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U.S. Embassy Warning of Imminent Attack in Afghanistan; Russia Activates Missile Defense System in Syria; Sources: Paris Terrorist May Have Escaped to Syria; Obama, Putin Discuss ISIS Threat Face to Face; Officials Warn of Threat to Kabul; Suspect Remanded to Prison in Health Center Attack; No Bond for Suspect in Planned Parenthood Attack; ISIS Backup Capital?. Aired 5-6pET

Aired November 30, 2015 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: New ISIS ambition. Terrorist forces creating a new stronghold on another continent. Now bringing their depraved brutality to Libya. With its self-proclaimed capital in Syria under increasing assault, is ISIS looking for a place to regroup?

[17:00:15] I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. The U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, taking dramatic action, warning of a possible attack in the next 48 hours.

Americans in the Afghan capital being urged right now to use extreme caution as officials deem the threat, quote, "very significant, active and credible."

Also breaking this hour, sources telling CNN that investigators are now looking into whether the eighth Paris terrorist, Saleh Abdeslam, escaped to Syria. And now we're also learning of a planned second wave of attacks against transportation networks, schools and Jewish targets in France. We're covering that.

Much more this hour with our guests, including the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Mac Thornberry. Our correspondents and our expert analysts also standing by for late- breaking developments.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She begins our coverage. What are you learning, Barbara, about this threat, this new threat of an imminent attack in Kabul maybe in the next 48 hours?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the U.S. embassy issuing this warning earlier today. There are some 10,000 U.S. troops plus a good deal more hundreds of American government personnel spread out across Afghanistan.

This warning from the U.S. embassy about the potential for an imminent attack in the capital of Kabul, warning Americans to use extreme caution. A U.S. official telling me they believe this threat is emanating from the al Qaeda Haqqani network, a well-known group of very violent operatives that come across the border often from Pakistan into eastern Afghanistan, long had their eyes on the capital.

So there will be a lot of nervousness over the next 48 hours. The U.S. embassy, NATO military headquarters also ramping up their security in this timeframe, but not discussing the specifics of their security measures of course, and, Wolf, even as all of this is going on growing concern for the U.S. military about Russian military moves in Syria.

A major escalation, that's what one U.S. military official calls Russia's latest battlefield move. The Russians have now activated this massive air defense missile system in western Syria, the S-400.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): We need to have security for our air force. And that is why we have activated the S-400 system.

STARR: Leaving the U.S. trying to figure out what to do next.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The S-400 is one of the most capable air defense systems in the world. It's got significant capabilities that will enhance Russia's ability to not only defend its air assets, but also, it will serve Russia's interests by protecting Syrian air space or at least the air space that Bashar al-Assad controls.

STARR: From its location at Latakia Air Base in western Syria, the missile has the capability to track and shoot at airplanes all the way to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, U.S. officials say.

But for now the U.S. is counting on the fact Russia has no intention of attacking U.S. warplanes. The Pentagon believes that from Latakia Air Base, in fact the Russian radars would have a hard time reaching over a mountain range just to the east and locking onto U.S. aircraft.

Still, U.S. warplanes could be at the risk of an accidental shoot-down as they fly over Turkey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're going to have to alter their tactics, their approach routes. And at the very least coordinate with the Russians to make sure that they don't get shot down by the S-400 or any other anti-aircraft system that the Russians are deploying at this point.

STARR: And since the shoot-down of the Russian aircraft by Turkey, it appears the Turks are steering well clear of Russian aircraft, U.S. officials say. The State Department publicly backing up Turkey's assertion the Russians were in its air space, but still holding the door open to reconciliation with the Russians if Moscow agrees to fight ISIS.

ELIZABETH TRUDEAU, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: Our view has been very clear on where we'd like to see Russia in terms of this broader scope. And it's worth stepping up a step. You know, if our objectives are the same and if Russia is committed to the counter-ISIL fight, then that's a conversation we're going to have. (END VIDEOTAPE)

[17:05:02] STARR: And maybe just a hint that some of that conversation may be happening. General Joe Dunford, the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, has just concluded a phone call with his Russian counterpart. The Pentagon describing that phone call as courteous, Wolf.

