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The Situation Room
Massive Manhunt for Paris Terrorists; NYPD Boosting Security at Sensitive Sites; Three Suspects Identified in Paris Shooting; Massive Manhunt For Paris Terrorists; Interview With Rep. Mike McCaul, Interview With Rep. Peter King
Aired January 07, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news.
Terror in the streets -- shots ring out, along with Arabic cries of "God is Great!" as gunmen storm offices of a French magazine, killing 12 people. A massive manhunt -- after the carefully planned slaughter and escape, France is now on the highest state of alert. A top Paris official now telling CNN the suspects have been identified.
And can it happen here in the United States, where security is being stepped up amid concerns the terrorists have come up with a game- changing strategy?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: The breaking news, France is now on its highest security alert after gunmen attacked the Paris office of a satirical magazine, killing 12 people and wounding 11, triggering a massive manhunt. Among the dead, the editor and the cartoonist of the publication, "Charlie Hebdo," which had drawn threats from jihadists for ridiculing Islamist extremism.
The Paris deputy mayor tells CNN three suspects have now been identified, including two shooters who called out the names of their victims as they killed them.
President Obama has pledged all possible help to France in investigating what he characterizes as an attack on freedom.
But the carefully orchestrated attack has sparked deep concern here in the United States. In New York, security has been stepped up at very sensitive sites, including the French consulate in Manhattan.
Congressman Mike McCaul and Congressman Peter King, they're both standing by from the Homeland Security Committee, along with our correspondents, our analysts and our guests.
But CNN's Atika Shubert reports the very latest from Paris.
ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, investigators are looking carefully at this -- amateur video of the attack, where masked gunmen dressed in black stormed the offices of a French satirical magazine and opened fire, killing 12 people. Among the dead, at least four cartoonists who lampooned Islamic fundamentalists and the Prophet Muhammad.
Witnesses heard the gunmen yell "We have avenged the Prophet!." Message is linked to Islamic militants praised the attack.
France's president declared it an act of terrorism and the country's terror alert was raised to its highest level.
PRES. FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, FRANCE: (through translator) we need to find the actors of this terrorist act. They must be arrested and brought before judges and condemned as quickly as possible. France is shocked today.
SHUBERT: In Washington, President Obama vowed to work with France, a close ally in the fight against terrorism.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we see the kind of cowardly, evil attacks that took place today, I think it reinforces once again why it's so important for us to stand in solidarity with them, just as they stand in solidarity with us.
SHUBERT: Investigators said the gunmen asked two maintenance men at the entrance of the building where the magazine was located, then opened fire, killing one of the workers. The gunmen fired at police guarding the building and then moved to the second floor, where the magazine's editors were meeting.
Witnesses reported seeing a rocket launcher. After the massacre in the magazine's office, the gunmen were captured on video walking down the street, firing as they went. The gunmen then ran toward a wounded police officer lying on the sidewalk and shot the officer in the head. The assailants cried, "Allah Akbar!" Arabic for "God is Great!" before climbing into a getaway vehicle. While trying to flee the area, the suspects encountered police and exchanged gunfire three times. And then, while heading to the northern part of Paris, the gunmen hit another vehicle, leading them to abandon their car. They then carjacked another vehicle.
Investigators later found a similar car to the original getaway vehicle and took it away for testing.
The magazine had previously been the target of a terrorist attack. It was bombed in 2011 after it published a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad. No one was hurt.
Among the dead in Wednesday's attack, editor and cartoonist, Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb, seen here in 2012. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One has the impression that everybody is driven by fear. That's what the small handful of fundamentalists that doesn't represent anyone wants to do, govern through fear.
SHUBERT: Charbonnier has been targeted by Yemen's al Qaeda affiliate, featured in a "Wanted: Dead or alive" poster inside the terror group's English language magazine.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: Atika Shubert reporting for us from Paris.
Let's stay in Paris.
CNN's Hala Gorani is joining us now live -- Hala, give us the latest.
What are you hearing?
You're there on the scene.
HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, I spoke just a few minutes ago to the deputy mayor of Paris, Patrick Klugman, who confirmed that three suspects have been identified by police. And they are aged 18, 32 and 33. That's according to the information his sources are giving him.
However, he stressed that there have been no arrests; In other words, that these gunmen, at least two gunmen, and perhaps one acting as a lookout, are still on the loose in Paris or beyond, in fact.
What we do know, as well, according to the general prosecutor, Wolf, is that this appears to have been very much an organized attack with gunmen entering the building, the headquarters of "Charlie Hebdo," the satirical magazine, asking a building employee, "Where is the newsroom of "Charlie Hebdo?," then executing an individual, going up to the second floor and there murdering 10 people, later executing a police officer in the street.
