Return to Transcripts main page

INSIDE POLITICS

Soon: Scotland Yard Comments On Parliament Incident; Attack Outside U.K. Parliament Investigated As Terrorism. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 22, 2017 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:30:00] NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: ... a major incident is quite literally just across the bridge, across Westminster Bridge, and about a block further away. That's where the main incident center in London with all its monitoring, with all its communications equipment, with its ability to see what's happening from above, to be able to pull up some of the many closed-circuit security television cameras that are located in this area. They'll be able to control it, and they're very closely located.

Some of the officers we're seeing arriving now appear to be senior officers. Quite their role, it's unclear to us at this time, Wolf. But the sense at the moment here is we've talked about the armed officers being right outside the House of Parliament. There were armed officers earlier who were pushing the cordon back, who first told us to get away.

But I think to get a sense of how the police feel the sort of overall situation is at the moment, all the officers on this outer perimeter where we are and where we were located before, none of those officers are carrying weapons. Which does seem to indicate that at least the police are not concerned or unduly concerned about the potential for an immediate follow-on incident. We have seen them some people, one young man tried to run through the barricade and run into the area. The police immediately grabbed him, hand behind the back. Moved him away.

But the sense here is there are no armed officers on this outer perimeter. Therefore, the implication that the police feel that there is an increased threat in this vicinity, obviously armed officers still very close to the building and likely protecting the members of Parliament, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Nic. Stand by. I want to just update our viewers who may be just tuning in here in the United States or around the world. We're following important breaking news out of London. One dead. Many individuals have been left with what are described as catastrophic injuries after police describe as a firearms incident near the Parliament in London.

The entire, now two hours later after the incident began still on lockdown. Right now they're treating it as a terrorist incident until they say they know otherwise. But clearly they see this as a terror incident. Video on YouTube shows several people down on Westminster Bridge. The entire Parliament also on lockdown. Dozens of members of Parliament remain in the House of Commons. Maybe 300. Proceedings they are clearly have been suspended.

Let's go to our Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour. We understand, Christiane the Prime Minister Theresa May, she has been removed from that entire area to some other undisclosed location.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. What we understand almost as soon as it was apparent that an incident was underway, which is about just under two hours ago, she was immediately secured. And we hear the very latest news is that the so-called cobra group, which is the special British government, Security Intelligence and maybe some military as well, who come together in emergencies to discuss their reaction and their response. That is going to be meeting later this afternoon, and that is a usual procedure in these very, very unusual circumstances.

Important to say that the British police and intelligence and counterterrorism officials have been warning the public for many, many weeks, months, and years to expect something like this. As the fight against ISIS ramps up, as ISIS gets squeezed in its calicate (ph) so to speak in Racca and Mosul. As ISIS threatens attacks all over Europe.

So far Britain has been spared, but the intelligence were telling us that you have to be careful. They said in the last two years they have thwarted 10 attacks. As for this one, the details, assist you say, there was apparently an incident where somebody in a vehicle plowed through pedestrians on the Westminster Bridge, which leads from one side of the river over across to Big Ben and the houses of Parliament.

Then the incident continued with an assailant stabbing a police official and then that caused police to respond with firearms. That is why the police are calling this a firearms incident. We do not know whether there's more than one assailant. We do not know whether the assailant, who was attacked, is alive or dead. We know that there was one victim killed. So far that's all we know. And others, according to the press, have had catastrophic injuries.

We know that the London ambulance has said that this is now what they call a major incident. So they are clearing all their decks to be able to respond to the casualties from this incident. Whether it's ambulances, whether it's hospital beds, whether it's doctors and emergency room staff to be able to deal with this. Britain is perhaps and London for sure one of the most heavily surveilled cities in the world.

There are CCTV cameras everywhere, and you can imagine there will be even exponentially more around the center of British government, which is Whitehall, Downing Street, Parliament, Big Ben.

