Return to Transcripts main page


Raid For Mastermind in North Paris Yields 2 Killed, 7 Arrested; Suspects in Raid Were Stop Before Another Planned Attack. Aired 11:30- 12p ET

Aired November 18, 2015 - 11:30   ET


[11:31:32] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. John Berman, live in Paris.

If a neighborhood just north of here, forensic experts testing DNA inside an apartment complex to see if French police killed the man believed to be the ringleader behind these attacks on Friday, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the man believed to have organized the attacks here that killed 129 people. There was a raid this morning. An apartment all but destroyed there. Two suspected terrorists killed, seven taken into custody. Was he among them?

Our Clarissa Ward is standing by outside that apartment with a remarkable view of what was really a battleground, Clarissa, just a few hours ago.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Well, we are here. You can see right behind me that apartment building where those two raids took place. And I'm just going to duck out of sight here so that you can really take a look. You can see forensic experts. They are inside that building. And you can also see the scale of the damage from those explosions. The windows have been blown out. You can see around the windows, heavy weaponry, pockmarks. And we assume now that those forensic experts are in there. They're trying to glean who was inside the apartment. Who were these terrorists? What were they plotting? Where were they going? And was the primary suspect in all of this Abdelhamid Abaaoud inside there?

Now, we know from residents in this area that this all began at about 4:30 a.m. local time. There were reports of gunfire, of grenades going off. And then, at about 7:30 a.m., reports of loud explosions. It's believed that one woman inside that apartment blew herself up. And certainly from what we can see, again, if you look at those windows, all the glass has been blown out. And I don't know if we can even push into the windows, into the rooms. You can see the walls appear to have been blown out. Very, very little left inside that apartment other than now those forensic experts. They are going to be combing through, looking for any details, any DNA, anything that can net some clues.

We know that two people were killed in that raid. Another seven people were arrested. But the ringleader or the believed ringleader of all these attacks, the sort of focal point now of this entire investigation, it's not clear if he was inside, if he was still at large. And that, of course, has many residents here feeling very much on edge.

John, this is Paris, France. This is not a war zone. People, residents here, told me they have never seen anything like this. Incredibly frightening and unsettling for everyone, especially as it's unclear who is still at large and just how large this network might be -- John?

BERMAN: Clarissa Ward, we have to let you go. It's a very fluid situation there. Go do what you need to do. Thank you so much in Saint-Denis.

She just said this is Paris, but this morning it was a war zone. For seven hours, the force of the raid, the force of the resistance so violent that a floor in that apartment building behind her you just saw, a floor collapsed. We know that one suspected female terrorist, she blew herself up using some kind of explosive device. There is one other suspected terrorist dead right now. Again, the force of what happened so vie leapt that all that's left, we are told, body parts. They are testing DNA right now to try to match those body parts with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the man believed to be the ringleader behind the attacks here on Friday.

I want to bring in our terror analyst, Paul Cruickshank.

Paul, you've been talking to intelligence sources here and around Europe about what caused them to do this raid and about what they're doing now to determine if they got their man?

[11:35:22] PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: John, that's right. I've been speaking to a senior Belgian counterterrorism official. The French and Belgians are working closely together on all of this.

And what led to this raid in the early-morning hours in Saint-Denis was an intercepted communication, a wiretap, indicating that a relative of Abdelhamid Abaaoud was in this location. So the thought was, well, perhaps he could be there as well because the French had also developed separately strong information suggesting that he was in Paris. So early this morning, French commandos went in. But as you were just saying, they were met with very fierce resistance, indeed. And now they're having to try and effort to do DNA analysis to see if Abdelhamid Abaaoud was one of the people killed in that residence. That's going to take a little while, I understand, to sort out from a Western authority point of view.

BERMAN: Such an important question right now. And those forensics investigators are in there now trying to determine if that is the case.

Paul Cruickshank, thank you very much.