BLITZER: Courteous. All right. That's a good word. Thanks, Barbara, for that.

Now the breaking news from Paris, where investigators suspect the fugitive eighth terrorist may have escaped to Syria and rejoined ISIS forces.

Tonight our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working this story for us. Do French investigators, Jim, have an idea where Saleh Abdeslam might be right now?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not clear they know for sure, but we're told that French investigators are looking into the possibility that he escaped to Syria, sources telling CNN, but that remains for now just an investigative theory.

Belgian officials telling us they always knew that he might try to get to Syria. There was clearly a network in place that managed to get several of those attackers back and forth between Paris and Belgium, Brussels and Syria before those attacks.

But Belgium officials saying right now they have no indications that Abdeslam has done so successfully following those attacks. And, Wolf, U.S. officials I've spoken to, they say that investigators may, in fact, be getting closer to locating him in Europe.

BLITZER: And you're also learning that these terrorists in the Paris attacks, they had maybe other plans in the works, as well.

SCIUTTO: That's right. It seems that more than one group had more than one group of targets underway. We know that the mastermind, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, and A second man that were killed in that assault On the apartment in Saint-Denis following the Paris attacks, that they planned a major attack on a major shopping center called La Defense, and that they'd made preparations for that attack.

Sources tell CNN the cell also had other targets, quote, "ready to go," including transportation networks, schools and Jewish targets. That being an echo of the January attack on that kosher market, following the deadly attacks on "Charlie Hebdo."

But this is interesting, an interesting detail reported today, and that is that one of his associates, one of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind or ringleader, one of his associates had bought him two suits for $5,000 to help give him cover as he went into -- if he was able to carry out this attack on this fancy shopping center, but to give him cover so he would blend in as part of their preparations. I mean, as you're looking at these, you really get a sense of, you

know, they were doing their homework on these attacks to be able to carry them out at a number of locations.

BLITZER: Money is not a problem for ISIS. They've got...

SCIUTTO: No question.

BLITZER: ... maybe a billion dollars that they've stolen, so far: oil, gold, banks, jewelry. They've got a lot of money. And they squeeze money from all those people under their control, both in Syria and Iraq.

SCIUTTO: It's a business. It's a business.

BLITZER: Money is not a problem: $5,000, piece of cake.

All right. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto.

President Obama and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, they talked face-to-face in Paris today about ISIS, the terror threats, meeting on the sidelines of the global climate conference.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is traveling with the president.

Jim, is there any sign Putin is willing to work with the U.S. in this war against ISIS?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not yet, Wolf. But today President Obama and Russia's Vladimir Putin appear to be looking right past each other as they met on the sidelines of this week's global climate summit in Paris. The two leaders are still at odds, very much so, over any kind of alliance to defeat ISIS.

Mr. Obama, he did express his regret to Vladimir Putin after Turkey shot down that Russian warplane last week. But Putin is still furious. He is refusing to meet with Turkey's President Erdogan at the climate talks. So instead President Obama will meet with Erdogan tomorrow morning.

Now, the war on ISIS is looming large over these climate talks. As soon as he landed in France the president laid a single white rose outside the Bataclan Theater to remember the victims of the Paris attacks.

But the president made the case here that bringing the world together to battle climate change is yet another way to take the fight to ISIS. Here's what the president had to say.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We salute the people of Paris for insisting this crucial conference go on. An act of defiance that proves nothing will deter us from building the future we want for our children. What greater rejection than those who would tear down our world than marshaling our best efforts to save it?


ACOSTA: Now, Republicans are pouncing on the president's focus on global warming, insisting he should be busy destroying ISIS. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said the president's involvement in this summit is insulting, in his words.

The White House fired back today, saying had the president changed his plans or had the summit been canceled, it would have shown the world that ISIS can have a big impact on big global events.

Wolf, the White House views this climate summit as a legacy-defining opportunity for the president. But so is ISIS, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta's traveling with the president in Paris for us. Jim, thanks very much.

