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Interview With Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Ferguson Arson Charges; Suspected ISIS Terrorist Breaks Silence

Aired February 12, 2015 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: ISIS on the attack. The terrorists unleash firepower on several fronts and get dangerously close to an Iraqi base where hundreds of U.S. Marines and other troops are positioned.

Safe in Syria? We're digging in on new ISIS claims about the world's most wanted woman. Is she really on the terrorists' home turf, along with another high-profile fugitive?

Arson charges. CNN is learning about a new federal indictment stemming from the fiery riots in Ferguson, Missouri, over the summer. Stand by. We have details.

And a playful president. He takes selfies. He gets silly in a new video. But is this the right move right now for the commander in chief?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Breaking now, a ferocious new show of force by ISIS across an unusually wide area against multiple targets. And hundreds of Americans at a strategic air base inside Iraq may be threatened along with countless others in the path of the terrorists and these brutal new attacks.

A key member of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Adam Kinzinger, there you see him. He is standing by live, along with our correspondent and our analysts. They're covering all the news that is breaking right now.

Up first, though, our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, with the very latest -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, administration officials have said that ISIS' momentum has been stopped. That's true in many areas. The forward progress stopped, even pushed back, but a new show of force just in the last 24 hours, attacks up here in the north on Kurdish areas, particular tension here, al-Baghdadi, Anbar province just to the west of Baghdad, bringing those ISIS forces within a few miles of 400 U.S. military personnel.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO (voice-over): ISIS back on the offensive, the terror

group launching new attacks on multiple fronts across Iraq, in the north, striking Kurdish forces in towns including Sinjar, and in the west, striking Iraqi forces in the town of al-Baghdadi, just a few miles from a strategic Iraqi air base where some 400 U.S. military personnel are training Iraqi forces.

Despite the U.S.-led air campaign, the size of their fighting force, U.S. officials say, is increasing monthly, replenished with a continuing stream of foreign fighters, recruiting from the West and U.S., now continuing concern from counterterrorism officials that some militants could return home undetected.

MICHAEL STEINBACH, FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF COUNTERTERRORISM: If I were to say that we had it under control, then I would say I knew of every single individual traveling. Well, I don't. And I don't know every person there. And I don't know everyone coming back. So, it's not even close to being under control.

SCIUTTO: Here's the scope of the threat, more than 20,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, more than 3,400 of them Westerners. And approximately 150 Americans have gone or attempted to go to the war zone.

The nation's top counterterrorism official says the number of fighters flocking to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS and other terror groups is unmatched in two decades.

NICHOLAS RASMUSSEN, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER: The rate of foreign fighter travel that we have seen in recent years is unprecedented. It exceeds the rate of travel and travelers who went to Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, other prominent conflict zones.

SCIUTTO: ISIS' reach is now spreading to other countries, to Libya, Yemen, Egypt and in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pentagon says some Taliban are now rebranding themselves as ISIS, hoping the ISIS name will attract new recruits and new financing.


SCIUTTO: Beyond ISIS, of course, AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, remains a threat. And AQAP now taking advantage of the instability, the collapse of the government in Yemen.

Just in the last 24 hours, AQAP forces here in Shabwa province, just to the east of the capital, Sanaa, taking over a Yemeni military base, including the heavy weapons there, really a target of opportunity as the government in Sanaa, which has long been a U.S. partner in the fight against AQAP, it collapses. It's another problem as the U.S. tries to keep AQAP under control in Yemen, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's going to more difficult now that the U.S. has abandoned the embassy in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital. All the Marines and the other U.S. diplomats, civilian personnel, they are all safely out of Yemen. But there's enormous dangers there, especially because AQAP is based in Yemen. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Tonight, CNN has also learned about a desperate attempt by Kayla Mueller's boyfriend to try to save her from ISIS before the American hostage died in captivity.

Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, has been working her sources. She has new information. She's joining us now.

What are you learning, Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a heartbreaking message from the man kidnapped in Syria with Kayla Mueller, who also risked his life to try to save her later on.

Her boyfriend Omar Alkhani, he posted this picture we're about to show right here of Kayla holding a stuffed animal, saying on his Facebook page, "I'm sorry I didn't hold on to you with so much strength that even God couldn't take you away. You left our world for a bigger and better place now."

As we said, he risked his life to try to rescue her and after he was released from captivity, he confronted the terrorists holding her captive face to face pretending to be Kayla's husband. But the ruse failed. We learned that after ISIS issued an execution deadline for Mueller last August, the Mueller family actually reached out to the White House in desperation, according to a family spokesperson, and asked the administration if it would consider a prison her swap trading U.S. prisoner Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, known as Lady al Qaeda, for Mueller.

