. We're watching the news. 50 dead, 53 injured, the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States. Our special coverage continues right after this.


[17:23:16] BROWN: Some other details we are learning in the wake of this horrific shooting in Orlando. New York City now on high alert and has beefed up security at some LGBT venues there . There will also be increased security at the New York and D.C. Pride festivals. The Tony Awards will still go on, we're told. But organizers say the show will incorporates tributes to the victims and to the telecast. Many witnesses say at first they thought the shooting was just part of

the music. One witness tells CNN, the gunshots went on for so long the shooting could have lasted a whole song. And so far, more than $400,000 has been raised for victims on the gofundme crowd sourcing.

And we're just getting some new information into CNN that the gunman in this case worked as a security guard in a court house in St. Port Lucie, Florida. Not far from where I am here in Orlando. According to a neighbor CNN spoke to, he manned the metal detectors. Right now the FBI is treating this as a case of terrorism. FBI agents have been interviewing family members of this gunman, his ex-wife, trying to piece together a motive and try to figure out why this man rented a car, and drove an hour and 45 minutes away, opening fire inside the Pulse nightclub during Latin night. The most popular night of the week here.

Still a lot to learn and the people of Orlando are responding to this tragedy with grace and donations. Hundreds are lining up around the block up blood donation centers across the city. And the Red Cross is actively working to support rescue workers.

I spoke last hour with the regional communications manager for the American Red Cross in Orlando, Jenny McGuire, and asked what her organization is doing right now to help.


[17:25:08] JANET MCGUIRE, REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Right now we're supporting the community. We do -- we are very closely working with our community partners and of the city itself and the emergency management to find out exactly what they need from us. At this point, we have just provided canteen services for food and water into the area where they're investigating the crime and we're working very closely with them to determine what other needs so that we can help with.


BROWN: The Orlando community's outpouring of concern and support for the victims is truly uplifting.

CNN's Nick Valencia joins me now from the Orlando Regional Medical Center where many of these victims are getting treatment -- Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, we're actually right across the street from the hospital. We're outside of the Hampton Inn, which has effectively become a staging area for friends and family, victims, many of the people inside this building. They can't get in touch with their relatives and we're joined by one of those individuals, Gio Gotay.

Come on here with me here, man. How are you doing? What's going on? Tell me what's going on.

GIO GOTAY, COUSIN OF DANIEL WILSON LEON: Nothing. I just got the news this morning. A bunch of text, checking if, you know, some of our friends were OK. I found out that my cousin was there last night through a Facebook post that he posted around 11:00, 12:00.

VALENCIA: And you still haven't been able to get in touch with them. Tell us who he is, what's his name?

GOTAY: His name is Daniel Wilson Leon. He's an awesome guy. He's my cousin. Sadly last time I saw him was in my wedding two years so when I heard that he was at the club, you know, I came here to support and see what I can do to help. You know, just any information that I can get. But we've been here since 10:00 a.m. and we haven't gotten any yet.

VALENCIA: You mean since 10:00 you've been here for, you know, well past five, six hours now. And you haven't been given very much information, have you?

GOTAY: No, they released a list of people that are at the Regional Hospital, and then the other hospital, and he's not in none of those lists. Also they said there's some people that are still not in those list. It doesn't mean that they're not here with us. It means that they're still working on them, making sure.

VALENCIA: Take us through, so we can try and understand exactly what you're going through. Because you're -- you know, you're kind of in limbo right now. You don't know whether you're in that period of grieving, or whether or not you should be hopeful. I mean, what are you feeling?

GOTAY: Yes. It's weird. I mean, I know not only my cousin, I have a friend of mine, a coworker that I dance with. He's also missing. So it's just a weird feeling of, you know, I don't want to grieve too hard, I want to hope that he's OK. But, you know, you just don't know. So it's just a matter of just hoping and praying, and you know, seeing what happens.

VALENCIA: People across this country of course they're focused on what happened here. Just the sheer senseless nature of it, the high number of casualties. But this is your home.


VALENCIA: Orlando is your home. And when it happens in your hometown, it hurts all the much more.

