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Bangladesh Hostage Siege; Terror Investigation; ISIS Claims Deadly Attack Unfolding in Diplomatic Zone; Turkish News Agency: Sources Names Two Bombers; Deadly Terror Attack Unfolding in Diplomatic Zone. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 1, 2016 - 18:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Is ISIS speeding up its plans to strike around the world?

Bombing mastermind. Officials name a well-known Russian terrorist as the likely organizer of the massacre in Turkey. Tonight, we're learning more about the people who planned and carried out the airport attack.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Breaking news this hour, the second deadly act of terror this week attributed to ISIS. The terror group now is claiming responsibility for the attack and hostage scene, siege unfolding in Bangladesh.

Police say that two officers were killed, at least 40 people injured when gunmen opened fire and threw grenades at a cafe that's popular with foreigners. About 20 customers are being held hostage. This attack in Dhaka happened less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy where officials are warning Americans to shelter in place.

President Obama has been briefed on the attack.

And in Turkey, investigators are getting new information about the terrorists behind the attack at the Istanbul Airport. The name of two of the suicide bombers now being reported.

Our correspondents, analysts and guests are standing by with full coverage of these breaking stories.

First to our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Give us the latest, Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, a few key points. First of all, we should emphasize this is an attack that's still under

way. Hostages in danger. Killers likely still alive. The police have not neutralized them. Second of all, this is new, ISIS has now claimed responsibility for this attack.

I should note that U.S. officials are not ready to accept that claim. It's not been substantiated. They say it's also possible that other groups, including al Qaeda, the al Qaeda affiliate al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent is a possibility. It also has a presence there.

Regardless of whether it's al Qaeda or ISIS, we have seen in these last four days four coordinated attacks in four different countries. We know this one. We know the one in Istanbul, but other attacks in Lebanon and Jordan, showing the global reach of this kind of violence.

A final note as we head in the July 4 weekend. U.S. officials say there is no credible or specific threat to the U.S. That said, they are raising security, heightening security in light of the fact that holidays are often a target for groups like this.

But the message I'm hearing is that this is not a time for fear. It's a time for concern and awareness here in the U.S., because no specific threat here, but of course a great level of alertness -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Jim, thank you so much.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, now.

What are you hearing from your sources about who is behind this, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight, Brianna, U.S. officials are still being very cautious.

First up, they are looking at this claim by ISIS. Now, the ISIS news agency, Aamaq, has been posting messages saying they have details about what is happening inside the cafe. If that is true, it would show it is ISIS and they have communication with the outside world.

The ISIS organization inside Bangladesh relatively small, so perhaps if it is ISIS, this is a group of people inspired by ISIS, inspired by the calls to violence, rather than something directed from the ISIS headquarters in Syria.

However, they are also, tonight, still looking at the group known as al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. Just yesterday, that group which also operates in Bangladesh was declared by the U.S. State Department to be a foreign terrorist organization. Their leader was named as a leading terrorist.

Now doing business with anybody in that organization is banned by the United States. You know, the bottom line, very sadly in this part of South Asia, there's any number of organizations. There are people who affiliate themselves at different times with different organizations. So, the Obama administration tonight watching it very carefully, not ruling out any possibilities right now. KEILAR: And I know that you're also getting some new reporting on this U.S. airstrike in Iraq targeting ISIS. What have you found out?

STARR: This was an airstrike near Mosul, which of course is a city very much in the U.S. crosshairs. ISIS had it for two years. The U.S. trying to get the Iraqi forces ready to be able to go take it back.

There has been an airstrike there. Two key ISIS operatives in Northern Iraq taken out by that airstrike, one is a guy named al- Bajari. And the U.S. identifies him as a former member of al Qaeda who was very involved in takeover of Mosul by ISIS two years ago, also continuing involvement in vehicle bombs, suicide bombers and gas attacks in that part of Northern Iraq.


The other person killed in the attack was named al-Hamduni, an ISIS military commander in the Mosul region. So, look, they have taken out now two top military commanders for ISIS in Mosul, which is crucial.

