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Paris Attackers Had Other Plots Ready To Go; Americans Warned Of Imminent Attack In Kabul; Officials Believe Suspect Likely In Syria; Jury Selection Begins In Freddie Gray Trial; Kabul Attack Could Be Imminent; Baltimore Jury Selection Begins. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired November 30, 2015 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 7:00 p.m. in Paris, 8:00 p.m. in Raqqah, Syria. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
We begin with an emergency warning for Americans. The U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan has just received what are described as credible reports of an imminent attack in the city. There are no details about what form the attack might take except that it could happen. No word on what the attack might be, but it will happen in the next 48 hours.
And in France, we're getting chilling new developments in the Paris terror investigation. Sources now telling CNN that other attacks were, quote, "ready to go and were aimed at Jewish neighborhoods, transportation and schools." French intelligence also now operating under the theory that the suspect who's still on the run, Salah Abdeslam, may have already escaped to the ISIS safe haven of Syria. Parts of Paris clearly right now on a security lockdown. Thousands of police officers keeping an iron grip on the city as 150 world leaders convene for a global climate change conference. President Obama said today the conference has become an act of defiance against terror.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We stand united in solidarity not only to deliver justice to the terrorist network responsible for those attacks but to protect our people and uphold the enduring values that keep us strong and keep us free. And 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?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, let's get some more now on what's going on in Paris. Phil Black is joining us from Paris right now. Phil, what else can you tell us about these other terror threats that have just emerged against Jewish neighborhoods, schools, transportation?
PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, a source, Wolf, close to the Paris attacks investigation has told CNN that the group responsible for the attacks that took place here on the streets of Paris just two weeks ago had other plots, and this is the phrase they used, ready to go. And you're right, he said they believe, in this case, the targets were transportation networks, Jewish areas and schools. This information is said to come from a man who presented himself voluntarily to police saying he had been in contact with a member of the group that plan and carried out the attacks here. The woman who was killed in that police operation on an apartment in the Paris area of Saint Denis in the days after the attacks that took place here.
Now, this is on top of the information. But what we've already heard from French officials who said they carried out that raid on that apartment just in time, disrupting the group to prevent them from yet another attack on the financial district of le-de-France here in Paris. All of this suggests the likelihood that the ambition of this group was greater, far greater perhaps, than the attacks they did successfully carry out here two weeks ago -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And why do they now believe that Salah Abdeslam, this most wanted terror suspect, has escaped from France or Belgium or wherever he was and is now back in Syria someplace in ISIS-controlled parts of Syria?
BLACK: So, he hasn't been seen since. But you're right, we've got this line from French sources that suggest that French intelligence are now working under the theory, basically, that it is possible that he may have already slipped the net here in Europe and somehow traveled back to ISIS-controlled territory in Syria. That would be something of an extraordinary development if true. We don't know precisely what has led them to suspect this, and it is just a working theory, but they believe that it's possible that somehow he has traveled to Syria. That would mean traveling to a country neighboring Syria, like Turkey or Iraq, that would almost certainly involve some form of international air travel. An extraordinary, disturbing development for European security officials if true.
Belgium authorities -- and remember it's believed that he traveled to Belgium immediately after this attack. It's where witness accounts suggest he was he was last seen in the days following the attacks in Paris. They're still looking for him. They've always believed that it's likely he would desire to get back to Syria. But, at the moment, they have no concrete reason to believe that he has done so -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Phil Black in Paris for us. Thanks very much.
Let's turn now to that U.S. State Department emergency warning issued today for American citizens. The U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan has received what's described as credible reports of an attack in the city that could happen in the next 48 hours.
[13:05:07] Our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto is joining us right now. So, what else -- what else do we know about this supposed imminent attack?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, they say, Wolf, that it is credible. It's imminent. The timing, as you mentioned, 48 hours. It does not meet that standard of being credible and specific that you'll often hear with regards to intelligence. They don't know what target or what the means of attack would be. So, all they can say to U.S. citizens there, and this is the words of the statement from the embassy, is to exercise extreme caution when moving around the city.
So, it's something, of course, that they're obligated to share with American citizens there when they get this sort of information from local law enforcement, from the military counterterror there as well. They're taking it seriously but they can't say more than -- that it's going to happen or they believe it may happen soon and somewhere within the bounds of the capital.
BLITZER: And the U.S. still has a pretty large embassy over there, a big embassy staff. A lot of Americans serving and nongovernmental agencies at the same. Do they know if this threat is from ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Taliban or some other group?
