Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Statement Expected on Holiday Security; Belgian Issues Warrant for Additional Accomplice in Paris Attacks; Concerns over Turkey Downing of Russian Warplane; U.S. on Alert During Holidays; Concerns of ISIS Hitting U.S. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired November 25, 2015 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I can tell you that the surviving pilot just spoke on Russian television and said that he received absolutely no warning from the Turkish government before his plane was shot down there by Turkmen rebels. No warning at all. This is contrary to what Turkey has said, saying they warned that fighter jet 10 times. Also, he said on Russian television that he knew the area like the, quote, "back of his hand" and had flown that path many, many times insisting he was over Syria, not Turkey. More on that as soon as we have it.

Also, we're just learning that in a few moments, we will hear live from President Obama making a statement in the Roosevelt Room about Homeland Security. This, as we enter the critical holiday travel season. AAA right now predicting nearly 47 million Americans will venture 50 miles or more away from home for Thanksgiving, many of you by car, many of you, millions of you, in the air. That is the most travelers hitting the road in eight years this Thanksgiving. All of that as the State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert.

CNN's Jason Carroll live at LaGuardia Airport in New York.

Jason, I can imagine the lines are long and the security process is slow.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can imagine why you would imagine that because typically that's the way it is on this busy holiday travel day. But take a look behind me, Poppy. And I know you've been through this airport a million times. And look at this line. I mean, it's really not bad considering many times when aye been out here, I know you've been out here, too. Take a look down here. I know you know this hallway. Normally that's packed with people lined up trying to get to the front of that security line, as you know.

But today, look. Not the case, despite that worldwide travel alert, despite the fact that TSA has doubled down on security. As you know, between now and Sunday, more than 3.5 million people expected to fly. That travel alert, we should say, does not mean that U.S. citizens should not fly or avoid other means of travel. It just simply means use more vigilance when you're taking public transport or using public spaces.

But even having said that, Poppy, and speaking to a number of the people out here, that worldwide travel alert is still very much in the back of the minds of many travelers.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Certainly I think everybody is a little concerned, but I also feel like security has been stepped up so much that hopefully we're well protected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel fine. I feel like if we get scared and don't do it, then they win. Very comfortable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We appreciate the security because we know it's for our own good.


CARROLL: And, Poppy, wondered if what we were experiencing here at LaGuardia was just some sort of -- hi, how -- some sort of anomaly but not the case. We also did a check of several other airports, Atlanta, O'Hare, Dallas, LAX, all looking at wait times under 30 minutes. So not so bad considering that one of the busiest holiday travel times of the season also considering that heightened state of alert, travel seems to be pretty smooth.

HARLOW: Absolutely.

Jason Carroll live for us at LaGuardia. Jason, thank you very much.

And you saw the podium as we await President Obama speaking on national security in moments.

Meantime, Belgian authorities have issued a new international arrest warrant for another accomplice in the Paris terror attacks. Police say this man, let's take a look, Mohamed Abrini, was spotted at a French gas station along with the eighth attacker still on the run, Salah Abdeslam, two days before the attacks in Paris. Abrini was driving the same car Salah used to drop off the suicide bombers who attacked the Stade de France.

Let's get more from CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank; also Paris-based journalist, Stefan de Vries is with me.

Paul, let me ask you this. What we've also learned is that man who we just pulled up on our screen, Abrini, that he not only was complicit in this according to authorities, but traveled to Syria just last year, was able to slip back into Europe. Authorities say this is a major concern, obviously. How does he get back in?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: That's absolutely right, Poppy. And we've seen that with a majority of the people involved in this conspiracy that they traveled to Syria at some point, that they linked up with ISIS at some point. They got training at some point. They had some experience of fighting at some point. So these are trained killers who are coming back to Europe. And in fact, more than 1500 extremists who have spent time in Syria and Iraq have come back to Europe, according to European counterterrorism officials. And they're trying in genius ways to get back. Some of them on the radar screen. So they're exploiting the refugee processing system, using fake passports to pretend that they're refugees. Some are just trying to slip through the border and sort of places like Albania and Greece, not a particularly well-policed border. Other people are using people smugglers. And then some are just coming back on planes from Turkey and hoping that they won't be arrested by European security agencies, who may not have enough evidence to charge them.

