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U.K. Parliament on Lockdown; Police Treating Event as Terror; At Least One Dead in Parliament Incident. Aired 12-12:30p ET
Aired March 22, 2017 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[12:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Just for a second.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
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 coverage.
We're following the developments in London. Breaking news coming into CNN. The British Parliament is in lockdown in what local police are calling a terrorist incident until they know otherwise. For our viewers who are just tuning in, here is what we know right now.
Witnesses described hearing gunfire near Westminster Bridge in London. Metropolitan Police tweeted, they responded to the incident around 10:40 a.m., that would be Eastern Time here in the United States. A lawmaker tells CNN a car came over the bridge, hitting pedestrians, and then crashed into that gate of parliament.
We are now told that dozens, repeat, dozens of people have been injured. And then what is thought to be a related incident, witnesses say an officer was stabbed inside the parliament perimeter. The assailant was then shot by police. We don't know the condition of the assailant.
Here's how eyewitnesses on the scene describe what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was bodies literally --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Must have been about ten -- ten -- ten bodies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At least 10, 12 bodies, all in different places.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, all shot (ph), just lying in different places along the bridge.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Being shot, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It must have been terrifying.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It was horrendous.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely horrendous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The British prime minister, Theresa May, has herself been evacuated from parliament, which was in session. President Trump at the White House, he has been briefed on this situation by his national security advisor, Lieutenant General McMaster, and he had a very brief comment. Listen to President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So we're just getting an update on the London. They were having some big news having to do with London that just happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Something new just happened, he said.
I want to bring in our international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson. He's right near this scene. I know, Nic, that police have moved you several times now. Tell us where you are, what you're seeing. I assume the lockdown is still in effect.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Wolf, lockdown is still in effect. You can see behind me Big Ben, the parliament building. So just to the side of Big Ben is where the incident took place. Very reassuringly, for the people of London here, just a few minutes ago, as we started this hour, so, too, Big Ben chimed in the hour. That would be very reassuring for people here.
Wolf, there is continuity amid the chaos that's at the foot of this iconic building in London, but we do have new information here, and it's coming in from the London Ambulance Service. I'm going to read this to you.
The London Ambulance Service says it's declaring a major incident. "We have declared a major incident, and our priority is to assess patients and assure that they are treated and taken to hospital as soon as possible." According to the statement from the London Ambulance Service, that's what they're saying.
But also additional information, Wolf. They are saying they were called at 2:40 p.m. local time London, 10:40 a.m. on the East Coast there, to Westminster Bridge, to reports of an incident with the first crew arriving within six minutes. So they were there. The ambulances on scene within six minutes.
But, again, more details here. "We have sent a number of resources to the scene, including ambulance crews, London's air ambulance," we were talking about seeing that before. And this is very interesting, Wolf here, "and our hazardous area response team." It's not clear if they believe that there are hazardous materials involved in this scene. Clearly sending it as a precaution. Potentially -- potentially we don't know at this time what the police are discovering on their investigation, but the ambulance service saying they have sent their hazardous area response team in. They say that they're working closely with the other members of emergency services on the scene. "Our priority being to treat those patients who need medical help."
At this time, Wolf, they're not giving any numbers of the casualties. They're not giving any of the conditions of the casualties. Merely an update that they are now declaring this a major incident, Wolf. This is a very, very significant and somber event.
BLITZER: Do we know, Nic, if the individual who stabbed the police officer and then was shot by police is the same person who drove the vehicle across the bridge running over those people?
ROBERTSON: Wolf, it just isn't clear at this stage. At the moment, the police that we're in touch with on the ground here are merely interested in securing the scene, pushing back onlookers. The details are not coming to us on the ground at the moment, so that remains unclear at this time, Wolf.
[12:05:01] BLITZER: And so we don't know if this was just one individual, or if there were more than one individual, but the information you're getting, and correct me if I'm wrong, Nick, there are multiple casualties, right?
