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British Terror Plot Foiled; Interview With White House Homeland Security Adviser Frances Townsend; Middle East Fighting Escalates

Aired August 10, 2006 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you all for being with us tonight. Glad to have you with us.
Tonight, we are watching developments in two major top stories.

As we speak, we are getting constant updates on the alleged terrorist plot to blow up as many as 10 airliners and kill thousands of people, a plot British police broke up only today.

Also, despite intense fighting in the Middle East, there's words that a peace deal may soon be announced at the United Nations. We're going in--depth on both of these top stories tonight, starting with the latest security alerts.

British officials say the foiled plot involved simultaneously blowing up airliners over the Atlantic Ocean. U.S. intelligence officials tell CNN the suspected terrorists were ready to stage dry runs within two days, with the actual attacks coming perhaps just a few days after that -- the apparent targets, British Airways and three U.S. airlines, with flights from the United Kingdom to New York, Washington, and California.

At least 24 people are under arrest in Britain tonight. And sources tell CNN that two of the suspects had already recorded martyrdom tapes.

Traveling, of course, is a nightmare. And for any of you who are stuck in airports tonight, security is at unprecedented levels. Passengers face lots of new rules, including no liquids or gels in their carry-ons.

Our "Top Story" coverage this hour not only focuses on what we know, but what we don't know.

We're also going to look for answers to these very troubling questions: Is al Qaeda behind this plot? Exactly when would the attacks have come? What explosives could have been used? And have enough conspirators gotten away to still be a threat? There are reports that perhaps as many as five or 10 of them are on the loose tonight.

Now, to answer to those questions, we have reporters standing by in London, in Washington, and in Atlanta.

And, then, later, we are going to go live to the front lines in the Middle East. Our Deborah Feyerick, though, is in London right now. And, tonight, she joins us live with the very latest on the British investigation -- Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, the reason authorities acted now is because they thought the terrorists were close to staging test runs, and those authorities had enough details as to how these guys planned to pull it off.


FEYERICK (voice-over): Police went house to house, continuing the search in London, the industrial city of Birmingham, and the Thames Valley.

British officials weren't saying much about the people arrested, but they believe they have the key players. In fact, sources familiar with the investigation say, two of the suspects had already recorded so-called martyr tapes, to be released after the alleged attacks.

PAUL STEPHENSON, ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER, METROPOLITAN POLICE: We are confident that we have disrupted a plan by terrorists to cause untold death and destruction and to commit, quite frankly, mass murder.

FEYERICK: U.S. sources say those arrested are all British, some of Pakistani descent. In fact, according to sources, two of the suspects recently traveled to Pakistan, and later received money wired from there.

Officials in Pakistan say they helped British intelligence crack the case, beginning as long ago as last December, and, more recently, with information from a raid several weeks ago on the Afghan-Pakistan border. They also say, it was information from Pakistan that convinced the British to act last night.

PETER CLARKE, HEAD OF ANTI-TERRORISM BRANCH, SCOTLAND YARD: The investigation reached a critical point last night, when the decision was made to take urgent action in order to disrupt what we believe was being planned.

FEYERICK: The alleged plot, according to the British, was to simultaneously blow up as many as 10 airplanes flying from Heathrow Airport to the United States using potentially explosive liquids and other materials in carry-on luggage.

More than 200 inbound flights and another 200 outbound flights were canceled at Heathrow Airport. By the end of the day, delays are fewer, but thousands of passengers are left trying to make plans to leave.

The airport is still on the highest alert. Passengers are not being allowed to carry on any luggage. Only wallets, medicine, and travel documents are allowed, and they have to be carried through security in a clear plastic bag. DOUGLAS ALEXANDER, U.K. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: This step has been taken to ensure maximum security on all flights, so people can go ahead with their travel arrangements.


ZAHN: So, Deborah, we know that we have some two dozen men in custody tonight, but there are many reports that as many as five to 10 co-conspirators are still on the loose tonight. Is anybody confirming that?

FEYERICK: Well, what officials are saying is that that may be as many as 50 people involved in this whole operations. And officials are using words saying, this was highly sophisticated, it was coordinated, and that it has international involvement and implications.

There are reports that one of those who was arrested, in fact, worked at Heathrow Airport, and had an all-access pass -- another report that one of those may have had ties to a Muslim charity. So, right now, they're trying to find out exactly who these guys are, what their roles were, how they possibly could have been involved, but they are also keeping a lot of the information very close to the vest -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right, but should we see them as a threat of some sort?

