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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Seven Terror Suspects Arrested
Aired June 22, 2006 - 21:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, we continue to update you on our breaking news story out of Miami. Antiterrorism raids by the FBI, that are ongoing as we speak. Also, state law enforcement is involved as well as local police. Right now we know that seven people have been arrested. A local law enforcement official tells CNN that the individuals detained are suspected of plotting terrorist attacks inside the U.S.
According to one law enforcement source, two of the possible targets, and I say possible targets, could have included the Sears Tower in Chicago as well as Miami's FBI offices. But again, the targets of these attacks apparently inside the United States. At last word, searches were still going on right now. We know some documents have been seized and already sealed. So far, though, no weapons or bomb making deals that have been found.
At least part of this ongoing operation right now is centered at a housing project in the Liberty City part of Miami. An FBI spokesman says there is no threat to Miami or any other area at this time. The operation that has resulted, we're told, in these arrests, have been going on for at least four months. We're going to have a live report from the scene after this short break.
COOPER: So welcome back, we continue to follow this situation as it's happening out of Miami. At least seven people right now are in custody. A number of raids, antiterrorism raids, by the FBI, state and local police as well, as we said, seven people in custody. Documents have been seized and those documents have already been sealed.
But apparently no bomb making materials or devices have been found at the location that was raided. A law enforcement official telling CNN that the individuals being detained are suspected of plotting terror attacks inside the United States, and this is part of an investigation that has been going on for some at least four months, we understand, and the last word, searches are still going on right now. No significant -- no weapons, really, no bomb-making materials have been found but a number of documents taken.
This is all happening, most of this operation that we've been watching is happening at a housing project in Miami in the Liberty City area. The officials there in Miami have been very quick to point out there is no threat to Miami or any other area at this time. Right now we have a live report, John Zarrella is standing by in the Liberty City area.
John, what are you seeing around you?
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson. I can tell you that right now, if there was a police operation here, and there was a few hours ago, you would not know it any longer. No longer any FBI agents or local police, any SWAT team members here.
This is the building behind me that they raided. And you can take a look over there at that one door where they actually used torches to cut through that outer door, that steel door that comes down over the top of the inner door. Apparently not gaining access to the warehouse facility from that door, they moved over to another door and actually broke off the locks on that door to gain access in here this afternoon.
Now, I walked around this building, Anderson, a little bit ago and it's actually surrounded by a chain link fence that I'm standing at right now and when you go up to the building in the front there are these giant was warehouse doors that pull down over the front. It is concrete block, you cannot see inside. You can not see anything around the backside so there is no way to look inside this building. It's a solid one-story structure. There are huge padlocks on the front entrances on those warehouse doors.
So clearly the people inside there did not want to be disturbed. Again, Anderson, we also know the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the governor of Florida, Governor Jeb Bush were notified by federal agents that this raid was going to be taking place. But the FDLE was not part of this investigation. Local officials were also notified that the raid was going to be taking place. Anderson?
COOPER: John, just a couple of things. In a situation like this, it's often as important to talk about what we don't know, as well as what we do know. We do know seven people are in custody. We should also point out that we've just heard from a source that some of the suspects had actually -- had allegedly conducted surveillance of proposed targets, and another source had said, at least two of those targets, were allegedly the Sears Tower as well as FBI offices in Miami.
So, some of these suspects had apparently conducted some form of surveillance. We don't know if it was drawing maps or taking pictures or video, images and also according to the same source at least one of suspects had taken an oath -- had taken an oath to al Qaeda, but again, we don't know who these people, who these individuals are or exactly what they have been charged with at this point.
We do know, John, though, that a number of documents were taken but those documents have already been sealed.
And John, as you pointed out, Governor Jeb Bush was briefed and Miami officials are very quick to point out that no one in Miami is in any sort of, in any kind of imminent risk and that's particularly important because tomorrow there is a big rally for the Miami Heat and that is still under way, correct?
ZARRELLA: Right. Not far from here, they expect at least 200,000 people on Biscayne Boulevard. Literally, 15 minutes from here, where the parade route will be. Along Biscayne and then back to the American Airlines arena and the FBI building mentioned as a possible target, it's not more than 15 miles to our north from here. But again, you're absolutely right. They have been told there is no concern, the parade is going on as planned, and that is certainly good news for the folks here in Miami. Anderson?
COOPER: John, joining us on the phone is Clark Kent Ervin, our senior security analyst. Clark, what do you make of it?
CLARK KENT ERVIN, CNN ANALYST (on phone): I think it's noteworthy, Anderson, that this comes just a day after the latest Zawahiri tape, bin Laden's number two. I think the frequency of these tapes, there have been, I think, 11 this year alone, suggests that an attack in this country or at least an attempted one is imminent.
Of course, we have to also note, needless to say, that Zarqawi was killed just a week ago or so in Iraq and one of the things he was intent on doing was attacking the homeland at some point. So I think the timing is not coincidental here.
COOPER: But in looking at other cases of cells or people who have seem to want to do harm to the United States who are actually living in the United States. It didn't seem as if people had direct connection to al Qaeda. It was more sympathizers or people - sort of ideological partners, not people who had actually met with al Qaeda representatives in Europe or the Middle East, is that correct?
ERVIN: That is correct. That's right. But it certainly could be the case that these tapes that we've seen are some kind of coded indication to these indigenous terror cells to actually deploy these terror cells that are indigenous in the United States and elsewhere. Could be inspired by the fact that al-Zarqawi has been killed and could be animated by that.
And as Director Mueller just pointed out on the Larry King show, those homegrown cells are the most difficult ones to penetrate and to break up.
COOPER: When you say homegrown cells. I mean, in reality, I don't want to get too far down the road, I mean, how many homegrown cells have ever actually been discovered?
ERVIN: Well, of course, we don't know, as the director just said, what we don't know. But according to the reports that I've seen, there are at least 1,000 al Qaeda sympathizers here in the United States that the FBI has under active surveillance. So if we know of 1,000, chances are there are significantly more than that.
COOPER: So 1,000 sympathizers. Apparently, this operation that we're watching some of this video for and that we're following out of Miami, some sort of surveillance or investigation into these people that have been arrested has been going on for at least four months. Talk a little bit about, obviously, there are some strong legal requirements for the FBI, for officials who are investigating. Under the PATRIOT Act they are a little bit freer to operate but they still have to get search warrants, they still have to be pretty rigorous in order to make this pass mustard in a court of law?
ERVIN: That's right. And the director talked about that. He was very careful to stress in his interview just now with Larry that a judge has approved these search warrants and the threshold is actually very high there. There has got to be probable cause that a crime is imminent before a judge issues those warrants so I think we can be reasonably assured by the mere fact that the warrants were issued, that there was reasonable grounds to believe that an attack was imminent.
COOPER: Also joining us is Jim Walsh, research associate at MIT's security studies program. Dr. Walsh, you're watching this as well, following it. What do you make of it?
JIM WALSH, MIT: Well, I am struck by your reporting earlier, Anderson, that targets may include Chicago as well as Miami. And that tells me two things. One, it tells me that the group's grievances, whatever they may be, are national in scope, not just in Miami, not just Florida.
And the fact they five been targeting an FBI building I think may be telling about the nature of the group.
The second thing is, if they are trying to execute attacks against multiple targets in the United States, that's quite an ambitious feat to pull off, particularly attacking a hard target like an FBI building. And so it will be interesting to see whether this group's ambitions are matched by their actual capability because most homegrown groups by definition aren't very experienced, aren't very well-trained, are new to this whole endeavor. So it's one thing to say you want to attack a federal building, it's quite another to try to pull it off.
