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Bomb Suspect Blames Older Brother; Slain MIT Officer Didn't Alert Department; Witness Reacts to Carjacking; Bomb Site Reopens to Merchants; Israel: Syria Using Chemical Weapons; Alleged Canada Terror Plotters to Court; FBI Under Scrutiny Over Bomb Suspect; Boston Schools Reopen After Bombings; Flooded Resident: "I Cried All Day"; Thousands Evacuate Flooding

Aired April 23, 2013 - 10:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Carjacked by alleged terrorists and abducted at gun point. New this morning, we'll hear about the terrifying ride through Boston. We'll also hear from the man who came to the rescue of the driver.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember a gun. They want to shoot me.


BLITZER: Good morning. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Boston. There have been several major developments coming out of Boston this morning. Let's get all of you caught up right now.

Back home, but far from back to normal, right now police are taking down the first barricades on Boylston Street, the epicenter of the attacks. Residents and business owners can finally return.

Also this morning, we're learning more about the terror plot, who was involved? How did they develop it and why?

And the beginning of the end, a newly released surveillance photos we see Dzhokhar Tsarnaev just after the murder of an MIT police officer. He is minutes away from the shootout that would leave him wounded and his older brother dead.

But first the headline from the suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, we acted alone. CNN's Jake Tapper says a U.S. government source quotes the sole surviving suspect as saying the older brother was the mastermind and they had no international ties to terror groups.

He also says the men were motivated by radical Islam and the Jihadist goal of waging a holy war. They learned to make their bombs they say at least as suspect says from readily available instructions on the internet.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick has the latest from New York. DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we can tell you that investigators are beginning to paint a much fuller picture of the parents and the life that this young man, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was living. His pull between his life here in the United States and his life over in the Russian Caucasus where he has been transient basically going from country to country because the Chechnya war.

What we can tell you this morning is that the MIT officer that was shot to death by the two alleged bombers did not radio into dispatch to request a description of the suspects and he did not alert dispatch that he was actually responding to the two men who apparently came up to him totally unaware, and ambushed him as he sat in his car.

He was shot four to five times according to a source. It took at least nearly 13 minutes to actually find that officer, that downed officer. He did not even have time to pull the alert on his radio. Now what you're looking at now is pictures of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. That's when we went to the convenience store.

It is interesting because this entire sort of manhunt was launched because of the actions of these two men not just particularly in terms of them building the bomb, but because they are the ones who seemed to have out of nowhere ambushed this police officer.

That's what set everything in motion that led to the shootout, the capture, the carjacking as well. What you see there is following the carjacking. He went into a bank and he was removing money. It appears according to a source that he removed $800. But it is not clear right now whether that was money from his account, his brother's account or from the carjacker's account.

So all of that right now is under investigation, we have a lot more details coming up throughout the day, Wolf. And we'll keep you posted -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick, thanks very much. A Massachusetts gas station manager is now speaking out after he was caught right in the middle of Thursday's carjacking allegedly by the Boston suspects.


TAREQ AHMED, GAS STATION MANAGER (through translator): The door opened quickly. I thought it was a drunk man because of how he opened the door. I got up quick. I wanted to (inaudible) and asked him why he would open the door like this. He fell down right there and then said please call the police.

There are people who want to kill me. There are people who want me dead. They have guns and they have a bomb. When he was on the ground, I was trying to figure out what I should do, looking at him whether he was drunk or not.

At the same time, I was trying to figure out and remember the two pictures posted online of the two suspects. I grabbed the phone and I made sure I was not panicking. I swear to God I was making the call and I was worried someone may just come in and shoot me. I couldn't even look outside. I closed my eyes and I was talking on the phone expecting death at any minute, but thank God I was done with the call. Then I went back and handed him the phone and went back to my spot so no one can suspect me of doing anything wrong.

Just in case someone outside saw me moving, in case they suspect I'm doing something wrong inside and they come in. I wanted to make sure everything looked normal.


BLITZER: The gas station manager also says he had spent time memorizing pictures of the suspects shortly after the bombings.

For the first time in eight days, merchants and residents of the Boston bomb site area are now being allowed to return. The first block of the affected area on Boylston Street is reopening now with other blocks due to open in the coming hours.

Our Jason Carroll is covering this part of the story for us. He is joining us on the phone because at least for now the media is not allowed back to the actual site. Jason, how close are you? What can you see? What can you tell us?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you, Wolf, we're inside the convention center. This is the area where business owners have been asked to come to check in to make sure all their identification is in proper order. About 20 or 25 or so business owners have showed up so far.

As you know, Wolf, many of these business owners very anxious to get back to their place of businesses to see about any potential damage there. This is the business heart of the city. This area still remains closed to the general public and traffic today.

But the city is allowing business owners and residents to get back in there today. This is after the FBI turned over the scene, the six- block area of Boylston Street area to the city yesterday.

What this city has done, Wolf, is they have set up a staggered schedule to reopen the six-block area, again, only to business owners and residents starting at this hour at 10:00 a.m.

We're told the first block to open will be at Hanford and Bluster. Then at 11:00 a.m. will be Bluster and Terafield and so on until 3 p.m. The city wants to make absolutely sure that the area is safe for reopening.

So what they've done is they're working on this five-part reopening plan. The first part is being the decontamination and testing of the area. The second part will be the structural assessment of some of the buildings there.

The third will be debris removal. The fourth will be internal building assessment and then finally re-entry and counseling for those in need. A counseling area has been set up here inside the convention center for business owners and residents who need it.

Again, it's a very slow transition. The transition is starting today. Still a long road ahead, but it is happening today starting at this hour, one block an hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jason Carroll on scene for us not far from Boylston Street, which is getting ready to be reopened. Thank you.

Other news we're following right now. Chemical weapons are being used by Syria that according to Israel. The head of Israel's Defense Forces Intelligence Research Department says it is likely that Syria has been using sarin gas on rebel forces. Analysts think the Syrian government may have one of the biggest stock piles of chemical weapons in the world.

A hearing is taking place this hour in Canada for two men accused in a terror plot involving a passenger train. A Muslim community leader in Toronto tells CNN a tip from a local imam led to the investigation and the arrest of the two men yesterday. Authorities believe they were planning to attack a passenger train reportedly heading to the United States.

Ted Rowlands is joining us now live from Toronto with the latest details. Ted, what's going on?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the first hearing is taking place right now in Toronto. They have moved the suspect who was originally brought to Toronto from Montreal last night back to Montreal this morning after some legal wrangling. He will be arraigned at 11:00 Eastern Time.

Meanwhile, investigators here say these two suspects not only had the will, but they had the expertise to pull this off.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): In shackles and under heavy guard, 30-year-old Shihab Esenger was flown from Montreal to Toronto Monday night. He is facing terrorism charges along with 35-year-old Raed Jaser. Canadian authorities say the two were plotting an al Qaeda supported attack on a passenger train traveling between Canada and the United States.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: My understanding is that this was always under the control of the RCMP and that at no time was anyone's life actually in danger.

ROWLANDS: Authorities say the suspects are not Canadian citizens, but they have declined to identify their nationality or how long they've been in Canada and few details of the alleged plot had been released. Canadian authorities have said it was in the planning stages and not imminent.

Passenger trains have been terrorist targets before. In 2004, more than 190 people were killed in Madrid. Dozens of people died a year later in the London bombings. Documents seized in the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden showed that Bin Laden wanted to attack trains in the U.S.

Canadian investigators say in this case the suspects received support from al Qaeda elements in Iran.

JAMES MALIZIA, RCMP FEDERAL POLICING OPERATINS: The individuals were receiving support from al Qaeda elements located in Iran. Now I can tell you that there is no information to indicate that these attacks were state sponsored.

ROWLANDS: The Iranian government vehemently denies the assertion that al Qaeda is operating inside its borders.


ROWLANDS: The Iranian government issued a statement to the U.N. saying in part al Qaeda has no possibility to do any activity inside Iran or conduct any operations abroad from Iran's territory. We reject strongly and categorically any connection to this story. Authorities here, Wolf, maintain these two were getting support from al Qaeda out of Iran -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Al Qaeda elements in Iran as the Canadians have been saying. Ted Rowlands in Toronto. Thank you.

Here in Boston, life goes on. Businesses need to reopen and kids need to get back to school. We're going to learn how one school district is working to try to make that transition smoother and easier.


BLITZER: Now back to the deadly attacks at the Boston marathon. Later today, the FBI will face some serious questioning up on Capitol Hill in Washington. Lawmakers want to know if the agency missed some vital clues two years ago.

That's when agents interviewed the older suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev at the request of the Russian government. Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta is in Washington. He is watching all the latest developments. These hearings could be significant. Update our viewers, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. I've been told by a House leadership aide that the full House of Representatives will be briefed today at 5:00 this afternoon about the investigation in Boston.

We've been reporting all morning. The Senate Intelligence Committee has set a hearing for 2:30 this afternoon with FBI officials to find if federal investigators somehow failed to connect the dots, failed to connect the red flags that might have been coming from that deceased bombing Tamerlan Tsarnaev.


ACOSTA (voice-over): As lawmakers are praising their authorities for their quick work in the Boston bombing case, members of Congress are still calling for hearings into the FBI's handling of dead suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who traveled back to a dangerous region of Russia just last year.

SEN. DIANE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: What did he do when we went back for six months? Did he sit in his aunt or uncle's home for six month or was he doing something else? When he came back to this country, why didn't it ring a bell with the FBI intelligence unit?

ACOSTA: Two years ago, the FBI was asked by the Russian government to investigate Tamerlan. The Russians suspected the 26-year-old ethnic Chechen was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer and that he had change drastically since 2010.

As he prepared to leave the U.S. for travel to the country's region to join unspecified underground groups, but the FBI said it did not find any terrorism activity. Late last year, Tamerlan made that trip and spent time in war torn Chechnya.

PATEIMAT SULEIMANOVA, SUSPECTS' AUNT (through translator): Yes, he went to Chechnya for a couple of days. I don't know where those relatives lived. I mean, the relatives from his father side probably (inaudible). There were bombings in (inaudible) where they lived.

ACOSTA: Despite that warning from the Russians that trip apparently went undetected by U.S. authorities. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters Tamerlan's name was on a no-fly terror watch list. Graham says a bureau official told him Tamerlan slipped through the cracks.

SEN> LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I've been informed that the air lock passenger list, his name was misspelled and it didn't get into the system because of a misspelling.

ACOSTA: Add to that Graham said Tamerlan's activity on Jihadist web sites.

GRAHAM: How did we miss all of that? The FBI said they just have limitations on what they can do.

ACOSTA: A Chechen Islamist rebel group denied any involvement in the Boston bombing saying the Caucasian Moja Hadin are not fighting against the U.S. We are at war at Russia. But some Chechen fighters have shown up in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

All questions investigators want answered from Tamerlan's younger brother Dzhokhar. A handful of GOP lawmakers say the young suspect should be treated temporarily as an enemy combatant, but that was ruled out by the White House.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We will prosecute this terrorist through our civilian system of justice.


ACOSTA: For its part, the FBI says they interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev two years ago, came up with nothing, went back to the Russians, asked for more information and did not hear back from the Russians so that put that matter to the rest according to the FBI.

Now meanwhile Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is appearing at judiciary committee hearing right now that is happening on immigration reform. Wolf, some senators attending that hearing -- at that hearing this morning have already brought up this case in Boston.

And whether or not it should have some impact on immigration reform and that legislation that is making its way through the Congress so many impacts from this case unfolding at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I expect they're going to be a lot more down the road. Jim Acosta, thank you.

Meanwhile, life is slowly returning to normal here in the Boston area. Part of that being the fact that now schools are open once again. Roy Belson is the superintendent of the Medford Public School districts, a few miles away from Boston. First of all, how are the kids doing?

SUPT. ROY BELSON, MEDFORD PUBLIC SCHOOLS: They're doing very well. I think they're aware of what took place, but they're calm. They're progressing and I think they are very emboldened by the process that took place in the city.

BLITZER: There was no school last week. You've cancelled school all of last week. It was just pretty extraordinary.

BELSON: Last week was a regular school vacation.

BLITZER: It actually worked out like that. So the kids didn't -- the kids weren't expecting to go to school anyhow.

BELSON: That's right.

BLITZER: And then they've come back on Monday and now Tuesday. Are things back to normal?

BELSON: They're calm. They're aware. There are some questions being asked, but teachers are handling it well. We have counseling available, but my principals report that it's not being used very much because the youngsters are processing very well.

BLITZER: So there are no kids who are scared and stuff like that. That would seem to be a normal reaction for some kids seeing all the news coverage and seeing the reaction of their parents for example.

BELSON: Well, I think that, you know, they felt the sense of community. There were several events in our city as well as the larger city of Boston that they participated in. I think they were emboldened by the fact that there such a coordinated effort of law enforcement, medical response, I think they feel safe.

BLITZER: So what do you think? How is Boston, not just in your school district, but the whole area doing right now?

BELSON: I think we're doing well. I think the leaders really stepped up and put together a real coordinated plan to make people feel protected. Obviously, things happen and none of us can prevent every injustice or every horrific tragedy.

The way people responded I think gave a lot of confidence and a lot of comfort. So people in our spiritual leaders, there were vigils. There were discussions and I think when the youngsters came back to school, a lot of this had been processed.

BLITZER: Now Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the suspect who's now dead, his connection with your school district was?

BELSON: He didn't have connection with my school district. He went to Cambridge.

BLITZER: The younger one, what about the older one?

BELSON: The older one, we don't any recollection of him ever being anyone near us.

BLITZER: Nowhere near Medford at all. So there is no direct connection with Medford with either of these two suspects.

BELSON: Right.

BLITZER: As you take a look now at some of the lessons that we should have learned from this, you're the superintendent of the school district, what do you think?

BELSON: Well, I think obviously we realized that we can't prevent every injustice and things do happen, but we can't stay silent either. When things happen, we need to speak up and we need to pull ourselves together as a community. We need to show just how resilient we are.

I think one of the most important things that we can show people was that they may disrupt our routines. They may disrupt, you know, some of our conveniences, but they won't change our core values. They won't change the way we live and they won't change an open free society.

BLITZER: Well said, Roy Belson. Thanks very much for coming in.

BELSON: Thank you very much, sir.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much. So we're watching the schools come back to normal, businesses come back to normal, a lot going on.

Coming up also, there are some desperate days in the nation's heartland. We're following other news beyond Boston, more rain heading to a region already reeling from widespread floods. We're going to take you to one of the hardest hit areas. Much more coming up from Boston as well.


BLITZER: We're going to have more coverage coming from in Boston. Let's turn to a major story affecting five Midwestern states right now. Downpours have pushed rivers over their banks forcing thousands of people out of their homes. Flooding has devastated the small town of Spring Bay, Illinois.

Our Jim Spellman is there with the latest. Jim, how bad is it?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it has just started to rain here in the last hour. That's really the last thing they need. There could be another inch of rain added on top of what's already flooded.

Take a look here. Normally, the banks of the Illinois River are all the way down those woods down there. Today, about two solid blocks of the town are flooded, about 70 homes or so underwater. We haven't had reports of widespread damage, but for low laying towns like this they're getting hit and hit hard look.


SPELLMAN (voice-over): Last minute prep in Spring Bay, Illinois, as floodwaters inundates this riverside community.

(on camera): Where is your home?

STARLYNN WINCHELL, FLOOD VICTIM: My home is that gray and white mobile home with the black shutters on it.

SPELLMAN: You can't get to your home by foot now?


SPELLMAN: Have you ever seen this much water come up here?




SPELLMAN (voice-over): Starlynn Winchell's home, along with about 40 others in this trailer community, began to flood Sunday and the water has continued to rise.

WINCHELL: Yesterday I cried all day.

SPELLMAN (on camera): And today?

WINCHELL: Today, I'm not crying yet, but the more I see that water come up, the more I'll cry.

SPELLMAN (voice-over): The Red Cross is on site assessing the area as the fire chief prepares for the worse.

(on camera): This is the evacuation order?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the evacuation notice.

SPELLMAN (voice-over): Mandatory evacuations for residents in low- lying areas, his biggest fear, people ignoring the order and getting trapped in hard-to-reach parts of the community.

CHIEF DENNIS PERRY, SPRING BAY FIRE DEPARTMENT: Some of these places I simply can't get to and that's going to be a real big disadvantage to us.

SPELLMAN: Jared Teegarden just moved to Spring Bay a few months ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to the neighborhood.

SPELLMAN: As the river began to flood, he built his homemade levee from four dump trucks full of sand. So far, it's working.

JARED TEEGARDEN, HOMEOWNER: There would be four feet of water here if not. So we're doing all right. We're better than most.

SPELLMAN: His neighbor, Brad Lohman, among those not doing as well.

BRAD LOHMAN, BAR OWNER: It's kind of emotional to kind of see this situation and, you know, it's bad deal.

SPELLMAN: He's worked at this bar since he was a teenager eventually buying it. He says repairs will total more than $50,000. Will he reopen?

LOHMAN: No, I don't think so. I think we're going to be a total loss. I really do.


SPELLMAN: They expect this river here in Spring Bay will crest later this afternoon, Wolf. As quick as they came in, it will take that much longer for it to go out. Authorities here tell us a week and a half before the water is back inside the banks of the Illinois River and they can finish up last left behind -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Spellman in the water over there. All right, thanks very much.

Let's get back to what's going on here in Boston. The bombing suspect makes a court appearance from his hospital bed. We're going to tell you more about what he said, what the judge said at the end of that hearing.