It would be a remarkable development if it turns out Abdelhamid Abaaoud, if he was in Paris and organized this attack from the city itself. They had believed he was in Syria or Iraq. So that in and of itself a stunning development. What did people in that neighborhood know about the folks living or

residing in those apartments over the last few days? Our Erin Burnett has been on the streets talking to people who have surprising information about what they saw over the last few days.

Stay with us.


[11:41:24] BERMAN: I'm John Berman, live in Paris. A stunning turn of events here over the last several hours, a series of raids today in the northern neighborhood of Saint-Denis. The question right now is, is the alleged ringleader of the Friday attacks here in this city that killed 129 people, is he dead?

The assault this morning on one of the buildings, and there were three separate raids within this series of raids, the assault was so violent and the force of resistance so intelligence that an entire floor of this apartment building you're looking at, an entire floor went crashing down.

As I said, the target of these raids, the alleged ISIS terrorist, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Intelligence suggested this morning to French and Belgian authorities that he might be in Paris, might be in Saint-Denis in that apartment complex. There were two suspected terrorists killed. DNA testing is under way right now to determine if he is one of those killed. One of them was a woman who was believed to have worn some kind of explosive device, a suicide device. There was one other person killed. Was it Abaaoud? Seven other terrorists are now in custody.

Police sources also tell CNN that this raid, this series of raids this morning came just in time. Just in time, they believe, before this group of people, nine people, two dead, seven now in custody, could have been about to launch a new attack on the streets here. The French interior minister says these raids prevented what could have been another horrific day here in Paris.

As you can imagine, for seven hours this morning, that neighborhood in Saint-Denis, it was a war zone. As you can imagine, ever since, people have been buzzing about what happened there, about what they saw before the raids, what they saw about the people living in those apartments.

CNN's Erin Burnett has spent several hours if the neighborhood. She joins me now by phone.

Erin, you've been people on the ground who saw the assault. What did they tell you?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST, ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT (voice-over): You know, it's interesting, John. The neighborhood is lower middle class. Parts of it are incredibly run down. When you see pictures of that apartment, some of the ones around there look very similar in terms of just being very run down. One of the neighbors across the street, I had a chance to speak with

him. He thought he heard garbage trucks, ran downstairs and saw the entire raid and all of the shooting. Was actually able to show me some of what he saw. It is incredible when you consider the firepower of what happened at this raid.

Look, the reality of it is, this is an immigrant community in many ways. One of the men I talked to is here illegally. They're very afraid of authorities, and that and that is part of the reason they say that people in the community may have said nothing if Abaaoud was there.

Look, they believe Abaaoud was in the area yesterday. This is what several of them told me. They can't provide any firm evidence of it, right? I want to emphasize that. It's neighborhood chatter. But they concurred with it. They actually said that he came yesterday and went to mosque this morning. And mosque starts around 4:30 there.

So they said he went a little early and missed the beginning of the raid. They do not know whether he was caught in this raid, whether police were able to catch up with him. And again, they are saying he's there. We don't know that at any point. We're waiting for the prosecutor to update us if Abaaoud was indeed there. But that's what they say happened. And, of course, they say this woman also showed up yesterday to this apartment, the woman that they say was the girlfriend, they believe, of Abaaoud. So this is the neighborhood chatter of what they're saying. Obviously, you can't verify any of it. And the prosecutor will tell us what really happened. But this is what the neighbors seem to think, at least the ones we spoke with.

[11:45:03] BERMAN: And a French prosecutor is going to give a news conference a little bit more than an hour from now. So we should get a lot more official details about what happened and what they've discovered. But, Erin, it is so interesting, at a minimum, and it is just neighborhood buzz, but at a minimum, people there suspect or would not be surprised if Abaaoud was there in the previous few days.

BURNETT: No, they wouldn't be surprised at all. They weren't surprised that he went to that mask. They think he went to the mosque early to pray. What was interesting, John, is I asked them if he were there, why would to one have called, and why would no one have said anything to authorities? And the answers there were a bit vague and a bit defensive, to be honest with you. And it first was, well, no one could be sure. You know, there seemed to be some real questions, I think, about that and whether he was actually able to harbor in some sense in this community, if he was there.

