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THE SITUATION ROOM
Worldwide Alert; Sources: Al Qaeda in Yemen Planning Attack
Aired August 2, 2013 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington, and this is a CNN SITUATION ROOM special report, "Worldwide Alert."
The breaking news this hour, we have new information about why the United States is closing embassies and consulates and warning all American travelers around the world to beware of a possible terror attack. An al Qaeda plot may be in the final stages, U.S. officials say. Our national security insiders will assess the Obama team's response and put this potential threat in perspective.
We're also taking a closer look at al Qaeda's strength right now and why terrorists may believe the timing is right to strike.
The breaking news right now, U.S. citizens worldwide, they are under a travel alert for potential terror attacks. The State Department here in Washington is warning that al Qaeda and its affiliates may be plotting to strike between now and the end of the month. This comes after an extraordinary move; 21 U.S. embassies and consulates have been ordered to close on Sunday as a precaution. Most of them are in the Middle East and North Africa, regions specially mentioned in this new travel alert as potential al Qaeda targets.
Let's begin our special coverage this hour with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
Barbara, what are you learning about the seriousness of this threat?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a number of U.S. officials are telling CNN this is more, much more, than the usual terrorist chatter.
STARR (voice-over): Fresh intelligence on al Qaeda here in Yemen led the U.S. to conclude operatives were in the final stages of planning an attack against U.S. and Western targets, according to several U.S. officials, one official telling CNN -- quote -- "It all leads us to believe something could happen in the near future."
The chatter among operatives belonging to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, had gone on for weeks, but increased in the last few days. After that and being alerted also by Yemeni officials, the U.S. took the extraordinary step of shutting down embassies across the region and issuing a traveler's warning.
Although a specific target is uncertain, U.S. officials are deeply worried about an attack against the U.S. Embassy in Yemen through next Tuesday. One reason? The holy days ending the Islamic month of Ramadan are approaching, a time of potential tension.
President Obama Thursday praised the president of Yemen at the White House for cracking down on al Qaeda, but experts say AQAP is actually gaining strength and power across the region.
SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: There are indications from the last week or two that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of al Qaeda core in Pakistan, has appointed Nasir al Wuhayshi, the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as his overall general manager, which is unprecedented because he is living in Yemen. He is not living in Pakistan.
STARR: Now, facing the link between al-Zawahiri, the successor to Osama bin Laden, and the Yemenis, the U.S. may be taken a cautious but necessary approach.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: In May, there was a plot broken up against the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. In November of last year, there was a plot against the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan. It's not just Benghazi. There's been a sort of increased threat against U.S. interests in the Middle East. This is very much Ayman al-Zawahiri's strategy.
STARR: Now, look, Wolf, as you would expect with the intelligence services, there are some internal disagreements over things like the credibility, the timing, the specificity of the threats, and certainly there are also questions already being raised around Washington, is some of this because of what happened in Benghazi when the U.S. didn't see the threat coming, Wolf?
BLITZER: Lots of questions. Let's see if we can get some answers. Barbara, thanks very much.
The more evidence coming in of terror fears in Yemen is emerging, Britain, for example, now warning its citizens to leave that country, and it's closing its embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, on Sunday and Monday.
CNN has also learned that security has been greatly tightened in Yemen's major cities outside of the capital of Sanaa.
Let's bring in our national security analyst, Fran Townsend. She's a member of the CIA's External Advisory Committee. Also joining us, our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, a former assistant director of the FBI.
Peter King, Fran, told me in the last hour, he's the chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence of the House Homeland Security Committee, that this was the worst kind of chatter or so, worst kind of information he's seen in some 10 years leading up to a potential plot. What do you make of this?
FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, typically, you know, you don't see this sort of reaction if it's just an increase in the volume of chatter.
What we're hearing again and again and Congressman King's remarks to you suggest is that they hear information, they hear talk that relates to a plot. They just don't know where it is, right? So you may hear about an explosive or an attack getting ready to be launched and not understand where it is. And I suspect that's why you're seeing the broad reaction of the closure of embassies. They have real credibility in the source that they have gotten this information from.
We don't know what that is, but they believe it is credible, and it is specific that something is going to happen and they don't know where.
BLITZER: The location, that's a big issue. They do think something potentially could happen in the next few days, Tom, but they don't know where.
