Return to Transcripts main page
AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA
Manhunt on for Brussels Terrorists; FBI, NYPD Sending Officials, U.S. to Help Belgium. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired March 23, 2016 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:00] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: In fact, the restaurants are crowded with people, including children. People are just trying to live their lives as normal, as an intense manhunt continues for the suspects in the terrible terror attacks that went down yesterday.
Thank you for joining me. I'm Carol Costello.
AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Bolduan starts now.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. John is off today.
We're following breaking news out of Brussels today. A manhunt is under way for the suspected third terrorist in the Brussels attacks. Authorities there are also warning of a larger terror network still within Belgium that still poses a threat. This possibly includes a bomb maker still at large.
Here's the very latest that we have. Belgian authorities are searching for the man shown here in this airport surveillance image. He's the man where you see the light-colored jacket and he has a black hat on. A federal prosecutor says that suspect left the heaviest explosives bag at the airport and then ran. His bomb failed to detonate, thankfully. The two men in the black sweaters that you see, they were the suicide bombers. Their explosives went off within seconds of each other. The one on the left has not yet been identified. The one in the middle is Ibrahim el Bakraoui. His brother, Khalid el Bakraoui, has been identified as the attacker in the subway that occurred an hour later. Police say the brothers had ties to the Paris terror attacks.
Also new this morning, the death toll is rising. The Belgian prosecutor says 31 people are now dead, 20 killed at the metro station, 11 at the airport and 270 injured. He said, unfortunately, that number is expected to continue to rise.
Let's get the very latest. Let's get straight to Brussels where senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is joining us.
There are a lot of moving parts here as this major manhunt is under way still. What's the very latest?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. Well, this is very much an unfolding and developing story. We did get a lot of information from the Belgian prosecutor. So let's go through it once again just for our audience. They have now identified two of the attackers. They are brothers, Khalid and Ibrahim el Bakraoui. One of them was involved in a suicide bombing at the airport and the other involved in the suicide bombing in the metro.
Now, we also had some more information about exactly how things went down at the airport. According to the prosecutor, at 7:59, the first explosion ran out -- rang out. A mere 37 seconds later, the second explosion rang out. One of those bombers, yet to be identified. One of them we know, is Ibrahim el Bakraoui. And a laptop was found dumped in a trash can, and on that laptop, a will from Ibrahim el Bakraoui explaining that he needed or felt the need to hurry up with these attacks because he didn't want to end up in jail with him. "With him," possibly a reference to Salah Abdeslam. He was captured here in a raid Friday.
Now, we do know, Kate -- it's a lot of moving parts and it's a lot for our viewers to piece together. But there's a definitive link between the Paris attacks and the Belgium attacks. We know the house where Salah Abdeslam was living or hunkered down was rented by one of the el Bakraoui brothers. There are lots of overlap but still a very real security concern here on the ground with the prosecutor's office warning that there are still a number of people at large. They could be armed, Kate, and they could be dangerous.
BOLDUAN: Saying that this threat is still very real there in Belgium, as you well point out. With all of that in mind, I can't but notice all of the people behind you, Clarissa. This memorial that has continued $z grow. All of these people coming out in the face of this continued threat. What are they telling you?
WARD: Kate, it's actually pretty extraordinary. We were here earlier as a moment of silence was commemorated and hundreds of people just began pouring into the square which might not seem like a big deal but actually at a time when you know that there are potentially terrorists on the loose in a city like Brussels, I was quite surprised to see people having the courage, having the solidarity to come together in a crowded public area and essentially take a stance. And after a few moments of silence, which were quite beautiful and profound, there was this eruption of applause and people began cheering. You still hear them behind me. They are cheering and lots of chanting going on. They are chanting, "We are all together." And the people of Brussels are attempting to show they won't be cowed by terror, that they will continue with their normal, every day lives. At the same time, underlying this, Kate, is a powerful sense of anxiety here. We know that there are still men on the loose, including potentially a bomb maker. So the threat level is still very high -- Kate?
[11:05:38] BOLDUAN: Government saying that they are keeping the threat -- the alertness level at the highest still today. Clarissa, that sense of anxiety is understandable.
Clarissa, thanks so much. We appreciate it.
We were talking about this massive manhunt under way. Let's get over to senior international correspondent, Fred
Pleitgen, live from the most recent raid location in Brussels.
Fred, what's happening there right now?