GOTAY: Yes. It's just surreal. Like, what's crazy, last night, you know, you know, we knew people that were going, and you know, we didn't think nothing of it. Then this morning, when I find that news, it hit my heart, oh, my god, like, did he go, he didn't go? Like who went, who escaped? It was just a -- you know, just a call frenzy texts, you know, just trying to find out if all my friends were OK. You know, it sucks to wake up to that.

VALENCIA: And you're probably still going through that frenzy of emotions right now.


VALENCIA: What did they tell you that's next? I mean, did they just tell you basically stand by, wait?

GOTAY: Yes, just waiting to see what the new updates of the victims, casualties. They just released a list of people that are critical, people that are on guard, people that are stable. So, my cousin is in none of those lists, so -- but he's not also on the casualty list. So I just don't know what to think of it.

VALENCIA: So tell us his name one more time, and the chance, and just the chance that he's watching, or somebody who knows him or saw him last night. Tell us who he is again.

VALENCIA: Daniel Wilson Leon. He's super friendly guy. He's tall, bald, always smiling. Have an awesome smile. I mean, I love him a lot. You know, we've done a lot of things together. So it will suck to hear bad news, but hopefully he's OK.

VALENCIA: Holding that hope for you, Gio.

GOTAY: Thank you.

VALENCIA: Good luck, man. All right. Good luck to your wife, your whole family.

GOTAY: Thank you

VALENCIA: Gio's whole family is here. His uncles here inside. He's been talking to the media as well. You see the gaggle of reporters here trying to find out what this family and friends of those who are missing, find out what they know, and what they're going through here. Again, we're right across the street from the hospital. Police have been trickling out information to us about the victims, the casualties and just this high number of deaths here. The worst shooting in U.S. history, worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history -- Pamela.

BROWN: And at the same time, you're really seeing an outpouring from this community, nick Valencia. People lining the blocks, trying to donate blood, help out in any way they can.

We do appreciate your reporting, Nick. We'll touch base with you again very soon.

[17:30:04] And meantime, we are learning the names of the victims of this horrific tragedy. They have been identified as Edward Sotomayor, Jr., Stanley Almodovar III, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, and Juan Ramon Guerrero. And two new names, sadly, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera and Peter Gonzalez-Cruz. So those are just some of the names of the deceased out of the 50 victims, many more recovering in the hospital.

We've learned that more than 300 people were inside Pulse nightclub when the gunman walked in and opened fire.

More on this story right after this quick break, stay with us.


BLITZER: We're following the horrifying events unfolding in Orlando, where 50 people are dead, 53 people are injured after a gunman opened fire inside a gay nightclub. Not only is this the worst mass shooting in the U.S. modern history. It's also the deadliest terror attack here in the United States since 9/11/ Just six of the victims have been identified so far. Family members and friends they are so desperate right now to learn more about their missing loved ones.

[17:35:04] The man who killed them, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, appears to have been at least inspired by ISIS, calling 911 during the attack to pledge his allegiance to the terror group.

Florida Governor Rick Scott spoke to CNN about the gunman's terror ties last hour.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: This is sad. It's disgusting. It's clearly an act of terror. You just can't imagine it happening anywhere in our country. I, of course, never wanted it to happen in my state.

And I want to let everybody know that is thinking about doing something like that, we have great law enforcement in our state. We will clearly -- we will clearly find you, hunt you down if you try to do anything.


NEWSROOM L.A. Right now, investigators they are desperately trying to find out whether this attack was tied to ISIS, simply inspired -- or simply inspired by ISIS.

Want to bring in the Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who's joining us again. He's a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He's on the scene. He's been very well briefed.

Are you satisfied with the level of coordination right now, Senator, between local, state, and federal authorities?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Yes, this is a -- the FBI is leading the investigation, they're going to do a great job in this regard. But let me just say something. I would discourage you from looking at the distinction at this point between being directed or inspired. Inspired is directed. It's part of the ISIS plan now is to go out and then go ahead and say, we no longer have to bring people to Syria and train them.

We can go online and we can inspire you to go out. We're going to even kind of encourage the kinds of attack. And they laid this out online. And they say go find a sporting event or a nightclub or a park, and drive your car through a crowd, or detonate a bomb, and they actually have instructions about how to build bombs.

So this precisely the kind of are they're trying to grow and it's the inspiration part. And of course being a U.S. citizen, the homegrown violent extremist aspect of it, they now make it harder for us as well. So this is the new face of terror in many ways, and it's probably the one that's going to grow the fastest here over the next few years.

