Return to Transcripts main page


U.K. Parliament in Lockdown after Incident. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 22, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRSEPONDENT: It really does raise enormous concern, not just for Britons, not just for people who spend time in that area, but for people around the world who love London and who are watching this scene unfold -- Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The center of British power, the parliament, the entire area now in lockdown.

I want to get back to you in a moment, Clarissa.

But, Nic Robertson, we've reestablished your location. We saw you earlier. Local police, they've moved you and other journalists further away. They've expanded that area of the lockdown. Tell us where you are right now and what you're hearing.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Wolf, the Mr. I say have moved us back I would say about 50 to 100 yards back from the position we were in. At the moment, they're giving no reason for pushing us back this additional distance. Certainly, large crowds were beginning to gather. This, of course, a time in London when many people are beginning to head home from work. It's not clear if the police perceive an increased threat or danger to the crowds from what they were discovering.

But what we can see from down there, and we're still looking down towards Westminster Bridge, where you've had another camera looking towards the activity there, the police vehicles there, the ambulances that are there. There's still a helicopter circling overhead. The scene here, police at the moment, as much as they wanted to get the crowds back, they don't seem keyed as if there is an immediate threat. They seem like they merely wanted to locate everyone further away from the scene.

But on the green in front of the parliament, there was an emergency services helicopter, which when you see those on the ground, here, as in anywhere in the world, Wolf, you know that there are serious casualties involved. What's perhaps very telling here is that helicopter remains on the ground. It hasn't whisked anyone away from the scene yet. Of course, there are a lot of ambulances here. This is central London. There are hospitals in the relatively near vicinity, just across the bridge. But at the moment, this is very much a developing situation. The police -- and I hear more signs coming this way -- the police at the moment maintaining this bigger perimeter as they continue to investigate. And from what we understand, still trying to deal with the impact of the situation, to deal with the casualties -- Wolf? BLITZER: Stand by.

Max Foster, you're there on the scene as well. You're getting new information about British prime minister, Theresa May. She was evacuated?

MAX FOSTER, CNN LONDON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, obviously, the building is in lockdown so we're speaking to colleagues who were inside the building. One of them works for our affiliate ITV. We're hearing from ITV that Prime Minister Theresa May was seen being ushered into a silver car as gunfire was heard, range out at parliament. This is painting a picture of gunfire coming very close to the British prime minister in parliament. Extraordinary and frightening.

BLITZER: The notion that someone could scale, could get through those fences and walls and get into parliament, that's pretty frightening, that's pretty extraordinary. Security around there is incredibly tight.

FOSTER: It is, just for M.P.s, let alone for the prime minister. I'm agog at the idea that there could be gunfire around the prime minister in parliament. This is a major failure of security. I don't know what's been going on down there, but there's been a lockdown for obvious reasons. But the idea that our prime minister could have been possibly caught up in gunfire in, arguably, one of the most secure places for public figures in the United Kingdom is unheard of, extraordinary, and absolutely frightening.

BLITZER: But she's OK? By all accounts, Max, Theresa May, the prime minister, is OK? She's obviously been removed, in lockdown herself, but she's safe and fine, right?

FOSTER: Well, this is expresses the level of concern here right now. They won't confirm anything. I think obviously if she wasn't well and she couldn't serve her job, then we would have to know about it. The public needs to know who is running the country. Someone else would have to step in. So we assume she is OK. We don't know anything more than that. There's a vacuum of information right now which really does show how seriously the British authorities are taking this.

BLITZER: I think we have on the phone the former Polish foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, who was an eyewitness as well.

Minister, are you there?


BLITZER: Tell us what you were, Minister, what you were doing, because we saw some of the video that you were shooting.

SIKORSKI: I was in a taxi driving from Westminster Square to the South Bank in London. And I heard rather than saw what I took to be a collision, like a car hitting a sheet of metal. And when I looked, I saw people down on the streets, on the tarmac, first person, second person, people rushing to help them. I saw in all five people down, mowed down by a car, including one person bleeding heavily from the head, and another person lying unconscious.