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what happened here, Kate, overnight is that there was a major raid that went on by the authorities here. It involved several police helicopters. It involved a lot of police operatives as well. And what they uncovered here is what Clarissa was talking about. They uncovered 15 kilograms, about 30 pounds of TATP explosive, which is very powerful stuff. They also uncovered screws and an ISIS flag here.
It was interesting because we were here throughout almost the entire night as this operation was going on. And you could see the police officers go in and out and explosive ordinance disposal crews going into this place and now we know why. It's because they had all of these explosives still here on hand.
It was interesting what Clarissa was saying about that laptop that was found which allegedly had what they call the will, if you will, of one of the suicide bombers. If we zoom into the garbage can, that's exactly where that laptop was found, right in the garbage. That's also the place where the attackers were picked up by the taxi that then brought them to the Brussels airport where they conducted those attacks.
It was the taxi driver who, in effect, then said they recognized these people because their pictures were shown on media. He then called the authorities and led them straight to the building that you see right behind me, which the police then raided overnight, an operation that went on for at least eight or nine hours -- Kate?
BOLDUAN: Eight or nine hours of manhunt still under way, possibly a bomb maker still at large. As you point out, it's pretty amazing, Fred, is where they found that message from Ibrahim el Bakraoui.
Fred Pleitgen is following that for us as this moves very quickly as we've seen in the last 24 hours.
Let's bring in and continue the discussion, senior terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank, editor-in-chief of the "Counterterrorism Journal"; and Mitch Silber, a former intelligence official who oversaw terror investigations for the NYPD. He's also senior managing director of SEI Consulting.
Paul, you were sitting here with us when this unfolded yesterday and you were watching as this continues today. What more do you know, what more are you picking up about these two brothers, the only two people that have been identified so far?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN SENIOR TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Kate, they were known to Belgian police for violent crimes in the past but they were not on their radar screen for any links to terrorist or radical activity. But one of these two brothers rented the safehouse, the hideout of Salah Abdeslam where he was hiding in the weeks and months for a period of that time after the Paris attacks. So that definitively ties the Paris attacks to the Brussels attacks, Kate.
And a senior Belgian counterterrorism official tells me that investigators now suspect that Salah Abdeslam was slated to be part of these Brussels attacks, that he was going to participate. But the attacks were brought forward by this cell because they discovered Salah Abdeslam's hideout in Brussels last Tuesday and then, of course, arrested him a few days later. They thought their hours were numbered.
That suicide note found on the laptop in that rubbish bin that Fred was just showing you, that really indicated that they feared capture, that they wanted to accelerate the plans, that they -- one of the brothers, they didn't want to go to prison like him. And "like him," Belgian officials believe, was Salah Abdeslam.
Now, at that safehouse that was raided eight days ago in Brussels, there was an Algerian terrorist, Mohamed Belkaid, who provided fire for Salah Abdeslam. Now, Belkaid was the overall master behind of the Paris attacks and Belgium attacks, providing direction to the other attack teams in Paris. He's now dead. But the potential bomb maker is now at large. A person who worked closely with Belkaid is still at large. It's possible they believe that he built all of the bombs in all of these attacks, a very, very dangerous fact that he is still on the run.
And one last thought, Kate, this attack could have been just so much bigger than it was because they managed to take out one of the nodes of it. Fewer terrorists available to launch these attacks. And they had a huge amount of explosives that, according to the taxi driver, they couldn't fit all of their explosive bags into the taxi car. This could have just been tremendously worse.
[11:10:14] BOLDUAN: It could have been absolutely tremendously horrific. As we continue to look at some of these videos of the aftermath.
Mitch, let me bring you in on this.
As Paul is pointing out, officials are saying that Salah Abdeslam was supposed to be part of this attack, which means he very must knew what was in the works, what was being planned out, what they were working on. He's in custody and is being interrogated. That was not information given up in time for them to catch them. And then you have this will on a feels safe, that they felt that they needed to rush. When you take all of this together, what -- how do you add that up into what clearly seems we're starting to understand a little bit more the motivations of why now for this attack and what happened?
MITCH SILBER, FORMER INTELLIGENCE OFFICER, NYPD & SENIOR MANAGING DIRECTOR, SEI CONSULTING: Sure. Well, one of the biggest concerns that we always had at NYPD is when you rolled up a terrorist cell or terrorist network, did you get the entire network?