BLITZER: Clearly, also not only an act of terror, an act of hate because this was a gay club. And clearly, that was part of the motivation for this terrorist. What can you tell us about that?

RUBIO: I don't have any doubt about that. Law enforcement of course has not given any indication but for my mind -- in my mind there's no doubt about the fact that in addition to being an act of terror against Americans, the fact that this was a facility or this was a club that was frequented by the LGBT community made it an even more attractive target for this terrorist to do.

We know this radical Islamic terror, we see what they do to people. They accuse of being gays, they throw them off buildings and things of this nature. There's no doubt in my mind that the community was targeted in particular as a part of this overall plot to kill Americans, and if they happened to be gay or lesbian Americans, I think it added to the sick mind of this individual that carried this out.

BLITZER: We know, and you pointed this out well, Senator, that this homegrown terrorist, if you will, inspired by ISIS, they're radicalized very often on social media, Major Nidal Hasan, for example, the killer at Fort Hood, Texas, radicalized by the social media. How do you prevent this kind of -- this kind of affiliation from developing? What do you do about it?

RUBIO: Well, it's a multifaceted effort. I think we need to continue to work closely with Islamic -- Muslim Americans to reject this ideology in our communities. I also think that we need to defeat ISIS and take away territories because these are the areas that they use to produce these videos. They need safe operating spaces in order to conduct operations, even if they're online. I think we need to be engaged in more electronic work in which we target their capabilities to put this stuff online. And this -- none of this is easy and none of this is fool-proof, but it has part of an overall effort to take away their ability to spread this ideology even as we're pressuring them and taking away territory and the ability to organize and reach out to others.

BLITZER: Is ISIS gaining strength now or is it being reduced?

RUBIO: Well, on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq, they're losing territory. They're growing in Libya and other places. But they've expanded their operations, I mean, in other ways. For example, as you saw here today, their ability to reach out beyond territories, physical territories, and reach people online with propaganda, first to radicalize them, and then to actually get that radicalization and turn it into action. It's a growing threat, not just from ISIS. We're assuming this is ISIS, but this could be al Qaeda, the Khorasan Group, Al-Nusra. There are multiple Islamic radical groups around the world, all of whom would not mind seeing what happened here today.

BLITZER: As sick as it sounds, this kind of incident could inspire others to go out there and engage in what we call copycat terror activities. That's a real concern, isn't it? RUBIO: It is. These radicals are planning to carry something out

anyway. It might speed up their timeline, it might, you know, give them more impetus to move more quickly or more spectacularly. It most certainly is a propaganda boost for ISIS.

[17:40:04] They're going to go around taking credit for this or whoever is behind this, and saying here's one more example of what we're doing against the West. So it certainly helps in that regard in their efforts but -- and sure, there's the chance of someone watching this broadcast tonight may decide I'm going to do the same thing tomorrow morning. So that's always -- but look, irrespective of that, this is a real, growing, and ongoing threat. For five years now, the homegrown violent extremists is the hardest terrorist target that we now have. The hardest to identify, the hardest to prevent.

BLITZER: One final question, Senator, before I let you go. I know you're busy down there. You're on the scene. This is the holy month of Ramadan and ISIS has sent out postings on social media, if you commit these kinds of acts during Ramadan, you're going to be richly rewarded in the life hereafter. That's a source of enormous concern. Do you recommend local authorities go on heightened state of alert if you will out of an abundance of caution?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, there are propagandas year around. I mean, obviously, and perhaps they have some special messaging around Ramada but they're acting -- they're calling for these attacks all throughout the year anywhere any time they can get them. So I think vigilance has to be continuous. But again, in the case of the homegrown violent extremists, I don't want to sound, you know, like there's nothing that can be done, there's things we can do. But in the end, when you have one person acting on their own, without telling anyone else, as is potentially the case here, that is a very difficult thing to be vigilant against.

I mean, you go out any community in America, any night or any day of the week, and there are soft targets out there that are vulnerable to attack if someone wants do it. It's a very difficult chance we face here. It is part of the new face of the war on terror, and sadly, the war on terror visited Orlando this morning.

BLITZER: Very sadly indeed. Senator Rubio, thank you so much for joining us.