ISIS has reacted to this kind of thing before. They put other operatives in there, but right now Mosul such a priority for the U.S., the feeling is, the more ISIS commanders they can kill in that region, the easier it might be to get all of ISIS out of Mosul, at least eventually -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Barbara, thank you for that report.

This new attack of terror by ISIS comes after a wave of deadly attacks in Bangladesh.

CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson is joining us live.

You have been covering the airport attack in Turkey, but you have also done a lot of reporting on terror in Bangladesh, Ivan. Explain to us the reach of ISIS in Bangladesh.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's important to get this context as we try to figure out what is happening in this hostage situation, Brianna.

But we have been reporting on dozens of so-called machete murders that have been taking place in Bangladesh over the course of the past two years. And these are really frightening attacks, where groups of men, usually on a motorbike, will hunt down their target and cut them to death in broad daylight with machetes.

The targets have varied. They have been atheist bloggers, secular writers and publishers. They have been priests and members of some of the non-Muslim religious minorities, just last April, two LGBT activists, one of whom worked for the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh. These attacks very different from what we're seeing unfold tonight, because after every murder, the attackers then disappear usually on their motorcycles. Now, after coming under increasing criticism, in June, the Bangladeshi

government came out with a really dramatic response, a roundup of more than 14,000 suspects, in an attempt to try to put a stop to this violence.

Human rights activists, members of the main opposition political party, they criticized this, saying how could this possibly be really a roundup of anybody with real evidence against them? If it turns out that what's going on in the cafe there, this hostage crisis truly is tied to an extremist group, then it would really go to show that the dramatic efforts that the government has taken over the past month simply haven't stopped what could be jihadist, extremist-inspired acts of terrorism.

KEILAR: Why have we seen this uptick here in the past year-and-a- half, Ivan?

WATSON: One of the explanations -- and this is pretty disgusting -- is that it appears there is a competition under way in Bangladesh, certainly with the machete murders, between murderers who either claim to be working for ISIS or claim to be affiliated with al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.

And it looks like they're in competition to try to rack up the most victims. So that's part of why we think that there seems to have been an increase in the violence. And I have really got to tell you, having spoken to some of the survivors of some of the attacks, friends and relatives of some of the victims, it's spread a climate of fear certainly within the community of intellectuals and writers, some of whom have gone into hiding in Bangladesh and dozens of whom have simply fled the country for fear of these targeted murders -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Ivan Watson, thank you so much for that report.

And joining us now is the former U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh James Moriarty.

Do we have him on the line?

All right, we're actually reestablishing an audio connection.

Oh, he can hear us. OK.

Ambassador, I know that you lived just really just half-a-mile, three- quarters-of-a-mile from where we're seeing this ongoing hostage situation right now. You have ISIS claiming credit for this. Tell us about the presence of ISIS in Dhaka and in Bangladesh.

JAMES MORIARTY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO BANGLADESH: Well, that's a difficult question.

I think there are obviously a lot of groups that have ideological affiliation with ISIS. There's a question as whether there are ISIS- trained people or just ISIS-admiring people pulling off some of these actions. As Ivan was saying earlier, there are other groups out there. And there are definitely Bangladeshi homegrown groups. This is not the first big cycle of terrorism in Bangladesh. In the middle part of the last decade, at one point, you had 420 bombs exploding simultaneously nationwide. So, there is a small group of fundamentalists who, if given the right message, can turn to extremism and violence.


KEILAR: Tell us about this area. We know that this is, you said this is a concentration of wealth in Bangladesh in the capital. When you see that there's been this larger attack there, what does that tell you about the aim of these hostage takers?

MORIARTY: Well, I think they want to make it clear that they can attack any place at any time.

The government, they want to show, is incapable of protecting people. You're absolutely right. This is the epicenter of wealth in the country. It's like the toniest parts of Manhattan for Bangladesh.

