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ISIS Claims Deadly Attack Unfolding in Diplomatic Zone; Two Top ISIS Leaders Killed; Deadly Terror Attack Unfolding in Bangladesh; Mastermind in Istanbul Attack Identified; Donald Trump's VP Pick. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 1, 2016 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN: There is much more on the breaking news that just now, in THE SITUATION ROOM.

[17:00:10] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, hostage standoff. Another U.S. ally under siege, terrorists hold up to 20 hostages in a cafe inside a diplomatic zone after battling police with gunfire and grenades. Dozens of casualties reported.

U.S. embassy on alert. Less than one mile from the scene of the attack in Bangladesh's capital, the U.S. embassy is warning Americans to shelter in place as it accounts for citizens in the area. President Obama has been briefed.

And ISIS to blame. A media agency part of ISIS says the terror group carried out the attack on the cafe. That comes as a U.S. official and Turkish media say a veteran ISIS warlord organized this week's massacre at Istanbul airport. Has ISIS launched a new terror offensive?

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Breaking news just days after that massacre Turkey, there's another terror attack against a U.S. friend and ally. Gunmen are holding up to 20 hostages at a cafe after a battle with police left at least two officers dead and dozens of people wounded. A source says that during the gunfight, the attackers threw grenades at police.

The standoff is inside of the diplomatic area of Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka. And the siege is taking place less than a mile from the U.S. embassy, which is warning Americans to shelter in place. President Obama has been briefed on this attack, and ISIS has claimed responsibility through its media branch, saying its fighters have carried out the restaurant attack.

This comes as a U.S. lawmaker, citing Turkish intelligence, said the organizer of this week's Istanbul airport attack was a veteran terrorist in the ISIS war ministry. Turkish sources have said the Istanbul attackers came from a self-proclaimed ISIS capital in Syria.

I'll be speaking with Congressman Adam Smith of the Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and guests will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's go now to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. What are you learning, Barbara?


The video tells us exactly where things stand right now on the streets of Dhaka. Bangladeshi security forces assembling, trying to get a handle on this still unfolding situation.

It looks like the attackers still have some 20 hostages they are holding inside this cafe in the diplomatic area. Some 40 people may be wounded. The numbers are not fully precise. Gunfire broke out. Two police were attacked by that gunfire. One has died.

As police opened fire, the attackers apparently threw explosives out, and they may have caused some of the injuries.

Now, to the responsibility: At this hour, ISIS claiming responsibility through its official news agency. And they are continuing to post updates on the situation. If it is ISIS, that could mean that the attackers inside, the ISIS attackers inside, have some form of communication with the outside. But is it ISIS?

I must tell you just a short time ago we received a phone call from a senior administration official who cautioned, who said they're very well aware of the ISIS claim of responsibility, but the U.S. right now is not so sure. They are still looking tonight at the possibility of other claims of responsibility. There are a number of terror groups in this region of the world. Bangladesh has suffered a good deal at the hands of terrorists.

Let's just talk about al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, major al Qaeda group there. Just yesterday, the State Department declared that al Qaeda group formally as a terror organization. That is a group that has launched attacks inside Bangladesh.

So a lot of caveats in Washington tonight while officials try and sort out who may really be responsible for all of this. And Bangladeshi officials, they're on the streets, trying to get a handle on the situation -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Barbara. We will certainly note that caveat. The U.S. officials aren't ready to accept this ISIS claim of responsibility in Bangladesh.

Now our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is also monitoring the latest developments. He's been working his sources.

What are you hearing?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This is a phenomenon that we've seen in other countries, right? You have this bloody, brutal, sick competition between groups to be more -- more ambitious, more spectacular in their attacks. And we know this is a country, sadly, that has both a capable presence of ISIS but also al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent, which only yesterday, oddly enough, was declared a terror organization by the U.S. It's a relatively new al Qaeda affiliate. But they just claimed responsibility for an attack that killed a U.S. citizen in Bangladesh.