RUBIO: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And our special coverage will continue right after this short break.


[17:45:07] BLITZER: The president says in no uncertain terms what happened in Orlando is an act of terror. He's ordered U.S. flags at the White House and around the nation indeed lowered to half staff, and he's requested regular updates on the situation. He addressed the nation, he addressed the American people, indeed the world earlier this afternoon. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history. The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun, and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school or in a house of worship or in a movie theater or in a night club. And we have to decide if that's the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.


BLITZER: Very strong words from the president. Let's get an update from Los Angeles now, a suspect has told investigators he wanted to harm the L.A. Pride parade.

LT. SAUL RODRIGUEZ, SANTA MONICA POLICE SPOKESMAN: At which point we recovered additional firearms, high capacity magazines. Officers did find some chemicals that could have been used for an improvised explosive device which in turn led to us calling out the L.A. County bomb squad. They responded and raided the area and the vehicles. As you can see behind me, the FBI has responded and we are investigating this case jointly with the FBI.

The suspect did make an initial statement to the effect that he was going to go to the Pride festival. Beyond that he did not make any additional statements saying that he was going to do anything further than that. We do not have any additional information related to what his intentions were.

As I stated it is still under investigation and the FBI along with Santa Monica PD are investigating the matter. He is in custody with Santa Monica Police Department and the evidence along with the individual, the suspect, will be staying at Santa Monica Police Department at this time. One question, yes, go ahead.


RODRIGUEZ: Sure. Just briefly, again, the question is, when did we contact our neighboring agencies for assistance. We contacted the L.A. Sheriff's Department as soon as the chemicals were discovered, That immediately -- required us to basically cordon off the area and create a perimeter to make sure our residence were safe. And we contacted the L.A. Sheriff's Department and then also contact the FBI to respond for the investigation.


RODRIGUEZ: Again, that was simply because it was in Santa Monica, and there was no need to contact the LAPD at that time.


RODRIGUEZ: As far as what he was doing here, I can't comment on that simply because I don't know and that is still under investigation. As more information becomes available, we will definitely reach to you, we'll give you more information, and again it is an ongoing investigation between the FBI and Santa Monica Police Department.

That will be all for now and I appreciate your --


RODRIGUEZ: We have no information at all that makes us believe that this is connected to the Orlando incident at all. No information.


RODRIGUEZ: That is the information, that is still under investigation as to what his intentions were and what he was doing here in the city of Santa Monica.


RODRIGUEZ: I think that was misquoted. He was here simply and he made a statement when he initially made contact with the officers, saying that he was here to go to the Pride festival. Beyond him indicating what he was going to do at the Pride festival, we have no information on that.


RODRIGUEZ: The information that we have again is that the vehicle is from Indiana and the suspect is from Indiana as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was exactly found in that car?

RODRIGUEZ: There were several firearms, some rifles, some high powered magazines, and then the chemicals again that could be used for an improvised explosive device.


RODRIGUEZ: That will be it for now. So thank you very much. Again, more information will be made available as the time move on.


RODRIGUEZ: Thank you very much.


RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: Lieutenant Saul Rodriguez of the Santa Monica Police Department, updating us on a disturbing development out in Santa Monica in Los Angeles.

Kyung Lah is joining us on the phone right now.

Kyung, update our viewers on what we know. This potential attack, although we don't know if there was going to be an attack. We do know there was an arsenal of weapons that this individual had.

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Let's go over that arsenal because that's very telling, Wolf, about what is going on here. What we heard the police there say several firearms, three assault rifles, magazines, ammo, a five-gallon bucket with chemicals.

We have seen them remove a gas mask, a vest with some type of -- that looked like a security badge on it as well. So there's quite an arsenal inside this vehicle.

[17:55:12] And we can't -- people who are also here in Los Angeles lining the street of Santa Monica Boulevard, thousands of people here for the gay pride festival on the streets of Los Angeles. This parade did still go on. But certainly was ringing in a lot of the ears here is what would have happened had this man not been caught.

So, you know, just hours, mere hours after the Orlando shooting unfolded, in Los Angeles a man stopped in this entire arsenal saying he had an intent to head over to the Pride parade, Wolf.

BLITZER: And they have identified this suspect as, what, James Howell, 20 of Indiana? That he came from Indiana, but there's absolutely no known connection to what happened in Orlando, is that right?

