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Interview With Maine Senator Angus King; Jihadi John's Identity; ISIS in America?

Aired February 26, 2015 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: ISIS in America. New arrests drive the terror group's ability to lure new followers allegedly ready and willing to attack U.S. landmarks and even the president. Now national security officials are offering stunning new assessments about the danger.

Brazen destruction. ISIS fighters smash ancient treasurers as coalition forces prepare to move in for a major battle -- tonight, new concerns that America's allies aren't ready.

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, the United States and its allies are redoubling their efforts to hunt down Jihadi John. That's the symbol of ISIS brutality whom name is now known around the world. U.S. officials are privately confirming the identity of the mass killer in ISIS videos. His real name, Mohammed Emwazi, a British citizen who was born in Kuwait.

As the U.S.-led coalition launches more airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, the White House is now emphasizing the ISIS killer is one of America's top terror targets.

I will ask Senator Angus King what he is learning about all of this. He is a key member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees. Our correspondents and analysts, they're also standing by. They are covering all the news that I breaking right now.

First, let's get the very latest.

We're joined by our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a British counterterrorism official describing just how disparate the profile is of ISIS recruits. And we see that now in Jihadi John, a Britain national, well-off, well-educated, radicalized it seems fairly quickly.

Together with other cases we have seen recently, three Brooklyn residents yesterday, three young British girls last week, showing how just broad the appeal is of ISIS today.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): He has been the voice of some of ISIS' most brutal terror videos, calm, ruthless, and with a distinct and surprising British accent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.

SCIUTTO: Now U.K. authorities have identified the terrorist known as Jihadi John as Mohammed Emwazi, a 26-year-old British national born in Kuwait, but raised in London.

Though U.S. officials would not publicly discuss his suspected identity, today, the White House said Jihadi John is a top terror target.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In the mind of the president, he ranks highly on the list because that individual is responsible for the murder of innocent Americans, and the president is determined to bring him to justice.

SCIUTTO: Emwazi illustrates ISIS' alarmingly broad appeal, from a well-off family, earning a college degree in technology at the University of Westminster, and until his travel to Syria in 2012, enjoying a life of privilege.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was a diligent, hardworking lovely young man, responsible, polite, quiet. He was everything that you would want a student to be.

SCIUTTO: Today, his friends said they never saw signs of his future as a terrorist.

ASIM QURESHI, RESEARCH DIRECTOR, CAGE: He was such a beautiful young man, really. You know, it's hard to imagine the trajectory, but it's not a trajectory that's unfamiliar with us -- for us.

SCIUTTO: Emwazi's friends say his path to radicalization may have begun in 2009, when he traveled to Tanzania to go on a safari, a graduation present from his parents. But he was detained on arrival, held overnight, then deported to the U.K., authorities suspecting his true intention was to travel to Somalia.

In 2010, he was detained again by counterterrorism officials in Britain. Just two years later, Emwazi is believed to have traveled to Syria, where he joined ISIS. His friends claim mistreatment by British authorities set him on a path to terrorism.

QURESHI: Our entire national security strategy for the last 13 years has only increased alienation, has only increased people feeling like they don't belong.


SCIUTTO: A fairly alarming defense, considering Emwazi's truly brutal crimes, and families of his victims today finding it particularly incredible.

The daughter of one of his victims, the British aid worker, David Haines, said the families of his victims will not find relief until, in her words, there's a bullet between his eyes, strong words, emotional, as you would expect, Wolf, but also that kind of emotion exactly what ISIS wants to spark here.

When he speaks, Jihadi John, they intend for him to speak directly to us to strike fear in the hearts of Americans, Westerners, et cetera. And to that degree, they have had some success.

BLITZER: We will see if they keep posting those videos of him in those awful, awful situations with the knife getting ready to behead some hostage.

All right, thanks very much, Jim Sciutto.

As the manhunt goes on for Jihadi John, as he's called, ISIS killers are showing another kind of brutality. They are storming into a museum in the second largest city of Iraq, Mosul, a city they control. They are smashing priceless ancient statues and artifacts. This is a ruthless new show of the terror group's hold on Iraq's second largest city, even as coalition forces prepare for what are described as major offensives there.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's got more -- Barbara.