FEYERICK: The ones who are out there -- well, they -- officials weighed all sides as to whether to move now.

But, because of the intelligence that was out there about these test runs, they decided that they would take what they had and who they knew, and go after those, to take them into custody. The others, they were willing to sort of let filter out there, simply because they thought, if they didn't move, the consequences would be really severe.

And, so, they have got people who they think are the key players. The others, they think, are on the periphery of the plot -- Paula.

ZAHN: Deborah Feyerick, thanks so much.

Now, we have some breaking news coming out of Washington right now on that very same investigation.

Let's turn to justice correspondent Kelli Arena. She has been working her sources, and joins us now.

Kelli, what have you found out?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, as you know, British authorities were investigating this group for some time.

Well, officials now tell us that a British undercover agent infiltrated the group, and that's how authorities knew when to move in. Secondly, I reported earlier that two of the suspects travelled to Pakistan.

Well, I'm now told by officials that those two are believed to have met with an al Qaeda operative there. That's another piece of evidence, Paula, suggesting that there is an al Qaeda link.

We also reported that the group was allegedly set up to do a dry run in two days. You heard that from Deborah Feyerick. Well, now we are told that they were searching the Internet for tickets to buy flights that left at roughly the same time.

Now, the group hadn't actually gone through with that purchase yet, but they were very close, so close, in fact, Paula, that government initials say the attack was expected within two weeks, at the most.

ZAHN: Kelli, there's so much conflicting information we have to wade through tonight. On one hand, Deborah Feyerick was told by officials in London, as many as 50 people were involved.

ARENA: Mmm-hmm.

ZAHN: They think some of those that haven't been arrested perhaps are on the periphery of -- of this plan.

ARENA: Mmm-hmm.

ZAHN: But I understand that you have been told that the mastermind of this plot may in fact still be at large.


ZAHN: What are your sources saying?

ARENA: Well, actually, Paula, no, we're being told just the opposite.

There are several reports out there that the alleged mastermind is on the loose. But our sources are saying, that is incorrect, that the alleged mastermind is in custody.

And, Paula, we have been told to be very careful with numbers. This is an ongoing investigation. Any time you come across any individual, that individual could lead you to one, two, or three others. So, you know, when they have put something in a memo that says as many as 50, that number is a fluctuating number, because this is a live investigation.

ZAHN: Some big headlines for us tonight, Kelli Arena.

Once again, Kelli learning from her sources that it's believed that two of the men arrested, in fact, met with al Qaeda operatives while in Pakistan.

Kelli, thanks so much.

ARENA: You're welcome. ZAHN: Now, tonight, the U.S. is also on alert because of these London arrests. For the first time, the Department of Homeland Security raised the terror threat level to the highest level, severe or red, for airline flights from Britain bound for the U.S.

Now, the threat level was raised to high, or orange, for all other commercial flights over the U.S. And U.S. passengers won't be allowed to take most liquids when they board planes.

Homeland correspondent Jeanne Meserve joins me now, live from Washington, with more details on that -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Paula, U.S. officials are describing this alleged plot as large and sophisticated and potentially very, very deadly. Heightened security is the result.


MESERVE (voice-over): Liquids and gels are piling up at airport screening checkpoints, after the terror threat triggered a ban from aircraft cabins.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: One of the concerns we had is the possibility of bringing on board a number of different components of a bomb that any -- each one of which would be benign, but, when mixed together, would create a bomb.

MESERVE: Experts say, the government has long known of the potential explosive threat from liquids and gels, but has not closed that security loophole.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mixing gels and liquids and powders that can be bought separately, brought under the -- the -- under the scope of any sniffing devices, it's a major concern.

MESERVE: Though the Department of Homeland Security has deployed a wide array of detection devices, it says no machine capable of detecting explosive liquids or their components is ready for widespread use.

Vendors like DefenderTech are already lining up to try to persuade the government that their technologies are the answer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would have found any type of liquid. In fact, it would have found a water bottle.

MESERVE: Meanwhile, in an unprecedented step, commercial flights from the United Kingdom to the U.S. are now on the highest threat level, red. All carry-ons were forbidden. Passenger manifests are scoured. Additional federal air marshals are deployed.

All other commercial aviation has been raised to threat level orange, or high. So, Customs and Border Protection is giving all incoming international flights a closer look. And some officials across the country are taking steps above and beyond what the federal government required, activating the National Guard and more.

GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), MASSACHUSETTS: You will notice, at the airport, that our state police personnel are carrying automatic weapons. There will also be, as there have been in the past, but now at a heightened level, roadblocks and random searches.