So really coming onto the U.S. radar very recently, and that's one of the candidates at this point. They're not certain who could be carrying out this kind of attack.

[17:05:22] The thing about these groups, and this is a sad fact, is that they don't really take hostages. Let's be honest here. They might want to stretch out an attack, but these are not groups that negotiate, say, "Get me a helicopter to take me back, or take me inside or release this prisoner."

KEILAR: Or they want money or something.

SCIUTTO: Yes, or that they want money or they want a statement or they want a political concession. These are -- their very M.O., their very goal is to kill. And to kill in the most public and brutal way possible. And the sad fact is that that's the more likely M.O. of a group like this than anything else. And they are successfully carrying out this attack. It's been going on for hours.

KEILAR: Meaning if they would want to draw police into something...

SCIUTTO: Draw police in, perhaps, and they've already killed two police officers, but also lengthen the attack. Terrorism is about striking fear in as many people's hearts as possible. And the more you do it, frankly, the more the world listens and watches.

They are lengthening this terror attack. And that's -- that's a sad fact. And just when we think about a big picture, Brianna, here we were just three days ago, 72 hours ago, talking about another bloody coordinated attack in a major city, attacking a soft target. In Istanbul, it was an airport. Here it's a restaurant in the diplomatic corridor. Bloody, suicidal. This is the reach, whether it was ISIS or another group, this is the reach, this ideology that these terrorists have today. And the frequency, sadly, with which they can carry out these attacks.

KEILAR: Jim Sciutto, thank you so much for that.

Well, the U.S. embassy has warned Americans to shelter in place. President Obama has gotten a briefing on this terror attack, this hostage standoff that is ongoing.

I want to go now to CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott. She's joining us on the phone. She's been talking to her sources. This siege is playing out less than a mile from the U.S. embassy there.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Less than a mile from the U.S. embassy, Brianna. And as we've been saying, on this goal shot (ph) area where care is located is very close to a diplomatic quarter, a very affluent area, where foreign diplomats and aid workers live. And that's why earlier when this situation started to unfold around 9:30 p.m. local time, the U.S. embassy issued a shelter in place for U.S. citizens, including personnel in the area. Out of caution, we're told, really from the State Department.

All of the American personnel accounted for. The embassy still working with Bangladeshi authorities to see if U.S. citizens or local staff were involved. Now, the embassy says that they weren't under immediate threat, but as we know, very close to that diplomatic quarter.

KEILAR: Are you hearing anything else from the State Department, Elise?

LABOTT: Well, State Department spoke -- spokesman John Kirby just issued statement condemning the attack. I want to quote from it a little bit: "We are seeing ISIS claims of responsibility but cannot confirm and are assessing the situation available to us. We're in ongoing contact with the government of Bangladesh as the situation continues to unfold. The U.S. offering their assistance in their efforts to bring those responsible for the attacks and to combat terrorism and violent extremism."

And as we were saying, you know, another official I also spoke to -- Barbara said she was talking about this, too -- said it's possible this was an attack inspired by ISIS, as opposed to directed by it.

But the State Department has been concerned for months about an uptick in extremist violence there. And just today, a temple worker was hacked to death by some assailants in the country. In February the State Department sent out a travel warning, alerting Americans to what they called "sophisticated attacks" taking place at the hands of both ISIS and groups related to al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent, which as we've been talking about, the State Department just yesterday officially designated a foreign terrorist organization. So a lot of attention in recent months to this growing extremist presence there, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Thanks, Elise. Elise Labott for us.

And joining me now is Democratic Congressman Adam Smith of Washington. He's a ranking member on the Armed Services Committee.

Sir, thanks for being with us. And you're the top Democratic on the House Armed Services Committee. What are you learning about this attack?

REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON: Well, I think it just shows the spread of the ideology. You would have the attack in Turkey, obviously the attack here. You know, whether or not it was directed by ISIS, or just inspired by ISIS, the ideology that they are spreading is incredibly dangerous. Even as they lose territory in Iraq and Syria, they gain supporters worldwide who are capable of carrying out these types of attacks which are very, very difficult to anticipate and stop.

We need to work collaboratively with our allies across the world to give the best intelligence possible to try to anticipate this and identify these attackers.

But it is -- it is a danger that is hard to contain, precisely because you don't know exactly where in the world they're going to strike.

KEILAR: Now, there are reports that cite an ISIS news agency claim that says ISIS is responsible for this. At the same time, we're hearing from U.S. officials they're not ready to accept this ISIS claim. Why is that?

SMITH: Well, I can't say for sure. I don't know what information they have. I don't want to contradict what has been reported.

KEILAR: Does it have a hallmark of an ISIS attack, do you think?

SMITH: Absolutely. Absolutely. And certainly inspired. And this has been spreading dangerously in Bangladesh over the course of the last year. A place that a couple of years ago did not see this type of terrorism.

But in a nation that has about 150 million Muslims, but also, you know, large populations of other religions, we've seen increasing terrorist attacks against Christian Indians. And you know, I think if this -- if it isn't directed by ISIS, it is clearly people who are sympathetic to that ideology. So really amounts to the same thing.

KEILAR: If this is ISIS or ISIS-inspired, there's what appears to be an ISIS attack. And all officials from many nations looking at what happened at the Istanbul airport scene. That was likened to ISIS. ISIS-inspired attack at the Orlando nightclub.

What do all of these data points tell you about -- I guess the aim of ISIS and the status of ISIS right now?

SMITH: Well, I think the aim of ISIS is to create terror across the globe. And that's what they're trying to do. I think the status of the most concerning things, a number of people who were willing to sign up for their ideology.

And again, it doesn't really matter whether or not it's directed by ISIS the same way that the 9/11 attack was directed and coordinated by al Qaeda, where they trained specific operatives and sent them in. But if they were simply sending out their message of nihilistic violence and hate and trying to get people to sign up for it and act on their behalf, it has the same impact.

What it tells me is the ideology is dangerously spreading, whatever successes they have. Specifically, places like Iraq and Syria, it would be in taking back territory. We have got to figure out a way to get back the core ideology and stop people from signing up for it. That is a comprehensive effort.

KEILAR: If this is a campaign of violence -- you see this uptick here in recent days and recent weeks -- does that tell you anything? What has changed? Why -- why this potential campaign now?

SMITH: I don't know that anything's changed. They're simply growing. I don't think, you know, in the last month or six months, they said, "OK, let's start trying to do this." I think they've been trying to do this since they started, and they're simply finding more followers willing to carry out these types of attacks. The followers are starting to act.

I think it shows this ideology is spreading. Like I said, that is the greatest danger. Certainly, you know, we have issues in countries like I've said, like in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, trying to get more stable government to contain the threat in taking over territory.

But the far larger threat right now is the ideology; willingness of people globally to sign up for it and commit violent acts in its name. We have to combat that ideology, work with our partners to do so. We could take all of the territory away from ISIS, and they would still be a threat because of that ideology, because of the people willing to follow and commit violent acts in its name.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman. Stay with me, because we're going to continue to cover this breaking story. I have more questions for you. We will ask Congressman Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, more about what we're seeing in Bangladesh in just a moment.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Our breaking news: ISIS is claiming responsibility for a terror attack which is still unfolding at this hour. U.S. officials not prepared to take that claim at face value at this point.

But there are gunmen holding hostages in a cafe. This is less than a mile from the U.S. embassy in Dhaka. That is the capital of Bangladesh.

We are back with Congressman Adam Smith of Washington. He is the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. And I'm going to be joined here in a moment by Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, as well, Congressman. She has some new breaking news.

