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German Police: Bomb Plot Forces Stadium Evacuation; Officials: Attacker's Cell Phone Found; Source: 'Strong Presumption' Second Suspect at Large. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired November 17, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:03] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Explosive plot. German police evacuate a stadium before an international soccer match, citing intelligence that someone wanted to set off a bomb inside. Players are rushed to a safe place. Germany's chancellor and top officials, they were due to attend the match.
New suspect. French police step up security sweeps, looking for a second possible suspect in the bloody Paris attacks, in addition to this man, said to be a dangerous fugitive. There's new information coming in about where the terrorists stayed and how they may have constructed their bombs.
Cell phone find. CNN has learned that Paris investigators have recovered a phone linked to one of the terrorists containing a message sent before the attacks began. We're also learning how ISIS operatives kept their communications secret.
And elusive killer. A hunt for the man blamed for planning multiple attacks and conspiracies across Europe. Is this the new face of terror?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: The breaking news, as the Paris massacre spreads fear across Europe, police now evacuate a stadium in Germany before an international soccer match, saying intelligence uncovered -- and I'm quoting now -- "serious plans for explosions." Players are rushed to safety. Fans are ordered home. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, scrubs plans to attend the match.
Among the other major developments, French police are now searching for a second man suspected of involvement in the bloody Paris attacks. An urgent manhunt is now underway for suspected attacker Saleh Abdeslam. As security sweep continues across France, police in Paris today found a vehicle he rented.
And, in what could be a major break for investigators, CNN has now learned they found a cell phone believed to belong to one of the attackers. Officials say it contains a message sent some time before the attacks, saying essentially -- and I'm quoting now -- "We're ready."
We're also learning the alleged mastermind, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was known to intelligence agencies long before the Paris massacres, and a source says France and its allies have tried unsuccessfully to target him. I'll speak with Vice President Biden's top national security adviser, Colin Kahl. And with Congressman Adam Schiff from the House Intelligence Committee. Our correspondents, analysts and guests, they'll have full coverage of all of the day's top stories.
Let's begin in Paris with CNN's John Berman.
John, this is clearly a fast-moving story. What's the latest information you're getting there on the ground?
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, tonight, Europe very much on edge. A seven-hour drive from where I'm standing in Hanover, Germany, a soccer match canceled between the German national team and the Netherlands.
Why? Local officials say they had concrete intelligence that explosives would be set off during the game. People who were already inside the stadium told to go home. People outside told to go home. German media reports that French intelligence passed on information that there was some kind of Iraqi sleeper agent who wanted to set off explosives during the game.
Now, German federal officials say a search of the stadium and the area around has turned up no explosives at this point, but it does show you the concern.
Here in Germany, in Belgium and tonight, in Paris, there are new leads in the hunt for the people who pulled off the attacks here on Friday.
BERMAN (voice-over): With this nation in a state of emergency, word tonight of a new suspect. (AUDIO GAP) tells CNN there is now a strong presumption there is a second surviving terrorist connected to Friday's attacks.
This, in addition to alleged attacker Saleh Abdeslam, last questioned by police but not detained, driving toward Belgium hours after the attack.
Tonight, raid and searches across France. Police scouring two hotel rooms just south of Paris, rented by Abdeslam. According to French magazine "La Pois (ph)," Investigators recovered syringes, tubes and other materials. That is being tested to determine whether it could have been used to help make explosives worn by the attackers.
And today, another discovery. This black Renault rented by Abdeslam, it was found in the city's 18th District.
[17:05:01] Also, new information about his brother, Ibrahim Abdeslam, one of the terrorists killed in the attacks. A Brussels area bar owned by Ibrahim was shut down on drug-related charges a week before the Paris attacks. Officials also providing new insight into the man believed to be the
mastermind of the attacks: Abdelhamid Abaaoud, alive, at large, and now we learn, on the radar of U.S. officials for months. A Department of Homeland Security memo discussing the Belgium citizen's connections to previous plots in Europe, including a thwarted attack against Belgium police in January and the attempt to attack a Paris-bound train in August, foiled by American passengers.
A Belgium counterterrorism source tells CNN the coalition tried, but failed, to target Abaaoud in Syria where he is believed to have close ties to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This morning, Secretary of State John Kerry met with French President Francois Hollande and pledged American cooperation, promising that ISIS will soon face even greater pressure.
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: They're feeling it today. They felt it yesterday. They felt it in the past weeks. We've gained more territory.