There is also a development concerning the car that they used. There was a getaway car. And according to the prosecutor's office, there may have been an accident at one point. And they switched cars after carjacking an individual in Paris.
There are various reports right now, Wolf, about whether or not there have been arrests. Several organizations are naming the suspects right now. We're not going with that to be extra careful to get that information very much as accurate as we can.
But we can confirm identification has taken place and the ages of the individuals -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And Hala, they haven't released any photographs, police, in searching, helping, asking the public to search for these three individuals, right?
GORANI: Right. Indeed. I mean right now, we are not getting official confirmation of the names. What we do know is that there is a massive manhunt going on. We're talking thousands and thousands of police and security officers trying as hard as they can right now. It's a race against time to find these individuals, the three suspects.
But it also has to be noted, Wolf, that while this security operation is ongoing, that there is a huge show of support in France. This is a country traumatized today. Tens of thousands of people in very cold weather in the middle of the week are out an masse to show support for the murdered journalists and cartoonists of "Charlie Hebdo." They're not just seeing this as an attack on their country, they're seeing this as an attack on their freedom to mock and their freedom of expression that is so dearly held in this country.
BLITZER: All right, Hala, we're going to get back to you.
Hala Gorani in Paris for us.
President Obama has offered all possible help to France following this terror attack, even as concern grows the well-orchestrated slaughter could be a game-changer in the struggle with terrorists.
Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
He's working his sources.
What are you learning?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, U.S. intelligence counterterror officials following this very closely, one, of course, because of the close relationship between the U.S. and France on these issues, but also because of the level of U.S. concern about attacks like this, inspired by Islamic terrorism.
I'm told this by a senior U.S. counterterrorism official, that the U.S. was not aware of any warning of this Paris attack before. Senior U.S. intelligence officials saying, quote, "While it is true that "Charlie Hebdo" has been the subject of extremist threats over the past several years, none have been recent, nor can they be immediately linked to this attack." They continue to say that "We are working with the international community and our foreign partners in identifying the perpetrators, as well as monitoring any threat reporting that might warrant of a subsequent attack."
Now, despite the fact that they were not aware of any specific warning related to this attack -- and you and I have talked about this earlier in the day, Wolf -- the U.S. is now looking, examining all the information it has, all the names it has in its database to see if they missed any warnings about a plot like this or possible suspects involved in this, including sharing information back and forth with the French, including the identities of possible attackers. That is one thing.
But I can tell you this, as well. In terms of groups, beyond the individuals involved in this, in terms of groups that may have been involved, the U.S. looking really at the rogues gallery of all the worst terrorist groups you can imagine, including core al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as a possible tie to ISIS, as well.
Why those groups?
Because those are groups that have threatened this publication before. In fact, "Inspire" magazine, the magazine of jihadists tied to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, named this magazine in one of its cartoonists in its most recent issue as being on its target list. That doesn't mean it could only be AQAP, but it is certainly one of the groups they're looking at.
One other thing I would note is this -- and I've talked to a number of people who have been briefed, classified briefings on this attack. As they look at the details of this attack, they notice the skill of these attackers, how they handled their weapons, how they moved together, how they were equipped, etc. That gives many analysts who look at this an indication not only did they have training, but the possibility is that they had combat experience. That, of course, points to the possibility of returning foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq. They don't know it, but it's a great concern in Europe and the U.S., as well, and something they're looking at very closely.
BLITZER: Yes, they certainly are. And they're seeing if just three or if they may be connected to some broader cell, if you will. Those are critically important issues that they've got to try to figure out.
SCIUTTO: That's right. And in light of the fact that they're still on the loose, do they carry out further attacks?
BLITZER: A massive manhunt underway right now.
Jim Sciutto, thank you.
New York is boosting security at key sites and stepping up its counterterrorism activities after this bloody attack right in the heart of Paris.
Our justice reporter, Evan Perez, is in New York.
He's joining us now with more.
What are you learning -- Evan?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are things seen and unseen that are being done by police here in New York and around the country.
I can tell you that the NYPD has increased some of its counterterrorism units. They are -- the presence of the counterterrorism units in some of the key locations around the city, including, you mentioned, the French consulate. They want to make sure that, you know, if there's any issues, these people are ready to respond.
As far as things that are unseen, Wolf, we know that the FBI has received the names of these suspects, these three suspects that the French have identified. And we know that within the next few hours, we expect that there's going to be quite a bit of information that will be assembled, including any information that the U.S. might be able to piece together on any contacts between these individuals and anyone else that the U.S. knows about. You can bet that in the next few hours, they're going to know who they've been emailing, who they've been talking to on the phone. And that is something that they're going to share with the French officials.