But what can you tell us about ISIS leaders? But see, these are the ISIS leaders who have been killed. Basim Muhammad Ahmad Sultan al- Bajari, as well as ISIL's deputy minister of war, Hatim Talib al- Hamduni. Actually, stand by at this point, Congressman. We're going to go to Barbara Starr and get some of this some new information.

STARR: Hi, Brianna.

Hi, Congressman.

Well, a short time ago, let me just fill in some details for everyone. The Pentagon issued a statement, saying that they had killed these two men and gave everybody some background information. These are two ISIS leaders in the Mosul area, killed a couple of days ago as they rode in the vehicle. Now tonight the Pentagon confirming those deaths. So first up,

Muhammad Ahmad Sultan al-Bajari. He is called by the Pentagon a former member of al Qaeda. He came into the ISIS terrorist network, oversaw ISIS's takeover of Mosul two years ago, in June 2014, and he has also been heavily involved in ISIS efforts up in that region of Mosul in suicide car bombs, suicide bombers and mustard gas. So he is heavily involved in the continuing ISIS dominance of Mosul over the last two years.

The second person killed in the same vehicle, Hatim Talib al-Hamduni, he was an ISIS military commander in Mosul and head of a military police organization in that area.

Now, we've talked so much about the fact they can kill these terrorists, but ISIS fills in with new people in the job. The feeling is that may well happen, but at least for now, making the ISIS organization unsettled in Mosul in Northern Iraq is a plus in the plus column. Because one of the main goals right now is to get the Iraqis to be able to go to the north of Iraq and end the effort in the coming weeks and months to retake Mosul.

So if you take out a couple of the key commanders there, that may unsettle the ISIS organization, put them a little bit more on the run, and make them just a little bit more easy to target -- Brianna.

KEILAR: And you hear that report there, Congressman, what do you make of this? The coalition forces have conducted this airstrike and killed these two ISIS individuals.

SMITH: Well, I think it obviously is a success, and it's most successful in terms of retaking the territory in Iraq and ultimately in Syria that ISIL has taken control of. You're undermining their command and control structure.

I mean, look, on the one hand, ISIL presented themselves as "We are going to be different than al Qaeda. We're going to take territory. We're going to build a new caliphate." And largely, over the course of the last year, they've been failing that goal. They've been losing territory, not gaining it. And in the places that they do govern, like Mosul, it's been a disaster. The reports from inside have concluded that they have no idea how to run anything. And they're terrorizing the community, losing support. So their ability to actually build territory and control grow the so-called caliphate has taken serious blows over the course of the last year. And I think the killing of these leaders is another blow to that.

But like I said, the larger problem is the ideology. These people who are willing to sign up for their violent, hate-filled, nihilistic vision and, say, will kill in the name of it, anyone.

KEILAR: So is that what we expect, then, if they are -- and we know that has lost about 25 to 30 percent of its territory that it ultimately held, which you would think is good news, except now you see ISIS and those inspired by ISIS lashing out like this.

Is this a way of saying we may be having some battlefield losses, but -- but they can still be successful in this regard?

SMITH: Well, look, I think it is good news, period, that they're losing territory. I don't think these international attacks would be any less if they were gaining territory. I don't agree with some analysis that says, "Well, they're just lashing out this way, because they're losing on the other front." I think this is part of their overall goal and would be happening even if they were gaining territory in Iraq and Syria or anywhere else, for that matter.

So we have to defeat both. We have to regain the territory they've taken, deny them any (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

I will say that it undermines their ideology to some degree as they fail. Because what got them a lot of early support was the notion that they were successful, that they were gaining territory, they were growing, and they were actually going to build this mythical caliphate again, and actually have, you know, a radical, violent extremist ideology-controlled territory. And now that they're losing that, I think that that is costing them some support.

