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Al Qaeda Message Behind Terror Alert; U.S. Extends 19 Embassy Closures; A-Rod Awaits His Fate From MLB; Al Qaeda Hand in Worldwide Prison Breaks?; World's Largest Dairy Exporter Contamination Scare; 19 US Embassies & Consulates Closed

Aired August 5, 2013 - 12:00   ET



SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Nineteen. That is how many U.S. embassies and consulates are closed for the week. This is due to a terror threat. How is this impacting travel around the world?

And a string of prison breaks in the Middle East could be one of the causes. A look at how al Qaeda is tied to some of these attacks.

Then, Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees third basemen, could find out his fate any moment now as he face allegations that he used banned drugs. We're going to follow that story closely through the hour.

This is AROUND THE WORLD on CNN. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Michael is off today.

Well, right now, intelligence and analysts are combing through databases, they are combing through phone records, websites. They are searching for details about a possible terrorist attack. Now, U.S. officials have now extended the closing of 19 diplomatic posts -- this is around the world -- because of that threat. Embassies and consulates across Africa and the Middle East are going to remain closed through Saturday. Now, the location stretches as far east of Oman and as south as Madagascar. Some lawmakers briefed on this threat say this is not the usual kind of chatter. It is much more serious than they have seen in years. Barbara Starr explains how this all came about.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The CIA and the National Security Agency have been secretly monitoring intelligence tips for weeks. There were indications of a possible terrorist attack in Yemen, a stronghold of one of al Qaeda's deadliest affiliates. Alarm bells went off across Washington when a crucial message was intercepted involving communications in the last several days among senior al Qaeda operatives.

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: And this is your wake up call. Al Qaeda is in many ways stronger than it was before 9/11.

STARR: Final planning for an attack may be complete. Dozens of U.S. intelligence analysts are urgently scouring databases, telephone intercepts and websites for clues. The U.S. response, going beyond the worldwide travel warning and closing embassies across the Middle East and North Africa. After meeting with commanders, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered U.S. forces in Spain and Italy onto a higher state of alert. Fifteen hundred Marines on board three Navy warships in the Red Sea will now remain off the coast of Yemen ready to react.

CNN has agreed to an administration officials request to withhold details of the intercept that helped trigger the response because the information is so sensitive. But the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee confirms it's the controversial NSA, electronic surveillance program, that picked up the alarming terrorist chatter.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: What we have heard is some specifics on what's intended to be done and some individuals who are making plans such as we saw before 9/11.

STARR: Barbara Starr, CNN, Washington.


MALVEAUX: A global travel alert is in effect for Americans traveling outside the United States. And the alert, combined with the closing of those embassies, could cause disruptions for travelers and others who are simply trying to get help.

I want to bring in our correspondents in two of those embassies that are closed. John Defterios, he is in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. Arwa Damon is in Cairo.

So, John, let's start off with you. How does this affect day-to-day activities where you are and do people feel a sense of threat?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, all of a sudden we're starting to feel that way, Suzanne, to be very candid. This extended closure of the 19 facilities throughout the Middle East, North Africa and specifically here in the Gulf states, have everybody thinking twice about what's on the table. Of the 19 that are shut, nine, quite interesting, are here in the Gulf states. The six Gulf states.

Just to give you a sense of where we are and why security is such an issue. We're about a mile away from the diplomatic quarter where the U.S. embassy rests. It's the tallest building there. But even on a normal day, a tourist or a news organization can't go in even with a still camera or a video camera. It's a no-go zone. That's how seriously they take security here.

We're only about 300 miles away from Iran, across the Strait of Hormuz, so it is front and center. And I spoke to some European and Asian diplomats today about their governments did not follow suit with the United States and they're suggesting this links back directly to Benghazi, Libya, September 11, 2012, when the U.S. was cut off guard and they don't want to be in that situation right now. So this is seen as a drastic measure, has people thinking twice, even during the Ramadan holiday. But they understand where the U.S. is coming from. They're not following suit, at least in these Gulf states. MALVEAUX: And, Arwa, I want to bring you in here because this, in part, is based on an intercepted message from al Qaeda, but there are also other concerns as well and it really the - it's about the timing of all of this. The holy month of Ramadan coming to an end. These prison breaks that we've seen across the Middle East bringing essentially hundreds of terrorists. Give us a sense of what it is like where you are in Cairo. The feel that people have moving about. Whether or not they feel safe, they feel threatened, and what can be done.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the situation in Cairo is perhaps unique, Suzanne, and that, of course, this country is caught up in an incredibly challenging and potentially violent standoff between supporters and opponents of deposed President Mohamed Morsy. People are not paying that much attention to this threat. At least your average Egyptian isn't.