Let's talk about all of this and more with the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry of Texas.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. MAC THORNBERRY (R), TEXAS: Thanks for having me.

[17:10:06] BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about this, escalating tension between our NATO ally, Turkey, and Russia, right now. This could really explode if something isn't done to deescalate this crisis right now. How worried are you about this?

THORNBERRY: I'm very concerned. From the time that Russia became much more involved in Syria, there has been a real threat that things could escalate out of control, whether with Turkey, whether with the U.S. or whether with some other nation.

And I think the danger of miscalculation, the danger of intentional escalation for national purposes, one or the other, is very real.

BLITZER: Let's say the Russian warplanes, those SU-24s did, in fact, violate Turkish air space for 20 or 30 seconds. Did Turkey do the right thing sending F-16s up there and shooting down that plane?

THORNBERRY: Well, any nation, including Turkey, has a right to defend its air space.

BLITZER: They have a right to do it, but did they do the right decision?

THORNBERRY: Well, I think you have to put it in context. According to Turkey, they gave at least ten warnings on this occasion. And that there were previous occasions where their air space was violated.

And then, of course, a part of Turkey's calculations is who were the Russians there bombing? You know, we talk about them being there as part of the anti-ISIS campaign. But in reality, they are bombing some of the people who are trying to overthrow Assad.

BLITZER: They were bombing ethnic Turks in Syria right now who are fighting Bashar al-Assad's regime. The Russians are supporting Bashar al Assad's regime.

So here's the question: if the Russians continue to bomb those Turkmen, those ethnic Turks in Syria, and Turkey were to try to resist that, this thing could really explode, because the Russians now are putting in place surface-to-air missiles that could knock out those Turkish F-16s.

THORNBERRY: You're exactly right. And Turkey being a NATO member could also call upon other NATO countries to help them defend their space. That's why this is such a tinderbox and what helps one hurts another. And the morass that Syria has only gotten worse and significantly so in recent weeks.

BLITZER: Like you, I'm very worried about this tinderbox right now that has developed in Turkey, a NATO ally in Russia right now.

Mr. Chairman, stand by. I want to talk about what's going on in Kabul, Afghanistan, this imminent threat warning that has just been released. Some sort of terror attack potentially in the next 48 hours. We're going to discuss that and a whole lot more with the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee when we come back.


[17:17:32] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Russia now activating a very powerful air defense missile system inside Syria in what one U.S. military official calls a major escalation.

We're back with the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry of Texas.

You've got a big hearing tomorrow with the defense secretary, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. That S-400 anti -- anti- missile system the Russians are putting in Latakia right now, potentially that could endanger U.S. warplanes flying over Syria going after ISIS targets, not just Turkish or French or other planes. U.S. aircraft potentially could be in danger.

THORNBERRY: Exactly right. It has a wide range. And it can include the U.S. air base inside Turkey, as well as other aircraft that we fly in that region. So I agree with the point that it is a major escalation. And that's part of what we're going to ask the secretary of defense about tomorrow.

BLITZER: What do you want to hear from him?

THORNBERRY: I want to hear a path forward towards successfully degrading ISIS.

BLITZER: How do you do that?

THORNBERRY: Well, the president has said that was his goal, but at the same time the president says, well, they're contained and we think things are going pretty well. I don't know of many folks who would agree with that assessment.

So one example is we have more airstrikes in the first two months of Afghanistan than we have in the last 16 months of Iraq. So a more serious effort with U.S. leadership is absolutely required. The military details the military has to decide. It's not for Congress to decide that. But we should insist, I think, on a strategy that leads to success not a holding pattern.

BLITZER: Because the U.S. military is bound by certain restrictions. They don't want civilian casualties, so-called collateral damage. And if the pilots go in, and they've got their bombs but they get word that ISIS forces are in the midst of a civilian area, they're not going to drop those bombs because they don't want to kill civilians.

THORNBERRY: Exactly. And ISIS knows what our restrictions are and they take advantage of it. And they have...