And given a very dramatic killing of an Italian national working for a Dutch NGO last September, the security there has actually been stepped up quite a bit. And so doing this attack, just as Ramadan was coming to a close and as people are going out in streets, as people are celebrating being with family, friends, it drives home a very scary message about the ability of the terrorists to strike when they want.

KEILAR: Have you been to this specific cafe where this is happening?

MORIARTY: I have been by it many times.


KEILAR: Tell us a little bit about it.

MORIARTY: Well, it's one of these upper-end restaurants that serve the Bangladeshi upper-middle and upper classes and expatriates.

I had a very good friend -- a couple of very good friends of mine ate there two weeks ago. I wasn't able to join them. But it's frequented not only by expatriates, but also by the wealthier Bangladeshis and particularly at this time of year where you take your children out. You meet with friends. You stay and you chat for a long, long time.

And you're having a good time during Ramadan and obviously this makes it a tempting target for some of the people out there.

KEILAR: Ambassador Moriarty, thank you so much. We really appreciate your perspective there from spending time and living right near where we're seeing this attack happening. Thank you.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, back with us now, along with CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, CNN counterterrorism Phil Mudd, CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, and former CIA analyst Lisa Curtis with us as well. You're seeing this neighborhood, Phil, where this is happening. This

is basically a holiday evening where people are breaking the fast. They're going out. They're having leisurely dinners. What does that tell you about this attack? About the aims of these attackers?


And we saw this message occasionally from al Qaeda as well. There's two pieces to it. Number one, there's a war against ISIS that includes Westerners who will be represented at this cafe, Americans and others. The second piece is that this is a message about culture. Going out at night. I don't know if there's alcohol served at this facility, but the message is going to be, we're a traditional organization. We represent traditional values. The people in these places that we're attacking, whether it's in Southeast Asia, in North Africa, in Europe, the Bataclan theater, for example, they represent a culture we don't accept.

So, those messages of go after the Westerners and offer a message about culture.

KEILAR: You mentioned that there have just -- we see this attack in Bangladesh, but this has happened in Yemen. This is almost -- it seems like a campaign of violence that's supposed to tell people you're not safe anywhere.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, campaign is the right word.

In Yemen, there were 40 people killed in a wave of suicide attacks on Tuesday. In Lebanon, there was a suicide attack that killed five on Monday. In Jordan, there was a suicide attack earlier in the week that killed seven. We have Turkey. Now we have Bangladesh.

Unfortunately, this is not over. The 27th day of Ramadan, the holiest day of Ramadan for billions -- the billion-plus Muslims in the world, is also by these groups seen as a particular propitious day to die. I would anticipate the people doing this attack are planning to die during this period, which is this very sacred moment during Ramadan.

KEILAR: Because of that, that makes it a huge law enforcement challenge. This isn't something, Tom, that I imagine these police officers are thinking they are going to resolve.

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, that's a huge challenge for any country, much less a country with the resources of Bangladesh.

That's the problem. They can attack just about anywhere in the world at any time in the world. We have seen this on every continent in many countries, as Peter mentioned, recently. That's their message. We can do this whenever we choose. You don't know when we're going to do it. You figure it out.

KEILAR: That really seems to be the message.

Lisa, tell us about ISIS operations in Bangladesh. LISA CURTIS, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Over the

last few years, ISIS has claimed responsibility for several attacks.


Now, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, the South Asia branch of al Qaeda, has also been claiming responsibility for some of these attacks. It's almost as if there's a competition between the two groups. For instance, ISIS claimed responsibility for attacks against two international aid workers last fall. They claimed responsibility for an attack on a Shia procession during the Shia holiday of Ashura.

Al Qaeda, on the other hand, has been claiming responsibility for a lot of these attacks against bloggers, the liberal bloggers. I think we also have to take note of the fact that ISIS has been featuring Bangladesh in its flagship magazine, "Dabiq."

We have seen several articles on Bangladesh showing their interest. I think they see an opportunity. Bangladesh is a target of opportunity. You have political polarization, a lot of political tension, instability. You have weak law and order. You have the major Islamist political party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, whose backs are really being pushed up against the wall by this current government.

