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THE SITUATION ROOM

Standoff With Terror Suspect Unfolding; Feds Investigate Florida Teen's Death; President Obama Fires Back at Energy Critics

Aired March 21, 2012 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Lizzie O'Leary, thank you.

And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a new warning that Iran's A-team of terrorists has hundreds, maybe thousands of agents right here in the United States. This hour, the growing threat of an attack by a group considered more sophisticated than al Qaeda.

Spreading protests over the killing of an unarmed teenager in Florida and demands for the shooter's arrest. Stand by for a new interview with the parents of the teenager, Trayvon Martin.

And it's being called a historic punishment against an NFL team. The New Orleans Saints are paying a big price for rewarding players to hurt their opponents.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

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BLITZER: But first this hour, a terrifying new reason for all of us to be potentially very worried about U.S. tensions with Iran? The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, another U.S. officials, are now warning that Iran has a large terrorist train force right here in the united states right now. They say there may be hundreds, maybe even thousands of Hezbollah agents on American soil who could be ready and willing to attack.

Brian Todd has been following this hearing up on Capitol Hill. He's watching what's going on. Pretty shocking information if true, Brian. What is happening?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, very startling testimony in Congress today, Wolf. Current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials saying that many of Hezbollah's operatives have been in the U.S. for years, blending in, making a lot of money. A perfect resource for Iran if it's attacked and wants a quick counter strike on the U.S. homeland.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): It's called Iran's A-team of terrorism. Hezbollah, a militant group that's killed more Americans than any other except al Qaeda. With concerns about how Iran might retaliate if Israel bombs its nuclear installations, current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials tell Congress they've got new worries that Iran can tap into Hezbollah sympathizers and operatives who've been in the U.S. for years, lying low and have them strike on U.S. soil.

CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER ASSISTANT FBI DIRECTOR: Their sophistication, presence, and deep entrenchment in American society and business has a potential to provide a platform to support a more lethal capability that should be of concern to all Americans.

TODD: The experts told a House panel Hezbollah could have hundreds of operatives inside the U.S. in dozens of cities. They say the operatives take part in legitimate businesses but also engage in drug running, cigarette smuggling, and money laundering using fronts like restaurants. One recent case, which CNN reported on showed their sophistication.

MICHAEL BRAUN, FORMER DEA ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR: There were over 70 used car dealerships that were identified as part of the money laundering scheme for laundering the hundreds of millions of dollars of -- of cocaine generated revenue, much of which was, you know, was tracked back to Hezbollah.

TODD: These experts say if provoked, Iran and Hezbollah have the capability of hatching a plot at any moment inside the U.S. I spoke with former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes, a CNN contributor, about that.

(on-camera) That doesn't necessarily translate into an attack on the U.S. homeland, right?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Correct. It means that they could do it if they wanted to, but there's really no good reason to do it, and many reasons from their point of view not to do it.

TODD: Why not?

FUENTES: One of them is the United States is a cash cow for them. Why kill it? Why cut off the funding stream that they've gotten very good at, conducting criminal activity here, smuggling activities, other schemes and scams.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: One expert pointed out Hezbollah has never carried out an attack inside the United States, but the FBI says they have staked out potential targets in this country, Wolf. Very worrying.

BLITZER: What kind of cases have U.S. law enforcement authorities actually to name (ph) to build against these potential Hezbollah operatives in the United States?

TODD: One law enforcement official tells CNN the cases they've been able to build against them involve things like fundraising, attempts to buy weapons, but no actual plot, but still, it's really their infrastructure in the United States that scares people. They have people involved in businesses here.

Many of which seem legitimate, some that are legitimate. They're able to raise money quickly, funnel it back to Hezbollah. These are the people who they can employ to buy weapons quickly and strike, somehow, in the United States.

BLITZER: And this was a hearing that Congressman Peter King, the chairman of this committee held. And he had current officials also there?

TODD: That's right. Well, he had one, at least, one current New York Police Department counterterrorism official there and several former FBI and other officials there. It was startling testimony. These were people who have followed these cases very quickly. They know about Hezbollah and the United States.

