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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte; Bombing Suspect Captured. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired September 19, 2016 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: A suspected terrorist taken down.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Breaking news, the man who allegedly planted bombs in New York City and New Jersey now in custody after a terror manhunt that ended in a shoot-out on the streets.
Did he act alone? The suspect shot, bloody, taken to the hospital. What, if anything, is he telling authorities about his path to extremism and possible links to a terror cell?
Plus, an explosive wakeup call with a week until the first debate. Two candidates today sharing two very different views of how to best protect the country.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
TAPPER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
The breaking news this afternoon, what does he know and did he act alone? Those are the two questions investigators are trying to answer right now after local police in Linden, New Jersey, responded to a call this morning that turned into a shoot-out and then an arrest of alleged terrorist Ahmad Khan Rahami.
Rahami allegedly came very close to creating a nightmare scenario this past weekend, allegedly planted bombs, ones designed to cause as much injury and death as possible at four different locations in New York City and in New Jersey.
New York's governor today saying we all got very lucky and the fact that no one died is remarkable. Investigators initially spotted Rahami on surveillance video carrying a duffel bag in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood Saturday night, where two bombs were planted, one of which exploded.
Police say evidence has also connected Rahami to two other failed attacks in Seaside, New Jersey, and Elizabeth, New Jersey.
CNN has correspondents across the entire country working all of their sources to piece together what happened this weekend. Let's start in New York City at the scene of that explosion, where 29 people were injured, and that's where our own Jim Sciutto is right now.
Jim, a member of the House Intelligence Committee told you that the operating assumption of investigators is that Rahami did not act alone.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
That has been the key question since that bomb went off just over my right shoulder here. Was there more than Rahami involved? Ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff tells me the operating assumption now is that he had some sort of support network.
We heard the NYPD say earlier this afternoon that there is not an active search right now for another bomber, no clear and present danger, but this investigation still ongoing because they believe Rahami must have had some help.
This investigation still going even after this dramatic arrest today.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, the prime suspect in the New York and New Jersey bombings is in custody, 28-year-old Ahmad Rahami captured after a shoot-out with New Jersey police that left him and four other officers injured.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard another pop, more pops, and then it kept going, and that's when I saw the police vehicles.
SCIUTTO: Authorities tipped off to his location by a bartender who was watching CNN and recognized Rahami who was asleep in the doorway of the bar.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now that we have the suspect in custody, the investigation can focus on other aspects, such as whether this individual acted alone and what his motivations may have been.
SCIUTTO: A weekend of terror across the two states, including two bombings and the discovery of several unexploded devices.
BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: We have every reason to believe this was an act of terror.
SCIUTTO: It started at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday in the beach town of Seaside Park, New Jersey. Thousands of people were about to run a Marine Corps charity race when a pipe bomb exploded in a garbage can near the starting line.
Then, that night, panic on the streets of New York City. A bomb built from a pressure cooker explodes. It detonated at approximately 8:30 p.m. on 23rd Street and 6th Avenue, injuring 29, sending panicked crowds scrambling for cover.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know what hit me. I flew off my feet.
SCIUTTO: Police scrambled, searching the area, and find another suspicious pressure cooker located just several blocks away on 27th Street. Both devices were packed with ball bearings, commonly used in bombs to maximize damage.
Investigators say surveillance football shows a man they believe to be Rahami with a duffel bag at both Manhattan locations. He leaves the bag at the location where police later find the unexploded pressure cooker. A multiple-state manhunt is launched for Rahami after he is identified by a fingerprint left on a cell phone in one of the explosive devices.
At 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, a backpack containing up to five pipe bombs is found in a garbage outside a neighborhood pub and About 500 feet from a train trestle. One of the bombs detonated when police sent a robot in to examine the devices after two men had alerted them.
SCIUTTO: One more focus of the investigation now is Rahami's foreign travel. We learned today that he made several trips overseas, including several trips to Afghanistan.
That by itself certainly not incriminating in any way. He had family there, but what they're looking at now is during these trips to Afghanistan and elsewhere, did he make "contacts of interests"? Did he contact any groups, Islamic groups, et cetera?
They don't know, Jake. That's what they're focusing on right now.
TAPPER: All right, Jim Sciutto in Chelsea, thank you so much.
CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has been digging into the information he can find out about the suspect all day.
Drew, you're at the scene of the shoot-out in Linden, New Jersey. This was some remarkable police work. How did authorities corner the suspect so quickly?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: It's an amazing story and it really begins with social media and the media itself getting the picture, the mug shot, of this fellow out.