BERMAN: Tonight, French officials are asking for the public's help to identify one of the attackers not yet named. They have a picture. They have a fingerprint but, Wolf, still no name. And they posted a picture and asked anyone who might know this man to provide information as soon as they can -- Wolf.
BLITZER: John Berman, thanks very much. Let's bring in our senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward.
Clarissa, you're there. What are you learning?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the most important things to come out of today is the emergence of this possible cell phone, Wolf. Investigators telling CNN that they have found a cell phone on the scene. It's not clear who it belongs to. But we know that there was a text message on it that something to the effect of, "OK, we are ready."
Once again, we don't know who was the recipient of that message, and we don't know who sent it. And what's important about this, Wolf, is that it could lead to important clues about a larger network that was needed to facilitate and orchestrate this.
And as you well know, and as our viewers know now, one of the toughest things for officials and investigators when it comes to drilling down on this network is that these men are very technologically savvy. They use encrypted software to communicate. They talk through secret traps on Telegram. They frequently dispose of their cell phones to evade capture and evade being listened to or surveilled. So this potentially was a very important lead for French authorities.
BLITZER: I guess the key question a lot of people, Clarissa, are asking, so many of these ISIS operatives, they've been on the radar screen of authorities for a long time. So why have they been so hard to track? WARD: Well, Wolf, again -- I'm sorry, we have a minor disruption
here. There's a lot of revelers still on the streets of Paris.
So what's important to remember, a lot of these guys have criminal records. We talked about the mastermind, that 27-year-old Belgian of Moroccan origin, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. He was a member of a street gang. And that's the same with many of them. They've all got rap sheets. They all know how to avoid the police, how to get weapons, how to go under the radar. And that makes it all the more difficult for authorities. You're dealing here with a toxic combination, Wolf. On the one hand, a radical, and on the other hand, a petty criminal.
BLITZER: Clarissa Ward in Paris for us. thanks very much.
Joining us now is Colin Kahl. He's the national security adviser to the vice president, Joe Biden, a deputy assistant to the president of the United States, as well.
Colin, thanks very much for joining us. Quickly, the o-called mastermind of this plot, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, what do you know about him?
KAHL: Well, I think your report captured it well. We know he's a Belgium-based operative. We think he's now in Syria. He has ties back to plots that were disrupted back in January. And he's been on our radar screen for a while. So even though we didn't have direct and specific evidence of this particular plot, the evidence pointing to his involvement is not surprising.
BLITZER: Have you tried to capture or kill him in recent months?
KAHL: He's on the list of folks that we'd like to get. I'm not going to classified operations. But certainly, he's on our list.
BLITZER: But you do believe he was the mastermind of this Paris terror attack?
KAHL: Well, I think the available evidence that we have so far, I think we all have to be cautious about jumping to conclusions. We're still pretty early, and we're tracking the investigation closely, but it looks like he's deeply involved.
BLITZER: The word is he's close to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. And if he is, presumably al-Baghdadi knew about this if not ordered the attack. What's your assumption.
KAHL: We have to be cautious about what assumptions we make. Triangulating on the notion this was directed from Syria but precisely who directed it from Syria is to be determined.
[17:10:08] BLITZER: What's the latest information, Colin, that you're getting about the evacuation of this football, the soccer stadium in Germany today, where Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, was supposed to attend the game with thousands of other people?
KAHL: Yes, well, we know that the Germans, as they've said, got some foreign intelligence, suggesting that there might be a threat. And so I think, in an abundance of caution, they cleared the areas, but as German officials have said, they haven't as yet found any explosives, but I think everybody is being appropriately cautious in the aftermath of what happened in Paris.
BLITZER: The chair of the ranking Democrat, I should say, the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, she said ISIS is expanding, and they have capability to hit the United States.
Yesterday the CIA director, John Brennan, said he expects more ISIS attacks. He says more of them, more plots are in the pipeline. Does the White House believe more attacks are coming, and maybe here in the United States, as well?
KAHL: Well, something we're looking at. You know, we don't have any specific and credible threat reporting suggesting that a Paris-type attack is likely in the United States and Washington or elsewhere. I know there's some discussion of that in the media.
I think the threat we've been most mindful about is the possibility of homegrown radicals, so-called lone wolves, who are inspired -- inspired by ISIL.
I think it's worth your viewers keeping in mind that the threat profile's a little different here in the United States than it is in Europe, where you have thousands that have traveled to the battlefield in Syria, who have European passports and who have easy access back to Europe.
