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Police: Possible Suicide Vest Found in Paris Suburbs; Police Hunt ISIS 'Voice of Death'. Aired 5:00-6:00p ET

Aired November 23, 2015 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Suicide vest. Police find a possible suicide device in a Paris suburb, reportedly containing bolts and the same type of explosive used in the Paris attacks.

[17:00:11] Imminent threat. An entire country is on high alert, its capital now on lockdown as Belgian police hunt for a possible ISIS terror team. I'll speak with Belgium's ambassador to the United States.

Voice of death. New information on the man who claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks on behalf of ISIS. Was he one of the masterminds? Is he ready to strike again? We have new information.

And striking ISIS. A French aircraft carrier launches its first strikes at ISIS targets in Syria as Russia says its missiles aimed at ISIS targets bear the words, "For Paris."

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news, police seal off part of a Paris suburb right now, saying an item resembling a suicide vest was found in a garbage can. CNN affiliate BFMTV reports it does contain bolts and the same explosives used in the Paris attacks.

Paris remains under tight security as police search the barracks -- the backpacks, I should say, of all school children. The British prime minister, David Cameron, joined the French president, Francois Hollande, at the site of one attack. And as France launched new airstrikes at ISIS targets inside Syria, David Cameron says he'll push for Britain to do the same thing.

Another European capital meanwhile is on lockdown right now. Schools, stores and the subway system, they're closed in Brussels, home to the European Union and NATO. Belgium is on high alert for what authorities say is an imminent threat of a Paris-style attack as security forces hunt for the suspected eighth Paris attacker, Saleh Abdeslam.

Also at large, the so-called voice of death, an infamous ISIS commander who claimed the Paris massacres in the name of the terror group. We're learning he may have helped direct that slaughter, along with other attacks and may be planning a new strike. I'll speak with Congressman Andre Carson of the intelligence committee. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they'll have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown. She has the very latest on all these fast moving developments. What are you learning, Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in a sign of just how active this investigation continues to be in France and elsewhere, tonight investigators discovered a possible vest with explosives in a trash can in Paris. And now they're trying to figure out who dropped it there and when.


BROWN (voice-over): French police sealed off the streets of a Paris suburb tonight as a bomb unit checked a possible explosive device resembling a suicide vest found in a garbage can. CNN affiliate BFM is reporting the vest contains bolts and the explosive TATP, the same type found in the suicide belts used by the Paris attackers.

Next door in Belgium, much of the capital city of Brussels remains on lockdown. The country's terror alert elevated to the highest level over concern of a serious and imminent threat. Police officers and soldiers patrol near empty streets. Schools, the subway system and many shops remain closed.

Police raids across Belgium over the weekend netted more arrests, including one man now charged in connection with the Paris terrorist attacks. Today, Belgium's prime minister warned the threat is far from over.

CHARLES MICHEL, BELGIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The Belgium people are confronted with very difficult times. We are doing the utmost with our security forces to get back to its normal situation as quickly as possible.

BROWN: Still on the run tonight, 26-year-old Saleh Abdeslam, his brother told Belgium reporters the family believes Abdeslam backed out of the Paris attacks last minute.

And in a sign of how well the pair of terrorists covered their tracks, authorities have yet to even identify all of the dead attackers. French national police are asking the public for help identifying these two men who they say detonated suicide vests outside the Stade de France during the attacks.

Today Britain's prime minister, David Cameron, joined France President Francois Hollande outside the Paris Bataclan concert hall to pay their respects to lives lost and reinforce Britain's solidarity in the fight against terror.

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We face a shared threat. And we must share information and intelligence to better protect ourselves from these brutal terrorists.

BROWN: As the hunt for more terror suspects continues, French warplanes took off from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to launch strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): We will intensify our strikes. We will choose targets that will inflict maximum possible damage on this terrorist army.


BROWN: And back in France investigators are determining whether the alleged architect of the plots killed last week, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, may have played an even more direct role as an attacker after he was discovered in Paris during the attacks instead of Syria where he was believed to be. Officials I've spoken to, Wolf, say the attacks expose serious intelligence gaps and lack of information sharing between countries. Clearly, more needs to be done, Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown reporting for us. Clearly, there were major, major blunders in the lead up to what happened in Paris. Let's go live to Paris right now.

CNN's Martin Savidge is standing by live. Martin, a fresh scare in a Paris suburb where police say an item resembling a suicide belt was found in a garbage can. What do you know about that?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're right, Wolf. This is a fresh scare. It was just as the city started to feel a little less frightened than it has been over the past nine days or so.