Just a short time ago, the United Nations condemned this video we're showing of the destruction of these artifacts at the museum in Iraq, calling for an emergency Security Council meeting to discuss how to preserve Iraq's priceless cultural heritage.

There is some discussion that perhaps one or two of these items may be replicas that were in the museum in Mosul, but all experts are indicating so far there are some priceless artifacts here in these rooms that have been destroyed by ISIS. The ISIS narrator on the tape says God ordered them to do this because this involved idolatry.

It's just the latest, latest brutality by this organization, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a sick, sick situation, indeed.

What's the latest, Barbara, you are hearing from your sources about this upcoming battle for the liberation of Mosul?

STARR: There was interesting testimony on Capitol Hill tomorrow. The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency said it could take six to nine months for three divisions, basically a very large, significant number of Iraqi forces, to be ready to engage in major combat operations. Mosul would be smaller than that.

But let's go back a minute. Six to nine months for a good chunk of the Iraqi military to be ready to go into combat, that certainly is going to raise questions about whether a smaller operation, but still a very significant operation, to take Mosul can really begin in the next several weeks, as the Pentagon has suggested -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, seems to be conflicting statements coming out. Barbara, thanks very much.

We're also learning tonight that U.S. lawmakers have been briefed on Americans who are suspected of being in ISIS. We are also getting new details of a terror threat right here in the United States after an ISIS-inspired attack plot was disrupted in New York City.

Our justice correspondent Pamela Brown is working all of this for us.

What are you learning, Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, law enforcement official I have been speaking with say we're going to see a lot more of those ISIS-related cases like the one in Brooklyn and it's likely going to remain that way until the ISIS propaganda machine is shut down.


BROWN (voice-over): With ISIS' highest-profile recruit now unmasked, tonight, U.S. law enforcement sources say they are focused on the terror group.

MICHAEL STEINBACH, FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF COUNTERTERRORISM: They are putting out a very propaganda message through social media, through lots of platforms, saying, hey, if you can't come to Syria, do something in the U.S.

BROWN: The three New York men who were arrested by the FBI Wednesday remain in custody tonight, held without bond, intent, authorities say, on waging jihad for ISIS in Syria. According to court documents, if their travel plans failed, they boasted about wanting to shoot Obama, plan to bomb on Coney Island in New York City, shoot all police, kill the FBI, and hijack an airplane -- quote -- "diverting a plane to the Islamic State," plans they allegedly had if they weren't able to make it to Syria.

Last month, the FBI arrested and Ohio man who authorities say planned to bomb the U.S. Capitol and shoot people as they fled, also, prosecutors say, in the name of ISIS.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: I have homegrown violent extremist investigations in every single state. Until a few weeks ago, there was 49 states. Alaska had none, which I couldn't quite figure out. But Alaska has now joined the group. So, we have investigations of people in various stages of radicalizing in all 50 states.

BROWN: Tonight, the administration appears divided on how to describe the ISIS threat after Secretary of State John Kerry said this to Congress Wednesday. JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The truth is that,

notwithstanding the threat of ISIL, notwithstanding people being beheaded publicly and burned publicly, there is actually less threat and less probability of people dying in some sort of violent conflict today than at any time in human history.

BROWN: But on Capitol Hill today, U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper painted a more dire picture, saying 180 Americans have now tried to join the fight in Syria and that some have already returned to U.S. soil.

JAMES CLAPPER, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: When the final accounting is done, 2014 will have been the most lethal year for global terrorism in the 45 years such data has been compiled.


BROWN: And in that hearing today, Clapper also said that out of the relatively small number of Americans who have returned from fighting in Syria, officials have not identified any of them engaged in active plotting.

But, Wolf, he did say and reiterate, as we heard before, that these homegrown violent extremists continue to pose the most likely threat to the homeland.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

Let's go in depth.

Joining us right now, Senator Angus King. He's the independent senator of Maine. He's a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Yes, sir. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, points to statistics saying last year was the worst year in 45 years as far as terror attacks are concerned.

But Secretary Kerry says, it's pretty good right now. There seems to be a very, very huge disconnect there.

KING: I don't know where Secretary Kerry was getting his information. But it's inconsistent with what I am hearing.

And Jim Clapper today was very clear. The records are right there. 2014 was the worst year we have had. And I just -- again, I don't understand Secretary Kerry's testimony.