[11:35:05] HARLOW: Stefan, when we were in Paris together last week, you told me that one of the issues, the intelligence issues here, is that there is competition between the intelligence agencies in France and that there has, to some level, been a lack of cooperation. Do you think that is part and parcel of the problem that we're seeing with these now attackers slipping in from Syria?

STEFAN DE VRIES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR & FRENCH JOURNALIST: Well, yes, it's part of the problem. One of the other problems is the controls of the outer borders of the European Union, which is not very well coordinated. There are many intelligence services in Europe. There are only five countries who exchange information on a daily basis. And all the other ones are basically protecting their information because when you talk about intelligence, then you also talk about serenity, independence, and that's one of the problems within the European Union, that even allies are very reluctant to exchange their information and to analyze this information.

This has, however, improved a little bit since the attacks in January on "Charlie Hebdo" and the kosher supermarket, but it is still a big issue, and that is one of the reasons why, for instance, Salah Abdeslam, one of the suspects who is still on the run, got away on Friday night after the attacks. He was checked three times. But the police did not have the information yet that he was wanted by the French police. So you see that this is a very important issue and something that the European countries, European leaders, while they did an appeal this week to improve this collaboration, but it will be a very long and difficult way.

HARLOW: Absolutely.

Stefan, thank you very much, live for us in Paris.

Paul Cruickshank, CNN criticism analyst, live for us in Washington, appreciate it.

I'm going to get a break in. Stay with me. We're told the president is just a few minutes away from taking the podium in the Roosevelt Room to address national security. He has just been briefed by his team. We'll bring that to you live. Stay with us.


[11:41:22] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Welcome to our special coverage.

We're awaiting President Obama. He's been meeting with his top national security advisers at the White House about to walk into the Roosevelt Room. There you see it right there at the White House in the East Wing -- excuse me, the West Wing of the White House. The president will make a statement on national security on the eve of the Thanksgiving Day holiday weekend where a lot of Americans right now are nervous about travel plans. He's been getting briefed by his top national security and intelligence advisers. Second day in a row. Lots going on.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, obviously, atop the president's concerns right now, this amazing tension that's developed between NATO, Turkey and Russia's decision to down that warplane flying along the Turkish/Syrian border.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, tensions clearly escalating in this area. But the message we're hearing from the White House and from the Pentagon, from NATO is everybody take a deep breath. They don't want this situation to escalate out of control, to have more tension at a time, as you say already, when the world is so nervous about all of this. So the message has been very clear. The question, of course, is whether the Russians are paying attention to that message. The foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, earlier today said that Russia is not going to war against Turkey. But of course, the real question is what does Vladimir Putin have in mind? Clearly he is the authority, the power. He will make the decisions about what the Russian military decides to do next. So all of this being very carefully watched.

But all of this coming, as you say, during this American holiday season. We have been hearing from the intelligence community, from the military, from the White House, from Homeland Security, no specific credible threat against the United States over the Thanksgiving holiday. But I think you are very likely to hear from the president that the entire government is going to remain on watch and very vigilant watching for any changes in the threat picture -- Wolf?

BLITZER: And the State Department this week issued a worldwide travel alert for the next three months for all Americans traveling around the world right now. Obviously, there may be no specific threat, but the alarm is there. That's why that worldwide travel alert has been issued.

Paul Cruickshank is our terrorism analyst, just back from Paris.

You're with me here in Washington, Paul. All this follows, of course, the horrible terror attacks in Paris, the attack on that Russian airliner over Sinai, what happened in Beirut. There's been a series of ISIS-related terror attacks, and there's deep concern ISIS could strike potentially even here in the United States.