But like this afternoon, trash collectors in the neighborhood of Montrouge, a southern Paris suburb. It's a residential area. They found inside a trash can this -- what now is believed to be an explosives vest.

And as you say, it had the explosive traits that go back to the same attackers of Friday the 13th. But here's the clear thing that's being reported now in French media, and that is that the Saleh Abdeslam, his cell phone was tracked by authorities into this very same neighborhood hours after the attack in the area where this vest was found. That seems to be just too much to be mere coincidence.

But what does it really mean? Was he somehow disposing of a vest? And was it his vest or someone else's vest? It really doesn't seem to add up at this point, because it's in an area far away from any of the attacks that occurred. And it's certainly not back on the road to Belgium, where it's believed he headed after leaving Paris.

So right now it is unclear. We should point out that the vest has now been recovered and that scene has been cleared. The all clear has been given in that neighborhood -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The investigation clearly continues. Martin, thanks very much.

Joining us now Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. I wonder -- I assume you've been well-briefed on what's going on. What can you tell us about this manhunt for this terrorist, Saleh Abdeslam? Do officials have any clue where he might be right now?

REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA: Well, I think that folks should be confident in knowing that the U.S., Belgium and French law enforcement community has been working very closely together along with efforts from our fly-by partners. It is clear that the recent raids and the law enforcement surge that we've seen in the past week and a half is indicative of a unified and more broadly growing global front to stop ISIL and to stop any copycat terrorists who seek to do others harm.

BLITZER: But they got to learn from some of the blunders that did occur, intelligence failures leading up to that -- that horrible Friday night in Paris, if they want to avoid these kinds of terror attacks down the road. Any major blunder stick out in your mind right now?

CARSON: Well, I think whenever there's a tragic incident like this, there are always lessons to be learned and takeaways. Our hearts go out to the people of France and across the globe, quite frankly. Mali, Nigeria and other places.

But whenever you have this, you always go back, and Monday morning quarterback and look at strengthening and tightening internal controls. But what is more clear is that the ISIL message, the message of radicalism, the message of extremism will no longer be tolerated from the global community, the global faith community. All people are coming together, people of good will, and saying enough is enough.

BLITZER: Might that suicide vest then bolts that were found in that garbage can today in that Paris suburb be a key for investigators in pointing to who else may have been part of this attack?

CARSON: Well, whenever you discover a suicide vest, it's always a unique discovery. And something that could unlock other efforts that could have taken place, or it could have been in connection with the recent attacks in Paris.

What is clear is that law enforcement authorities are now connecting the dots. They're shaking the trees. We're seeing a surge as it were. And we're seeing numerous raids where we're getting the information that we need to get to the root of this problem and eliminate the cancerous threat.

BLITZER: I assume authorities in France, in Paris, they're looking at that suicide vest if -- and to determine if there were any parts there that could determine where they may have been purchased, if there were fingerprints, any other evidence that could lead to more of the suspects who may still be at large.

CARSON: Sure. Absolutely. France has a very impressive law enforcement and intelligence apparatus as do we. And our intelligence community, as well as our law enforcement community, the FBI along with the CIA and other agencies, have been working with the French authorities to work collaboratively in solving these cases.

BLITZER: Standby, Congressman. We have more to discuss. I want to remind our viewers also you once served in the Department of Homeland Security, and 46 million Americans are about to be traveling during this Thanksgiving holiday week.

[17:10:08] Much more, much more with Congressman Andre Carson when we come back.


BLITZER: Talking with Congressman Andre Carson of the House Intelligence Committee. We'll get back to him in a moment.

But first, there's an urgent hunt underway right now for the ISIS commander who's been dubbed the voice of death after he claimed the Paris massacres on behalf of the terror group. He may have been one of the masterminds of those and several other attacks.

[17:15:06] Brian Todd has been digging into this.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight our information suggests a sophisticated role in the Paris attacks by this man, Fabien Clain, one of ISIS's top speaking French operatives. There are indications that he may have issued commands remotely to his cells on the ground. His apparent tactics read from a plot right out of "Homeland."


TODD (voice-over): Just hours after the carnage in Paris, a claim of responsibility from ISIS's senior French operative, Fabien Clain. He gives extraordinary detail on the targets, saying they were meticulously chosen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Sites in the 10th, 11th and 18th districts.