ROBERTSON: Absolutely, Wolf, multiple casualties. The ambulance service describing it as a major incident and their priority -- they've literally just declared it a major incident in the last few minutes. Clearly still dealing with those -- that significant number of casualties.
This is an iconic landmark in London. We've talked about this already. It has long been a concern of the security services that it could become a target. And, at the moment, the police are saying -- at the moment describing it as a terror incident until they get further information. There has been that concern that it could be a target of such an incident, and that's why security around the building is -- has been strengthened in recent years. That's why there are armed police. That's why there are barricades. That's why cars can no longer get close to the building. This one was prevented by the fence and by the wall itself.
So this building has been secured to the best of the abilities of the authorities so far. But, again, those precise details of how many people were involved in the attack, was it just that one person, or were there more people involved? Those details are yet to be made clear to us, Wolf. May not yet be entirely clear to the investigating authorities either.
BLITZER: The incident occurred at 2:40 p.m. local time in London. It's now 4:06. What, it's an hour and a half or so and this lockdown continues.
Nic, I'm going to get back to you.
I want to bring in a member of parliament, Simon Danczuk, who's joining us. He's on lockdown with other members of parliament.
Where exactly are you, Mr. Danczuk, and tell us what you've heard.
SIMON DANCZUK, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT (via telephone): Yes, we're in the chamber, in the main chamber of parliament, and in -- and also in the (INAUDIBLE), which are (INAUDIBLE) of the main chamber. I would guess there are about 300 members of parliament in here at the moment. And we've just been told by the deputy speaker, Linzie Hoyal (ph), that we are going to be removed from the chamber in groups of 20. So that's the current situation for us.
BLITZER: And removed to where?
DANCZUK: Well, I'm not sure about that. We haven't been told that. I don't know whether that's off the estate (ph) itself, of back to our offices. But you probably know more than we do in actual fact.
BLITZER: But is there any indication they're giving you that there may be individuals still at large if, in fact, this is a terrorist incident, or is there a sense that they're doing this simply out of an abundance of caution?
DANCZUK: I get a sense that it's caution. I get the impression from the media and from messages that I have received from Suffolk's (ph) that the police have been -- the armed police have been moving people off the estate or removing them from various offices around and about, and very much protecting the central chamber where we currently are.
BLITZER: And so you're still there. so there's about 300 members of parliament who are inside with you in the main -- in the main area and in groups of 20 very soon you've been told they will start allowing some of these individuals to be relocated. But they're not going to let you go home, at least not any time soon, is that your understanding?
DANCZUK: That's my understanding, yes. We were -- we were just coming to vote and -- on some pensions legislation about an hour, an hour and a half ago, and we went through the (INAUDIBLE) lobby (ph) as normal, and then I noticed -- there seemed a strange atmosphere and nothing was said, but then I noticed, and others noticed, that the doors to the chamber were locked so we couldn't -- we couldn't leave the chamber, and then it was announced by the deputy speaker that we were to remain in the chamber and that there was a lockdown.
Obviously, the atmosphere is quite anxious, and, obviously, members thought so with offices -- or the officer who has been injured. You know, we're appreciative of all the support and help that Stockton (ph) and the police have given it so far.
BLITZER: Yes, how long have you been a member of parliament, and have you seen anything like this during your years in parliament?
DANCZUK: No, I haven't. I was elected in 2010, and so nearly seven years, and I have never known anything like this. I mean you can't underestimate the effort that's put into security in parliament. It's quite discreet. But, nevertheless, you are always aware that there are armed police officers around, and a lot of effort is put into it, and it's a very well-guarded institution, as you might expect. And I get a sense from the news reports that I have been able to see from where I am that everything is put into place and the police are doing their job that you would expect them to do. But it's not an easy job. I readily accept that. And our thoughts are with the officers that are -- that are protecting us at this moment.
[12:10:02] BLITZER: Yes, we know at least one police officer there at parliament was stabbed by this individual, who in turn was shot by other police officers.