COOPER: Yeah, I mean, Clark Ervin, CNN security analyst, in cases in the past in the United States and the arrests that have been made, Jim says a lot of these groups aren't that organized. It's often -- is it often just a number, a handful of people getting together who are ideologically likeminded and trying to figure out what they can do and how they can cause harm?
ERVIN: That's right. That certainly happens in that way. And of course, it's advantageous for terrorists to be isolated like that in relatively small cells. The fewer number of members in the cell, the less likely it is that the members will be compromised and the plot will be foiled so operationally it makes a lot of sense for them to be small like that.
COOPER: And John Zarrella, who is on the scene in Liberty City in Miami, John, they say that they have not found any bomb-making materials nor any weapons, is that correct? ZARRELLA: That's correct, Anderson. That's what we understand, here. And I think if they had, this operation, to remove that material, to do forensic evidence inside, probably would have been ongoing right now. Would not have wrapped up as quickly as it did.
It was somewhat of a surprise for us certainly to come out here and find out all of the FBI agents and local authorities had cleared out of the area so I do think if there was forensic evidence of some sort to gather here of materials, of bomb-making materials, that they would have been here a lot longer than they were.
COOPER: Bottom line, right now, just seven people that we know of in custody at this point. The allegation is that they have been planning some sort of domestic terrorist operation according to some law enforcement source. Several law enforcement sources, possible targets were the Sears Tower in Chicago as well as the FBI offices in Miami, but as we just said and as John just reiterated, no bomb-making materials or weapons have been found.
We're going to take a short break. We're going to continue with this breaking news coverage of this operation which has been going on right now, in Miami. Larry King will be back at midnight. You can see the full interview with Larry King with the FBI director. We'll have more of our breaking coverage from Miami and around the country in a moment.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
COOPER: And we continue to follow this breaking news story out of Miami. Here's what we know. Seven individuals are in custody at this point. Antiterrorism raids by the FBI have been going on as well as by state and local officials. There are seven people under arrest. A law enforcement official tells CNN that the individuals being detained are suspected of plotting terror attacks inside the United States. According to one of the sources the targets are the Sears Tower in Chicago as well as FBI offices in Miami.
Searches are still underway. So far, there are no weapons or bomb-making materials that have been found. At least part of this ongoing operation is centered at a housing project in the Liberty City area of Miami.
According to an FBI spokesman there is no threat to Miami or any other area at this time. That of course is important because a large rally is expected to take place in Miami tomorrow.
John Zarrella is standing by in the Liberty City area. John, the location right now is a warehouse where part of this operation, part of this raid took place earlier, is that correct?
ZARRELLA: That is correct. At least a good part of the raid took place here from our understanding. And again, what the authorities apparently did was they tried to get in and gain access to the back of this building. It's literally a concrete bunker, Anderson. I went up to it, you knock on the walls. That's all poured concrete, concrete block.
And they had these sliding glass steel doors -- sliding steel doors that came down over the top of the other door, and the authorities came in with torches and apparently tried to cut their way through there. Were not able to necessarily gain access in that door and then came over to another door that's directly behind me over here, and they actually went through two locks there, Anderson, to break into this building.
And again, the Liberty City area, it is a lower income area here in Miami. Yes, the parade was scheduled here and is scheduled here for tomorrow afternoon to honor the Miami Heat, but that's not going to be interrupted by this. Anderson?
COOPER: And we're continuing to gather information literally as we speak. CNN's Jeanne Meserve is hearing from law enforcement sources that at least some, if not all of these seven individuals who are in custody, are described as being radical African American Muslims. At least one of whom, according to a law enforcement source, has taken some sort of an oath to al Qaeda, and also had at some point, had conducted, and I'm not sure how many of these individuals are alleged to have conducted, but had conducted some form surveillance on the Chicago -- the Sears Tower in Chicago as well as FBI offices in Miami. Those are two of the alleged targets in what is being described as a domestic terrorism ring of some kind.
Clark Kent Ervin is standing by, CNN security analyst as well as former Department of Homeland Security inspector general. What do you make of that Clark, radical Muslim African Americans - a group or individuals out of the Miami area?
ERVIN: Well, I think that's really important, Anderson. One of the things we know is that al Qaeda has been attempting to radicalize Americans here in this country and among the most fertile groups for radicalization are the prison population, and in particular, African American prison population. There are a number of African Americans that have converted to Islam in prison.
They have converted to a rather radical form of Islam and because they tend to blend into this community, they are less likely, frankly, to be spotted by law enforcement personnel and be taken to be Arab terrorists which is kind of the stereotype, needless to say, we have in our minds now. And he's also ...
COOPER: Sources -- Sorry. Also, sources have told CNN that the suspects apparently believed that they were dealing with an al Qaeda operative. The al Qaeda operative, though, actually turned out to be a government informant so clearly the government has been monitoring the FBI and other officials have been monitoring this group, according to at least one source, for at least four months. It's interesting that they thought they were dealing with a direct representative from al Qaeda. ERVIN: That's right. Of course, there is a lot we don't know tonight. We're just piecing this together needless to say but if the facts are as they are alleged and if things turn out to be as we think they are tonight, it appears as though the FBI is to be commended. They appear to be all over this and they appear to be very, very proactive and vigorous. This is the kind of surveillance, the kind of infiltration of the community that we want the FBI and other law enforcement intelligence in this country to be doing right now.
COOPER: Jim Walsh is also joining us, a research associate at MIT security studies program. Dr. Walsh, appreciate you being with us, when you hear radical African American Muslims, what do you think?
WALSH: Well, I think it's important to keep the obvious in front of us and one of the obvious things is, some of these suspects may be Muslims or they may be African Americans, but just like when you have people attack or bomb abortion clinic clinics, some of whom hey be Catholic, that does not mean all Catholics are somehow sympathetic with that.
And similarly, there may be Muslims involved in the alleged conspiracy, but they do not at all represent the views of mainstream Muslims in the United States. Recently, the society -- the Muslim Society of North America, one of the largest Muslim groups in North America condemned terrorism in all its forms.
So I think if these particular alleged perpetrators happen to be Muslim we need to know that but we also have to keep in mind, that when we use this phrase "homegrown," and sympathizers, and I'm highly suspect of the 1,000 sympathizer figure that was used earlier, that we don't run too far with that.
And keep in mind that these people, if in fact they are guilty represent a fringe element and do not represent mainstream Muslim opinion in the United States.
COOPER: Clark Kent Ervin, you mentioned earlier that there were as many as perhaps 1,000 al Qaeda sympathizers in the United States. Where does that figure come from and, at what level of sympathy? It sounds like that's a shocking statement when you hear it. I'm wondering sort of what that actually means?
ERVIN: That's an FBI figure, Anderson. It's the FBI that says they know of at least 1,000 people who are not just sympathetic to al Qaeda, but beyond sympathetic, inclined to engage in acts of terrorism such that the FBI thinks they are dangerous enough to have under surveillance.
So again, if the FBI knows of that answer, as the director himself acknowledged, what's most of concern is what they don't know. So my betting is that figure is very low.
COOPER: What is your sense of, you know, as you're -- being former Department of Homeland Security inspector general, you know what you can say and what you cannot say better than I, but what is your sense of the level of FBI penetration or surveillance of these kind of groups, radical Muslim groups inside the United States?
ERVIN: Well, I think it's a mixed record, Anderson. Certainly the FBI has been working very intensively since 9/11 to get inside the American Muslim community.