[11:35:16] BLITZER: And what was your reaction, Minister?

SIKORSKI: It happened so quickly that you don't even have time to get frightened. I had been in war situations before, which is why I had my journalistic reaction and started recording. Our taxi driver immediately called the emergency services and we started hearing sirens within literally a couple of minutes.

BLITZER: Did you see actual individuals on the ground who had been injured?

SIKORSKI: Yes, I saw five people, five people I definitely saw.

BLITZER: And ambulances had already arrived? Because we know there are a lot of ambulances on the scene right now.

SIKORSKI: Well, they hadn't by then, because I saw them seconds after impact. But there's also a hospital right there by Westminster Bridge. So from that point of view, help should be on the way very quickly. But this is clearly a very serious incident.

BLITZER: And your conclusion was these individuals, these five people you saw lying on the ground on that bridge, had been hit by this vehicle, is that right?

SIKORSKI: I didn't see it, but it's what I assume. There were two people on the tarmac, and at least two people sort of by the side, by the balustrade of the bridge itself. So it looked like the car was -- I'm now assuming, I'm now speculating, as if the car was swerving between the pavement and the road to hit people.

BLITZER: I want to just thank you, Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, who was on the scene and saw individuals lying on that bridge, presumably, the result of that vehicle driving along the bridge and hitting people as it was moving closer towards the parliament.

We're told the president of the United States, President Trump, has been briefed by his national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster. He also spoke out about this just a few moments ago. We're about to get the videotape of President Trump on what he has been told.

I want to quickly go to Nic Robertson.

You're getting more information. Nic, what else are you learning? You're there.

ROBERTSON: Yeah, Wolf, hearing the description of what happened and the prime minister being whisked away from the scene -- we're being moved back a little bit at the moment, Wolf -- but what we saw, what I was able to see as -- we're walking fast, we're walking fast -- and what we were able to see at the back of Downing Street was additional security. Downing Street, of course, where the prime minister lives when she's in London. Additional security where she lives, the policemen, armed police members outside there, that is not normal. Clearly additional security placed around the prime minister's residence at this time -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Police are now moving you again, Nic, is that right?

ROBERTSON: Wolf, we're being moved back. It is a fluid situation. There is a new police line being established even further back here. So we are just coming up to that line right now. Again, not clear, Wolf, why we're being moved back again.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want to go to the videotape. Just got this videotape. This is President Trump. He has been briefed by Lieutenant General McMaster, his national security adviser.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- news having to do with London that just happened.

Thank you very much. We appreciate you being here. It's a great honor.


BLITZER: That's it. That's what he said, something has happened in London. He has been briefed, but information still very, very sketchy as we're watching this unfold.

Clarissa Ward is with me. Steve Hall, our national security contributor, is with me as well, formerly with the CIA.

Clarissa, you know this area. You studied, you went to school in this area.

WARD: I went to school.

BLITZER: So you see these images and it's pretty extraordinary.

[11:39:44] WARD: It is. It is extraordinary. We all understand that we live in dangerous times and we understand that threats are elevated. But this is one of the most bustling areas of London. It's where Westminster Abbey is, which is where I went to school, right next to Westminster Abbey. It's full of students, tourists, lawmakers and politicians. This is the seat of power in the United Kingdom. This is an incredibly busy, thriving, important place in London. And to see it under lockdown like that is certainly very striking.

We're hearing from the Metropolitan Police that they are expanding the area, that they're asking people now to avoid not just the immediate area around the Houses of parliament but also White Hall, Westminster Bridge, the Embankment. I know those names don't necessarily mean a lot to our viewers, but this is a large area police are asking people to push back from. They are saying, we are treating this as a terrorist incident until we know otherwise. I think you're really hearing from police that they want people to understand that they need to be on the highest possible state of alert and the highest level of vigilance right now until the situation is fully contained.

And from what we are seeing on the ground right now, it is still fluid. It's difficult to know exactly what's going on. So unsurprising that police are taking those kinds of draconian precautions.

But again, just to give you a sense of how many people would be walking along that bridge, that bridge is packed when you try to cross it, and lots and lots of tourists, Wolf. This is a very popular area with people who are visiting Great Britain.