BLITZER: How do you get around that? If ISIS deliberately plants themselves in the midst of civilians, elderly, women, children, in Raqqah or elsewhere in Syria, how do you get around that?

THORNBERRY: Well, the key is you've got to leave ISIS guessing. You cannot be so restrictive that we only drop ordinance on about a third of the sorties. And that's what we've been doing.

So we have to remove those restrictions. It would also be helpful, by the way, if we had forward air controllers who could help target those airstrikes to be more effective. But the president has not allowed that either.

[17:20:05] BLITZER: These Special Operations forces are being deployed to Syria right now. That's -- that presumably is a start.

THORNBERRY: Well, 50 guys is not going to turn this struggle around. But my point is, there is a series of restrictions we have placed on ourselves which shows the ISIS and shows potential allies that we're not serious, we're not committed and we're not going to stay with this. That momentum has to be turned around to push back.

BLITZER: Occasionally, they have some pretty good intelligence when they took out Jihadi John, you know, the propagandist, the ISIS who was in the videos beheading Americans, among others. They knew what they were doing then.

THORNBERRY: Yes. No question. We occasionally have successful strikes, but I think it's also telling that, right after the Paris attacks, the first couple days of attacks that the French carried out were targets that the Americans had provided them. The question is why hadn't we already been hitting those?

BLITZER: What's the answer to that? Why didn't the U.S. hit those targets?

THORNBERRY: Because of our restrictions, and there's really not much more of an answer beyond that.

BLITZER: When you see the defense secretary, Ash Carter, chairman of the joint chiefs tomorrow, do you have confidence that they know what they're doing right now?

THORNBERRY: I have confidence in them as individuals. What I do not have confidence in is that the White House allows -- gives them a leeway to have a successful mission. To me that's the key. The military has to be in charge of the military part of this campaign. And they can't have White House aides micromanaging every step that they take, which is what's been happening.

BLITZER: You've seen these reports that the inspector general at the Department of Defense is investigating whether they were sugar coating intelligence reports the U.S. military's Central Command to make it look a lot more rosy the war against ISIS, than was actually the case.

You're deeply concerned about that, but how serious of a problem is that?

THORNBERRY: Well, any hint that intelligence is being shaded to try to please people in the White House or others is very concerning.

BLITZER: Is that going on?

THORNBERRY: We don't know. But we are not just relying on the inspector general. Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committee with the House Intelligence Committee are working together on our own review of these matters. Because it is a very serious issue.

And we're trying not to make sure we don't interfere with the inspector general investigation, but Congress has its own oversight responsibilities into an allegation that's that serious.

BLITZER: You're going to let them do that investigation separately. You're not going to call witnesses before your committee on -- because there are a lot of so-called whistleblowers who say their intelligence reports were doctored.

THORNBERRY: Well, we are discussing this with a number of individuals who have knowledge of the facts. We are trying to be careful not to interfere with the inspector general investigation. But we're not going to wait until that's over, because it is so serious and it has such relevance to what's happening today on the ground.

BLITZER: When the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, issues an alert, saying that a terror threat is imminent, and then they say not just imminent but within the next 48 hours, that suggests they have hard intelligence that there's a terror plot against Americans in the works in Afghanistan. There's still 10,000 U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan, thousands of American civilians at the embassy, contractors, there are a lot of Americans there.

THORNBERRY: There are. And a lot of Americans in danger. I think it is somewhat unusual to have this much specificity on a particular warning. But you're right. They must have very specific information to issue that sort of warning. And hopefully, they have enough information to stop the plot before it's carried out.

BLITZER: Does the Afghan military, which is supposedly in charge of protecting the U.S. embassy and protecting Americans, protecting everyone in Afghanistan, and the U.S. has spent tens of billions of dollars training, arming, getting the Afghan military ready. Can they get the job done?

THORNBERRY: They can. Over time. Remember that what our military said they needed as far as continued U.S. presence. We're not allowed to stay, because the president started withdrawing people too early.