We have a very large Muslim community here in the United States. Jim is right to say, of course, that the vast majority of American Muslims, like the vast majority of other Americans, they are not sympathetic to terrorism, they certainly don't engage in terrorism but there is no question but that there is some number of radical Muslims in the American community who are sympathetic and who are likely to engage in this and so the FBI is right to penetrate those communities to get inside the mosques.
On the other hand, we all know there have been some notable examples of the FBI getting it wrong and in the process alienating the community. So it's a very, very delicate balancing act that the FBI has to engage in. They have got to infiltrate the communities to find the bad guys but they can't be so heavy handed that they alienate the vast majority of the American Muslims who could be and should be our very best allies in this effort to defeat terrorism in general and particularly homegrown terrorists since they are Americans, after all, first.
COOPER: We've just received a statement from the Sears Tower. Sears Tower, of course, apparently, one of the alleged targets or at least sites that was surveilled, by at least some members of this group now in custody, the statement reads as such.
It says, quote, "It would be inappropriate for us to confirm or deny details of news reports about federal law enforcement action before an official statement from the Justice Department. However, Sears Tower security officials regularly speak with the FBI and local law enforcement, authorities who track and investigate terrorism threats. Today was no exception. Despite new information, law enforcement continues to tell us they have never found evidence of a credible terrorism threat against Sears Tower that has gone beyond criminal discussions."
I guess the key point in that is, it implies at least that there was perhaps not a credible threat against the Sears Tower, but perhaps some criminal discussions. It was talked about and at least according to one law enforcement source telling CNN, at least some of these cites were surveilled, Clark?
ERVIN: Well, of course, that's good news if these plots have not gone beyond criminal discussions to use the phrase, that's a good thing. Of course, you want to foil terrorist plots. We don't want to solve them after the fact but certainly, iconic buildings, private sector buildings like the Sears Tower, like the World Trade Center towers in New York City, other towers, other office buildings around the country, they are icons. Symbols of American economic power.
Similarly, of course, FBI building in Miami is a symbol of American government power, so this is reminiscent, needless to say, of 9/11. A number of people say we've gone five years now without an attack. This suggests that we won't be attacked again. Seems to me that the reason we haven't been attacked is and they've said this, is that al Qaeda want the next attack to be even more spectacular than the last one and to do that they need to attack simultaneously in different cities, symbols of American political and economic power, so I think tonight's development, if they bear out to be true, is of real concern and underscores the degree to which America remains vulnerable to terrorism.
COOPER: I also just want to caution, this is the very early hours in this investigation and we're just getting this information in drips and drabs. As we all know, information that seems solid when it's initially reported and sources are telling us, you know, in 24 to 48 hours it often changes.
We're now being told at least one in custody may not be African American, may be of Caribbean descent. So to say the seven people are African American descent would be incorrect. At least one appears to be at this point, we are told, of Caribbean descent. We're going to have a lot more in the next two hours. We're going to take a short break and we'll be right back.
COOPER: Well, welcome to this special edition of 360.
We begin tonight with breaking news out of Miami, Chicago, Washington, and elsewhere. This is, we ought to say right off the top, the definition of a developing story. We're learning more by the moment. We know more now than we did even five minutes ago.
What we are learning raises a chill, no doubt about it, word of a plot against the tallest building in the country, the Sears Tower in Chicago. How developed a plot, we do not know.
Late today, police and FBI agents began a series of raids in South Florida, the climax, it appears, of a long and secret investigation. How long, we do not know, at least four months, according to one law enforcement source.
As we said, this story is rapidly unfolding. We have got a team of people covering it. John Zarrella is in Miami. Jeanne Meserve is in Washington. She is working her sources. Terrorism analyst Jim Walsh also joins us from -- from Boston. We also have other security experts on the line with us.
We start, though, right now with CNN's John Zarrella in Miami with the latest and some new information.
John, what do you know?
ZARRELLA: Well, Anderson, again, where we are is a warehouse, where federal agents descended upon this afternoon. You can see behind me this warehouse building.
They apparently tried to cut through with torches into that door back there. Did not gain access into that -- the -- that building through the doorway. It's a concrete block structure. There are no windows anywhere in this billing, front, back side. They then gained access from the building from another door, breaking through the locks which is directly behind me.
Now, what neighbors have just told us is that the authorities arrived here at about 2:00 this afternoon. They cordoned off this entire area. They told the neighbors to stay indoors, would not allow them to go outside their doors. The authorities broke in.
And, when they broke in, according to what the neighbors are telling us, they did not find anyone inside. And, of course, we're being told they did not find any bomb-making materials or weapons, a very key point.
What these neighbors are telling us then happened was that the authorities began to show them pictures, little photos of -- of these people that they were looking for. Apparently some, according to the neighbors, had dreadlocks. Others had beards.
The neighbors also told us that, then, they don't know where the police went. They don't know what happened after that. They also told us that these people were living here and literally lived here in this structure, this building, for the past -- since March, so the past three months or so, and that they did fly flags on the top of the building.
One of the flags they flew, according to the neighbors, was an American flag -- Anderson.
COOPER: OK. So, that is one piece of this story, one piece of this puzzle that we are putting together, and will be putting together over the next two hours.
Jeanne Meserve is standing by in Washington with some of the other pieces.
Jeanne, how many people are in custody? What do we know about them? And what are they accused of doing?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Law enforcement sources say that seven people have been taken into custody at least five of them today. They are described as radical black Muslims, one of them, I'm told by sources, with a Haitian background.
One source described them as a religious sect that identified with al Qaeda. And multiple sources tell us that at least one of these individuals is alleged to have taken an oath to al Qaeda, although it is unclear exactly what that means.
The sources say that these individuals are alleged to have done surveillance and taken pictures of the buildings they allegedly were targeting. Those include, as you have mentioned, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the FBI building in Miami, and also, I'm told, other buildings in Southern Florida.
Their plot was, allegedly, to blow up these buildings. However, the sources stress that they do not have -- they did not appear to have in their possession what they needed to conduct that operation, and there was no direct threat in either Miami or Chicago.
We're told that this investigation goes back one year and that it involved an undercover informant who posed as an Islamic radical. The FBI led this law enforcement today with state and local authorities, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Secret Service.
We're promised we will get a lot more details tomorrow, when there are press conferences in Washington and in Miami. And, also, that indictment in this case will be unsealed -- back to you, Anderson.
COOPER: And, Jeanne, I'm just again pointing out to our viewers that, as we're getting this information in bits and pieces, I often think it's important to point out what we don't know as well as what we do know.
Do we know, Jeanne, at this point, if this investigation goes back one year, why they moved today?
MESERVE: We do not know why they moved today. We do not know why the investigation began one year ago, what it was that tipped authorities off to these individuals. We don't have those details yet.
COOPER: John Zarrella, is this a surprise in Miami that there would be -- I mean, allegedly, it is a group of radical black Muslims. Is that -- is that -- would that be a surprise to anyone?
ZARRELLA: I don't know that it's a terrible surprise to anyone down here. Certainly, we know that, in the past, since 9/11, we know that many of the -- the hijackers lived in northern Broward County. That's where they were. We also know that there were ties in the Hollywood area, not far from here, to another alleged terrorist suspect who is no longer in the United States, who fled the U.S. before he was picked up by the FBI.
So, periodically, we have certainly seen things in Miami. This is a lower-class -- lower-income-class neighborhood in Miami, the Liberty City area. If you go back 20, 25 years, this was the scene of some of the -- the worst civil disturbances to ever take place in South Florida. It is a tough and a very rough neighborhood at times.