When was the last time in your experience -- and you have been in law enforcement for a long time -- that the U.S. shuts down 21 embassies and consulates and issues this month-long worldwide terror alert?
TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think, Wolf, this is the first time this many facilities have been closed down, but we have had some of these type of threats based on chatter before where Americans were warned if they're traveling around the world to be cautious.
I think that shall -- and I hate to be a naysayer to all when everybody is hyperventilating over the imminent threat -- but what do you do? They put this out to Americans traveling around the world. We shut 21 embassies and consulates down. What about all the Americans that are in hotels all over the world? What about all the Americans that are attending universities? What about the tourists that are still on summer vacation traveling around? What do they do?
We close an embassy and it's only for one day, how do they know it only needs to be for one day? There's just so many aspects of this that I wonder about and wonder about whether the threat warnings really there's anything you can really do with it that makes sense.
BLITZER: Because I read, and I'm sure you have as well, the United States Department of State travel alert worldwide. That shows it right here, worldwide, and it says that terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests.
If there's concern though, Tom, that American citizens traveling around the world potentially could be in danger, isn't it the responsibility of the U.S. government to let them know?
FUENTES: You're right, it is, and I'm in that database system so I get those e-mails all the time traveling around the world saying beware, beware, beware.
What I'm saying is they come out so frequently and so broadly that it really makes it hard for to do anything specific. Do you cancel your trip? Do you not take the flights you were going to take? Do you not stay in the hotel you were going to stay in? What do you do...
BLITZER: Let's ask, Fran.
What do you do, Fran? People are watching us here in the United States and around the world. I'm sure in Europe and in Asia, a lot of tourists out there wondering what should they do?
TOWNSEND: Absolutely, Wolf. I myself just returned to the United States from Africa yesterday.
So what all Americans traveling abroad should do is take the opportunity, get access to a computer, and register for the smart traveler enrollment program. STEP is the acronym. You can do it online. You want to let the American Embassy know that you're in the country, what your contact information is, and how long you plan to stay there. So in the event that there's an incident and the United States government is working to evacuate Americans, they know where to find you, they can get you, and they can give you assistance.
And other than that, Wolf, you really have to be alert, have a communications plan among your traveling party so you can contact each other. I mean, sort of the smart things you would ordinarily do, enroll in the smart traveler program and then be alert to your surroundings mostly.
BLITZER: We have to wrap this part of the conversation up.
But, Tom, I have spoken to Republicans and Democrats, supporters of the Obama administration, critics of the Obama administration, but in the last few hours as I have been trying to get a sense is this overblown, are we overhyping this threat, is it real, is it not real, there seems to be a consensus this is pretty specific and pretty credible.
FUENTES: No, I have heard that. I have heard the members of Congress and the officials from the White House putting out that warning, the State Department obviously. So I know they're putting it out.
My personal question -- really, this is my personal opinion only -- is that when you put a threat out so broadly worldwide or you shut 21 embassies down, why didn't you shut 22? When you're worried about embassies in North Africa and the Middle East, al Qaeda sympathizers are all over the world, they're all over Europe, they're in the United States as evidenced by our Boston bombing on April 15, so how do you single out that if you have an exact date and somebody is going to do something big on this Sunday or shortly after this Sunday, how do you determine then how to narrow where it's going to occur so that it becomes useful information?
And how long will these embassies be closed and why were they picked?
BLITZER: We don't know what the actual chatter, what information the U.S. picked up in some sort of way, but I assume the information they picked up would result in these 21 diplomatic outposts being shut down.
FUENTES: Normally there's chatter every day and a lot of chatter. Then when it's relative to an anniversary of some kind or another, it takes on greater significance.
We see now whether it was the anniversary of 9/11 on its 10th anniversary or other major events, then the normal chatter becomes increased or appears to be increased because of a heightened concern over it. My concern is if the chatter is so specific and if the chatter is so strong, we should be able to go eliminate the source of that chatter and eliminate the attack plan.
BLITZER: And I think it's also probably related to the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is Sunday as well. We will continue to cover this.
Tom, don't go too far away. Fran, don't go too far away either.
Up next, we will take you to one of the U.S. embassies that is now shutting down. Its walls have been vulnerable to security breaches before.
BLITZER: The new worldwide travel alert from the State Department here in Washington warning that al Qaeda may be focusing its effort to launch terror attacks between now and the end of August.