So I think the type of organized plot carried out by individuals who went back and forth to Syria is probably a -- is a greater risk in Europe than it is here in the United States. But obviously, we're vigilant against any possible threat stream here.
BLITZER: When ISIS releases a propaganda video saying their next target is the United States, and they specifically mention Washington, D.C., do you take that threat seriously?
KAHL: We do. We take all threats seriously. Of course, this isn't the first time that ISIL has boasted about trying to attack us here in the United States. So we're taking it seriously.
The Department of Homeland Security is batting up the hatches. Our intelligence community is on the case, as Director Brennan suggested. But we don't have any credible threat streams at the moment that suggest that there's an attack eminent anywhere in the United States.
BLITZER: And just to be precise, have you uncovered the U.S. government any ISIS-related plots in the United States over the past 24 hours or 48 hours?
BLITZER: I just wanted to be precise on that point. Colin Kahl, stand by for us. We have more to discuss. I've got to take a quick break. Much more on the breaking news coming out of Paris when we come back.
BLITZER: We're about to hear from the top Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He's been briefed on the investigation, standing by live up on Capitol Hill. We're following the breaking news, as investigators now hunt for two possible surviving suspects in the Paris attacks.
They are turning up more clues, including a cell phone that apparently belonged to at least one of the attackers. Officials say it contained a message to the effect of, "OK, we're ready."
But increasingly, ISIS is using what's called encrypted communications to foil intelligence agencies. Brian Todd is here. He's watching what's going on, getting new information.
What are you learning, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are getting new information tonight on the sophisticated methods ISIS has for hiding all of its communications.
We're told investigators have had a difficult time finding electronic traces that these Paris attackers left behind. Officials' attempts to break the ISIS codes are starting to become a modern-day version of the movie "The Imitation Game."
TODD (voice-over): They planned a coordinated, complex attack, and there's new information tonight on tight operational security and communication among these terrorists.
Investigators have found evidence that the operatives tied to the Paris attackers frequently changed cell phones, switched cars, even searched for possible listening devices. And according to counterterrorism and intelligence officials, there's evidence that they used encryption.
PROF. MATTHEW GREEN, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: It may be they're using encrypted messaging apps. They do a very good job of hiding whatever you're saying from being intercepted from somebody like a government.
TODD: Encryption, conversations chopped up into a jumble by mathematical algorithms, code that U.S. officials say is nearly impossible to crack.
JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: We don't have the ability to break strong encryption. And so if they move to the mobile messaging app, we're going to lose them, so that's a huge worry.
TODD: Apps like one called Signal encrypt phone calls. What's App, and an app called Telegram encrypt text. Matthew Green, who teaches applied cryptography at Johns Hopkins,
showed us another way terrorists can make their texts disappear on the Telegram app. You can program them to self-destruct in a few seconds.
I sent Green a text to meet me somewhere. He reads it, then...
GREEN: Gone. And just like that, you've got no record of the communication.
TODD: Telegram also has an avenue, similar to Facebook and Twitter, where you can post public messages. ISIS used Telegram to claim responsibility for the Paris attacks and the downing of the Russian passenger plane in Sinai. ISIS, analysts say, is constantly coaching its operatives on how to use secure communications.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: In its English-language publications, ISIS says use an Android phone. They're hardest to crack for the intelligence agencies. Use particular applications that are anonymized. Use Tor (ph), which is of course, the dark net.
[17:20:08] TODD: But with all its text savvy, ISIS may have made one significant cyber enemy. Anonymous, now vowing to unleash a wave of cyberattacks on ISIS in retaliation for the Paris massacre.
TODD: Matthew Green says the people at Anonymous are probably better hackers than the ones ISIS has. But he doesn't think they're going to be able to do much damage to ISIS, and he says they certainly cannot break the encryption. Those, Wolf, are simply too well-designed.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you very much.
Joining us now is the ranking Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff of California.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. What can you tell us about the encrypted communications that everyone now suspects these terrorists were using?
SCHIFF: This is becoming an increasing big issue, the so-called going dark problem. We know, as Brian has pointed out, that ISIS instructs their operatives to move from social media, once they've recruited people to these applications where they can encrypt. And we can't, even if we were to intercept the message, tell what that message has to say.