BLITZER: This used car dealership issue is something that came up as you well remember with the alleged Iranian assassination plot of the Saudi ambassador here in Washington. The man accused of that was involved in the used car dealership.

TODD: That's right. And we reported in December, they used car dealerships. There was one criminal complaint back in December just after that plot was announced that detailed a very sophisticated operation involving drug running, the proceeds from drug running funneling through this used car dealership and funneling some of that money back to Hezbollah. The sophistication is almost breathtaking that these guys have.

BLITZER: What a story. All right. Brian, thanks very much. Stay on top of it for us, OK? Thank you.

Now to that standoff with the terror suspect that's unfolding right now. The man claims responsibility for the deadly shooting sprees in France. He's been hold up in an apartment now for more than 18 hours. He's surrounded by French police. We're learning more about him, his travels, his deadly plan to supposedly, quote, "bring France to its knees."

Let's bring in CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank. Paul, the suggestion is that this individual's actually, what? A member of al Qaeda, affiliated with al Qaeda, trained by al Qaeda, is that right?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, what he's saying, Wolf, is that he was trained by al Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, specifically in Waziristan. We've seen a number of plots against the west in recent years where that is the Najibullah Zazi plot, for example. So, it is possible that he's acting on the orders of al Qaeda.

Bin Laden, in one of the very last statements before his death, called for attacks against French troops. Well, this individual has attacked French troops in France. It's possible that he's acting on al Qaeda's orders, but it's also possible that he's trained by al Qaeda over there, wolf. BLITZER: He's supposedly a member of a group called, what, "Knights of Glory." Is that in a group of actually directly affiliated with al Qaeda? The individual name, by the way, Mohamed Merah (ph).

CRUICKSHANK: That group is more a cheerleading group for al Qaeda in France with no direct ties to the al Qaeda organization. It's been involved in demonstrations in France, in sort of flash mob events against (INAUDIBLE) or the airline.

So, it's not an organization with direct ties to al Qaeda, but it's an organization that was banned in January of this year because of its radical views and also because it was seen as encouraging individuals in France to go to Afghanistan and wage jihad, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, this shooting spree that's been going on in Toulouse, in the south of France, the killings over at a Jewish school, some French paratroopers, some soldiers who were killed. I guess, it's not exactly accurate to describe this individual as a so- called lone wolf if, in fact, he was trained in Afghanistan and is affiliated with this al Qaeda-related group.

CRUICKSHANK: Well, that's absolutely right. If he, indeed, did train with al Qaeda or if he telling the truth with regard to that, then he would not be a lone wolf terrorist. He'd be a terrorist acting on behalf of al Qaeda or encouraged by al Qaeda. We've seen a number of cases in the west of this, and there've been a significant numbers of Europeans, even Americans who've gone to the Afghanistan- Pakistan border region and received training over there.

European officials believe there are around 200 Europeans in that region right now with links to jihadist groups. So, there's still lot of concern about the danger emanating from western militants going on to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, getting training and coming back --Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Paul, hold on for a moment because Diana Magnay, our reporter, is on the scene in Toulouse right now. She's joining us on the phone. What is happening right now? Update our viewers, Diana.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, it's difficult to know exactly what is happening right now, but we have been talking to one of the Toulouse police spokesman.

He's been walking us through the steps of a raid, and he says at a nighttime operation, you know, the lights will go off, and then, police will flood the area with lights and throw in some kind of stun gun, a stun grenade, and then, move in and the lights have been off for some time now.

So, we can only assume given the extensive police operation, police activity, that the police are preparing to do something fairly soon. We know that patient has been wearing thin. The suspect had said all afternoon that he may hand himself over and that doesn't seem to have happened. And the police have said to us that, obviously, an operation like this becomes much more complicated at nightfall.

So, we're hoping to bring it to a conclusion before that, and that hasn't happened. It is their nightfall, the lights are off, and we're anticipating something at some point in the next few hours, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're seeing some flashing lights going off. These are live pictures coming into the SITUATION ROOM from Toulouse, France right now, courtesy of Reuters. And you can see in the darkness, you can see some lights going on.

