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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Terror Threat to be Raised to High Today

Aired February 7, 2003 - 12:26   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Sheila MacVicar, our international correspondent, is in London. She's joining us now live.
She's been doing some excellent reporting on the threats that are out in Europe as well, the Al Qaeda related threats -- Sheila.

SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN INTL. CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've been hearing about the possibility of potential terrorist attacks, terrorist threats in Europe from European leaders, European intelligence chiefs for some time here. Prime Minister Tony Blair about 10 days ago telling a U.K. parliamentary committee that he was almost convinced there was a very great likelihood of Al Qaeda attempting a new attack sometime in the near future.

Over the course of the last two months in particular here, Wolf, and this is important when you think about what the State Department's latest world wide caution has said. There has been a series of arrests here in the U.K., and France and Spain primarily, which officials of various governments have been linking to potential chemical or biological weapons attacks.

Here in London, in December, there was a discovery by police of an apartment where people had been manufacturing the very deadly toxin ricin. In France, we had arrests near Paris, in -- just before Christmas, where we now know police discovered cyanide compounds. A few weeks ago in Spain, we had a major series of arrests, barrels of chemicals found there, Spanish government officials saying they believe those chemicals were to be used to put together weapons for a chemical attack somewhere in Europe.

Now, in all of this, although investigators and judicial sources say they are connecting these alleged plots together and connecting them not necessarily through connections that are seen necessarily on the ground, but from people that they believe, that they now know, they say, through interrogations and other sources have been trained in the same places, primarily to the east, near Chechnya, trained by the same people. One of them a man named by Colin Powell, secretary of state, when he was making his speech to the Security Council this week, people who are known to be specialist in the manufacturer of chemical weapons or toxins of Al Qaeda.

So there is all of this environment here, Wolf, where there clearly appears, according to government officials, have been real attempts made by people linked to Al Qaeda to carry out terrorist threats.

I was speaking last week to France's leading terrorist magistrate in France, Judge John Louis Bruguiere, and he was talking about the risk of seeing in North America what investigators have been seeing here in Europe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE BRUGUIERE, FRENCH ANTI-TERRORISM MAGISTRATE: We have to consider that what we have in Europe could have direct connection and consequences that could occur in North America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACVICAR: Judge John Luis Bruguiere, talking about the direct connection, direct consequences, he believes, of the potential for those things between what they have been uncovering here in Europe and what could happen in North America -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sheila, what, if any, coincidence or connection is there between this elevated threat level from Al Qaeda right now and the possibility of war with Iraq? Your sources in Europe, what are they saying to you about that?

MACVICAR: They believe, and this is intelligence sources, judicial, investigative sources, they believe that as the possibility of war with Iraq looms larger that the threat goes up. They also believe that if war does happen to take place with Iraq, that again, the very real risk of some kind of attack goes up, that certainly is limited to extremists, and that milieu around Al Qaeda, if you will, will take advantage of that.

We've also heard, Wolf, from an Arabic language publication called Amil Jalla (ph). It's a publication which in the past has had credible communications from Al Qaeda, and they have been saying this past week that they have heard that in the event of war with Iraq, it does appear that Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden plan to issue a new communication, perhaps an audio or videotape. That communication, according to Al Qaeda, would be an exhortation to carry out attacks against U.S. interests in the region, meaning the Persian Gulf region, something, of course, which Al Qaeda has talked about for a long time, and also talked about the support of Al Qaeda for Iraq against U.S. aggression, what it called U.S. aggression, without being specific about what that support would be.

So, yes, there is a view here certainly that if there is war with Iraq, the terror threat does increase. And again, we're hearing the possibility of new threats coming directly from Al Qaeda itself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sheila MacVicar in London, Sheila, thank you very much.

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