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Interview With Texas Congressman Michael McCaul; Donald Trump Strikes Back; Chattanooga Shooting Investigation; Family Questions Circumstances of Jail Death; Pentagon: Khorasan Terror Leader Dead. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 21, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Breaking details about an ISIS-inspired plot to kill even more American troops.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead -- two suspected ISIS sympathizers arrested, as the terror motives of the man who murdered five U.S. service members in Tennessee become more clear. The FBI now saying he followed the same al Qaeda leader who influenced the terrorist who shot up Fort Hood.

Also in national news, will dash cam video hold any answers after an African-American woman who spoke out against police brutality was arrested in a traffic stop and then died in her cell? Police calling it a suicide, but her family says there's no way she killed herself.

The politics lead, ringing endorsement? Donald Trump giving out the private cell phone number of an American senator who also happens to be a rival Republican candidate, this as a new poll shows Trump blowing away the rest of the Republican field.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We will begin today with our national lead. Two ISIS sympathizers arrested and charged in England with plotting to attack American service members in the U.K. Twenty-four-year-old Junead Ahmed Khan and his uncle, 22-year-old Shazib Ahmed Khan, are accused of trying to travel to Syria to try to join ISIS.

This comes as U.S. law enforcement officials here are piecing together a clearer picture of what likely inspired Mohammad Abdulazeez to murder four Marines and one sailor last week in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Sources telling CNN that writings uncovered in the investigation now reveal that the 24-year-old was a follower of al Qaeda's radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and that Abdulazeez researched religious martyrdom just 24 hours before his deadly rampage.

Al-Awlaki's teaching influenced the failed underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in 2009 and Army Major Nidal Hasan, the terrorist who murdered 13 people at Fort Hood earlier that year. Al-Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011, but his fiery sermons live on. They are still readily available and often accessed by would-be jihadists online.

Let's get to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. She is live in Chattanooga.

Sunlen, we're told now that Abdulazeez's uncle is being held by authorities in Jordan. What can you tell us about that?


This is his uncle that lives in Jordan and he's being held and being questioned by authorities in Jordan. That's according to his lawyer who says he was taken into custody on Friday. That's one day before the shooting happened. This does not assume that he's guilty in any way, that he had any sort of involvement in the shooting, but this is certainly one more piece to this complicated puzzle.


SERFATY (voice-over): Tonight, investigators are focusing on how this man, Anwar al-Awlaki, may have been a motivation behind the Tennessee shooting spree.

In writings examined by the FBI, Abdulazeez as far back as 2013 wrote he agreed with some parts of the American-born Yemeni cleric radical teachings. Al-Awlaki, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was killed by a U.S. drone strike, but has inspired a series of recent terror attacks, including the shooting at "Charlie Hebdo" in Paris and the Boston Marathon bombings.

DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: He was the pre-Twitter inspiration for a lot of different terrorist attacks, someone who would show up again and again in various attacks as being a figure who they looked upon as being particularly inspirational and also particularly authoritative.

SERFATY: Investigators have also uncovered data found on Abdulazeez's smartphone, showing Internet searches as recently as the day before the shooting, questioning whether someone could use martyrdom to atone for sins, like being drunk.

The references came at a time when Abdulazeez was coping with losing his job because of drug issues and attempting to hide it from his family. Three months ago, Abdulazeez was arrested and charged with DUI. Police say they noticed a white powder under his nose at the time.

Tonight, the FBI is focusing in on the 48 to 72 hours leading up to the shootings, putting together a timeline, interviewing those who came into contact with him, leading up the to point he rented the Mustang convertible to Thursday's attack.

So far, investigators have found no communication or coordination with any terror group, but they continue to sort through what has emerged as a complicated and conflicting web of political and religious views.

GARTENSTEIN-ROSS: Assuming that Abdulazeez wasn't connected to any group, that's the kind of lone wolf that is very difficult to stop, someone who doesn't really have traces of communicating with, say, a terrorist operative, someone who isn't acting at a group's behest.


SERFATY: And all the signs here really do seem to be pointing to the motive being terrorism. But, at this time, investigators are still saying that there is no conclusive motive as this investigation, Jake, goes forward.


TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty live in Chattanooga, Tennessee, thank you so much.

Earlier today, President Obama ordered the flags to be lowered to half-staff at the White House and at all public buildings and grounds, military posts and bases, as a mark of respect for the five service members murdered in Chattanooga.

In a speech to veterans today, the president paid tribute to the lives they led.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Back in Massachusetts, Tom Sullivan cheered for his Boston teams.