It happened just around 9:00 a.m. down the street. We're a couple of blocks away, but when a bar owner -- and while we're looking to see this man has been operating alone or has any other accomplices, I can tell you this, Jake. He was certainly caught alone, disheveled, sleeping in a doorway.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): A bar owner spotted Ahmad Rahami around 9:00 a.m. this morning sleeping in the doorway of his bar. He recognized him from watching CNN. Police approached. A shoot-out ensued.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Standing in the doorway. When we came back out, I heard pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.
GRIFFIN: Rahami was hit multiple times. He was awake and alert as he was wheeled into an ambulance. Rahami's family lived above a chicken restaurant they owned in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a very friendly guy. You would never suspect this. Terrified. He was hiding in plain sight. We would have never known.
GRIFFIN: The family sued the city of Elizabeth and the local police department in 2011, accusing city officials, police and local residents of discriminating against them because of their religion, saying -- quote -- "Muslims don't belong here," and being threatened and harassed by a police officers.
The mayor of Elizabeth, New Jersey, said the suit was part of a longstanding feud between the family and the city over late hours and loud patrons at the restaurant.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a lot of congregation going on, a lot of people hanging out. The city council was getting complaints from the neighborhood, at which time they voted to close it at 10:00, which led to some clashes with the police department because the police were enforcing the city county ordinance.
GRIFFIN: Tonight, officials are investigating whether Rahami was radicalized in Afghanistan. He was born there, moved to the United States and traveled numerous times, according to CNN law enforcement sources. An acquaintance said Rahami's family told him Rahami was in Afghanistan about four years ago.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The oldest brother I hadn't seen him in a long time. So, he was on vacation to Afghanistan, and I was like, oh, all right.
GRIFFIN (on camera): But you got the impression it was an extended vacation, like he was there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes. Because of this, it kind of makes sense.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Rahami attended Middlesex County College in Edison, New Jersey, from 2010 to 2012, majoring in criminal justice. He did not graduate. Friends from high school described him as class clown, really funny, popular.
GRIFFIN: Jake, we can tell you the Rahami family came here from Afghanistan in the 1990s. They sought asylum. Ahmad Rahami would have been just about 7 years old.
From all the people that we have talked to that have known him, he was completely Americanized, they say, and they certainly did not see this coming -- Jake.
TAPPER: Drew Griffin, thank you so much.
Joining me now is Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. She serves on the Homeland Security Committee and the Armed Services Committee.
Senator Ayotte, thanks so much for being here. I really appreciate it.
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: So, you were just briefed. What's the latest on the investigation in terms of whether or not Rahami was acting alone?
AYOTTE: Well, that's being investigated right now.
If you look at the multiple devices in New York and New Jersey, and obvious the big question is, was he acting alone? And I think there are real questions about that, just the distance between those places. He could have done it alone.
But it's really important, if there's somebody else out there, that we learn that right away. And also I think big questions about, did he have any connections in Afghanistan when he traveled there? As you know, Afghanistan not only as the Taliban. It does have members of ISIS and then it has other groups like the Haqqani Network.
TAPPER: And some incredible police work done not only in Linden, New Jersey, and New York City, but also that off-duty police officer we saw foiling the stabbing in the St. Cloud, Minnesota, mall.
AYOTTE: Absolutely amazing. It really shows you our police are not only on the front lines on crime, but terrorism.
And incredible work by the police here. I think it really brings home some of the discussion we have had about the police, making sure that we support them and really include them and make sure that they have the tools that they need when it comes to addressing terrorism.
TAPPER: Is there any information about whether or not Rahami was on the radar of counterterrorism officials or law enforcement at all?
AYOTTE: Well, what we know so far is he apparently was not on any terror watch lists.
And we do know, with his trip to Afghanistan, that there is always an interview process coming in. The question I, what was done there? How thorough was that?
And I think you have got to go back to Afghanistan and figure out, who did he communicate with there? We know he is from Afghanistan. But, again, many -- a number of groups in Afghanistan that I would want to know, did he have any ties to these groups or connection that bringing some of that ideology, including there's ISIS in Afghanistan, unfortunately.
TAPPER: I guess I wonder, given what we know, that he was interviewed by authorities on his way back -- and that happened also with the San Bernardino killer's wife was interviewed.
AYOTTE: Right. It did.
TAPPER: Are these interviews thorough enough? Or it's one of these things where it's just you can't stop everything?
AYOTTE: Well, I have to say, I have strongly supported better vetting.