Right now, we have no idea, as you pointed, out if an operation is under way, but negotiations with this individual, Mohamed Merah (ph), Diana they've been going on for, what, 18 hours, is that right?

MAGNAY: Eighteen hours, yes. An incredible amount of time. It started at 3:00 a.m. this morning with a raid with heavily-armed commandos moving in to the house with chain closely (ph) and following them with semi-automatic rifles. I think we have some amateur video from that raid. And obviously, that raid was very heavily reposed. Mohamed Merah (ph) shooting back.

He is heavily armed. Police say two policemen injured in that initial raid. And over the course of the day, they've been having, I wouldn't even call them negotiations, Wolf. I call them more discussions that the police describe the suspect was extremely determined and extremely stubborn.

He has, essentially, just been explaining to them why he did what he did, what is his associations with al Qaeda, why he object to affront his military involvement in Afghanistan, et cetera, et cetera, but he made it clear that he is not a martyr. He doesn't want to commit suicide. And it seems that he wants to raise attention to these issues and that he certainly has achieved.

Now, it seems to be a question of sitting out until either he hands himself over or the police can storm him again, but they say that he is heavily armed. They believe he has a Kalashnikov and an Uzi possibly alongside other weapons inside there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're showing our viewers, Diana, these live pictures. What is he saying? Why did he decide to go to that Jewish school in Toulouse and kill those little Jewish students and a teacher over there and why did he want to kill the French paratroopers? What was his motivation? What is he saying?

MAGNAY: Killing those children just age between three and eight, three of them, he said was to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children. And paratroopers, he said, were ready to protest against France's involvement -- military involvement in Afghanistan.

Remember those paratroopers that he killed, all of North African origin, all Muslim themselves, and perhaps, this was also a sort of indication of the treachery he felt that they were displaying by being involve in the French army. And this was something that Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, responded to at a memorial service for those paratroopers today saying, really, whatever your creed or color in this country, we are all united against this man, and it is this unity which will win against this kind of terror, Wolf.

BLITZER: And so, this situation could be coming to a head right now. We just want to point out to our viewers, these are live pictures coming in from Toulouse right now in France. Diana, hold on with me for a moment. Paul Cruickshank is still watching this situation unfold.

Paul give us -- you hear Diana's dramatic account of what's going on right now. Weigh in. Give us some perspective.

CRUICKSHANK: Well, wolf, the longer this goes on in a way that the bigger propaganda victory for al Qaeda if a terrorist group in Pakistan is, indeed, behind this, this individual, from all we're hearing is a very radicalized individual. He has no regrets right now. Just to give you an idea, the sort of thing he was doing when he returned from Pakistan to go to France, he was watching beheading videos in his apartment.

So, this is somebody who is extremely radicalized, clearly felt able to kill children, and as long as he holds out here, Wolf, he's getting more and more media attention around the world, more and more propaganda.

BLITZER: And Diana, you're there in Toulouse, right? The police want to capture him alive right now. They don't want anymore dead people to result, but you say he's heavily armed with weapons, isn't that right?

MAGNAY: That is right. Yes, he has a Kalashnikov and an Uzi with him, apparently. He also told police that there was a car loaded with weapons, told them where it was park, and indeed, there it was. We don't know if he had more weapons with him. In a strange twist today, he threw a cult pistol out of the window to police, apparently, in exchange for a telephone.

And we don't know whether it was the same weapon that was used in all three attacks over the last 10 days, but we do know from police that the weapon that was used was colt pistol in all of those attacks and was the same weapon, but he certainly knows how to use his weapons, -- sorry, killing those seven victims, wounding two policemen in the raid this morning.

And he said very sinisterly to police over the course of the day that he had intended to take more victims. That he would have gone out today and tried to target more soldiers or more policemen. That was his intention.

BLITZER: And I just want to alert our viewers in the United States and around the world, you're looking at these live pictures from Toulouse, France, the negotiations with this individual, Mohamed Merah (ph), the man who is now in self told the police he went ahead and killed those Jewish students at that Jewish school in Toulouse, France. He's acknowledged he killed the paratroopers, the French paratroopers as well.

