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"Earth-Shattering" Attack Threatened; Interview with Mike Rogers; McCain Rips Old Friend Hagel

Aired January 31, 2013 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, earth-shattering and terrifying -- the latest threat reporting from a jihadist group vowing attacks against the United States and Europe. The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Mike Rogers, is standing by live this hour.

A 5-year-old boy held hostage for days now in an underground bunker. I'll ask a former FBI hostage negotiator what authorities can do about it.

And with the her inauguration performance clouded in controversy, Beyonce now speaking out and singing out to set the record straight.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


A chilling new terror threat against the United States, France, Denmark and other European nations. The threat was posted on a jihadist Web site with ties to al Qaeda and promises

An attack that's, quote, "earth-shattering and terrible." The Web posting seems to have been prompted by French military actions against jihadists in Northwest Africa.

Let's go live to CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

She's got the latest -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, the administration has been saying for months now that Al Qaeda is on the ropes. But the U.S. intelligence community is now saying something very different about a very different Al Qaeda threat.


STARR (voice-over): With the success of the attack on a gas plant in Algeria, extremists are growing more daring. A senior U.S. intelligence official tells CNN, quote, "What we have seen is intelligence suggesting the desire to carry out more attacks against Western and U.S. interests in the region."

Though there are no specific targets yet that the U.S. knows of, one of those plotting, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, was the mastermind of the Algeria attack.

But threats are now coming from multiple al Qaeda groups in Africa.

GEN. CARTER HAM, COMMANDER, U.S. AFRICA COMMAND: We're starting to see increasing collaboration, sharing of funding, sharing recruiting efforts, sharing of weapons and explosives, and certainly a sharing of ideology that is expanding and connecting these various organizations.

STARR: If Chuck Hagel becomes the next secretary of Defense, he already knows what he's facing.

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: I will ensure we stay vigilant and keep up the pressure on terrorist organizations as they try to expand their affiliates around the world in places like Yemen, Somalia and North Africa.

STARR: But when it comes to North Africa, U.S. intelligence agencies may be of limited use to him. That senior U.S. intelligence official tells CNN, quote, "We do not have the level of resources, the footprint or the capabilities we have in other theaters."

After years of focusing on Pakistan and Afghanistan, the map has changed. From Mali to Algeria, Niger, Libya and Egypt, the Obama administration is struggling to catch up. U.S. intelligence is now working with France, whose own spy networks are more established in the former French colonies in Africa. And the U.S. will set up a drone base in Niger to fly over safe havens, hoping to catch terrorists before there is a direct threat to the U.S. homeland.

GEORGE LITTLE, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not ruling it out. We take Al Qaeda wherever they are very seriously. And we are not going to rest on our laurels until we find that kind of specific and credible information.


STARR: And one other thing has U.S. officials very concerned, Wolf. That is the prospect that some of these terrorists operating in Africa have U.S., Western, European, Canadian passports, they can travel readily and come back to their home countries. And it may be very difficult to catch their movements, especially if they're plotting more attacks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very difficult, indeed.

Barbara, thanks very much.

Let's take a look right now at these latest threats, the new terror front in Northwest Africa.

Joining us now is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN: Wolf, thanks for having me.

BLITZER: How credible do you think these threats coming out of these Al Qaeda-affiliated groups in North Africa are right now?

ROGERS: Well, the first thing you have to do is determine, do they have the capability to do it?

And when you look at al-Mokhtar, he clearly has the capability to put operatives outside of the Mali-Algerian-Libya area. He traveled and trained in the '90s in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has the ability, I believe, to get operatives outside of that region. And I think the intelligence community supports that, as well.

That makes it a credible threat and something that you have to absolutely take seriously.

BLITZER: And when he says -- these jihadist Web sites -- that he's planning some horrendous, huge attack against the U.S. Or France or Denmark or other countries in Europe, does he have the capability for a huge attack, as opposed to something more modest?

ROGERS: Well, there's always a little marketing in their efforts. And the whole idea of terror is to create chaos and fear in large scale. So some of that you have to take with a grain of salt.

However, in their mind, and we have to understand this, the taking of the gas facility in Eastern Algeria was a huge success for them. It got them recruits. And they knew that this was not going to end well for them, but that wasn't their purpose. It was a strategic change to go from taking people for ransom money to making a political statement about French -- France being in Mali.

That's a -- that is a scary and concerning change. That was a huge success. It breeds more success for them. That's why you see this marketing, this new bravado, this new brazenness, coming out of North Africa. I know the Northern Africa countries are all concerned about it. And now you have the French, who are doing a great job in chasing these folks out of Northern Mali.