But again, obviously, from the attacks we've seen, there are too many people out there who are still signing up for this ideology. It is just too easy. In Orlando it was one person. Didn't seem like it was that well-planned, that well-organized. One well-armed person can do an enormous amount of damage.

So I keep saying, it's about defeating the ideology, stopping people from seeing it as a viable -- as a viable thing to follow.

KEILAR; Going after...

SMITH: More than just winning ground or killing a few leaders in Syria and Iraq. It's a much more difficult and more comprehensive struggle, and it's global.

KEILAR: Going after it, it's war (ph). Congressman Adam Smith, a top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Thank you so much.

We do have breaking news this hour. A strike by coalition forces has killed two top ISIS commanders. We are following that breaking news. We're also watching an ongoing hostage situation in an international district in the capital of Bangladesh. We'll have more details after a break.


[17:29:38] KEILAR: Breaking news: ISIS is claiming responsibility for a terror attack which is still unfolding this hour. Gunmen are holding hostages in a cafe less than a mile from the U.S. embassy in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

And joining me to talk more about this, CNN senior law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director; CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto; CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, a former CIA official; and CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen. [17:30:09] So we're going, Phil, into a weekend. Obviously there is

developing information. When it comes to Bangladesh, more information coming in day-to-day on Istanbul. What are these briefing going to be looking like that U.S. officials and the president are getting?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, this looks like a big bureaucracy. But in this bureaucracy the White House is going to want to know everything. This is how it's going to roll over the next few days. The president has a single adviser, Lisa Monaco. There is a secure video capability across this city today, tomorrow going into the July Fourth. CIA, FBI, NSA, the military is going to be on video with the White House saying any time anybody moves in this country under surveillance we want to know because the concern is going to be somebody who watches this stuff and says now is my time.

KEILAR: And not -- to that point, Jim, we were talking about the risks that you might see in the U.S.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, here's the thing, to be clear, speaking to counter terror officials, there is no credible or specific threat to the U.S. as we go into the July 4th weekend. Yet because of the current global situation now, ISIS has shown its ability to do two kinds of attacks. Either coordinate, one, like it's believed happened in Istanbul, possibly here where there are ties with al Qaeda, or inspires something without any connection, without even a phone call perhaps.

Someone who reads something on a Web site and decides they're going to go out and do something. That tends to be more of the concern in the U.S. ISIS would love, it would certainly have the ambition to carry a coordinated attack here but the lone wolf is the one that really tends to keep people up at night.

That said, this is another thing I hear from counter terror officials. Be aware. If you see something say something but don't be afraid. No one I speak to is telling people to stay at home this July 4th weekend. That's the world we live in.

KEILAR: The risk --

SCIUTTO: This is a real threat, but no one should be sticking their heads in the sand.

KEILAR: Peter, make some sense of the timing because this is not happening today randomly, right?


KEILAR: You don't think so?

BERGEN: Yes, so ISIS called for a campaign of terror in Ramadan and this week we've had attacks in Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Turkey, and Bangladesh. More than one a day. Tomorrow, July 2nd is the so-called Night of Power, which is a very sacred day in Ramadan, the most sacred day. It s a particularly auspicious day to die in the view of these people who are doing this attack in Bangladesh. They are certainly expecting to die. And unfortunately, you know, I think they're timing this attack to this 27th day of Ramadan which is beginning in -- beginning in Bangladesh very shortly.

KEILAR: And that may be the concern that others will be inspired to do the same as well.

You think of this, Tom, big picture here, almost like a disease. What we're seeing --

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, we can quarantine Zika, Ebola or other diseases, other viruses, but this is an ideological virus and I think it's an ideological pandemic. We can't stop these going out, these messages going out, thousands per day worldwide to all these zombie like followers that get inspired, directed, or it doesn't matter what inspires to go ahead and do the attack. And I think that's the problem is we can't shut off the message and the message keeps going out.

