Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Terror Attack Death Toll Rises 42; Turkey: "All Information" Suggests ISIS Carried Out Attack; CIA Chief: ISIS Likely To Try Similar Attack In U.S.; Istanbul's Ataturk Airport Resumes Flights; Terror & Presidential Politics. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired June 29, 2016 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:08] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Thanks for joining us.
A busy night indeed. We begin with new developments with the Istanbul airport bombings. Now, the first, sadly, the death toll at the hands of three armed bombers, including this one, see running on airports security cameras. Now, it rose tonight to 42. More than 120 people remain hospitalized.
The second new development is the CIA's assessment that something like what happened last night at Turkey's heavily guarded Ataturk international airport could indeed happen here. That ISIS is likely planning for it already.
The third development is frankly surprising to a lot of people. The airport is back up and running less than 24 hours later and hour by hour as Turkey comes to grip with its eighth suicide bomber in this year alone. Survivors are coming forward telling their stories. New details are also coming to light about how three individuals were able to cause such damage.
We begin tonight with survivor stories and CNN's Ivan Watson. Actually, let's go to Nima Elbagir who has spent a lot of time today at the airport.
Nima, what's the latest?
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's standing out here really is a sense of that timeline. And what you see is how meticulously this plan unfolded. They were able to get into the airport compound, not particularly hard because they only searched vehicles that are suspected to the outer point of that security perimeter and it is there that they opened fire. And the cover of confusion, they managed to sustain an exchange of fire. That's where the first attacker detonated.
Again, under the cover of confusion, two attackers went through these doors behind me here and they managed to pierce through that security perimeter. And it's past that way, you see that man who detonated in that video you were just referring to that, Anderson.
Meanwhile, the third attacker was able to get outside and when those passengers fled they were met by that third detonation. Why the way this unfold side causing so much concern in the U.S. is that there are very few airports anywhere in the world other than perhaps Baghdad and Kabul that have a fully-secured perimeter as you enter into the airport compound. It is just a very, very high state of preparedness. And this is something that clearly the attackers are now aware of, Anderson, and they're planning accordingly.
COOPER: The U.S. government, obviously, clearly suspects ISIS and we heard from Turkey's Prime Minister. They suspected ISIS last night. Is that some of the prevailing theory there?
ELBAGIR: Yes. Absolutely. And Turkish officials have gone further. They're going through the process of trying to identify the attackers or what's left of the attackers. They told us that actually really what they're dealing and they are working with is just the lower half of their bodies. But they believe that these men were foreign fighters. And that, of course, that brings into play all sorts of other scenarios. How did they get into the country? If they did get into the country with a broader network then, of course, there has to have been a safe house where all of these detonations and explosives were prepared. Who else is still out there? Who else operated alongside them? That's what the Turkish authorities are having to learn very, very quickly, Anderson.
COOPER: It also seems like, I mean, just from the little bit we knew last night that there were certain similarities in perhaps the strategy of these attackers to the Brussels airport attack this past March.
ELBAGIR: Yes. A really chilling number of similarities. The way that this unfolded, the use of both machine guns, automatic weaponry and explosives. Even the number of attackers and three of them. The fact that started at a pointed vulnerability outside the security perimeter. It all -- a lot of those who have been speaking to in the intelligence community say it is intentional. It's intentional (INAUDIBLE). It is placing Turkey, the Muslim majority country along that same continuum that we saw in Paris, Brussels and now Istanbul.
But heartbreakingly also, Anderson, the stories we're hearing from the eyewitnesses from the survivors are so, so similar. One woman was talking about how of the damage, how much of the death was caused by those shattering those falling roof tiles and the ceiling tiles and talking about having to slide across the blood-soaked floors. That was almost word for word what was hearing from eyewitnesses from Brussels. And it is really an intentional avocation this echoing litany of terror, that not only terrify people who live through this but to see people in the state of awareness, what next and what will that look like?
COOPER: And the airport itself, is it fully operational again?
[20:05:07] ELBAGIR: Extraordinarily, it is. Behind me, we have been watching people cue up the same doors the people fled out of yesterday. People have been orderly cueing up to get through the security zone. I mean, I watched hundreds of passengers and crew just really steely in their determination to be part of the coming back to life of the airport, as you said, this really isn't a unique or isolated, vent here. Unfortunately, they have gotten all too accustomed to try and to patch together some kind of sense of normality in the aftermath of these attacks, Anderson.
COOPER: All right, Nima Elbagir. Appreciate the update.
Now, Ivan Watson with the story of two survivors with new details of what went on in that airport.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Steven Nabil and Nameem Shores (ph) just got married.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a beautiful wedding, to be honest.
STEVEN NABIL, WITNESSED TERROR ATTACK: She deserves it.
WATSON: After a honeymoon in Greece and Italy, the couple was on a five-hour layover at Istanbul's Ataturk airport Tuesday night, waiting for their flight back home to the U.S. That's when the terrorists attacked.
NABIL: I literally ordered the salads and the pizza slice when the guy turned to put the slice in the oven, I heard the gun shots from afar.