Even though that swap never happened, it's believed Mueller was still alive after the execution deadline passed. The White House didn't want to comment on the family's swap request, but did release a statement today denying reports that it delayed launching a rescue attempt to save Mueller and other hostages last July, saying in a statement the president and his national security team carried out the mission as soon as they were confident it could be carried out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper now.

Joining us, Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a Republican of Illinois. He's a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. I know you are in the U.S. Air Force Reserves still. You are still a pilot. You have a personal stake, obviously, given the fact that you fought and you saw presumably some of your friends die in Afghanistan, come back in bad shape as well.

What do you make of this new development that they are moving closer and closer and closer to this Al Asad Air Base, where there are a few hundred U.S. Marines and other U.S. military advisers?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: It's personally really tragic

It's frightening, obviously, because we have potentially troops in harm's way. They are going to be good. They will be able to defend themselves. These soldiers and Marines are very good at what they do. But for me personally, I spent multiple tours there fighting hard to win the peace in Iraq. Many people fought even harder than I did.

And to watch it fall apart is really tragic. I left in '09 and I think the war was won basically in '09. And I went back actually about four months ago up into the Kurdistan region and just was tragic to see the whole thing fall apart.

BLITZER: Because the central government in Baghdad, whether it was Nouri al-Maliki's government -- and I know there's hope that the new government of Haider al-Abadi is going to be better. I haven't seen a whole lot of evidence. Have you?

KINZINGER: There's hope.

But we have to do a better job. The Iraqis have to do a better job of engaging the Sunnis. And this is the big issue. From what I understand from people that have kind of been on the ground and talking to these Sunni tribesmen, they said there's no outreach, there's no attempt to engage them. That's going to be the key to holding Iraq together and to liberating Iraq from ISIS, is the Sunni.

BLITZER: Here's what is so frustrating. The U.S. spent a decade training these Iraqi forces, Shiites, Sunni, Kurds. They were supposed to have a central military. Hundreds of thousands of troops were armed, trained, funded by the United States. The U.S. spent a decade there doing it.

As soon as the United States pulled out, that entire effort collapsed. As soon as ISIS came in with a few thousand guys, they ran away from Mosul, a big city, nearly two million people. All that armor, all that equipment was left behind. These are the people the U.S. still thinks that the U.S. can train and get the job done? Because it was a total waste the first time around. Why try again?

KINZINGER: I think it's our only option. Between the Iraqi military and the Kurdish Peshmerga...


BLITZER: The Kurdish Peshmerga, they are fighting. But they have no weapons, no serious weapons.


BLITZER: The U.S. is still providing the weapons to the central regime in Baghdad. Some of it flows to the Kurds. But it's still a horrendous mess.

KINZINGER: But not much. They have gotten maybe a dozen MRAPs, for instance, but they have an 800-border with ISIS. So, a dozen MRAPs aren't going to do very much.

I think we need to directly arm the Kurdish Peshmerga. Lean on the Iraqi central government and deal with it. This is what we're going to have to do.

BLITZER: But right now, the 400 Marines and other military advisers at this Al Asad Air Base, near al-Baghdadi, if you will, this other place in the Anbar province, they are relying on their security on these Iraqi military forces.


BLITZER: That sounds pretty dangerous. If you are have a friend or a loved one among those Americans at that base, you would be pretty nervous right now.


KINZINGER: Yes. You would be very nervous. Look, they probably have great units there guarding our Marines.

And our Marines are very good at defending themselves as well. I'm sure there will be plenty of air cover if they come under attack. It's a scary situation. I don't worry about the base being overrun because we're very good at what we do. But the bigger issue with the Iraqi military...


BLITZER: But the base is under -- excuse me for interrupting.


BLITZER: The base isn't a U.S. base. This is an Iraqi base.

KINZINGER: Right. Right.

BLITZER: And the Iraqis, as you know, as soon as they get threatened, they run away.


Well, I will tell you, with strong leadership, I don't think the Iraqi military will run away. Part of the problem is Maliki basically politicized the leadership of the military. And instead of the United States leaning on Maliki to make it a professional leadership, what happened is, they get into contact with ISIS.

All the leadership runs away. Every foot soldier is going to run away if you see your captain running away too. And so we saw an epic failure of the Iraqi military. It doesn't mean I have a whole lot of confidence in them, but I think it's our only...