In battle, said a comrade, Sully was just everything that a Marine should be.

Growing up in Georgia, Skip Wells was a true, serving leader. Devoted to God and to his friends. Quick to lend a hand or put you on his prayer list. A friend said, "Skip is the kind of kid you want on your team."

As an Eagle Scout in Arkansas, David Wyatt would race up a mountain to be the first on top. He led with courage in Afghanistan and Iraq, and with compassion, as a mentor to comrades with post-traumatic stress.

Back home, Carson Holmquist was an embodiment of the spirit of Grantsburg, Wisconsin, population 1,300. Loved country music, loved to fish, to hunt, to play football. And he loved the Marines.

And in his hometown in Ohio, Randall Smith is remembered as the high school baseball star with a fierce pitch.

He was a fun and outgoing guy, and a guy they said you just wanted to be around. Today, we join the people of Paulding, Ohio, including VFW Post 587, with five flags flying, in honor of Navy Petty Officer Second Class Randall S. Smith.


TAPPER: Law enforcement officials are poring over evidence, trying to determine if Abdulazeez had any direct contact with the terrorist group such as ISIS or al Qaeda. Here to talk about the latest on the investigation is Republican Congressman Michael McCaul. He's chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Mr. Chairman, as always, thanks so much for being here.

I want to get to the Tennessee shooting in a minute. But, first, can you tell us anything about this latest plot in the U.K. to attack American military service members overseas?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, remember, during the season of Ramadan, there were a lot of directives going out to attack military installations, to kill military.

Remember, there was a U.K. plot busted on Armed Forces Day that stopped that attack. And we had our July 4 plot in New York, the same type of threat. Now, this is similar to that in terms of an attack on military in the U.K., and of course these two individuals were getting ready to go to Syria as well.

But it's just a -- again, Jake, every week, we're hearing about one of these plots unfolding. And, unfortunately, we saw one successfully pulled off in Chattanooga.

TAPPER: Well, let's turn to Chattanooga.

The media has been focusing a lot on ISIS, but we're told today that Abdulazeez, at least according to law enforcement authorities, was following al-Awlaki, the radical cleric from al Qaeda. Does that surprise you that he was inspired by al Qaeda, and not necessarily, at least according to what we know now, ISIS?

MCCAUL: Not at all.

I mean, Awlaki is probably one of the most inspiring figures over the Internet. he was the head of what is called AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, did "Inspire" magazine. He was an American associated with the 9/11 plot, 9/11 hijackers.

He really kind of predates ISIS, if you will, so the idea that he's been memorialized almost as a saint in the radical jihad world. And so it doesn't surprise me at all. This is the same guy, as you mentioned earlier, who radicalized Major Hasan at Fort Hood and radicalized countless others to conduct jihad, so I think this link is significant.

I have been saying all along this is an ISIS certainly at the least inspired plot. We don't know if it was directed yet or not. But the fact is that if he's pulling up militant jihadist Web sites and also Mr. Awlaki's inspirational sermons, that gets a lot closer to being inspired by radical Islamists, whether you call them ISIS or al Qaeda or whatever.

TAPPER: When you look at ways to try to prevent what happened in Chattanooga, obviously, intelligence comes into it, trying to spot people who are becoming radicalized online.

But then there's the other aspect, somebody who's battling mental illness, somebody who has drug issues, somebody who may have been radicalized abroad. Is there something you see where Abdulazeez should have either popped up on our radar or at the very least some action could have been taken so that he wasn't able to get a gun?

MCCAUL: I think it's very difficult.

As I have stated over the weekend, this is the kind of case we're most worried about because we really didn't have a lot of warning signs in advance. And this is the type of individual who obviously has a mental state about him. He's very vulnerable to the propaganda that we're seeing from ISIS and other groups and Awlaki on the Internet.

And I believe that brainwashed him. He was sort of perfect prey for them, and that's kind of the -- sort of the stereotype, if you will, the profile of the individual in the United States we're most worried about, which is why the day before the shooting, I passed out of my committee a countering violent extremist bill to help with deradicalization within the United States, because how many more of these individuals are out there?


We do know that the FBI stopped 60, had 60 arrests last year. That's more than one per week. And the number of plots against the West have tripled. So, I think we're doing a good job. It's just, you can't stop all this.

TAPPER: Yes. You can't be everywhere every time.

Congressman Mike McCaul, Texas, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

MCCAUL: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Also in the national lead, she was found dead in a jail cell, hanged with a trash bag. But how did this happen? Did Sandra Bland die because of suicide or did she die at someone else's hands? Surveillance video inside the jail does not show much, but another video might offer some insight. This comes as Sandra Bland's sister demands to know what really happened.