BLITZER: If they have the names, Evan, why are aren't they releasing the names?
Why aren't they releasing pictures?
Presumably, that could help in the manhunt.
PEREZ: Well, that is something that the -- because the FBI and because the U.S. is playing a supportive role, something they're -- they're assisting the French -- they tell me that one of the things they want to make sure is that the information comes from over there, because they really -- this is something that's obviously been a traumatic day for Paris and for the French people. And it's incumbent upon them to release the information that they need to release -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, and I was wondering why the French aren't releasing that information. It could help the French in finding these guys.
But let's -- we'll go back to Paris in a little while and try to find out what's going on over there.
BLITZER: All right, Evan, thanks very much.
BLITZER: Let's get some more now.
Joining us, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Republican Congressman Mike McCaul of Texas.
Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.
REP. MIKE MCCAUL (R-TX), CHAIRMAN, HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Does it make sense to you why they're not showing the photographs?
Usually when there's a manhunt underway and law enforcement knows who these people they're looking for, they post pictures. They put them all over the media, if you will. They want the public to be worried, but to help in the search.
MCCAUL: Well, remember the Boston bombing. That's a good example. We had an investigation ongoing. Maybe they want to protect the integrity right now. I know we have identified the three individuals and are running the databases right now.
But it really -- it wasn't until releasing the photographs of the Boston bombers did we -- did the people come forward, that we were able to apprehend and arrest them.
So I think it's actually -- it would be a positive thing to do.
BLITZER: So you can confirm that the United States government has been informed of the names of these three suspects?
MCCAUL: Yes. We are running the databases, the terrorist databases, right now.
BLITZER: Can you tell us anything about them?
Have you looked into their records?
Are they affiliated with any specific terror group?
MCCAUL: Until they've been properly vetted through the databases, I can't answer that question, at this time. But if there is any connection, rest assured, we'll find out.
One interesting thing is I confirmed a report also that a witness at the scene said that they identified themselves as AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. "Inspire" magazine actually had the cartoonists on their "Most Wanted" list in their latest publication.
BLITZER: So if these guys were sent out to kill these journalists and these police officers by AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen, what does that say?
MCCAUL: This was a very sophisticated, professional assassination, or professional execution, if you will. We've seen a lot of lone wolf attacks that they -- they call them the radicals -- radicalized individuals.
This one seems to be well thought out in advance, very professional and a well thought out execution that took place. And so that signals to me it's not someone over the Internet getting radicalized, but rather one of these foreign fighter types that, Wolf, we're so concerned about who have maybe gone to Iraq, Syria, or to Yemen to join al Qaeda and then going to Western Europe, as they did today in France, or possibly getting into the United States of America.
BLITZER: Because it certainly looked like they had some pretty sophisticated military training, wearing these black uniforms, if you will, their faces covered. They knew, presumably, was there an editorial meeting of the top editorial -- the cartoonist, the others, at -- going on at this magazine as they stormed the building.
MCCAUL: Well, that's right. The trade craft and the way they used their weapons and the escape vehicle. This is not some isolated event. This is well-thought-out in advance, pre-meditated, if you will. And I think it's one of these foreign fighters trained in the Middle East that's come now to hit western Europe. And we know they want to hit western Europe and also the United States, and that's my greatest concern as chairman of homeland security.
BLITZER: Because there are reports, eyewitnesses saying -- and I'll read exactly what they heard in French, unaccented French, "We have avenged the Prophet Mohammed. We have killed Charlie Hedbo." Charlie Hedbo, the name of the satirical magazine. And then there were "Allah Akbar," God is great, chants in Arabic. You've heard that, as well?
MCCAUL: It's a classic jihadist terminology before they kill. They say, "Allah Akbar," but you know, "praise God" is what they're saying. And that's a classic jihad terminology.
Now, what I'm concerned also, the French accents, right? So this is no longer some Middle Eastern person. This is a French accent like we saw with the bomber that was within the Khorasan group that we talked extensively about. That was a French citizen that joined al Qaeda.
BLITZER: And obviously, there are a lot, there are hundreds if not a few thousand Europeans who have gone over to work with ISIS in Syria and Iraq, but in this particular case, you're leaning towards al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as the core group that may have been responsible for this terror operation?
MCCAUL: I think it's way too early to determine that at this point in time. Some of the undocumented reports seem to confirm that. Remember "Inspire" does come out of Yemen, out of AQAP. But it could be one of these foreign fighters trained in Syria. We know that a lot of people from France have left France, gone to Syria and Iraq and trained and gone back to France. The numbers are increasing, as well.
