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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Ohio Man Accused Of Plotting Attack In U.S.; ISIS Terrorists Laying Siege To Key Iraqi City; Iraqi Government Pleading For More U.S. Support; Spike In Use Among Teens And Tweens. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 16, 2015 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:00]

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JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. More upsetting news today about westerners joining ISIS in our World Lead, starting with a model turned Islamic terrorist, Sharky Jama, who was also once a deejay gave up the catwalk in the land down under for the Syrian battlefield.

A short time ago his family announced he was killed while fighting alongside ISIS terrorists. Jama's parents say he left Australia last year for Iraqi city of Fallujah, but they claimed they did not know that he had joined ISIS.

This comes as federal prosecutors announced the arrest of an Ohio man accused of training with terrorists in Syria and plotting an attack here in the United States.

Let's get right to CNN's justice reporter, Evan Perez, who joins us live with the late breaking details. What do we know about this case out of Ohio?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Jake, his name is Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud. He is 23 years old. He is from Columbus, Ohio. This is a case of someone who actually left the United States in April 2014, got training in arms, explosives, combat with the Al Nusra front in Syria.

TAPPER: That's the al Qaeda affiliate?

PEREZ: Yes, exactly, and came back to the United States two months later. That's in June of 2014. That's a couple days after his brother, who went by the name, Aidan, who left the United States in 2013, was killed fighting with the front in June 2014. Just a couple days later gets on plane, comes back to the United States.

Now, the FBI says he told a friend that while he was over there getting training, a cleric told him he should come back to the United States and carry out domestic terror attacks here in this country.

What he said he was thinking of doing was attacking cops, the military execution-style. This is a guy who became a U.S. citizen only in February of last year. Just a couple days later applies for a passport, already had plans according to the FBI to travel over there to join these terrorist groups.

TAPPER: How did he end up on the radar screen of law enforcement?

PEREZ: It's not clear exactly, but it appears mostly likely through his brother. The FBI was looking at the brother for traveling over to Syria and they have a lot of communications between those two. You might ask, why didn't they arrest him when he came back last June from the area, from the region?

It appears they didn't have enough evidence against him. So they wanted to watch him some more. Apparently, this case has been in the works for about a year and a half.

TAPPER: All right, Evan Perez, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

The World Lead is being described as a desperate situation inside a key Iraqi city now surrounded by ISIS fighters with thousands fleeing, running for their lives.

Coalition planes have been spotted in the area in hopes of slowing down the fierce offensive by ISIS, but is it too little too late to keep Ramadi from falling? That story, next.

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[16:37:14]

TAPPER: Welcome book to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Continuing with our World Lead, ISIS terrorists now laying siege from all sides on the key Iraqi city of Ramadi, it's an important city for many reasons, one of the reasons being that it's just 70 miles west from the capital of Baghdad.

Coalition air strikes are pounding ISIS positions, but that may not be enough to keep Iraq security forces from perhaps fleeing, and ISIS from gaining another stronghold.

Let's get right to CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He joins us now live from the Pentagon where the Secretary of Defense Ash Carter just completed his first official news conference. Jim, what was his assessment of the situation on the ground there?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, he and General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs both say that the general trend lines are positive, situation on the ground, capability of the Iraqi security forces.

But at the same time, they grant that the city Ramadi as you said, the largest in western Iraq, may very well fall to ISIS and then General Dempsey made the case it's not strategically important, he just said it's bricks and mortar.

But it's hard to see how this would not be a major symbolic victory for ISIS and keep in mind, just 60 miles from the capital of Baghdad.

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SCIUTTO (voice-over): This is Ramadi under a punishing assault by ISIS. Iraqi officials inside Western Iraq's largest city tell CNN it is on the brink of falling to the terror group adding desperate calls for reinforcements from the Iraqi army and more airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition.

Today Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey conceded that Iraqi forces may very well lose Ramadi to ISIS.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would much rather that Ramadi not fall, but it won't be the end of a campaign should it fall. We got to get it back.

SCIUTTO: Coalition air strikes on Thursday appear to have cut some resupply routes used by ISIS. Residents have given up on rescue, tens of thousands having fled the city in just two days. Ramadi is in Iraq's Sunni heartland.

Today, the new Defense Secretary Ashton Carter expressed concern that the Iraqi government is still relying too much on Shiite dominated militias.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lasting victory over ISIL requires inclusive governance in Baghdad and respect for local populations in all areas liberated from ISIL control.

SCIUTTO: And as ISIS continues to push on the oil refinery a critical piece of infrastructure for the Iraqi economy, the terror group released new propaganda video showing their rapid assault on the city.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once the Iraqis have full control of this area, they will control all their oil infrastructure, both north and south and deny ISIL the ability to generate revenue through oil.

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[16:40:03] SCIUTTO: I was able to press the defense secretary on the situation in Yemen, AQAP gaining ground there. They took over an airport today and I asked him, how that cannot reduce America's counterterror capabilities work without U.S. Special Forces on the ground, the embassy close, et cetera.