And that sister will join me next on THE LEAD.



[16:15:07] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not a kumbaya moment for the moment. An innocent daughter's life was snatched.


TAPPER: The national lead -- today in Hempstead, Texas, about an hour outside of Houston, mounting questions about whether a young woman took her own life in jail or whether it was taken while she was in police custody. Twenty-eight-year-old Sandra Bland was arrested July 10th after a traffic stop, she did not signal before changing lanes, police say. Three days later, she was found hanging in her jail cell. New video of EMT's at her cell offer few clues about her final hours. The district attorney called the suicide, quote, "preliminary opinion". Investigators say they have not ruled out murder.

Ryan Young just returned from seeing Sandra Bland's cell at the Waller County jail.

Ryan, tell us what you saw?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, this is interesting, because a sheriff took us back there, and he wanted to give us the details about the investigation. And we talked with him as he us walked back to cell number 95. And when he opened the door, he told us that everything back there is in the same arrangement that it was the day that Sandra Bland died. He showed us the bed, there's actually food still in there.

And, of course, they did move some evidence from there. The plastic bag that she, according to the sheriff, used to hang herself has been removed. But you can see the trash can in the center of the jail cell. And they say that she used the plastic liner to twist and then use it to hang herself from there. So, I can tell you, lots of people though still have questions about this. They want to know how that's possible with that plastic bag.

The sheriff also detailed how investigators have fit into the corner of the jail cell to see if anyone could get inside there without tripping the video system. The video system works by motion. So, if anyone walks down the hallway that video system starts. But I can tell you, there's a lot more questions than answers at this point.


YOUNG (voice-over): Surveillance video from the jail where 28-year- old Sandra Bland died raising more questions about how she died.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This investigation is still being treated just as it would be in a murder investigation.

YOUNG: Bland was found unresponsive in her jail cell three days after she was arrested. Police say she hanged herself with a plastic bag and her ruled her death a suicide. The Texas rangers and the FBI are investigating her death.

There are no cameras inside Bland's cell, but surveillance footage of the hallway showed no one entering or leaving before her body was discovered. A Waller County sheriff's official said that Bland refused a breakfast tray around 6:30 a.m., and responded to a jailer conducting rounds around 7:00 a.m., telling him, "I'm fine".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 8:00, she used the intercom, requested a phone call (ph), I can't do it here. OK? And then I believe it was like 8:56 again a female guard walks back here, looks in if she wants to go out in the recreation yard.

YOUNG: Surveillance video of the jail shows officers check on Bland and calling for emergency response, but she was pronounced dead a short time later.

CANNON LAMBERT, BLAND'S FAMILY ATTORNEY: There's a lot more questions that we have than answers for sure. It leaves you doing more than just scratching your head.

YOUNG: Bland family attorney Cannon Lambert says he was able to identify glitches in jumps in the video which used motion activation. He questions what if any medical attention she received when she was booked. He also wants to know what's in the arrest report. Bland's family says there is no way she would have committed suicide.

SHARON COOPER, SANDRA BLAND'S SISTER: Seven days later, I still don't know what happened to my baby sister.

YOUNG: Bland was arrested after allegedly assaulting a police officer during a July 10 traffic stop. The family's attorney says an independent autopsy shows deep tissue bruising to Bland's back, what he says is consistent with someone having kneed her in the back.

The arresting officer has been placed on administrative leave, and the district attorney after talking with Bland's family and people who last talked with her, including a bail bonds man said there are questions that need to be answered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It needs a thorough and exhaustive review. It will go to grand jury.


YOUNG: So, Jake, there's really two parts to this investigation. One, people want to know why she was pulled over and even arrested. Why was she pulled from the car? And also, people want to know what happened to her at the jail. And that's two parts of the investigation that are still ongoing.

TAPPER: All right. Ryan Young in Texas, thanks so much.

Let's talk more Sandra Bland's sister, Sharon Cooper, as well as Cannon Lambert, the family's attorney.

Thank you both for being here.

And, Ms. Cooper, let me just say our deepest condolences for the loss of your baby sister. What do you think happened?

COOPER: I have to be honest with you, Jake, I don't know, and I certainly appreciate your sentiment there. I will tell you based off of all that we've learned in the time that we have the opportunity to be here in Texas, we have far more questions now than we had seven days ago, that we still don't have answers to.