SILBER: Because if you didn't, if you left someone on the fringe off of it, there's the potential that person could come back and hurt you. With Salah Abdeslam, you have a person who stood as a pivot point between two networks that overlapped, he and Belkaid. Four months passing since the terrorist attacks and him being able to live in Belgium allowed him time to reconstitute and really activate the Belgian side of the network. And once he was arrested, his attorney mentioned that he was speaking and cooperation with law enforcement, which --
BOLDUAN: Wasn't that a message more to his cohorts than inside information about what was going on in the interrogation room?
SILBER: You know, it's possible it was a message to his cohorts to activate because time was starting to slip away if they were going to act. There's only so long that Salah Abdeslam could keep the information away from law enforcement.
When you look at the sequence of events, Friday was the arrest and attacks yesterday morning, clearly there's a connection to them. The note on the laptop only supports that. It really talks about the fact that there are these overlapping networks in France, in Belgium. And there are more networks. Just the vast number of Belgians who have traveled from Iraq and Syria and have come back. Belgium has really become this hub for terrorism all throughout Europe.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And what you're talking about is from the prosecutor in Belgium.
And he was talking about, Paul, the fact there is still more people out there that still pose a threat, a very real threat to the people of Belgium. And when you talk about there is still this network out there, in Belgium specifically, how many people do you think that they are talking about?
CRUICKSHANK: Well, a significant number of people potentially, including the potential bomb maker. Also, Mohamed Abrini, living in Molenbeek and drove them from Belgium to Paris, he's still at large. So there are an unknown number of individuals who could become suicide bomber as he could launch Kalashnikov attacks on the streets of Belgium and the streets of Europe. The fact that the bomb maker appears to still be at large is of gave concern, somebody who is skilled in mining TATP, a very high-powered explosive. And they had industrial quantities of this explosive. 15 kilograms found in the one bag at that safehouse, which they had to leave behind. And that's just a huge amount of TATP. This is vastly more than in a suicide vest in the Paris attacks. That kind of quantity, if you can make it, and they had all of the materials there to make it, the acetone, oxygenated water, and so on. If you know how to make that, it's a very worrying situation for security officials because you can make it at will. You can get the substances from the high street.
[11:15:33] BOLDUAN: Yep. And that's what obviously is -- well, there's so many troubling parts about this but the fact that this possible bomb maker is still out there is high on the list. The manhunt is under way. You can expect more raids to be happening throughout the coming days. We'll be watching it close.
Mitch, thanks so much. Great to see you.
Paul, thank you as always. Really appreciate it.
As we're talking about new raids, searches under way, we'll take you back to Brussels on much more on this. A terror cell remains at large.
Plus, an explosives expert will talk about the bombs. And explosives expert is going to come in here and talk about the bomb factory that officials have found and also what that says about this network and their capabilities.
And two American siblings at the Brussels airport talking on the phone when the line goes dead. Now their family back here at home is begging for help to find where they are and what happened to their loved ones.
This is CNN's special live coverage. We'll be right back.
[11:50:26] BOLDUAN: The FBI and New York City Police Department sent officials to Belgium to help in the investigation into yesterday's attacks in Brussels. And moments ago, Vice President Joe Biden said the United States is ready to offer Belgium whatever they need to fight and prevent more attacks like these.
CNN's justice reporter, Evan Perez, with much more on this, what help the U.S. is offering. He's live in Washington.
Evan, what is the help that the U.S. can offer in this ongoing investigation and in this manhunt still under way.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, these are members of the joint terrorism task force and they are there because of the dozen or so Americans that were injured and still missing. Back here in the United States, counterterrorism analysts are providing other assistance, they are helping investigators dig into the background of multiple people believed to have a role in the Brussels attacks. The Belgian authorities provided the names of people of interest in the past day. And now those names are being run through databases that are run by the United States of suspected extremists. Investigators really want to know everything they can, including past travel, their friends and their associates. It's really a race against time to find as many members as to be part of this large network connected not only to the Brussels attacks but also to other terrorist plots, including the Paris massacre.
In the last few months, we heard from U.S. intelligence officials. They say that they are expecting a major terrorist attack in Europe. Now even after what we've seen in Brussels, there's still tremendous concern about more attacks that could be coming elsewhere in the continent -- Kate? BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Evan, great to see you. A lot of help
from the United States. You can believe that the Belgians can really use that right now.
BOLDUAN: Seems like they are overwhelmed, and this network that is out there that poses a threat.