But now the next huge question is, they have melted away, where do they go?

Who grabs held hold of them?

And what is their next target?

BLITZER: So have -- do you know if any other -- any plots have actually been thwarted?

ROGERS: Well, we can't say specifically that any particular plot has been thwarted. What we know now and see now is these different groups who are working together in ways we haven't seen before, gaining in capability, gaining in popularity, gaining -- in their mind, having these victories that gets recruits and this capability to go beyond these borders. It's something that we're taking very seriously.

BLITZER: Are they as capable as the al Qaeda Central, Ayman Al- Zawahiri, the new leader of al Qaeda, another bin Laden, is?

Are they as capable as al Qaeda that we used to know?

Or is this a whole different kind of operation?

ROGERS: Well, that's yet to be seen. They've had -- been very, very successful in the decades before they went and joined al Qaeda. So that gives them seasoned fighters, experienced jihadists, if you will, that now has access to al Qaeda core technology, so IEDs and suicide bombers, that they didn't employ in the past. They now have married that technology with these capabilities. And that's what's so concerning. And it's happening at a very rapid pace.

But, again, their success will breed success. We know that they're infusing this new breed of jihadist technology, when it comes to weaponry and improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers, other tactics. That's all coming together now. And that brazenness means that we'd better take this very seriously.

BLITZER: Congressman, hold on for a moment.

I want to continue this conversation.

But I first want to turn to Syria right now. Tensions clearly rising in the region, as Syria and its allies warn of retaliation for an Israeli air strike that may have prevented the transfer of some sophisticated weapons to militants in Lebanon.

CNN's Tom Foreman has been looking into this and he's joining us now -- Tom, what are you seeing?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, this is one of those things where we know a lot of things at this hour, but many details are still missing.

So here is what we do know. Sometime in the early morning hours, before dawn on Wednesday, we believe that an undetermined number of Israeli jets took off and they flew from Israel over into Syria. We don't know which route they took, but we know where they wound up. They wound up just north of Damascus, where they hit a target just north of the capital, hitting a target.

The Syrians say what they hit was a military research facility. And they imply that what the Israelis were trying to do was to help the militants who are trying to overthrow the Syrian government.

But U.S. Officials say that is not the case. The real target was this -- a convoy carrying parts of SA-17 missiles. This is a missile system that's designed for surface to air work. And it's primarily a guard, a defense system. What you would do with this is you would array it along a border, or perhaps around a target that you really want to protect, a city or a special facility. It's highly mobile, so it's hard to track. And it's pretty effective. It was designed mainly by the Soviets and the Chinese.

These missiles are designed to track and shoot down any planes or missiles that are coming in toward the thing that you are trying to protect. This is what U.S. Officials say this strike was all about, Wolf, hitting a convoy of those missiles.

BLITZER: All right, Tom, you said this was a convoy obviously connected to this weapons system.

If that's the case, where was this convoy headed?

FOREMAN: Well, it doesn't seem, according to intelligence officials, that it was intended for use inside Syria. Instead, for some time they have been worried that Syria is transferring weapons like this, particularly these missiles, into Lebanon, so that they get into the hands of Hezbollah. Hezbollah has long been an enemy of Israel. It's been designated by the United States and many others as a terrorist group.

So what would they do with this?

The idea or the fear is that if this missile system gets firmly established in the hands of Hezbollah, they could set it up along their border on the northern side of Israel. Then, when conflict breaks out between Lebanon -- Hezbollah based there -- and Israel, they could could fire missiles into Israel of bigger types. And when the Israeli Air Force tried to respond, they would have this missile system to try to blunt that response and defend them from that. That's the very capability that Israeli officials would not want them to have -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

We're back with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers.

You're watching that report.


BLITZER: Do you want to elaborate?

Can you tell us some more on what's going on?

ROGERS: Well, there's a couple of things that have been concerning. We've actually talked about the sheer factor of what kinds and sophisticated weapons systems Syria has, and them not necessarily being in control, either leading up to the fall of Assad or subsequent to that.

So when you see weapon systems of any type beginning to move around the country in places that don't make sense to its defense, you have to be very, very concerned, mainly because of Iran's involvement in the process of getting and maintaining these weapon systems. Very, very sophisticated, very lethal, dangerous in the wrong hands. And I think it's prudent that these weapon systems not be allowed to fall in to folks who have ill intent.