It's still early, Wolf, to tell what role that may have played in the Paris attacks, whether encryption accounts for why intelligence agencies didn't catch this planning or that plotting. But nonetheless, given these instructions from ISIS, it wouldn't surprise me at all if we ultimately find that encrypted communications were used here.
BLITZER: It's a real problem. What do you know about this bomb plot, the supposed bomb plot that forced the evacuation of a German soccer stadium, including the possibility of Angela Merkel was going to be there herself; she was planning on going?
SCHIFF: I don't know anything about it yet. We're about to be briefed again by the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and other top administration officials. We'll have that briefing within the next 30 minute. So we may get some further insights on that.
I would assume, though, that this was probably the basis of either a tip or a communication that was intercepted, some lead. We may or may not have received the information yet from the Germans about what the basis was for the decision to close down that soccer match. And we usually get more finished intelligence products than the raw material. We have yet to hear from our allies on that.
BLITZER: What are you learning about the manhunt that is now underway for what was believed to be two terrorists who escaped?
SCHIFF: You know this is not surprising, Wolf, when you consider the number of players that were part of this plot, the weapons they had, the bombs that they built. You would imagine for every co-conspirator that's part of actually carrying out that plot, there are many others that are responsible for getaway vehicles, for providing material support, for providing a place for these people to stay or financial resources.
So undoubtedly, there are others that they're going to go after. And we may find a broadening net as, indeed, we get new information. There have been reports, as you mentioned, Wolf, about a cell phone being seized. They will exploit the information on that cell phone. They will pass on, we believe, the selectors from that phone. So our intelligence agencies can do a scrub. And we may be able to share additional information with the French about other people that may be tied to this plot.
BLITZER: You heard Colin Kahl, the vice president's top national security adviser, just tell me that Abdelhamid Abaaoud -- that's the so-called mastermind of this operation -- he's probably back in Iraq or Syria, probably in Syria right now. But European officials, U.S. officials, they had him on the radar screen. Why did they lose track of him?
SCHIFF: Well, it's very hard to follow people, particularly if they're in places like Syria. But we're getting better at it, Wolf.
As you can see by our successful action, in going after Jihadi John and some of the raids that we've had on Abu Sayyaf and others, even in a denied space like Syria, which is a very hard target, we are improving on our intelligence.
Nonetheless, you know, we see ISIS adapting. And I think you had a very good report from Brian about how they employ operational security. It's why it's been so difficult to find people like al- Baghdadi.
Probably, you know, the only person where you would have a real strategic impact in eliminating from the battlefield is the caliph, the emir himself, who is this not only operational command-and-control figure but a religious figure within this Islamic State, as they call it. And nonetheless, often very difficult to find, and even when you do find sometimes the risk of collateral casualties, if you were to strike them deters you from taking action.
BLITZER: Yes. What worries me is what John Brennan, the CIA director, said yesterday, that the U.S. intelligence community, in his word, the U.S. intelligence community right now is strained in everything they're doing. You oversee that committee, you're right? I mean, right?
TODD: They are right. They are right. Now, frankly, even though we have a full task on our hands, it's nothing compared to what the Europeans face. The French have had more than 1,000 people leave to join the fight, many of whom are coming back. They don't have the same resources or capacity we do, and yet they have much greater numbers to keep an eye on.
[17:25:11] So, yes, we have our challenges here. We also have a challenge of this radicalization via social media. That's probably the predominant worry. I think Colin is exactly right about that, that some of the people in the United States who are homegrown radicals may be inspired by Paris to want to go and lash out.
We don't think that they're capable of something on the scale of Paris, but nonetheless, even a single gunman can do a lot of damage.
BLITZER: Congressman Schiff, thanks for joining us.
SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.
Still, ahead, much more on the alleged mastermind of the Paris attacks, a source now telling us that France and its allies, they tried to target him before but failed to get him. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Breaking news, French police now spreading their net. They're saying that there's a strong likelihood that a second suspect is now on the loose after the Paris massacres, and they've actually found a cell phone apparently belonging to one of the attackers that may give them a big break.
Let's go to our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown. She's getting new information herself. What are you learning, Pamela?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're learning that tonight, a source telling CNN that police are searching for a possible second suspect linked to the Paris attacks. This, as we learn about new information about the alleged ring leader of the deadly Paris attacks in Syria.
BROWN (voice-over): Abdelhamid Abaaoud, seen here in this ISIS video, is the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks. The 27-year-old Belgian citizen is no stranger to western officials.