[12:35:02] All those areas, which is the focus of what's happened this afternoon, and which is still on lockdown. That's the only part of the city that is on lockdown. The rest of the city, as you can see behind me, and we're not far away, is going ahead as usual. Now, very importantly and it must be said that Britain responds to these incidents extremely efficiently and extremely well. Parliament has armed guards. It also has very, very heavy security x-rays and other kind of body, you know, metalled and other weapons detectors for people going in. Members of Parliament, who, as you just reported, are beginning apparently to be escorted out by police.

There were some 300 under lockdown for more than an hour there. We've heard already members of Parliament tweeting out in typical British fighting spirit that we cannot be cowed by this incident and that we must convene Parliament again this afternoon if possible. That's how they're dealing with it here. Wolf, that's about as much as we know right now.

BLITZER: Well, presumably Christiane, we're going to know a little bit more -- at least a little bit more momentarily. We're told Scotland Yard is about to have a news conference or briefing for reporters. We, of course, will have live coverage of that. The first official on camera reports. We're going to have live coverage of that Scotland Yard news conference.

Clarissa Ward, who lives in London, she is here with me here right now. We have to emphasize, this is such a powerful tourist attraction, this area, that Westminster Bridge, and if it was, in fact, a terror incident, someone tried to disrupt life in London in this major international capital. That would be the target.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It would certainly be an obvious target to go for. I mean, I think you heard Christiane say earlier on that tourists literally compete and jockey for position on that bridge because it is where you get the most beautiful shots of the Houses of Parliament.

It's always a nightmare as a Londoner when you actually have to physically cross that bridge because it is so very, very crowded. Not only that, but think about the symbolism here for a moment. This is the beating heart of the United Kingdom. This is the seat of power. This is where Parliamentarians are meeting. This is where politicians are going. This is where many government buildings are located. On top of that you have tourists. On top of that you have schools and universities in the area. So it's an incredibly crowded area. It's an incredibly important area.

And I think potentially what you are seeing here is the damage that can be done by as few as potentially one individual and, as I said, we do not know how many people were involved in this attack yet. It is possible that there were two or even more. But you understand what authorities are up against here. It takes potentially a very small group of people to implement a lot of damage.

So far all we know is according to the British Press Association that one woman has been killed, but multiple casualties, and as you're seeing in these images that are playing out, the beating heart of London, of the U.K. on lockdown. And, of course, you're seeing a spirit of resilience in spite of this, but certainly it is chilling for anyone who has ever spent anyone -- any time in London to witness scenes like this.

BLITZER: We're just getting in a statement Clarissa, from the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. Let me read this statement. And I'm quoting here now. "There has been a serious incident near to Parliament Square this afternoon, which is being treated as a terrorist attack until the police know otherwise." The mayor continues. "I have spoken to the acting commissioner. The metropolitan police services dealing with the incident and an urgent investigation is underway. My thoughts are with those affected and their families." He adds this. "I would like to express my thanks to police and emergency services who work so hard to keep us safe and show tremendous bravery in exceptionally difficult circumstances." And he says, "For the latest information, visit news.net.police.uk for more information." I assume a lot of people all over the world are going to be going to that website.

I assume you've met, Clarissa, the mayor -- the new mayor of London. This is obviously a very serious situation.

WARD (voice-over): It's a very serious situation. I haven't met Sadiq Khan personally. He is a very popular mayor. He is the first Muslim mayor of London. And of course, you know, he's going to be taking an active role in trying to both caution people to be vigilant about the situation, but also to try to calm the situation.

Because the British mentality, as I think Christiane touched upon before, is very much to try to keep calm, assess the situation, be sensible about what you do, if you did capture any video images, if you captured any photographs of any of the aftermath. Be sensitive to the victims. Turnover any footage that you have to the police. And try and sort of -- they're trying to sort of contain the situation in the most calm and efficient method that they can.