KEILAR: From your law enforcement perspective, as we see this ongoing hostage situation in this international neighborhood in Dhaka, Jim was speaking to these. These hostage takers, they're not trying to bargain. That's not the point. So from the point of view of law enforcement there, how do they try to get as many hostages out alive as possible?

FUENTES: Well, they'll try to come up with a plan that they can do a dynamic assault and try to kill as many hostage takers as they can. Try to save as many hostages, it's a tall order. The hostage takers in this case want to die themselves. They want the hostages to die. They want the police to die. So they have no interest. There is nothing you can negotiate with them other than how the death is going to come about.

KEILAR: I want to ask you, Peter, about this claim of responsibility. I think people were surprised when in Bangladesh ISIS claims responsibility right away. The U.S. is saying, we're not taking that at face value. In Istanbul, there's been no claim of responsibility even though people think it's ISIS. Why?

BERGEN: Because, I mean, there've been multiple ISIS attacks in Turkey but they haven't claimed responsibility because they want to maintain some kind of strategic ambiguity in Turkey. It's useful to them. That's where all the foreign fighters come in. They don't want to sort of say this is really us.

In Bangladesh, obviously they're not -- people are not trying to travel through Bangladesh to go Syria in any meaningful numbers so they don't care. And they're taking responsibility. And there is no reason to disbelieve it because the other groups that might do this -- wouldn't use these tactics.

KEILAR: It's a really good point. Peter, Phil, Jim, Tom, thank you guys so much.

Coming up, we'll bring you more details on the unfolding terror attack in Bangladesh. [17:34:55]


KEILAR: We're following breaking news. ISIS is claiming responsibility for a deadly terror attack and ongoing hostage situation at a cafe in Bangladesh.

We will bring you the latest details as they come in. It's a quickly developing story. But first we're learning new information about the apparent mastermind of this week's horrific attack on a Turkish airport. Our senior international correspondent Ivan Watson is joining us live now from Istanbul.

Ivan, tell us what you're learning.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, the Turkish president came out today denouncing, in fact saying it's probably the work of ISIS and vowing that for every one person killed here in Turkey, that the Turkish security forces would kill 10 of the terrorists.

[17:40:10] Meanwhile, the investigators are hard at work and U.S. officials say they know who the mastermind of this attack against this airport on Tuesday night. They believe they know who the mastermind was.


WATSON (voice-over): Tonight, investigators are focused on who trained and equipped the three bombers, apparently seen here exiting a taxi at the airport, as well as who may have planned their deadly attack.

Officials say they now believe this man, Akhmed Chatayev, a well-known Russian jihadist and ISIS lieutenant, may have coordinated the assault on Ataturk Airport.

Chatayek, known as Akhmed One Arm, is a battle hardened veteran, whose whereabouts are unclear.

REP. MIKE MCCAUL (R-TX), HOMELAND SECURITY CHAIRMAN: He's a Russian, was one of the probably the number one enemy in the northern Caucasus region of Russia. That says a lot. He travelled to Syria on many occasions.

WATSON: Today, the Turkish state news agency Anadolu, quoting an anonymous prosecution source named two of the terrorists, Rakim Bulgarov and Vadim Osmanov. Police are continuing to fan out across Istanbul showing this photograph to neighbors who live in the area where the men rented an apartment and questioning anyone who may have interacted with them. Investigators have now detained more than 20 people in connection with the attack.

Meantime, tonight, as Turkey continues to mourn, the prime minister of this majority Muslim country is insisting the attackers betrayed their faith.

PRES. TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKEY (Through Translator): They will end up in hell because if you kill just even one person in this world, it's equal to killing the whole population of the world. Whether women or children or elderly people. They indiscriminately kill people. They're innocent people. You don't have the right to do this.


WATSON: So we know, Brianna, that the Turkish government says that they believe the three bombers were from the Caucasus region of Russia, from the Central Asian Republics if Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The Kyrgyzstan government, however, has come out and said based on the information they have gotten from Turkish officials, the two named bombers are actually Russian citizens. And we're still waiting to find out more about the men who carried out this atrocity -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Ivan Watson, in Istanbul, thank you so much.