BLITZER: Is there politics here? Is he trying to downplay the threat from terrorism to make it look like the war against terror has basically been won? KING: I can't imagine he would try to make that claim, given the

totality of the news that we're seeing. We're seeing threats at home, threats in Europe and in the Middle East.

I just think he made a mistake. I'm not sure. I didn't see the whole -- I will give him this leeway. I didn't see the context of the whole statement. So, maybe it was a broader statement. But it doesn't stack up with the DNI totals.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly doesn't.

All right, the Brooklyn plot, these three plotters, the older one, the guy arrested in Florida, he was the one who was giving the money for these two younger guys to supposedly go to Turkey and then cross the border, hook up in ISIS in Syria. Is there, as far as you know, the older guy, the money guy, was he directly linked, instructed, a direct connection to ISIS?

KING: I don't have any information that would lead me to think that.

I think this points up one of the real dangers here, is that they don't have to have a direct link. They don't have to be taking orders. I think one of the greatest threats we face, Wolf, is what they call lone wolf, people who are in America who have been radicalized. They can't get over to join this army.

And they do something on their own, go to a mall or an airport or whatever. I do think, though, if there's any good news in all of this, both in the London case -- in the Jihadi John case, and in the New York case, law enforcement and intelligence and cooperation between our countries worked.

We tracked these guys down. We knew who they were before they were able to do something damaging to our country. So, I think we have to acknowledge that the FBI and the other -- the intelligence agencies, you know, they had some successes today. Hopefully, they are going to be able to maintain that.

BLITZER: Yes, but it's sort of -- you can succeed a lot of times.

KING: All it takes...


BLITZER: But if you fail once...

KING: That's right.

BLITZER: And Clapper, the director of national intelligence -- you were at that briefing. You were there today. He said 180 Americans have actually tried to go to Syria, supposedly to hook up with ISIS. That's a big number.

KING: That's right. It is a big number. And we're a country of 300 million. But, as you say, all it

takes is one. And this is a dangerous time. This ideology is so dangerous. And I think the identification of this guy from London...

BLITZER: Jihadi John.

KING: ... gives us an opportunity to go back into his history and try to see what happened, so that we can understand what's motivating people.

This guy apparently had a good education, bright guy. What happened? And they are claiming that he was mistreated by British security. Well, OK, but does that -- is that enough to go and start beheading people? I mean, it's...

BLITZER: The British government still doesn't want to -- even though we all know his name, Mohammed Emwazi now, the British government still doesn't want to confirm that.

And, as a result, I assume the U.S. government doesn't want to officially publicly confirm that's his name, although we all know now that's his name. Do you understand what's going on here?

KING: Well, quite often, when you have a non-confirmation like this, it's because of -- they don't want to reveal operational details or give away knowledge that they have obtained or how they obtained it.

There's usually some reasonable basis for that. But, as you say, it's pretty widely known. I'm not going to confirm it. But I think it's an operational intelligence reason for not officially going on the record.

BLITZER: Because it could compromise what they call sources and methods or some ongoing plot, if you will?

KING: Exactly. Exactly.

BLITZER: All right, so if you can't confirm it, you don't have to confirm it. But we do know his name.

Senator, we have a lot more to discuss. I want you to stand by, if you can.

We're going to get more on our top story, now the identification of Jihadi John, what happened in Brooklyn with this terror plot, much more coming up right after this.


BLITZER: We're back with Senator Angus King of Maine.

And our top story, the U.S.-led coalition stepping up its search now for one of the most wanted and reviled terrorists in the world. That would be the man known as Jihadi John. But his real name, the real name of the on-camera killer now has been publicly identified, sources say his real name, Mohammed Emwazi. He's a British national. He was born in Kuwait. His family came to London when he was 6 years old.

I assume, Senator, if the U.S. could, the U.S. would like to kill this guy.

KING: I would not advise him to buy green bananas.

BLITZER: He is that wanted right now?

KING: Yes. I think he's going to be on the top of the list.

And he's -- what he has done is inexcusable. And I think he thought he was being this big brave guy with all the mask and stuff. None are so brave as the anonymous. Now we know who he is. And I think it helps us in our fight against ISIS to let them know that we know and that we're going to find out and that justice is going to find them.

BLITZER: So, we know the leader of ISIS, this guy Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: This guy, where does he stand, this Jihadi John, in the scheme of things? How close is he, for example, to al-Baghdadi?