TODD: No attack in the 18th District ever materialized, but a car believed to be driven by alleged conspirator Saleh Abdeslam was found parked in the 18th District. Abdeslam is still on the loose, the subject of an intense manhunt. The only suspected attacker believed to have survived.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Investigators believe that Saleh Abdeslam may have been tasked to launch an attack against the 18th District but may have aborted.

TODD: One of Abdeslam's brothers insists he believes Abdeslam changed his mind at the last minute, decided not to go through with an attack. But it still points to Fabien Clain's likely advanced knowledge of the Paris assault. European counterterrorism officials tell CNN they suspect Clain was a ringleader, directing the attacks with precision.

AKI PERITZ, FORMER CIA ANALYST: He has significant relationships with a number of the attackers. We also know that he has longtime relationships with various people who have committed attacks in Belgium and also in France.

TODD: European counterterror officials believe Clain worked in tandem with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, not only on the Paris attacks but also on the attempted shooting on a high-speed train between Belgium and France in August, which was disrupted by three Americans.

And officials suspect Clain was the mastermind behind the plot to attack at least one French church in April. That plot failed when a suspected terrorist shot himself in the leg.

But the French newspaper "Le Monde" reports on a stunning level of micromanagement inside Clain's network. Analysts say the operative's handlers reportedly directed him at every step in the church plot via encrypted communications. It was terror by remote control.

CRUICKSHANK: They instructed him to go and pick up weapons and a bulletproof vest from a car parked at a car park in a neighborhood of Paris, to pick up the keys from the front right tire, to wear gloves when he went in the car so he didn't leave any fingerprints. They told him where to attack, how to attack.


TODD: And with that level of detail, officials say Fabien Clain is probably looking to attack France again. It is believed he's probably right now in Syria. A U.S. counterterrorism official tells us, while it's difficult to track down what he called these psychopaths, he says it's not impossible. The official points to the recent drone strikes, which likely killed top ISIS operatives Jihadi John and Junaid Hussain -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, why do these ISIS commanders have to supposedly micromanage all these operatives, instruct them every step of the way?

TODD: Well, analysts say it's because of the training that the French speaking operatives get. They say it's actually very short. Their commanders bring them to Syria, Wolf, for maybe two weeks, then send them back. Sometimes they don't even get to Syria. They receive their instructions in Turkey, then they're told to go back to France or Belgium.

Now, if their commanders micromanage those operatives, it gives them much more capability of pulling off an attack successfully. And that may have been what happened in Paris.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.

We're back with Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, is this guy Fabien Clain one of the masterminds in this attack?

CARSON: Well, you know, from what our reports indicate and from what I'll say is that he is certainly a person of interest. There is no safe haven for them or those like him. We are -- we are tightening the reigns in the intelligence community.

And I think that what you'll see in the next few months is that a lot of these so-called leaders who are actually terrorists and might I echo psychopath, they don't have a place to hide. This ideology that is destructive, that is counterproductive, that is manipulative, that plays on people's vulnerabilities, it is shrinking. And we'll deal with the threat as an international community isolate the threat and ultimately eliminate the threat.

BLITZER: Would you have a problem if the U.S. finds out where this guy is for the U.S. to launch a drone with a Hellfire missile and kill him?

CARSON: Listen, drones have been quite controversial. We can talk about this extensively. I'll let the scholars talk about that. But I think in this instance, when you see the kinds of threats that terrorists pose, that's what drones are for: to identify the threat, isolate the threat and eliminate the threat.

BLITZER: Do you -- does U.S. intelligence have any information about whether Clain or any of these other operatives out there have other cells in the works plotting specific attacks against the United States?

[17:20:14] CARSON: What we do know is that the national security community as well as the Department of Homeland Security has been working around the clock with state and local law enforcement. And as folks get prepared for the holiday season, we've not seen, as of yet, credible or specific reports indicating that there could be this kind of scenario like we saw in Paris.

There was just an active shooter scenario that took place in New York City this past weekend even in the subway. And similar active shooter scenarios are taking place as we speak across the country, which should give some kind of comfort to Americans that the law enforcement community is prepared and ready to fight against these extremists.

BLITZER: You're the only member of Congress to have also served in the Department of Homeland Security, so-called fusion center. You understand the threat on the ground. Is the administration right now prepared to deal with ISIS as it has evolved as a threat?