You have seen executions of several Jamaat-e-Islami's leaders as part of a war crimes tribunal process. I think that ISIS and possibly even al Qaeda see Bangladesh as a target of opportunity. And that's what we're seeing play out.

KEILAR: All right, we have more with our panel in just a moment. We will be right back after a quick break.



KEILAR: We're following the breaking news.

ISIS is claiming responsibility for an attack and a hostage siege that's unfolding right now, gunmen opening fire and throwing explosives at a cafe in Bangladesh. At this moment, about 20 people are being held captive.

CNN White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski is with us now.

President Obama's been briefed on this, Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the White House hasn't responded directly to the attack yet, coming only a couple of days after the White House expressed concern that ISIS still has the ability to launch attacks like this and of course only days after we saw a similar attack happen in Turkey, another attack targeted at civilians.

What we do know is, the White House is watching this very closely going into a holiday weekend. The president has said he wants to be kept updated as this develops. He has been briefed by Lisa Monaco, his assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism.

But it's the State Department, with its embassy only within walking distance of where this is currently playing out, where hostages are still inside that cafe, that put out a statement expressing outrage over what the State Department calls a brutal terrorist attack, offering condolences and confirming that all official U.S. personnel there have been accounted for.

What they are still trying to figure out though is are any Americans currently inside that cafe? It's really striking how many times recently the White House has had to respond to attacks like this. And the questions that they always get are, what does this say about the ability of ISIS? And what does that mean for the U.S. strategy in fighting it? Also, what does each successive attack like this mean for the threat level within the U.S. currently?

What the White House has said is, yes, that risk is still there by ISIS and its followers, I mean, more so that, people who are inspired. We have heard more than once U.S. officials say that's the kind of attack that keeps them up at night. That is the most difficult kind of attack to prevent.

And the White House does think that these recent attacks are linked to ISIS' current losses on the battlefield. As for the current threat in the U.S., we heard officials say just a few days ago after Turkey that there's no credible, specific threat in the U.S. right now, Brianna.

KEILAR: Michelle Kosinski at the White House, thank you.

And we're back now with our panel, Lisa Curtis, Tom Fuentes, Phil Mudd and Peter Bergen.

Thank you guys for joining us.

And I wonder, Lisa, because we're seeing with the Istanbul attack, we understand now that ISIS leaders in Raqqa are -- likely helped plan that. What's the likelihood that there would be been some planning from the top when it comes to what we're seeing in Bangladesh?

CURTIS: Well, I think it's a little less likely when it comes to Bangladesh. You're just a lot further from the front.

But we have seen ISIS claiming responsibility for a lot of attacks inside Bangladesh. And it's possible that they have linked up with a local terrorist group. There are several terrorist groups inside Bangladesh, local groups.

And it's entirely possible that ISIS has been able to link up. And so they may be directly or indirectly involved with this attack. And I think the point is the government is wrong to completely dismiss any possibility of an international connection.

I'm not saying that ISIS is definitely directing this attack, but I'm saying they should not rule out the possibility. And I think this is a real wakeup call for the government, which has been denying that there's any kind of terrorist problem in the country. KEILAR: Tom -- and I see you nodding over here, Peter.

BERGEN: Well, no, Lisa has spent a great deal of time in South Asia and reporting on South Asia.

But the government in Bangladesh is blaming these attacks on the opposition party. They are basically in total denial that they have this problem. And I think that we will probably find that this is a local group that's sort of slapped on the ISIS patch, which makes them the biggest and baddest terrorist group in Bangladesh.

They may well have somebody who has gone back and forth. We have seen Bengalis going for training. But it's not tightly controlled as what we saw in Turkey, to answer your original question.


MUDD: And we can pick up on what Peter is saying.

Let's talk about the complexity of what we face today in America going into this weekend compared to what we had 15 years ago, an organization we didn't understand, al Qaeda, but one core organization directing out. We have three tiers now.