KING: I don't think we know where he is in the hierarchy. We don't know whether he was put out in front of these cameras because of his command of English or whether he's an actual leader. I have heard varying reports, but nothing confirmed.

But I think he is more than just a soldier. I think he is a leader in the organization.

BLITZER: Even though he is only, what, 26 years old or whatever.

And it's interesting that he didn't come from some poor background.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: Didn't have a job. This guy went, studied computer science, University of Westminster, graduated, apparently had all sorts of opportunities, came from an upper-middle-class background. All of a sudden, he starts beheading people on videotape.

KING: Yes. And that's one of the most disturbing things, because you can't just say, well, if we eradicate poverty, this will go away.

There's something deeper going on here. And that's why I say I think it's important to try to figure out how this happened. And there's an allegation that British security mistreated him and radicalized him in that way. I'm a little skeptical of that, frankly. I think that's maybe 20/20 hindsight. BLITZER: Yes, but even if you are roughed up a little bit by the


KING: Yes. Do you go and behead people?

BLITZER: That's right. Do you then go off to Syria, join up with ISIS and get on videotape, start beheading journalists, if you will?

KING: Yes. Yes.

There's something -- but the problem is, we're seeing, there are now something like 20,000 foreign fighters that have gone into this struggle. And a lot of them are going back. And we haven't talked about Turkey in a while. But that's the jihadi highway. That's how they are getting into Syria.

And Syria has become this enormous training center. And these people are going back into Europe. We know from testimony today that some of them have come back into the U.S.

BLITZER: Turkey could be doing a lot more. They're a NATO ally.

KING: Could they ever.

That's one of the things that really has been a problem through this. In my view, they are trying to have it both ways. They are trying to be a NATO ally, but they're really not taking this on in a way that they could, because that is the path. I think I read somewhere 25 bucks will get you through Turkey and into Syria. And that's not what allies do.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a pretty, pretty awful situation.

Here is what else is awful right now. These ISIS terrorists in Syria, they are kidnapping Christians. Now the latest number, 262 Syrian Christians have been kidnapped, not just men, women, elderly, kids, young girls, young women. I don't know what they are doing with these Christians. But you have been briefed on this situation. What do they want with these poor Christians?

KING: Well, I got to -- I hate to tell you this. But part of their ideology is slavery.

And a lot of these people -- the women are being forced to marry these guys.

BLITZER: When you say marry, is it really getting married or is it just sex slaves? Because that's the assumption.

KING: You are a very perceptive guy, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's what a lot of the intelligence people I have spoken to, is that they get these young women and they basically give them to these young guys.

KING: Yes.

BLITZER: And that potentially is one of the incentives for these young men to come over there, because they know they are going to get these girls.

KING: Right.

And here -- there may be something here that we need to think about. And that is, the more brutal they are, the more they do those kinds of things, and we're now starting to get anecdotes out of Mosul, out of Raqqa about how they are treating the local people. For example, they are forcing them to give blood trans -- blood donations for the soldiers, daughters having to marry these guys.

A lot of pressure -- and, if you steal, they cut your head off and beheading people, crucifying people. And the expectation is -- and this happened in Iraq in Anbar back in the Sunni awakening -- they are going to wear out their welcome. This is not an ideology that's going to have broad appeal.

And the Sunnis sort of welcomed them in because Maliki and Iraq and Baghdad had been so unforgiving to the Sunnis. But my understanding is -- and this isn't hard intelligence. It's anecdotal. But my understanding is, they are starting to wear out their welcome. I think if we keep the pressure on, it could implode.

BLITZER: Yes. You saw what happened at that national museum in Mosul. They go in there and they destroy all those ancient artifacts, for no reason whatsoever.

KING: Right. Plus, they are burning all their bridges all over the Middle East. They are killing other Muslims.

And Jordan -- man, I was with the king of Jordan an hour, a couple of hours after he heard about his pilot being burned alive. He was very determined to get after these guys.


Very quickly, the Netanyahu visit, the address before a joint meeting of Congress next Tuesday morning, some members of Congress, they don't want to go. They are angry that this whole thing happened. What about you? Will you attend that meeting?

KING: I'm going to go, Wolf. But I think it's inappropriate that he's coming two weeks before his own election, and that Congress is being used as a kind of prop in a presidential election in another country.