So -- and, again, it is only, literally, Anderson, about 15 minutes from here to the parade route tomorrow, where the Miami Heat are going to be celebrated for their NBA championship down on Biscayne Boulevard. The local officials here were notified of the operation, and they were told, of course, that there was no immediate threat to the Miami area, so that parade is, of course, going to go on, and the celebration of the Miami Heat.
The governor of Florida was notified, as was the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, earlier today, about what -- and -- and briefed on what this operation was about. But FDLE was not involved in the operation. Again, important to point out that at least authorities are saying that there was no immediate threat to Miami, or even to other targets in the United States -- Anderson.
COOPER: And -- and, Jeanne Meserve, no bomb-making material found or weapons?
MESERVE: That's -- that's what I have been told, yes, and also told, Anderson, that there appears to have been at least one arrest that was not in Miami, but elsewhere in the country.
COOPER: Do we -- but we don't know where it was?
MESERVE: I have it from a single source. I would rather hear it from more than one.
To your knowledge, is that -- is that person, though, linked with this same group?
MESERVE: That's my understanding, yes; this is all part of the same alleged plot. But I am told -- when I asked if there were connections to any other terror cells that have been uncovered, either in this country or elsewhere, I was told by multiple law enforcement sources that, at this point, there's no indication of that.
COOPER: Joining us also on the phone is Clark Kent Ervin, a CNN security analyst, a former Department of Homeland Security inspector general.
Clark, when you hear that -- that at least some of these suspects are -- are radical black Muslims, perhaps one of Caribbean descent, Jeanne Meserve hearing from a source from Haiti, what do you think?
ERVIN: Well, I think...
COOPER: What does that mean?
ERVIN: I think two things.
One is, as I said, you know, we have known for quite some time that the African-American community, and especially the African- American community in prison -- and, of course, there's a disproportionate number of African-American males in prison. They have been fertile recruiting grounds for al Qaeda.
And we also should be reminded that an African-American convert to Islam who was born in Seattle named Earnest James Ujaama was sentenced back in February of '04 for providing goods and services to the Taliban.
Among other things, he apparently involved in a plot back in 1999 to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon.
Another thing I would point out is that Richard Reid, of course, the notorious shoe-bomber, was of Caribbean descent, part -- part black, grown up in Jamaica. So, it's not surprising to me, really, that the ethnic racial identity of -- of these suspects is -- is as it is.
COOPER: Clark, earlier, on "LARRY KING," the FBI director, Robert Mueller, was talking about one of the greatest concerns on his part is -- is people living here in the United States becoming radicalized, not necessarily sleeper cells infiltrating into the United States, though, of course that would be a concern as well, but -- but people actually, you know, either American citizens or people living here who -- who have become radicalized over the years, and then create sort of these independent cells, if you will.
ERVIN: Well, that's right.
And, as the director further said, you know, obviously, these kinds of people, these kinds of groups are the most difficult to identify and penetrate, because they look and sound and speak and act just as the rest of us do.
They really fly below the radar screen. And -- and, so, this is a tremendous concern, needless to say. There's very little that can be done about it, really.
COOPER: Jeanne Meserve, though, it does seem like, in this particular instance, based on what you are hearing from sources, this group was infiltrated.
MESERVE: Yes. I am told it was infiltrated by a law enforcement informant posing as an Islamic radical.
COOPER: And -- and they believe that person was a member of al Qaeda or -- or some radical group?
MESERVE: I don't know how -- I don't have that degree of detail.
MESERVE: I don't know that.
COOPER: Where does this investigation go now, Jeanne?
MESERVE: Well, I think we will find out a lot more tomorrow.
We're going to have press conferences in Miami and in Washington. I'm sure they will lay out some more specifics in this case, perhaps draw the connections, tell us why this investigation began, how these people met each other, what exactly they are alleged to have done. Absent that information, it's difficult for me to predict where the investigation could go.
Jim Walsh, research associate at MIT security studies program, is also joining us.
Jim, as you -- as you listen to our correspondents and -- and analysts, what jumps out at you? WALSH: Two things jump out at me, Anderson, first, Jeanne Meserve's comment that multiple sources indicate to her that this group, whatever it may be, is rather new, does not have links to existing groups.
And if that's true, and it is somehow inspired, if not affiliated by al Qaeda, it's a good-news and bad-news story, because what it means is, like the other groups that have been homegrown and local in other countries, these are groups that don't have intense training, that aren't very competent, that tend to be novices, and that therefore aren't very good terrorist, and are therefore susceptible to being caught.
The fact that you alluded to earlier, that, allegedly, this group was meeting with an FBI agent, and they thought he was a contact to al Qaeda, may speak to their competence level.
So, it's a good-news/bad-news story. Al Qaeda may inspire some of this homegrown terrorism, but the folks who join up are not the folks who are trained in Afghanistan, who had spent years in the jihad in Afghanistan, and -- and who are central -- under centralized control by al-Zawahiri or bin Laden. So, it's a mixed bag.
The second thing I would say, and very quickly, is, I think we need a little more measured statements when we're characterizing the African-American community, and it being -- quote -- "a fertile ground" -- unquote -- for terrorist recruitment, be it in prisons or elsewhere.
We're really talking about a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction. And, you know, we're going to be talking about, as you and I did earlier, this 1,000 sympathizer figure. That is a figure from the FBI that has a problematic history.
The FBI originally said there were 5,000 sympathizers. Then it said 1,000. Then it was said following them and eavesdropping on them. Then it said it wasn't. So, I think we want to be -- as you have argued earlier, with these early reports, we want to be cautious and skeptical.
COOPER: As -- as we learned -- you know, it's what you learn in a war, what we learned, certainly, in covering the Iraq war. The early reports often turn out to be, you know, based on the fog of war, or -- or a rush to -- to kind of fill a void of knowledge. And we certainly don't want to make either of those mistakes tonight.
Mike Brooks, formerly with the FBI's joint terrorism task force, also joins us now.
Mike, as you watch this operation unfold, this story develop, what do you make of it?
MIKE BROOKS, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Anderson, you know, I find it very interesting.
On June 13, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, put out a call, an informational bulletin, "Black Separatism a Volatile Movement of Node -- Node of Domestic Radicalization."
You know, I'm hearing from my sources that the seven arrests were made in Florida and here in Atlanta, Georgia. Now, as we know, Atlanta, Georgia, has been a hotbed of black separatist movement for a number of years.
And I find it very interesting that those two cities were involved. But, again, to say that there are 1,000 of these people that are al Qaeda sympathizers, I think that's maybe going out on a limb. Some of these groups that they mentioned in this particular report, Nation of Islam, New Black Panther Party, based in Detroit, the New Black Panther Nation, and Five Percenters, those are the ones that law enforcement right now are basically concerned with.
My sources will not say whether or not, at this point, because it is still sealed, whether or not these seven people had anything to do with any of these groups. And I will be very, very interested in the morning, Anderson, to find out whether or not the -- any of these groups do surface.
COOPER: Clark Kent Ervin, we -- we have -- we are told that a number of documents have been -- have been taken, have been seized and sealed. No weapons, no bomb-making materials, perhaps most notably, have been found. What do you make of these documents? What -- and -- and why -- what does that mean, that they have been sealed?
ERVIN: Well -- well, we don't know what the documents contain, of course.
But, I mean, they could potentially be a mother lode of information about, you know, other people who are connected to this, the actual details of the plot, the timing of the plot, whether there are any connections to -- to al Qaeda central, for want of a better term.