BLITZER: Not be allowed to move to Hezbollah, for example, in Lebanon.

I assume when the Israelis launch an air strike like this against a convoy carrying these kinds of missiles, there's coordination, or at least some notification to the US.

Is that right?

ROGERS: I don't -- I'm really not in a good position to discuss exactly how those operations are conducted. I can tell you that the United States has an interest in making sure that groups like Hezbollah don't come into possession of sophisticated weapons systems. This is something that we're concerned about, we're going to spend time and energy on. And it's a plan that we have got to put together for these sophisticated conventional weapons systems moving forward, or we're all going to pay a price for this.

BLITZER: Do you think the Iranians, the Syrians will retaliate against Israel for this air strike?

ROGERS: I would be surprised if the Syrians decided they wanted to take on the Israelis when they have all of these other problems facing them. It wouldn't be a great strategic decision for them. That doesn't mean they won't do it.

I think if they think about it for more than 24 hours, they will opt to try to contain the problems that they have within the borders.

BLITZER: Yes. I remember when the Israelis knocked out the Syrian reactor. They didn't do anything about that. They didn't even confirm that the Israelis did it.

But let's say there's a new environment in that region right now.


BLITZER: Quickly, before I let you go, North Korea, they're threatening another underground nuclear test.

How credible is this threat?

ROGERS: It's very credible. We have seen, in the past, that they have used this to their political advantage. The Chinese have put pressure on them, at the US's request. That's a good thing.

BLITZER: To not do it?

ROGERS: To not do it.

However, they're pushing the envelope. And I believe that this is this new, young leader who's decided that he needs to show that he's in charge, gain the credibility from the military. And if that means further isolation through a nuclear test, I think he'll do it.

BLITZER: Kim Jong Un. We don't know. And one day, he invites the leader of Google to come there to North Korea. The next day, he's launching a missile or threatening a nuclear test underground. I don't know which direction he's moving.

ROGERS: I think he believes that he needs to consolidate the support of the military infrastructure there...

BLITZER: To prove that he's a hard-liner?

ROGERS: To prove that he's a hardliner, a leader, and that he can -- will continue -- you know, the only way to do well in that country is being a part of the military infrastructure. And so he needs to keep that loyal if he is going to stay in charge.

I think that what you're seeing is that pressure from the military, saying we need to move forward on our nuclear weapons program. You're either with us or against us.

This is his time to stand up and say I'm with the military. I think his tendencies are to try to find something different. We've got to connect to that in some way. Otherwise, we're going to find a nuclear North Korea that is destabilizing to that whole North Korean Peninsula.

BLITZER: I'm very worried about that.


BLITZER: That Korean Peninsula, a million North Korean troops along the DMZ.


BLITZER: Nearly a million South Korean troops, 30,000 American troops right in between. This could be a hugely, hugely dangerous environment.

ROGERS: Very much so.

BLITZER: We'll have you back.

ROGERS: Thanks.

BLITZER: There's a lot more I want to talk about.

Thanks very much for coming in.

ROGERS: Thanks, Wolf.

Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Mike Rogers is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Huge fireworks at the confirmation of Chuck Hagel as the next Defense secretary. Some of the sharpest words coming from his old friend.

Why is Senator John McCain so angry at Chuck Hagel?

And Beyonce comes clean about her inauguration controversy and sings out to set the record straight. You're going to hear the whole thing and more, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: They say friends, Senate colleagues, and his Vietnam veterans' comrades-in-arms, but John McCain today relentlessly ripped into the defense secretary nominee, Chuck Hagel, during his Senate confirmation hearings.

Our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us with details from Capitol Hill. For me, it was a surprise how tough he was against Hagel.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was very, very tough. The exchange was quite stunning. You could almost feel the heat still in the room seven hours later. But look, these were two men -- it's hard to believe that these were two men who were so close that McCain said of him and other fellow Vietnam veterans that when he sees them on the floor of the Senate, he feels a little lift. That is certainly not what he or Hagel felt today.


BASH (voice-over): John McCain's demand, a yes or no answer.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: Committee deserves your judgment as to whether you are right or wrong about the surge.

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: I'll explain why I made those comments.

MCCAIN: I want to know if you were right or wrong. That's a direct question. I expect a direct answer.

BASH: McCain, a lead Senate supporter of the 2007 military surge in Iraq wanted to know whether Chuck Hagel, who was a Senate opponent, now thinks he was wrong, especially about this comment.

HAGEL: The most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam if it's carried out.

MCCAIN: Were you correct or incorrect? Yes or no?