SCIUTTO: They don't know. And to be honest, you and I, we've spent a lot of time there, it's the kind of information, it's the kind of threat that you will hear often there that they will get information about, typically, the main actors are the Taliban. And they've been able to carry out attacks within Kabul fairly frequently in the last couple of years which is alarming because I've been to Kabul, even recently. And the levels of security there are quite high. They've got the best presence. ISIS is getting an increasing presence there. But, typically, these threats, these attacks come from the Afghan Taliban or the Pakistan Taliban.
BLITZER: Sometimes they cooperate with themselves, with each other, with these various groups, at the same time. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.
Let's talk about all of this and more. Senator Dan Coats is joining us. He's a Republican from Indiana. He's also a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
SEN. DAN COATS (R), INDIANA, MEMBER, SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: Thank you.
BLITZER: A crazy world we're living in right now. But what have you been told about this so-called imminent threat to the U.S. embassy, to Americans in Kabul?
COATS: Well, right now, I don't probably know anything more than your correspondent knows. But we do know that this is a high threat attack -- potential attack on the embassy. This is not unusual. We're seeing this all over the world. These -- I think the civilized world right now, the free world, is on a high -- state of high alert. ISIL has clearly demonstrated its ability to either inspire or to plan for attacks. This may be Al Qaeda. You talked about, also, the Taliban. We're looking at numerous intelligence groups that are vying for publicity, trying to be number one. And it's very dangerous for people throughout the free world who are potentially subject to these attacks. BLITZER: Are they competing with each other to see who can cause the
most casualties, if you will? Because, occasionally, these various groups sort of cooperate with each other at the -- at the same time.
COATS: Well, I think it's both. Clearly, everybody wants to be number one. And in doing that, they're using methods and social media to demonstrate just how effective and how brutal they can be. And it's perverse but it attracts a lot of people from around the world who want to join that kind of effort. I think the world really needs to be on high alert here, whether it's Paris, whether it's somewhere in the United States or whether it's Kabul. When I served in the embassy in Berlin as ambassador, we didn't have anything like this. And this was post-911. We were on high alert but things settled down. And we seemed to have very good cooperation with the Germans, in terms of knowing what the threats were going to be. But, now, it's something, like a new threat every day.
BLITZER: How does a guy like Salah Abdeslam, this terror suspect, escape from France or Belgium? These reports now, he may already be in ISIS-controlled parts of Syria.
COATS: Well, you know, this feeds the narrative that we don't have the acts together -- our acts together, in terms of coordination and protecting borders. And so, all of those who are raising issues relative to how do we know that the visa labor program is being breeched? How do we know that terrorists aren't getting into Europe or into the United States? If a terrorist, who the entire law enforcement community is looking for, and blocking everybody leaving one country to another country, and can't find him, think about how easy it might be for someone we don't know about coming into Europe or trying to get into the United States.
So, those who are questioning what our level of security can be to prevent terrorists from getting to places where they do harm, I think have legitimate basis on which to raise those concerns.
BLITZER: And you have serious concerns about the whole visa waiver program for Europeans to come into the United States basically without a visa, if they are coming from France or Belgium or Britain or some friendly country. About 35-plus countries have this visa waiver program. You want to change it. What do you want to see happen?
[13:10:05] COATS: Well, it was designed to expedite travel, of course, for tourists and for commercial purposes. On the other hand, we want -- and it works in a number of ways effectively. But what you don't is have is someone going before a counselor or someone with the State Department face-to-face, saying, why do you want to go to America? Why do you want to go here or there or whatever, before we give you that visa waiver. So, what we want to do is try to tighten up those rules, make sure the all of those 35 -- actually, I think it's 38 nations under the visa waiver program, are on the same high- level standard. Also, we want to make sure those counselor people are trained so that they can better identify potential suspects.
BLITZER: Well, you know, if the U.S. does it to them, they're going to do it to the U.S. citizens as well. It's going to really -- millions of people travel for business or for tourism from Europe to the United States and vice versa. If you're going to force people to have interviews, go to embassies, go to consulates, and have some sort of eyeball-to-eyeball discussion, that's going to slow things down dramatically and have a huge impact on commerce and tourism.
COATS: Well, it'll only be for those countries that can't put those practice standards in place.
BLITZER: Like which one? Like Germany, for example?
COATS: Well, I think Germany easily can -- possibly it can do that and many of the major --
BLITZER: Belgium? Do you have confidence in Belgium?