We have somebody who might have been a lone wolf in Orlando. We have a group that is affiliated, but probably not directed coming out in Bangladesh. And earlier in the week, we have a centrally directed operated operation in Turkey. Three parallel lines, a homegrown guy, a group that is affiliated and a centrally directed organization. That's really the threat we face today.


FUENTES: This is just a restaurant. This isn't an airport with the biggest security of any airport in the world or one of best security systems in the world.

It's a restaurant. We have seen that. We saw the coffee shop takeover in Australia a year-and-a-half ago, where the guy went in, created a hostage situation in downtown Sydney, Australia.

So, there's no real sophistication here that we know of. It's six guys. They probably have automatic weapons. They threw a couple of grenades and killed police officers. But we don't know just how sophisticated it really is.

Now, Bangladesh did have a lot of fighters go to Syria and learn. So, they could have established connections there, could have gotten the training there and they could have learned how to use the dark apps for communicating and then went back. And so we don't know and we may never know if they had any additional direction from Raqqa or any other Syrian stronghold. But it wouldn't be required anyway for an attack like this.

KEILAR: I'm going to have you all stick around with me.

We're going to have more with our panel ahead. We're going to be going live to Bangladesh after this break.


KEILAR: We're following the breaking news: a terror attack and hostage crisis currently underway in Bangladesh as we speak. ISIS is claiming responsibility for this. It's a siege at a cafe that is popular with foreigners.

About 20 customers are being held captive right now, and two police officers have been killed. At least 40 people have been wounded. We're on the phone right now with someone who heard the attack, Sharma Hussain. She is in Bangladesh.

Sharma, I know you're there visiting family, who live in this neighborhood. Tell us where you are. Tell us what you heard and what you saw.

SHARMA HUSSAIN, WITNESS (via phone): Hi, Brianna.

So I'm visiting family here. And we are -- we live in the same neighborhood as -- it's called Polshan (ph). And we're less than a five-minute walk from this restaurant. So that road that the restaurant is on is actually perpendicular to us. And it's so close that we actually heard the gunfire. We heard explosions. We could see the ambulances pass by. I'm seeing ambulance go by now. So we're just kind of seeing the chaos that this is causing in the neighborhood.

KEILAR: And are you just sheltering in place? Is everyone just inside?

HUSSAIN: Yes. We got the security alerts not to leave -- not to leave our houses. Also, it's juts -- you can't get anywhere because all the roads are blocked off at the moment.

KEILAR: Can I ask you about this neighborhood? Is there any -- I know that they stepped up security because of attacks recently, smaller scale attacks, individual attacks. But is there any sort of security check to get into this area?

HUSSAIN: Yes. I would actually say that this neighborhood is one of the most, if not the most, secure neighborhood in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. It's just very upscale. There's a lot of diplomats in this neighborhood, lots of ex-pats. It's a very posh neighborhood. It's always been very secure, so everyone is just stunned that something like this could happen here.

KEILAR: And you've been to this restaurant.

HUSSAIN: I have. I was just there in -- during my last visit in January. It's so popular. I think it's fairly new, a couple of years old maybe. And it's -- you know, it's one of those places that people, ex-pats frequent, diplomats, locals and young crowds, especially.

And it's very -- it's very big. So they have their own courtyard. They have outdoor seating. And that's kind of rare in a city like Dhaka, which is so crowded. So for a restaurant that big, it's not something very common in Dhaka.

KEILAR: One of our analysts, Lisa Curtis (ph), has a -- has a question for you, Sharna.

CURTIS (ph): Yes, I'm just wondering, Sharma, have you been limiting your activities or the places you go because of the increased threat that we've seen over the last couple of years in Bangladesh? Has that impacted you or your family or friends that you know that live in Dhaka at all?

HUSSEIN: I wouldn't say so. Because the thing is, the attacks that we've been seeing have been targeting individuals. We're seeing with this attack that it's not targeting an individual. It's targeting a group of people at a restaurant. So that's not something -- it's more of a new development. So after this, I'm assuming people are going to be scared to go to public places.