HAGEL: My reference to the surge being a dangerous --

MCCAIN: I asked question, Sen. Hagel. HAGEL: Well, I am not going to give you a yes or no answer on a lot of things.

MCCAIN: Well, that's to show (ph) that you refuse to answer that question.

BASH: Watching this tension, even outright scorn, you'd never know these two men were once the closest of friends and political allies. In fact, when McCain ran for president in 2000, a voter asked who he'd want in his cabinet. Listen to McCain's answer.

MCCAIN: As far as secretary of defense is concerned, there's a lot of people that could do that. One of them I think is Senator Chuck Hagel could do that kind of job.

BASH: That's right. The same man McCain lit into 13 years later in a confirmation hearing for the same post in President Obama's administration. But they once had a bond even tighter than Senate colleagues, a shared experience in Vietnam. In fact, they were so close, Hagel was McCain's 2000 presidential campaign co-chair and loyal surrogate.

HAGEL: He's a selfless person.

My friend, John McCain.

BASH: Hagel even introduced McCain at the Republican convention that year. Ironically, it was their service in the Vietnam more that ripped them apart over the Iraq war. McCain's lesson from Vietnam, don't pull out when things go bad. Hagel, don't add troops to a misguided war. On Iraq, Hagel still refuses to give in to McCain.

HAGEL: I don't know if that would have been required and cost us over 1,000 American lives and thousands of wounded.

MCCAIN: So, you don't know if the search would have been required. OK.

BASH: McCain is sure he was right.

MCCAIN: History has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you're on the wrong side of it. And your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about it is going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether to vote for your confirmation or not.


BASH (on-camera): Now, McCain may vote against Hagel, but he's also made clear that he will not move to block Hagel's nomination. In fact, so far, no senator has explicitly said that they will filibuster Hagel's confirmation. If that happens, and Wolf, that is still a very big if, it's unclear if Hagel could find the 60 votes needed to get confirmed.

BLITZER: Because even if he got all 55 Democrats, the two independents, plus all the Democrats, he would still need five Republicans to break that filibuster. Is it that uncertain, whether there are five Republicans who would vote to confirm?

BASH: It is. Well, only one republican senator. Only one of Hagel's former Republican Senate colleagues has said that he would affirmatively vote for him and that is Thad Cochran of Mississippi. I've talked to several Republicans who are undecided, but most of the Republicans I talk to say that they're going to vote against him.

I should just underscore, though, at this point, I do not sense of real desire to filibuster him. And so, if that doesn't happen, if nothing changes in that front, then there are -- the Democratic vote assuming that at least 51 democrats vote for him to be confirmed.

BLITZER: Just to be precise, Dana, if one Republican says he or she wants to filibuster, then there's a filibuster and they need 60 votes.

BASH: The power of one senator. It is the way the founding fathers designed the Senate on purpose so that every senator has that power. And you're right, even if one does it, that will change the dynamic and could definitely hurt Chuck Hagel's. I'm not sure about that.

BLITZER: Well, given some the emotions that were expressed today by some of these Republicans, you know, I didn't expect a filibuster before the hearings, but I wouldn't be shocked if there's a filibuster right now. We'll see if that will happen to the confirmation of Chuck Hagel. All right. Dana, thanks very much for that report.

A minor player in the Super Bowl drama stealing the spotlight right now with some remarks and a retraction about gays. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Humans were made to make things. That's why we have thumbs. We've got no way for making so much. There's (INAUDIBLE) of drive to create. I like to think -- rekindle that in people and get them back to being makers. There's so many things that can come out. It could be little, big, world changing and all of the things that people do here just really lightning up. It's a real excitement.



BLITZER: Leading up to any Super Bowl, there's always plenty of what's called trash talk, members of one team trying to talk down the other. But some comments by a San Francisco 49er have so many people right now calling foul, he's had to apologize. CNN's Brian Todd is here in the SITUATION ROOM. He's got the story. Brian, tell our viewers what's going on.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you know, there are lots of other story lines at the Super Bowl. No one expected a little known backup player to steal the headlines, but Chris Culliver (ph) of the 49ers has done just that. His remarks about gays have taken the spotlight off the Harbaugh Brothers and Ray Lewis, but they've also stooped debate over the alpha male culture of the NFL.


TODD (voice-over): He's an obscure reserve defensive back who's stolen the story lines at the Super Bowl. Chris Culliver of the San Francisco 49ers was asked by radio host, Artie Lange, on his show about his feelings towards gays.