WATSON: Did you recognize those were gunshots?
NABIL: Yes. AK-47, automatic rifle.
WATSON: And what goes through your head at that time?
NABIL: That she's hurt. That this is happening. My worst nightmare is haunting us now.
WATSON: Steven says he saw a man with a gun shooting in the departures hall.
What did he look like?
NABIL: I was in television, so I am not sure if he was the actual gunman or the cops firing at him, but there was a gun and there were bullets coming from him because I can see the echoes and all of that from the gun.
WATSON: The terrified couple ran and hid in this little kitchen, which Steven filmed on his phone. Through the door they heard chaos outside.
NAMEEM SHORES, WITNESSED TERROR ATTACK: We heard people yelling.
NABIL: Stop! Stop!
SHORES: This looks like somebody is calling somebody out.
WATSON: This is one of the victims, that one that were screaming. Steven didn't know whether or not the gunmen were still in the airport
on the hunt for more victims.
NABIL: At that point I said I'm going to make a video to tell the story because we're going to most likely die here.
WATSON: Speaking in his family's native Arabic, he tells them to pray for him.
SHORES: I remember I told him, that's it. This is our last seconds of our life. We're going to die right here.
NABIL: This is when I realized this was the moment that I might lose my new family that I just made and everything I dreamed for.
WATSON: But Steven says if a militant came through the door he wasn't going to go down without a fight.
NABIL: I was going to kill him. This is it. I mean, this is my new life.
WATSON: Forty-five minutes later, the terrified couple eventually emerged to bloody scenes in the airport.
NABIL: I want to thank all the Turkish first responders, the ambulances, the drivers, the cops. They were -- they were -- they were protecting us. They were doing their best. A lot of them were bleeding so they fought it out.
WATSON: An ambulance rushed Nameem to a hospital. She's recovering from bruises suffered people trampled by panic people fleeing the gunmen. But dealing with the emotional trauma has barely begun.
SHORES: I want to go back to the states. I don't want to come back to this country anymore. I don't want to come to the Middle East anymore.
WATSON: This evening, the couple rushed to catch a flight out from another Istanbul airport hoping to leave this horrible chapter of their honeymoon far behind.
COOPER: And Ivan Watson joins us now from Istanbul.
Ivan, you used to live in Istanbul. I mean, you know this airport incredibly well. It is - I mean, were you surprised that they were able to get so close? I mean, it was the arrivals halls as opposed to the departure hall, I suppose.
WATSON: Yes. What's frightening is hearing from eyewitnesses the suggestion that some of these men and two to run from one floor of the airport down to the first floor to get from the departures hall down an escalator into the first floor and get that freedom of mobility. But what can you do if you have men armed with Kalashnikovs who were effectively doing a kamikaze run through security barriers into a place like an international airport and certainly an international airport as busy as this one?
And just about that couple, Anderson, you know, first of all, imagine their lack of knowledge of what's going on. They don't know if there are three or ten attackers out there. So in those moments when they were trapped in that little kitchen, the husband, Steven, was looking for a weapon to protect his bride. And the only thing he could find was a pot of boiling water which he was prepared to try to use to then sacrifice his life to protect his bride. Fortunately, that didn't have to happen and both of them say that the fact that they stopped at the Vatican during their honeymoon and they lit candles and they prayed there, they believe that somebody, something protecting them throughout this awful ordeal.
[20:10:37] COOPER: Ivan Watson in Istanbul. Ivan, thank you.
President Obama spoke by phone today with Turkish president expressing condolences and solidarity with the Turkish people and later alongside Canada's prime minister and Mexico's president, he signaled his belief that ISIS carries responsibility and weighed in on what he thinks is motivating these kinds of attacks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They are continually losing ground, unable to govern those areas that they've taken over, that they are going to be defeated in Syria. They're going to be defeated in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And we will talk more a little bit later in this program about that notion of ISIS lashing out at soft targets because their so-called caliphate is being taken from them.
Let's bring in the panel. CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd formerly with the FBI and CIA, "Daily Beast" senior editor, Michael Weiss, the author of "ISIS, inside ISIS the army of terror" and CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem. She is a former assistant secretary of homeland security.
Philip, at this point of the investigation, as a former CIA and FBI guy, you want a name. You would be - I mean, that is priority number one, names of those involved?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That's right. We are looking back in the coverage saying what happened here? Looking at victims from an investigative or intelligence standpoint, I have to look forward. Think of this as spider web. In the middle of that is a name that gives me a signal based on maybe their phone, if I can find a phone, based on things like email addresses. It is a signal about who gave them money? Who gave them false passports? Are there communications that suggest other conspirators, communications that indicate who was back home in Syria. As soon as I get that name, I might be able to map network and say who else is out there for the next one? Forty-two people are dead and I want a network that will kill us in the future. COOPER: The other question, I guess, though, is were these people
trained in Turkey or were they, you know, folks who - whether they are Turkish descent who ended up going to Syria and received training there or from some place else.