[16:20:09] TAPPER: She had just moved to Texas for a new job. She left you a voice mail about the job hours before her arrest. You gave us that voice mail. Let me play a portion of it now.



SANDRA BLAND: Right now, this is the job I came down here for. So, (INAUDIBLE)


TAPPER: Did you have any indications that there was anything amiss, anything at all, any history of mental illness?

COOPER: No, Jake, I have to be honest with you, I know it's been a point of contention over the past couple days. I realize there was a Facebook post out there on her blog "Sandy Speaks" about struggling with depression and PTSD, and just want to be clear that, you know, I think those are very finite terms, those were not things she was clinically diagnosed with by any stretch of the imagination.

And if you listen to the totality of the tape, she really goes further step to say that even though she was feeling down and was struggling with these things, that she was anchored in God and more transitioned to inspirational and telling people to keep going, because even those folks that were struggling with those types of things, just keep pushing and keep going.

TAPPER: Mr. Lambert, a bystander took the video of Sandra's arrest that we showed earlier, we can show it again now. You can hear her shouting at the troopers on the side of the road. Now, of course, there is this police dashcam video that's supposed to be released later today, you have seen the dashcam video.

What does it show that this video does not show?

LAMBERT: Well, it shows the interaction between the police officer and --

TAPPER: Go ahead.

LAMBERT: Oh, I'm sorry. It shows the interaction between Sandra and the police officer. He gets out of his car and approaches on the passenger side, he asks for the license and insurance. He goes back, runs her name and approaches on the driver's side. Thereafter, he asks her to put out her cigarette. She's in her car. She says, "Why do I have to put out my cigarette when I'm in my car?"

The officer is irritated by that, so he opens her door after asking her to get out of the car a couple of times. When he opens the door, she reaches for her cell phone so that she can record the activity, it's at that time that she's subject to him pulling out his taser and then she gets out of the car without any assistance by the officer.

They then walk to the back of the car and leave the field of view of the camera.

TAPPER: What's the official explanation as to why she was taken in and put in jail for three days?

LAMBERT: Well, they charged her with assaulting a peace officer. But I think the real issue is why is it then when he wrote this citation, which was effectively a warning for a traffic violation, was that he made her get out of the car? It seems the only reason why, his ego was bruised and he felt she reacted.

TAPPER: Ms. Cooper, your family is calling for an independent autopsy, you're expecting full results soon. Are there any preliminary findings, anything you've been told about your sister's condition?

COOPER: Absolutely. And one of the things that came up in the preliminary findings is that she did have a deep tissue bruising to her back, consistent with the video that's been published that shows the officer's knee into her back.

TAPPER: God bless both of you. I hope that your family is able to survive in this difficult time.

Sharon Cooper and Cannon Lambert, thank you so much for joining us today.

LAMBERT: Great to see you.

COOPER: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Today's politics lead -- his name calling, his competition, even criticizing one candidate's wardrobe selection, the defiant Donald Trump on a roll with ramped up attacks, while dominating the polls.


[16:27:55] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: We have some breaking news now on THE LEAD.

A Pentagon spokesman confirming to CNN that the leader of the Khorasan terrorist group was killed in a strike in Syria. Khorasan, as you know, is a veteran hardcore faction of al Qaeda. It's been linked to plots against U.S. airliners.

Let's bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, this terrorist was high in the American hit list?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Someone, Jake, the U.S. wanted to get very badly, and now, a kill mission in the plus column for the Pentagon this afternoon, reporting that this man named Muhsin al Fadhli was indeed killed by a U.S. drone strike on July 8th, while he was traveling in a vehicle near Sarmada, Syria. This is northern Syria, this is the heartland of the movement of both the Khorasan Group and ISIS, of course.

Now, al Fadhli was part, was leading the network called the Khorasan Group. They were believed to be plotting external attacks outside of Syria against the U.S. and allies. There have been a number of air strikes over recent months against their facilities. Al Fadhli not just the leader of the group, but the U.S. believes he was one of the few al Qaeda operatives that had advanced warning of the 9/11 attacks, he knew that was coming in September 11th, 2001, in October 2001, he has said to be responsible for additional terrorist attacks against U.S. marines in Kuwait and a French cargo vessel.

A lot of concern about getting this guy, here's the most fascinating thing, Jake. This was a targeted strike, they knew he was in that vehicle, how did they have the intelligence about something that was happening in northern Syria, very intriguing -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, that's quite a mystery.

Barbara Starr, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

The national lead, Planned Parenthood on defense after a second undercover video by an anti-abortion group records a doctor discussing money and parts of abortive fetuses.