CARSON: I think that President Obama has shown himself to be open to listening to military leaders. Certainly, he gets a briefing daily from the CIA director and the FBI director and the intelligence community as a whole. He has shown himself to be one not trapped in rigidity but one who understands that, when there are gaps and there have been gaps, that he's open to looking at our internal controls and constantly reviewing, asking the right questions so we can tighten the gaps, and ultimately, do what we have to do in terms of keeping Americans safe and keeping our global community even safer.

BLITZER: As you know, "The New York Times" reporting over the weekend that the Pentagon is now expanding an internal investigation of the U.S. military's Central Command. Analysts supposedly were offering a pretty specific, very dire assessment of what ISIS is up to, but their superiors were sugar coating it, in effect, to give a more rosy assessment. What can you tell us about this?

CARSON: Well, whenever you're dealing with human beings, of course, you're always dealing with the human element of human frailty and, of course, motivations and hidden agendas.

But thankfully, I mean, the Central Command is a military command. We still have information coming from the CIA, information coming from the Department of Homeland Security, the DIA, and ultimately, the FBI. And so I think that there are different intelligence tools that are being used to complete the bigger intelligence puzzle.

BLITZER: I want to get your reaction to what Donald Trump and some others have been saying about Muslim Americans. You're one of two Muslims to serve in the United States Congress. Keith Ellison is the other Muslim.

When you hear Donald Trump suggest, for example, that there should be surveillance of certain mosques in the United States, that maybe there needs to be some sort of database to keep track of certain Muslims, what do you say to Trump?

CARSON: You know, I think he's dialed back his comments. I think that Mr. Trump who has done business with Muslims, who has Muslims working for his organization, surely beyond the rhetoric and how he presents himself. I've met Mr. Trump. I don't think he is as unreasonable as his rhetoric suggests. That's not a defense of him. I condemn the harsh language against Muslims.

I don't think that any mosque or any community should be surveilled unless you're looking at a mosque where the reasonable suspicion test has been met, the probable cause test has been met. Other than that to surveil people just because of their religion is unconstitutional and it's un-American.

BLITZER: Good point. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

CARSON: Thank you. What an honor.

BLITZER: Keith Ellison, as I said before, is the other Muslim member of the House of Representatives. Andre Carson is a member of the Intelligence Committee. To both of you thanks very much for your service.

CARSON: Thank you. BLITZER: Coming up, police find a possible suicide vest in a

Paris suburb, reportedly containing the same explosive used in the Paris attack. Is it linked to a missing ISIS suspect?

And in a sign of how well the Paris terrorists covered their tracks, authorities have yet to identify all of the dead attackers. We're getting new information. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


[17:29:12] BLITZER: We've got breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Just now the U.S. State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert warning American citizens around the world that they face a terror threat.

Let's bring in our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, former FBI assistant director; CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, a former CIA official; and our CNN contributor, Michael Weiss, senior editor at "The Daily Beast," the coauthor of the book, "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror."

Tom, I've got the worldwide travel alert right now. The State Department warns U.S. citizens to possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats and then they go into specifics, mentioning al Qaeda, mentioning ISIS, mentioning Boko Haram, other terrorist groups. People are getting ready to travel for Thanksgiving, for Christmas. This is going to scare a lot of people.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: When did they write that, Wolf, about ten years ago?

BLITZER: Well, this has just been issued within the past few minutes.


BLITZER: So what do you say?

FUENTES: Well, it's the same thing they're always putting out. They're putting those kind of alerts out every couple of months when something new happens, when there's another attack somewhere. We know that.

Americans need to be vigilant anywhere they're going in the world. These are always possible. They've been possible for a long time now.

BLITZER: But here's the news in this, and this travel alert expires, they say, February 24, 2016.

Phil, it says authorities believe the likelihood of terror attacks will continue as members of ISIL or ISIS, DAISH, another name for ISIS, return from Syria and Iraq. So they're coming back from Syria and Iraq. They're going to Europe. Maybe they could come to the United States as frequent -- as visa waiver program guys. They're citizens of France or Belgium or other countries, and that's the concern the U.S. clearly has.

MUDD: That's right, but I'm with Tom on this. This is like bringing a B.B. gun to a shooting war. We've been at this threat for ten days, this war for 14 years. There are officials in government responsible for disseminating warnings. This is a classic warning from a bureaucratic group that does this.

To my mind, if you're traveling today and you didn't know that it might be dangerous to go to Brussels or Paris, you're not watching the TV.