BLITZER: We've seen reports that you just heard from the Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski of victims lying on the bridge. Now there's reports of a stabbing inside, beyond the gates.

We're getting a very brief statement, a warning from the U.S. embassy in London: "We are aware of a reported incident near Westminster in London, please avoid the area and monitor the local news for updates."

Charlie Cooper is joining us on the phone. He's the U.K. political reporter for "Politico."

Charlie, what are you hearing?

CHARLIE COOPER, U.K. POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO (voice-over): Hi there. Well, the parliament is on lockdown, inside the House of Commons chamber are on lockdown. David Livingston, the leader of the House of Commons, made a brief statement to M.P.s just now in which he confirmed that a police officer has been stabbed on the parliamentary estate and that the assailant was shot by police. We actually saw both of those incidents from our office windows. We're shaken up right now, as you can imagine. Our thoughts are with the police officer who has been stabbed and anyone else who was hurt in this horrible incident.

BLITZER: Any indication, Charlie, of a motive, why this occurred?

COOPER: No. We're sitting up here seeing it from a distance. I couldn't possibly say what lies behind this except for the fact it's being treated as a terror incident by police. I don't know about that. They're keeping the area on lockdown. We have to keep all possibilities in mind.

BLITZER: You're still inside the parliament, that area there, and you're on lockdown together with your other journalistic colleagues?

COOPER: That's right, the entire parliamentary press gallery is here on lockdown. As far as I know, the M.P.s are still on lockdown. The M.P.s are in the chamber in lockdown there. I've also seen reports that inside the central lobby, the main central hall in parliament, as your commentator was saying, this is the center of politics and power in the United Kingdom, it's an incredibly busy area. Full of ministers, M.P.s, journalists, officials around the estate.

BLITZER: Charlie, hold on for one moment.

Charlie Cooper, of "Politico," hold on for one moment.

We're getting live eyewitnesses who are discussing what they saw. Let's listen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because we were only crawling along the bridge. There was bodies literally.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Must have been 10 bodies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At least. All in different places.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lying in different places along the bridge.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It must have been terrifying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was horrendous, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely horrendous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had to stay on the bus and they told the driver to get off the bridge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, needed to get somewhere safe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then the emergency services were there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They came as well at the same time.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank goodness you were there together.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Young ladies from Mexico on the bus as well. And they were traumatized, absolutely traumatized. Only young girls. It was horrendous.


BLITZER: You heard those women say they saw bodies lying all around.

On the phone right now is Dal Babu, former chief superintendent of the Metropolitan Police in London. He was in charge of security for that area.

What can you tell us based on what you're hearing?

[11:45:10] DAL BABU, FORMER CHIEF SUPERINTENDENT, LONDON METROPOLITAN POLICE (voice-over): Good afternoon. I think it's very, very early at this stage to know exactly what's happened. I think the assumption is, given where the attacks happened, that this is a terrorist incident. At the moment, I think the information is very unclear. I think what we've been told is an officer has been stabbed, that officers have shot the individual. I think it's an incredibly challenging area to police and keep safe, because the House of Commons and House of Lords have multiple entry and exit points for lords and members of parliament. In addition to that, it's adjacent to the public highway. You

literally walk along Parliament Square, and long Milbank, and you're right next to the building. There's a fence, but you will have multiple points where individuals can enter and leave the building, both from the underground, the subway, which is very close to Westminster, which I understand is closed at the moment.

In addition to that, it's a major tourist spot because you've got Big Ben. People will come along to see Big Ben and House of Commons and it's an incredibly challenging place for police to keep safe.

At this stage, we have to wait to see what information we get from police. There will be a lot of speculation. I just heard about the comments about bodies lying. I don't know what the veracity of that information is. At the moment, I'm probably, like many of us, just a little bit unclear around exactly what's happened other than what appears to have been confirmed, that there was a stabbing of an officer, shots were fired, a helicopter is being rushed in. The BBC reported that prime minister, Theresa May, was whisked away from the scene when the incident started. But it's a moving piece at the moment. We'll have to wait for the information to come out.