[12:40:09] And I think we've seen quite clearly in spite of this terrible situation, in spite of the multiple casualties that we can clearly see being taken into ambulances, the police and authorities are doing an incredible job of trying to contain the situation, keep people calm, and deal with it in an orderly and effective manner which is not an always an easy thing to do, Wolf, in the heat of the moment when you have a situation like this playing out.

BLITZER: Two of our national security analyst Cedric Leighton and Steve Hall are with us. I'm going to play some -- we're just getting this video in to CNN. I'm going to let it play out. This is video apparently of gunshots fired at Parliament. Watch this closely.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Cedric, I'm going to play it one more time. We're going to cue it up from the beginning, because you heard the barrage of gunshots right in the middle. I want to play it for you one more time. Listen carefully.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Cedric, what's your analysis?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST (voice-over): Well, my analysis right now, Wolf, is that this is -- it looks like it was a lone wolf attack at the moment, but we really don't know more about the command and control mechanism. And, of course, for these kinds of situations, it doesn't take a very -- very much of an effort to mountain attack like this. What you are seeing here is the initial phase of panic. You're finding people that are obviously responding to something that they're not used to seeing or hearing, and they're getting out of the way of what they perceive to be danger.

But What happened, of course, after that was the fact that the emergency responders came in very quickly and it looks like they're doing exactly what they need to be doing.

BLITZER: Steve Hall, you heard the gunshots in that video. What's your analysis?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST (voice-over): Well, Wolf, this is sort of the nightmare scenario that I think all intelligence officers and all intelligence services hope to avoid.

When you get to the point of gunshots in the streets and people running for their lives through a certain extent there's been a problem with intelligence because that's why you collect it to avoid circumstances just like this. And when you get into a circumstance like this, it turns into a police matter, it turns into a very tactical situation. And I think that's what we're seeing right now.

Despite the fact as Christiane and others have indicated, there has been sort of a stream perhaps of intelligence we've heard about. The laptop warnings that have been out recently. There have been, you know, talks about 10 to 12 attacks thwarted recently.

I can tell you that if there's -- if we know of 10 to 12 attacks that are coming out publicly, there were probably scores more that intelligence, you know, across the boards picked up and managed to alert people. That's why the five eyes relationship with all of these services is so important is to thwart these type of attacks before they end up on your shores.

BLITZER: Five eyes being the closest U.S. intelligence cooperative countries that the U.S. deals with, including, of course, Britain.

HALL (voice-over): That's correct.

LEIGHTON (voice-over): And exactly right. The five eyes agreements that have existed really in various forms since World War II have helped thwart attacks exactly like this. And you know, what Steve is talking about is exactly right. Those kinds of responses, you know, you have one thing. You have operational successes and intelligence failures is the way the saying always goes. And when you have that the intelligence services are really at the point where they need to get it right 100 percent of the time, and it is an almost impossible mission to do that I think in any of these situations.

BLITZER: We're just getting a quick statement in from the United States Embassy in London. In part it says the U.S. Embassy in London informs U.S. citizens that there's been a security incident on Westminster Bridge near Parliament. U.S. citizens should heed guidance from local authorities and maintain security awareness. We strongly encourage U.S. citizens in the United Kingdom to directly contact concerned family members in the United States to advise them of their safety.

I want to bring in our CNN International Anchor Hala Gorani. She's in London as well. Hala, what can you tell us about this area, first of all?

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, coincidentally, I was inside the Houses of Commons, literally inside sitting in on prime minister's questions today.

Those are midday questions. It's a weekly event. That means many members of Parliament are in attendance. Obviously, the prime minister --

BLITZER: All right. Hold on a moment. Hala, Scotland Yard now briefing everyone.

COMMANDER B.J. HARRINGTON, LONDON METROPOLITAN POLICE: ... declared this a terrorist incident. And although we remain open minded to the motive, a full counterterrorism investigation is already underway. This is led by the Met's Counter Terrorism Command.