Secondly, intelligence is one of the things that takes more time to develop an intelligence capability. So we need to stay there in order to assist them to stand on their own two feet. If we leave too early, like we did in Iraq, you have a result that will more -- that will resemble Iraq. And obviously that has been a catastrophe for the world.

BLITZER: You want 10,000 U.S. military personnel to remain in Afghanistan for how much longer?

THORNBERRY: As long as it takes. I wouldn't put a time limit on it. The question is how quickly can you build up the Afghan capability> The 10,000 number is a political number. It is not what the military asked for. The president just wanted to be below 10,000, so they end up at 9,800.

BLITZER: U.S. troops have been there in Afghanistan for 14 years already. This is the longest war in U.S. history. Are you talking about another 14 years before the Afghan military can do it on their own?

THORNBERRY: I don't know how long it will take. But you know what, Wolf? I think about what all of us expected on 9/11 as far as further attacks. So that U.S. military presence in Afghanistan has helped prevent al Qaeda from successfully attacking our homeland again over these 14 years, at least in a big 9/11-type plot. So it's had important dividends.

[17:25:23] Now it's absolutely true we want the Afghans to provide for their own security. And that takes some time, but we shouldn't run out, because we see what's left, if we do, by the example of Iraq.

BLITZER: Mac Thornberry is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Chairman, thanks for coming in.

THORNBERRY: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Our terrorism and law enforcement experts, they've been listening as well as working their own sources. Coming up, we'll have more on what's now being described as an imminent threat against U.S. citizens in Afghanistan's capital.

And later, the man accused of first-degree murder in the mass shootings in a Colorado Springs health center makes his first court appearance. We'll have details.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. The U.S. warning about a very significant active and credible threat of an attack in Afghanistan's capital city of Kabul.

[17:30:46] Let's bring in our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes. He's a former FBI assistant director. Our terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, he's editor and chief of the terrorism studies journal, "CTC Sentinel." And our CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd. He's a former CIA official.

Phil, how unusual is it when the U.S. embassy in Kabul issues a warning to all Americans of an imminent threat, and then they go one step further and say within the next 48 hours? A specific warning like that, they've got to know something.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That's right. Pretty unusual to get this level of detail. I think you've got to look at two pieces of this.

First it's the backdrop. The Taliban has been trying to show, in the midst of the U.S. withdrawal, how significant they are in Afghanistan. One of the ways to show that is to prove that they can attack in the most secure area in the country. That's the capital.

With that as a backdrop, you get information in as an intelligence specialist that says something in this circumstance like some guys around the campfire saying they're coming in the next day or two. You don't have the specificity to stop the plot, but with that level of specificity from someone like a human source or a telephone intercept, you've got to go out in public and say, "Over the next couple days we're going to shut down the embassy and we're going to secure it."

BLITZER: So basically, they're telling all Americans in Kabul stay in place, don't go out.

MUDD: That's right.

BLITZER: And for them to issue a warning like this, it's a sort of double-edged sword. On the one hand you're telling the enemy and the terrorists, in effect, you know what they're up to. That could undermine the effort to get those terrorists. On the other hand, you want to protect the Americans.

MUDD: That's right. There's a rule in the business, though, that we apply all the time called the no double standard rule. That is, if you are a U.S. government employee, and you know there's an imminent threat that might lead you to change your procedures, that might lead you, for example, to vary the way you get to the embassy today, you've got to tell the public about that threat, as well.

You can't have U.S. government officials securing themselves, because they're aware of a secret threat, without warning the public. Because if the public then faces an attack and you didn't tell them, there's going to be hell to pay. So you've got to warn in this circumstance.

BLITZER: So who do you think is behind this threat? Would it be the Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS, some other terror group in Afghanistan? Who's the most likely suspect?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I think CNN's being told that it's a mixture of the Haqqani network and al Qaeda that are behind this, both very strong groups, both very much allied with the Afghan Taliban. The Haqqani networks, the networks that's been responsible for some of the biggest attacks in Kabul over the last ten years, they're encroaching into territory around Kabul. And all these Taliban, Haqqani, al Qaeda groups really want to show ISIS who is the big beast in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: So there's sort of a rivalry going on right now. They want to prove that they're the toughest guy, whether it's ISIS or al Qaeda or the Taliban, for that matter, right?