BLITZER: Remember, the Iraqi military largely Shiite. The Sunnis don't trust them at all. Almost half of Iraq is Sunnis right now.

Let's get back to those 400 Marines and other U.S. troops at this air base. ISIS is moving closer and closer and closer to them. If they have to fight, would you call them combat ground troops if they have to fight to defend them service?

KINZINGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Or would they just simply be advisers, if you will?

KINZINGER: I think they would be combat ground troops. I think they are combat ground troops, even if they are advising. I think we parse words too much on the idea of boots on the ground or combat troops.

Look, every Marine, every military person is trained to fight and may be called upon to do it. We hope that's not the case in this situation. But it very well may be. But I tell you, if there is an engagement with ISIS by our Marines, it will be very one-sided in favor of the United States.

BLITZER: Yes, but I wouldn't rule out the possibility the U.S. starts sending in planes to airlift those guys out of there as quickly as possible.

KINZINGER: Very possible.

BLITZER: Because I have limited confidence in the Iraqi troops that are supposedly in charge.


BLITZER: Let's see what happens.

We have a lot more to talk about, Congressman. Stand by.

We will take a quick break. Much more on the breaking news right after this.


BLITZER: We're back with the Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger.

As ISIS wages a major new military offensive in Iraq, with U.S. troops clearly in the crosshairs, Congress meanwhile beginning a heated debate about the president's request for the new war powers legislation.

Are you with the president on the language he's submitted yesterday?

KINZINGER: I don't like it. I don't like it.

BLITZER: What do you like about it? KINZINGER: What I don't like is, a war powers resolution from

the Congress' perspective should just give the president the authority to be commander in chief.

What this resolution does, it vaguely talks about enduring offensive combat operations and that being prohibited and it also puts a three-year time limit on it. The three-year time limit, I disagree with, but that's not necessarily a deal-killer.

But the limit of what we're able or willing to do is my problem. Look, I'm not calling for large-scale American military combat operations. But what I am saying is when it comes to a cancer like ISIS, you can't say ISIS is bad unless it takes ground troops, in which case ground troops are worse.

BLITZER: But a lot of liberal Democrats, they are not going to vote for legislation that doesn't have that kind of restriction, the restriction you hate.

KINZINGER: Yes. And herein lies the problem. This is where the president has to be a leader.

He has to say, look, I'm the commander in chief. I'm coming to Congress, this is what I need to prosecute the war and lead his own party. I don't have a lot of confidence in the president's ability to prosecute this war, to be honest with you. But I also realize there's only one commander in chief and it's him.

And the other thing is, this authorization is going to go beyond President Obama to the next president of the United States as well, because, unfortunately, this war is not going to end within the next couple of years.

BLITZER: He is getting -- he is seeking this authorization, even though he says he really doesn't need it. He has got authorization from 2001, 2002. Those still remain in effect. He is just doing this because Congress asked him to submit some proposed legislation.

KINZINGER: And that's fine. I actually agree with the president.

I think he's operating under legitimate authorization today. But if you are going to come to the Congress and say, here is my proposal to operate and I'm going to restrict myself even further, that's not something that I and frankly a lot of my colleagues can support.

I want a piece of legislation I can vote for. But in the current draft, that's not it. I know the committees are going to be having hearings and we will probably see a different piece of legislation.

BLITZER: You think there could be a compromise or this is dead?

KINZINGER: I think in its current form, it's dead. But we can put out whatever authorization we want.

I think if there's an unrestricted one that allows the president to be commander in chief, that may be possible.

BLITZER: You might get votes in the House, but probably not a lot of Democrats will go along with you. Right?

KINZINGER: You might -- maybe not necessarily. But you would be able to pick up 60 votes in the Senate probably and the president will get the authorization he needs.


BLITZER: We will state if he signs that or whatever.

You were in Yemen not that long ago on a fact-finding mission. It has turned out to be a disaster right now. The U.S. has been forced to abandon the embassy in the capital of Sanaa. Military equipment, vehicles, they're now in the hands presumably of these Houthi Shiite rebels that have taken over.

This is a real problem, because this is the headquarters of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which represents a huge potential threat.

KINZINGER: This is a real embarrassment.

Out of our embassy, we were able to have a foothold and conduct these counter-al Qaeda operations. That is presumably gone now or defunct.

BLITZER: They say they can still do stuff even without an embassy. I guess if they launch drone strikes from neighboring countries in Oman or elsewhere.

KINZINGER: Yes. And where are we getting intelligence from on the ground? Who are we dealing with? There's no central government anymore.