BLITZER: Well, this isn't just Brussels or Paris. This is worldwide.

MUDD: Sure, but they're looking at the situation in Europe, saying, "What do we say to American travel," whether it's an event in Mali. We've seen events in Europe. We've seen events in places like Pakistan. This is a standard warning from groups that are responsible for doing this to the U.S. government. To my mind this doesn't take us much further down the road.

BLITZER: It does indicate to me, Michael, that it's part of a new strategy of ISIS now, to go beyond their so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq and target people all over the world if they can.

Well, it's what I would call a new-old strategy, Wolf. Remember al Qaeda in Iraq, we tend to forget they actually had a foreign expeditionary wing. You know, Zarqawi was personally involved in the assassination Lawrence Foley, a USAID worker in Amman, Jordan. They were in and out of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon recruiting, radicalizing. There was a host of European terror operations, many of them aborted thankfully, that AQI was responsible for.

What we're seeing now think of is like a balancing scale. You suppress one side and the other side goes up. So as they lose ground, particularly in northern Syria where they have the most entrenched presence, they're going to escalate, they're going to increase these foreign terrorist spectaculars as a recruitment drive.

I mean, I've seen the videos that they've been putting out since the Paris attacks. Fluent French speakers showing what they present as the carnage delivered by coalition aircraft killing innocent Muslim civilians in Raqqah. They're speaking in nasheed, the Islamic chanting that accompany many of these jihadi videos. The nasheeds are in French now.

So they are egging on every and all comers, particularly in Europe to carry on this winning streak of theirs. I mean, I mentioned before, you had Ankara, Sharm el-Sheikh, Beirut, now Paris. Brussels today is sort of paralyzed in this lockdown mode.

I happen to think this is preemptive, you know, better safe than sorry, rather than they know something is going to happen in the next few hours. But good for the Belgium authorities. I mean, they're doing exactly what they ought to be doing after what I consider to be, you know, the worst attack in the west since 9/11. Certainly, in terms of its scale and mass response.

BLITZER: Maybe that's why the State Department issued this worldwide travel alert just now, as well.

Phil, the suicide vest that they found in a garbage can in a Paris suburb today, how are they going to investigate it? What clues can it possibly bring to this investigation? Who else may have been responsible for these mass murders?

MUDD: There's a simple clue, which is whether there's fingerprints on there, but there's some more interesting things to look at. In the 21st century in Europe, even more so than the United States, you're going to have cameras everywhere. I want to know if there's cameras around that indicate who dropped that into the trash, whether there's a vehicle with that person, whether there was an accomplice with that person.

And then the final piece, at least initially, would be how is it constructed, not just what the explosive was, how was it sewn? What was the fabric like? Was it the same manufacturer as the other suicide vest? So I think there's a lot to learn right away.

BLITZER: The whole notion, though, of this investigation, they still, Tom, have not identified two of the suicide bombers who committed these acts that Friday night in Paris. What does that say to you about this investigation?

FUENTES: Well, it says that they still don't know all the people that could be involved is why they continue to put the threat warnings out there, particularly in Brussels with the city still being shut down.

So, you know, these groups, you've had two cells of six to eight people, one that actually carried out the attack a week and a half ago, the second one that was going to but interrupted in the big shootout with the police. And they didn't have either of these groups on their radar before those attacks or before those encounters. And now they're saying there could be a third group of six to eight. So that's a lot of people out there that they have no idea who they are.

And Phil's exactly right about the vest. That's a critical piece of intelligence to look at how it was put together. Because people that put these vests together that deal with explosives, when they've been successful, when they've put together devices and still have all their fingers and toes, they don't deviate.

[17:35:13] So that tends to zero in on who did it, what school of explosives did they go to? And yet we don't know who the bomb maker is that's till on the loose in Europe. We don't know where the explosives are being stored, where the raw material for making these vests, So there are still huge gaps in intelligence in this case.

BLITZER: There certainly are. Guys, stand by. There's more information coming in. We'll take a quick break and resume our special coverage right after this.


[17:40:12] BLITZER: Following the breaking news French authorities say a possible explosive vest has been found in a garbage can just outside Paris. The vest reportedly contains the same type of explosives used in the Paris attacks, and it may be linked to the missing suspect, Saleh Abdeslam.

Our experts are back to discuss these late-breaking developments.