BLITZER: And we don't know the extent of the other casualties, although we're getting indications from the ambulance services that it could be a significant number.
Simon Danczuk, once they move you and your fellow parliamentarians to another location, if you could stay in touch with us and give us an update, we'd be grateful.
DANCZUK: Yes, absolutely. Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you so much. Simon Danczuk is a member of parliament. He's right in the middle of all of this.
I want to go back to our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour.
Christiane, I assume, even as we're speaking, you're getting more information on the latest developments. Update our viewers where we stand right now.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are getting information, such as it is, from the official sources. And you've always -- you've heard, of course, from the member of parliament and some of the eyewitness in the last few minutes.
But in context, this is being treated by the metropolitan police as a terrorist incident as of this moment, until, they say, they know otherwise. You heard that the ambulance service, the London Ambulance Service, are declaring this a major incident. That is in order to really allow lots of the ambulances, lots of the resources, hospital beds, all the kinds of things that are need to respond to a major incident to be on alert, on stand-by, and ready to react. And we've already seen ambulances from overhead video taking injured away.
We simply do not know the state of the casualties. We do not know the number of casualties. And, crucially, we do not know whether there was more than one assailant. It looks like there might have been given the description of the attacks, one with a car plowing along Westminster Bridge into people, and another incident of an individual stabbing a police, who then responded with firearms. That is why the police are saying this is being treated as a firearms incident. What we don't know is whether those two individuals are the same. And what we don't know is whether there is any other worry around the
rest of this city because this city is not in lockdown as a whole. It is just that area around parliament, and roads have been closed leading to Westminster Bridge and to Parliament Square as we've been indicating since this began. But the whole city is not locked down, and as we've been saying, you know, this is a city which has so many tourists. It's a huge magnet. Parliament is a huge magnet. Big Ben is a huge magnet. The bridge there is a huge magnet. People go and stand on that bridge in order to have the very best shot of parliament behind them. That's where people take pictures of themselves with the houses of parliament behind them. It is truly the ideal location for those kinds of pictures. And it's a very familiar bridge for cyclists and people who want to walk across, pedestrians, not just vehicles. So this is a real magnet for people.
At the same time, parliament today was hosting prime minister's questions, as it does every Wednesday. So every major political leader would have been in parliament. Obviously including the prime minister, who when she was alerted by what's happened, we're told by officials, was bundled out and we don't know where she is at the moment, but we're told she's safe.
But those are really the details we know. And what we know is that Britain, over the last several years, two years or so, officials say they have thwarted about a dozen, 10 to 12 potentially major incidents over the last two years and they have said to us over and over again and recently even in the press that please be aware, please be alert, you know, in response to what's going on in Europe. We've seen traffic and car incidents and truck incidents used as weapons, in France and in Germany. And we saw, obviously, the attacks in Paris in 2015. And this country has been on the alert throughout. It is one of the most surveilled cities. There is CCTV all over the place. And police are asking right now for anybody who saw anything or who captured anything, either on their phones or their cameras or by whatever means to pass that to the police. And crucially they are also asking people to show, quote, "restraint." That is what the police are tweeting out now. Please show restraint in how you share these images. They do not want them passed around for public consumption. They want them passed to themselves, to the police, so they can figure out as best as they can more and more details to fill in this puzzle.
BLITZER: We're just getting this word in from local authorities, Christiane. Official word now, one dead, many hurt. We don't know -- we don't know the numbers. I think, Phil Black, you're getting some more information. Let me quickly go over to you. You're on the scene for us right near parliament. One dead, many hurt. What else are you hearing?
PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that confirms -- or really it backs up what we've been seeing here on the scene. Where I'm standing now is on a road known as White Hall (ph). Walk two minutes behind me, and you will get to parliament. That's where we started off just after all of this was first declared. [12:14:59] What we've been seeing over that is, as police have been
trying to clear the area of the huge crowds, what you see behind me is a very eerie sight. White Hall is never this empty, particularly in the middle of a working day. It's the heart of government. It's a prime tourist location, as we've been talking about. But as they've been pushing the crowds out, the government workers, the tourists, the journalists, the people who occupy this zone, what we've been seeing are ambulances moving in and out at great speed. That suggests multiple casualties. We know that an air ambulance responded. I saw it. It landed in the middle of Parliament Square very -- very, very soon after all of this was declared.
So what we have here is still a sense of an ongoing police operation. What you see behind me, you can see Big Ben, I believe, to the corner of frame here. It gives you a sense of just how close we are, just where we are standing. When we first arrived, we saw the initial wave of police and security forces arrive here. There were multiple police, multiple ambulances, cars, and so forth. As we've been talking about, British police famously do not, for the most part, carry firearms. Around parliament, however, important locations like that, you do see heavily armed police every single day. There's no doubt they would have been there. We've been seeing even more of them in the hour or so since all of this was first declared.
The operation has been largely completed, we think, in terms of clearing the area because there simply were so many people here. You can't overstate just how crowded this is on a working day. How popular it is with tourists. I know we've been talking about the immediate Parliament Square area, Westminster Bridge, because it is such an iconic building. Members of the public do have access to the building itself to witness the events going on in parliament, to conduct official tours of the parliamentary building as well. All of this would have been taking place as normal, particularly on a Wednesday, prime minister's question time. It means that most members of parliament, as we've been talking about, are present within the building at that time. So just an extraordinarily busy scene in which all of this has taken place.
So when police first arrived on the scene, as I say, we saw those first arrivals, their immediate concern was simply clearing the huge crowds from the area. As we've been hearing about more casualties and witnessing the arrivals and departures of fast-moving ambulances, which certainly back that up, then primary concern has been getting people out of the way and obviously determining to what extent there may be an ongoing threat in this location.
We're not seeing anything to suggest that. And as I know you've been talking about, there is still a great many questions about just what took place here, how many people were involved and so forth. At the moment, it is calm, but it is locked down, and everything that we're seeing suggests that a number of people have been hurt here today. And as I understand, the confirmation so far is multiple casualties with at least one person killed, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Phil, I've seen a lot of police, but have you seen any military response, British military response to the scene? BLACK: No. Nothing to suggest that at all. What we have seen, though,
heavily armed police, both those that would ordinarily patrol this particular district of London and others moving in, in vehicles at speed as well. That would be the standard response. They are the primary first responders to any sort of incident, security incident, like this on the streets of the capital, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, stand by. I know you're working your sources as well.
Paul Cruickshank is joining us, our terror analyst.
Paul, they're treating this as a terror incident, at least as of now. That's what authorities in London are saying. And you've been monitoring all the social media websites. Have you received any indications -- is anyone out there claiming responsibility for this?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: No official claim of responsibility from any group so far. Obviously a lot of excitement on the sort of jihadi websites, social media feeds, that this could be some jihadi that was responsible. We have no indication of that yet at this point. But, yes, the working assumption is this was a terrorist attack, a multi-phase or a multi-pronged terrorist attack right at the heart of London involving a vehicle ramming. And, of course, we've seen those kind of attacks in Nice where 86 people were killed last year, and more recently in Berlin where 12 people were killed. That has been an effective tactic by people who have been inspired or communicating with ISIS.
And the other thing ISIS has been calling on its recruits to do is not just to launch these kind of vehicle attacks, but even after they finish with that, to then go on and to shoot people or stab people. So it's quite possible that there may just be one individual involved here. We don't know at this stage how many individuals may have been involved. But this is being treated enormously seriously in the U.K., that really this is the first major attack that's got through since the London bombings all the way back in 2005.