One thing that's concerning to me is, even in spite of the airstrikes, the numbers joining the fight, in Iraq and Syria are actually increasing.
BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, we have a lot more to discuss including what this means for the United States and terror threats in this country.
Stand by, we have much more. The breaking news continues right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. A massive hunt now underway for the gunmen who burst into the office of a satirical magazine right in the heart of Paris, killing 12 people.
France is now in the highest state of alert, and the United States has offered all possible assistance even as deep concerns are growing about similar attacks right here in this country.
We're back with the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Republican Congressman Mike McCaul of Texas. Are there any credible threats, terror threats in the United States right now?
MCCAUL: Not right now, but you know, there weren't any credible threats in France prior to this happening. That's my greatest concern, is we said there was no specific and credible threats, but the threaten environment is very high, with these foreign fighters that I believe were responsible for this terrorist attack in Paris and foreign fighters that have returned to the United States that can possibly pull off the same terrorist attack that we're watching on television right now.
This is precisely what keeps me up at night. People ask me that. It's a small-scale tactic that goes undetected, you know, by intelligence. The large-scale attacks, 9/11-style, probably would be detected by our intelligence right now. These are very hard to detect, and deter and disrupt.
BLITZER: But this is very different than that lone wolf individual, inspired by, say, by "Inspire" magazine, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or ISIS. This is a pretty well-coordinated attack. You have at least three terrorists, and maybe there were others who were supporting them.
MCCAUL: It's a very different style of attack than we've seen, like the hate sheikh in Sydney, and we had the, you know, New York incident with the axe, for instance, that were inspired over the Internet.
BLITZER: Or the Canadian attack.
MCCAUL: The Canadian attack in Ottawa. This was a well-coordinated, very sophisticated and very professional, which leads me to believe they received training. This is -- the dual threat is a homegrown violent extremist but also the foreign fighter that can travel overseas, be trained and then come back. In this case, France. It could be America tomorrow. That's where we want to stop.
BLITZER: Is there any sense that there was some intelligence failure in France, for example, missed a clue, because I know they were going back and they're looking at everything. Do you sense that they think they missed something there? Obviously, they did.
MCCAUL: Well, we always do a postmortem after the fact. I think that, you know, again, these are so hard to detect and so hard to stop. That's what keeps counterterrorism officials and people like myself awake, because they are hard to stop. And it can happen at any time. And they're very easy to pull off.
But I will say the level of sophistication concerns me greatly, because this is really one of the first, what I concede to be one of these foreign fighters now returning and pulling off a major act of terrorism.
BLITZER: Like these guys may have been French citizens, may have been born in Paris or whatever. But they went over someplace in the Middle East or North Africa. They learned how to use a weapon. They learned how to fight. They came back and committed an act like this. That's your concern.
MCCAUL: It is a very, very strong possibility, because they had a very distinct French accent. It wasn't -- it wasn't Middle Eastern, just like we saw the executioner with a British accent.
So we have these western Europeans joining the fight in Iraq and Syria that come back to Western Europe. We also have an increase in Americans going over to Iraq and Syria, joining the fight.
BLITZER: How many?
MCCAUL: That -- I can't really get into the number, but the number is increasing.
BLITZER: Give us a ballpark.
MCCAUL: And that's what concerns me. It's been reported, you know, around about 150.
BLITZER: U.S. citizens who have gone over there to Syria. What does that mean? Individuals who may be residing...
MCCAUL: The United States traveling.
BLITZER: But they may not necessarily be U.S. Citizens.
MCCAUL: Wolf, the difficulty here is identifying these individuals as they're over there and stopping them from getting on airplanes to return to the United States or get on an airplane with an explosive device that they can blow up either western Europe or the United States.
Remember, a lot of these countries in western Europe are what they call visa waiver countries. So they can have free travel once they get into western Europe into the United States. My committee has launched an investigation into these foreign fighters to determine how can we more properly identify them, both over there and then stop them from getting over here.
BLITZER: One quick final question. Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security, is going to be with me in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour. His agency, the Department of Homeland Security, is only funded, what, through February. Are they going to get the money they need to protect the American people?
MCCAUL: I met the secretary this afternoon. We had a good meeting. Our goal is to keep the department open, and we also, as I said before, shut down the executive action.
BLITZER: On immigration reform?
MCCAUL: Precisely. BLITZER: So in other words, you're not going to fund the Department
of Homeland Security unless the president backs away from his unilateral executive action on immigration?
