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tv   NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt  NBC  March 23, 2016 2:07am-2:37am EDT

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airports here at home. the world tonight standing in solidarity with belgium. "nbc nightly news" begins right now. >> announcer: brussels terror attacks. this is "nbc nightly news" with lester holt. good evening. shock and horror but sadly no surprise. belgium, which for four months has been living on edge and braced for attacks, took two devastating hits today, claimed to be the work of isis. at least 31 people are dead and nearly 190 others are injured, including some americans after suicide bombers struck during the morning rush. two explosions in the departure hall at brussels airport, followed by another deadly blast at a busy subway which commuters escaped the carnage by evacuating through a dark smokey tunnel. child screams of fear. the world today once again haunted by images of stunned and bloodied survivors from another brazen
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manhunt is under way as a chilling photo captures the suspected attackers just moments before they struck, including the one who apparently survived and may be on the loose tonight. we have expanded coverage of the attacks starting in brussels with nbc's bill neely. >> reporter: terror in the airport terminal. it's 8:00 this morning, moments after an explosion. a stroller lies abandoned. ground. a survivor says stay down. >> reporter: through the smoke a woman cowers clutching a child. someone cries help me. >> someone help me. >> reporter: and then survivors begin running past the bodies and the injured. some in shock. another calling with news that she's alive. minutes after the first bomb, another explosion near an airport starbucks and hundreds are running for their lives. others fled to the tarmac and safety. there was no safety
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the first explosion, ceiling tiles falling, dozens injured and at least 11 dead, and it wasn't over. another bomber was about to strike in the very heart of brussels near the european union's headquarters. ten after 9:00 and deep underground a massacre in the brussels metro. a bomb has just exploded. dozens flee through the darkness. it's terrifying. they left behind a mangled train car, at least 20 dead, horror on the morning commute. many of those on the train and at the station here have been reading about the first attack at the airport on their phones when the bomb here went off. an american on the next train felt the impact. >> we felt a little gust of win. my ears popped, and we heard some thudding. >> reporter: isis claimed the attacks. police believe these are the airport killers, wheeling bombs in suitcases.
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the third man in the light jacket is on the run. as night fell police raided a brussels apartment. police helicopters are in the air. their search for one of the two terror suspects has now narrowed to this street with police snipers and ambulances also standing by. they found explosives, an isis flag and bomb-making material but no suspect. belgium's prime minister called this a dark day, and all day president obama has been kept briefed. more than 200 were injured, many by shrapnel. this nail is in a man's chest. at least four americans were wounded. three are mormon missionaries in the hospital with shrapnel wounds and burns. one had also been a block away from the boston marathon bombing. a couple from kentucky are still missing tonight. today's attacks come just four days after
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of the paris massacre suspect salam abdeslam. and so many questions here tonight, lester. how big is this new terror cell, and who exactly is on the loose? belgian tv reporting tonight that a cab driver told police he dropped off three men at the airport who had great difficulty getting heavy bags out of his car. he told police and then led them to the house where the police found those explosive materials tonight. lester? >> bill. you showed us that photo of the airport attackers. now an all-out manhunt is under way for a suspect spotted on that surveillance photo at the airport along with two men believed to be the pair of suicide bombers who struck that location. authorities are digging for whatever possible terror connections they may have. nbc news chief foreign correspondent richard engel tells us more. >> reporter: these are the men belgian prosecutors say who were responsible for today's atrocities at the brussels airport.