Michael Weiss, an ISIS video just released this weekend is the first time we're now seeing ISIS inside Raqqah, their so-called capital of the caliphate, since French airstrikes began, these renewed French airstrikes. You say this is propaganda to pay closest attention to. why is it so important?

WEISS: Wolf, these guys always like to turn their defeats into moral victories. I recall during the battle of Fallujah in 2004, even though AQI, al Qaeda in Iraq, which was ISIS's predecessor, was booted out of the city, Osama bin Laden issued a communique saying, "This is marvelous. I mean, they had to destroy an entire city, and we've bled the crusader white in the process. And the brave mujahidin, their names will be written in the stars."

So ISIS is trying to now say, "OK, we hit France right in its capital. We killed loads of people. And this is retaliation for all the Muslims that the west has killed, including in this war. Now we're going to show you how the coalition, and particularly France has responded."

Now this is, keep in mind, Wolf, I want to stress this is propaganda. But it's effective. They're showing you blasted-out what they claim to be residential areas in Raqqah. This is the carnage unleashed by French fighter jets and warplanes. And they counterpose this with images of dead Muslim babies.

So when we talk about ISIS propaganda, we tend to emphasize their atrocities, the things that they like to exhibit, their brutality. But we never really pay attention to the stuff that really resonates with their constituency, which is they have framed this as a war between, quite literally, the world and Sunni Muslims. And Sunni Muslims are honor-bound and duty-bound to defend their faith. And that is going to increase the ranks. That will swell the ranks for ISIS. Doesn't matter how many targets in the west or how many innocent civilians here they will kill.

BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, these recent ISIS attacks, they represent a shift in their strategy, how they are planning their attacks, what they're doing, right?

FUENTES: No, I don't think so. I think it represents carrying out a strategy they started more than a year or two ago of bringing people from all over the world to Syria to learn how to put together attacks, to learn how to operate weapons and explosives and then go back to your homelands and carry them out.

We've had tens of thousands of people that have gone to Syria from all over Asia, from all over Europe, from the U.S., Canada, Australia, and now all you have are that many of them have returned home, and now they're going into attack mode. But this is a long-term strategy that they've already had.

BLITZER: It may be a long-term strategy, but Phil, until recently, most of their efforts were designed to expand their territory inside their so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Al Qaeda and other groups, they would strike -- try to strike against western targets, the U.S., the Europeans. But now ISIS has really started to compete with them in that area, as well.

MUDD: That's right. They're competing. There is a shift here that I see, and that is in the past, over the past year or two, we've seen passive encouragement. That is, if you're an ISIS supporter in western Europe, the United States, go do something.

What we're seeing now change is active. We're going to create an ISIS organization that is directing plots overseas. To my mind that's pretty substantial.

BLITZER: Very substantial indeed. All right, guys. I want all of you to stand by.

Coming up we're following more of the breaking news coming in. A major European capital now on lockdown as authorities hunt for terrorists amid what the Belgium prime minister is calling a serious and imminent threat against his country. The Belgian ambassador to the United States is here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll get the very latest from him when we come back.


[17:48:18] BLITZER: The Belgian capital of Brussels is now on lockdown as authorities conduct terror raids across the country. More than 20 people have been arrested, but the raids have not turned up Salah Abdeslam who authorities believe fled to Belgium soon after taking part in the Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

Tonight, investigators hope a possible explosive suicide device found in a garbage can just outside Paris will provide vital clues about Salah Abdeslam and where he may be hiding.

For more on the breaking news, we're joined now by Belgium's ambassador to the United States Johan Verbeke.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: What's the latest on these arrests that have taken place in Belgium right now? Supposedly you have arrested at least one suspect who was involved in the Paris terror attacks.

VERBEKE: Yes. Well, for the last two days, the last two days as a matter of fact, no less than 29 house searches have been operated. Out of those house searches 22 people were being called for a discussion -- custody, taken into custody. And out of them one now is being arrested as it is established that he is linked to what happened in Paris. And three others are still under investigation.

BLITZER: So this one individual linked to Paris, what's your suspicion -- what was his role?

VERBEKE: Yes. Well, that I can't tell you because that is of course something that the intelligence community is looking at in more detail and certain of this prodding for the sake of their investigation.

BLITZER: Have you released his name?

VERBEKE: No. We don't -- we did not release it.

BLITZER: When will you release his name?

VERBEKE: That is for the authorities in Brussels to decide at the appropriate moment. But let me just add that that one person that was being arrested right now is of course related to the ones who were arrested in the course of last week.