CRUICKSHANK: Exactly. And by launching a huge attack in Kabul, you will be sending a very loud message, "We own this territory."

BLITZER: The other thing that's very worrisome right now, and you've been studying this, is the notion this eighth terrorist in the Paris attacks, Saleh Abdeslam, he may have escaped not only France, not only Belgium, not only the rest of Europe; he may be in an ISIS safe building in Syria right now. What are you hearing about that?

CRUICKSHANK: That's the working theory of French intelligence services. There's a different theory that the Belgians have. They're more skeptical that he could have got all the way to Syria, the most wanted man in Europe on every local television station. The idea that he would be able to get all the way to Syria would be very, very stunning indeed.

But it's perhaps somewhat plausible. We saw the ringleader in the attack in Paris, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, come back to Europe from Syria, despite the fact he was one of the most wanted men. But very, very difficult to get all the way to Syria, Wolf.

BLITZER: When you were at the FBI, Tom, you worked with all these foreign intelligence services, these law enforcement agencies around the world. What bothers me -- and I wonder if it bothers you -- is there seems to be a serious tension between the French and the Belgium right now. Different analysis, different operations. How much collaboration are they actually engaged in?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, the problem, Wolf, is they're willing to share with each other, but what do they have to share? They don't really have strong intelligence bases within their own communities in Paris and within the communities like Molenbeek and Brussels. And therefore they're not getting the information.

BLITZER: Why is that? [17:35:07] FUENTES: Because they've stayed out of those communities.

They've not done the appropriate outreach to get in there. You have second- and third-generation Moroccans, Algerians, other North Africans that are still not French. They're still Moroccan, Algerian and North Africans.

And because of that, the police don't have the relationship in the community. They don't have the sources. They don't believe in obtaining the intelligence as aggressively as the way other intelligence services such as our own would do. And now they're paying the price for that.

They didn't know about the cell that did the first attack. They didn't know about the second cell that they had the shootout with in the apartment. Now they're saying there's a third cell running around, preparing to do an attack, and they don't know who or where they are. And you wonder. And Saleh Abdeslam, they're saying, "Well, we can't find him here, so he must be there."

BLITZER: There's this other attack that supposedly is in the works, going after schools, transportation centers, Jewish neighborhoods in France right now.

Let's also not forget there are 150 world leaders in Paris right now, including the president of the United States. And there's enormous security, but how in danger, potentially, are they?

MUDD: I don't think they're in danger from an organized cell that's going to come at this with 15 people, like what we saw in Paris a few weeks ago. I think the concern you have to have is somebody who is inspired by that attack takes out a weapon or an explosive and says, "I don't care what the consequences are. I'm going to try to breach the perimeter."

With this kind of security perimeter, the chance that a one-off, that somebody who says, "I'm going to attack today, but I don't have a real plan," can penetrate the perimeter is low. So I think one-off possible. The chance that there's a broader attack, I think, is unlikely.

BLITZER: You think that these terrorists would love to plot an attack against these world leaders who are convening for this global summit right now?

CRUICKSHANK: There's no doubt about it. In fact, just a few hours ago ISIS released the new issue of their French-language magazine, saying this is just the beginning of the storm. The network behind the Paris attacks is still present in Syria. The senior ringleader, Fabien Clain, still active around Raqqah, trying to recruit these French and Belgians and Europeans coming into the group and trying to send them back to launch more and more attacks against Europe.

BLITZER: I think these threats that they make, and I'm sure you'll agree, Tom, you've got to take them seriously.

FUENTES: Yes, you do. And you have to be concerned about, still, the other soft targets in town. While all the security is concentrating on the world leaders, you still have the train stations and the airports and schools and other activities that they have to try to protect, as well.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by, we have a lot more coming in. We'll have much more on this part of the story coming up.

But there's other breaking news we're following right now, including in Colorado, where the suspect in the mass shootings at a health clinic just finished his first court appearance. We're learning new and disturbing details about his troubled past.