BERMAN: Erin Burnett, returning from that neighborhood, Saint-Denis. We know you'll have much more on your discussions, some of the video you picked up there tonight on "Erin Burnett OutFront" 7:00 p.m. eastern. Many more developments to cover.

Straight ahead for us, as we said, the Paris prosecutor holding a news conference, revealing what they have learned from inside that apartment, the DNA tests on the body parts there. Did they get the suspected ringleader of Friday's attacks? Also, what led them to that apartment? The revealing wiretaps, the

cell phone discussions, the text messages they uncovered that led them perhaps to this major discovery.

Stay with us.



[11:52:10] EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: -- with some of the raids. We know that is playing a big role. And really, we have is been talking about the phone, because, you know, there was such a little trail that was left behind by these attackers. They were able to the find encrypted apps on the phone, and so the question is, were those apps used to help plot the attacks? That is a question still unanswered at this point, however, the phones prove to be a trove of information to drive some of the police activity that you are seeing now -- Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And it also shows the challenges with this encryption, and the challenges for all of the intelligence services, ahead for them.

Thank you, Evan.

Let's talk more about this and bring in our counterterrorism analyst, Phil Mudd, on this.

Phil, you have spent years with the CIA. And if you were there right now after this raid overnight, and two people dead, but seven people detained, with what are you doing with the seven people after this raid right now?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The couple of pieces that you have to focus on now are one, always, always imminent threat. The first question that you to ask is, if there is something else afoot that we have to stop now. The second question is that you have to ask a people question. Are there other co-conspirators out there and is there support network for things like false documents and travel, what we call facilitation, provision of money. So you start with the imminent threat and then to the plotters and then you go to the expanded plot. Over time, you have to have more advanced conversations about things like, what is the network leading back to Syria, how did you arrange travel back to the Syria, but you have to start at the core of imminent threat and slowly and even over weeks and months build it out -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And we'll talk about the connection of Syria. The person they thought that was the target of the raid, we are now learning is the organizer of all of the attacks, Abaaoud Abdelhamid. Now there is a big question, because they don't know yet or confirmed yet if he was in the apartment or, if he was, is he dead or alive. For someone who is supposedly on the radar of the West, does it surprise you that he was able to make it back into Paris supposedly undetected? MUDD: There are a couple of things that surprise me, and that is not

one of them. The reason is straight forward. If you look at the geographic location of Syria, you can get smuggled across into Turkey easily. I presume he had good false documents, and he is traveling across Europe to a city that he knows, and that is another indicator of how he could do this. He's not going into the foreign environment. But there is on surprise to me that to me, this morning, that is growing, and that is the number of people in this plot. This is a huge plot from the counterterrorism perspective which talks to sophistication, and it also raises this question of how good the operational security was. That is a lot of people who are not getting on the wrong phone to talk to the wrong person at the same time.

BERMAN: And, Phil, what does -- would it surprise you that Abaaoud have been at the apartment and been with the people about to the launch an operation, he would have been so close to it?

[11:55:00] MUDD: Well, that doesn't surprise me for a simple reason, and what I have realized over the years is that the plotter plans the event, and the event itself drives them emotionally and the fact that many of them are going to commit suicide operation, and they are not as focused on the after action. And remember, the "Charlie Hebdo" after plot was chaotic. So people don't focus, that is the plotters, on the emotions of after the event, but on that the night. And then you get the chaos and the aftermath when they realize they don't have a place to go.

BOLDUAN: And they are talking about the chaos in the aftermath, and now a huge investigation into the aftermath of the firefight and the raid, and nowhere close to over and figuring out who was there and why and what operation they were about to launch.

Phil, thank you very much.

MUDD: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: And thank you all for joining us AT THIS HOUR.

Our special coverage of the Paris attacks continues after a quick break.