BLITZER: Metropolitan Police, you'll be interested to know, Superintendent, they're asking all eyewitnesses to share photos, video, whatever they have, they can use that information, and presumably people will be doing precisely that.

In your experience, for someone to get inside with a knife and stab a police officer, and then that individual was shot by police, how often does something like that happen in London?

BABU: London is an incredibly safe place. Crime has plummeted. It will be a shock to Londoners to see that this has happened. London is one of the safest major cities in the world. And there are CCTV cameras in every conceivable high-profile place. You would have security guards. So I think what's very, very unclear at the moment is, was this person, did he enter, because you have to go through security, you have to empty your pockets. It's like going into an airport security. And you have armed guards present, armed officers present.

What's very, very unclear is, is this somebody who produced a knife at that point when they were trying to enter the police building -- sorry, the parliament building, or was it somebody who had managed to secrete a knife into the building, which would be more worrying. We don't know the answers to that.

But I think the fact that the individual was shot and restrained gives you an indication that the security system, which has been hugely increased recently, was working and had the right individuals there. When I worked there, I served on a security team at the House of Commons, we were unarmed.


[11:51:27] CHRISITANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRSPONDENT (voice-over): All of that leads you to believe none of them are connected. But the intelligence people have been telling us for a long, long time that Britain was bound to have some kind of an incident. We saw what happened in Paris over the last year where he we saw what happened in Germany near Christmas. We saw what happened in brussels last year. And Britain has always said, because they've had nothing, luckily, since 7/7 in 2005, which is a major terrorist attack, it's always said we have been working hard to thwart all sorts of dangers. We have thwarted so many potential attacks, but there was bound to be something. We simply do not know whether this is something or whether it's a coordinated attack. All we know is what has happened, the sketchy details, and what the police are saying that they are treating it as a terrorist attack until they know otherwise.

And as you heard from the superintendent, this is an incredibly CCTV city. Almost nothing can walk or talk without being caught on CC television, CCTV cameras. They have a huge amount of surveillance around these bases.

And one last thing. I have also been in parliament many times. The last time was just a couple of months ago. It's impossible to get through without, as a superintendent was telling you, going through and past armed guards, going through heavy security, x-rays, and body scanners and all of that. This is the lay of the land at the moment.

BLITZER: And as far as you know, Christiane, the lockdown in that entire parliament area, including the Big Ben area, Number 10 Downing Street, all that area still on lockdown, right?

AMANPOUR: It is on lockdown. As we've been saying, and it's everybody around the world knows what is Britain, what is London known for? Why do people come to London? For that iconic parliament building and Big Ben. As you can imagine, there were probably a lot of tourists. It's been showery, a little rainy in spring, but it's been quite a nice day, and there are a lot of tourists in this city.

But also there was prime ministers' questions. Wednesday is prime ministers' questions time, which is why the prime minister was there. And she was also in various committee rooms, we understand, dealing with various bits of legislation, and then she was apparently bundled out, and we're not quite sure where she has gone, but we understand that she is safe.

But this is, again, all the party leaders, all the big guns come to parliament on a Wednesday for prime minister's questions.

BLITZER: That may have been one of the reasons this attacker or attackers -- we don't know - may have selected this particular day. We're getting very, very preliminary information. Just want to cautious our viewers on that.

Christiane, I'm going to get back to you in a moment. I know you are working your sources over there as well.

Phil Black, you are also on the scene for us. What's the latest you're hearing? PHIL BLACK, CNN CFORRESPONDENT: Wolf, from where we're standing, it's

pretty clear that the police have largely completed their desperate scramble to clear the immediate area around parliament.

We're going to give you a sense if we can see from where we're standing. This is the main road that runs through the government district of London. At the end of this road, just a couple of minutes' walk down this road, that is where the parliament building is. That's where Parliament Square is, Westminster Bridge is. These are locations you've been hearing about, we've been talking about today.