CRUICKSHANK: Yeah, I think there are two parts. One is this sort of directed is threat against the United States. ISIS increasingly getting into the international terrorism business. Clearly they want to attack the United States homeland. They've made that very clear in their statements. They have rather huge capabilities in Syria and Iraq. This is the richest group in history, richest terrorist group in history. They've got all these western recruits going in, up to 6,000 western recruits joining these groups in Syria and Iraq. And we found out just last week that some of those attackers in Paris could potentially have got on board U.S. planes coming into the United States, could have got into this country. There's concern coming from ISIS itself. And there's also a more immediate concern coming from ISIS-inspired plots. People inspired by what they saw in Paris but are already here in the United States or mesh citizens or permanent residents who have become radicalized. Over the course of the past year, the FBI has launched 900 counterterrorism investigations in all 50 states. The majority of those related to people who are inspired by ISIS's message.

[11:44:03] BLITZER: The second day in a row the president has been meeting with his top national security advisers. We're awaiting his arrival in the Roosevelt Room over at the West Wing at the White House.

We'll take a quick break. We'll stand by to hear from the president of the United States. We'll be right back.


HARLOW: Breaking news here on CNN. I want to welcome our viewers around the United States and around the world. We are looking at the podium from the Roosevelt Room in the White House. We are awaiting remarks from President Obama.

We send it now to Wolf Blitzer in Washington -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you, Poppy.

And the president is going to be walking out the make a statement following two days of national security meetings following his extensive conversations with French President Francois Hollande, who is now meeting with Angela Merkel, the leader of Germany, where he will go tomorrow to be meeting with a Vladimir Putin in Russia. All of this setting the stage for the president's getting briefed on what's going on not only in Syria and Iraq but elsewhere around the world, as well as potential threats, terror threats here in the United States as tens of millions of Americans are either traveling already or getting ready to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

We know there has been stepped-up security around the major cities across the country, in New York, in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, and not because there are any specific credible threats, but because largely, the U.S. officials say out of an abundance of caution, they want to make sure that what happened in Paris does not happen here in the United States. Presumably, that is what the president is going to be speaking about, the big picture, the big national security picture poll lowing the following the extensive briefings by the National security, military and intelligence officials. One again, the second day in a row he's been briefed by them.

This is a surprise announcement. It was not originally on the president's schedule that he would make this statement from the Roosevelt Room in the White House, but within the last half hour or so, the president wants to make a statement to the American people as they get ready for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Later this afternoon, he is going to have a much different ceremony pardoning the Turkeys on this Thanksgiving eve and very, very different session that usually takes place at the Rose Garden at the White House. But this is going to be a serious statement on national security that the president is about to make.

Paul Cruickshank, as we await the arrival of the president, and it is fair that the world, because of the crisis with al Qaeda and ISIS, other terrorist groups, the world is on edge right now.

[11:50:30] CRUICKSHANK: Yes, the world is on edge, evidence al Qaeda and ISIS are competing with other in the national terrorism space, but really ISIS has been getting into plots in a much bigger way over the last year. I mean, we have seen a string of terrorist attacks in Middle East. And just yesterday in Tunis, a bus carrying the members of the presidential guard that was bombed by suicide bomber. ISIS just claimed responsibility for that as well. So there is a lot of energy in the system right now. The ISIS-inspired radicals in the United States are feeling electrified by what they saw play out in Paris. So in this holiday period, maybe some are inspired to act. We saw in the July 4th weekend. There was a sort of increased threat level here in the United States, and some of the radicals that were monitored at the time were talking about launching attacks on the July 4th weekend. The terrorists believe that attacks during holidays can be more traumatic for the American people. We saw it in the Islamabad documents from bin Laden where they were about attacking on holidays.