It's sad to see. Frankly, it's also sad because this is what the president held up as an example for why we're doing some of the operations we're doing and as a success. And it's not a success. It's tragic.

BLITZER: It's a disaster in Yemen, a disaster in Libya, despite those hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles which the U.S. launched to get rid of Gadhafi. They're swimming at the U.S. Embassy pool in Libya right now, the rebels.

Somalia, the U.S. Embassy was forced to shut down. Obviously, in Syria, there's no U.S. embassy in Damascus. I see a pattern here. You served in Iraq. You served in Afghanistan. I got to ask you this question. Was that a waste, given what's going on right now? Did the United States, the money, the blood, the treasure, all of that, was that simply a waste?

KINZINGER: I don't think so.

Look, if we look back, I think probably many of us would have made a different decision in 2003 about Iraq. But we did what we did. I was there in '09. We had brought Iraq peace. The surge had worked. It seems that political reconciliation was happening. And we pulled out all our forces in 2011 and pulled out, frankly, a lot of our engagement with Iraq.

It went the way -- it went in a bad way. It's terrible to see what's happening now. But I would say that the sacrifice of many Americans has not been a waste in this war. We brought people peace. We showed them for a little bit what democracy can look like. Hopefully they take what it was like at one point and try to reinstate that.

BLITZER: Because, in my view, the strategic winner in Iraq is not the United States. It's Iran, because that Shiite-led government in Baghdad is much -- whether it's Nouri al-Maliki's government or Haider al-Abadi, the current prime minister, they seem to be much more concerned about having an alliance with their neighbors in Iran, the fellow Shiite regime, as opposed the United States.

KINZINGER: The strategic winner right now in all of the Middle East is Iran, in Yemen. We see it in Syria.

The Iranian sphere of influence is encroaching all over the Middle East. It really blows me away to see why is this administration not doing a better job of engaging. It seems they are so eager for a peace deal in Iran that they are allowing Iran's sphere of influence. This is going to come back to bite us over there.

BLITZER: Why is the U.S. supporting a government in Baghdad that seems to want to have this close alliance with Iran?

KINZINGER: I don't think we have a choice. This is probably the best of many bad options.

But I think Iraq knows how to play the game. They play some Iranian influence. And they also want a balance with the United States. If we completely disengage with Iran, not only will be there human tragedy and everything else, but we will have basically total Iranian control of Iraq probably. And it's better for us to be there and at least be a counterbalance and work the longer-term issues once we get rid of ISIS.

BLITZER: You agree the only really reliable Iraqis right now are the Kurds in the north?

KINZINGER: That's the only reliable ones right now.


BLITZER: Maybe they should have their own little autonomous enclave. The U.S. can work with them, because the rest of Iraq, it was a disaster, it is a disaster presumably for the time being. It's going to be a disaster.

KINZINGER: I think it will be hard to see the Kurds going back into full partnership with the Iraqi government. There may be some autonomy or maybe they will push for independence at some point. But we have got the 50-meter target right now and that's ISIS.

BLITZER: Yes. Meanwhile, ISIS right now threatening a bunch of Americans, 400 Americans at that al-Abadi air base, not -- it's in the Anbar province. A lot of Americans lost their lives fighting for that Anbar province, as you well remember, whether in Fallujah or some other places.

KINZINGER: Yes. And our prayers go out for them tonight.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks for your service to the United States. Appreciate it very much.

KINZINGER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're learning more about one of the world's most wanted terror suspects. Is ISIS offering any proof she's safe in Syria?

Plus, we're going to tell you what authorities are now saying about the killing of three Muslim students in North Carolina. This has been a horrendous murder. Do authorities now view it as a hate crime?

Months after the fiery rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, federal prosecutors are now pressing charges. We will tell you what's going on.


BLITZER: Tonight, ISIS says two of the world's most wanted terrorist suspects are safely on the group's home turf in Syria after evading international manhunts.

We are digging deeper on the terror group's new claims about the widow of the Paris market gunman and the alleged ringleader of a huge Belgium terror plot.

Our terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank broke these stories for us. He's here, along with our CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd and our CNN military analyst retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

Paul, you are getting new details on the Belgium ringleader who supposedly was working on a huge plot in Belgium that was foiled. What are you hearing?


Wolf, ISIS are claiming that he is now back in Syria, Abdel-hamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader in that major plot in Belgium last month. The Belgian authorities believe he was coordinating the cell from Greece. In a new issue of "Dabiq" magazine, the English ISIS magazine, he explains how he was able to evade an international manhunt to get back to Syria.