CHRIS CULLIVER, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS CORNERBACK: No, I don't do the gay guys, man. I don't do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any on the 49ers?

CULLIVER: No. They ain't got no gay people on the team. No. They got to get up by the hair (ph) if they do. Can't be with the sweet stuff.

TODD: Within hours, the pressure on Culliver had gathered critical mass. He was asked what he'd say to the people of his team's home town, one of the world's most tolerant cities toward the gay community.

CULLIVER: I'm sorry that I offended anyone. And like I said, that was very ugly comment. And, that's not what I feel in my heart.

TODD: The 49ers, who previously launched a public service campaign against the bullying of gays, issued a statement saying the team rejects Culliver's comments and has addressed the matter with him. His coach says there's no malice in Culliver's heart.

JIM HARBAUGH, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS COACH: He regrets that. And that's not -- but that's not who he is. That's not what he really believes in.

TODD: But Culliver is part of an alpha male culture in the locker room. So far, no athlete in any major professional team sport in the U.S. has ever come out as openly gay while actively playing. In four plus years trying out with the Washington Redskins, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks, Wade Davis never acknowledged he was gay. He didn't come out until June of last year.

WADE DAVIS, FORMER NFL CORNERBACK: The ideas of masculinity, you know, to prove that you're tough, to prove that you can be one of the guys, that notion is very present in the NFL and in the locker room.


TODD (on-camera): Davis says he does not see a player coming out as openly gay in pro sports for at least a couple of years. He says one thing that might help that along would be if more heterosexual players showed support and some of them have. One notable on the other side of the team aisle this week at the Super Bowl, Ravens linebacker, Brendon Ayanbadejo, has spoken out strongly in recent weeks about equality of marriage and other issues. Some heterosexual players coming out strongly on this issue, Wolf, this season.

BLITZER: One prominent gay activist says he should be suspended for what he said about gay.

TODD: That's right. The activist name is Michel Angelo Signorile. He's an editor at "The Huffington Post." He's got a radio show on Satellite Radio. He says for the NFL to be taken seriously when it claims to be taking on homophobia, the league has to suspend Chris Culliver. Now, we pressed a league spokesman on that.

He would only say that Culliver's remarks were inappropriate. He would not answer the question when we pressed him on whether the league would suspend Culliver and neither were the 49ers answer that question.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much. We're looking forward to the Super Bowl.

TODD: Yes.

BLITZER: A terrifying standoff involving a five-year-old boy enters a third day. What will it take to get him out of that underground bunker where he's being held? I'll ask a leading hostage negotiator next.


BLITZER: Somewhere deep underneath this Alabama property is where a 5-year-old boy who for the third day now is being held hostage in a bunker by a suspect who grabs him off a school bus after killing the bus driver.

Police do not believe the child who suffers from Asperger syndrome has been physically harmed. They say the suspect has allowed them to lower medication along with coloring books and crayons down a pipe into the bunker.

The suspect was supposed to have been in court before this incident occurred to face charges for shooting at his neighbors.

As the standoff goes on, concerns for this child's well-being are growing. Joining us now to talk about this, the former FBI lead international kidnapping negotiator, Christopher Voss.

Chris, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Yes. You hear the details about what's going on. The third day now. A young little boy being held hostage. How do you negotiate with a hostage holder like this?

VOSS: Well, you take your time. I mean, you have to let the gentleman inside understand that they're trying to create a safe environment for him to be able to talk and tell his story. The negotiators understand that it's complicated and it's going to take time, and that's what they're trying to communicate to him. They're actually trying to earn his trust and to demonstrate it to him that they can -- that he can in fact trust them.

BLITZER: How much more complicated -- I assume it is -- is it because it's a little boy who was being held hostage as opposed to, let's say, an adult or adults?

VOSS: It does become more complicated but it also gives them the opportunity to work with the individual on the inside, to look after the little boy, to sort of collaborate with him, if you will, to care of the little boy, and it gives them an opportunity to create a working relationship with him.

BLITZER: And this is an underground bunker. Presumably there are supplies in there. This could go on.

VOSS: Right. Well, this individual has prepared for something like this for some time and everybody on the outside understands that he's prepared to be in there for a long time and as long as they are not in a hurry, they can -- they can resolve this.

BLITZER: And so you basically just have to keep on talking, maintaining a dialogue, anything else?

VOSS: That's pretty much it. Earn his trust, demonstrate to him in little ways. You know, small things make big gains. Demonstrate in little ways that he can put his faith in their ability to essentially get his message out and to understand his story.