BLITZER: Three others. So there's four people you are holding now.

VERBEKE: Three --

[17:50:08] BLITZER: Suspicion that is as if they're involved somehow in the Paris terror attack.

VERBEKE: Linked to Paris, yes. Three firmly arrested, three under investigation as time goes on.

BLITZER: Why did your prime minister issue this extraordinary imminent alert in Brussels and he's going to continue it for another week.

VERBEKE: I think there are two point. First, there are indications, and again that's for the intelligence community to believe what they are but there are indications, the prime minister said himself that an operation similar to the Paris operation was in the pipe as far as Brussels is concerned. Multiple actors, multiple places, acting at the same time. And that is -- has been the trigger for increasing the level of threat from three to four, which basically is the highest level on Saturday.

Now the government is very determined in clearing out the situation, go to the end, finish the job as our home secretary said and that is why today he has decided to extend the period of the four level four and threat assessment until Monday next week. BLITZER: A week from today.

VERBEKE: A week from today, of course, if in the meantime the situation clears up, he can always withdraw that. I must add, however, that while that level threat four is being maintained until next Monday, in the meantime, it is being provided as of Wednesday step by step, normal life will start again.

BLITZER: In Brussels or the rest of the country?

VERBEKE: In -- whenever I speak about level four, I speak of Brussels and Brussels -- I mean, the rest of the country --

BLITZER: So children will be allowed to go back to school starting on Wednesday?

VERBEKE: On Wednesday the schools are going to be open. The shopping malls can be open. Metro stations will be selectively opened. In --

BLITZER: You've never seen anything like this in Brussels before. Have you?

VERBEKE: No. Not at all. Never.

BLITZER: This is the first -- this is the most serious threat to Brussels and to Belgium, what, since World War II?

VERBEKE: Well, I would say that this indeed is one of the major threats since that time, although you may recall that in the beginning of this year we had a major operation in the Walloon part of Belgium, in Verviers, where a whole group, a cell, has been dismantled in a very spectacular action and some people have been arrested at that time. At that time as well the level was very high. But these kinds of operation for the whole of the Brussels region that's --

BLITZER: Why are so many jihadist coming from Belgium?

VERBEKE: Well, the reason that we are high in the ranking as far as, you know, per capita as they say, four and five, is mainly due to the fact that we are an open society. You know where Belgium is located in Europe. We are in the very center of Europe. We have a lot of neighbors. We are a small country and therefore we open the doors and the windows to the abroad, to the foreign countries.

We are the most open economy of the world according to Ernst & Young. So what that means is that a lot of people come in and out, and that's part of the explanation, another part, and perhaps a more fundamental part, is that we have a large Muslim community. If you take it proportional to the community that we have, then the figures become much more normal. We have a large Muslim community and that Muslim community of course is being seduced, if I may say so, by that very powerful narrative that comes out of Syria, you just were commenting on that, and they feel attracted to the kind of powerful narrative, including, I must say, we have and we had some very strong recruiting centers that actively worked on those youngsters, making them appear as even new life was --

BLITZER: Because you know the criticism that you get from other Europeans that the Belgium security services, the intelligence services, police, they are not up to it. That they haven't done a good job over the -- not just recently but over the years.


BLITZER: You've heard that criticism.

VERBEKE: Yes. Yes. We've heard that. We tend to disagree to some extent with that comment because basically we are one of the most open intelligence communities in Europe. That is to say that we have always been working with other service in particular the French service. And as a matter of fact the French have been working very closely with us and we with them. Not just since the 13th of November but already in the past. So there is a close cooperation and what should I say on this? We have to address that issue.

BLITZER: All right.

VERBEKE: The government has taken in the beginning of the year, trust measure. Last Thursday and the additional 18 measures. Very strong measures.

[17:55:06] BLITZER: Well, good luck, Mr. Ambassador. Good luck to all the people of Belgium. We're obviously hoping things quiet down, things quiet down quickly.

Johan Verbeke is the ambassador of Belgium to the United States. Thanks for coming in.

VERBEKE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, a stunning discovery in a Paris suburb. Police now say a possible suicide vest is found in a garbage can and it reportedly contains the very same explosive that was used in the Paris attacks.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Runaway bomber. A suicide bomber vest found in a Paris garbage can, a fugitive terrorist cell phone tracked to the same location immediately after the attacks. Is Europe's most wanted man now himself a target for not carrying out his mission?