They are also featuring a picture with him and two of the dead gunmen who were killed by Belgian commanders in that raid in eastern Belgium last month, all of this very much tying ISIS to this plot, a plot against the West. A lot of concern among Western intelligence agencies that ISIS is pivoting towards wanting to launch attacks in the West using European and Western recruits for that, Wolf.

And of course Senator James Risch on your show just last week said ISIS was moving beyond aspirational when it came to launching plots against the U.S. homeland.

BLITZER: Phil Mudd, here is what worries me. This guy was being sought after, he was on the most wanted list. He supposedly was operating out of Greece. But somehow he manages to get from Greece, presumably to maybe Turkey, then across the border into Syria. How does this happen despite an international manhunt?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, I don't think this is a big surprise. You are talking about an ISIS organization that now has years of experience in smuggling people across the border.

Greece is right across from Turkey. Turkey is right across from Syria. I suspect he had his exist plan already organized and that ISIS knew which border points were vulnerable. I think the real question, Wolf, is not whether he made it across the border so quickly, it's what his life expectancy is now that he's in Syria.

In my experience, somebody like this who is in a war zone and who is now the target of Western security forces, including the CIA, where I served, life expectancy, one to five years. He's a dead man walking.

BLITZER: Well, we will see if that happens.

General Hertling, how dangerous, though, could he be if he's operating from inside Syria right now?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, he certainly has some information on the plot, Wolf.

But I want to go back, if I can, and agree with Phil, because it has only been recently that Turkey has -- has put up restrictions, what they call ban from entry. It's only started in about the December time frame. They've only approached about 10,000 entry points.

They are starting to make known that the folks with known records, preventing them from going into Turkey and then traveling into Syria. But we still have problems there. If they get back into Syria, I agree with Phil: he's a dead man walking. He's certainly going to be a target. But I think we've also got a great deal -- the Belgium police have a great deal of intelligence from the raid.

BLITZER: Paul, you've read that supposed interview with Hayat Boumeddiene. She's the widow of the supermarket gunman in Paris, Amedy Coulibaly. I know you've struck by the fact that they didn't show any pictures of her. This is when she was getting into Turkey with her accomplice over there. But what do you make of that, that there aren't any photos in this magazine of her?

CRUICKSHANK: That's right, Wolf. It's just a two-page Q&A, and no photographs of her, no other proof that she's actually reached Syria. I think that will change if she has, indeed, joined up with ISIS in Syria. I think they're likely to use her for significant propaganda, because it allows them to take some ownership of those attacks in Paris. French counterterrorism analysts I've been speaking to view the claim as credible but not verified yet. I'm sure it's believed she traveled into Syria from Turkey the day before that Jewish grocery market attack by her companion, Amedy Coulibaly.

BLITZER: Yes, and U.S. officials have told me they have no reason not to believe that it's credible. But we'll see if there is credibility there after all. What was their thinking, Phil Mudd? Why do you think they published this Q&A with her?

MUDD: Look, I remember watching the communications of the al Qaeda guys, the ISIS guys. They read the media almost as much as you and I do. They saw the response to the Jordanian pilot. More significantly, they've seen the response to the murder of an American woman. Why is it that we get almost no media coverage, from their perspective, no media sort of released from their optic of the American woman, and immediately, we get a lot of coverage of Boumeddiene?

I think the answer is quite straightforward. These guys are not stupid; they're savvy. They've realized they've got to cover their tracks. The best way to do it is to come up with stories that will eliminate the bad news of the last couple of weeks for them. I think that's why this is in the news today.

BLITZER: Does it surprise you, General Hertling, that she was able to reach the ISIS areas inside Syria?

HERTLING: It does not, Wolf. It doesn't surprise me at all, because she didn't have the record. It was her boyfriend that did. I mean, I think she smoothly passed through Turkey and into Syria, as two tourists, and then the mules that take her across the border.

But again, she is going to be a key piece of propaganda. The magazine is very slick. I've seen all seven issues of this thing, and the most recent one will take advantage of what the west is showing on media and really amp it up quite a bit for the readers again to sell the product that this is a lifestyle. And everyone is enjoying what they're doing to include these young women who are prosecuting these kind of actions.

BLITZER: We know this Hayat Boumeddiene, she left France. She actually went to Spain first, from Spain to Turkey. And then from Turkey, she crossed the border into Syria. Presumably, she's now with these ISIS -- these ISIS commanders someplace in Syria.

Guys, thanks very much. Don't go too far away.