What we've been seeing over the last hour or so -- and it was only an hour or so when police were first called to this area -- was a heavy, rapid police response to this location, to this immediate area. When we first got here, we could see the armed police, the motorcycles, the air ambulance that had landed directly on Parliament Square itself, and then since then police have gradually been pushing back, expanding their area of control. It's not an easy job because, as Christiane and others have been talking about, this is an incredibly busy area. Not just with the people who work in the various arms of government and parliament, the prime minister's residence, Downing Street, it's just really just a very short distance from where I'm standing now, but, of course, the tourists as well. They come here in huge numbers every day of the week.

What you do see here every day of the week, of course, is a very strong security presence as well. Now, British police are known for not carrying firearms, or most of them don't, but around the parliamentary buildings themselves, you always see heavily armed police walking patrols. There are large gates, there is airport-style security, as Christiane was describing. There are large obstacles it that are designed to prevent buildings (sic) from getting in to that very key iconic parliamentary building itself. There are just so many people.

This is the scenario, these are the conditions, the environment, if you like, that whatever took place here today, in fact, did take place. Police, from the clear agitation in their voices, they've been driving people from the area. They are still very much trying to get a handle on what happened here, what the possible motivation was. And, of course, to ensure that the threat for what possible threat there was has indeed passed -- Wolf?

[11:56:26] BLITZER: As far as you know, Phil Black, the all clear has not been given. This lockdown remains in effect, is that right?

BLACK: Yeah, that's right. And that's certainly what we are seeing here today. We are seeing, as I say, this incredible police presence. Police tape right where I am. We've been steadily pushed back. In addition, what we have been seeing, of course, police vehicles going through, but ambulances as well, moving both in and out of this lockdown area. We've been hearing from witnesses that have been driven out of here by police, members of parliament, journalists in that parliament building. They are all saying they're on lockdown as well. There is no sign, clearly, that this police operation is due to end any time soon. This is an incredibly significant event in this very heavily secured part of the British capital.

BLITZER: And we know, Phil, and I want to just be precise, this according to London Metropolitan Police, that one police officer was stabbed by an individual who was then shot by the police. I assume that the stabber, the attacker, was shot and killed, but do we have that confirmed?

BLACK: We don't have that confirmed as yet. No, Wolf. We haven't been told of any fatalities as a result of what has happened here. Clearly, as you say, at least one casualty, potential attacker. Beyond that, there are reports of other injured people lying on the streets on Westminster Bridge and so forth. This is through British media. We don't have that confirmed yet either.

What we don't accurately have is a sense of the scale of what happened here. There is no doubt that this is an incredibly dramatic end and very unusual event to take place so close to the houses of parliament, so close to, as we've been discussing, the seat of British power. But it could be much larger than what we've even begun to get a sense of yet. According to witness statements that have been broadcast and reported, as I say, through British media. Not confirmed through official channels yet. But there is no doubting the scale of the police response that we have seen here today. It was quick, it is ongoing. As I say, there is no set that this is about to wrap up any time soon.

BLITZER: I want you to stand by. Phil Black, stand by for a moment.

Clarissa Ward is with me. Steve Hall is with me as well.

Clarissa, you know this area well. For this response to be as huge as it clearly is, there must have been some significant numbers of -- I have to assume significant casualties.

WARD: One would assume. I mean, it's still very early stages yet. What we know from the eyewitness accounts that we heard from those women, also from the man who was speaking earlier on CNN, there were clearly at least five bodies, apparently. We don't know if those people were actually killed, whether they were just seriously injured.

But I think what this really gives you a sense of, potentially, we're looking at one assailant that we know of so far. Obviously, that could change. How incredible is it that potentially one man with one vehicle can do this kind of damage? I'm sure Steve would have more thoughts on this perhaps. But can do this amount of damage, create this amount of chaos, put an entire city on lockdown.

BLITZER: We don't know, Steve, if the individual who stabbed the police officer and then himself was shot was also the individual who drove that vehicle across the bridge and ran into that fence.

Hold on for one moment just for a second.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[12:00:07] BLITZER: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, we want to thank you so much for joining us for this CNN breaking news special.