COOPER: But why -- why so quickly seal documents? What is the purpose of that?
ERVIN: Well, now, that -- that -- that is -- that's -- we don't know the answer to that, but it could well be there's concern about leaking the details of this.
ERVIN: The purpose of sealing it is to -- to make this information airtight, and not to get it into the public domain prematurely.
Jeanne Meserve, I understand you have some new information?
MESERVE: Yes. We're hearing now from a source that there have been some people interviewed in connection with this situation in Chicago. But I'm also told that there have been no arrests in that city -- Anderson.
COOPER: OK, but -- but those people interviewed are not of these seven people who have been detained; is that correct?
MESERVE: That would be correct.
COOPER: And -- and just so I have the correct terminology, have these seven people been arrested that we know of?
MESERVE: I have been told, yes, that there had been seven arrests.
And -- and for those viewers who are just joining us, because we're about 15 minutes past 10:00, Jeanne, if you just could run through kind of the overview of what we know has happened at this point.
MESERVE: Well, what we know is that there were raids today in Miami,, that there have been some people arrested, overall seven arrests, we're told, at least five of them today.
We're told that these people are being characterized as radical black Muslims, one of them, I'm told by a single source, with a Haitian background. One source describes them as a religious sect that identified with al Qaeda.
And, according to multiple sources, at least one of these individuals had taken an oath to al Qaeda, although exactly what that means remains a little bit murky.
These people, we're told by government sources, allegedly intended to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago, also the FBI headquarters in Miami, and some other buildings in Southern Florida. But they did not appear to have any bomb-making materials. They do not have been in a position to carry out this plot.
And we are told by multiple sources that there is no direct threat in either Miami or Chicago, also told that this investigation has been ongoing, that it did involve at least one undercover informant who posed as an Islamic radical that had been going on for about a year, and now just being told that some people in Chicago have been interviewed, but there have been no arrests in that city.
COOPER: And we continue to cover the breaking news about terror raids that may have uncovered, well, a chilling terror plot here in the United States. Federal agents arrested seven suspects. We know that, some in Miami.
Jeanne was just talking about people being interviewed in Chicago -- one of the possible targets on a target list, allegedly, the 110- story Sears Tower in Chicago. Julie Cevene is a reporter with our Chicago affiliate, WGN in Chicago. She joins us now.
Julie, what are you hearing?
JULIE CEVENE, WGN REPORTER: Well, I can tell you right now, it's business as usual here in Chicago.
We have not noticed any additional security here outside the Sears Tower tonight. Take a closer look now, you can see there's still some people outside. We understand the sky deck, the observation deck on the very top floor, is still open for another about 45 minutes or so.
And from what we understand, people are still being allowed in and out of the building, and up on top of the deck there, certainly a situation that took many here in Chicago by surprise. I was able to catch up with some of them. They say they're stunned by the news, but remain fairly confident in the government's ability to protect.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's pretty shocking to think about what's going on when you're going on living your life and enjoying your life and people. And -- but I'm pretty impressed that it was found before anything happened.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have been warned for so long that something's going to happen. And I do believe something will happen. Whether it's from outside or inside, I think something will happen. It doesn't shake me, because I don't think there's safer places.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Honestly, I'm not sure any government can keep us safe. I mean, there's too many people out there trying to do what they want to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CEVENE: Other comments I heard on the streets of Chicago here tonight, many saying that this was something they sort of expected following 9/11 -- of course, increased security around the Sears Tower at that time.
But most people say that this is just a way of life in a major metropolitan area, and it's not shaking their confidence too much tonight. You can tell that is evident by the stream of people still walking in and around the Sears Tower here in Chicago.
As for Chicago officials, they're remaining fairly tight-lipped tonight. They are going to be holding a news conference about the matter tomorrow, following those news conferences in Miami.
COOPER: Appreciate your -- your reporting there. Thank you very much for that. I also just -- Julie, appreciate it -- Julie Cevene reporting from WGN.
I also just want to read a statement from Sears Tower, because it's interesting. It has some -- perhaps some pertinent information.
Sears Tower says this -- quote -- "It would be inappropriate for us to confirm or deny details of news reports about federal law enforcement action before an official statement from the Justice Department. However, Sears Tower security officials regularly speak with the FBI and local law enforcement authorities who track and investigate terrorism threats. Today was no exception. Despite new information, law enforcement continues to tell us they have never found evidence of a credible terrorism threat against Sears Tower that has gone beyond criminal discussions" -- the implication, of course, being that, at this point, that's what this group, all it amounted to, was discussions and perhaps surveillance, at least according to some sources.
We're going to take a quick break. And our panel will continue. And we will continue to follow this breaking story.
We will be right back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of this breaking news story out of Miami.
And, as I said, with each passing minute, we continue to gain more and more information and more and more perspective. And that is something which is often lacking in those first initial hours after an incident like this.
This is what we know now, at 10:22. We know that seven people are in custody, arrested. At least five of those arrests happened today, a number of them, it seems, in the Miami area. According to two sources, there have been one arrest at least in -- in Atlanta, in Georgia. The -- the accusation is that this is some sort of domestic terrorist cell, if you will, or sect.
Apparently, among those arrested were radical black Muslims, according to Jeanne Meserve reporting, according to a source, one man, or one person of Caribbean descent, possibly Haitian descent. These groups -- this group had apparently conducted some form of surveillance on the -- on the Sears Tower in Chicago -- Jeanne Meserve also reporting earlier that this -- people have been interviewed in Chicago in -- in connection with this case.
Also, another possible target, FBI offices in Miami -- arrests had -- or, I should say, suspects had been searched for in the -- the Liberty City part of Miami.
CNN's John Zarrella is standing by there right now.
John, tell us about where you are and what you have been hearing from neighbors around there.
ZARRELLA: Anderson, I don't know if you -- if you have got my audio back there or not.
What we are -- what we are -- are being told by the neighbors here is that, at about 2:00 this afternoon, the FBI...
COOPER: John, your -- we have lost your audio. So, we will come back to you as soon as -- as soon as that's fixed.
We -- we have also been hearing from a number of people in the Miami area. And we're going to play some of that sound in just a moment.
But, first, let's go back to Jeanne Meserve in Washington, who has been talking to a number of sources in a number of different places.
Jeanne, what are you hearing?
MESERVE: First, I wanted to clarify one thing. You said there had been surveillance of the Sears Tower. I don't know specifically if that's what they surveilled. I was told they did surveillance of alleged targets and had taken some photographs. Whether that was the Sears Tower...
MESERVE: ... the FBI building, or other things, or both, I just don't know...
MESERVE: ... the specifics on that.
Let me just say, also, that -- that, if this is what authorities say it is, it's homegrown terror. And this is something they have been extraordinarily worried about. FBI Director Robert Mueller was scheduled to give a speech on this topic tomorrow, coincidentally, we're told.
But that's the nature of the concern about this -- the reason, it is so very hard to detect. As you know, I was recently up in Canada, where they uncovered a cell up there. That's another example of this kind of thing, where there doesn't appear to be any strong networking elsewhere. There's no -- there's no hub from which these groups radiate. There's no communications to trace. There are no trips to training camps, necessarily, to trace.
So, they are a lot harder to find. As one official described it, al Qaeda and its philosophy has metastasized, and -- and it's something that has really been of a worry to -- to law enforcement. Fortunately, they appear to have stopped something before it began here.
COOPER: Well, also, Jeanne, a particular problem, because these -- these groups, these homegrown groups, if that is in fact what this is, do -- may not even have any connection with -- with an al Qaeda representative or -- or a larger terrorist entity. It can certainly -- it can just be a number of like-minded people who get together, you know, in a house, and -- and decide to -- to do harm.
MESERVE: That's right.
And, if they have a computer, so much the better, because they can go on the Internet and they can read whatever they want to read. They can learn how to do things that are very destructive. They can -- they can find like-minded people in other places with which to share inspiration and ideas.
Pat D'Amuro, a CNN analyst, is with us as well.
Thanks for joining us. You just got here.
A, what are you hearing from your sources? And -- and what do you think about what Jeanne has been talking about and what John has been talking about?
PAT D'AMURO, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it sounds like that -- that Jeanne -- what Jeanne is reporting is correct.
It's a -- it's a radical group. It's a -- it's a sect of a -- a religious group that we can't really identify with Sunni extremism, or Shia extremism, but they have identified with al Qaeda and bin Laden. And, apparently, one of them or more of them are trying to pledge bayat, pledge allegiance to bin Laden. It's a...
D'AMURO: Bayat is -- is pledging allegiance to bayat -- bin Laden, so they can become part of al Qaeda, which means the camp.
COOPER: Interesting, so not necessarily a mainstream Muslim group, just some -- some sect, and we don't know the derivation of that sect?
D'AMURO: Loosely affiliated sect that has affiliated with the ideals of al Qaeda, wanting to attack various targets in the United States. We're hearing the Sears Tower. We are hearing FBI buildings.
My understanding is, they may have also surveilled some courthouses in the Miami area. So, we know that they were planning attacks domestically here. Now, we have been reporting earlier that this may be a domestic terrorism investigation.
If, in fact, this is a group that is -- is aligning itself with al Qaeda, it would be classified as an international terrorism investigation. That's a very important factor, because, in domestic investigations in this country, they have to be conducted within the criminal context of our court system, which means that there's a higher probable -- probable cause threshold to reach for search warrants and so on.
In international terrorism cases, we use the national security techniques.
COOPER: I have just been handed some information.
A senior federal source says -- and I quote -- "These people were not related to al Qaeda." When asked whether they were al Qaeda wanna-bes, he said "Possibly."
Again, these people were not related directly to al Qaeda, but possibly al Qaeda wanna-bes.
What do you make of that?
D'AMURO: Well, it's what we're hearing, that they wanted to identify with al Qaeda. They wanted to attack various institutions within the United States.
COOPER: And -- and, as Jeanne said, I mean, that -- with the Internet, frankly, you don't need a direct connection to -- to al Qaeda. You don't need the blessing of Osama bin Laden. You log on to a Web site and you -- you know, you read the religious tracks. You read the -- the ideological tracks, and you -- and you start.
D'AMURO: That's correct.
We know that there's been recruitment in -- in a lot of different areas in the United States, in the prisons, for example. There's been recruitments for individuals to join a radical fundamentalist sect opposed to certain standings within the United States and certain -- certain cultures.
There has been individual -- there have been individuals in this country that are affiliating themselves or aligning themselves with -- with bin Laden. This appears as to be what we have here down in Florida, individuals that are -- that are not part of a Sunni extremist group, a loosely affiliated group that are aligning themselves with the causes of al Qaeda.
COOPER: Let's hear what -- you know, obviously, this is of great concern to people, not only around the country, but -- but certainly particularly in the Miami area. Let's hear what some people in -- in Miami and Florida have been saying throughout the day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, what do you think about that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's crazy. I never saw nothing like that before. But it's right home -- at home, right across the street from the house.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All you could do is just see their eyes. They had their whole head wrapped up, just their eyes showing. And, like, they standing guard, one here, one there, like soldiers, you know, very quiet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They talked to nobody. They would nod their head. They say -- some of the people said they would speak to them, and they would just nod their head or something, or they would just keep their head straight. They was acting like they was in military training.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Those, obviously, are some of the people living around the warehouse, probably, where -- where -- where John Zarrella is actually standing by right now. I think we have got his audio fixed.
John, you talked to, heard from some neighbors today. What were they saying?
ZARRELLA: Yes, that's exactly right, Anderson.
Again, yes, this is the warehouse area where the authorities broke in and did not find anyone. The neighbors were telling us that -- that what -- about 2:00 this afternoon, law enforcement arrived here in force, broke into the building there, did not find anyone inside, came out and began showing the people, the neighbors, mug shots, and asking them if they had seen any of these people around.
Some of the pictures, according to the -- the neighbors, they were telling us that some of these people had dreadlocks. Others had beards. Other people that we have talked to said that, in fact, on occasion, some of the people in this building would be out front, and they would be preaching, is the word that's used.
And you know, Anderson, it's interesting as you paint this whole picture and begin to develop it, they were a group that was hiding in plain sight. You can look off to my left here, this is a main street. Their building sits on a corner on a main street just off of 62nd Avenue here in the Liberty City area. There are apartment buildings all around this area. There are people coming and going at all times of the day or night.
So what they were doing in there, although their build something completely closed offer, there are absolutely no windows, front back or sides that you can see into, and there are giant warehouse doors protecting the front that are padlocked, although all that is here at this building, all around it this is a very busy neighborhood. So in fact, whatever they were doing, people here were either seeing it, picking up on it and maybe just going about their business. But they were, in fact, hiding in plain sight.
COOPER: John, is that the own site to your knowledge? Again there's a lot we don't know at this point, to your knowledge is that the only site in Miami where they were searching?
ZARRELLA: Well, we had understood that there might be a second site. An apartment complex. We don't have any more information on that second site other -- And we don't know where authorities actually apprehended the people that were picked up here in Miami, if it was at that apartment complex or somewhere else in this general neighborhood. We do not know that and have not been able to get that information.
But what we are told is that no one was apprehended. At least that's what the neighbors are saying, no one was picked up here because when the authorities got inside no one was there.
COOPER: And that was at about 2:00 p.m. this afternoon that they arrived there?
ZARRELLA: Right. About 2:00 p.m. and it lasted throughout the larger part of the afternoon, after they finally broke in and then began to show people these mug shot pictures and asked if they'd seen these individuals in this neighborhood.
And again, as we've been pointing out, we would have suspected this operation, and there are no police here, no authorities here at this time of the night, we would have thought if they had found any kind of weapons or bomb making materials inside, which apparently they did not, that forensics teams, explosive efforts would have been here probably late into the night.
And we certainly would not be within a matter of 20 yards from the building.
COOPER: Jeanne Meserve in Washington, seems to me, hearing John talk, because if those neighbors are correct, and no arrests were made at that scene, and law enforcement was actually going around with pictures to the neighbors saying, have you seen these people?
While this surveillance may have been going on of this group for a year, I think what you said earlier, and they had it seems at least infiltrated with at least one person who this group thought was an al Qaeda operative, it would seem, again if these neighbors are correct, if the information is correct, that it was not, that they were not tracking the movements of these people so closely that they knew every hour of the day where they were.
MESERVE: That certainly would be a logical conclusion to draw but I'm afraid I just don't have enough information to fill that out for you and explain why that's the case.
COOPER: And again, for the viewers who are just joining us. Jeanne, what do we know? Seven people in custody. How many of those arrests were made today?
MESERVE: At least five of them today. Most of them in Miami. We've been told that one of them was made in Atlanta. Once again people that identified with al Qaeda. That's how they were described to us. At least one who'd taken an oath to al Qaeda.