Over the last few months, British counterterrorism officials who have been speaking to me have been speaking about the threat to the U.K. in very stark terms, saying bigger than it's ever been in the modern history of Britain. They're dealing with unprecedented threats, not only from ISIS, but also from other jihadi groups. Not only from all those British individuals, more than 800 of them who have traveled to Syria and Iraq and joined groups like ISIS, but also, people inspired by ISIS and a good number who are communicating with ISIS via encrypted online apps and ISIS operatives, some of whom are British, are sending messages and instructions to launch attacks back in the U.K. That's been a huge part of the recent threat stream in Europe, Wolf. So it remains to be seen what this all is, but at this early hour, it has many of the hallmarks, at least, of some kind of ISIS- linked or jihadi-link attack in London.
[12:20:59] BLITZER: And one of the reasons for that, why local authorities, metropolitan police in London, are at least, as of now, considering this a terror attack, a terrorist incident, they're treating it as such, is because there have been many communiques out there from these various jihadi groups that if you don't have a gun, get a knife. You don't have a knife, get a car. Just start going out there to kill people. That's been the basic message. We've heard that now for the past few years, right?
CRUICKSHANK: That's absolutely right, Wolf. And the more they've got these sort of attacks through in Nice and Berlin, and there was even an attacker in the United States at Ohio State last November, which was also inspired by ISIS. The more these attacks are killing people, the more people are inspired by this and are going to try and do it. And ISIS really, right now, there's a steady drumbeat from them calling for exactly these kind of attacks because all you basically need is a vehicle and, unfortunately, and you can kill a lot of people, so security services on both sides of the Atlantic I have to emphasize are just really concerned about this threat stream. And particularly in the U.K., because in the U.K. there's much less access to firearms. So there hasn't been this big threat of a Kalashnikov AK- 47 style attack that you've seen in Europe, and that has forced plotters to rely on other means, and, of course, a car can be very deadly.
BLITZER: Stand by. I want to bring in Will Geddes. He's a national security and terrorism expert. He's joining us.
Will, you work in London. What's been the chatter there in terms of potential terror or security threats?
WILL GEDDES, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: (INAUDIBLE) for the last few years we've been at the second highest elevated level in terms of the threat warning for quite a few years now and it's inevitable to a certain degree that we were anticipating an attack on some kind of scale. Now, this kind of low level guerilla type lone wolf type of attack was probably the most immediately available type of tactic that could be employed by a sympathizer for an extreme jihadist group.
BLITZER: We don't know if it's a lone wolf attack yet. The information is still very, very preliminary. We know that one individual got through some security barrier there, stabbed a police officer. He, in turn, was shot by police. We don't know his condition. And we also know that a vehicle driving across that bridge just started ramming into people, and there are multiple, multiple injuries right now. As far as we know -- and, Will, I don't know if you have any new information -- as far as we know, no one has officially claimed responsibility for this.
GEDDES: No, absolutely, nobody has claimed responsibility. But to pick up on a couple of points there, certainly from my sources, they're telling me they're quite confident that they have the situation, particularly in the local area, contained. And it was concern obviously the first instances that there could be multiple assailants in this instance. And with regards to our blue light join up, and that's obviously between the police, the fire brigade, and obviously the ambulance service, they will be very, very cautious certainly in their tactics and drills as to who they introduce into the corridor or into the instant area until such time as they feel that they can predict them adequately. Now, certainly there seemed to be a number of levels to this type of
attack. However, around the palace of Westminster, the security and the police are incredibly well rehearsed and well-practiced in anticipating this kind of threat and a number of different types of scaled attacks. So I'm actually very pleased to a certain extent with the information coming through so far that the response and reaction was incredibly quick.
BLITZER: And, fortunately, while police in London, most parts of London, walk around unarmed at the parliament, they are armed and as a result they dealt with that individual who stabbed a police officer.
Will Geddes, we're going to get back to you.
I want to bring in Kevin Shofield. He was an eyewitness to the attack.
Kevin, tell us where you were and what you saw.
[12:25:06] BLITZER: Kevin, I don't know if you can hear me OK, but our connection does not seem to be all that great. Let me try once again. Tell us where you were and what you saw.