MCCAUL: Our leadership, and I just got out of the meeting and had discussions about how to proceed forward. We want to stop this executive action, but I think the responsible individuals like myself have no desire to shut down this department. It's too important to the national security interest of the United States.
BLITZER: If you don't fund the Department of Homeland Security and all of those agencies there, Americans are going to be at risk.
MCCAUL: I think this incident today highlights why that's necessary.
BLITZER: So you'll work out some deal, make sure the Department of Homeland Security stays in business?
BLITZER: Chairman, thanks very much for joining us.
MCCAUL: Wolf, thanks for having me.
BLITZER: And good luck.
Coming up, there are new clues about who's behind today's terror attacks and who could be calling for more attacks on the west. As security is beefed up in New York City, other U.S. cities, as well, we're going to get an update from another U.S. congressman, Peter King. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee. He's standing by live. He'll join us in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Today's massacre in Paris may be a response to the constant propaganda from ISIS and al Qaeda, calling for attacks on western targets. We're getting new clues about who may be behind this latest outrage, this terror attack in Paris.
Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's working his sources. What are you picking up?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with the suspects having been identified, intelligence officials are scrambling tonight to find out if they worked on behalf of a terrorist group and, if so, which group?
They're looking for patterns, history and motive as they track the forensics of this attack.
TODD (voice-over): As far as terrorist groups go, there are a number of prime suspects who could have carried out the massacre in Paris, according to a U.S. counterterror official. One possible suspect, ISIS. Tweets believed posted by a person
familiar with ISIS point to the potential of ISIS' involvement in the attack. That's according to the security website Flashpoint, which can't verify the authenticity of the tweets.
Less than two months ago, French nationals fighting with ISIS did call for lone-Wolf attacks inside France.
SALMAN AL-FARINO, ISIS FIGHTER FROM FRANCE (through translator): If you can poison the drink of an enemy of Allah, do it. Kill them. Spit in their faces, run them over with your cars. Do whatever you can.
TODD: Other potential suspects, al Qaeda and their affiliate in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. AQAP, in a March 2013 edition of its magazine "Inspire" ran a "Wanted: Dead or Alive" poster, which included Stephane Charbonnier, an editor of "Charlie Hebdo" magazine. He was killed in the Paris attack.
DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: "Inspire" had called for Charbonnier's death previously, and that fact is potentially significant. It also means that he was a target for other groups not just for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
TODD: 2014 was rife with isolated terror attacks. The Sydney, Australia, hostage siege, which left a gunmen and two hostages dead. The attack in Ottawa, Canada, where a gunman killed a soldier. A man wielding a hatchet wounded two New York police officers. A man with a gun wrapped in an ISIS flag killed four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels. What do they have in common with the Paris attack?
HARAS RAFIQ, QUILLIAM FOUNDATION: This is an Islamist-inspired attack focusing on somebody or an organization that they believe has committed some sort of blasphemy.
TODD: Many of those other incidents came after a call from ISIS for lone-Wolf attacks on civilians in any U.S.-allied country, but does Paris fit that pattern? One analyst says no.
RAFIQ: The way that the gunmen have been holding their rifles, the way they were firing, the way they were grouping their bullets, that suggests that they actually have received some very, very intensive, military training. And also the way that they escaped, we saw two people running towards a car.
TODD: And yet the planning for the Paris attack wasn't perfect. The gunmen had to ask two maintenance men where the magazine's offices were. But at the same time they seemingly knew the day and time the magazine staff held its editorial meeting, with the highest number of potential targets in the building. And they knew the names of their victims, yelling the names as they shot them.
And because of the coordinated nature of this, a senior U.S. intelligence official tells us the intelligence community is monitoring any threat streams which might warn of another attack on the way -- Wolf.
BLITZER: If at least three terrorists -- at least three terrorists are affiliated with the terror groups, the question is where were they? Where did they travel? Where, potentially, did they learn the techniques that were clearly used?
That's going to have to be ferreted out in the coming days, Wolf. It's a key question. If they're affiliated with ISIS, did they recently fight in Syria or Iraq? If they did that, intelligence officials and analysts tell us that that is the worst news that they can get. It means they're French nationals who may have returned to France with French passports. It's the realization of every terrorism analyst's fear, that a jihadist can return to their homeland with a passport and easily pull off attacks.
BLITZER: If you have a French passport, you can travel almost anywhere in Europe without a visa, just -- or you can fly to the United States. You don't even need a visa to fly to the United States if you're a French citizen with a French passport.
TODD: Right. So a real fear.
BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thanks very much.
Let's bring in a key member of the House Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, joining us from Capitol Hill.