That being said, when it comes to the United States, they are perhaps of particular concern when it comes to their facility here because it was the very same day that that horrific attack took place in Benghazi, where earlier on there was an angry mob that tried to attack the facility here. It has been closed. It still remains closed. And, additionally, Egyptian officials have said that back in May they detained three individuals with potential ties to al Qaeda and the Islamic Maghreb who were planning on carrying out an attack.

So the U.S. really has to, at this point, play it safe, especially given how badly it failed at reading the writing on the wall leading up to what took place in Benghazi nearly a year ago.

MALVEAUX: And, Arwa, you're absolutely right there, I mean you're in such a different situation being in Cairo because, of course, Egypt is seeing its own problems trying to figure out who's in charge, the government and the protesters on the street.

John, I want to bring you back in real quickly here if I can. How does this disrupt the way U.S. citizens and people do business? I mean, obviously, the facility itself is closed. Can they actually get things done there or are we at a standstill at this point?

DEFTERIOS: Well, it's a very different situation than in Cairo, which is going through a major transition.


DEFTERIOS: If you drive the streets of Abu Dhabi or Dubai right now, Suzanne, you wouldn't have any idea what's going on. Ninety percent of the Americans during the month of July and August is gone because the heat's so intense. The business flow has almost trickled down. So the only visitors coming in are Muslim visitors coming for the Eed (ph) holiday, which is going to start on Wednesday.

Now, where there's some bottlenecks, of course, there are local students, Emerati (ph) students and other Arab students who are looking to get their student visas cleared. Businessmen trying to get visas into the United States for their autumn schedule, that has come to a halt. They thought this was going to be shut for 24 hours. It is now going to be a complete seven days if they do indeed reopen on Sunday.

But again, it's not a panic situation -


DEFTERIOS: But I think people are starting to put different pieces of the puzzle in place. The prisoner release.

MALVEAUX: Right. Right.

DEFTERIOS: Al Qaeda has the number two -


DEFTERIOS: And all of a sudden the U.S. extends this until next Sunday. So there is - that's sort of the concern on the ground.

MALVEAUX: All right. Appreciate it very much. Arwa Damon in Cairo. John Defterios in Abu Dhabi.

And coming up, we're actually going to talk about those prison breaks that were mentioned there, whether or not they have something to do with all of these U.S. embassies shutting down for the week.

And in the Middle East, the White House already making a new move now to try to end the political chaos in Egypt. We mentioned that. We've got Senator John McCain and Lindsey Graham, they're going to be arriving in Cairo today to meet with Egypt's interim leaders. Now McCain and Graham, they are making this trip at President Obama's request. Supporters of the former Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsy, they have been camping out for weeks in Cairo. You're looking at the pictures there. The military backed interim government is now threatening to clear the streets of Morsy's supporters. That happened before. There was a lot of violence as well. Morsy was removed from power just last month by the Egyptian military and he was Egypt's first democratically elected president. Well, since he was toppled, there has been fighting on the streets. It has killed hundreds of people. Egypt, of course, a critical U.S. ally in the Middle East.

And we are now following another big story. We are waiting official word about the fate of Alex Rodriguez. Better known as A-Rod. Major League Baseball has been quiet now, but it is expected a suspension of the Yankee's star. He is accused of taking performance enhancing drugs. An announcement of baseball's action could come any moment now, so we're keeping a good eye on that. Some are saying that A-Rod could be out until 2015.

Want to bring in our sports anchor, Rachel Nichols, to join us.

And let's talk about how this could all unfold. You could have three different things happening all today. He gets suspend, he appeals, making his Yankees debut for the season tonight. What do we think is going to happen? What do we think it's going to be? RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS: I think it's going to be all three of those things, which is pretty amazing. You don't need soap operas. Don't bother with those other channels. Just watch the Alex Rodriguez saga. You have baseball's highest paid player, who is likely going to get suspended this afternoon by Major League Baseball, as you say, the reports are till the 2015 season. However, he has vowed he will fight. He will appeal this suspension. And under the drug agreement that the base - that baseball has with its players union, he can play during that appeal. So he will be on the field tonight for the New York Yankees, which, by the way, he hasn't been all season. He is coming back from injury. So he is making his debut under this huge cloud.