But it was unclear exactly what that meant according to the sources. This group had planned to bomb, allegedly, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the FBI building in Miami, and other buildings, also in southern Florida. We just heard Pat D'Amuro say that he heard from his sources that it might have involved courthouses in the Miami area. But authorities insist that there is no threat to Miami, no threat to Chicago. No threat anywhere in the country, that these people apparently did not have what they needed to carry out their attacks. Described, once again, as radical black Muslims. And hopefully we'll find out a lot more tomorrow when the press conferences take place and when those critical indictments are unsealed.
COOPER: Pat D'Amuro, why seal the documents that were seized, allegedly?
D'AMURO: Usually the sealing of documents is a request on the part of the investigators, the federal government. Because there are several things they may be looking for, additional subjects that are not in custody. Evidence that they may want to find at other locations or the possibility that there is an undercover or cooperating witness that they need to protect. So all those things could be coming into play here.
D'AMURO: I think it's important, too, to note that we didn't see any bomb squads, any bomb trucks at the outset. This indicates to me that the bureau was involved in this investigation for a long time. They knew exactly what was going on and they knew they were not going to find explosive material at that location.
Otherwise they would have had bomb dogs there, they would have had some bomb squad people there and so on.
COOPER: It's interesting. Compare what you just said, and the idea that there was no bomb squad there to the statement of Sears Tower, which basically said they talk every day to the FBI and local law enforcement, and that they continue to be told even today that there was no evidence of a credible terrorism threat against the Sears Tower that went beyond just criminal discussions. It would appear as if the monitoring of this group, maybe they might have been talking a lot, but at least from what we know no bomb making material was found.
D'AMURO: Well, I think what we're going to find as this unfolds, you may find that there are some subjects that maybe were from the Chicago area. I'm hearing the Sears Tower over and over again. Law enforcement definitely would have worked with the Chicago Police Department and officials at the Sears Tower to let them know that there were individuals that identified that as a possible threat.
COOPER: And in fact the Sears Tower, the reporter from WGN was saying, is still open for business. People are still going there tonight. That would seem to indicate they have things well in hand there. And we should also just to reaffirm, Miami officials saying that there is no threat to people in Miami. That people should not be concerned. And perhaps the greatest testament of that is that this giant rally where they expect about 200,000 people in downtown Miami tomorrow in celebration of the Miami Heat, that rally plans to continue. So nothing has been canceled. Again, Miami officials saying there's no reason for people to be alarmed in the Miami area. And in Chicago, as well. We're going to take a short break and continue the breaking news coverage of this developing story. We'll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
COOPER: And we continue to cover the breaking news story out of Miami and it seems Chicago and perhaps even Atlanta, from all across the country. Seven people that we know of in custody, at least five arrests made today. We are learning as I've said all along, and I don't mean to repeat myself, but it bears repeating, that we are learning new information really as the minutes tick by. Mike Brooks is joining us, formerly of the FBI joint terrorism task force. He's been working. His sources have some new information. What do you know?
BROOKS: Yes, Anderson, I'm hearing from my federal law enforcement sources of the seven people arrested, five of them were Americans, one was an illegal alien from Haiti on a visa overstay and the other one was a resident alien. We're still trying to confirm the exact country of origin for him.
They're also telling me they did not have any direct ties to al Qaeda. They were al Qaeda sympathizers. Which we do see in a lot of radical groups. They would come out and publicly support al Qaeda. But they had no direct ties of the seven directly to al Qaeda.
COOPER: And at this point, all seven are still in custody. Do we know who was arrested where?
BROOKS: We're still trying to confirm the exact numbers. We hear five today, and at least one here in Atlanta. Five in Miami, at least one here in Atlanta. And that we're also trying to find out exactly as I said the country of origin of that resident alien and as soon as I find out I'll let you know.
COOPER: All right Mike Brooks working his sources. I want to go now to Brian Andrews from our affiliate WFOR who is in Miami. He also has some new information. He's spoken to a woman who said she's the godmother of a suspect arrested today. Brian, what have you heard?
BRIAN ANDREWS, WFOR CORRESPONDENT: Anderson we're out here at the FBI offices in North Miami Beach. This is one of the buildings that our federal sources are telling us this group wanted to blow up as part of their plot.
As we got here to the FBI building we ran into family members of one of the defendants who was arrested this afternoon who is still inside being processed before being taken down to the federal detention center.
We're being told by his family that he's a 32-year-old guy named Nassir Baptiste (ph). He goes by the name of Prince Manner. He's one of the elders at this Masonic lodge raided earlier in the day by the FBI. That's where the five people were taken into custody. His family and friends tell us that he's a nice guy, he's a construction worker, he's married, and they say they have no idea what he would be doing with al Qaeda.
ANDREWS: What do you make of this?
ARIANE WEBSTER, SUSPECT'S GRANDMOTHER: I'm -- truly down in my heart I believe that's a stone lie. I been knowing Nassir (ph) better than five years. I never know him to get in any trouble. I never know him to have any problem with anybody. I always know him, he taught my son how to do karate. I have a son that is 18 years old. When he first met my son, my son was only about ...
ANDREWS: So you don't think he's a terrorist, as the government's alleging?
WEBSTER: No, I don't. I really don't believe that.
MASTER G.H.G. ATHEA, SUSPECT'S FRIEND: Someone along the line offered to him some funds to do whatever he wanted to do if that's what he wanted to do. As far as some subversive work. And said they would give him whatever he needed.
ANDREWS: So somebody had approached him to give him money to blow up buildings?
ATHEA: To do whatever he wanted to do. But that was far from his mind. So he had no desire to interact with these men to accept anything they had to offer.
ANDREWS: So bottom line here, is your friend a terrorist?
ATHEA: No, he's not. Absolutely not.
COOPER: Hmm. Sort of raises more questions than it answers. Not quite sure the point of what that guy was saying. We've lost reporter Brian Andrews to ask him. Pat, what do you make of what you just heard?
D'AMURO: One of the missions of the Bureau since 9/11 and really before 9/11 is try to identify those groups here domestically, within the country, that are involved with international terrorist organizations or sympathizing with those organizations. Here we have a situation where apparently there was no direct contact with anyone overseas with respect to al Qaeda. But they're individuals that wanted to affiliate with their cause, through the Internet, through what we've been talking about, getting information and a lot of different sources that affiliate with that cause and that wanted to attack the United States.
And the Bureau's mission and redirection of the counterterrorism program within the FBI, the priorities is to identify those individuals here in this country that want to conduct those types of attacks. And I think this is what we're going to see in this case as it unfolds.
COOPER: Jim Walsh, from MIT, there's a lot of course we don't know at this point. You're with the MIT security studies program. What are the details that you have heard thus far which seem most important to you with what we know?
WALSH: Well I recall something that Jeanne Meserve said earlier. And that is that this group may have had no affiliation with al Qaeda. Again these are all allegations. We need to keep reminding ourselves of that. But this alleged group may have had no tie to al Qaeda. May have been inspired by them.
Now what does that mean? When you step back in contact you'll remember that back in 2003, the head of the CIA, and the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency said al Qaeda was changing. It had weakened as a central organization. It had become decentralized, broken up, and what you have instead of the old al Qaeda was local groups thinking globally and acting locally, but in a pernicious way.
And so those folks who attacked the subway in Britain, they weren't connected to al Qaeda. They were simply a local group inspired by al Qaeda. The allegation in Canada that there was a group that wanted to buy fertilizer and make a fuel bomb, they had no direct ties to al Qaeda. But they were people who were inspired by it.
And what you have particularly after Iraq was a global problem that al Qaeda's ideology, its ideology if not the direct communications were inspiring people to act out. Now, of course this country we've always had people since the revolution who have had grievances against the government, and have sometimes acted violently. What we have here is some of those folks are taking up that ideology and now acting in the name of that ideology.