[12:45:01] At this stage I will confirm what we know has happened, but I will not speculate. We received a number of different reports, which included a person in the river, a car in collision with pedestrians and a man armed with a knife.

Officers were already in that location as part of routine policing, but immediately additional officers were sent to the scene, and that includes firearms officers. We are working closely with the London Ambulance Service and the London Fire Brigade.

I'd like to repeat our request that the public avoid the following areas. Parliament Square, Whitehall, Westminster Bridge, Lambeth Bridge, Victoria Street up to the junction with Broadway and the Victoria (INAUDIBLE).

This is to allow emergency services to deal with the ongoing investigation. There is an ongoing investigation being carried out -- there is an ongoing investigation being led by the Counter Terrorism Command, and we would ask anybody who has images or film of the incident to pass those to the police.

We know there are a number of casualties, including police officers, but at this stage we cannot confirm numbers or the nature of these injuries. Our response will be ongoing for some time, and it is important that we gather all possible information and evidence. Public safety is our top priority, and we are reviewing our policing staff across London and throughout the course of this afternoon. There will be additional officers on duty and deployed across the Capital.

I would like the public to remain vigilant and let us know if they see anything suspicious that causes them concern, and if they do, to dial 999 immediately.

The Acting Commissioner Craig Mackey is being treated as a significant witness as he was at the scene when the incident started. While he is not injured, it would be inappropriate for him to be here to talk about the incident at this stage. Our thoughts and his thoughts are with all of those involved and responding to that incident this evening.

I would stress that if anyone has information about today's incidents, there is -- they are urged to call 0800789321. And I would stress if the public have any information or see anything suspicious to dial 999 immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this stage does the incident seem to be over?

HARRINGTON: I'm not going to speculate. We've got -- you're seeing the response that we've got here. Officers responding. I want to stress that it's our priority to keep London safe. People going home this evening will see additional officers deployed across London in order to achieve that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gunshots fired. Gunshots fired.

HARRINGTON: And I have told you what information I have. And I will -- we will keep continue to keep you updated as we find things out. I am not prepared to speculate.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to thank you very much for your time here this evening. I would absolutely stress to the public our number one priority working (INAUDIBLE) is to keep London safe. If people have information, please dial the number 0800789321, but most importantly, if people see anything suspicious dial 999 if they think it's an emergency. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks guys.

BLITZER: There you heard the statement, Commander B.J. Harrington of the London Metropolitan Police. Hala Gorani is still with us, our CNN international anchor. You were there at Parliament when this incident occurred. Just a little bit more than two hours ago.

I was having a little trouble hearing the beginning part of what he had to say. I think he was seeing, Hala, maybe you heard it a little bit better than I did, that they are now dealing with what they consider to be an act of terror.

GORANI: Right. They're saying they're keeping their minds open, but essentially this is a full counter terror investigation, and it is underway. That's what we heard there from police officials. The press association reporting right now that one person has died as a result of what is being treated as a terrorist incident in this city.

Official -- additional officers will be deployed across the city, and the police is telling residents of London, visitors to the area, to avoid these large swaths of Westminster. This is, of course, where the Houses of Commons are located. This is where we were. I was with a colleague sitting in on prime minister's questions.

Today is an important day, of course, because weekly, as many of our viewers know, the prime minister takes questions from members of Parliament, which means it's busier than usual, which means that most M.P.s are in attendance in the Houses of Commons. And it's not just through of a big monument, Wolf, just so our viewers understand. This is a giant, working building. Thousands of M.P.s, their assistants, you know, you have clerical staff. You have all sorts of things.

It's guarded by layers of security. There are sort of blast cinder blocks outside of the House of Parliament and a gate leading to the main entrance. So we're -- we believe the individual who suspected of having perpetrated the attack was taken down.