He's holed up in an apartment building as Diana Magnay's reporting. He's well armed with Kalashnikov and an Uzi sub machine gun right. Maybe, he has other weapons as well. Diana, as we launch these live pictures and we see local law enforcement police moving. I don't know what they're getting ready to do, but it's been 18 hours since they've been negotiated with him.

We're watching all of this unfold. Is there any indication he has accomplices, any other individuals with him, or support in the local community?

MAGNAY: What we do seem -- we have been told by the prosecutor in charge of this investigation, the chief prosecutor in Paris that he was acting as a single individual in this case. They have a huge operation undergoing right now. There are about 300 police officers involved. Fifty police encircling the house over the course of the day.

And we know that they have been monitoring his every move inside that house using infrared censoring technology. So, and they know what he's doing and where he is to a certain extent. I've been talking to a lot of people on the street. A lot of residents of this fairly quiet neighborhood which is three kilometers away from this school.

A lot of members of the Muslim community who were really shocked and horrified that the killer, the serial killer who's kept on terrorized over the past ten days should be Muslim and (ph) should be a jihadist, because they say, you know, this casts (ph) such a bad light on our community and may tarnish the way we're perceived in French society. Again, something that the French president was responding to in that court for unity in the situation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Diana, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you. It looks like there are developments unfolding in Toulouse, France right now. We heard police sirens. We see movement, we see flashes of light. We'll stay on top of this story, get back to you as soon as there development. Paul Cruickshank, I want you to stand by as well.

We're watching the breaking news unfolding in Toulouse, France right now. We're also watching other important news unfolding, including President Obama. He's trying to prove his Republican opponents are all wrong when they blame him for rising gas prizes, but will big oil companies get the last word?

And newly released satellite photos are giving us unprecedented looks at Syrian forces and the government's brutal crackdown.

And the NFL sweeping punishment of the New Orleans Saints leaves the quarterback, Drew Brees, speechless.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Get right back to Jack for the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, when you think about some of the greatest dangers facing this country's national security, things like al Qaeda, China, the Taliban, ticking time bomb in Iran, these might all come to mind, but one thing that might not come to mind, at least, at first is our schools. Public education is failing to do the job of educating our kids and that poses a grave danger to the long-term security of this nation.

An independent task force launched by the Council of Foreign Relations is warning the U.S. education system is barreling toward, quote, "a national security crisis," unquote. The chairs of the report, former New York City school chancellor, Joel Klein, and Stanford professor, Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state under President George W. Bush, both say that education failures pose several threats to our national security.

These include economic growth and competitiveness, U.S. physical safety and intellectual property. Our students are not being prepared for the global workforce. The report highlights a stunning defense department statistic. Seventy-five percent of American youth don't qualify for our armed forces because of a lack of a high school diploma, obesity, or a criminal record.

Three-fourths of our kids don't qualify to get in our own military, and among those who do, 30 percent can't pass the military aptitude test. If we don't educate our young people so they can compete, we're doomed. The task force recommends something called the national security readiness audit is one way to hold schools accountable.

Not everybody agrees with this report, including some members of the task force, itself. But it's no secret that the quality of our public education has been in decline for quite some time now.

Here's the question, is the decline of American schools putting national security at risk? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. Seventy-five percent of our kids, Wolf, can't qualify to get in our armed forces.

BLITZER: It's shocking. It's horrible.

CAFFERTY: Terrible.

BLITZER: I hate that.

All right, jack. We've got a lot of work to do, all of us. Thank you.

The mother of a slain teenager in Florida talks about hearing her son's voice in a chilling 911 call. We have more backlash today against the shooter in this racially charged case.

Also, we're continuing to watch the breaking news and the standoff unfolding right now. Police are on the scene, a shooting suspect in Toulouse, France. You're looking at live pictures right now from Toulouse France. We're watching what's going on as the suspect remains inside an apartment heavily armed. It's been 18 hours of negotiations, and President Obama has called President Sarkozy of France to discuss. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now, spreading anger over the killing of an unarmed teenager by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida, but protests are set to begin in New York City at the top of the hour. The NAACP is calling for the Sanford Florida police chief to resign because the shooter has not yet been arrested.