MESERVE: Because the terror investigation is ongoing, Homeland officials cannot say how long the additional security measures will be in place, or whether they will be modified or strengthened.


MESERVE: At least one expert is suggesting, the only way to absolutely protect against this kind of attack is to prohibit passengers from bringing liquids on aircraft permanently -- back to you, Paula.

ZAHN: I guess, based on some of the folks we have talked with today, they think that is a price willing to pay. We will see, as those lines get longer and longer.

Jeanne Meserve, thanks so much.

Now, the White House says, President Bush has been getting some regular briefings on this case over the past few days. And, today, speaking in Wisconsin, the president said the country is safer than it was before 9/11, but it's a mistake to believe there is no threat to this country.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The recent arrests that our fellow citizens are now learning about are a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists, who will use any means to -- to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.


ZAHN: And, just a few moments ago, I spoke with the president's homeland security adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend.


ZAHN: Is it safe for the American public to fly?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: You know, it's natural that the American public would have that question.

And -- and the honest answer is, because we're taking these measures, these extraordinary measures that do cause inconvenience and delay, they can feel secure about flying. I have two small kids. I know it's an inconvenience. I know it's a burden. But this is -- this is a temporary measure we have got to take to ensure that our enemies, terrorists who want to blow up planes, can't get the essential components that they need through screening and on to a plane, so they can blow it up.

ZAHN: You say extraordinary measures are being taken, but how can the American public feel safe, when the TSA's own research, along with "USA Today," says that only 10 to 20 percent of carry-on baggage is actually tested for explosive material?

TOWNSEND: Well, all of it is screened. Let's -- let's be clear. All of it is looked at. All of it is screened. All of it goes through the magnetometers.

And the screeners are looking for anomalies, if you will. It's not just the explosive testing. They then have the ability, where they see anomalies, and they suspect something, to use more -- more specific explosive-detection methods.

But it's all looked at, and it's all screened.

ZAHN: But you have got Representative John Mica out there, who happens to be the chairman of the Transportation Subcommittee, saying that the system that we now have in place is farcical, and that the failure rate to detect explosives is just disastrous.

TOWNSEND: There's no question, Paula, that the Department of Homeland Security works with industry to push the technology, so it improves. And they have gotten greater explosive-detection equipment, with greater reliability.

And we will continue to work with industry and push them, and get the state-of-the-art equipment, and have it deployed in airports.

ZAHN: Is this fair criticism, on his part, because Representative Mica goes on to say that billions of dollars have been spent on this very specific kind of equipment you're talking about, that would detect explosives, but, in many cases, it's sitting on shelves and not even being used.

TOWNSEND: You know, Paula, this is the first I -- I'm hearing of Representative Mica's criticism.

I can tell you, having worked with Kip Hawley, who's the head of TSA, and with Secretary Chertoff, there is no higher priority than ensuring that this equipment is timely deployed, that the screeners have the adequate training, so they're using it properly, and ensuring that we get the maximum advantage of that equipment and the money that we're spending on aviation security.

ZAHN: You say you're hearing some of Representative Mica's criticism for the first time.

And, yet, there was a pretty stinging GAO report that came out at the beginning of the spring, suggesting some major deficiencies in how the TSA was operating. Has anything changed? Have things gotten better since that report came out?

TOWNSEND: You know, I -- I can tell you, I know that Secretary -- having spoken to him, Secretary Chertoff and Kip Hawley made a priority out of going through the -- working with the inspector general, going through that report, and ensuring that changes, specific changes, to their -- to the findings were put in place.

ZAHN: Is there anything else the American public should be aware of that will be changed as a result of this plot being revealed?

TOWNSEND: Paula, I think what you're going to find is, these immediate steps are the steps we think are absolutely essential, to ensure, right now and today, the safety of the flying public.

But what you're going to find is, we will adapt our screening procedures and look for ways to make it less onerous. The other thing I think that people should take a good deal of comfort and confidence in is, today, we have tools that allow us to disrupt these sorts of plots that we didn't have five years ago.

ZAHN: We have to leave it there tonight.

Frances Townsend, as always, thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

TOWNSEND: Thank you, Paula.


ZAHN: And now I want to turn to a former inspector general of the Homeland Security Department, Clark Kent Ervin, who is now a CNN security analyst.

Clark, we just heard Ms. Townsend describe how they're adapting their screening procedures. Is it enough?


I was really fascinated by that interview.