BLITZER: Who is the best person to talk to a hostage holder like this? A relative, a friend, an FBI negotiator? I mean, who does the talking?

VOSS: Well, generally it can be anyone in the initial dialogue who best at establishing rapport with him. And it could be a local police officer, could be almost anybody. Typically friends and family can be helpful in understanding him. In many cases it's better for them to offer their thoughts and guidance as opposed to being directly involved in the conversation.

BLITZER: Have you been involved in something similar to this when you were an active duty negotiator?

VOSS: I have, yes.

BLITZER: Is the outcome usually a happy ending, not a happy ending? What usually happens in an environment like this. In other words, what should we be bracing for?

VOSS: Well, as long as the threat level stays down, and as long as they listen to him, there's a very good chance that they'll get -- they'll get everybody out of this safely. That's their goal. That everybody comes our safely. Their overriding goal and the chances of that happening are very high.

BLITZER: Let's hope. I'm very worried about it but let's hope.

Chris Voss, thanks very much for coming in.

VOSS: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Major retailers star putting a limit on the amount of ammunition that shoppers can buy each day. We're going to tell you why.

And with her inauguration performance clouded in controversy, Beyonce now speaking out and singing out to set the record straight.


BLITZER: Wal-Mart is now rationing its ammunition sales to accommodate growing demand in the wake of recent calls for tough new gun control laws and the deadly Newtown, Connecticut, shooting massacre.

CNN crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns is working the story for us. He's got some details.

Increase in demand. It's pretty dramatic.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's all about the market, Wolf. All about supply and demand. The market for guns is red hot and so is the market for ammunition. So far there's been little that this prove the theory that the debate over gun control is one of the factors driving it.


JOHNS (voice-over): The world's largest retailer is limiting the amount of ammunition shoppers across the country can buy. Wal-Mart set a maximum of three boxes a customer a day. A spokesman tells CNN, "We're trying to serve as many customers as possible. We are in contact with our suppliers and we'll look at our purchase limits once the suppliers are in a better place."

And Wal-Mart isn't the only one. A Cabela store in Pennsylvania told us they're setting a limit of 10 boxes a day for certain rounds, mainly semiautomatic weapons.

There are reports of increased demands and ammunition shortages at retail stores nationwide. Firearms dealers and the NRA have a few hunches why. Increased gun sales since Sandy Hook. FBI background checks, the most dependable indicator for firearm sales, have reached record highs. More guns means more ammo.

Higher traffic at gun ranges. The Blue Ridge Arsenal in Virginia said they have increased activity and shooters are buying more rounds.

MARK WARNER, BLUE RIDGE ARSENAL: Amount that we sell were averaging about eight rounds per customer. It's probably increased a little bit more recently. JOHNS: And the threat of increased taxes could be a factor, too. In Connecticut, the state where the Sandy Hook shooting occurred, there's a proposal to have a 50 percent tax on ammo.

Whatever the cost, Wal-Mart's decision to set limits on ammunition is what Democratic Connecticut senator, Richard Blumenthal, would like to see happen on a broader scale. He's proposed legislation that would limit ammunition sales for individuals and require background checks for ammo as well.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Right now, a fugitive, a felon, a drug addict, a domestic abuser can walk into a store, buy a shopping cart full of ammunition.


JOHNS: What's not entirely clear is how Wal-Mart will enforce this limit. It doesn't appear that there anything in place to stop customers from making multiple trips to the same store in a day or going to different stores. We've reached out to Wal-Mart on that but didn't get an answer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we know what kind of ammunition is being sold in these big numbers?

JOHNS: Well, interestingly we've talked to a few different folks in the field and a lot of them said two to three rounds. These are the rounds that would go into, say, an AR-15, which is the very popular weapon that people all over the country are buying and is also the source of controversy here on Capitol Hill when we talk about semiautomatic weapons.

BLITZER: Joe Johns reporting for us. Thank you.

Anderson Cooper is joining us now from George Washington University.

Anderson, you've got a major town hall tonight on guns in America. What should we expect?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN'S AC 360: Yes, you know, we really wanted to convene a discussion, part of the national dialogue that's going on, and so often this, you know, ends up with people shouting at each other and finger pointing and kind of just making talking points, and talking past each other.

We want it to try to have this be as much of a discussion between people as possible. We have representatives of the Brady Campaign, representatives of the NRA as well, a board member of the NRA, a former president of the NRA. People who have been affected by gun violence, people who have used guns to protect themselves and their families.