So -- but it's visitors and tourists, as I mentioned as well, I saw a class field trip there today. There's little kids 8, 9 years old walking up to the viewing gallery to see what, you know, the business of democracy in this country and how it unfolds every day. So it's an extremely busy, bustling area and a hugely symbolic area as well here in London. Wolf?

[12:50:13] BLITZER: Stand by Hala. I'm going to get back to you. Hala was there in the Parliament today.

Paul Cruickshank, our terror analyst is with us as well. You know, it's an interesting that they have already said that it appears to be an act of terror at these early stages. It's only been a little bit more than two hours since the incident began to unfold.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, clearly information coming in is suggesting that this has all of the hallmarks of some kind of terrorism incident in the sense that this was a multiphase or multipronged attack. So that is the working assumption. It seems a little more now than a working assumption. There seems to be some evidence, really, that this is indeed an act of some kind of terrorism. We don't know at this stage what the motive was, whether there was any link to Islamist terrorism.

But certainly a lot of people are going to think that is a possibility given what British officials have been saying for months and months about the state of the threat in the U.K. An unprecedented threat to the U.K. coming from Jihadi terrorist groups, coming from people who are inspired by these groups, notably ISIS.

With more than 800 British residents who have traveled to Syria and Iraq, many of whom joining groups like ISIS and more than 400 coming back. That gives you a sense of the scale of the threat. But there are others, there are thousands in the U.K. who have not traveled who are also considered to be radicalized and sympathetic to ISIS and ISIS have one message for them right now and that is to stay home and to launch attacks, Wolf.

So, yes, I think the operating assumption here is that this is an act of terrorism. This investigation is now going to be led by Counter Terrorism Command, the Metropolitan police that's known as S015. They are one of the most capable counterterrorism outfits anywhere in the world. They work very closely with MI5, the British Domestic Intelligence Service. They'll be going through all sorts of CCTV, witness statements and investigating this with great intensity.

Their biggest concern right now, obviously, is this over. They were not committal about that. They didn't say that they have full confidence that this terrorist event is over.

BLITZER: It doesn't look like it's over yet. Christiane Amanpour is still with us. She's in London as well. Christiane, you've heard the spokesman for the London Metropolitan Police Commander Harrington say they are assuming -- they are working under the assumption that this is an act of terror.

AMANPOUR: Well, yes. And that's what they said very early on, until they know otherwise. They wouldn't speculate whether this incident is over. He said I'm not going to speculate when he was directly asked that. He said we have an open mind as to motive. So they wouldn't talk about motive.

They wouldn't say exactly the nature of the casualties and they wouldn't confirm a death. So there are still many, many unknowns except for this incident that happened. And now looking at more and more of those pictures, you can see where that car went into the gate of Parliament and it's not the traditional visitors' gate. That is a different gate. It's close to the bridge. The visitors' gate is further along the road there. And there as I say, there's a lot of security at these places.

But again, to put it in context, while we try to figure out exactly what this is, as many of us and your experts have been saying, you can commit an act of terrorism with a vehicle now as we've seen since Nice and the several incidents that have happened culminating in today. And this is something that is going to be and is and all of the intelligence and security officials tell us, almost impossible to deter because what are you going to do? You can't ban cars. Yes, you can ban laptops. Yes, you can ban iPads, you can do all of those kinds of things, liquid on planes.

But unless they completely ban cars from around Parliament, this is one of those low-tech but highly catastrophic attacks that now these people, whether they're lone wolves or not, and they have been in the past in Nice and in Berlin, have been able to do to great effect. And it does happen at a time when ISIS is being squeezed, when ISIS has threatened Europe and Britain. When we have been told by security and intelligence here that it was just a matter of time before some kind of incident, the likes of which took place on the continent, so to speak, in Europe over the last couple of years should happen here. This is the first time an attack of this kind, of this magnitude in terms of the number of casualties has happened since 2005, (77) 2005 when about 56 people were killed in multiple attacks, bombing -- suicide bombing attacks on buses and on the tube (ph), the underground service.