COATS: I don't have total confidence in any of this. It's -- you know, we are looking at Salah Abdeslam going in one direction back -- potentially back --
COATS: -- to Syria. How about all those people trying to go in the other direction? I think we just need to have everybody on a high alert. I'm not mandating that everybody have a counselor. What we're -- what we're doing is making sure every country that is part of the visa waiver program has their standards in place. Now, there are watch lists also that the intelligence agencies are putting together so people can't get on planes. But this does raise real concern. Literally, Europe -- everyone in Europe is looking for this guy, and they can't find him. And that should give us concern about people coming the other way, fit is true that he, indeed, has a -- made his way all of the way back to Syria.
BLITZER: If he has gone from France to Belgium, and then made his way --
BLITZER: -- maybe through Turkey and then across the border into Syria. That would be a huge, huge --
COATS: And, apparently, even worked his way through a checkpoint and wasn't discovered.
BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
COATS: Yes, thank you.
BLITZER: Senator Dan Coats of Indiana.
Coming up, Europe's most wanted man, now French officials believe he's probably in Syria right now. So, what, if anything, can authorities do to track him down, bring him to justice? We're getting some more information. Stand by.
And jury selection underway right now for the first of six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. But in a city so divided, will it be possible to get an impartial jury? We'll have a live report from Baltimore. That's coming up as well.
[13:16:53] BLITZER: Let's get back to one of our top stories. The U.S. State Department issuing an emergency warning for Americans. The U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, has received what are described as credible reports of an attack in the city that could happen in the next 48 hours.
Let's talk about this, some of the other big security stories happening right now. Cedric Leighton is a CNN military analyst, former member of the U.S. Joint Chief of Staff. Also joining us, our terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank.
You know, when they say 48 hour, Cedric, and they give a specific warning like that, that sounds a lot more worrisome than if they just say there's a threat out there, we don't have the details.
CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely. So what that indicates to me, Wolf, is that they have some precise intelligence, some degree of intelligence that is specific as to the nature of the threat, the location potentially of the threat, and who is actually going to commit that attack or is planning that attack. So this is a very rare, specific warning to the people -- the U.S. personnel that are stationed in Kabul at this point. And what it really means is that they not only have to be on guard, but they have to, in essence, shelter in place and be very cognizant of their movements and make sure that those movements are minimized as much as they possibly can be.
BLITZER: Because there's always alerts that are issued by the state department. Worldwide travel alerts. But when they have a specific 48 hour deadline on it, that mean they have more information. So is this seen as a threat from the Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS? You know Afghanistan.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, they're not making that clear at the moment. But the Afghan Taliban is by far the greatest threat in Afghanistan. ISIS has a small presence still compared to the Afghan Taliban. In fact, the Afghan Taliban and ISIS have been fighting each other in some districts of eastern Afghanistan. But the Afghan Taliban have been stepping up their attacks inside the country. Just a few weeks ago, at the beginning of the autumn, they briefly took control of a provincial capsule, Kundudz (ph). They have increasing numbers of recruits and weapons and momentum on their side. And they may be planning something against the capital.
BLITZER: We know the Iraqi military has been a huge disappointment to the U.S. Nearly 300,000 military personnel in Iraq, trained by the U.S., armed by the U.S., but they sort of disappeared when ISIS came into Mosul, for example. What about the Afghan military, also trained by the U.S., armed by the U.S., can they get the job done? LEIGHTON: Highly doubtful, Wolf. And the reason I say that is because
there are elements, obviously, of the Afghan military that are very good and that are willing to stand up and fight. The problem is, they are fighting for a state that they really don't believe in.
Afghanistan is a tribal culture. It is an ethnically-riven culture. And it is not a culture in which a unified entity like the Afghan military, for the government in Kabul, is going to survive for a long period of time. They are not in a position to truly protect foreigners, especially Americans. They're also not in a position to protect themselves and their government for a long time.
BLITZER: That's a pretty sad commentary when you think of, what, 14 years the U.S. has been involved in Afghanistan, spending tens of billions of dollars training the military there, and the U.S. starts to pull out and they can't get the job done themselves.
[13:20:01] CRUICKSHANK: And renewed concern, Wolf, about al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Some of these al Qaeda operatives coming over the border from Pakistan where there's more pressure on them from the Pakistan military and these drone strikes. Just in the last few weeks, the U.S. and the Afghans went in and there was a major operation against a sprawling al Qaeda training base in the mountains of southeastern Afghanistan. Renewed concern about the al Qaeda threat in Afghanistan all these years later. Obviously the initial decision to go in because of the al Qaeda presence there, well, they're back to some degree.