But I go to meetings. I go to hearings. I listen. I learn. So, I'm going to be there to listen. But one thing I hate is that this is now politicizing Israel in a partisan way that's never been the case before. And to see the Republicans trying to say, we're more pro-Israel than the Democrats, that's not good for Israel. I don't think it's good for the country.

The old saying is, politics stops at the water's edge. And it ought to in this case.

BLITZER: And you speak as someone who supports Israel. You're a longtime supporter of Israel.

KING: Very much.

BLITZER: But you just think the way this was all handled was a huge blunder, is going to -- but eventually they can fix this, I assume.

KING: Well, I hope so.

But there has been a deterioration in the relationship. And I just think that's bad for Israel and bad for America. And, again, to politicize this thing is, I think, a big mistake. I think I can understand John Boehner sent the invitation. OK. He wants to do that. I'm very surprised that the prime minister accepted.

BLITZER: Without even consulting with the White House or anything like that.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: Or that Boehner did it without even asking the Democratic leadership, are you OK for this invitation or anything like that?

KING: Yes. I just -- I think it was a mistake.

But, on the other hand, I have decided I'm going to go. I'm going to listen. But, hopefully, we are going to get by this and it won't impair the relationship long-term.

BLITZER: All right, we will see what happens.

All right, Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

Angus King is a key member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees.

Just ahead: Why have U.S. officials been so reluctant to confirm Jihadi John's identity? Our terrorism experts are standing by with their special insights into what's going on.


BLITZER: Breaking now, the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS stepping up efforts to find the masked executioner Jihadi John. He's been identified, according to sources, as 26-year-old Mohammed Emwazi, born in Kuwait, raised in London since the age of 6, a college graduate with a degree in computer programming.

Let's get more with our CNN intelligence and security analyst Robert Baer; our CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd; our national security commentator, Mike Rogers, the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee; and our CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

Who do you think, Mr. Chairman -- I still call you Mr. Chairman -- now that he's been identified publicly, Mohammed Emwazi. The British are still refusing to confirm it. The U.S. is still refusing to confirm it. Is there something we need to know why official confirmation can't be made known and why they're not releasing an actual picture of this guy? You still see him covered with the mask.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Two things. One, they probably have a higher degree of certainty. But they may not be certain that this is exactly him. So they're going to err on the side of caution on that, No. 1.

And No. 2, they're just not ready, and I think in their investigation, to allow that to happen for the simple reason they have methods and sources of how they may have obtained anyone's identity and who Jihadi John might be, and they don't want to disclose that.

BLITZER: You think it's intelligence-related issue as opposed to a potential legal issue in London? They've got laws about identifying suspects who are under investigation.

ROGERS: I think it's more of the latter. I think they're more worried about protecting that chain of how they got their -- how they determined it, who they're talking to, why they're talking to certain individuals. Therefore, they're not going to want to do this. And I believe, by the way -- I happened to be in London late last year. They have the identity of this particular individual.

BLITZER: They know...

ROGERS: I think they believe with a high degree of certainty who it is.

BLITZER: And this particular individual, just want to get your confirmation, he's high on the U.S. target list for assassination or capture or whatever?

ROGERS: Well, anybody that plays that important of a role for the propaganda machine is going to be a target of the United States military forces. You need to disrupt the ISIS ability to talk to people in Brooklyn, to talk to people in London, to talk to people in Pakistan.

And so they need to disrupt those activities. One way to do that is take out the ability for them -- their personalities, if you will. If they can take those folks off the battlefield, that's an important step in slowing down their ability to communicate.

BLITZER: That will go on right now.

Bob Baer, why do you think Jihadi John was named today? What's going on here? Is there a back story we all should know?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, first of all, Wolf, you know, somebody like this, if you're tracking him, the hope is that he will cross a border. You can grab him. If he thinks he's anonymous and can safely travel, there's always a possibility.

I've tracked people, and as soon as their names came out in the press, it became almost impossible to ever catch them again. So that at one level.

As the chairman said, there's the possibility that we've misidentified him. As I understand from law-enforcement sources, the best identification is voice analysis. They were able to -- they had Emwazi's voice, and they were able to match it to tapes. But that's not 100 percent certain, although I think they are close to 100 percent. They would still like to nail this down before they put a worldwide bulletin out.