Congressman, what are you hearing about these individuals? They've now been identified, and the U.S. government knows the names of these three terrorists. What are you hearing about any formal alliance or connection they may have had with this specific terror group?
KING: Wolf, all of that is still being looked at, and my understanding is, from talking to people in the community -- and I got a briefing earlier today -- is that there is no definite answers to who they were with.
Obviously, there was information that points toward al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula but also the type of training they have indicates it could be ISIS.
And also, I think, Wolf, sometimes we make the mistake of believing that there's this definite line of separation between and among these groups. Often it's a cross-pollination. And so it doesn't have to be one or the other or it doesn't mean that you couldn't have somebody who is affiliated with one, joining another.
So I would -- I would say the main suspects right now would be al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or ISIS or even a combination, someone who fought with one and is now fighting with the other.
BLITZER: But it looks like a pretty sophisticated operation, right?
KING: This is extremely sophisticated and I heard it mentioned several times, the way they carried their weapons, the way they calmly, when something was dropped, they would take the time to pick it up; the way they horribly executed that police officer who was dying on the street, who was wounded on the street. There was no sense of urgency. There was no sense of panic.
These looked like professional -- either soldiers or professional hitmen. They could have been in the French army. They could have been trained by ISIS. They could have received training from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen.
But these are not the type of self-starters or homegrown terrorists by all indications. This is a trained operation, the way they carried it out, also the level of sophistication, having a car and a getaway car, knowing who they were going after, knowing the names of the individuals, exactly where they'd be. This is a -- clearly a well- planned -- a well-planned operation, which is not the product of just some local -- I don't believe some local homegrown apparatus.
BLITZER: And even though French authorities have identified the terrorists, as far as you know, they're still at large. They have not yet been arrested. Is that right?
KING: That's my understanding. I know there's been reports that they may have captured. We have not been able to confirm that at all, from talking to all of our sources. But you mentioning the names. There's so much -- once those names are given -- given to the U.S., I mean, we can contribute a lot. We'll go through our database.
The NSA will be able to track down, hopefully, any phone calls they made, where they traveled. I mean, there could be so much information out there, and that could lead to any number of other suspects, any other information, any other potential plots. So in many ways, this investigation could just be beginning.
BLITZER: So they've strengthened security in New York. You're from New York. You're from Long Island.
Should this be going on all over the country?
In other words, should the U.S. all over the United States raise the threat level?
KING: I think it's up to the individual local government. I can tell you New York is always at a high level of alert, and now it even goes higher after something like this. And the NYPD has been at the forefront. They have an officer stationed in Paris, for instance, so he was immediately on the scene.
And he would be reporting back to New York as to anything he saw or heard, any indicators at all as to how New York should increase its level of counterterrorism, its defenses.
So this is something which NYPD has down. Bill Bratton is doing it now; Ray Kelly did it before; John Miller, the deputy commissioner of counterterrorism, they were on this from the start.
And as far as other cities, listen, I would say certainly any urban area, any large city has to be on a higher level of alert if you want to call it that, or just doing more than they would otherwise, because any city -- first of all, anyone could be a target, but certainly, if you're in a city that has any type of landmarks or any known targets, they should be -- they should definitely be increasing their level.
Whether it's a formal increase to the level is one thing, but they should be doing more.
BLITZER: Because we heard from Mike McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congressman, the great concern is that U.S. -- he called them U.S. persons, U.S. citizens or U.S. residents, they may have gone over to the Middle East or North Africa. They may have trained with ISIS or Al Qaeda. And then they come back here to the United States and there presumably could be a hundred or 200. I don't know if there is a specific number that you want to share with us, but there could be a bunch of these guys; they represent, potentially, a major threat.
KING: Well, as Mike McCaul said, there have been published reports of about 150, 200, and that number is close enough. And Chairman McCaul is very concerned about this. He -- as far as this whole foreign fighter issue.
Now those are the -- let's say the number is 150. They're the ones we know about. Now there could be others we don't know about. There could be somebody from the United States who traveled to Europe for vacation ostensibly and then worked their way down to Syria. So there's at least that number that we're concerned about. We try to follow them as best we can. It doesn't always work.
There have been instances where they came back into the country without being detected.
But for the most part, I think we do have a good eye on them, but there's others that we may not know about. And also as Mike McCaul mentioned and as you have mentioned, under the visa waiver -- if you were a citizen of a European country, you can fly into the U.S. without getting a visa.