Just ahead, another important story we're following: a new vigil for three Muslim students killed execution-style in North Carolina. And ongoing questions about the shooter's motive.

And a new federal indictment stemming from the fiery riots in Ferguson, Missouri. New information coming in. We're going to tell you what we're learning.


BLITZER: Breaking now, a vigil for the three Muslim students shot and killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, allegedly by a neighbor in what they are calling a hate crime.

CNN's Jean Casarez is joining us from Raleigh. What's the latest over there, Jean?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a vigil tonight. There are hundreds upon hundreds of people here at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. This is where all three of the victims did their undergraduate. The governor of North Carolina just spoke.

The day started, though, with the funeral of these three young victims.


CASAREZ (voice-over): A funeral for the Muslim students shot execution-style Tuesday night took place today in Raleigh, North Carolina.

AZHAR AZEEZ, PRESIDENT, ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF NORTH AMERICA: We are concerned that the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in other society may have encouraged some to commit violence against American Muslims.

CASAREZ: Authorities are focused on this man, 46-year-old Craig Hicks, charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

AZEEZ: So we urge the law enforcement to investigate this case as a possible hate crime.

CASAREZ: The father of the two sisters shot to death believes the killings were motivated by just that, hate.

MOHAMMAD ABU-SALHA, FATHER OF VICTIM: My daughter, Yusor, honest to God, told us on more than two occasions that this man came knocking on the door and fighting about everything with a gun on his belt, more than twice. She told us, "Daddy, I think he hates us for who we are and how we look."

CASAREZ: But so far, authorities believe this may have all happened after a dispute over a parking spot. Residents of the condominium complex where Hicks lives describe an often angry neighbor.

SAMANTHA MANESS, NEIGHBOR OF GUNSHOT VICTIMS: When it came to parking, he was pretty adamant about no new people, no new cars. Equal opportunity anger. CASAREZ: But any anger prosecutors will say was focused Tuesday

on only these victims. And that is one reason it is being investigated as a hate crime.

On Facebook, Hicks is an outspoken atheist, critical of religion. Authorities have been searching his computer for clues, not ready to rule anything out.


CASAREZ: And people tonight have come to this vigil, they are standing in frigid temperatures, listening to speeches on acceptance, hearing Muslim hymns. And the defendant is sitting behind bars very close to here in Raleigh, facing three counts of first-degree murder -- Wolf.

BLITZER: These are three wonderful, wonderful young people. Our deepest, deepest condolences to their families. Jean Casarez, thanks very much.

We also have some breaking news we're following. CNN's now learning about a new federal indictment stemming from the fiery riots in Ferguson, Missouri, over the summer.

All right. Justice reporter Evan Perez is here. He's got details for us.

All right, Evan. What are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is something of a milestone for federal prosecutors in St. Louis. They brought an indictment against Antonio Whiteside. He's a 26-year-old from the St. Louis area. They say that he was responsible for lighting fire to the Ferguson Market.

Now, the Ferguson Market, if you remember, is the scene of a strong armed robbery that included Michael Brown, which happened just before his confrontation with police in which he died, Wolf.

Authorities circulated this video that showed this suspect appearing to have some kind of liquid that he was using to try to light the market on fire. Fortunately, there were some people in the market who were able to put it out. The market is still in operation. We reached out to them today. They said they had not heard about these charges, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll follow up, of course, on this. Thanks very much, Evan Perez.

Let's bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin; CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes; and CNN anchor Don Lemon.

You spent a lot of time there in Ferguson, Don. What's your reaction to this news that one of the fires in the wake of the Michael Brown grand jury decision? Could this cause even more unrest? What do you think? DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: It could possibly. We know it's a tinder

box there. But I don't think it should. I think that anyone who burns someone's business down or tries to take someone's livelihood and possibly take lives, I think they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. So I don't think it should cause any unrest. And I think, again, they should be prosecuted.

BLITZER: And Tom Fuentes, from a law enforcement standpoint, the timing of this is significant. It's taken a while, but what do you think?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think in this case, where you have eyewitnesses who actually see the individual trying to light the fire, use an accelerant. They put out the fire to save the business and possibly save their own lives, since they were inside. I think it's at the point where they were able to bring the indictment; they brought it.

BLITZER: And legally, obviously, it doesn't surprise you that they're doing this. Maybe there's going to be more of these indictments down the road?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. This is why we have an FBI. This is why we have federal prosecutors. Arson, riot, these are monstrous crimes which are incredibly dangerous, did horrible damage. And I -- this is a fully appropriate prosecution.

BLITZER: It certainly is.