Also, ISIS expands its deadly grip moving into new territory that could serve as a place to hide and regroup. We have details.


[17:42:22] BLITZER: We're following breaking news in Colorado, where the man accused of shooting in a Colorado Springs health center just made his first appearance before a judge. CNN's Dan Simon is in Colorado Springs for us. Tell us what happened, Dan.


This was a relatively short court appearance, just 13 minutes. And routine in the way these things go. The suspect, 57-year-old Robert Dear, was charged with murder in the first degree.

The suspect, I have to tell you, looked somewhat out of it. He looked as if he was struggling to stay awake in that courtroom.

I can tell you that the judge appointed a public defender, a man named Daniel King, who interestingly enough, represented James Holmes, the mass shooter in that Aurora, Colorado, movie theater.

I can tell you that the next court date is scheduled for next Wednesday. The prosecutors have the option to add more charges. They have ten days to do so.

And the judge said, if convicted, the suspect, Robert Dear, could either serve life in prison or get the death penalty. In the meantime, of course, the investigation continues as authorities work to come up with a motive -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So since he's charged with first-degree murder, he's not going to get bail. He's not going to be eligible for bond, is that right?

SIMON: He won't be eligible for bond.

And you notice there, Wolf, this was a video feed. You can see that the suspect, Robert Dear, was wearing what appeared to be some kind of protective vest. Now, keep in mind, he is at the detention center. And as I said, this was a video feed, so it's not clear why, in fact, he would be wearing that vest, because the public would not have access to him, Wolf. BLITZER: Dan Simon in Colorado Springs for us. Thank you.

We're also learning new details about Robert Dear's troubled past and his run-in with law enforcement. Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, has been working her sources. She's joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Pamela, what have you learned about this alleged shooter's past? Because we're learning more by the hour literally.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And I've been speaking to officials today. There have been FBI investigators working with local investigators, speaking to those who knew Robert Dear, not only in Colorado but also in North Carolina, where he lived around a year or so ago before moving to Colorado.

And at this point in the investigation, authorities believe that Robert Dear acted alone from talking to those that knew him.

We're also learning that he brought in some long guns and handguns when he went into that facility on Friday. Those guns were in his duffel bag, according to officials. That's part of the evidence that investigators are reviewing, along with these propane tanks, some of which were around his car. And officials believe that he was trying to shoot at them to cause some sort of an explosion.

Some of these are the things that investigators are looking at, but right now, Wolf, we're being told

[17:45:00] that there's no clear reason why he targeted that Planned Parenthood, what the motive was. I've learned from my sources that he did mention baby parts around the time when he was arrested and then later in interviews with investigators he talked about his anti- government views, anti-abortion views, but there's a lot still to learn in this investigation. It's still early on.

And in light of that I'm being told that local charges will come first from the prosecutor and then the federal charges could come after either hate crime charges or terrorism charges, Wolf. So we'll have to wait and see what happens. Those federal charges are in case something falls through with the local case because you know in Colorado they have the death penalty as a possible option.

BLITZER: That would be the Justice Department coming in and deciding whether or not to file some federal charges. So far there's been no public discussion of the motive, right?

BROWN: There's discussions about what his mindset could have been, but they have not -- from an investigative standpoint haven't looked at all the evidence and said, OK, the writing is on the wall, here is the clear cut motive. It's simply too early, Wolf. And that is why they're not coming out to say anything because we're only a few days into the investigation. But that will come with time. And we will see what happens when the charges come out. The local charges and then perhaps federal charges on top of it.

BLITZER: Yes. And the accusation this guy murdered three people, a police officer, two civilians and others were injured as well.

All right. Pamela, thanks very much for that report.

Coming up, growing concerns that ISIS is building a backup capital on another continent.


[17:51:01] BLITZER: First Syria then Iraq now Libya is becoming potentially the next ISIS stronghold. There's growing concern terrorist forces have found ideal conditions and are building a new power base in North Africa.