To say a word about that GAO report you talked about, congressional investigators were able, just a few months ago, to sneak bomb components, ingredients that, by themselves, are benign, but together, mixed together, could be explosives, past screeners at 21 airports in the country, undetected.

At the time, Kip Hawley, the head of TSA, to whom Ms. Townsend referred, really pooh-poohed the report, and said, well, it's just a hypothetical possibility. We really need not worry about that.

And, today, obviously, we see that al Qaeda was planning to do just that.

ZAHN: So, how badly are they outsmarting us?

ERVIN: I think they are outsmarting us very badly. Investigation after investigation by the inspector general, by GAO, has shown that it continues to be almost as easy today as it was on 9/11 to sneak guns and knives and explosives past screeners.

If government investigators, as good as they are, can do it, then I'm afraid that al Qaeda can, too.

ZAHN: So, what can really be done to prevent -- and I know nothing is ever 100 percent safe -- but prevent explosives, potentially, from being allowed to come on a plane?

ERVIN: Well, you're right to say that we can't have 100 percent security. That's right.

But there are certainly things that we could do that would make us significantly safer. One such thing is to significantly increase the percentage of luggage. It should be 100 percent of luggage that is inspected for explosives.

And individuals, passengers, should be inspected for trace explosives. But, as you noted, the percentage is around 10 to 20 percent. There might not be an anomaly in a bag that would trigger additional explosive-detection technology.

It needs to happen as a matter of course. And I hope, as a result of this plot having been, fortunately, foiled, that that's where we're going to go to right away.

ZAHN: So, when Ms. Townsend says we should feel pretty safe getting on an airplane tonight, are -- are you saying that we shouldn't get on airplanes at all?

ERVIN: No, I'm not saying that. We can't live our lives in fear.

And, certainly, there is a possibility that we could be attacked at any time. What I am saying, though, is that there are significant vulnerabilities that we have not taken seriously.

For example, there's cargo in the cargo holds of about 20 percent of the passenger planes that fly in America, and virtually none of that cargo is inspected before it goes into the cargo hold. That's inexcusable. There's 100 percent inspection in Britain, Israel, and the Netherlands.

We need to do that here in the United States. We need to get one step ahead of the terrorists, rather than always being one step behind them.

ZAHN: Clark Kent Ervin, thank you so much.

ERVIN: Thank you.

ZAHN: Coming up: much more of our "Top Story" coverage, including the frightening creativity of terrorists determined to commit another 9/11.


ZAHN (voice-over): The latest threat in the war on terror, liquid explosives on airplanes, a deadly recipe for mass murder, how a bomb in a bottle can blow an airliner out of the sky.

And, after 30 days of bloodshed in the Middle East, the fighting expands. more strikes, more threats. Is an end anywhere in sight? -- all that and more just ahead.



ZAHN: What a mess.

Our "Top Story" coverage continues now with a terror plot to blow up transatlantic airliners.

Investigators say the suspects planned to take down the jets with liquid explosives smuggled on board. So, virtually overnight, airport security has gone up to a level we have never seen before, even in the days right after 9/11. Almost anything liquid just won't get inside the plane's cabin with us anymore.

You can imagine the chaos at airports today, as hundreds of flights were canceled, thousands of people stranded, and endless lines at security checkpoints, where people had to dump bottle after bottle of liquid out.

And then, of course, there's the fear factor.

Alina Cho has the story of one young American woman's harrowing journey home today from London.


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): By the time British Airways Flight 117 landed at New York's JFK Airport, nearly three hours late, passenger Sarah Kirk was more than ready to tell the story of the most unusual trip of her life.

SARAH KIRK, BRITISH AIRWAYS PASSENGER: See said, because there has been a plotted terrorist attack against this airport -- and I'm just standing there, alone at 6:00 in the morning, you know, thinking, like, oh, my God.

CHO: The 19-year-old college student arrived at London's Heathrow Airport early this morning, completely unaware of the alleged terror plot. Then, she noticed something strange.

SARAH KIRK: They started handing out pamphlets, you know, in a -- in a very disorganized manner, and I knew something was up.

CHO: That was the first clue -- the second, the unusually tight security. SARAH KIRK: So, I finally made it through security. And I was -- I was -- the whole nine yards, I mean, touched to a point where I had never been touched before.

CHO: Once she made it through the checkpoint, Sarah was at the gate and watching TV. That's when she learned that flights like the one she was just about to board might have been terrorist targets.

SARAH KIRK: I don't mean to sound over-dramatic, but I was really scared, seeing that news.