BLITZER: Now that he's been named, Philip Mudd, do you think he becomes more or less valuable to ISIS and their social media, their propaganda campaign?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think he's going to remain an icon, despite the fact that he's been named. Look, if you look at social media, this guy is becoming the poster child for ISIS.

I agree with Congressman Rogers. I think in contrast to where we were 15 years ago in this war, someone who is a propaganda mouthpiece in the age of Facebook, et cetera, goes higher up on the list. Remember, 15 years ago when we started this, he wouldn't have had as many outlets to become sort of a magnet for recruits in western Europe and the United States.

So I think now that, if his face comes out, he will remain sort of an avatar, a symbol for Islamists. And I think he's high up on that list, because he can reach an audience that we could not have imagined 15 years ago in the war on terror.

BLITZER: General, take us a little bit behind the scenes as much as you can right now. So he's high on the target list right now, Jihadi John, for the U.S. military and for the CIA, as well. What's going on? Give us a little flavor of what that means.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, first, Wolf, I would suggest what I heard the White House say was they wanted to capture him because he is a murderer. He's certainly going to be brought to justice. That's what they said.

But from a military perspective, when we put together high-value target lists, HBTs, we take a look at the strategic value of the individual we're looking at. High on the target list would be leaders, financiers, communicators, imams who are giving blessings to operations.

This guy is high because he's a public affairs announcer. But he's certainly not the highest on that list. But he is certainly important. But they're going to replace him. If he's on a target list and he's targeted and killed, they will certainly have another guy.

BLITZER: Are there different rules of engagement for U.S. military personnel to go out there and kill his guy, as opposed to CIA officers?

HERTLING: Not at all. I mean, in this kind of situation when you're talking about a battlefield, when they're doing this kind of activity, he is a criminal and a warrior. So we take him as someone who's a fighter and treat him as a soldier.

BLITZER: You agree with that?

ROGERS: Absolutely. He's part of an organization that has declared war on the United States. That gives the executive branch lots of -- wide swath of authority. I think it will be strengthened with a -- with the passage of the authorization from the House and the Senate, but I think that the president would be on firm ground to go after...

BLITZER: Before they would actually kill this guy, would the president of the United States have to sign some paper and do it, or is that automatically...?

ROGERS: Not necessarily.

BLITZER: ... the killing is just, like, approved?

ROGERS: Once they decided to engage in military operations in Syria, they'll have their targets set. Most of that has already been discussed. And those target sets will roll over, I think as the general can tell you, pretty frequently. And so that needs to be in the command space. If you take that to the White House, that's -- that's a terrible way to fight this.

BLITZER: Bob Baer, it's the 22nd anniversary of the first World Trade Center attack, the FBI director said there are homegrown violent extremist investigations under way right now all 50 states. The director of national -- director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said 2014 was the most lethal year for terrorism since they started counting about 45 years ago. What's going on over here?

BAER: Well, Clapper is right. I mean, you have to look at the Islamic State, even though it is a semi-state, as a terrorist group. I mean, you know, the kidnapping of the Christians and the cops and the rest of it, it's a terrorist group, plain and simple. And it has wreaked more havoc and destruction than anybody ever has, including al Qaeda.

It is a new phenomenon. He's absolutely right. It is the most dangerous -- let's not forget. Since first World Trade Center bombing, it has gone from foreigners coming to this country, trying to murder people like on 9/11, to homegrown to the group just arrested three guys in Brooklyn.

So you're -- this is a new phenomenon. And what's really amazed me in all this is that this is all done online. And it's -- the possibilities for homegrown terrorism is bigger now than it's ever been in our history.

BLITZER: Yes. Certainly a very worrisome development. Guys, I want you to stand by. We're going to have much more

ahead on the hunt for the ISIS executioner, now identified as British- raised, a computer programmer. We're going to go get a live update from London when the breaking news continues.


BLITZER: One of the most important conservative gatherings ahead of the upcoming presidential election is unfolding right now just outside Washington, D.C. And some of the GOP's likely White House hopefuls -- I should dare say almost all of them -- are there.

Let's get some insight. Joining us, our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's over at the Conservative Political Action Conference. We're also joined by our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash; and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Brianna, you're there. Set the scene for us today. How important are these CPAC appearances for these potential Republican candidates?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They're really important, Wolf, because you have some candidates like Chris Christie or Jeb Bush that really need to kind of prove themselves to the right side of the party, to the party base, to conservatives and libertarians.