All right. Don, the FBI director, James Foley, he spoke out today on a very sensitive issue. Police and race relations. I want you to listen to this clip.


JAMES FOLEY, FBI DIRECTOR: After years of police work, officers often can't help but be influenced by the cynicism they feel. A mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some. The two young black men on one side of the street looked like so many others that officer has locked up. Two white men on the other side of the street, even in the same clothes, do not.


BLITZER: Clearly, a very sensitive subject. Don, you were there, as I said, in Ferguson. What do you think of what the FBI director said?

LEON: God, Wolf, I wish I had the whole hour to talk to you about it. I applaud the FBI director's speech today. And I wish he would talk more about it, and I wish we all could talk with the candor with which he spoke today.

He talked about the disconnect between police officers and people of color in certain communities. And that certainly is true. He says research shows that whether we want to realize it or accept it or not. He said the police departments are hardly a bastion of bias. In

fact, most people go into policing because they want to help all people, not just white people or black people or Hispanic people. They want to help people. And I think that's certainly true.

He also -- it's not just police that are going to have to look at themselves and do self-correcting. It's also people in the community will have to do that as well, because he said, the problems -- the biggest problems facing the communities aren't police.

It's poverty, lack of education, drugs, crime. Some of that has been brought on by the history of the country. But some of it we must take personal responsibility as people of color and look at what we can do for ourselves. It doesn't mean racism doesn't exist. It doesn't mean the history of slavery and bigotry and Jim Crow did not help to facilitate some of that. But at some point, you have to say, what can I do to make myself better?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, Tom Fuentes, you used to work in the FBI. You've got to give the FBI director a lot of credit for taking on this issue. It's very sensitive.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Absolutely. Having heard the whole context to what he said, he is saying basically, everybody has racial bias, not just white people, not just black people. Not just but it's almost -- I've heard this in other sociological terms, everybody has a racist bias against someone who's not from their tribe. And that's true. And that's just because policemen are human beings, human nature takes in. These biases exist.

BLITZER: You listened carefully. What did you think?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I was less impressed than others. We have had a lot of conversations about race. After the events, we are always taking about we need to talk about this and we need to talk about domestic violence after a big domestic violence episode. You know, I think deeds are more important than words. And what interested me most were specific suggestions. Cameras perhaps, external cameras on --

BLITZER: Body cameras.

TOOBIN: Record keeping that we don't have. We don't know how many police officers kill people every year in this country. That's good. I think the conversation is --

LEMON: But, Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: Yes, sir, Don.

LEMON: He did say he was putting certain practices into place that he said, you know, it's awful I can't tell you how many people were killed last week or last night because we just don't have the tools to measure that. He talked about putting certain things into place. He talked about how police departments -- he was going to encourage police departments to use the same tactics that he uses at the FBI when recruits come in to look at how they surveilled Dr. King and how -- JFK as well.

And so, he is saying that there are certain things that need to be done. I think it's very commendable of him. I also think when you say that they have had those conversations -- yes, Eric Holder has had conversations, the president has had conversations. What's different about this is that, what gives the president and Eric Holder cover is that they are black. It's give them cover with the black community. What gives James Comey cover is that he's white. So, white people may perk up and listen to him more than they listen to the president or listen to Eric Holder because they think they have a political bias or they may think that they have a racial bias.

So, I think it was very brave of him, very forward thinking of him to come out and say this and not blame everybody. And as Tom Fuentes said, we all have a stake in this. We all have to sit down. We all have to allow mistakes in the conversation to say the wrong thing. That's the only way that you get anything done. No one is perfect.

I really commend him for saying that. I do believe he talked about certain practices.

BLITZER: Very quickly.

TOOBIN: I hope Don's right. We'll see.

BLITZER: Good discussion, guys. Thanks to all of you.

By the way, Don is going to be back later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern. His program "CNN TONIGHT", he's going to have a lot more on this and all the day's very important news.

Guys, thanks very much.

Just ahead, more on the new attacks by ISIS and the threat to several hundred U.S. troops right in the middle of all of this in Iraq.


BLITZER: May be time for some of the presidential hopefuls to think twice about going to London. There seems to be something about that city that inspires political gaffes. Listen to the Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in London dodging a question about whether he believes in Evolution.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you comfortable with the idea of evolution? Do you accept it?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: For me, I'm going to -- I'm going to punt on that one as well.


WALKER: That's a question a politician shouldn't be involved in one way or the other. So, I'm going to leave that up to you --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any British politician, right or left wing, they would love -- and say, yes, of course, evolution is true.