CHO: It was not enough to keep her off the flight. She was told that she could board only with her wallet and passport. So, before authorities took her cell phone, she left a message with her mom.

SARAH KIRK: The first thing I said is: I'm OK. I'm OK. I'm OK.

SUSIE KIRK, MOTHER OF SARAH KIRK: I just thought, how scary.

CHO: Susie Kirk was on the other side of the ocean, watching the news, and waiting for her daughter.

(on camera): What was that like, the moment you saw her?

SUSIE KIRK: I was very teary. I burst into tears. I was so relieved.

CHO: How happy are you to be back on U.S. soil?

SARAH KIRK: Oh, my gosh, so happy.

CHO (voice-over): Happy to be home with family, hesitant to fly again any time soon.

Alina Cho, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: All right.

So, in case you or someone you know is planning to fly, Continental, Delta, Northwest, and United Airlines are telling passengers to show up at least three hours early for both domestic and international flights.

Now, American Airlines isn't being as specific. It's just warning passengers to allow some extra time, as it turns out, a lot of extra time.

So, what exactly goes into a liquid bomb? Next in our "Top Story" coverage: from al Qaeda documents, a recipe for disaster.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got rid of all this. It's all in this bag now. Everything that was supposed to be in -- in here, for convenience, has now been transferred to the other bag. So, I took another five, 10 minutes to do that. I have to wait in longer lines, but the peace of mind and security, it's -- it's well worth it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I suppose I felt more secure that the plot had been foiled, less secure that we live in such a crazy world.



ZAHN: And that's how it looked all across the country today, one big giant mess, people waiting for hours and hours and hours for their flights, if they weren't canceled, and our top story coverage of the airline terror investigation continues as well. British authorities are still rounding up suspects tonight in what they say is a massive plot to blow up airliners. Twenty four suspects are already in custody, and tonight a U.S. Homeland Security memo says the plan was to blow up as many as ten planes at the same time on their way from Britain to the U.S. The weapon, liquid explosives. We had our investigative correspondent Drew Griffin do some digging today to find out exactly how that could be done.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is the simplicity of the plot that is so scary. Separate passengers, each carrying one piece of a bomb. The ingredients on their own, not enough to raise suspicion, and according to the former head of security at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport, current screening technology would most likely have missed it.

RAFI RON, FMR. SECURITY DIR., TEL AVIV AIRPORT: We can certainly assume that this was one of the reasons that the terrorists have chosen to focus on this type of explosive material form because they believe that it will be more difficult for us to detect.

GRIFFIN: Here is one way. The plotters, perhaps as many as four, board a plane and take seats throughout the cabin. At a predetermined moment the leader leaves his seat carrying a small carry on bag. He collects an ingredient along the way. Other participants get the signal to meet at a wash room. They provide the final pieces. Inside the bath room the leader begins mixing the chemicals. Then he attached an electronic trigger until now disguised as a cell phone. Once the bomb is complete the leader returns to his seat or wherever he deems to be the most effective spot and triggers it, killing himself and destroying the plane.

(on camera): And experts tell us that it wouldn't take much. Liquids that could easily fit into containers of household items, things people normally take on planes, then mixed together on board. In this case something as small as a sports drink and maybe some hair gel.

DENISE NORMAN, GEORGIA BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: It could take as little as a water bottle to cause enough damage to an aircraft. GRIFFIN (voice-over): British intelligence officials report the planned explosive mixture was to be peroxide based and involve liquid and paste-like ingredients, according to official U.S. sources.

Previous CNN investigations in Afghanistan have uncovered al Qaeda training videos and documents giving step by step instructions in using similar household and industrial chemicals to create bombs. Individually components that in small amounts would be hard to detect, which is why airport security expert Rafi Ron says it would be much more effective to search for suspicious people instead of suspicious liquids.

RON: It's extremely difficult for people to disguise the fact that they're under tremendous amount of stress, that they're going to kill themselves and many other people around them, in a short period of time, and all the other factors that affect their behavior.


ZAHN: So, Drew, when you hear your description of some of the experts you talked to, it made it sound really simple to try to put together a bomb here. Is it as simple as you just made it sound?

GRIFFIN: The experts say it really is, and that's because Paula, it doesn't have to be a big bomb. Remember, these planes at 35,000 feet are somewhat fragile and certainly in a fragile state. You can find these recipes on the Internet. You don't have to go to these Afghanistan terrorist training manuals that were found by CNN. But it just takes a small amount of easily assembled explosives to blow something up. The problem for the terrorist is they become very volatile when they're working with them and so there is some danger there, but we're talking about suicide bombers who really don't care.