Then you also have others who may be at this moment surging -- for instance, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker -- who need to show that they can play on a national stage.

He said something earlier that raised some eyebrows when he was asked about, really, how the administration is dealing with ISIS and how he would deal with ISIS. Take a listen.


GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: Well, there's no comparison between the two. Let me be perfectly clear. I'm just pointing out the closest thing I have to handling a difficult situation.


KEILAR: All right. So, just to be clear, Wolf, that was a clarification that Scott Walker made about something he said on stage. He was talking about how he would deal with ISIS. And he basically said that he had dealed with -- dealt with protesters -- 100,000 protesters. And so, he would deal with ISIS kind of the same way.

It seemed to some people observing that he was making a comparison. He had to clarify that later and say that he wasn't making a comparison but he was just talking about leadership and something that would be a difficult situation that he had dealt with. But he also said, Wolf, this was something that was going to be misconstrued by the media. And as you know, his comes on the heels of a couple of controversial comments that Scott Walker has made.

BLITZER: Let me play the clip. Here is Scott Walker talking about the threat of radicalized terrorists.


WALKER: I want a commander in chief who will do everything in their power to ensure that the threat from radical Islamic terrorists do not wash up on American soil. We need a leader with that kind of confidence. If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.


BLITZER: All right. So, he's -- Gloria, he's trying to establish his national security credentials, too.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I think what this shows, Wolf, and as Brianna said, he clarified and he didn't mean to draw a comparison between ISIS and people who were protesting what he was doing on collective bargaining outside of the state house in the state of Wisconsin.

But what this shows is a lack of experience. I think this is something who has run for governor twice. He survived a recall. But he got before this audience and it was a Q&A session. So, you've got to kind of think on your feet. And he blew it. He had to clarify it.

And it's part of learning to run for president when you haven't done it before.

BLITZER: You know, the Democrats put out a statement, the DNC communications director --

BORGER: You bet.

BLITZER: -- saying, "If Scott Walker thinks that it's appropriate to compare working people speaking up for their rights to brutal terrorists, then he is even less qualified to be president than I thought. Maybe he should go back to punting."


Look, this is not an unusual problem for governors who are running for president. They draw on their experience in the state. But they also try to make the connection between their experience and whatever is going to come on the world stage by talking it up as their leadership abilities. And that is -- that's why he tried to clarify and that's what he tried to say.

But again, talking about leadership and doing it frankly in a clumsy way -- even remotely comparing protesters to ISIS -- it's not the kind of thing that a seasoned person would do.

BORGER: And, by the way, any Republican is likely to run against Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state, more experience on foreign policy than any of the Republican candidates. That's why -- I was talking to people today at this conference, some of whom work for Rick Perry. He has been studying up on foreign policy for the last few years because he knew that was a problem for him in the last campaign.

BLITZER: I want to play another clip. Listen to this. This is Scott Walker also leveling more criticism again President Obama.


WALKER: We have a president -- a president who draws lines in the sand and fails to act. A president who calls ISIS the jayvee club, who calls Yemen a success, and who calls Iran a country we can do business with. And to add insult to injury, whose former secretary of state actually gave a reset button to the Russians, a reset button.


BLITZER: All right. He is referring to Hillary Clinton. How was all that received over there?

KEILAR: It was received very well, Wolf. And, honestly, this idea the reset button, Scott Walker was not the first to mention this. This is something that we have heard in speech after speech. We heard from Chris Christie and Ted Cruz as well.

So, you're seeing certainly I think Republicans take on Obamacare, but I'm hearing them take on Hillary Clinton even more. They very much have their sights set on the Democratic front runner -- even though she hasn't declared, the Democratic frontrunner for 2016.

BLITZER: And, Dana, I want you to listen to another Republican potential candidate, the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, speaking out today at this event.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Listen, if what happens is if the elites in Washington who make backroom deals decide who the president is going to be, then he is definitely the frontrunner. If the people of the United States decide to pick the next president of the United States and they want someone who looks them in the eye, connects with them and is one of them, I'll do OK if I run.


BLITZER: He took a little hit there at Jeb Bush.