WALKER: To me, I said, it's one of those I'm here to talk about trade, not pontificate on other issues.

I love the evolution of trade in Wisconsin. I'd like to see an even bigger evolution as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.


BLITZER: Governor Walker is following the footsteps of three other Republicans who had some foot and mouth problems during trips to the British capital, Mitt Romney, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal.

Let's bring in our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash, our CNN political commentator Ryan Lizza, and our resident expert on Britain, Richard Quest.

Dana, what's going on here? These I guess -- I don't know if you want to call them gaffes or whatever they are. But something is happening to some of these presidential hopefuls in London.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The governors or former governors who want to go over and show their foreign policy chops, get a sense, and London does seem like a safe place to do it. I mean, they're the biggest ally that we have. They speak the same language.

But the problem is they also have a very dynamic press corps, and Richard can tell you about that. The fact is, he said, well, anybody here would answer it but anybody in London -- they don't have to run for the Republican base and the Republican base is very specific, many of them about whether or not a candidate supports evolution or not. Now, he could have done it in a much more delicate, artful way but he clearly didn't want to answer the question.

BLITZER: Is there something about the British press or London in particular, Richard, that American politicians should avoid?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They get lulled into a false sense of security, Wolf. The English is being spoken. They may have gone to school there for a semester. They've been there on holiday. There's a large infrastructure at the embassy.

Everything about them makes them feel it's safe until somebody like Justin Webb, who's one of Britain's top interviewers, suddenly goes for the jugular and then it all falls apart. But the real fault is they're not briefed sufficiently before they get there on the pitfalls that they're about to face. BLITZER: I think they will be after these programs.

Ryan, do these kind of gaffes come back to hurt these potential presidential candidates?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: A little bit. And as Richard just proved, it doesn't matter what you say, you say it with a British accent like that it's interesting.

You know, if you look at Marco Rubio's trip there, he had a very successful trip in 2013, much different. There are two issues in American politics and the Republican Party that most Brits find incomprehensible, this doesn't exist in the right/left spectrum over there. One is a debate over evolution here and, two, the issue of climate change. Republicans going to London, they know that they're going to have to answer questions like that. They know how the issues play differently there. They should be better prepared than Walker was.

BLITZER: You know, let's talk about this "BuzzFeed" video the features the president of the United States. It's getting a lot of buzz.

Let me play a little clip. Watch this.


BLITZER: All right, Dana. What's going on here? Because it's very cute, very funny. But what is the president of the United States doing?

BASH: Let me talk about the fact that why didn't they clean the mirrors in the White House? What's up with that? You can see the finger prints all over that.

What's going on is that believe it or not, this is supposed to be for, when this is --

BLITZER: To promote it.

BASH: To promote it. When you look at the Web site on "BuzzFeed", there's a couple of place where you can hit that. This is about trying to get people to sign up. He's doing it in a very different way.

I mean, my goodness, when I covered the White House, George W. Bush wouldn't go to the Oval Office without wearing his jacket, you know? And people have to be --

LIZZA: So he claimed, yes.

BASH: So, he claimed and people -- so, it's just a very different time and it's a very different vibe. But you know what? He didn't have the Web and he didn't have the kind of places like that --

BLITZER: Let me get resident London British guy. Go ahead and weigh in, Richard.

QUEST: Well, whenever British politicians try to look hip and cool they fail spectacularly. They either wear the wrong clothes or they have the wrong hair styles, and it always looks like your parents disco dancing.

But here, you have the president actually managing to pull it off. It's a generational thing, but he does successfully do it. In the same way when ever he gives these interviews he seems to be in tune. He's got young daughters. He knows what they're talking about.

BLITZER: He's currently reaching a lot of people with this video.

Guys, thanks very much.

On a very different note, I want to say a few words about a great journalist and friend, "60 Minutes" correspondent Bob Simon.

I was shocked and saddened to learn about his death in car accident yesterday. I first met him when I was a young reporter. He was already a big shot TV correspondent for CBS News. He could not have been nicer to me. It's a kindness I'll never forget.

Bob Simon risked his life covering big stories including Vietnam and Gulf wars. In 1991, he was captured by Iraqi forces and spent 40 days in prison. We all knew what Saddam Hussein was capable, but Bob made it out and, of course, he wrote about his experience.

I knew that whenever Bob Simon had a report on "60 Minutes", I was going to learn something. He was always an inspiration, always a gentleman. My deepest condolences to his wife Francoise and his daughter Tanya.

Bob Simon was 73 years old. He will be missed.

Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.