KEILAR: And just to underscore that, Sharma, I guess that is definitely the point. Is that this is something so much bigger than what you've seen. Obviously, Bangladesh, Dhaka, no stranger to violence. But this is something, it seems, that people like you and your family have come to live with and that this is something that's going to impact you a whole lot more.

[18:35:07] HUSSAIN: Yes. I've never seen anything like this during my time here, especially a hostage situation. I think that's almost unheard of in the last several decades. So I would say it's a very tense atmosphere right now, especially after this. But it's not something that we were expecting. It's very alarming to all of us.

KEILAR: Our Tom Fuentes has a question for you, Sharma.

FUENTES: Can you tell us how the coverage of this event is unfolding with local media there? How are they describing the events that are happening, compared to worldwide cable news channels?

HUSSAIN: We started seeing live coverage almost immediately. And I know there was some -- media ban on live coverage, because it was rapid action that actually said, "Don't provide live coverage." It's something that the perpetrators can see inside, as well. So that kind of gives them an advantage to see who's outside, what's happening outside, what the police are doing. So I know they were discouraging that in the beginning.

KEILAR: Have you been talking to friends and family, not where you live but maybe in the neighborhood maybe nearby?

HUSSEIN: Yes. I think they're mostly contacting us, because they know we're here. So everyone is kind of really worried because it's so unexpected.

KEILAR: Sharma, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.

Sharma is sheltering in place right now. They're in Dhaka on a road perpendicular to where you see this hostage situation unfolding in Bangladesh.

Is there anything in particular -- I know you had said there's security to get into this neighborhood. She said yes. There seems to be sort of what's become, I guess, a perfunctory check, in a way, but they were a able to get through it, whoever these attackers were.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I mean, we see this in Islamabad and Pakistan, for instance, which has sort of a similar setup. These are at Talma (ph) and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with the kind of checks that you would get. I mean, they're sort of superficial. I mean, they would deter something, but they're not going to be a very detailed check. That would be my assumption.

KEILAR: OK. So if they're -- if it's not too detailed of a check, I guess you would expect something like a car check, something like that, right? So what possibly would have happened? Could they have just been let through and it's not a problem. Maybe they went somewhere else in this neighborhood and got ready. Or is this something that they were just so easily able to overpower, whoever was at the check, you think?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think it's a couple of options here. One, you mentioned let through. I think they could have powered through. We know police officers are injured. One question is whether there's a security officer injured here.

But I think it goes back to the general question. In contrast to hardening cockpit doors 15 years ago, we had a target to heart. Putting out different body sensors in airports. Now we're looking at targets like restaurants, like cafes in Paris, like a nightclub in Orlando.

And I think people are going to step back and say, "How do you look at communities like this and harden them?"

The message is going to be I don't think there is an answer. You can't.

KEILAR: We just spoke to a young woman who's sheltering in place there in Dhaka just blocks from where this hostage situation that ISIS has claimed credit for is, says that they have -- they have attacked this restaurant. We're going to have more with our panel ahead after a break.


[18:43:18] KEILAR: Breaking right now, armed terrorists are holding as many as 20 hostages. ISIS is claiming responsibility for the attack at a cafe in the diplomatic zone of the capitol of Bangladesh. At least two police officers have been killed in this gun battle with the attackers.

And also tonight, we're learning more about the terrorists who planned and carried out the attack on the airport on Turkey.

Let's go back to CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson. He's in Istanbul for us. What are you learning, Ivan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, let's point out that the Turkish president, the fiery leader, Tayyip Erdogan, he had a -- he had a tough speech, saying that the ISIS militants that he believes probably carried out the attack here, that they were betraying their faith by killing innocent civilians and that for every one civilian that was killed, the Turkish security forces would kill ten of them.

Meanwhile, the investigators are hard at work, and U.S. officials say -- think that they know who the mastermind of the atrocity that was committed here, they think they know who that person was.


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

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

WATSON: Chatayek, known as Akhmed One-Arm, is a battle hardened veteran. Whereabouts are unclear.