BASH: He sure did, because he knows he is running in the same sand box, if you will, as Jeb Bush.

BLITZER: More moderate.

BASH: Looking for the same kind of donors, more establishment, maybe not moderate but establishment Republican. Chris Christie was fascinating here because he had a Q&A format, which he tends more comfortable, a lot of these guys do, but he not only took after Jeb Bush, he also stood by his "sit down and shut up" comment, which is something that really characterizes him, but isn't going to play well necessarily in some states.

One point I want to make also just quickly on the Scott Walker thing. We're talking about this potential gaffe, but we have to remember that he's playing to a very specific audience. Even this potential gaffe, he can turn it around and say, the media distorting what I'm saying, and he probably will, that's going to very much --

BLITZER: Gloria, this is a big speech tomorrow for Jeb Bush before this influential group.

BORGER: Right. So, Jeb Bush is going to do a Q&A and that works better for him because he's really rusty on giving speeches. So, he's going to have a Q&A just like Chris Christie. Chris Christie kind of gave Jeb Bush a little jab today, even on the Q&A format. He said, you know, some of the other candidates go around and they have planned questions, served up to them and, you know, me, I just take it from the audience, and I really can answer anything.

So, we're going to have to see how Jeb Bush is received tomorrow. It will be a lot of fun.

BLITZER: We'll see what he says at CPAC, as it's called.

Guys, thanks very much.

There's breaking news ahead. A live report from London with new details on the ISIS executioner, Jihadi John, now identified. He's also become a top U.S. target.


BLITZER: This Sunday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, CNN premieres a new original series, "Finding Jesus", and that's exactly what so many Christian tourists try to do by traveling to Jerusalem.

CNN's Elise Labott has a closer look.


ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After a series of high profile attack, a war with Gaza and with Christians facing persecution from ISIS and other groups across the Middle East, these days, Israel is having a harder time attracting tourists to the holiest sites of early Christianity.

In the church where the Virgin Mary is believed to have been born, the sound of music reverberates off these walls of worship. In its baritone, the deepest inspiration for Christians.

RUTH HARRISON, CHRISTIAN PILGRIM: The place is wonderful. It's beautiful. I'm so grateful. It's for him. It's all about him and it's all about worshipping him.

LABOTT: Christians of all denominations come to Jerusalem to visit the sacred places they believe build a deeper connection with their faith.

Pastor John Turner's tours draw followers from across the United States, walking along the Via Dolorosa, where Jesus is believed to taken his final steps more than 2,000 years ago, man of God finds worshipping on this land brings the Bible to life.

(on camera): So, this is the path that Jesus took in his final hours.

PASTOR JOHN TURNER, JERUSALEM TOUR GUIDE: That's right. You know, when we go all around, we know these are places that Jesus could have been, but at this one spot, we know this is exactly the place where he was and it's the place where he took his cross and went, you know, for us. And so, that's why it's so moving and touching to us.

LABOTT (voice-over): David Love's pilgrimage began in Clovis, California. As pastor, he taught about these holy sites for 30 years. Yet seeming them for the first time affirms a lifetime of conviction.

DAVID LOVE, CHRISTIAN PILGRIM: The believing isn't because the places are here. The believing was there before. It just gives a confirmation that what I've been reading, what I've studied, what I've taught all these years, there's validity to it. There's truth in it.

LABOTT: Tourism to Israel has slowed since Israel's war in Gaza with Hamas last summer and elsewhere in the region, Christians find themselves under persecution at the hands of ISIS extremists.

But believers like Ruth Harrison continue to flock here despite the turmoil, risking their safety with the faith they are safe in God's hands.

HARRISON: He controls my destiny. And so, wherever I am, I just believe that he's going to take care of me no matter the circumstance. And that's been true my whole life.

LABOTT: A final prayer on the stone pavement where Jesus is believed to taken up the Holy Cross.

CROWD: Amen.

LABOTT: An ultimate connection to their Creator, on the journey of a lifetime to follow in his footsteps.

Elise Labott, CNN, Jerusalem.


BLITZER: The new original series, "Finding Jesus" premieres Sunday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Remember, you can follow us on Twitter. Please go ahead and tweet me @WolfBlizter. You can always tweet the show @CNNsitroom. Be sure to join us tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Watch us live or DVR the show so you won't miss a moment.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.