CNN's John Zarrella is in Sanford. He's joining us right now. There's new information, John, about why the shooter in this particular case, George Zimmerman, hasn't been charged. What are you learning?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf. And what we're learning is that on the city's website today, the police chief answered questions put to him by the city manager, questions that city manager said were being commonly asked by the people. Amongst them, why wasn't George Zimmerman arrested?

And the police chief responded that under Florida law, the officers were prevented from arresting Zimmerman, because he claimed self-defense. Well, on what grounds did Zimmerman claim self-defense? Well, we're learning in this letter, in this report, this question and answer, the police chief wrote that, quote, "Zimmerman's statement was that he lost sight of Trayvon and was returning to his truck to meet the police officer when he says he was attacked by Trayvon."

Of course, that was after he placed the phone call to 911 that there was this young man in the neighborhood and that he was following Trayvon. Now, on his show "Anderson," Anderson Cooper today with two women who live in the neighborhood who witnessed what happened, and he also spoke with Trayvon's parents.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: When you both went outside, you saw George Zimmerman where and where was Trayvon Martin?

MARY, WITNESS IN FLORIDA TEEN'S DEATH: She was out the door first. When I came out the door, I saw him basically straddling him. He had, you know, feet on either side of his body and his hands, at the time I didn't know, was on his back. And --

COOPER: Trayvon was faced down.

MARY: Trayvon was faced down. Once he got off of the body, we could see that his face was down in the grass. So, at the time that he was holding his back, I didn't know if he was trying to help him or the wound or -- someone had asked him several times, three times, what's going on? Is everything OK? And each time he looked back, but he didn't say anything until the third time he just said just call the police.

COOPER: The eyewitnesses have said they believe, that some of them believe it was your son calling out for help. No one saw him directly doing it or saw -- could say 100 percent for sure. You've heard the 911 call where you hear somebody calling out help. Do you believe that is your son's voice?

SYBRINA FULTON, SLAIN TEEN'S MOM: Yes, I do. I believe that's Trayvon Martin. That's my baby's voice. Every mother knows their child and that's his voice.

COOPER: And the fact that -- if that's true and he called out for help, what does that tell you?

TRACY MARTIN, SLAIN TEEN'S FATHER: He was afraid for his life. He saw his death coming. He saw his death coming. The screams got more franticker, and at that -- at that second that we heard the shot, the screams just completely stopped. He saw his death. He was pleading for his life.

COOPER: So you were saying if it was Zimmerman who was screaming for help that might have continued after the shot, but the fact that after the shot there was no more screaming for help.

MARTIN: No more screaming whatsoever and it went completely silent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now behind me here at city hall, a special meeting going on in city council. They're discussing moving next week's regularly scheduled city council meeting to the convention center which seats 600 people because they expect they will have a huge crowd there to hear what's being discussed, to hear what's happening, what the latest is, what's going to be done and they think they need that larger venue, because they expect, Wolf, all 600 seats will be filled -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John Zarrella on the scene. We'll stay in close touch with you.

I want to dig deeper right now with our legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Sunny Hostin.

Sunny, you're in New York and you had a chance to meet with Trayvon's parents today. What was your impression?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I felt, Wolf, that they were so strong in the face of this tragedy, and in particular his mother is doing as best she can. She really is just holding on and what struck me is that both parents told me that they don't want retribution. They're not looking for an eye for an eye. They're just looking for justice. They're looking for an arrest. So a very strong family who I think kudos really goes out to them because they have had to become their own investigative team in trying to bring this story to us all.

BLITZER: And you also met with two of these eyewitnesses. What was your impression on what they said to you?

HOSTIN: You know, I thought that it was remarkable that they are saying the same thing over and over again, and in particular, they felt that they were being sort of misquoted by the police. Mary, in particular, told me, Wolf, that she called the investigators over and over and over again and left a message for the chief investigator in this case and that her call was not returned.