ZAHN: Scary thing to have to think about. Drew Griffin, unfortunately that's what we confront tonight. Appreciate your report there.

One of the things we don't know tonight is whether this alleged plot is the work of al Qaeda, but there are some signs pointing in that direction. Government officials tell us that two of the suspects met with an alleged al Qaeda operative in Pakistan. Joining me now a journalist who has reported extensively on al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, terrorism analyst Peter Bergen. Made me lose my voice. So is there any doubt in your mind that al Qaeda was involved?

PETER BERGEN, TERRORISM ANALYST: It quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it's probably a duck. A, the modus operandi is a classic al Qaeda and in fact it's almost a recreation of something that al Qaeda was considering in the mid-90s, a plan to bring down ten airliners in the Pacific. In fact, they ran a kind-of test run in which they killed a Japanese tourist. So this kind of plot they've had before, but also the fact, as you pointed out, the meeting with an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan.

I mean, come on, it's not something that happens routinely. Obviously these people from Britain went there. They tried to meet people from al Qaeda. We saw with the July 7, 2005, attack in London, two of the guys involved had gone to Pakistan. They trained there. They got bomb training. They made suicide videos with al Qaeda's video production arm, and I think this is very similar except this was a much more ambitious plan than the subway plan that only killed 56 people. I this had been successful, this could have killed thousands of people.

ZAHN: So, what are the consequences of this defeat if it turned out al Qaeda is involved?

BERGEN: Well, I think that they, you know, it's a big error for them, and probably one of the reasons that it was probably too complicated. One of the things that bin Laden did on 9/11, he said don't make it four planes, don't make it ten planes, make it four planes because the more planes you add, the more complicated it is, the more likely you are to be detected.

Now, we were reporting that there were up to ten planes involved in this attack. It may be the fact that it was so complicated was one of the reasons that it was discovered. But anyone you slice this, this is a big defeat for al Qaeda. I don't think they have a plan B. This, for them, was going to be the fifth anniversary of 9/11. It was going to come out. It was going to be their big statement, we can still attack the United States. I very much doubt that there is some other big plot they've got waiting behind this one. I just don't see that.

ZAHN: So you're pretty convinced that this is tied to 9/11. I mean is there any evidence that we've seen from officials that that's the case as we look at this fifth year marker after 9/11?

BERGEN: I base that on Ayman al Zawahiri, you may remember, came out with a video tape rather recently and behind him he had Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker and also the military commander of al Qaeda, in this sort of studio like setting, and so they're already preparing their propaganda for the announcement of the fifth anniversary of 9/11, and what better propaganda than to actually have an anti- American attack that was successful. Now they're going to just have to resort to more video tapes saying the same old thing. I anticipate we will here from both Ayman al Zawahiri and bin Laden, perhaps in video tapes, around the fifth anniversary. But clearly they wanted an attack, not just a video tape.

ZAHN: Very quickly in closing, there may be as many as five to ten suspects on the loose tonight. How dangerous do you think they could be?

BERGEN: Well, quite dangerous.

ZAHN: Officials tonight on the British side or on the United States are confirming that. They're saying 50 in all, perhaps, were involved in the plot. They think they got the major guys, but who knows. I guess we will find out in the days to come. Peter Bergen we look forward to seeing your special on Osama bin Laden next Wednesday night. Thanks for dropping by in person for a change. Now the alleged bombing plot seems to have been hatched in England, but next our top story coverage how U.S. intelligence officials have been involved and what they're telling CNN tonight.

Also ahead in depth coverage of today's other top stories, the intense fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

And then at the top of the hour on "LARRY KING LIVE," former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani is among the guests who will discuss the alleged airline bombing plot. We'll be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, you would like to think that somebody knows what they're doing and that this must be necessary, but I don't think you can blow up a plane with blush.


ZAHN: Some of the reaction around the country to some of these new rules put in place for all of us flyers and we continue now with our top story coverage.

The alleged massive plot to blow up as many as ten flights at once heading to the U.S. from Britain, or that would be the other way around, British authorities say two dozen people have been arrested. Joining me now chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour at Heathrow Airport in London and chief national correspondent John King in Washington. Christiane, I'm going to start with you. Any late details from officials there about this plot and how they foiled this attempt?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, just that they had, as we've been reporting, really the basic parameters of this plot throughout the day, that it was after a series of arrests in Pakistan, after working with Pakistani officials and others, they said that they learned from the arrest that the plot was potentially about to be executed, which is why they fanned out, they say, to these three locations near London, the Thames Valley, Waltham, Stowe and Birmingham and arrested now 24 people.