LAH: You're absolutely right about that. But it's very curious, what would a man, this James Howell of Indiana plates, he's driving a vehicle with Indiana plate, when did he get here? What was his motivation? Did he drive that vehicle, which it appears he did, from Indiana all the way here to Los Angeles. Why would he do that carrying all these weapons, including that bucket of chemicals that could have made a bomb? So the motivation behind this man, even though he is not related to this Orlando incident, the fact that this appears to be connected to a gay pride event certainly -- this has a lot of people here in Los Angeles very concerned.

BLITZER: Yes, and out of an abundance of caution here in Washington, D.C. the Mayor Muriel Bowser has strengthened security as well. Gay pride events going on this weekend in Washington.

Kyung, we'll stay in touch with you. Much more on the breaking news coming up right after this.


[17:55:39] BLITZER: Right at the top of the hour there will be a moment of silence in Orlando in memory -- remembering those who died, the 50 people that were killed in that mass shooting, the worst mass shooting in American history. We'll watch that closely. A moment of silence coming in right at the top of the hour.

We've also just received a statement from the owner of the Pulse nightclub where the Orlando shooting occurred. Barbara Poma says this, "Like everyone in the country, I am devastated about the horrific events that have taken place today. Pulse and the men and women who work there have been my family for nearly 15 years. From the beginning Pulse has served as a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community. I want to express my profound sadness and condolences to all who have lost loved ones. Please know that my grief and heart are with you."

Again, that statement from Barbara Poma, the owner of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

CNN senior political analyst David Gergen is joining us now from Boston.

David, we've also just received word from the White House the president is canceling his visit to Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Wednesday. That was supposed to be his first joint campaign event with Hillary Clinton. But he feels this is not a time for him to go out there. This is a very, very sensitive moment for any president right now.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It is, indeed, Wolf. A horror like this introduces in the White House a tone of grave seriousness. People put down their petty issues and they really have to step up their game because as you know, the first duty of government is to protect its citizens. That's the most important. So in the White House, the first thing you do is you essentially go to general quarters and you ask, are we doing everything we can to deal with this situation?

And are we doing everything we can to calm the nation, to make sure we have a resilient people, so that terrorists like this can't destroy our morale? And then finally you ask the question, what do we need to do in the future. That's going to take more time to figure out, but you never want one of these to happen again. And you have to then look -- you know, commissions, the 9/11 commission after 9/11 served a lot of useful purposes, many, many good recommendations came out. Who is going to -- who's going to look at Orlando and say, what can we learn from this? So that this never, ever happens again.

BLITZER: As you know, the attorney general of the United States, Loretta Lynch, the secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, they have canceled visits to China. There are supposed to be bilateral cyber security discussions between the United States and China. They are staying here in Washington right now. It's sort of everyone is at full strength right now to deal with this. The great fear is that there could be copy cats. This could just be the start, we hope not, of more.

GERGEN: Absolutely. And I think they were wise to cancel this trip just as the president and Mrs. Clinton were wise to cancel their political campaigning together. This is a moment when you aren't quite sure, you know, when assassinations take place, when these kind of tragedies take place with a lone gunman, is he the only person involved? Is he really a lone wolf? Are there others?

These are the kind of questions that you don't know the answers in the White House to begin with, frequently the information that comes in, in the first 24 hours, a lot of that information is wrong about a tragedy. And you have to sift through the evidence and think seriously about it. But one of the questions, for example, I'm sure they're asking themselves is, why -- you know, the FBI interviewed this guy three times for possible links to terrorism. He was in there database. When he went and bought a couple of guns, why didn't one database on gun purchases talk to another database, the one about terrorists? And the fact that those databases are not linked up, they're not connected. And that leaves us vulnerable in a moment like this.

So people in the White House need to sort of start steering the political system, if you would, toward a set of reforms that actually buttons this up and improves our security for the long term.

BLITZER: Yes. For nine years he worked in the security firm that had federal contracts and presumably that made it easier for him to go out a couple of weeks ago and purchase these weapons that resulted in this worst shooting massacre in American history.

David, stand by, we're going to get back to you. Our coverage continues right now with the community in Orlando remembering what happened overnight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we know that the stakes are very high in our country right now.