[12:55:02] This is the first time that something like in these numbers has happened in London. We know of course that there's a huge number of surveillance equipment around, there's lots of CCTV. Obviously, it goes without saying that this is the heart of the British government. This is Westminster. This is the Houses of Parliament. This is the day that there were prime minister questions which means she was in the building. And we know from officials that she was bundled out, Theresa May, the Prime Minister, as soon as an attack was evidenced.

Three hundred or so M.P.s, members of Parliament were also on lock down. And we understand that gradually in the last hour they've started to be let out in small groups under police escort.

We know that this is the first anniversary of the multiple pronged attack in Brussels that was claimed by ISIS this time last year. And of course it happens in the context of this most immediate intelligence warning that we, passengers, people coming from certain countries on certain aircraft cannot carry laptops or big tablets in the cabin anymore.

Plus, last Saturday, in Orly, somebody at the Orly Airport tried to attack a police woman and was gunned down by her comrades there in Orly Airport. So, these small but, you know, effective attacks is what police is dealing with more and more. What intelligence is grappling with more and more as we've seen in other parts of the world, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Christiane, we're just getting a statement from a press officer at Buckingham Palace, telling CNN that the Buckingham Palace's gates are closed as a precaution after the incident at Westminster. The queen, by the way, is in Buckingham Palace right now.

So they're taking the steps, presumably, Christiane, out of an abundance of caution but there's always concern and counter terror officials will always say if there's one incident, they always worry it could be a facade, if you will, because something else is going on elsewhere. And presumably that's why they close the gates at Buckingham Palace right now. They do that always out of an abundance of caution. It's been now, Christiane, more than two hours since the incident started.

AMANPOUR: Yes, just over two hours, two hours and about 15 minutes. It was at 2:40 that police first were made aware of such an incident they say in their tweets. And they've been tweeting pretty regularly on what's going on. They first started to say, well we've had this report then they described it as a firearms incident and that meant that their officers responded with their firearms as we now know.

One of the assailants or the only assailant, we don't know, was shot at. And you heard in the video that you played, at least two shots you could hear, officials shots were ringing out. So that happened.

And then shortly thereafter and all within about half an hour, the incident they said that we are treating this as a terrorist incident until we know otherwise. And there is some background to that as well. Max Foster was at a special Scotland Yard briefing not so long ago in which they were talking about how they describe incidents in the immediate aftermath because no matter what they do, they say, you're dammed if you do and you're dammed if you don't. If you don't call it a terrorist incident and it is, then they get flack from the public. If you call it one and it wasn't, then they get flack.

So that is why you're hearing a very, you know, measured and deliberate statement. We are treating it as a terrorist incident until we know otherwise.

And the last briefing said there is an active counterterrorism investigation underway. So they are beginning to sort of double down on that, although they say they cannot speculate on motive and we have also heard nothing about the identity of the assailant nor whether there was more than one assailant nor the precise nature of the injuries nor whether anybody, according to the officials, in other words, the police, nor whether anybody was actually killed. The only thing we have to go by is that the press association says that one person at least was killed in this incident.

But yes, of course they would close Buckingham Palace gates and, frankly, they are pretty much closed all the time. Sometimes you have changing of the guard, that is something that the tourists come to watch because these amazing, you know, British soldiers are walking all the way down the mall from their headquarters only in their great coats and they walk into the foreground of four-quarter Buckingham Palace and it's around midday every day and they change out.

And tourists flock there to watch it and doors are open, gates are open when that happens. But, obviously, if the queen is in residence particularly, then, you know, that would take place.

Now, we also know -- and remember, this is also happening in the context of a highly difficult political debate over Brexit. The Scottish Parliament has been in session talking about its desire for independence. Well, it has suspended that debate, they say, out of respect and concern for what's happening in the United Kingdom here in London.

BLITZER: Christiane, I want you to stand by. The latest information we're getting, at least one person dead, 10 people injured.