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probably blew themselves up with suitcase bombs soon after this image was recorded. both are wearing gloves on their left hands, and this man in the hat is the target of an urgent manhunt. now nbc news is learning about a new warning, that an isis terror wave could be coming soon. a senior u.s. counterterrorism official told nbc news brussels was likely just the beginning. u.s. intelligence officials say that their working assumption is that today's attacks were carried out by the same isis network behind a coordinated attacks in paris last november. and the attack on a french train foiled when off-duty u.s. servicemen tackled the gunmen. they also said that today's atrocities in the planning stages for some time may have been thrown into high gear by the arrest last week of this man, salam abdeslam, one of the accused paris bombers who was hiding out in belgium. tonight, belgian authorities say abdeslam is
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interrogators and so his former colleagues may have wanted to strike before they got pulled in. but the real shock today is just how predictable it all is. >> this is where intelligence meets up with law enforcement. they don't have the quantity of resources that we have in the united states. >> reporter: thousands of europeans have traveled to fight with isis in syria and iraq and hundreds have returned. european security agencies have thousands on watch lists. isis members' names are even listed in documents, allegedly stolen by an isis defector. how big of a problem is isis in europe? >> it's a very big problem. clearly there's a strategy campaign going on right now. >> reporter: abdeslam was caught in the very brussels neighborhood where the paris attack was planned just a few doors from his home. yet it took police four months to find him, and after today's horror the question is how many more terrorists are ready to strike? >> richard, you've laid how the what they have been through the last four months. there's been a sense
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the u.s. intelligence had some prior warning that something was about to happen? >> yes. a senior u.s. intelligence source told me that the american intelligence community three to four weeks ago based on chatter that they were receiving, which is communications that are intercepted, they believed that there was going to be an imminent attack somewhere in europe. unfortunately, the intelligence wasn't more specific than that. the source said all the americans could do was pass that information on, and what they are now trying to figure out is what happened today, was that the attack that they had been expecting, or is there still one to come? >> and that's the frustrating part. no specifics, only the hint of something to come. richard engel, thank you. now to our exclusive eyewitness accounts from inside the brussels airport of the exact moment the bombs went off. an american couple who in a split second found themselves first ducking for cover and then running for their lives. nbc's kelly cobiella has their harrowing
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>> reporter: a packed departure hall and then suddenly smoke, debris and screams. in the middle of it, american jeff off >> there was dust, and there was debris, and there was this smell. >> reporter: hoffman, a consultant for nato living in brussels, was dropping off his girlfriend shareen naragi for a trip home to the u.s., bag tags printed, luggage paid for and then the blast. >> first one was screaming. >> reporter: jeff felt the shock wave and pushed shareen under a ticket counter and explosion. >> second one was dead silence. my thought at the time was that's one, that's two, three's coming, given what we know about what happened in paris, i thought there's a good chance i'm going to start hearing rifle fire. >> reporter: he saw a single soldier and made a run for the door. shareen behind him. debris on the ground what you're seeing were people kind of lying and not moving. >> it's a tragedy, the
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destruction. that i wouldn't wish on anybody to see. >> reporter: jeff's brother-in-law survived 9/11. jeff was in brussels for the lockdown after the paris attacks. in istanbul a week before a suicide bomber killed tourists in january, and now this. >> i lived. shareen lived, but i saw people coming out who either were not going to live or were going to be in a remarkable amount of pain. those people are going to have their lives forever altered and in some cases i'm sure there are loved ones that left this morning and are not coming home tonight. >> reporter: kelly cobiella, nbc news, brussels, belgium. and we all feel a sense of vulnerability after these sorts of attacks, and airport security here at home is being examined but through a different lens after the brussels attack happening in the ticketing check-in area, a part of the airport where the public and their belongings are not normally screened. meantime, homeland security is planning closer scrutiny of belgian passports while it's also
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police departments to strengthen the security posture at airports. nbc's tom costello with late details now. >> reporter: at airports across the country, the morning rush brought beefed-up visible security. the tsa screens nearly 2 million passengers a day at 440 airports nationwide. at newark airport the port authority's heavily armed tactical unit in a show of force through the terminal. in miami, dog teams and swath officers set up roving checkpoints with a group of belgians preparing to fly home. >> want to go on a trip but we're scared. we said to each other this is the last time we're leaving home. >> reporter: also in miami, another belgian on his way to nicaragua for his wedding. >> i think fear and being afraid would be the worst response because i think that would give into what terrorists actually want. >> reporter: overseas u.s.-bound flights are getting added scrutiny at those airports. from charles de gaulle in paris to germany's frankfurt mein. terrorists have repeatedly demonstrated aviation
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target from the shoe bomb attack, to the underwear bomb, the multi-atlantic transatlantic bomb plot and the printer cartridge bomb plot. 250,000 people fly into the u.s. from foreign airports every day. former tsa chief john pistole. >> the evidence has always been as evidenced by the christmas day bomber and richard reid, the shoe bomber and other plots that foreign airports are perhaps not as security as u.s. airports. >> reporter: u.s. veteran security experts say the airports are most vulnerable between curbside check-in and the tsa checkpoint, exactly where the brussels airport bombers struck. >> you just don't have enough military or police in these areas to really show -- to show a deterrent show force on a 24/7 basis. >> reporter: by a strange coincidence, the current tsa chief admiral peter nepinger was in brussels meeting with the european counterparts when the attack happened. homeland security is once again today
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the airport who works here or travels through an airport, if you see something that's out of the ordinary, say something. lester? >> always good advice. tom costello, thank you. let's bring in michael leiter, former director of the national counterterrorism center and now executive vice president of lidos which does national security work for the government. michael, what's your take and what we're witnessing today and the impact going forward? >> lester, i think what is so remarkable here is that we had the attack in pair its, the arrest three days ago and officials were still not able to disrupt this cell. that tells us that the network is more sophisticated and likely communicating in ways that are making it possibly immune and in a very, very dangerous sense, so what that consequence is i think is really telling for europe, and i think we will see over the coming weeks a change in europe politically to tighten borders in that they really need to now create a more
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system that currently does not exist across the continent. >> appreciate the analysis. still ahead, president obama facing criticism for his response to the brussels attack. why his day at the ballpark in cuba with raul castro is rubbing some the wrong way. also, the fiery
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attacks from the the attacks in brussels rocketed across this country moments after they occurred, including the campaign trail.