And so she has been very forthcoming and sort of wanting to give her story, wanting to tell the officers what she saw, and she felt that she didn't get much of a response from law enforcement in Florida.

BLITZER: Well, this is what I don't understand, Sunny. You have eyewitnesses and the Sanford Police Department, they're not questioning them in depth on a case of this magnitude, the life of an individual involved?

HOSTIN: It is remarkable, and as a former prosecutor, Wolf, you know, I've handled investigations and this is just odd that in a shooting death of an unarmed teenager that leads don't appear to have been followed. My understanding is that the girl that was speaking to Trayvon Martin on the phone for minutes during this altercation has not yet been interviewed by the police.

That is what the Martin family attorney told me. I thought that was remarkable. I think it's also remarkable that their attorney told me that George Zimmerman was not tested for drug and alcohol. That he was allowed to leave the police station, Wolf, with the very clothes on that he had that night. So any forensic evidence that may have been on his clothing to help or harm him, in fact, is just not there any longer.

So this, in my view, as a former prosecutor just doesn't seem to have been investigated in the way that a shooting death of an unarmed individual would be investigated. I think what's also remarkable is that the police, as John just mentioned, said that they were prohibited from making an arrest.

Well, that just doesn't sound right because the standard is probable cause, the police would have to make the determination as to whether or not probable cause existed to arrest. So for them to say that they were prohibited by law, I think, is pretty disingenuous especially in the face of all this new evidence that has come forth.

BLITZER: Yes, it sounds at least on the surface that there's no investigation, no serious investigation by the Sanford Police Department. So it's fully understandable why the Justice Department in Washington is now getting involved, other grand juries are getting involved. I don't understand where the local police have been over these past several days, this case causing outrage not only across the United States, but indeed around the world.

Sunny, stay in close touch with us. We're going to stay on top of this story. Appreciate it very much.

HOSTIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: So when you pay money to hurt other players you pay a heavy price. That's the message the NFL wants you to know. We have details of a huge penalty that's been announced today.

And we're still watching that standoff between police and the shooting suspect in Toulouse, France. We're going to go back there live. You're looking at these live pictures. There are developments unfolding right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama is putting a spotlight on his energy policy today as his Republican opponents try to blame him for the high gas prices.

Our White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is traveling with the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama took his energy message to the middle of nowhere.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Long as I'm president we're going to develop every available source of energy. That is a promise that I'm making to you.

KEILAR: Boulder City, Nevada, where one of the nation's largest solar plants produces enough power for 17,000 homes. As Americans feel the pain at the pump, the president is highlighting what he describes as his all-of-the-above energy strategy.

OBAMA: The strategy that relies on producing more oil and gas here in America, but also more biofuels, more fuel-efficient cars, more wind power, and as you can see, a whole lot more solar power.

KEILAR: It's a whirlwind two-day energy tour. In Nevada he made the case for his focus on renewable energy. Next stop, Maljamar, New Mexico, at an oilfield on federal land. Thursday it's onto Cushing, Oklahoma, the plant site for the beginning of the southern segment of the controversial Keystone Excel Pipeline. And Ohio State University, a leader in energy-related technology.

Of course, it can't escape notice that three of the president's four stops are in battleground states as he faces Republican attacks over gas prices.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He has an energy policy that's very simple. You can sum it up in two letters. N-O.

KEILAR: The president is deflecting some of that criticism on oil speculators and oil and gas companies.

OBAMA: We have subsidized oil companies for a century. We want to encourage production of oil and gas and make sure that wherever we've got American resources we are tapping into them, but they don't need an additional incentive when gas is $3.75 a gallon.

KEILAR: But big oil is firing back.

JACK GERARD, CEO, AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE: For him to go to Oklahoma, a state not only no one believes he will win in the presidential race is a clear signal he's trying to a sure the American people that he is doing what he can for energy production. Unfortunately, the facts don't add up in his favor.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: The headline for the president's trip to Oklahoma tomorrow will be that he will be using executive action to expedite infrastructure projects like oil pipelines and specifically, Wolf, and most importantly something we broke here on CNN yesterday, he'll be telling federal agencies that they should be putting the southern segment of that Keystone Excel Pipeline that begins in Cushing, Oklahoma, where he's going on the top of that list -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, we'll stay in close touch with you, as well.