And we have had votes on that in the Senate. It has kind of been blocked by the Senate Democrats. I think that needs to be reevaluated.
TAPPER: What do you mean by better vetting?
AYOTTE: So, we have actually had extra layers of steps that you would have to go through before you could be brought here.
The interview process I don't think is as thorough as it should be. And we need to see what happened here, how was the interview conducted, whether that is any piece to this.
But it's clear to me that more strenuous vetting of people who come here is important. And I would hope we would take steps to do that.
TAPPER: The nominee of your party, Donald Trump, said that one of the reasons that this type of thing happens is because police feel like they can't go into neighborhoods and they can't ask questions.
Is that your impression? Is there a problem? Are police not able to do the job that we need them to do?
AYOTTE: Well, I think that we need to give our law enforcement the tools that they need.
And that means they have to able to obviously ask questions in neighborhoods and find out if things are suspicious. And we need people to come forward.
TAPPER: But do they not have those tools? Do they not have those?
AYOTTE: Well, I think, sometimes, we have had this discussion where I think police do feel, some of them right now at the moment, they need our support to understand that we're behind them.
One other point I want to make is that we need to give the FBI also tool. We had a vote on a bill that Senator McCain introduced that I supported to make sure that the FBI can get -- use national security letters to get electronic communications records, like they can for bank records and phone records.
Having been a prosecutor myself, I could get them in average criminal cases. That vote failed in the Senate. So there are some basic tools we need to get the FBI and our front-line law enforcement on this. But that needs to be acted on right away.
TAPPER: All right, Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, thanks so much for stopping by. We appreciate it.
AYOTTE: Thanks so much, Jake.
A special announcement now. Next week, I will be moderating an extraordinary CNN town hall event with President Obama at the Fort Lee Army post in Virginia. It's a critical time for the armed forces, for security here at home and of course for the United States' leadership abroad. The president will ask crucial questions posed by active service men and women, veterans, their families, and even by me.
Nothing is off limits. That's the "CNN Presidential Town Hall: America's Military and the Commander in Chief" 9:00 p.m. Eastern Wednesday the 28th. I hope you will join us.
New information about the suspect in an attack at an American mall -- what the FBI is now learning about the stabbing ISIS claims one of their soldiers carried out -- that story next.
[16:17:20] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
And, of course, there was another terrorist attack this weekend in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where a Somali American went on a stabbing rampage in a mall Saturday night. Law enforcement officials say 24-year-old Dahir Adan injured nine people with a kitchen knife, before being shot dead by an off-duty police officer. ISIS praised the attack, calling Adan a soldier of the Islamic state, language that terror experts say suggests Adan was inspired by ISIS but not trained or directed by the terrorist group.
Let's go right to CNN's Sara Sidner outside the Crossroads Mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
And, Sara, what more do we know about the terrorist?
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The 22-year-old lived here and had lived here for a very long time. We talked to someone who spoke at length with his family who said they were absolutely shocked and that they had no indication this young man held this kind of anger. They still have no indication as to whether or not he was indeed linked to ISIS. Although, as you mentioned, the ISIS news agency did come out and say he was a soldier for them.
We also know this -- the family saying that he had been here since he was about two years old and that he had assimilated to America like any other American, that he felt comfortable here, that he played football, that he enjoyed America and hadn't said anything that they know that was negative against this country. We also found out that he was going into the mall, he told his family to buy an iPhone. And now, we're hearing about the result. He left around 6:30,
according to the family spokesperson, and he ended up dead a few hours later.
I do want to let you hear, though, from the mayor of St. Cloud who talked compassionately about all of this. He was impassioned about what happened to his community, but also he was able to view the surveillance video in the last moments before the attacker's death.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR DAVE KLEIS, ST. CLOUD, MINNESOTA: You see him immediately lunge forward with a knife, and the lunging forward at approximately probably 20 feet or more towards the officer in a very rapid period of time, less than -- it seemed to be less than two seconds, and you see the officer fire. The suspect went down. He got back up. The officer fired again, and he got back up. This was three times.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: He said he also saw some of the people in the mall holding a couple of children and running right before he saw the suspect come into that video frame. He said it was terrifying to watch, Jake.
TAPPER: So chilling.
And, Sara, the off-duty police officer, Jason Falconer, who was shopping at the mall and had his weapon with him, he is being praised as a hero. He no doubt saved lives.
What more can you tell us about Officer Falconer?
SIDNER: He was a part-time officer.
[16:20:00] He was also a firearms instructor for that department. And he was in the mall, according to mayor, because he was going to buy a toy for his child. His child was about to have his birthday. He ended up saving a lot of lives, and he is being hailed, as you said, a hero here in St. Cloud for saving people, because so many people, nine people ended up stabbed.