Now, you may remember last week, baseball leaked out this possibility that maybe they would suspend him under the commissioner's powers. That's when the commissioner decides it's, quote, in the best interest of baseball for A-Rod to be suspended and then he wouldn't be allowed to play while he was appealing. But the danger of that, even though it's a little bit less messy, a little bit less of a circus, is that Alex Rodriguez's legal team said, hey, if they do that, we're going to file a court injunction about that and then that gets the U.S. court system involved. So this way it keeps everything within the sport of baseball, but, wow, what a spectacle. You have a huge super star whose now going to be playing for the most popular team in the world, in the country, and he'll be doing it under this huge cloud of suspicion and under a suspension that he'll be appealing.

MALVEAUX: Yes. And, Rachel, some people, you know, they describe him really as the Michael Jordan of baseball, just how big he is in this sport. He's 38 years old. He had about $100 million left, right, on his contract. So, you know, he claims it's because he's one of the highest paid, if not the highest paid athlete out there. Is this about the money? Is it about the cheating? I mean, why now?

NICHOLS: Well, baseball fans and basketball fans will get into it over that Michael Jordan comparison. Michael Jordan, six championships. Alex Rodriguez doesn't have that. And Michael Jordan never under a drug suspicion. And that's what is so fascinating about A-Rod is, at the beginning of his career, you heard all those Michael Jordan comparisons because everyone thought this guy could have it all. He is so supremely talented. Instead, he's been under this incredible cloud because of the money, because of all of the other things that he has done to get here. We'll have to see with this latest drug accusations where things go, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Rachel is going to be following it and, of course, we'll bring it to you as soon as it breaks, that news. Rachel, appreciate it very much. We're going to have more on that this hour.

Also coming up, we're looking at this. Inmates, of course, supposed to be remaining behind bars, listen to the guards. But in Honduras, they actually run the show. We're not joking here. They are taking charge. We're going to have that up next.

And, well, take a bite of this. This is the world's first test tube burger. How this lab grown meat could find its way onto your plate. Then, Lady Gaga taking on Russia's anti-gay laws. She welcomed gay fans to one of her concerts last year in Russia. Well, now she's facing punishment.

You're watching AROUND THE WORLD.


MALVEAUX: There's been a rash of prison breaks around the world just in the past few weeks. I want you to take a look at this. This is breakouts from Pakistan to Iraq to Argentina. Well, what do they all have in common? The police agency Interpol, for one, suspects that al Qaeda had a hand in most or all of them.

Our Nick Paton Walsh, he's been following the developments. He is in Beirut, Lebanon.

And, Nick, break this down for us. They think that all of these or potentially a lot of these prison breaks are connected to al Qaeda. What's the evidence behind that?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Interpol list doesn't suggest that all of them are linked to al Qaeda. What it basically puts out is a list of 11 jailbreaks in nine countries in a 25-day period that it said got them concerned and meant that they wanted to have more information about those jailbreaks.

There are about three or four of them that could have some al Qaeda link to them. The main one --

MALVEAUX: I think we've lost Nick Paton Walsh. We're going to get back to him with more details on that. But we're also going to take a look at this.

Nick, are you back with us? I'm not hearing Nick. We're going to try to get him --

WALSH: Suzanne, I can hear you.

MALVEAUX: Oh, you can? OK. Go ahead, Nick. Tell us what you were saying.

WALSH: It's a small number of the Interpol list of 11 jailbreaks in nine countries that seem to have al Qaeda links. They're basically wrapping up a lot of activity in that sphere in about a 25 --

MALVEAUX: All right. We're going to try to get him back. We're having some technical problems there.

We're also looking at this. This is inside an American prison. Things usually seem pretty rigid, right? Well now we're looking at this. Guards, calling the shots and the prisoners falling in line or else, that's the situation in the United States, but in Honduras it's the other way around.

There's this report by the Human Rights Commission that says across the country's 24 prisons the inmates are in charge. They not only hand out food, they've got their own set of keys and even fine other prisoners for stepping out of line.

There's even something called the "line of death," an actual physical line that separates the prisoners and guards in some of these places.

Now the Honduran government doesn't even deny this, but it is getting fed up with what's going on. So this weekend troops were sent into one of the country's biggest prison after fights broke out among the inmates. We're hearing reports now that three gang members died in that fighting and three guards were injured.

Coming up, infant formula and energy brinks might actually be contaminated. This is how the largest exporter of dairy products found a bacteria that could cause food poisoning. Who needs to be concerned, up next.