KEVIN SHOFIELD, EYEWITNESS TO PARLIAMENT ATTACK: I work in the (INAUDIBLE) at the houses of parliament. I'm a journalist.
BLITZER: So you're a journalist there. What did you see?
SHOFIELD: We -- I heard a bang outside, kind of like a car crash. So I looked out the window and initially thought there had been a bus crash, but we could see some buses. But then I heard a lot of shouting. A lot of people running around. Quite a lot of commotion. And then I looked down to my left, and I saw a man force his way through a security gate. He went straight for a police officer, wrestled him to the ground. Then another police officer approached. The attacker got up and walked towards him with his arm outstretched carrying a weapon. I wasn't sure if it was a gun or a knife. I think it was a knife. And then literally within a couple of seconds, we heard gunfire -- a few rounds of gunfire, and that's when (INAUDIBLE) pretty panicked. I assume that was the armed police who patrol parliament all hours of the day and night and taken out the attacker.
BLITZER: And, so, Kevin, this is, what, at least an hour and a half ago when all of this happened. The lockdown continues. You were -- you say you were in the press gallery. You're a journalist at parliament. Where are you now? Are you still in this lockdown? Can you move?
SHOFIELD: Yes, we're still in the same office. We're still in office. I mean, yes, we've just been told that we can't -- we can't leave here. I guess until they complete the whole security sweep of the area to make sure that the event is definitely over. So we've just sat here trying to look out the window to see what we can see. But an actual fact, there's not a lot to see now because everybody's been cleared. All the traffic's been cleared. All you can see is really police cars. That's the only activity outside. It seems to be a lot calmer here now than it was to even half an hour ago there was a lot of -- there was a lot of armed police.
And just looking down, actually I'm at a window now, and I see parliamentary staff, MPs I recognize being guided away. So it looks like they're being guided out of parliament. It looks like the lockdown might be coming to an end. But what I do know is they're just emptying parliament so there won't be anyone -- anyone here soon enough. But, yes, there's a lot of parliamentary staff, MPs, peers being escorted out by the police.
BLITZER: Yes, we were told earlier that there were about 300 members of parliament inside, and police have told them they will be escorted 20 at a time outside of that main parliamentary area. But it's unclear where they're being escorted to. If they're allowed to leave the areas or they're just being taken to some other secure area. Do you know the answer to that?
SHOFIELD: I don't know. It looks like they may well be being taken -- I'm trying to get a better vantage point actually (INAUDIBLE). I'm just trying to see if I can see out another window, might have a better idea. But, yes, they're certainly being walked out very, very slowly by -- guided by police officers and, yes, it just looks like they've been -- hang on a minute. Oh, yes, sorry, I'm being told to get away from -- get away from the window. And it looks like they're not being escorted off the premises as it were. They're being taken to another part of the -- of the parliamentary estate.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers live pictures. It's now approaching 4:30 p.m. in London, and you can see -- you can see ambulances on the scene and people being whisked away, clearly injured.
Our international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, is there for us. He's right in front of parliament.
Give us the latest information that you're learning, Nic.
ROBERTSON: Well, Wolf, while I was standing here, we're seeing additional ambulances come in onto the scene here, going through the cordon to go in. We've seen additional senior level police officers arrive in -- in half a dozen or so black vehicles pull up. They're all getting ready to move in towards what is a crime scene. We understand, as you do, that the MP's will be escorted in -- in about 20 at a time. In the very short near future they'll be escorted from the building.
And, obviously, this is a crime scene, as it shifts from recovery and treatment of the injured, obviously the priority for the investigating officers now will be to talk to all the MP's, because wherever they were, they were a potential witness for something. Anyone that the police have within that cordon undoubtedly the police are going to want to speak to, to get detailed information from.
[12:29:47] For the police, the location here, while this has been a huge concern that there could be a terrorist incident right here at parliament buildings, their main control center for London for a major incident is quite literally just across the bridge, across Westminster Bridge, and about a block further away.