Belgium police, in a shoot-out in January, thwarted a plot, allegedly spearheaded by Abaaoud, who's believed to be close to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
CNN has learned Abaaoud was targeted in friend. Airstrikes against an ISIS training camp in Syria just last month, where he was training foreign fighters. But it's not clear if he was there at the time of the strikes.
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I can confirm he's an ISIS member and top level, but I can't confirm whether he's targeted or not.
BROWN: A U.S. intelligence report from May obtained by CNN sounded the alarm about Abaaoud and warned ISIS had, quote, "developed the capability to carrying out complex attacks in the west."
DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: You go back to the beginning of the year, it wasn't clear that ISIS had the ability to move a large number of operatives and to keep them under the radar and to help them avoid detection, and now they were able to do that, to devastating effect.
BROWN: Details of the plot, foiled in the January raid in Belgium, eerily foreshadowed what happened in Paris. In the January incident, Belgian law enforcement discovered precursor chemicals to make the explosive known as TATP, the same materials French officials say was used in suicide vests worn and detonated by the Paris attackers.
The DHS report also says ISIS had, quote, "made extensive efforts to prevent or limit law enforcement's abilities to conduct technical surveillance" and that Abaaoud boasted he was able to return to Syria after the Belgium raid, despite international warrants for his arrest.
GARTENSTEIN-ROSS: You had about 4,500 west Europeans who've gone over to Iraq and Syria as foreign fighters. In France, for example, you have 8,000 people who are now on a watch list, which is more than authorities can keep up with in terms of surveillance.
BROWN: While some of the terrorists in Paris were known to European officials, CNN has learned none of the suspects identified so far were on U.S. watch lists, raising concerns about how effectively the U.S. and its allies are able to track foreign fighters traveling to Syria and Iraq.
BROWN: And the concern among U.S. intelligence officials is that those involved with the Paris attack, especially those who were not in any European databases could have potentially bought a plane ticket to the U.S. and entered with a passport from countries that participate in the U.S. visa waiver program.
And Wolf, that is an ongoing concern, considering there are so many people who are going over to train in Syria and Iraq, and officials just can't keep up with all of them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's a great concern, indeed.
All right, Pamela. Thanks very much.
Let's bring in our experts: CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank; our law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes; and our justice reporter, Evan Perez.
Paul, I want to talk to you about what Pamela is just reporting. But you're getting new information yourself about this possible plot in Germany at that football, that soccer stadium today. What can you tell us?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM: Wolf, it comes from a German security analyst who's been briefed by security and intelligence officials in Germany. He said the reason that this football match was called off, the reason for this security scare, was that French intelligence passed on a warning to that German counterpart.
There was a radical Islamist living near Hanover, near where the football match was going to take place, who potentially had plans to drive a vehicle laden with explosives that would have had access to a sensitive site around the stadium.
Obviously, the Germans then reacting to this information, not wanting to take any chances. They're clearly still very worried they're going in and they're checking all the areas around the stadium to see if they can find any explosives. So far they haven't found anything.
[17:35:13] BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, it's pretty chilling when you think about it, but what does it mean for the so-called soft targets -- and there are a lot of them -- right here in the United States.
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Wolf, it means they're completely vulnerable. And even if you harden the target like a football stadium or some other major venue, you know, you put security at the entrances, magnetometers of it. Then you have a backup leading into it, and that becomes the soft target.
Then, after the people are in the event, if they phone in a bomb threat and you evacuate 80,000 people onto the sidewalk, there's not enough buses and trains and transportation modes to get everybody out of that area, so they're vulnerable just standing outside the stadium. So yes, it's a chilling effect that you can't be safe.
BLITZER: It's a nightmare scenario. I mean, Evan, you're doing some serious reporting yourself. What else are you learning? Because you're getting more information.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's right. We know that there are actually multiple cell phones that have been recovered by investigators that are believed to belong to the attackers that were involved in the Paris attack.
And so now investigators are doing the work to try to exploit the data that could be found on those phones. They want to know who those people were talking to. Again this hasn't solved the problem that there are very few traces that these guys left behind. This was an operation that was conceived with operational security, and even though the device, the bombs were not very sophisticated.
It was a very sophisticated way of organizing and orchestrating an event like this, especially with the precision and the simultaneous nature of it.
BLITZER: The actual people who were involved in this terrorist attack, Tom, in Paris, apparently, there were -- none of them were on any U.S. watch list. That's pretty disturbing, isn't it?