Coming up, more on the breaking news, ISIS now claiming responsibility for an unfolding terror attack that is inside of a diplomatic zone in Bangladesh. We'll bring you the latest details on that.


[17:47:19] KEILAR: We have breaking news. An ongoing terrorist attack and hostage standoff as we speak in Bangladesh. It's being claimed by ISIS. We'll get back to those developments in just a moment. But first, as the Republican national convention draws near, Donald Trump's search for a running mate is gearing up.

Our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta has been following the story.

When do we think Donald Trump will decide, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, it could be sooner than we think. Let the jockeying begins. Donald Trump appears to be in the final stages of picking his vice presidential running mate. I'm told Trump could make his selection before the GOP convention which is less than three weeks away. And that there is a, quote, "dark horse" now in the running.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Donald Trump doesn't have a running mate just yet, but he does have a short list. A senior adviser tells CNN New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, and Senators Bob Corker, Jeff Sessions, and John Thune, plus Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin are all under consideration.

Speculation is suddenly swirling around Pence who's scheduled to meet with Trump and is described by one top campaign aide as a dark horse coming down the track. A Trump spokesman noted Mr. Trump is meeting with a number of Republicans in the run-up to the GOP convention, adding he has a good relationship with Governor Pence.

It's a surprising development as Pence endorsed Ted Cruz before the Indiana primary and seemed to tamp down expectations this week.

GOV. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: I haven't talked to him about that topic. My focus is here in the Hoosier state and that's where it will stay.

ACOSTA: Despite Trump's previous statements that he would reveal his pick at the convention, aides now caution the announcement could come sooner to drum up excitement.

At the Western Conservative Summit in Denver, Trump didn't say much about his vice presidential search, though he did give a shout-out to Sessions and began to fill out the convention program.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I love my children. I love my children. My children are going to be speaking at the convention. My wife is going to be speaking at the convention. We're going to have -- we're going to have a great time.

ACOSTA: Campaign officials hope the veepstakes will send the message that many Republicans are rallying behind the presumptive nominee despite the never Trump movement.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: That gang, they call themselves, the never hashtag -- whatever. OK. Well, I just call them Republicans against Trump, or RAT, for short.

ACOSTA: As Trump's warm-up speaker, Sarah Palin ripped into his critics.

PALIN: It's really funny to me to see the exploding heads keep exploding over this movement because it seems so obvious. Trump wins, America will win because voters are so sick and tired of being betrayed.

ACOSTA: And Trump tried to remind the party of what they're up against, pointing to Bill Clinton's controversial meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch as Hillary Clinton is under an FBI investigation over her private e-mail server.

[17:50:09] TRUMP: I said, no, no, you're kidding, I don't believe it. I thought somebody was joking. But it's not a joke. It's not a joke. It's a very serious thing. And to have a thing like that happen is so sad.

That could be a Mexican plane up there. They're getting ready to attack.

ACOSTA: But GOP Insiders are still nervous that Trump's sometimes racially tinged rhetoric is taking the party in a wrong direction, pointing to the real estate tycoon's response to a woman who took a jab at Muslim TSA workers at a town hall in New Hampshire.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why aren't we putting our retirees, our military retirees, on that border or in TSA? Get rid of all these hibi-jabis (PH) they wear at TSA. I've seen it myself.

TRUMP: I understand.


TRUMP: You know -- and we are looking at that.


ACOSTA: Now I'm told by sources that Senator Sessions and Newt Gingrich may be on Trump's short list only as a courtesy. Senator Thune, one source joked, may simply be too tall to be tapped as a running mate for Donald Trump -- Brianna.

KEILAR: It does sometimes get superficial I think, though, Jim.

ACOSTA: Optics matter.