We're entering, U.S. officials say, a potentially dangerous window of time as the holy month of Ramadan nears an end. Wednesday marks the 15th anniversary also of the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Hundreds of people were killed in the simultaneous truck bombings. It also marked the first time many Americans ever heard the name Osama bin Laden.
Of course, September 11 is a critical date not only for the 2001 attacks on America, but also the deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, one year ago.
The State Department says it's closing 21 U.S. embassies and consulates on Sunday out of an abundance of caution. One official telling us the shutdown could be extended beyond Sunday.
Here is our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon. She's outside the American Embassy in Cairo.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Behind this wall is one of the roads that leads to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Normally, the embassy would have been open on a Sunday. It is a working day here. It will, however, be closed because of those security concerns.
In the past, there have been demonstrations here. There have been mobs, angry mobs, who have gathered trying to attack the embassy. September 11 of last year, for example, an incensed crowd, angered over the film that insulted Prophet Mohammed, tried to attack the embassy and it was the same day where we saw that coordinated attack in Benghazi against the U.S. Consulate that left the ambassador and three other Americans dead.
The United States most certainly taking extra precautions to make sure something like that does not happen again. And tensions in Cairo have been especially high with both those who support the military- backed interim government and those who support deposed Mohammed Morsy angry at the United States. Arwa
Damon, CNN, Cairo.
BLITZER: And security around that U.S. Embassy in Cairo intense. It's much more intense now. When I was there in January, you could just walk around the entire complex. You can see the huge, huge concrete walls, in effect, those bunkers, that have been established so that protesters could not get over the walls. Take a look at that. That's the American flag at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, but it's surrounded by those boulders, block after block after block. It's one of the largest U.S. embassies in the world.
Let's take a closer look now at some of the potential U.S. targets.
Tom Foreman is over at the magic wall.
Tom, show our viewers what you're seeing.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think you have been hitting the fundamental point here.
The old adage if you guard everything, you guard nothing, because there is a lot to guard out here. These are the main countries we're talking about out here. This is a tremendous amount of space and a tremendous number of potential targets. Here is one we're talking about so much, Yemen, which has been a problem for many years here. Why would that be a potential place where you might have trouble?
Well, because we have chatter suggesting a potential attack could come there, according to security analysts. We have had previous protests and attacks in that country many times, and there have been U.S. drone strikes there. So that's one reason that Yemen might be a reasonable place to expect some trouble. But what about some other places like Afghanistan over here? We have been there for a number of years. There are 60,000 troops in the country. There are military bases all over the place, sometimes big, sometimes small, outposts, all potential targets, and they get about $4.6 billion in aid as they talk with the Taliban there trying to strike some kind of deal, but at the same time there have been increased attacks already.
So that's a reason that Afghanistan might be the place to be worried about. And what about a wildcard like Jordan up here by Syria? Here is a country where we have a smaller group, 900 U.S. troops since June. There's a squadron of F-16s here. There are Patriot missiles there. All of these things make all of these places potential targets, and, Wolf, when you talk about this broad language that we're hearing as you and Tom Fuentes were talking a short while ago, the broad language about a generalized attack somewhere, this is the fundamental problem.
So much territory, so many people, so many potential targets, it makes it hard for anyone to know exactly what to make of this, Wolf, including many security analysts.
BLITZER: It certainly it. It's all very, very worrisome, to put it mildly. All right, Tom, thank you.
We're going to have much more on this worldwide terror threat. We're going live to Beirut when we come back.
BLITZER: Most of the 21 U.S. embassies and consulates closing in Sunday are in the Arab world.
Our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is joining us now from Beirut, where he's watching the situation very closely.
What are you seeing there, Nick?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, interestingly, the embassy in Beirut would normally be closed on a Sunday, and they tell me, in fact, they're not taking any special measures and anticipate opening again on the Monday, but that really just gives you an idea of how geographically nonspecific this threat is.
The 21 posts you referred to, well, they range from West Africa, Mauritania, all the way to Bangladesh on the other side of India, mostly, as you say, in the Arab world, but it's so key particularly about the time, Sunday being, of course, the main focus. That's obviously a big day in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan known as the Night of Power falling in fact on Sunday. That's when the Islamic faith believed the Prophet Mohammed was given the text of the Koran and there are some I think suggesting, some analysts, that maybe there's a religious significance for some Islamic extremists who may misinterpret that part of the calendar.