So besides 150 or whatever the number is that we have to worry about from the U.S., there could be thousands of Europeans who have gone to Syria who have come into the U.S. without having to get a visa. So we have to be very concerned. I mean, the number I've heard from France is at least 600 alone, and we know the Brits have let a lot get out. There's certainly well over 1,000 anyway who could come into the U.S. without having to get a visa.
BLITZER: You want to change that regulation? Do you want Europeans to be required to get a visa to visit the United States?
KING: We're going to have to look at this. We don't want to interfere with trade and -- we don't want to interfere with tourism or the fact these are close allies over there, but I think we may have to -- again, this is going to be subject to what we'll look at on the Homeland Security Committee. Chairman McCaul has asked a number of us to look into it with him under his direction as to what we should do about these foreign fighters.
And I think that we do have to take another look at the visa waiver program to see if there's anything else that we should be doing and also we'll have to see how carefully the Europeans are monitoring who goes and how much they're sharing all of that intelligence with us. So we have to -- this requires a full, I believe, full-scale investigation.
BLITZER: All right. Congressman Peter King of New York, thanks very much for joining us.
KING: Wolf, thank you.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the urgent manhunt under way right now for terrorists behind today's massacre in France. There's also tighter security here in the United States. The homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, he's standing by. He's going to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's coming up right at the top of the hour.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. The police operation is under way in the area around the French northeastern city of Reims. Three suspects have been identified after today's terror attack in Paris. The gunmen killed a dozen people and wounded 11 others.
Today's attacks raises new concerns of terrorist striking inside the United States as well. Police in New York City already are increasing security including the French consulate in Manhattan.
With us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the former U.S. Congresswoman Jane Harman. She was on the Homeland Security Committee. She's now the president of the Wilson Center. CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, our law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes, and joining us from Paris, Guillaume Debre. He's a correspondent for French television channel TF1.
To all of you, thanks very much for joining us.
Guillaume, first to you. What can you tell us? The latest information you're getting about these three terrorists.
GUILLAUME DEBRE, TF1 CORRESPONDENT: Well, these three gunmen have been identified by the police. Two of them seem to be brother age 32 and 34. They were born in Paris. They live nearby the headquarters of "Charlie Hebdo" where the killing happened. The third one was much younger, 18 years old. He must -- he could have been a lookout this morning. They're on the run right now.
The police seem to think they're in Reims, a town outside of Paris, now 20 minutes east of Paris, and there is an operation ongoing right now with the SWAT team in an area called (INAUDIBLE), which is an area inside Reims. And we don't know exactly if they know for sure that's the three gunmen are there.
What we know also is that the killing happened this morning at 11:30. The gunmen knew exactly where they were going, who they were targeting, they knew exactly that on Wednesday morning there were a weekly editorial meeting and that's where they could kill the target that they had.
After there was a car chase inside Paris. They changed -- swapped cars, they carjacked, and without killing anybody else just fled outside of Paris, and that's where the manhunt started. Three thousand cops are trying to chase them. This is one of the biggest manhunts that France has had in recent history.
BLITZER: And we had heard, Guillaume, and I assume you've heard as well that the terrorists, they called out the names of these cartoonists, these journalists before executing them, is that right?
DEBRE: Yes. They knew exactly who they wanted to target. There's 12 dead, as you know, eight journalists, two cops, but very, very, very little collateral damage. They knew exactly the cartoonists that had cartoons drawn Mohammed, you know, a few years back and that was published by "Charlie Hebdo" and when they left after the executed these cops on the sidewalk they said Allahu Akbar, God is great. We avenged Mohammed, we'd killed "Charlie Hebdo."
What's striking also is that they left during the car chase. They swapped car, meaning they carjacked, they held at gunpoint an elder man, 60-some years old, and a witness, an eyewitness told me that they were extremely polite. They were extremely calm. They were speaking French with not a trace of foreign accent.
And when this old man which was being carjacked asked if he could get his dog back that had been left in the car that the gunmen would take him, they actually took the dog and gave him back to him without killing him which tells you that they absolutely wanted to kill the cartoonists at "Charlie Hebdo." They didn't want to kill innocents, if I said passersby. They knew exactly who they wanted to target.
BLITZER: That's some pretty terrifying thought.
Peter -- Peter Bergen, you studied terrorism for a long time. What does it say to you, this operation, who was responsible?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: We don't know, but I think it's important to recognize, I think, a lot of Americans watching the show would not -- would probably think Americans could never do this. Well, we've had two American citizens, David Coleman Headley of Chicago and also Jihad Jane of Pennsylvania, who also planned and attacked and killed cartoonist in America.