Evan, thank you. Great to see you.
We've been talking about these two bombs that ripped through the Brussels airport and went off within 37 seconds of each other. That's what we've learned this morning. But the third, according to Belgian officials, the heaviest of the bombs, did not explode and this is, of course, before we're talking about the other explosive device that went off in the metro about an hour later.
Let's discuss the elements of these bombs, what they -- and their capabilities and let's bring retired ATF explosive officer, Anthony May. And he's also a certified international post-blast investigator.
Anthony, thank you so much for joining me.
If we can, I want to put up the picture that we have, the picture from the airport surveillance images that were sent out by Belgian officials where you can see these three men, two men on the left and the third -- all three of them pushing these heavy carts. These three guys pushing suitcases together. How big of a bomb, simply, can you get in a suitcase that size?
ANTHONY, RETIRED ATF EXPLOSIVES OFFICER & CERTIFIED INTERNATIONAL POST-BLAST INVESTIGATOR: Good morning. Those roller bags could contain a large quantity of explosives. Left, I believe they have been identified as the suicide bombers and if you look at their clothing, you know, they are dressed exactly the same. There is -- they are wearing gloves on one hand, possibly to hide the detonator. But what also is interesting is in their cargo pants pockets, there seems to be a large item. Maybe that's the power source. It's undetermined at this point. But the suitcases themselves, you're getting large quantities of explosives in there, upwards of 10 to 15 to probably 20 pounds of explosives depending on the produced.
BOLDUAN: The prosecutor said this morning that they found in one of the raids 15 kilograms of TATP in the raid as well as materials need to make a bomb. What kind of a bomb can you make with 15 kilograms of TATP?
MAY: 15 kilograms are roughly 33 pounds of explosives. They typical suicide vests average three to five pounds.
MAY: And with that, you do the math, you can make large quantities of suicide vests or you can use that bulk product in a roller bag to do an extensive amount of damage. BOLDUAN: So that's 10 times over what you'd see in a typical
MAY: Oh, absolutely.
BOLDUAN: That's amazing. And this third -- with all of that in mind, you have the third person, the man who is wearing the light- colored jacket and wearing the black hat. He had -- authorities say he had the biggest explosive device. He had the largest bag, the heaviest bomb, if you will. He ran. He was not a suicide bomber. It didn't detonate. What are the range of possibilities of why?
[11:25:06] MAY: In the manufacturing of the material -- and now it's not the detonating chain or the timing sequence, or whatever they used, whether it was remote control or whatever, but the bottom line is, their firing train is, there may have been something wrong with it, something as simple as a wire not connected properly. You know, there was a lot of speculation yesterday that this individual was their handler but, you know, it's quite clearly, that if he was just a handler, he wouldn't be pushing a luggage cart with a large item on it. You know, it's been undetermined at this point and there's been very little information flowing about the type of device, the type of initiation system, whether it was remote control. Most certainly the suicide bombers were commanding that type of a system.
BOLDUAN: One thing we do know, Anthony --
BOLDUAN: Yeah, a lot to know. One thing we do know about the device and what they found in one of these recent raids is that there was another nail bomb. There were these nails and screws that they used to put in the bomb. Everyone can assume that obviously nails and screws are put into these bombs to cause catastrophic injury and death, if possible. What is the point, though, from your perspective, of it?
MAY: Well, anytime you see something like that, nails, B.B., ball bearings, even marbles, that's all anti-personnel added fragmentation to the device. It's specifically put there with the sole purpose to injure or kill people. When they are looking for large gatherings of people, airport departure areas, curbsides and shopping malls, they are looking for large casualties and they will incorporate nails to create that effect.
BOLDUAN: Troubling they think the bomb maker is still at large. We did hear from the health minister, speaking to Christiane Amanpour, said a lot of injuries were war-like injuries and they were being sent to military hospitals. We know they are getting some kind of an idea of what kind of catastrophic injury these bombs created.
Anthony, it's great to see you. Thank you very much.
MAY: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us, a family here in the United States is begging for help. They can't find a brother and sister who are at the Brussels airport. Someone was on the phone with them when the bomb went off.
Plus, President Obama is going to be holding a news conference moments from now as he faces criticism about his reaction following the attacks in Brussels. We'll bring that to you. Stand by for that.
This is CNN's special breaking news coverage of the attacks and the aftermath and the massive manhunt still under way following the terrorist attacks in Brussels.