BLITZER: You've spent a lot of time, Paul, trying to track, like so much of the world, Salah Abdeslam, this suspect in the Paris terror attacks and now the French and other authorities, they say well maybe he not only got from France to Belgium but made his way to Turkey and it now someplace in the safe haven in Syria, in ISIS-controlled parts of Syria. What do you make of that, those reports? You've heard them.
CRUICKSHANK: Well, this is a working theory that the French intelligence services have. The Belgians are more skeptical. They believe he might still be in Brussels or Belgium. This is not somebody that exhibited a great amount of terrorist trade craft in the days after the attack. He got a couple of his friends to pick him up from Paris. Another friend to pick him up, take him to another neighborhood of Brussels. He popped into a cafe for a few minute. I mean, you know, this is not the kind of trade craft that is going to get you all the way to Syria necessarily if you're the most wanted man in Europe, you're on the local television channels right across the continent. It would be stunning if he managed to get there.
BLITZER: If he's back in Syria, alive and well, that would be stunning indeed.
All right, guys, thanks very much for joining us, Paul Cruickshank, Cedric Leighton.
Coming up, we're going to take you inside the courtroom where one of six Baltimore police officers is now on trial, charged in the death of Freddie Gray. We have brand new details on the potential jury pool. We're also learning more about the jury questions. We're going live to Baltimore right after a quick break.
[13:26:05] BLITZER: Jury selection began today in the trial of Baltimore Police Officer William Porter. He's the first of six police officers being tried in connection with the death of Freddie Gray. Back in April of this year, Gray suffered a severe spinal injury in the back of a police van. He died a week later. Gray's death sparked riots in Baltimore, protests indeed across the nation. Just before the jury was brought in today, Porter's attorney went to the window to look at a group of protesters outside the courthouse. The demonstrators were chanting, "all night, all day, we're going to fight for Freddie Gray."
Miguel Marquez has been in the courtroom all day. He's just come out right now.
Court is in recess for lunch right now, Miguel. Set the scene for us. What did you see this morning?
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we had 75 citizens of Baltimore go into that courtroom today. And as they got sat, they heard those chants from the protesters outside. A bit of a surreal moment as those protesters took their seats in that courtroom.
More than half of them are African-American. Thirty-three of them are white. Almost -- far more than half, about 58, perhaps 60 of them, answered questions at one point during the questioning by the judge that said that they could not for some reason be on this trial. But the judge is not going to let it go there. He is now taking them in, in small numbers, twos, threes, fours, somes by ones, bring them into a conference room off the courtroom and questioning them more deeply about why they believe they cannot be on this jury. He said it during this trial that he believes he can -- that the trial will start. That opening arguments will begin in the next day or two and he expects to have this first trial wrapped up by December 17th.
BLITZER: Why was this specific police officer's trial the first one?
MARQUEZ: This is an individual who, as we understand it, particularly from reporting in "The Baltimore Sun," that saw parts of the investigation into this as a part of a larger story they were doing, that this is an individual who made statements about what some of the other officers were up to. Incriminating statements possibly on their behalf. Saying things like, well, you can't take Mr. Gray to lockup, he's got to go to the hospital. He asked him if he needed a medic at one point and Gray responded yes to Porter. At the same time, though, Porter also indicated that he wasn't sure whether or not Gray was lying. So two very different stories there. We are very, very interested to hear the full statements that Mr. Porter made, Officer Porter made to other officers and to investigators after this -- after the death of Mr. Gray.
Wolf. BLITZER: Miguel, as you know, by Maryland law, no cameras are allowed
in the courtroom for criminal trials, but what other restrictions has the judge placed on the news media?
MARQUEZ: The restrictions are quite broad. Everything from how we access -- get into the court area, using, I mean, in this day and age not to be able to use your cell phone in any way, to have to turn it off entirely or it will be confiscated from you inside the courthouse, to only be able to use electronics in one small section of the courtroom, to not be able to sort of discuss it or tweet it or do anything of a live nature. Also, you know, he admonished the jurors, this very large group of individuals who may be on the jury eventually, do not talk to anyone. A great degree of, I think, distrust of the media and the role it has playing all the way along, through the protests, through the rioting and now up into these proceedings a real sense of agitation and distrust with the media.
BLITZER: All right, Miguel, thanks very much. We'll stay on top of this trial. Day one happening today.
[13:29:46] In other news, an online threat has prompted the University of Chicago to shut down today. University officials say the FBI alerted authorities to a shooting threat, specifically mentioning the campus quad in Hyde Park. That part of Chicago where the university is. In response to that and recent tragic events on other campuses around the United States, officials decided to err on the side of caution. They've canceled all classes today, all campus activities as well.