So we really wanted to try to have this be a discussion and get a lot of different viewpoints in and try to see if there's any common ground between those who are great advocates for more gun control and more background checks and those who are advocates for gun rights who are opposed to greater gun control or greater background checks.

And so we wanted to try to look for common ground and not just look at guns but also mental health issues and where that is in the equation and school safety issues. So it's going to be an interesting discussion tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm really looking forward to it, Anderson. I hope you do find some common ground. This is a critically, critically important issue for our entire country.

Anderson's town hall tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Up next, a catastrophic flooding taking an enormous economic toll on Australia and they have an impact felt around the world.


BLITZER: Massive flooding is having a devastating impact in Australia. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's the latest?


Well, the raging floodwaters are forcing a major mining company to cut its sales forecast for the year, heavy rain over the last week has drenched coal fields, cut rail haulage lines, and shut down mines and ports across two states. More than half of the world's coal exports come from Australia.

And the Justice Department has filed a lawsuit attempting to block the proposed $21 billion merger of beer giant Anheuser-Busch Inbev with Mexico's Grupo Modelo, which owns the popular Corona brands. The suit argues that the deal, which would give Anheuser- Busch control of almost half the American beer market, would stifle competition and raise prices on American consumers.

And it is the end of an era.


ALEX BALDWIN, ACTOR, "30 ROCK": Without work.

TINA FEY, ACTOR, "30 ROCK": I have plenty of new outlets. I ran this morning for 30 minutes.

BALDWIN: Does that include dry heating?

FEY: And wet, and sure, OK, I thought I'd have a job right now but I don't need to work.


SYLVESTER: OK. It's pretty sad. After seven seasons, 14 Emmys and 12 Screen Actor Guilds Awards, Tina Fey's NBC comedy "30 Rock" will air its final episode tonight. Many say the sitcom with its unique catch phrases and cult following has changed comedy forever.

We've even heard it compared to the legendary "Mary Tyler Moore Show." And there is a long line of celebrities who guest starred on "30 Rock" over the years, among them, Oprah, Al Gore, Olympic medallist Ryan Lochte, and Matt Damon, and then there is this little clip.


BALDWIN: You listen to me, Blitzer. Either CNN gets back on the Avery Jessop story or I'll tell everyone your real name is Steel Hammerhands. Hello? Steel? Mr. Hammerhands?


SYLVESTER: Oh, I love that moment. Yes, even our Wolf Blitzer got a little shout-out in one episode.


BLITZER: How did he know?

SYLVESTER: Yes, how'd he know that, right, Wolf? It's an amazing show, amazing cast. We wish them all well. And you know, people will say, Wolf, that comedy is really hard to do. You know, you're talking very long hours. They have to do all that clever writing, so our hats off to them, to everybody behind that production, for seven seasons.

BLITZER: You can call me Steel.

SYLVESTER: I will call you Steel.


SYLVESTER: You know, Mr. Steel --

BLITZER: Steel Hammerhands.

SYLVESTER: You've got steel, you've got blitz, you've all of these great nicknames, right?

BLITZER: I've got a lot of -- you know, and right after the first Gulf War, on "Saturday Night Live," they accused me of making up my name for the war. So what they said, well -- they said, what's your real name? Howitzer Explosion guys?


SYLVESTER: I like Wolf, though. Wolf is really --


BLITZER: It's my real name. Yes, it is. The most frequently asked question I get. And the truth is, it is my real name.

SYLVESTER: Yes. Not Wolfgang, and nothing like that.

BLITZER: No, just Wolf.


BLITZER: Not Steel.


Thank you.

Beyonce speaking her -- breaking her silence, I should say, on the inauguration lip-synching controversy, breaking into song. You won't want to miss it. That's next.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're getting word of an explosion in Mexico City. An explosion at the Mexico state-run Pemex Oil Company, right in the capital of Mexico. Details are sketchy right now, but the live pictures that are coming in are very dramatic. They show a lot of injuries, people being whisked away in ambulances, and a lot of debris on the ground.

Pemex, which is the oil company in Mexico, they issued a statement saying that there was an explosion at what they said were the administrative offices of Pemex.

The blast injured workers prompted an evacuation of personnel. All this, according to a company spokesman. And you can see these live pictures coming in from Mexico City right now. We don't know the cause of this explosion. As I said, the details are very, very sketchy right now. But you can see what's going on, if you look closely on the ground. You see a lot of debris there. You see a lot of emergency personnel. They are working, and we saw a lot of emergency vehicles on the scene as well.