Brianna Keilar is one of our White House correspondent.

It's one of the harshest penalties ever doled out in the NFL. You're going to see why one sports analyst is calling what happened in the New Orleans Saints historic and not in a good way.

And a standoff under way right now with a suspected terrorist. You're looking at live pictures. We'll update you on what's going on. We're going there live. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I want to go right back to Toulouse, France. There's an unfolding standoff with a shooting suspect who kills seven people, four in a Jewish school, three French paratroopers.

Our own Diana Magnay is on the phone right now.

Diana, we're looking at live pictures from the scene. It's obviously the middle of the night and getting late over there right now. The negotiations with the suspect in this apartment, they've been going on for more than 18 hour, but as you point out, he's well armed. What do we know right now? What's the latest?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, we're still anticipating some kind of raid in the coming hours. The lights have gone off in the neighborhood which is always a precursor, apparently, the police tell us, to a nighttime raid. We are also hearing that the electricity -- the electricity is being turned off, some of the Internet connections and the gas has been turned off to the various homes surrounding the apartment where Mohammed is based. That is just to prevent any kind of explosion that he might initiate.

We also don't know if he has explosives in the house himself. The police have obviously been trying to get him to come out and surrender himself but at various points over the course of the day he said that he would, but that is not apparently what he has decided to do, but we do know that he said that he is not a martyr. He doesn't want to kill himself. He's not on some kind of a suicide mission despite the fact that he is a self-proclaimed al Qaeda affiliate.

So we wait to see how the police are going to respond obviously in the raid that happens when this whole thing commenced at 3:00 a.m. this morning, two policemen were injured when the suspects returned fire on them or fired at them, in fact, not seriously, but they were injured and that is why the police are treating this whole operation with the utmost caution, but there are hundreds of police here, anti- terror commando squads ready to go in, and we don't even know if possibly the operation is under way.

You know, the police are managing the press in in very carefully managed positions so that we don't really have much of a viewpoint on the house itself. All we can see at the moment is that there is darkness in the area where he is holed up in his apartment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll stay in very close touch with you, Diana. Thanks very, very much.

I want to just point out President Obama called President Sarkozy of France from aboard Air Force One just a little while ago. The statement the White House released, among other things, saying, President Obama underscored the American people stand shoulder to shoulder with our French allies and friends in this trying name.

The suspect, Mohammed Merah, 23 years old.

We'll keep monitoring the story and bring you updates as they become available.

Also it's no surprise the New Orleans Saints are being punished. Players on the team actually profited from injuring people, but the scope of the punishment is unlike any the NFL has ever seen. Stand by for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: When we first learned that the New Orleans Saints players were being paid to injure other players, we knew the league would come down hard. But the penalties the NFL is handing down to the Saints organization are unprecedented.

Let's bring in CNN's Ed Lavandera.

Ed, explain the punishment.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this punishment that's been handed down by the NFL against the New Orleans Saints is severe. Historic in many ways. And it will affect the team for many years to come. Essentially the New Orleans Saints for this bounty program, as the NFL called it, where they were paying -- some players were paid up to $1500 to knock opposing players out of the game. The Saints have been fined half a million dollars and also lost their second-round picks in 2012 and 2013 NFL draft. The head coach, a beloved figure here in the city of New Orleans, Sean Payton, is suspended for the upcoming season, the entire season. The team's general manager, Mickey Loomis, suspended for half the season. And the man at the center of all this, the former defensive coordinator, Greg Williams, and also the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams now -- he left the Saints after this past season -- is suspended indefinitely.

Now the commissioner did not announced the penalties and the punishment for the players involved in this scandal. He said he's waiting to hear back from the players union to talk with them about it and then those punishments will be decided.

But Greg Williams issuing a statement just a short while ago, saying that he is apologizes again for his involvement as it is, quote, "not a true reflection of my values as a father or a coach nor is it reflective of the great respect I have for this game and its core principle of sportsmanship."