We don't know exactly who they are because the British police are not saying, but leaks and word from other officials, for instance, in the United States, even in France, other people who have been working with the British authorities say that at least some of them appear to be British Muslim, perhaps of Pakistani origin. Two of them may have been to Pakistan and gotten money recently, and they say that they are, you know, they got it just before, perhaps they were going to even do a test run.

So they were very clear, they now say that they've got most of the plot leaders, but they won't comment on what U.S. officials are saying that there may be still some of these plotters at large. ZAHN: This is all changing pretty quickly Christiane, because Kelli Arena just moments ago, sort of, at the top of this show confirmed her sources were telling her that in fact two of these suspects were seen with al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. John King, can you amplify that, anything new on that?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Paula, U.S. officials, it was a little more than 12 hours ago when they first said that by the end of the day you would see the intelligence connecting the dots to an al Qaeda link and we're learning more about that tonight in this meeting Kelli Arena has reported on in Pakistan. What you get, Paula, in talking to intelligence sources is how stunningly simple this plot is. They say it is elaborate but yet on the other hand it's quite simple.

Imagine one passenger getting on a plane with a sports drink, like a Gatorade, with a peroxide-based concoction. Another passenger carrying maybe sun screen or hair gel and a past like that. A third passenger with an MP-3 player or maybe one of those eight dollar cameras with a flash on it, a disposable camera. Mix and match it and you get a bomb that can detonate a plane over the Atlantic ocean. That is what intelligence officials say has been presented to them by the British intelligence, and Paula, there's a debate in this country tonight about could it happen again, what do we need to look for, and as all these items are now being banned from flights domestically here in the United States, also calls for let's look again.

We're a month away from the anniversary of 9/11. Let's take another fresh look, starting over about what type of screening, what type of scanners, what type of equipment, and what should you be allowed to bring on a plane. That debate is going to start all other again because of the stunning complexity and yet simplicity of this plot.

ZAHN: We heard from one of our guests who used to be the inspector general of the Homeland Security Department, saying tonight that we just are not up to speed here and that we are not inspecting enough cargo that's coming on board with passengers, certainly for explosives. Before we let you go, Christiane, there area number of reports at this hour that perhaps as many as ten suspects are still on the lose tonight in England. Can anybody confirm that for you tonight?

AMANPOUR: Well, perhaps that may be why they've made the level of alert critical here, but then, as I said, they're not confirming a lot of the information that is coming out of the United States, even that information that Kelli Arena had here, they're not confirming many of those details yet, but it really, a lot of people have pointed to a near attack, some ten or more years ago, in '94, the plot by the al Qaeda operatives Ramzi Yousef, et cetera, to blow up planes over the Pacific, which was very sophisticated, using similar liquid explosives.

ZAHN: John King, Christiane Amanpour, we learned a lot, thanks so much. "LARRY KING LIVE" coming up in just a few minutes. Hi Larry. I know you're going to be talking about this as well. Who's going to be joining you tonight, besides the former mayor of New York Mr. Giuliani?

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: And we'll have the current governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to discuss security precautions being taken in California. We'll have two United States members of the House of Representatives. We'll have Mary Schiavo, the former inspector general for the United States Department of Transportation, and lots of other experts and reporters covering this incredible story. It isn't going to go away, Paula, you can never rest easy, this is an on going threat that, I think, will be with us all our lives.

ZAHN: I know that I had friends that were trying to fly today and it sends shivers down our spine. Thanks Larry, we'll see you at the top of the hour.

We're going to keep watching for some new developments in the terrorism arrests, that's in just a few moments. We're going to refocus our in depth coverage on today's other top story. How much longer will the fighting go on in Lebanon? Negotiators may be close to a deal tonight at the U.N. and now Russia wants a humanitarian cease-fire. Stand by for the very latest.


ZAHN: Now on to our other top story tonight, the crisis in the Middle East. After 30 days of bloodshed there are new developments in the war between Hezbollah and Israel. Tonight new diplomatic efforts are under way to end the violence or at least a cease-fire to allow humanitarian aid. At the same time Israel forces are primed for a possible escalation in the fighting. John Roberts joins us from along the Israeli/Lebanese border with the latest. John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening to you, Paula. They think that they're making progress at the United Nations on a resolution to end the hostilities here, but still some stumbling blocks. They hope to get to work done tomorrow and perhaps even have a vote. We're listening to the ebb and flow of battle here. It gets noisy and then it gets quiet for a little while and then noisy again. Fighting taking place just a couple of kilometers, couple of miles, north of me.