COOPER: And Pat, obviously that makes it all the harder to infiltrate because there's no direct connection to a group internationally.
D'AMURO: That's correct. And this is kind of a new twist. The Bureau has been following this for a few years. It's not new to them. But it's kind of new what we're seeing in the public, that these individuals are coming forward wanting to conduct attacks against the United States. They're not really militia groups. They're not causes against the United States. They're affiliating with international type organizations.
COOPER: Keith Oppenheim is standing by outside the Sears Tower in Chicago. Keith what's the scene there? Is the tower still open for business?
KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in fact, earlier tonight, Anderson, you were saying that law enforcement officials were telling people in various cities, including Chicago, not to be alarmed. And people here are not alarmed. In fact many of them don't even seem to know about this story. Just before I got here, CNN producer Karen Matz (ph) talked to a group of five police officers near the base of the building, and the police officers really weren't aware of the details of the story.
Of course, building security is quite aware of it. They've released a statement. I'm just going to read I very short portion of it so we can talk about it. They said despite new information law enforcement continues to tell us that they have never found evidence of a credible terrorism threat against the Sears Tower that goes beyond criminal discussions.
So their implication in a very restrained statement, the language was very carefully written obviously, is that they don't seem to believe at this point that this was a threat that was something that was going to be put into action. I say that carefully, because tomorrow morning we'll, of course, hear more from law enforcement. But that's the gist of their statement.
And I'll point out that it is now 10 minutes to 10 or a little before that. And the observation deck of the Sears Tower is still open for about another 10, 12 minutes, Anderson.
COOPER: And we should point out that we're hearing Alberto Gonzales, the U.S. attorney general will give a press conference tomorrow. We do not know the exact time of that press conference but as soon as we know it, of course, we will let you know it and of course CNN will carry it live as we always do.
Keith was mentioning as a statement from Sears Tower. I won't read the whole statement but I'll just sort of read one part of it where they say, "Sears Tower security officials regularly speak with the FBI and local law enforcement authorities. We track and investigate terrorism threats. Today was no exception. Despite new information law enforcement continues to tell us they never find evidence of a credible terrorism threat against Sears Tower that has gone beyond criminal discussions."
The implication being that, well that whatever this threat or perceived threat was today, it never got beyond criminal discussions. Clearly no explosives, Pat, found at the scene, we are being told. No weapons found at the scene. What do you read into that?
D'AMURO: Well, you're right. And I think it's important on our part to make sure we restate again and again that the public does not need to be concerned about an attack on this. The bureau's done a good job of telling us that that were no explosives and no weapons. We can see from the raids that they've conducted, yes they've had the SWAT teams available. They would in a normal situation like this. No bomb squads present. So there really isn't a danger from this group attacking the Sears Tower.
COOPER: Jeanne Meserve who is standing by in Washington working a number of her sources. And she's been getting a lot of the information first to us. What are you hearing about the FBI investigation of this alleged group? How long it's been going on, how deep do they get inside? MESERVE: It had been going on for quite awhile. I was told that it had been going on for over a year. And that it did involve infiltrating the group. At least one person got inside, we're told by law enforcement. And he, this informant apparently portrayed himself as being some sort of Islamic radical. More than that we don't know.
D'AMURO: That ties in, Anderson. That would tie in with what we're seeing here, that there is not a fear that these individuals have any attack under way, that there were explosives anywhere. The Bureau must have been involved in this investigation early on, carried it through, took it to a point where they felt OK, now is the time we need to take this down. Whether it was because they were afraid evidence was going to be destroyed or it was disbanding or there was the possibility that some of these individuals would slip out of pocket, they felt they needed to take it down now.
But it appears that they're absolutely correct. There's no concern of an explosion taking place from this particular group.
COOPER: And again just to reiterate. Seven people in custody. FBI has carried out raids as well as state and local law enforcement, according to some sources interviews were held with somebody, or people in Chicago, Mike Brooks hearing from his sources that at least one arrest was made in Atlanta. Five arrests were made today we know in this case. We're going to continue to cover it. We're going to take a short break and we'll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
COOPER: And we're continuing to cover the number of arrests, seven arrests that have been made in what law enforcement officials are calling a -- some form of domestic terrorism investigation.
You're looking at two pictures, Chicago on the left side of the screen, Miami and Chicago, the Sears Tower. Miami, the FBI offices downtown Miami, both allegedly targets or possible targets of this alleged group out of Miami.
One arrest we know has been made also in Atlanta, and somebody has been talked to or discussions have been held with people in Chicago, as well. We are told. Not sure what the results of that, we will know a lot more tomorrow when there is a press conference from U.S. attorney general Alberto Gonzales. We have a number of terrorism analysts as well as reporters covering the story.
Clark Kent Ervin CNN security analyst right now, also former Department of Homeland Security inspector general is joining us on the phone.
Clark, as you were hearing, we learned a short time ago from Mike Brooks, the -- from his sources according to his sources five of those arrested in were Americans, one was an illegal alien from Haiti. The other is a resident alien from we're not sure where. And I guess the Haitian immigrant had overstayed his visa. ERVIN: That's right. And it's important. Part of the problem is that we still don't have a good system in this country for figuring out whether people, when their visas for entry into the country expire, whether they've left the country.
Less than one percent of the leads that the Department of Homeland Security, FBI have had has actually been followed up on. So very, very important for us to develop such a system so that once we find out that somebody has entered the country with ties to terrorism, we could track that person down, apprehend them, get them out of the country.
But obviously that was not done in this instance.
COOPER: You said less than one percent of the leads, leads on people who have overstayed their visas or leads on terror suspects?
ERVIN: No, leads on people who overstayed their visas have actually been followed up on by the Department of Homeland Security's ICE Bureau, it's Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Bureau.
COOPER: So that's less than one percent. That's a surprisingly low number. Pat D'Amuro, what do you make of it? And is there anything you can read into the makeup of this group, five Americans, one Haitian and the other person we don't know?
D'AMURO: Well, the new breed of individuals here in this country that are affiliating with terrorism causes, we've heard about the individuals that are here illegally. The Bureau I believe now has concurrent jurisdiction to work with ICE because it's been such an integral part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Many of these individuals that have been here in the past have been here illegally wanting to conduct these types of attacks.
So the Bureau now has concurrent jurisdiction. ICE is part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force so when they find these people they can take these people into custody. We're seeing now though that more of these individuals are U.S citizens. And I think that's going to be the trend for the near future.
COOPER: So increasing radicalization of people here at home?
D'AMURO: Correct. American citizens that are affiliating with causes that want to attack the United States.
COOPER: Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI was on LARRY KING earlier in the evening and he will be on again at midnight for the full hour, midnight East Coast time.
He was saying one of his greatest concerns is people here becoming radicalized. Not so much sleeper cells infiltrating through Canada or coming into the United States. That is certainly a concern. It is this homegrown terrorism.
D'AMURO: Absolutely. We know that al Qaeda - we know that bin Laden has long looked for individuals that can come in and out of the United States. Now, what we have here are individuals that are affiliated with those causes that are here already. And it's much harder to detect those individuals. Because they don't have the telecommunications contact. They may not have the Internet contact with international terrorism organizations. So they're much more difficult to detect.
COOPER: Pat, thank you. We're going take a short break. When we come back at the top of the hour we will reset give you all of the updated information. We've been learning a lot in this last hour. I'd imagine we're going to learn even more in this next hour. We'll be right back.
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