It may be why some of the focus is here, but as I say, Wolf, incredibly specific to Sunday, but not geographically much more precise -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I know you're monitoring the situation throughout the Middle East, throughout the Arab world in particular. Even if -- they're saying that the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, they're going to be closed in any case on Sunday. That's not necessarily the case in a lot of other Arab countries.
WALSH: Certainly. It's very hard for me to hear your question there, Wolf, but basically the concern I think certainly around the Middle East is that we don't know precisely where this threat is focused, but it is more general.
We haven't seen a travel warning of the scope which was issued today really since the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, a similar one issued around about the 10th anniversary in 2011 of the September 11 attacks, a real sense of broad concern here. As you have been saying, so many officials say they haven't seen a warning quite as grave as this for a while.
But we're just I think at this point trying to work out quite where it would be focused. We have heard from Cairo. We have heard from other parts of the region, too. And there's a real sense too I think while al Qaeda has been considered since the death of bin Laden to certainly be on its back feet certainly in terms of a group that would be able to attack American interests, in other ways, it's seen a resurgence in Iraq.
Many of the Sunni militants fighting the Shia government there have al Qaeda links and al Qaeda members in their ranks, and al Qaeda having some sort of resurgence too in Syria amongst rebel ranks where they're fighting against the Syrian regime there, many Islamist extremists, al Qaeda on that particular front being very scattered and divided in many ways, but certainly at the forefront of the more radical elements in rebel ranks.
So certainly a nuanced position in the days ahead, and we're looking to see more precisely out of Yemen where much of this threat seems to be centered exactly how al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula are formulating themselves there and quite where this will be heading in the weeks ahead, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Nick, thank you, Nick Paton Walsh in Beirut for us.
Up next, the United States congressman who has been briefed on the U.S. intelligence warning of this threat joins -- he joined me, and he said nothing, nothing can be ruled out. You're doing to hear what Representative Peter King of the House Homeland Security Committee had to say.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the worldwide terror alert issued by the United States government. We want to welcome back our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. This is a SITUATION ROOM special report.
Over the last several weeks, the so-called chatter, the communications, if you will, about terror threats grew louder and louder. Fears of an attack grew worse.
Let's get some more now from our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty. She's been looking into some of the evidence that U.S. officials are pointing to for issuing this worldwide alert.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf.
Well, you know, State Department officials tell us they can't remember when State shut down as many diplomatic posts as this in the face of a potential terror attack.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Faced with intelligence that al Qaeda in Yemen was in the final stages of planning attacks, the State Department took the unusual step of issuing a worldwide travel alert, warning Americans that: "Al Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa."
In one of the most extensive announcements of its kind, it said it was temporarily closing this Sunday 21 embassies and consulates in 17 countries, posts that normally are open Sundays. They include Yemen, Libya, and Saudi Arabia. Officials say they're taking the threat very seriously, that the number of countries could increase, and the length of the closings could increase as well.
Officials say they took the measures out of an abundance of caution as the anniversary of the September 11 attack last year on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, approaches.
Could the State Department be overreacting? Terror expert Tom Sanderson says no.
TOM SANDERSON, TERROR EXPERT: If there was an attack, and they had not closed the embassy, and U.S. personnel and local citizens had died, then people would have asked why there was no effort to shut down and safeguard the embassy and its employees. I think at this point with the little that we know, this appears to have been a good and cautious decision.
DOUGHERTY: As it often does, the State Department is warning Americans traveling in those regions that terrorists can strike public and private buildings, public transportation systems, hotels, and tourist sites.
In an emergency, the department says Americans can still contact embassies for help, and they urge Americans to sign up for its smart traveler enrollment program that sends out real-time e-mails and text warnings.
State Department officials are not disclosing whether they've set up a task force on the threat, but the department does have a 24/7 operations center that monitors threats around the world.
DOUGHERTY: Now, the State Department has shut down diplomatic posts around the world before, but this time the decision is being driven by two motivations. One is to warn American citizens, but the other after Benghazi is to avoid being blamed for doing too little -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jill Dougherty with some good reporting. Thank you.
Let's go to the White House right now. President Obama's response to the new terror threats. Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is standing by over there on the North Lawn of the White House.
What are you learning, Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we can say is a U.S. official tells CNN President Obama has been briefed on this matter. He's known about it for some time now, and knew in advance of the plan to carry out these embassy closings. And earlier this week the administration was working to get members of Congress up to speed on these security matters.