[18:45:00] REP. MIKE MCCAUL (R-TX), HOMELAND SECURITY CHAIRMAN: He's a Russian, was one of the probably the number one enemy in the northern Caucasus region of Russia. That says a lot. He travelled to Syria on many occasions.

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

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

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


WATSON: Now, here's the thing, Brianna -- Turkey had been rounding up suspected ISIS members for months now here in Turkey. It's been supporting U.S. airstrikes against ISIS across the border in Syria, from the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. And it's even been shelling ISIS positions periodically across the border.

If this attack was, in fact, carried out by ISIS, as so many people seem to believe, then it would show that ISIS is firing back and it has declared war on the Turkish state and society, part of the NATO military alliance, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Ivan Watson in Istanbul, thank you so much.

And let's get back now to our panel of experts and analysts.

Peter, if ISIS has declared war on Turkey, you think this is the beginning of something much bigger, right? Where does this take us?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Turkey, I mean, in addition to what Ivan Watson was saying, they're allowing its bases to be used for attacks against ISIS has also done something important which is crack down on the foreign fighter flow that's transiting Turkey into Syria. Just almost every foreign fighter of which there had been tens of thousand has transited through Turkey.

And for a while, the Turks were doing absolutely nothing about it. In the last year and a half, we can say this with a lot of confidence because ISIS itself is saying, don't trust the Turks, you know, the Turkish intelligence services are not to be trusted. So, that has all changed. This is one of the other motivations why ISIS is attacking Turkey.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The significance of Turkey is evident in the people ISIS chose to send there. Let's go back to Brussels and Paris. Individuals who went to train with ISIS but who lived, who were born in Brussels and Paris. They went home.

These three individuals didn't. They were recruited to go into a training facility or training compound. ISIS chose because of this heightening war with Turkey, 500 miles of common border going over 200 miles, 300 miles with Iraq. ISIS chooses to send them home to one of their number one targets, Turkey.

KEILAR: Twenty -- go on.

TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Also, Turkey has the focus of the PKK, the Kurdish independent fighters who have committed a tremendous amount of terrorism, killing more than 20,000 people over the last 30 yeas in Turkey.

So, they've been focused a lot on the PKK and Kurdish groups as opposed to exclusively ISIS and Syria and Bashar al-Assad in Syria. So, it's been a complicated question for them of how to deal with all of these threats to them.

KEILAR: Twenty-four people have been detained, have been arrested in Istanbul in this investigation. How much would -- how much does it take to arrest someone, to detain someone? How involved would authorities think they would be in order to do that?

MUDD: I would say not much. I wouldn't assume these people are directly connected. There's political pressure. I got to show some progress.


MUDD: The second is if you're looking at the periphery of an investigation and trying to understand, for example, flows of people across from Syria into Turkey, you might be asking the question, who is everybody we know anywhere in the vicinity who has been involved in false documents and smuggling people because they're coming in, and if there's a shred of evidence they're connected, they're knocking home.

KEILAR: One of the reasons, Lisa, that Turkey was targeted is it is NATO ally. It is also considered by ISIS. I think a lot of people say, well, this is a Muslim nation. But ISIS considers Turkey to be full of apostate. And they look at Bangladesh where there's the secular government and they say the same thing. We have this ongoing situation in Bangladesh.

LISA CURTIS, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Yes, that's what's so shocking about these developments, because Bangladesh has always been a model Muslim democracy. It's a country where the women play a large part in the social, economical, political spheres.

[18:50:01] It's a country that has seen progress with its socioeconomic indicators over the last several years.

So, there's been a lot of good news coming out of Bangladesh. And so, that's why this is so shocking that, you know, extremists are starting to try to take advantage of some of the political problems in the country and like you said, they're trying to impose their Islamist agenda, and they oppose this secular government and everything it stands for, and they oppose anyone who supports democracy. So, that is what's at stake in Bangladesh.