And we've had two other American citizens who incited murder -- the murder of "South Park" creators Trey Stone and Matthew Parker because they, you know, had a show with the Prophet Mohammed being lampooned. So, you know, the idea that this couldn't happen in the United States I think is factually untrue because we've had four American citizens who've done forms of this already.
BLITZER: Because, Jane, you've seen probably that 2013 ad run in that al Qaeda magazine inspire -- al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, it read, "Wanted dead or alive," featured one of the "Charlie Hebdo" editors who was killed today. The editor-in-chief.
Here's the question to you, could al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have been responsible for plotting and organizing this operation?
JANE HARMAN (D), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Yes. But we don't know definitely that that happened. As to what Peter just said, let's remember the people he's talking about were apprehended before they could cause the harm that they intended.
BLITZER: Not in this case.
HARMAN: Not in this case, but we've had real intelligence successes, and in France, too. We can't always talk about those successes because they reveal our sources and methods. So we're basically ahead of this. But there's no 100 percent security. These folks attack asymmetrically where we don't expect it. We can't protect every single building in every single capital. But this was in the middle of downtown Paris, it was premeditated murder. It was very effective.
The goal now here is to use the competent people at the Department of Homeland Security and very competent secretary, Jeh Johnson, who's going to be on your show in 10 minutes, and the FBI, and do our best. But it's not going to be risk free.
BLITZER: Speaking of the FBI, now that they've identified these three terrorists and the U.S. government has the names of these three terrorists, how long will it take to figure out if they were involved with a specific terror group and if they were accomplices?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think they probably already know, Wolf, whether they were communicating with people in the United States or other cells in Europe. But there have been other attack plans thwarted by the French and by other European services of related al Qaeda cells throughout and a plan to blow up the U.S. embassy in September 2001 involved al Qaeda cells in seven European countries and in Dubai, and was thwarted by the collective police and a number of arrests were made and later convictions.
Unfortunately, it didn't get much attention here because it was the week of 9/11 and our focus was on what happened here.
BLITZER: Guillaume, I want to go back to you in Paris. We know that the French authorities, they've raised the threat level throughout France to the highest terror threat level.
What's it like in Paris right now? You're seeing police, law enforcement all over the place. Has the atmosphere dramatically changed over these past few hours?
DEBRE: Not really, Wolf. This is not a society like you have in the U.S. where you see cops, you know, the presence of cops is very visible. We don't see many cops in the street. There is certain location where the security has been beefed up in front of some schools, in front of some media, televisions, in front of some public buildings, you know, that could be targeted. But the life in Paris, in the Reims, where I am, is quite normal. There's people out there in cafes, you know, people talk about this,
of course. It's been highly traumatic for French people. But the mood of the city, if it's changed, you can't see if you don't know that something happened. You can't really see it. BLITZER: Jane, if the U.S., the French, the allies, they determine a
specific terror group, whether al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, ISIS, al Qaeda in Maghreb, some other terror group was responsible, what do you do then?
HARMAN: I don't know what we will do. I'm sure there will be a firm response. But we don't know who it was, and let's put out another fact, Wolf, and that's this sign here. The backlash against this. I mean, there have been thousands of people in the street in Paris and all over France. There were demonstrations in Berlin. The government of Jordan, and good for them, how courageous, has condemned this attack from the Middle East.
And I think that the backlash against this, the fact that this has become a so-called mean, and that it's gone viral everywhere, is going to send a different message. These folks may have lost this battle. Yes, tragically a number of people died, but we just may have citizen vigilance and a response here that ends up protecting journalists and something get stronger.
BLITZER: Is this a game changer, this event that happened in Paris today?
FUENTES: No. This is just part of the continuing war on terrorism that's been going on for decades.
FUENTES: It preceded 9/11 and it will go on for many, many more years.
BLITZER: This war on terrorism.
FUENTES: These cells are all over. Even right now, we can't tell, is this from the al Qaeda groups in North Africa, because there's many Moroccan and Algerian immigrants in Paris from North Africa and they spoke both French and Arabic at the crime scene? Is it from Yemen? Is it from the Middle East? Did they go to Syria? Foreign fighter. I mean there are so many --
BLITZER: You agree, Peter?
BERGEN: I totally agree.
HARMAN: But it's all not negative. I mean, we have to win the argument with these folks. They're recruiting folks because their arguments are better than ours. Let ours be better.
BLITZER: All right. We've got to leave it right there but we're going to continue. Our analysis continue. Watch the breaking news. Much more coming up. A massive manhunt under way for the gunmen who
attacked the offices of a magazine in Paris, killing 12 people.
And as security is beefed up in this country, the United States, how big is the threat to the U.S.? I'll ask the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. He'll join me live, that's coming up next.