On Wednesday Vice President Joe Biden held a briefing for a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both the House and the Senate. That briefing, according to a separate U.S. official, covered what that person called the full range of embassy security issues, including long-term investments -- and this is important here, Wolf -- immediate threats.
Now, it is worth noting here, as U.S. officials are concerned that this current threat could be coming out of the Arabian Peninsula and perhaps Yemen, the president of Yemen was just at the White House yesterday for a face-to-face meeting with President Obama and, in fact, the president praised the Yemeni leader for making progress, he said, against al Qaeda.
Here's what the president had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because of some of the very effective military reforms that President Hadi initiated when he came into this office, what we've seen is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, moved back out of territories that it was controlling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, add to that during his briefing with reporters, White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked about an uptick in drone strikes in Yemen, and here's what Carney had to say about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can tell you that we do cooperate with Yemen in our counterterrorism efforts, and it's an important relationship, an important cooperation, given what we know about AQAP and the danger it presents to the United States and our allies, as well as to the Yemeni people and people in the regions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, this is the first big test for what is now the president's complete second term national security team. U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, the last piece of that puzzle, she was sworn in today by the vice president.
And all of this comes as the nation is getting close to one year since the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last September 11. All of that on the minds of national security officials. In the days after that attack, Wolf, it is worth noting the president did beef up security at diplomatic posts across the world. These closures no doubt are taking the administration's precautions to a whole new level -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you. Jim Acosta's over at the White House.
Let's bring in our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.
Dana, you just heard Jim talk about the vice president of the United States. He goes up to Capitol Hill, and he briefs the leadership, the leadership of the House and I guess the Senate, the top people there, including the key members of the intelligence committees.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I've heard this was a previously-scheduled meeting, but I talked to a source who was in there, who said this is where they were first told by the vice president of the United States and some senior State Department officials about this threat which the source who I talked to said was incredibly significant. It was clear right from the get-go that this was going to be something that caused a lot of concern.
I talked to other congressional sources briefed through other avenues and venues who say that this is something that the administration clearly needed to do.
You heard Jill talk about the fact that this is so sweeping, in part because they want to make sure they don't get caught flat-footed like they did in Benghazi on 9/11 last year. Even Republican sources who I talked to say that this is absolutely the right thing to do, appropriate response because of the significant nature of this threat.
BLITZER: So even the chorus of usual critics of the president, they're saying he's doing the right thing? Absolutely. It's a bipartisan nod, yes, this is right, and these are people who have been briefed who understand the intelligence on this.
And what's -- what is interesting is that it's not clear what the targets are, who the targets are. I talked to one source who was in that vice-presidential meeting who said that perhaps these are embassies or an embassy that is a target, but other sources say they're just not clear. They're unspecified targets in terms of where they are and also unspecified exactly the timing of this potential threat.
One source said that it could be fairly soon, fairly in the near future, but they're just absolutely not sure. But the fact that they're broadcasting this -- Wolf, you know you've covered the intelligence world for a long time -- really tells you that they're willing to risk the sources and the methods to give this information to them in order to make sure people are safe.
BLITZER: Yes. Because once you say that there is this threat, then those who might be organizing it say, "Well, I wonder how they found out about it," and then they begin to change some things that the U.S. presumably wouldn't want them to change. All right. So it's a delicate dance they've got to do.
Dana, thanks, very, very much.
Up next, the big picture on the new terror threat. I'm going to talk about it with the former head of the U.S. military's Central Command, the retired general, James Mattis. He'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're continuing our special coverage. Right now the worldwide U.S. terror alert that was imposed today. Let's get a little bit of perspective on what's going on.
The retired U.S. Marine Corps general, James Mattis, is joining us on the phone. He's the former head of the U.S. military's Central Command, which was in -- which is in charge of the entire Middle East and South Asia.
General Mattis, what do you make of this worldwide terror alert, if you will, including the shutting down of 21 U.S. embassies and consulates in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia?
GEN. JAMES MATTIS (RET.), FORMER HEAD OF U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND (via phone): Well, Wolf, it's absolutely clear that the threats that were received that were assessed were taken very seriously. We have to remember we're up against an enemy who kills indiscriminately, whether it be women, children, diplomats. And our embassies that we all know have been one of the targets.