This is an area right in the heart of Mexico City, and clearly, a very, very disturbing -- disturbing image that we are seeing. We're getting a little bit more information that's coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. But as I said, we're learning about this as you're learning about it right now. And you can see a lot of police, a lot of emergency personnel.

Some other shots, some other pictures that we saw earlier, saw smoke coming out of that building. It's a huge complex, a huge building, in Mexico City. But once again, we have no idea what caused this explosion. The only thing we know an official statement from Pemex, the oil company, saying it was an explosion in the administrative offices of Mexico's Pemex Oil Company.

We're getting more information. Our own Juan Carlos Lopez has been monitoring Mexican television. He's coming into THE SITUATION ROOM to brief us on what's going on as well. He's obviously been following this. People all over the world right now are beginning to follow what's going on in Mexico City. But it's a situation that is obviously unfolding right now.

Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world. And this huge Pemex office building is right, right, right in the heart of Mexico City.

We're being told by one of our Mexico City affiliates at least 22 people are hurt. That's been the initial reporting, but that number clearly could go way, way up.

Juan Carlos Lopez of CNN Espanol is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I know you've been monitoring Mexican television. You've been on the phone, Juan Carlos. What are you learning?

JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN ESPANOL: We -- what we've learned, Wolf, is an explosion in Building B-2 of the Pemex tower in Mexico City. The building has been evacuated, they've lost power, they've also -- are talking about people trapped inside the building and in nearby buildings. Still not confirmed what type of explosion it was. This was while everyone was working, so still -- and I was running up here, so, following also on Twitter, that's where Pemex is putting up most of their information.

BLITZER: Are they saying how many people are trapped inside, in this huge -- in this huge office tower?

LOPEZ: The initial information speaks about 22 wounded, but that's --


BLITZER: But they've already been evacuated?

LOPEZ: Yes. But there's still no information --

BLITZER: But there are others who are trapped --

LOPEZ: They have no power, they're trying to find out who's in the building, how to get them out. They're evacuating all their employees, as I said. There's no power, and it's still a very confusing scene in Mexico City. You were mentioning one of the largest cities in the world, and Pemex, one of the most important companies in that country.

BLITZER: It's a huge state-run oil company, Pemex. Well known around the world, as we continue to look at these pictures coming in from our affiliates in Mexico City.

Tell us a little bit more about Pemex, for example. Is there any controversy, as far as you know, Juan Carlos, in Mexico involving this oil company? LOPEZ: Well, Pemex is the company -- the state-owned oil company, and remember oil was nationalized by Mexico many years ago. And there's controversy over the future of the oil industry, of U.S. participation in that industry, and of the amount of income that Mexico receives from oil and from the exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.


LOPEZ: It's a very important part of the Mexican economy and it's a vital source of income for the Mexican government.

BLITZER: But as far as you know, Juan Carlos, and I know you know Mexico well, have there been threats to Pemex or anything like this over the years? Or is this out of the blue?

LOPEZ: This is out of the blue. And we can think about other cities where there has been incidents related to terrorism. Not Mexico City. We haven't seen that in recent times. We haven't seen any controversy. There was a conflict in Tlapa some time ago, but not in Mexico City and not an attack of this sort.

Usually when we report about Mexico and we report about incidents, many are related to the drug trade. But this, Pemex, the main oil company, well, it is a surprising story.

BLITZER: And we see a lot of evacuations going on and you can see emergency personnel taking those who have been injured, those who have been injured in this huge office complex, they're taking them to -- I assume, to hospitals in the area. But you're getting more information, is that right, Juan Carlos?

LOPEZ: I'm following the company's Twitter feed and we're going to have it on screen. And right now, what they say, what the message -- the last message that came out from Pemex was 24 minutes ago and it says, "What happened was an explosion in Building B-2 of the administrative center. We have wounded and damages at the building and the mezzanine of the building."

And this is from their official account. They have another account, which hasn't been updated, with financial information. So that's most of what we know at the moment. I think we're going to see their latest feed, and as I said, the last message we have was 24 minutes ago. They're still trying to determine what caused the explosion but we know that they've closed different avenues, the Avenida Marina National, so that the emergency units can go and help the wounded.

Secretaria de Seguridad Publica -- these are the authorities -- are also informing that they are setting up a command center, a command post center, and they are closing up the area.

The company has confirmed there are wounded in this building. And as I said, they're mentioning a specific part of a building. It's an administrative building, the main offices of Pemex.