MALVEAUX: A U.S. military helicopter crashed today. This was at a Marine base in Japan. The chopper went down at Camp Henson. That's a U.S. base on the island of Okinawa.

The defense ministry says three of the four crew members on board are safe. We don't know condition of the fourth crew member or the cause yet of this crash. We're going to update you as we get more information.

We're looking at this. Iran, of course. has a new president. He took the oath of office yesterday. This was at a ceremony in Tehran. Hassan Rouhani, he's now promising to improve the economy and reduce unemployment there, and as a former nuclear negotiator, he also pledged to reduce tensions over Iran's nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he is not convinced. He says that Iran is still intent on developing nuclear weapons in order to destroy Israel.

One analyst says that President Rouhani will be more powerful than past leaders, but critics also say he's not a reformer, even by Iranian standards.

And this, pictures just into CNN showing severe flooding in Pakistan. Now flash floods from torrential rains just over the past three days have now killed 53 people. It's displaced more than 20,000, if you can imagine those numbers there. That's a lot of people. Flood waters are receding in some of those areas.

And the world's biggest exporter of dairy products is now apologizing for a contamination scare. This is in China. Fonterra, this is a company based in New Zealand, says some of its products contained a deadly bacteria. In China the products were used in baby formula.

Our David McKenzie has the latest from Beijing.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the botulism scare is very worrying for mothers and caregivers here in China.

Over the years, they've been most worried about domestic brands, but now this New Zealand giant, Fonterra, says that their base product which has gone through to many different companies in seven different countries could be affected by the deadly bacteria.

So far no one, according to Fonterra, has gotten ill, but still they say they are moving quickly to try and stop any risk to the public. China has moved quickly by banning certain Fonterra products from coming into the country.

For people who don't know who to trust when it comes to infant formula this is another blow.

MALVEAUX: CNN's David McKenzie out of Beijing. Thank you, David.

Nineteen, that's how many U.S. embassies and consulates right now are closed for the week due to a terror threat. But what happens when they reopen? That next.


MALVEAUX: Yankees star Alex Rodriguez could soon know his fate with Major League Baseball. Now the league is expected to announce a suspension of the homerun slugger at any moment now. We are keeping a close eye on that.

He's facing allegations of taking performance-enhancing drugs. A-Rod denies any wrongdoing, says he's going to fight any suspension. He could lose more than $30 million if he's actually taken off the field through the 2014 season.

We're also keeping a close eye this hour. This is the political chaos in Egypt. Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, both are going to be arriving in Cairo today to meet with Egypt's interim leaders. Now McCain and Graham, they are making this trip at President Obama's request.

In Cairo the military-backed government is now threatening to clear the streets of protesters who support the former Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsy. He was removed, you might recall, from power last month by the Egyptian military. Morsy was Egypt's first democratically-elected president. Since he's been toppled you've had fighting in the streets that's killed hundreds of people. Egypt is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East.

A lot of U.S. embassies and consulates are going to be closed this week. This is as intelligence analysts search for details about a possible terrorist threat, an attack. Twenty-two diplomatic posts were closed yesterday. Now the State Department has extended the shutdown for 19 of them. This is across the Middle East and Africa, and this is through Saturday.

Now CNN has learned that the initial decision was based on an intercepted message among senior al Qaeda leaders. Now officials are also concerned about these recent prison breaks that freed hundreds of terrorists.

I want to bring back in Nick Paton Walsh, joining us from Beirut. And tell us specifically what do we know about these prison breaks and whether or not there's a connection to al Qaeda.

WALSH: There's been a substantial flurry of them in a 25-day period which caused Interpol, the international detective agency, to put out an alert over the weekend, asking for more information.

Now they've given us a full list of them. Some are in South America, one in Switzerland. A number of them, significantly, unlikely to be linked to al Qaeda, but three or four may be.

One in Libya where over a thousand prisoners are still on the run, some said to have al Qaeda links. One in Pakistan where we have learned from a leaked list of the inmates who escaped that two significant Pakistani Taliban leaders were also freed during that.

But, most importantly, Abu Ghraib in Iraq, a substantial, successful al Qaeda in Iraq attack on that facility released possibly as many as 500.

And one senior Iraqi official has told us that freed in that raid was the very senior al Qaeda in Iraq figure, their minister for war in their shadow government, a man called Abdulrahman al-Bilawi (ph).

Now, he's now on run. There's a wanted poster for him on the interior ministry website.

So concerns as to the nature and seniority of people released in these jailbreaks, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Nick. Thank you.

I want to bring in our CNN law enforcement analyst, former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes.