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Boyleston Street Reopens Today; Bombing Suspects' Parents Interviewed; Investigators to Question Tamerlan Tsarnaev's Wife; Canadian Authorities Thwart Al Qaeda Plan

Aired April 23, 2013 - 11:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Anderson Cooper in Boston.

The city is taking another step towards normalcy, eight days after the -- being rocked by that deadly terror attack. I want to give you the latest information that we have.

Business owners and residents in Boylston Street are just starting to return to the area where the bombs went off. They're being escorted in over several hours today, but the site remains closed to the general public.

We're hearing more about what the surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is telling investigators. A government sources tells us the 19-years-old claims no foreign terrorist groups were involved in the attack, that he and his brother were self-radicalized jihadist and that the motivation for the bombings was to defend Islam.

All these claims must now be verified, of course, by investigators.

Meanwhile the FBI has to answer to Congress today about its handling of the alleged bombing mastermind, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Questions are going to be asked.

Did federal agents miss critical clues when they questioned him two years ago after receiving a tip from Russia about his radical Islamic views and his upcoming trip to the region?

The parents of the Boston bombing suspect live in the Russian republic of Dagestan as you no doubt know by now. This morning we heard from their mother, obviously distraught over what's happened.

Here's some of what she said.


ZUBEIDAT TSARNAEVA, BOSTON BOMBING SUSPECTS' MOTHER: What's happened is a terrible thing, but I know that my kids had nothing to do with this. I know it.

I am mother. I have -- you know, I know my kids. I know my kids. I -- really, my kids would never get involved into anything like that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Nick Paton Walsh is in Dagestan for us. He's also spoken with the mother.

Before I bring him in, I just want to show a little bit of that interview.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tell me how you feel about the accusations against him.

TSARNAEVA: Terrible.

WALSH: Do you believe what he was told?

TSARNAEVA: They're being accused just because they were Muslims. Nothing else.

WALSH: Do you think they'll get a fair trial?


WALSH: Do you think they'll get a fair trial?

TSARNAEVA: Only Allah knows it. I don't know.


COOPER: Nick Paton Walsh joins me now from Dagestan.

Nick, you also had a lengthy phone conversation with her. Do we know recently she lived with her sons?

She says she knows them well, that they wouldn't have done this. But do we know how often she was actually living in the home?

WALSH: I believe they were together in the U.S. before 2012 when Tamerlan came here for a period of six months, and then she came here, it's my understanding from the aunt, to kind of take over from the Tamerlan of the job of looking after Anzor, the father, who wasn't very well, when Tamerlan went back to the United States.

Quite a bit of overlapping, but mostly what I heard in that phone call was a deeply distraught woman who, in the early hours of this morning, finally the realization dawned after her thinking it was mistaken identity for some time, the realization dawned that it was her son that had been killed.

She still defiantly believes he has nothing to do with the Boston bombing. She thinks it is some conspiracy to try to frame him. Clearly, she still regards him as an angelic boy.

Angry in many ways, actually said to me, very emotionally, at this point, she is so distraught, she doesn't really care if her younger son, Dzhokhar, is killed. She wants to join both her sons in heaven, as it were, to speak.

Very emotional for our conversation. She also said that Tamerlan would be buried today or tomorrow in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near a mosque there by his sisters.


COOPER: So she actually said that they had made funeral plans already for the elder brother?

WALSH: That is what they said. Obviously, we can't confirm whether his body will be released for that, but she said that she was anticipating the burial to take place today or tomorrow.

Also, in our conversation, we talked about her contacts with Russian authorities here. She said she anticipated speaking to some of them at some point today, and also described the last phone call the day before they were killed last Friday, very normal. They talked about the cat, of all things, Mommy, I love you and that is, I believe, obviously, the last she would have heard from Tamerlan.


COOPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh, we appreciate that update.

There are other family ties to dig deeper on. Of course, Katherine Russell is the widow of the older Tsarnaev brother that was killed in the shootout early Friday morning.

Now investigators want to find out what she may know.

Our Chris Lawrence is learning some new details. He joins us now from North Kingstown in Rhode Island.

Chris, tell us what did you found out about this young woman.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, just in the last probably five minutes, Katherine Russell returned home to her parents' house from another meeting with her lawyer.

We saw earlier this morning she left with a lawyer, followed by some federal authorities, to go for a meeting.

We know he has been speaking with some of those investigators on her behalf. So perhaps we are getting closer to the point she may address some of their concerns directly.

As they look at the fact that she shared that cramped Cambridge apartment with her husband, Tamerlan Tsarnaev -- she's basically devastated by this, we're told by the attorney, but the investigators really want to know exactly what she may have known as they try to piece together what happened and try to determine when and where he may have assembled some of those bombs.

That's the reason they want to talk to her. Her attorney still tells us she had no idea any of this was going on. Anderson?

COOPER: I mean, obviously, it's understandable why they would want to be asking her questions.

If she's living in a small apartment with her husband and the brother is also occasionally visiting, the younger brother, Dzhokhar, is visiting, and they're allegedly plotting this attack, it would be hard to imagine that she wouldn't have some pertinent information.

Do we know, Chris, at this point, and we may not know, whether she was actually living full-time with her husband or was she living sometimes with her parents in Rhode Island? Do we know?

LAWRENCE: From the attorney, we get that she was staying at that apartment in Cambridge. We saw pictures of her leaving that apartment as recently as a few days ago.

And some caveats to that. What we're getting from the attorneys and some of our sources, A, Katherine Russell did not speak Russian, so she wasn't always aware of what was being said.

Investigators are still speaking together when and where those bombs may have been assembled.

And we also know from the attorney that Katherine Russell was working very long hours, he says. He says, at times, she might be working six to seven days a week, sometimes 60 to 70 hours and was out of the house for a long time.

In fact, he says that the last time she saw him was on Thursday before she went to work. She assumed that he was home and would be watching their young daughter.

Of course, later that day is when his images started to be blasted out all over the place, and the attorney said that's the point where she realized that he was a suspect.

COOPER: Chris Lawrence, we appreciate that.

We are learning new details about another victim of the terror in Boston, the MIT police officer, Sean Collier.

The two bombing suspects are accused of gunning him down. Of course, this happened before that wild car chase and shootout in Watertown last Thursday night.

And our Deborah Feyerick joins us with that part of the investigation. It appears the police officer really had no chance to respond. What are you learning, Deborah?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, he didn't and that's what's so surprising about this because, initially, there had been some speculation that, well, maybe the brothers felt that they had been spotted by this individual. But what we're being told by a source is that the MIT police officer, Sean Collier, he did not radio into dispatch. He did not say that he was responding to two men fitting the description, nor did he even have time, if he felt that he was in trouble, to activate his emergency alert.

So it is clear from that, according to sources, that, in fact, they came up upon the police officer who was sitting alone in his squad car and they ambushed him. They executed him.

He was shot four to five times, both in the head and the chest. He was wearing a bulletproof vest, but he was alone at the time. It's not clear whether he was shot through the window or whether the window was open.

But they came upon him and then -- allegedly -- and then we're told that police received a number of 911 calls reporting that shots had been fired.

Police officers did not realize that shots were fired in connection with one of their own for several minutes. Collier did not respond to any sort of calls. Usually you have people keeping track of where police officers are. And that's when they found him and he was shot.

It's believed, according to the source I'm speaking to, that the two alleged bombers walked or left that scene heading east and then, we are told, that they hijacked, they carjacked that individual and circled back around in the direction of where this officer was shot.

They were making their way, step by step, slowly to Watertown, and that is the big question, why? Why were they headed there and what were they hoping to find?

That's where all the activity was going on on Friday. So all of that right now under investigation. But it does appear that this officer didn't even know that they were there.


COOPER: All right, Deb, appreciate the update.

You'll remember, as Deborah was saying, there was that carjacking before the bomb suspects shot it out with police in Watertown.

Now again, we're still trying to piece together all of this night. The victim said two men told him they were bombing -- the victim of that carjacker -- of that carjacking.

They forced him to withdraw money from an ATM, then they let him go, or he escaped somehow at a gas station. The gas station manager who called police is talking about it.


TAREQ AHMED, GAS STATION MANAGER: In after maybe 30 seconds, I call the police. He came here. He go. He went inside in the back area and he closed the door and I -- at this moment, I call the police.

But I remember the gun. They want to shoot me. He was very, very -- he was screaming, and he was nervous.

He can take his brace so -- it is too difficult for me to tell you.


COOPER: So the alleged carjacking victim was able to get out of his own vehicle and seek safety with that convenience store operator who then dialed 911 and that's how all of this began to unravel.

Now the police were actually able narrow their search down to Watertown, to trace his vehicle, because the carjacking victim had left the cell phone in the vehicle.

And so once they dialed 911 and started talking to him, they were able to trace the vehicle through that cell phone that was still in the car.

The case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, it may seem like a slam dunk. Some experts, legal experts, are saying, not so fast, some defense attorneys, in particular.

Next we're going to talk with the attorney who represented Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh about the hurdles that prosecutors may face.


COOPER: Prosecutors are calling it of course the worst terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. The charges filed yesterday against the bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, break down the government's case really to the smallest detail. The 19-year-old is facing terrorism charges that could bring him the death penalty. The feds have plenty of evidence, a lot of it of course on tape. The question is: Is the case against Tsarnaev a slam dunk? My next guest says maybe not.

Stephen Jones represented Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. He was put to death in June of 2001.

Stephen, we appreciate you being with us. Do you think this young man can blame the whole thing on his brother? I mean, certainly from what we're understanding, Jake Tapper reporting from one government source, what he is telling authorities thus far is that it was basically it was his brother who was taking the lead on this and he was kind of following. Do you see that as part of -- ultimately what could be part of a defense strategy?

STEPHEN JONES, ATTORNEY, REPRESENTED TIMOTHY MCVEIGH: It could be part of a defense strategy. It is difficult to second guess what another lawyer may do or may not do. But certainly there are some indications, Anderson, in this case that that defense will at least be thoroughly investigated, given the disparity in ages, the fact that the older brother went to Georgia, the Caucuses, that he was of interest to the Russian security services. Those are all points that the defense will explore, not unlike the D.C. Sniper. You will recall there that the older man received the death penalty but the younger one did not. So the defense has plenty to work with here and I'm sure they will.

COOPER: Thing is, this guy, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is 19 years old. It's not like he - Lee Boyd Malvo, I can't remember how old he was, but he was certainly younger that. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is an adult. He was going to college. He's clearly gotten some level of intelligence here. So I'm not sure he can make the same kind of case that Lee Boyd Malvo could make, that he was sort of under the sway of an older person, no?

JONES: Well, that will be the fact question that both the government and the defense will look at. But the fact that he's 19 and a college student -- I've taught college before and a lot of 19-year-old college students are not very well versed in critical judgment and discernment, and there may be an issue there the defense can use.

COOPER: How else do you go about defending a case where you have multiple video images -- camera images, cell phone camera images, the FBI saying, though they haven't released it yet, they say they have an image of one of these men actually placing the backpack device?

JONES: Well, first, the public defender, the federal public defender, that is representing him has an excellent reputation. I mean federal defender service personnel and lawyers and investigators are the cream of the crop, and that's true in the New England states. So they will have the financial resources and the investigative resources to investigate all leads that might be helpful for the defendant.

And the fact of the matter is no case is a slam dunk. There's no case that can't be lost, and there's no case that can't be won. In the McVeigh case, in the Oklahoma City bombing, Mr. McVeigh was convicted and given the death penalty, but Terry Nichols was not convicted of the conspiracy. Lesser count -- he was convicted of manslaughter instead of murder and he received life in prison. That's a pretty shocking difference between the two men, so it shows that in any case where you have multiple players, there are opportunities for any good, skilled defense lawyer -- and certainly these individuals are just that -- to protect their client.

The question always is can the government convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt under the rules that the evidence is sufficient to convict? That's a high standard, and it remains to be seen whether the government can meet that standard.

COOPER: Stephen Jones, I appreciate your perspective. Thank you.

We have much more coverage from Boston ahead. We'll also look at some other stories making headlines around the United States today and around the world, including an alleged terror plot in Canada. Two suspects in court this morning. We'll take you live to Ontario right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Hey, welcome back. We are continuing our live special coverage of the Boston bombings, but we do want to turn our attention to some of the other stories making news around the world right now.

In Spain, police have arrested two suspected terrorists with apparent links to the an al Qaeda-affiliated group. They say the men are not brothers but have a similar profile that is similar to the two suspects in the Boston Marathon attacks. Exactly what that means, we don't know. There was no indication of an imminent attack, they say, but the arrest comes days before the Madrid Marathon on Sunday. About 26,000 runners expected to take part there in the race.

There was also of course a developing story out of Canada this morning, an alleged plot to attack a Canadian passenger train traveling to the United States. Now, Canadian police have two men in custody. They say the suspects had support from al Qaeda in Iran. Iran denies that al Qaeda is operating inside its borders.

Paula Newton is live in Toronto for us. Paula, these suspects were just in court in the last hour. You were in court as well. What can you tell us? What's the latest?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Really interesting morning in court. He just appealed for a bail hearing, which is really a non-issue because of the serious charges he's facing: conspiracy to commit a terror attack. He remains in custody.

It was interesting speaking to his family outside the courtroom. They would not say anything in terms of confirming where he was born or how long he had lived in Canada. They did say they have not yet had a chance to speak to him about any of the charges. And to be frank, Anderson, they looked like they were in a fairly good mood, fairly calm, and they were begin consulted by their lawyer.

Anderson, this plot, though, has concerned Canadians. They were following the two suspects for quite bit of time, several months at least, and they decided to pull the plug. Sources tell me Boston really did contribute, although I have to underscore that Boston attack had nothing to do with what's going on here. At the same time, when you've been following a plot like this for several months -- and Anderson, you and I have talked about this in relation to European plots -- they let it go and they let it go and they let it go. They want more evidence. And yet at this point in time, with everything going on, they decided it was time to finally pull the plug on what they alleged was a terror attack to attack those trains.

They're not clear if they were going U.S.-bound or Canada-bound, but definitely a link between Canada and U.S. Anderson?

COOPER: Again, there's quite a lot we don't know, Paula. But just a couple of quick details I'd like to try to get. Do we know -- was this aspirational? Did they simply want to commit some sort of act or did they actually have any kind of explosive devices, any kind of weaponry? Do we know?

NEWTON: They're in the process of still executing those search warrants. From what I understand from one police source, Anderson, they do not expect to actually find explosive devices but they don't know yet. Most of it would've been in the aspirational stages, which is why authorities tell us the attack was a real one. They believe they had the capacity to carry it out, but had not yet got to that point where they were going to try and either bomb a try or, more likely, bomb the rail tracks leading on the route.


COOPER: OK. Paula, I appreciate the update.

There are new allegations today that Syria is using chemical weapons against rebel forces. This time it's coming from Israel, the charges. A top Israeli military intelligence official says it is likely Syria used sarin gas. He made the comment at a security conference in Tel Aviv. Now, if that's true, it's certain to increase pressure on the U.S. to intervene. You may remember President Obama said Syria's use of chemical weapons would be a game-changer, would be sort of a red line. The Pentagon says they are investigating.

The bombing suspect, the younger one, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is apparently revealing new details about the bomb plot, who was involved, how it was developed, and what may have motivated his brother in the first place. We'll have the latest on what he is apparently telling investigators right after this.


COOPER: Hey, welcome back to a special edition of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Anderson Cooper reporting live from Boston. We're getting some new information in from our affiliate WMUR about the carjacking victim, the alleged carjacking victim.

This is an exclusive off camera interview that WMUR had with the alleged carjacking victim. It was off camera. The carjacking victim does not want his name used for his own safety. He said he was forced into the front passenger seat as one brother drove the vehicle. According to this alleged carjacking victim, he said, and I quote, "They asked me where I'm from. I told them I'm Chinese. I was very scared," he said. "I asked them if they were going to hurt me. They said they won't hurt me. I was thinking, 'I think they will kill me later.'"