FUENTES: Not necessarily. If none of them had indications or relatives in the U.S. or any idea that they would come to the U.S., they might not be on the watch list.
We already have 1 million people of our own on our own watch list. But if we put out a report in May saying that this mastermind should be watched, then I think he would have been on our list, or we wouldn't have had reports about him.
PEREZ: The father of one of the attackers did travel to the United States. They're still doing -- the FBI, still doing an investigation to see who he met here, where he traveled.
PEREZ: That work is still ongoing.
BLITZER: Is this, Paul Cruickshank, the new normal that's going on over the past couple of weeks? What we're seeing, a Russian airliner blown up by ISIS, 224 people killed; suicide bombings in Beirut; another 40 or 50 people killed in Baghdad; now what's happened, over 200 people killed in Paris? Is this the new normal? We should anticipate that new normal spilling over here into the United States, as well?
CRUICKSHANK: Wolf, that's what security officials here are telling me. And of course, there was that attack in Ankara in Turkey, where ISIS suicide bombers from Syria killed over 100 people, as well. We've seen a whole string of this, of ISIS getting into the global terror business.
This is the richest terrorist group in history. They've got all these western extremists, more than 6,000 traveling from Europe to join groups in Syria and Iraq, including ISIS.
So there's a lot of concern now that they're orchestrating a string of terrorist attacks against the countries targeted in Syria and Iraq.
And here's one of the reasons why I think there should be concern about the fact that it appears that none of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks were on the watch list from the United States' point of view. They could have gone on a plane and come to the United States. If
they had no intelligence on them, they could have traveled under the visa waiver program, potentially made their explosives in the United States and launched an attack.
I think the No. 1 threat in the United States from ISIS right now is European extremists who can get on planes who aren't on watch lists. That is a disturbing piece of information.
Citizens of France or citizens of Belgium, they easily get there on a plane, get a tourist visa immediately, that visa waiver program would allow them to do so.
All right, guys. Stand by. We have much more coming up. We're also getting the latest on what the French investigators, they are now discovering, much more information. I'll be joined live by the French ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud. He's standing here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll be right back.
[17:43:48] BLITZER: Breaking news. And we're joined now in THE SITUATION ROOM by the French ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud.
Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us. I know these are difficult times for you for all of the people of France.
First of all, our deepest condolences to what happened Friday night. I know this has been shocking to all of the French people, indeed to the entire world, where is the investigation right now? Where does it stand? How many suspects are still at large?
GERARD ARAUD, FRENCH AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, you know, the investigation is going on and obviously there are a lot of questions which have not been answered. For the moment, we know that there is one suspect who is on the run, and now we think we have a second suspect.
BLITZER: The one suspect you're talking to is Saleh Abdeslam.
BLITZER: He's -- he's on the run. And he's the target of this international manhunt right now.
BLITZER: Do you know the name?
ARAUD: I don't know the name.
BLITZER: But there's a -- presumably, a second suspect who's directly involved.
ARAUD: Exactly. BLITZER: Who survived all of this. And he's somewhere, as well.
BLITZER: Do you suspect, do your authorities suspect they are both still in France or have they gone to Belgium or some other country.
ARAUD: We don't know. As you know, we have identified Brussels as only the focal point of the organization of the attacks. So maybe he has tried to go back there.
BLITZER: Is that because the so-called mastermind of this, this guy, Abdelhamid Abaaoud is from Brussels, he's from Belgium; he's now in Syria, very close to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader?
ARAUD: You know, we have identified for some time, you know, brussels as a sort of focal point for trafficking especially to get through to (INAUDIBLE). And in a previous terrorist attack, you know, the attack on the train, you know, which was foiled by the American soldiers, the weapons were already coming from brussels. So obviously there is a point where which now we have to have a close look at.
BLITZER: And the French president, President Hollande, he's ordered the border -- all the borders of France sealed, right?
ARAUD: Yes, which means that we have reinstalled the controls of the border. The borders are not closed but now we are controlling our borders because as you know, between European countries, most European countries, there are no controls normally.
BLITZER: We're told not only have they found multiple cell phones that presumably were part of the arsenal of these terrorists, most of them were killed, but also there's videotape now that's emerging? Do you know anything about the videotape?
ARAUD: No, I don't know about the videotape. But I want to emphasize the point, which is important, the problem of encryption. You know, at some moment the communications between the terrorists went dark for us because they were encrypted and I think, again, it's a major problem for the law enforcement agencies.