And I think what this enemy is up to is trying to achieve some sort of a propaganda success, and by taking these steps, the secretary of state is denying the enemy that opportunity. He's simply making it a very unenviable target to blow up an empty building. And so the closure of our embassies, bottom line, is going to throw the enemy off balance and deny them any kind of propaganda victory as we deal with -- with this kind of threat.
BLITZER: You retired on June 1. You were the head of the Central Command. Do you remember a time during your tenure or earlier tenures where they literally shut down 21 U.S. embassies and consulates?
MATTIS: I do not, Wolf. There would be times when we would have to shut down an embassy because of a specific threat, and once in a while, you know, you get threats in and you're not able to localize exactly which embassy is under threat, but you -- either foreign secret services or our own intelligence community gets some intelligence.
And obviously in this case they're -- they're doing some proactive discretion here, making certain that we don't give the enemy an opportunity that we can deny them.
BLITZER: Well, it looks like a lot of the concern stems from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, specifically in Yemen. What kind of capability, General, do they have?
MATTIS: Well, al Qaeda in Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as we characterize them, have conducted attacks. They've tried to get through, as you know, fomenting attacks on airliners going into Detroit. They've attacked our embassy there before.
There's a very active franchise of al Qaeda operating there in Yemen. It's -- it's one to be taken seriously. We've had successes against them. The Yemenis have been wonderful partners in this fight, but at the same time we have to take these kind of steps to the ensure we keep the initiative and we're not reacting to the enemy after the fact. Reacting ahead of time and setting the conditions can throw the enemy on their back foot.
BLITZER: You know, I want to play a little bit of what Representative Peter King -- he's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. I interviewed him about an hour and a half or so ago, and listen to this little clip, General. Then we'll discuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK (via phone): I've been getting briefed fairly regularly over the last seven, eight years at least, and also pretty heavily before then, and this is the most specific I've seen.
And, again, I don't think I'm giving anything away when you look at the reaction. To have 21 embassies being closed shows how seriously our government is taking it, and I gave them credit. I think the government is doing exactly the right thing here, the administration. BLITZER: Can you give us a little detail without compromising sources and methods, classified information, what makes this so specific, this threat?
KING: Wolf, I really can't. That would -- I just can't do it other than to tell you that there's really -- there's very little doubt, if any, that something serious is being planned, and I think that's a worldwide alert. Obviously, we are focused on the Middle East. But it's the type of thing -- it's a, you know -- it's a potential series of attacks, you know, that really could be almost anyplace.
BLITZER: Are we talking about attacks overseas in North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia or someplace around the world, Congressman? Or are we talking potentially about an attack right here in the United States?
KING: I would say we can't rule anything out. It's been taken very, very seriously, and so nothing can be ruled out. I'm not saying that to panic anyone, but I think that, because of the dimension of this, we have to say that nothing can be excluded.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're back with General Mattis, the former commander of the U.S. military's Central Command.
He says -- you heard him -- he's pretty alarmed right now, General Mattis. Peter King saying he can't -- he can't rule anything out, an attack overseas or an attack here at home. When you heard that, what went through your mind?
MATTIS: Well, I -- I would just echo the comments at this point, that we're taking exactly the right steps here. Clearly, we have a serious threat. We've taken the steps that are prudent.
Remember, we're up against two separate families of terrorists. One is al Qaeda. That appears to be the one that they're referring to right now. And the other one, of course, is the Lebanese Hezbollah Iranian brand, the folks who have tried to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador two miles from the White House here a year and a half ago.
So this is -- this threat to diplomats, it's not only against American diplomats, although this specific threat appears to be targeted on all our embassies, but it's against diplomats who are men and women of peace who are up against an enemy who apocalyptically is opening who they will attack. And I think that this is a sort of give and take we need to be conducting in a very agile way as threats surface as we work together with other foreign secret services and our own to go after them, but certainly at the point that we identify a threat that's specific enough, we need to take action to protect our diplomats, and I think we're doing exactly the right thing here.
BLITZER: One final question, General. I know when you were head of the military Central Command, you tried to get Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new leader now that bin Laden is dead, of al Qaeda. Why is it so hard to find him?
MATTIS: Well, generally, I would just tell you, Wolf, that when -- when the leadership is basically running a coward's operation where they hide themselves and they send young men to go do the fighting, then you're in a situation where it's hard to find the needle in the haystack.
But we're very patient people, and we will stay on the hunt. I have no doubt about that. And the lads are good hunters, and we'll just -- we'll make certain that he doesn't sleep well at night for his remaining days.