And, by the way, all nine of those people are out of the hospital. They have survived -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Sara Sidner, in St. Cloud, Minnesota -- thank you so much. Appreciate it.
New questions about the bombing suspect traveling to Afghanistan multiple times. What can investigators learn from his trips? Did they miss any warning signs after his returns to the United States?
Then, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both quick to respond to the New Jersey and New York City attacks, but in very different ways. That's ahead.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:25:13]TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
We're sticking with our breaking news. After a shootout with police, Ahmad Khan Rahami whom the FBI believes is behind Saturday night's terrorist attack in New York City, as well as three other separate bomb plots, two in New Jersey, he's in custody.
Joining me now to talk about the case, CNN national security contributor, Mike Rogers, a former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Also with me is CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
Thanks both for being here.
So, Congressman, let me start with you. The NYPD says they're not actively seeking anybody else, but they're cautioning everybody, you know, to be vigilant, eyes and ears open. But it's hard to imagine he did this totally by himself.
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: No way he did this by himself. A, you have two pretty lengthy destinations away. Lots of similarities in the production of the explosive devices. So, normally, the way this would work, you'd have a cell that could do logistics, meaning they're the ones that, you have a bombmaker and assembly of the bomb components, which could be one cell, and then operational, the other. Even if you merged that and said one small cell is going to do both of these events, you had to have lots of activity go into to both of these locations.
The odds that this was one person acting alone is just infinitesimally small.
TAPPER: And, by the way, if people haven't heard, it's not just rhetoric when people say keep your eyes and ears open, the bartender that recognized Ahmad Rahami recognized from CNN, from having seen his face on.
Juliette, it's still early and facts might change. But at this point, what do you think are the most important things investigators need to determine?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, there's going to be two pieces of this investigation.
One will be familiar to most anyone who watches law and order. That's just investigation, you have a person, is he speaking? What is he saying? He has family members, he has coworkers and friends. You just find out what his network is and if anyone was involved, exactly what Mike was saying.
The second is going to be his signature, his online footprint, drilling down on he may have been talking to, what websites, any encrypted discussions.
And then merging those two pieces to find out whether there was anyone else involved, and secondly, whether there was an international influence, international direction.
I will say just one thing on this as similar is he did not appear to have an exit strategy. This is what I always find interesting. These guys are willing to do it but no exit strategy. So, it may be that, you know, he can plan a lot, but he had no one to help him out of the situation. He wasn't found far from his home when he was found. We have the same -- it was true here in Boston.
TAPPER: Very unusual.
Congressman, Donald Trump this morning said that local police often know who these individuals are but they're afraid of being accused of profiling and that law enforcement needs to profile more.
You're a former FBI agent. Is that true? Is that accurate? Does law enforcement need to be less politically correct?
ROGERS: Well, there's two kinds of profiling. There's racial profiling which never works. We should avoid it all costs. In a matter of fact, there should be no costs paid to racial profiling.
There is also something called criminal profiling where you fit a specific pattern of activity that relates back to a terrorist act or a criminal act. And so, criminal profiling would be wholly appropriate in this case. Somebody who's traveling back and forth to Afghanistan, if they have other leads that would say, hey, this person, he sounds, he's becoming more radicalized, then if you put together a profile, it becomes a criminal profile.
Just saying we're going to profile everybody who is of this religion or if this race, that never works. We should never use it in America. But there is a distinct difference. I do think police officers are feeling the line gets blurred between criminal profiling and racial profiling and they're not sure where that line is. We need to make sure law enforcement has support for criminal profiling in all cases, criminal cases and terrorism cases.
TAPPER: Juliette, the perpetrator of this weekend's plots, he used pipe bombs and a pressure cooker bomb with pellets, does that reveal anything to you about the capability and planning involved in the attacks?
KAYYEM: Well, what I don't know yet, I don't think what we know yet is what was the runway for radicalization? That is the most important thing, because, you know, while this was devastating in many ways, he had a 25 percent success rate from what he built. So, it appears that he was building something very quickly and may not have had the training or the time to figure out a better success rate.
But in terms of what he built, none of that is surprising to me. All of that, unfortunately, is readily available on the Internet and the purchases for the various materials for the detonation is nothing unique. You could -- just with a little bit of time, you could pull this together.
So, I'm not surprised by what he utilized, but we have to also remember he did not have a high success rate, which may have something to do with how sophisticated he was as a terrorist.