BLITZER: And the president will be walking out to make a statement to the American people and, indeed, to the world.

Once again, we want to welcome our viewers on CNN and CNN International, in the United States and around the world.

We don't know what the president is going to be saying, because it is a last-minute addition to the schedule. The president about to go out to the Roosevelt Room.

Pamela Brown is our justice correspondent.

Pamela, what are you hearing about the threat levels in New York, Washington, and other major cities around the country?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there is a lot of concern among the national security officials about the Paris attack, and worried that the attacks in Paris will embolden ISIS sympathizers and members here in the U.S. And they targeted people of the general public, and people at the restaurants or going to the concert. So this is an evolution for ISIS in not just targeting the members of the military or the government officials.

We have seen the propaganda videos from ISIS saying to go out the target those in the government, and now we have seen the expansion. The concern here, Wolf, homegrown violent extremists. And we know some terrorism cases open in the United States, and some of them will be feeling that they may attack here on the holiday weekend as Paul pointed out. On July 4th, many plots were thwarted, so everybody is on heightened alert right now -- Wolf? BLITZER: Pamela, the president will be walking out to the Roosevelt

Room, and we are showing the viewers the live picture there. And it is going to be interesting who he is flanked by, whether it is the secretary of defense or the secretary of Homeland Security or the vice president. And I am sure they have all been involved in the national security meetings with the president.

Just to repeat, Pamela, from what you hearing from the Homeland Security, the FBI and the Justice Department, no specific credible threat. Is that right?

BROWN: No specific credible threat, but officials have a hard time knowing exactly when somebody is going are from flash to bang, and I have been hearing for months that they will be watching someone, and someone is under surveillance, and then all of the sudden, they will decide, and wake up, and say, today is t the day. We saw it recently in Boston when one of the people under surveillance went out and was g going to the officials say launch a terrorist attack. He had moved the schedule up.

So officials say that while there is no specific credible threat, it does not mean that someone could just decide to today is the day. That is why they are asking member s o members of the general public as well as law enforcement officials to if they see something say something. They need help from people in the public. There's a lot of work going on behind the scenes, and it is not enough, and law enforcement officials will say to the, you Wolf, that, look, in the days -- today, we have encryption, and the Paris attackers are believed to have encryption, so it harder for law enforcement to see communications and know what is going on. But it is going to be interesting to see if the president has something to say about that, because as you point pointed out, Wolf, this is a last-minute announcement -- Wolf?

[11:55:11] BLITZER: It certainly is.

All right, we'll take a quick break. We're standing by to hear from the president of the United States, making a statement on U.S. national security, and lots of ramifications.

We will be right back.


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. And welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

We have a trained live eye on the White House. This is Thanksgiving eve and one of the busiest travel days of the year, and in one of the deadliest months in the war on terror, and that is going to put the focus squarely on security right now in this nation. To that end, the president is expected to speak at any moment about that issue, and about this country. He is being briefed by the national security advisers, and that meeting is running longer than expected. And we will bring you the statement live as soon as he emerges live into the Roosevelt Room. In the meantime, I'm joined by my colleague, Wolf Blitzer; as well CNN

Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr; and CNN justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, joining me live from Atlanta.

Wolf, if I could start with you.

So critical that the president addresses this issue within two weeks of Paris, within several weeks of the downed airliner brought down by a bomb in the Sinai Peninsula and ISIS taking credit for that, and within days, so to speak, of campaigns all across the Internet suggesting America's New York and Washington are next

BLITZER: Because there have been these ISIS videos, very slick propaganda videos directly warning of attacks against New York City, landmark places in New York, whether Times Square, Harold's Square, the big Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan tomorrow. Also making specific threats against the White House, locations and the White House, some of the monuments they want to take down, destroy the moments in Washington, like they destroyed monuments, old archeological monuments in Syria and Iraq. Those specific threats have come forward.

Actually, this is a very delicate line the president has to walk right now.