BLITZER: General James Mattis, United States Marine Corps, retired. The former head of the Central Command. Thanks very much for joining us.
MATTIS: You're welcome, Wolf.
BLITZER: Up next, Dr. Sanjay Gupta with an update on the Boston Marathon terror bombings. A man who lost one leg now facing a wrenching decision about how his badly-damaged remaining leg should be dealt with.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARC FUCARILE, BOSTON MARATHON BOMBING SURVIVOR: If I could keep it, I want to keep it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: As we watch another potential terror threat emerge in the United States, the last of the Boston Marathon terror bombing victims has finally gone home from the hospital. But his battle to recover is by no means over.
Here's our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
FUCARILE: The pain is so bad.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than a hundred days after the Boston Marathon bombing, patients are still left with gut-wrenching decisions. In the case of Marc, it's whether or not to keep his leg.
FUCARILE: Get it out of here altogether. I'm not using it any more.
GUPTA (on camera): When you're looking at your leg right now, how are you feeling about it?
FUCARILE: Not too well. Not too good.
GUPTA: It's not giving you function right now, and it's painful.
FUCARILE: Yes. I'm sticking with it, trying to fight the pain. I want to keep it, but if it's like this, I don't want nothing to do with it.
GUPTA (voice-over): Fucarile was near the finish line at the Boston Marathon on April 15, when those two bombs exploded. After the first blast, his right leg was sheared off, while parts of his left foot hung on by just a thread.
FUCARILE: My foot was not attached to itself. All the tendons had broken from the explosion.
GUPTA: Since that day, Fucarile has been through a revolving door of surgeries, skin grafts, all sorts of procedures.
DR. JEFF SCHNEIDER, SPAULDING REHABILITATION HOSPITAL: Marc's been to the operating room 16 times since April 15. He's had 49 different procedures.
GUPTA: His body is still riddled with BBs and shrapnel from the explosions. One piece of shrapnel is nestled next to his heart.
FUCARILE: The pain is absolutely unbearable right now, Janie (ph).
GUPTA: And while he has made considerable progress...
FUCARILE: See that twist?
GUPTA: ... there are still days when Fucarile seriously considers just giving up on his left leg.
FUCARILE: It sounds selfish to cut it off to go home. I would have been fitted probably with two prostheses by now. Could have saved me a lot of surgeries. And sometimes I feel like -- I just know. I just know it's going to be hard forever with this leg.
GUPTA: Part of the frustration is the pain. Part of it is that his left leg, like other parts of his body, is just healing so slowly. And while he waits and works on it, there is no guarantee his remaining leg will be functional again.
But more than anything, his left leg, it's what's kept him from his fiance, Jen, and his five-year-old son, Gavin.
FUCARILE: I promised him I'd never leave him. I told them Daddy's going to get better.
GUPTA (on camera): You talk about your leg? How do you tell a five-year-old?
FUCARILE: Tell him I'm going to get a metal leg. He thinks it's kind of -- kind of cool. It's kind of unfortunate that this is what he's going to know from now on, you know. It's going to be his normal. GUPTA (voice-over): There is one glimmer of hope. Fucarile was told that in a few weeks he will finally go home.
FUCARILE: To go home to Jen and Gavin is just going to be everything. I just can't wait.
(on camera): Guess who's coming home today?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You?
FUCARILE: Who? Me? Are you happy?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It will be good to be able to play together and just sort of have, like, to not have a family dinner for a hundred days is huge. I think those are the most important things to me, sitting down at the table and talking about your day.
FUCARILE: I've been doing it sitting in a hospital bed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were lucky enough that he made it. So that's going to be the most important thing to me.
FUCARILE: All right. On my way. I can't believe it.
GUPTA: It is a triumphant day for Marc, for his family. And in a way, it's a triumph for his city. Because Fucarile is the last of the Boston Marathon bombing victims to leave the hospital.
And now he is back to the place where he so desperately has wanted to be.
As for his left leg...
FUCARILE: As of right now, I'm going to keep it, keep working on it, but there is a point where it could be better to actually have a prosthesis. And I'm still waiting it out.
GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.
BLITZER: What a story. We wish him, of course, only, only the best.
Remember, you can always follow us, what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. You can tweet me, @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show, @CNNSitRoom.
Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" will begin in a moment.