There's a dispute tonight too between the Lebanese and Israeli governments over a Lebanese army post, just outside of the town of Marjayoun. Lebanese authorities claim that the Israelis have detained the 350 military personnel and some refugees inside. Israel saying no, we haven't detained them, we just warned them not to go outside because it's so dangerous. As intense as this fighting is though, it is still not connected with that plan that the Israeli Security Cabinet approved yesterday to expand the ground campaign.


ROBERTS (voice-over): At night fall thick oily smoke clouds a Lebanese hillside as an artillery shell finds its mark. The strike is in support of troops fighting in the town of Marjayoun, within sight of Lebanon's Litani River. The operation began Tuesday night from the tip of the Galilee Peninsula, the farther drive north yet for the Israeli army.

The goal is to eliminate the threat from Hezbollah raining Katyusha rockets on northern Israel. More than 160 fell today, 28 inside populated areas. One struck this house in the village of Der al Asad (ph), killing an Arab mother and her 5-year-old child. Hunting down those launch sites is proving more difficult than first thought, says Israeli army spokesman Michael Oren.

MICHAEL OREN, IDF SPOKESPERSON: Hezbollah was deeply dug in here, they had six years to do it, and extracting them from their underground tunnels, craters, arms caches is a laborious and dangerous process, and it's not done overnight.

ROBERTS (on camera): In the light of day you can see the aftermath of an intense battle that was raging for more than 36 hours. This Merkava main battle tank has taken some sort of round here in its front end, stripping off a lot of the armor. Walking down toward the Lebanese side, you can see that the border fence has been blown wide open. Crossing over into Lebanon these are the tank berms that were built for these Merkava's to hide behind while they fired on Hezbollah positions. Smoke still hangs through this valley and we still hear the sound of gunfire in the Arab villages that dot these hillsides. The Israeli army is describing this though as only one of their pinpoint operations that they have been engaging in for nearly the last month. This is not part of an expanded ground campaign that still may lie ahead in the days to come.

(voice-over): Tanks and troops continue to mass near the border though political leaders are holding off on an expansion, hoping just the threat will pressure Lebanese officials to do a deal to end the fighting. But if diplomacy fails they have vowed a major invasion, a move that has broad support in Israel.

OREN: I mean clearly on a ground campaign, you limit, to a certain degree, the amount of civilian casualties you're inflicting on the other side, even at the risk of incurring greater casualties on your side among your soldiers.

ROBERTS: But some Israeli officials are weary of sending large numbers of new troops into Lebanon, even scaling back their expectations of what this war will achieve.

SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI VICE PRIME MINISTER: Since we didn't initiate the war we don't have to win it, we have to stop it.


ZAHN: So, John, do you get a clear sense from the military officials you talked to what they really want to accomplish before a cease-fire is enforced?

ROBERTS: Well, what they say they want to accomplish is they want to degrade Hezbollah's capabilities as much as possible and hold as much territory as they can as a lever in those negotiations. As to whether or not they can do it is in question because even after almost a month worth of fighting they're still within a couple miles from the border. They haven't moved that deep into Lebanon Paula.

ZAHN: All right John Roberts, again, reporting along the Israeli/Lebanese border. I always appreciate your updates, and we are going to take a quick Biz Break right now.


ZAHN: In just a minute we're going to return to tonight's other top story. Please stay with us for the very latest on the breakup of that alleged terrorist plot to bomb as many as ten airliners in the skies over the Atlantic ocean. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Frustrated faces of travelers today all over the country and of course the look of concern among folks in law enforcement. Quickly recapping our top story right now, 24 people already in custody, more are being hunted in the biggest alleged terrorist plot since 9/11. Simultaneous attacks on ten flights heading from Britain to the U.S. using liquid explosives. Now sources tell CNN tonight at least two suspects met with al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan and had actually martyrdom videos.

Now we're not sure exactly which flights were involved, but sources say United, Continental, American Airlines, British Airways were possible targets. Meanwhile air travel is still chaotic, with delays and severe new restrictions on liquids and luggage taken aboard. Remember to stay with CNN for the latest on this major story affecting your travels, but if you are planning to travel tomorrow, expect to be there three hours in advance of your flight. Thanks so much for joining us, good night.


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