KEILAR: All right, Jim. Thanks so much.

Let's dig deeper now with our political experts. We have CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash. We have CNN correspondent Sunlen Serfaty and CNN political commentator Peter Beinart. He's also a contributing editor to the Atlantic.

OK, Dana, I know that you've been working your sources. What is the latest on who Donald Trump is considering for his running mate?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, I just want to say that Jim Acosta maybe cleaned up what we heard, which is that John Thune may be too tall and too handsome.


BASH: He wanted to say that so I'll say it for him.


BASH: But, look, I mean, as Jim said in his report, they are -- they have narrowed it down. They have sent some questionnaires out this week. I do think that the fact that Donald Trump has said over and over again he wants somebody who has Washington experience does inherently narrowed the list down. And surprisingly, since there are a lot of politicians here in Washington, it's not that big of a list because there are a fair number of people who don't want the job and then there are a fair number of people who just wouldn't make it through the vetting process.

So, you know, we know Bob Corker, the Foreign Relations chair, who very early on was really complimentary of Donald Trump, said some critical things recently but has -- was an early sort of applauder of him. You know, he's still somebody who, I'm told, is very much in the running. In addition to Chris Christie who is so, so close with Donald Trump and is a real adviser internally.

KEILAR: Let's talk about that, Peter, because first rule is do no harm. And Chris Christie is still under investigation.

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. And also, Christie doesn't really give you the Washington experience that Trump keeps saying he needs. I think Christie would be a good attack dog and Christie would be loyal. I mean, I think what we know about Donald Trump is that very high on his list will be someone who is subservient to him. Obsequiously subservient to him. I think that's the way he likes his relationships.

He doesn't like having strong people around him who stand up to him. You can see how he started to distance himself from Corker the minute Corker started making critical comments. The way they slapped back at Newt Gingrich when Gingrich criticized Trump over Judge Curiel, the Mexican American judge. So my sense would be that Christie has an inside track only because I think -- Trump knows that basically Christie will do whatever he wants.

KEILAR: And I actually wonder, Mary Pat Christie, remember, she made the faces behind Donald Trump. I wonder about that. Even though he would be loyal, would she?

I want to ask you, Sunlen, about Loretta Lynch because she was asked today about meeting with Bill Clinton on her airplane. He came on to her airplane in Phoenix Monday as, you know, this whole issue over Hillary Clinton's e-mail server is right now being looked at by federal authorities. She said she thinks the meeting did cast a shadow over the investigation. That's a pretty extraordinary thing for an attorney general to say.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. This is a sitting attorney general in essence and many today believe that she made a mistake and that something like this should have never happened. It's just remarkable for that in it of itself. But I also think particularly the time span about how quickly this went down. How quickly she felt the urgency to speak out formally about that. Speaks to how politically toxic she knows this is and potentially politically damaging to herself going forward.

On Monday they met in Phoenix. By Wednesday she was trying to downplay the significance, saying it was just a social encounter. They talked about grandchildren. And fast forward today, she's in full damage control, even though she stopped short of course of recusing herself.

KEILAR: That's right. Sunlen, thank you so much. Dana and Peter, thank you.

And coming up, much more of our breaking news. ISIS is claiming responsibility for a deadly attack and hostage standoff still unfolding at this hour. Dozens of casualties reported in the diplomatic area of Bangladesh capital. This is not far from the U.S. embassy.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KEILAR: Happening now, breaking news, held hostage. Gunmen seized about 20 customers of a cafe in Bangladesh. Throwing explosives and trading gunfire with police.

Tonight, ISIS is claiming responsibility for the siege and the bloodshed unfolding right now.

Coordinated attacks? This is new terror comes only 72 hours after the suicide bombings at the Istanbul airport. Is ISIS speeding up its plans to strike around the world?

Bombing mastermind. Officials named a well-known Russian terrorist as the likely organizer of the massacre in Turkey --