Wolf, a scandal that has shocked here this city of New Orleans -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All of us NFL fans shocked indeed.

Ed, thanks very much.

Let's go back to Jack for the "Cafferty File." Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know they hurt the city of New Orleans doing that stuff.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: The city had rallied around that football team as a sign of something positive after Katrina. And now they've gone and disappointed everybody. Shame on them.

The question this hour, is the decline of American schools putting national security at risk? Brian from San Diego writes, "It puts everything at risk. We're already seeing the consequences of uneducated voters and the people they elect. Now imagine that same level of knowledge applied to everything we do."

Ash writes, "It's almost certainly a threat. Where do we stand when we lack the intelligent workforce to lead us through new breakthroughs in science and technology? There is also the concern of the dumbing down of our general public who too quickly believe anything said offhand by politicians or on the news with little or no fact-checking. We are an entertainment society now and it'll be the end of us if we don't make some changes."

Ted writes, "I'm sorry but I'm sure I heard the president say that union teachers are the best in the world. This is what happens when you can't fire bad teachers because of union protection." Jim in California writes, "We are living the consequences of No Child Left Behind."

Steve in Philadelphia, "The decline in American schools is putting much more than our national security at risk. It puts our entire way of life at risk. Imagine a whole generation of uneducated, unmotivated, underclass citizens who never understood freedom or the liberty or the rewards that both can reap."

Tom in Texas writes, "The education system was put on the back burner a number of presidents ago. Rick Perry wasn't aware that there were nine Supreme Court justices. He wanted to be in charge of national security and abolish the Department of Education. That is a glaring failure."

And Mark in Oklahoma, of course, Jack, you see a bunch of fat, lazy slobs who grow up with no sense of duty to country defending us one day? I sure don't. All most kids want today are expensive tennis shoes, the latest filthy rap CD and to plan their next party."

You want to read more about this, go to the blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack. Thank you.

There are some new images that you can never get out of your mind. These two firemen putting out a fire in dresses may be one of them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Bad timing for two firemen in Minnesota. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you think fighting a car fire could be a drag, imagine fighting a car fire in drag. Two burly firefighters in gowns, Ted Aubart is in the pink.

(On camera): Did you realize you were fighting a fire in a dress?

TED AUBART, FIREFIGHTER: It kind of dawned on me when we were in the middle of fighting it.

MOOS (voice-over): And when did it dawn on Ben Terhaar wearing the green gown?

BEN TERHAAR, FIREFIGHTER: I remember looking over to my right and seeing people with cell phones up to their face. And I thought, oh, my gosh.

MOOS: But the firefighters didn't have much choice. The Sedan, Minnesota, volunteer firefighter department had a float in the St. Patrick's Day parade in a nearby town. The firefighters dressed up to promote a beauty pageant they hold every year as a fundraiser but when a pickup truck caught fire, they leaped into action, even if it meant fighting not just fire but falling straps on Ted's gown.

As for Ben --

(On camera): You didn't have trouble with your straps?

TERHAAR: That's because I didn't have any.

MOOS (voice-over): He wore a strapless accessorized with the hose.

AUBART: He did a great job handling the hose in his pretty green dress.

MOOS: Fire chief Barry Bouwman has a name for his men.

BARRY BOUWMAN, FIRE CHIEF: I call them my girls now.

MOOS (on camera): They may look like the RuPauls of firefighters but they managed to put out the blaze in just a couple of minutes.

(Voice-over): And the chief points out that though they lack normal protective gear, the firefighters played it safe and stayed focus.

BOUWMAN: These guys could stand out there in underwear and wouldn't care, they are that way.

MOOS: Though some angles were less than flattering, still --

(On camera): Well, you looked very pretty. You're the prettiest firemen I ever saw.

(LAUGHTER)

(Voice-over): But one burning question remains.

(On camera): Gentlemen, who were you wearing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm pretty sure that they got them from JC Penney.

MOOS (voice-over): Now that's hot. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Dedicated firemen indeed. Thanks, Jeanne.

And thanks to our viewers for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.