CNN's Brian Todd is digging deeper for us. He's finding more information. This is a potential major expansion, Brian, for ISIS.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is, Wolf. Tonight it is clear ISIS is no longer a regional threat. They have launched terror attacks in Europe and now, according to intelligence officials, the fear is that they are building a backup capital in Libya if their strongholds in Iraq and Syria ever fall.


BRIAN (voice-over): They've marched groups of Christians on to beaches twice this year and beheaded them. They banned music, burned cigarettes in public and forced women to wear veils. They have their own facilities where IEDs and booby traps are made.

This is ISIS' stronghold in Libya. Tonight a U.S. official tells CNN because there's no functioning government in Libya, there is concern among many in the intelligence committee that Libya could be a fallback base of operations for ISIS if the terror group suffers unsustainable losses in Iraq and Syria. For months, officials in Washington have warned of ISIS' growing strength in Libya.

PATRICK PRIOR, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Libya is the most -- is the province or the affiliate that we're most worried about. It's the hub for which -- from which they project across all North Africa.

TODD: ISIS has established a strong presence in the coastal city of Surt, Moammar Gadhafi's hometown. They boldly declared, according to the "Wall Street Journal," that, quote, "Surt will be no less than Raqqa," ISIS' chief stronghold in Syria.

FREDERIC WEHREY, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: The Islamic State in Libya is really being run almost as a colony by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. They have sent emissaries to Libya to really implement a very similar style of rule.

TODD: Analysts say that means morality patrols which shut down media outlets, beauty salons, any vestige of Western influence.

NOMAN BENOTMAN, THE QUILLIAM FOUNDATION: They control the -- what I call, I like to call the routine, which is the daily life, you know, of the people. Yes, now they have their own education system, they have justice system, they have police, they call it the Islamic Police, yes.

TODD: Tonight a warning from analysts, ISIS may target another major city which would strengthen its hand in Libya.

WEHREY: The concern now from Surt is that they're going to move eastward into oil rich region known as the oil crest. And eventually to this strategy city of Ajdabiya which if they capture would give them tremendous oil resources revenue to build more support and really give them a base of operations in this country.

TODD: Analysts say Libya is a magnet for European jihadists, looking to join ISIS, and the group's affiliate there has made statements about launching attacks on Europe.


TODD: And ISIS' branch in Libya, Europe is accessible. It's less than 500 miles from Surt to Cicely, less than 500 miles from Surt to Greece. Now these waters are treacherous to cross But analysts also worry tonight about a land route where ISIS could attack Tunisia, a key U.S. ally. It could destabilize that country, then they could infiltrate into southern France from there. A very worrisome thing tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: What are the U.S. and its allies doing to stem this ISIS surge in Libya right now, Brian?

TODD: Stepped-up airstrikes for one, Wolf. We're told that a U.S. drone strike killed a senior leader in ISIS in Libya about two weeks ago. That was around the same time as the Paris terror attacks but it kind of got buried in the news. Also "The New York Times" reports that the U.S. and Britain have sent commandos to conduct surveillance, gather intelligence on the ground here in Libya, but there are not many long-term options in Libya right now.

Wolf, the one thing that is good for the U.S. and its allies, all this coastline, it's a vulnerability for ISIS, you can attack them almost at any time because of course there's really no functioning government or military force to stop it.

BLITZER: No functioning government and a lot of analysts in the U.S. government and outside the U.S. government are certainly questioning that whole strategy of getting rid of Moammar Gadhafi, as bad as he was. The situation in Libya in North Africa right now, ominously, ominously potentially a whole lot worse.

[17:55:01] All right. Brian, thanks very much.

Coming up, more breaking news, a U.S. embassy puts out a chilling warning of an imminent attack. I'll talk to a U.S. congressman whose getting more information on an intelligence briefing right now.

Plus, one of the fugitive Paris terrorist now believed to possibly back -- to be back in Syria as he rejoined ISIS -- the ISIS ranks to plot new attacks.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, imminent attack. The U.S. is warning of an active and credible terrorist threat overseas that could happen within hours. We're standing by for new information from a top U.S. lawmaker who's inside a closed door intelligence briefing right now.