He granted that, he said that they do have other means to fight this terror threat. He said that ideally you would have a partner government, but it's hard to see, Jake.

And in fact, counterterror officials have acknowledged to me that the counter terror pressure on AQAP is reduced and the concern is that it will give them greater capability to carry out attacks overseas. It's a real concern -- Jake.

TAPPER: Of course, about a month ago, President Obama citing Yemen as a counterterrorism example to be exemplified. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

Let's talk more about the battle for Ramadi and ISIS in Iraq with Republican Senator Thom Tillis from North Carolina. The senator serves on the Armed Services Committee and he just returned from Iraq last month.

Senator, thanks so much for being with us. Based on what you saw in Iraq, is the coalition defeating ISIS at all?

SENATOR THOM TILLIS (R-NC), MEMBER, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, I think you've seen bright spots in Tikrit. The Ramadi exercise is not a surprise to us, because I think that the ISIS, the last thing they want is progress through Kirkuk and through Mosul.

It was expected that they may take some of these actions. I think that it's a real threat because of close proximity to Baghdad, but I also think that it's not one of these captures that represent a revenue generating opportunity for ISIS, which would make it even worse than it already is for them to take ground.

TAPPER: Of course, OK, so you are saying it wouldn't be a revenue generator like some of the oil fields ISIS has captured, but how concerned do you think U.S. officials should be if Ramadi does in fact fall completely to ISIS?

TILLIS: Anytime ISIS takes ground it's a bad thing. We need to be prepared through the coalition forces to provide air support. The Iraqi services, the armed services have to go in. They have to defend the situation on the ground.

We need to do everything we can to hold the spread and then focus the efforts back on eradicating them from Ramadi and then getting back to the work of moving up through Tikrit, to Kirkuk and into Mosul, the home of the caliphate.

TAPPER: You've been critical of President Obama for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, not just you, of course, but many, many Republicans on Capitol Hill have been critical saying that it created this vacuum for ISIS to thrive. Does that mean taking this out to the logical conclusion that you think we should send combat troops back to Iraq to fight ISIS?

TILLIS: I don't necessarily think -- I do believe we are largely in the situation we are today in Iraq because we withdrew the troop presence similar to what we have in Afghanistan today.

If there a way to re-introduce an American presence that does not put our people on the battlefield, but in train, advise and assist roles probably helpful to getting the Iraqi military to the point they were actually take the fight to ISIS.

TAPPER: Well, that's easy to say, but how long it's going to take? We've had U.S. troops in Iraq since 2002 to 2003 training Iraqi troops. When's that going to happen?

TILLIS: Well, I think if we had been there when they were really tested, the first challenge of ISIS. ISIS was successful and, of course, they withdrew. They abandoned equipment that we have been systematically being able to destroy, to reduce their equipment capacity.

But the way we got there, Jake, was by leaving too soon. We let the enemy know when we were going leave and that we would not there be to provide the added level of support and intelligence that you can only do with some presence on the ground.

That's why I think in Afghanistan after I left Baghdad and Erbil we went to Kabul and forward operating bases and to a person the Afghanis say we cannot repeat the mistake in Afghanistan we made in Iraq and the Iraqi leadership recognized they made a mistake.

We need to figure how we can do it in a systematic and safe manner for the personnel, the American personnel on the ground and probably require increased presence to get their national forces back up to fighting capability, consistent fighting capability.

TAPPER: How big a presence? How large a presence do you think the U.S. should have in Iraq?

TILLIS: You know, we're going back to the military leaders and asking them that question. I will say that some of the -- that there are bright spots in the training that we did while we were there.

Their version of Special Forces has done pretty well there, the only ones who held ground, were successful. The army regulars were not ready to bring the fight back to ISIS. That's what we've got to go re-establish.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Thom Tillis, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Glad you're back safe.

TILLIS: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD, they were marketed as a way to help smokers kick the habit, but could e-cigarettes be paving the way for a new generation of nicotine addicts? An alarming new report out among teens and tweens has health officials in panic mode.

[16:45:01] And in money, the revolution will not be televised, but it might be streamed. How Netflix gambled to take on the big boys of TV could actually be paying off.

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[16:49:24]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Another national news today, an alarming new report just released should inspire you to maybe have a talk with your kids. In just one year, the number of teens and even tweens who say they have tried e-cigarettes tripled.

The research just revealed from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's more than 2 million middle school and high school- aged kids, who have the very least, experimented with nicotine and easily addictive chemical dangerous to any human body. E-cigs, a multibillion dollar industry and the bright colored packaging and celebrity endorsements are apparently attracting a young crowd not surprisingly.

Elizabeth Cohen is CNN senior medical correspondent. Elizabeth, this is a dramatic increase, is it not?