MUDD: My first take on this is these are people who probably were sent from Syria, modest training. I wouldn't call this high end. This is also not so many who us a rank amateur. It's a classic terror program here that is the initial person breaches the perimeter. Used to be done with truck bombs by Al-Qaeda. The second truck in this case, the second group of individuals takes advantage of that to move into the facility and that kind of planning and that kind of thinking you don't get with somebody who hasn't talked to a train operator.
COOPER: Right. And we have seen that with Mogadishu a lot. And just recently, truck bombs going in creating a breach and people on foot going in after that.
MUDD: That's right. One of the things you have got to remember when you're talking about ISIS and we are talking about hundreds of people from North America, thousands from western Europe is as soon as somebody who we refer to as a homegrown, decides they want to get on a train or a plane and travel to trained operatives in a place like Syria, their operational capability takes a huge step up. So that's one of the concerns we have here and the ideology coming out of Syria but the capability to transition, a 17-year-old and a 20-year-old who has modest capabilities in to somebody who says I need a two-stage attack into the airport.
COOPER: Michael, I mean, assuming if it is ISIS, I mean, we saw in the wake of the Paris attacks they ultimately released a video of the Paris attackers, training and making sort of martyrdom so-called videos. Do you expect to see the same sort of thing here down the road?
MICHAEL WEISS, CO-AUTHOR, ISIS INSIDE THE ARMY OF TERROR: Well, yes. Characteristically, it would. Not, the only difference here is as we have discussed in the last 24 hours, when it comes to terror attacks in Turkey, ISIS rarely claims credit for them and that's to create a sense of ambiguity or a big question mark as to who the perpetrator is.
COOPER: Why would they want the ambiguity?
WEISS: Well, they -- Turkey usually comes out very initially when there's any kind of terrorist that says it is probably the PKK, it is probably the Kurds. And what that automatically does is it creates ire and a sense of resentment among the Kurdish community in Turkey, drives away the Turkish political establishment in society. PKK also when Turkey escalates its military campaign against the insurgency then starts to do, you know, more terrorist attacks. So ISIS is counting on Turkey being distracted from the war against ISIS and focusing again on this 40-year-old insurgency.
COOPER: Juliette, I mean, we still don't know just how many people are behind this attack. Hard to believe it would just be these three. There is likely a larger nexus of people who are part of the planning like you saw in Paris and Brussels, correct?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That is absolutely right. You would have to assume that there are, you know, dozens or at least a dozen people who knew of the planning. These guys have to live. They have to be fed. They have to have money. They have to have resources and access to weaponry. So there is no way that this investigation is over simply because the three of them are dead.
Look. These guys, you know, they are not, you know, they bombed themselves so we have to get the blood material, the tissue material to determine who exactly they are. And then from that, you know, view them as the bull's-eye. From that, then go in concentric rings to figure out who were they in contact with, where had they traveled and who are their family members. And so this is an investigation which essentially begins with blood and DNA and forensics at this stage.
[20:15:30] COOPER: Our panel is going to stick around. We have to take a short break.
A lot more to talk about tonight including the U.S. intelligence committees take on these attacks with the possibility of ISIS trying something similar here in the United States.
Also we'll talk more about why squeezing ISIS on its home turf may for a while and the rest of the world and the United States included, more dangerous.
[20:18:54] COOPER: One of America's top intelligence official says he would be surprised if ISIS was not planning new attacks in this country. As for the airport massacre, CIA director John Brennan says it bears the hallmarks of an ISIS operation. He also explains what we talked on earlier why in his view the terror group has yet to claim responsibility.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: I think what they do is they carry out these attacks to gain the benefits from it in terms of sending a signal to our Turkish partners. At the same time, not wanting to potentially maybe alienating some of those individuals inside of Turkey that they may still be trying to gain the support of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Even as the casualties grow, at least 140 people have been killed so far this year in Turkey in eight suicide bombings.
Back now with the panel.
I mean, is it - Phil, it is possible another reason not to at this point claim any credit for it is to slow the investigation down in terms of the identities of the attackers? To not give any tip-off of who they may be who - I mean, once you have a name, as you said, you'll start to unravel the spiders. MUDD: I think there are a couple of additional explanations. But
first is, in some of these cases with an organization like ISIS, decentralize trend would inspire people and not training them all. First question I have is do they know whether they are actually responsible for this one? May take them a day or two to say are these our guys?
[20:20:10] COOPER: So it's not that coordinated necessarily? They're not necessarily in communication with all kinds of different branches?
MUDD: That's right. I mean, on the day of 9/11 you have Al-Qaeda three years in preparation saying our guys just did it. Clearly, they know centrally directed operations, trained, funded and in contact with the 9/11 hijackers. That's the contrast to today. Are we sure in the age of stateless terrorism? Is this our people?
So I think there is a question about whether they are confirming it's their guy. The second quick explanation is whether they actually are looking at this saying we need to make a claim. Terrorism is to intimidate somebody. If they don't know you conducted the operation how can you be intimidated? Nobody has a question in this case of who did it. You don't have to have a claim for the Turks to say wow. There is a tremendous cause to the intervention in Syria.