KEILAR: What is the -- what is the effect of this violence? Does it -- does it say to the secular government and those who support the secular government, I would think that it would make them further reject what ISIS wants to do or does this somehow help ISIS have more influence or is it actually backfiring against them?

CURTIS: Well, I think the Bangladeshi people support democracy. They don't support these types of goals that ISIS-type groups are trying to impose, but the people are also going to be fearful. They're going to fear for their security which will affect freedom of speech, people speaking out.

You know, we had the attacks on the liberal bloggers already, very targeted attacks on people who were representing certain liberal values, the murder of the gay activist just a few months ago. So I think that they are trying to sort of cow the Bangladeshi people in trying to impose this new agenda.

But you're right. It's not going to work. The Bangladeshi people value democracy. They -- they don't like this kind of, you know, Islamist, hard line positions that these extremists are trying to impose. But the key is that the government needs to be transparent about its investigations, not merely focused on trying to take political advantage of the situation by blaming the political opposition.


CURTIS: Here we need to see political dialogue between the political player, the opposition and the government, so that the extremists can't take advantage of the political --

FUENTES: The terrorists want to tell the people your government is incompetent, inept, crooked, they can't protect you. And it has a familiar ring to other political campaigns. But that's the message to the people the terrorists want to invoke anywhere they operate. You're not safe. So join us.

KEILAR: How do you see these sort of things destabilizing countries like Turkey or like Bangladesh when you're just talking about normal people going about their normal day?

BERGEN: Unfortunately, you know, let's go to south Asia and Pakistan is being racked by terrorism and tens of thousands of people are being killed by these groups and what happens usually is you learn to tolerate which is not a great position to be in. The country will not fall apart.

I will say, when we look at these pictures of the Bangladeshi cops and I would be interested in what Tom, you know, they don't seem to be ready for prime time and I think we can be guaranteed that these guys haven't had hostage rescue training in any serious degree and are they going to dither and we will see that this is not going to work out very well.

KEILAR: This is certainly a different scale than I think Bangladesh or Dhaka is used to.

Thank you so much, Peter, Phil, Tom and Lisa for joining us, as well. This is the seventh hour now of this hostage situation in Bangladesh, a restaurant in an international neighborhood, about 20 people, we believe, held hostage and some foreigners. We'll have more details when we come back.


[18:58:07] KEILAR: Let's get an update on the fate of Americans near the scene of this new terror attack currently under way.

CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is on the phone.

What's the latest that you're hearing, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, Brianna, all American personnel accounted for. Right now, the embassy is working to see if U.S. citizens or local staff are inside. As we said, this is a place frequented by foreigners. The embassy has

warden system and they're reaching out to email and text to Americans living in the city, urging them to check in with the embassy or their families.

Earlier, when the embassy, when they heard about the shooting, issued a shelter in place for U.S. citizens and personnel, and we heard some of our guests on the air are sheltering in place and this cafe is very close to a diplomatic quarter, a very affluent area where foreign diplomats and aide workers and expats are located.

KEILAR: Yes. This is where they live, where they work, where they socialize, and that's what people would have been doing tonight.

What else are you hearing from the State Department?

LABOTT: Well, a short time ago John Kirby issued a statement condemning the attack. He said, "We have seen ISIL claims of responsibility and are not yet confirmed and are assessing the information available. We're in ongoing contact with the government of Bangladesh as the situation continues to unfold. The U.S. has offered their assistance to bring those to justice responsible for the attacks and to combat terrorism."

Brianna, as we've been saying, Bangladesh is a moderate Muslim nation, considered a U.S. ally. But for months, the State Department has been very concerned about this uptick in extremist violence there. Earlier this year, they put out a travel warning of an attack believed to have undertaken by groups affiliated with ISIS or al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent which the State Department just yesterday officially designated a terrorist organization.

KEILAR: Elise Labott, thank you so much.

And thank you so much for watching.

I'm Brianna Keilar in for Wolf Blitzer.

Our coverage of ongoing hostage standoff in Bangladesh continues now with Jim Sciutto in the "CNN NEWSROOM".