[16:50:13] ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake it is so dramatic that now when you look at this group of teenagers, when you look at teenagers in general, they are actually using e-cigarettes more than they're using cigarettes.

So e-cigarette usage surpassed cigarettes usage for teenagers. And when you look at these numbers, Jake, you can really understand just how much it's jumped. When you look at high schoolers, usage went from over half a million in 2013 to 2 million the following year and middle schoolers from 120,000 to 450,000.

Those are huge jumps in one year and you know, you can see when we were looking at the video, these cigarettes look different and I think sometimes teenagers look can't than bad. Pretty colors, smell like bubble gum or green apple. They must not be that bad.

But what the CDC said today, Jake, is nicotine is nicotine. Nicotine is terrible for the developing brain of an adolescent no matter what form of nicotine it is.

TAPPER: Some say that there is some good news in this report, in the sense that actual cigarette use is down, but, of course, there's the e-cigarette rise plus kids seem to be finding alternatives such as hookahs. These numbers have also spiked.

COHEN: Right. So hookah use has actually doubled in that same time period. You know, with hookahs, what's interesting and particularly dangerous, is that you know, you might sit around for let's say an hour having a hookah session.

Well, that is an incredible amount of nicotine. So you are getting let's say, 200 puffs, whereas if you were just smoking a cigarette it might be 20 puffs. That is, you know, for the hookahs, it's the duration that is really part of the issue.

TAPPER: What can parents do about this other than have that stern lecture?

COHEN: All right, well, one thing, I'm going to tell you, you can't do unfortunately just smell your kids' breath, I know that was what my parents did and all parents would do because they want to see if you're smoking cigarettes or not.

Just for the record I wasn't, but you know, smart parents would check their kids'' breath. This stuff actually smells good so your kids' breath will smell kind of fruity so that's not going to work.

I think you have to be very explicit with your middle schooler or teen and explain that these things may look harmless and look colorful, but in fact it's not harmless. I think part of it is that the kids just don't understand the nature of these products.

TAPPER: All right, Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Let's go back to that National Lead. We now have some court sketches of the mailman who flew the gyrocopter on the U.S. capitol lawn. That is a depiction, of course, of Doug Hughes wearing his Postal Service uniform before he was released on house arrest earlier today.

Wolf Blitzer joins me now. You're going to be talking about this mailman stunt on "THE SITUATION ROOM" and how it raises serious national security concerns?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Well, the deputy national security advisor to the president, Ben Rhodes, is among our guest. I'm going to ask him about this. It's very disturbing even though this guy's intentions were all political.

He wanted to raise the raise issue enormous money in politics and all of that, but no one knew that at the time. This could have been a real disaster, important lessons to be learned from that. We'll speak to Ben Rhodes about that. A lot of other subjects.

Also Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, he is going to join us live as well. We got a lot to talk about. He is thinking of running for president of the United States as well.

TAPPER: He might do well in South Carolina that's where he's from, early primary state. Wolf Blitzer, we'll be watching in just 7 minutes. Thanks so much.

You'll have to wait eight months to watch the latest film in the "Star Wars" franchise, but a sneak peek at the much-anticipated flick is finally here. Stick around, you will. To see what secrets are revealed in the new trailer for "The Force Awakens."

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[16:57:47]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Money Lead now, it's the streaming service on which you spend about 90 percent of your night browsing for something to watch. Today Netflix may have once and for all staked its claim as the choice of a new generation.

Netflix stock hit an all-time high today even surging past CBS in market value this afternoon. After the company reported that it added close to 5 million new subscribers just in the first three moss of the year beating forecasts by a cool million.

Some experts are predicting Netflix could nearly double its value by next year because of top-notch original series such as "House Of Cards" and "Orange Is the New Black."

Also in large part it's because millennials talk about watching Netflix, not watching TV. If Netflix's own Frank Underwood were here to good advice they might say, Claire, you have to respect your own mortality.

She is hanging up the angel wings. Gisele Bundchen walked her last- ever catwalk and ending her 20-year runway career as the world's highest paid supermodel.

Gisele made her runway debut at New York Fashion week in 1996 when she was just 14 years old and according to "Forbes," Gisele earned $47 million just last year for those keeping track, that's $16 million more than her husband, Tom Brady, made while playing football.

The pop culture lead, just hours ago, the internet felt a disturbance in the force when the trailer everyone's been looking for, for "Star Wars, The Force Awakens" posted to YouTube.

Luke Skywalker narrates filled with storm troopers and what maybe a Siflord, Thai fighters zooming along with their laser guns going with -- trailer ends rather anticlimactically showing some old, gruff ship captain standing next to some weird seven foot cat of some sort.

The actual release of the movie seems like a galaxy far, far away hits theaters in December 18th. Please tweet me. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @jaketapper.

Check out our show page @cnn.com/thelead for video, blogs, extras. You can also subscribe to our magazine on Flipboard. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper turning you over to Wolf Blitzer right now in "THE SITUATION ROOM."