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weighing in with very different reactions, and president obama in cuba vowing to fight terrorism but not changing his plans today, something that's not sitting too well with some. we have all the political fallout coverage starting with nbc's andrea mitchell. >> reporter: on a day of anxiety and fear in europe, the president did not change his schedule. rapping up his cuba trip by joining raul castro as tampa bay challenged cuba's national team. before the first pitch, a moment of silence for brussels. president obama said he never thought of not going. >> you want to be respectful and understand the gravity of the situation, but the whole premise of terrorism is to try to disrupt people's ordinary lives. >> reporter: at the game, obama and castro, despite their differences, just two fans sharing a national pastime, almost catching a wave. in the stands of
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winfield, derek jeter, plus key players on the national security roster, a starkly different setting this morning at the u.s. ambassador's residence, a secure call to belgium's prime minister. >> this is yet another reminder that the world must unite. >> reporter: and this from the first lady. >> we are outraged and heartbroken over the horrific attacks today in belgium. >> reporter: tonight raul castro saw the obamas off at the airport, the president sticking to his scheduled next stop, a state visit in argentina. andrea mitchell, nbc news, havana. >> reporter: i'm hallie jackson, the images from brussels, like paris and san bernardino before, now bringing into focus the dramatic differences between the party's front-runners. >> i would close up our borders to people until we figure out what is going on. >> i think there are a lot of things we have to do to intensify our efforts. i think closing our borders is not one of them. >> reporter: for hillary clinton, a chance to prove her national security credentials.
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opportunity to seem more presidential one day after calling for controversial cuts to nato based in brussels. >> puts a huge amount of uncertainty into the system and at exactly the moment where we need intensified cooperation. >> reporter: trump, hoping to project strength, even where his opponents see weakness like ted cruz, taking his own hardline stance, a striking one, demanding police patrol and, quote, secure neighborhoods of american muslims. >> anywhere where there's a locust of radicalization, where there's an expanding presence of radical islamic terrorism, we need law enforcement resources directed there. >> reporter: cruz's rivals taking aim. >> somehow because you happen to be of another religion that somehow you have evil intent is just irresponsible in my opinion. >> that would be unconstitutional. it would be wrong. >> reporter: but trump agreeing with his closest competitor. >> i would support that, yes, 100%.
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to the front of this presidential race. hallie jackson, nbc news, new york.
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we'll have more on the brussels terror attack in just a moment but first some of the day's other news. rob ford, the former toronto mayor whose misconduct made him internationally famous has died. he was battling a rare aggressive form of cancer. ford scandal plagued time in office made headlines, including in 2013 when he admitted smoking crack office. his re-election bid was cut short when he cancer. instead, he ran for his old city council seat and won in a landslide. ford was 46. campaign trail and the race for president. both donald trump and hillary clinton helped to expand their leads tonight as three states in the west hold contests. democrats and republicans are voting in both the arizona primary and the utah caucuses, and the democrats have another battle tonight in the
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enormous interna here at home and around the world in french, in fremish and england and dozens of languages and sometimes just in colors people are standing in solidarity with the people of brussels tonight as nbc's anne thompson showed us. >> reporter: belgium
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two >> reporter: couldn't control her grief. when words fail, images help. the black, yellow and red of the belgian flag lit the eiffel tower. rome's trevi fountain, the brandenburg gate of berlin and even the world's tallest building in due buy, a muslim city. flags flew at half staff over britain's downing street and 1600 pennsylvania avenue. social media wrapped itself in the belgian tri-color, too. the french newspaper "le monde" tweeting a poignant show of empathy to its neighbor and others using a comic book legend tin tin to show their support. support and determination in brussels. why do we have to stay inside, asked this man? then these guys have won. today simple things are acts of defiance as the world now tries to help belgium mend its heart. anne thompson, nbc news, new york.
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for us on a tuesday night. a program note. my colleague matt lauer reports live from brussels tomorrow morning on "today." i'll see you there from tomorrow night as well. stay tuned now on many of these nbc stations for a second half hour of "nightly news." i'm lester holt. for all of us at nbc news, thank you for
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