BLITZER: The cell phones that we're hearing about were actually found at the scene.
BLITZER: If they have those cell phones, authorities they could get some information, useful information.
ARAUD: Of course.
BLITZER: From those cell phones which would be very important.
ARAUD: Of course, yes. But most of the time, the sort of cell phones, you know, when you get it, you know, there are no information left. You know, really they are using it only for the operation, the day of the operation, which is important when they're using it that you can intercept and we couldn't do it because of the encryption.
BLITZER: We're going to have more to talk about. We're going to take a bigger picture at U.S.-French relations, the president of France, President Hollande, is coming to Washington next Tuesday, then he's going to Moscow.
Mister Ambassador, stay with us.
Much more with the French ambassador of the United States when we come back.
[17:51:36] BLITZER: The French ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud.
Mister Ambassador, your president, President Hollande, he's coming to Washington on Tuesday to meet with President Obama. Then he's going to go to Moscow to meet with President Putin. What's his goal right now?
ARAUD: Basically Syria is becoming a source of existential threat for the Europeans. We saw it with the attacks in Paris. You know, we -- the thousands of Europeans who are going to Syria and we come back and we become afraid for our security, but you see it also with the millions of migrants. So we are really --
BLITZER: The migrants? The refugees.
ARAUD: Sorry. Yes. The continent is destabilized by the -- all the European continent is destabilized by the crisis so we need to create a coalition, you know, really to try to solve this crisis.
BLITZER: So when you said -- when President Hollande says this is a war, in his opinion this is a world war.
ARAUD: I think we are all -- we are all threatened. You know, Russia is very close to Syria. The U.S., in a sense, you're protected by the ocean. But maybe sooner, maybe it will come also here. So we have to work together. We need the Russians. We need, of course, the Americans to fight ISIS.
BLITZER: Would France consider sending thousands, maybe hundreds of ground troops into Syria to kill ISIS?
ARAUD: The problem is, in a sense, that ISIS is dreaming to fight Western soldiers so they could, you know, they have a narrative about crusaders. You know, really, so I think it would be totally counterproductive. We have to find ground forces to fight ISIS.
BLITZER: Who are those ground forces?
ARAUD: And --
BLITZER: Because the air power alone, everybody says, it's not going to did it.
ARAUD: Of course no. You don't win a war through air strikes. So we need the countries of the region, you know, who have a strong interest into defeating ISIS. We need that -- they can fight ISIS with our support.
BLITZER: The whole notion, though, of finding these ground troops who are going to go into Raqqa, and kill these ISIS terrorists, I don't -- the Free Syrian Army, they seem very weak, ineffective right now. Where are the ground troops going to come from? Which countries are going to send troops on the ground into Syria?
ARAUD: Actually it's quite -- you put it right. It's quite a challenge. So I think the first thing we have to do is to have a political transition in Syria. So we have to put an end to the civil war. And after that, this Syria -- this new Syria, this newly formed Syria could fight ISIS.
BLITZER: Does President Hollande want to be a leader in this fight? He's coming to Washington then going to Moscow. Does he want to be the face of this new war?
ARAUD: I'm not sure that we want to be the leader. The fact is, because of our Muslim community, because of our geography and our history, we are at the frontline of the fight. So I think that's the reason why President Hollande is stepping in.
BLITZER: Very quickly, we're just getting reports the U.S. is sending more Marine guards to be at the U.S. embassy in Paris right now. Is there a threat that you've heard about, anything along that nature, that would justify sending more Marines to Paris?
ARAUD: No, I don't think there is dire threat to the U.S. embassy but as my prime minister said, there is a risk, there's an ongoing threat in Paris. Maybe there could be other attacks.
BLITZER: Let's hope not. Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much for joining us. We'll stay in close touch to you. Good luck to all the people of France.
[17:55:01] ARAUD: Thank you very, very much.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Coming up, German police evacuate a soccer stadium before an international match, citing intelligence that someone wanted to set off a bomb inside.
Also, French police, they're now stepping up their security sweeps around the country, they're searching for a second man suspected of taking part in the bloody Paris attacks.
BLITZER: Happening now, we're following the breaking news. Bomb plot stopped. A German soccer stadium evacuated just before an international match. Police say they received concrete intelligence of a looming terrorist attack.
How far is the ISIS threat spreading?
Intelligence failures. The Paris terrorists hiding in plain sight before their attacks. Some of them already known to police.