September 12th, 2011
03:22 PM ET

US outreach after storming of Israeli embassy in Cairo

By Sr. State Department Producer Elise Labott

Concerned the storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo by protestors could escalate tensions in the Middle East, the United States has engaged in a flurry of diplomatic activity.

In addition to President Barack Obama's call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaking to Egyptian Field Marshall Mohamed Tantawi, State Department Spokesman Victoria Nuland said that Secretary Clinton spoke twice to Egyptian Foreign Minister Amir over the weekend to express those concerns.

"Her message was we need to get the situation under control; you have obligations under the Vienna Convention; please do what you can to protect Israeli citizens, and this is dangerous not only in your relationship with Israel but in terms of implications for the region as a whole," Nuland said.

The US is concerned that the tensions between Israel and Egypt could flame anti-Israeli sentiment in the region in advance of the opening of the UN General Assembly next week, where the Palestinians are expected to launch a controversial bid for statehood.

In addition, Assistant Secretary Feltman also reached out to a "broad cross-section" of officials in the region to urge calm and stress the importance of peace between Egypt and Israel "to the region as a whole as we move into a very complicated period heading towards the meetings in New York next week," Nuland said.

A senior State Department official said that Feltman spoke with the Secretary General of the GCC, Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Moussa, Qatari Pm Hamad bin Lassim; Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, Saudi Ambassador to US Adel al-Jubair and officials in Kuwait and Egyptian foreign ministries.

– Follow Elise on Twitter: @EliseLabottCNN

+300 interviewed in terror threat investigation
September 12th, 2011
02:28 PM ET

+300 interviewed in terror threat investigation

By Senior Producer Carol Cratty

The FBI has interviewed more than 300 people while investigating threat information that terrorist operatives might attack New York City or Washington, DC around the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, a federal law enforcement official said Monday. But all those people were cleared and there is no evidence Al Qaeda operatives entered the U.S. to attempt to strike with a vehicle bomb or some other form of violence.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the intelligence received last week "was not useless chatter" and that officials would continue "pulling all the threads on that threat and chasing it down."

Carney said U.S. officials are relieved the September 11th anniversary "went off without an incident," but he added, "We don't suddenly stop our vigilance the day after."

The New York Police Department ramped up security in response to the threat information. Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said the force will continue such tactics as vehicle check points and additional subway bag screening at least through the Monday night rush hour. Browne said after that "a decision will be made whether or not to keep security at the current elevated levels."

According to the federal law enforcement official, investigators and analysts had an initial list of about a thousand people to look at in connection with the threat information, but were able to winnow that down to 300 people to interview as possible operatives, people who might provide help to any plotters, or people who just might have some knowledge of a terror scheme. But none of those leads panned out. FULL POST

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Filed under: 9/11 • Al Qaeda • Homeland Security • Intelligence • Living With Terror
Boots on ground in Libya, but not for combat
A window in the U.S. embassy in Tripoli was shattered during a raid by pro-Gadhafi supporters last May
September 12th, 2011
02:08 PM ET

Boots on ground in Libya, but not for combat

By Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty in Tripoli, Libya and Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughessy at the Pentagon

For the first time since the fall of the Gadhafi regime, US military troops are in Tripoli, Libya. The Defense Department sent in a four-member team to accompany State Department personel returning to Tripoli to assess the damage done to the US embassy since diplomats left earlier this year, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.

"As I understand the embassy was pretty well trashed, and their trying to go back in and see if that facility is still usable, and if it is what needs to be done to bring it back on line," said Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for the Pentagon. A US diplomatic team currently is evaluating whether the embassy can be renovated and/or reconstructed or whether a new embassy will have to be built.

A CNN team, including Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty visited the Tripoli embassy on Monday and saw the extent of damage done during what one State Department official said was a 38-hour rampage by pro-Gadhafi suppoerters on May 1 and May 2. The CNN team saw two buildings which had been trashed, burned and ransacked. In one building the ambassador's office was stripped and vandalized.

The embassy had already been evacuated when it suspended activity in February after the revolution began in the spring. No classified information or sensitive materials were left behind. On the night of the attack the compound was protected by just five local guards who fled, the State Department official said.

The military assignment does not negate President Barack Obama's insistance at the begining of operations in Libya that the US will not deploy any U.S. troops on the ground" as the four-member team are for diplomatic security, not combat.

He said the four troops arrived in Tripoli over the weekend with the State Department team and consist of two troops who are "explosive ordnance specialist, because one of the concerns was whether there was any presence of any kind of munitions there at the site, or any kind of hazards in that regard," Kirby said.

The other two are "general security."

Kirby said the four troops were not Marines, who traditionally assist the State Dept. with embassy security, but he didn't say which branch of the service the troops are with or if they will be wearing their uniforms.

Kirby did hint that they would be armed.

"There are no other security personnel with them, they are equipped and prepared to provide for their own defense," he said.

Al Qaeda 2.0: What the next 10 years will bring
September 12th, 2011
12:49 PM ET

Al Qaeda 2.0: What the next 10 years will bring

By Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister

How has al Qaeda changed in the last decade - and what does that tell the world's counter-terrorism experts about what it will look like ten years from now?

As Congress prepares to hold a joint House and Senate Intelligence Hearing on the threat Tuesday, U.S. counter-terrorism officials tell CNN that al Qaeda today would find it very difficult to repeat an attack on the scale of 9/11 - but it has become a more diffuse and complex organization. The very name has become a label and an inspiration for terror cells on three continents. Even if, as U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asserts, Osama bin Laden's organization is mortally wounded, tracking and countering Islamist terrorism will continue to consume billions of dollars and some of the best minds in western intelligence for years to come.

And that's precisely the goal of al Qaeda new generation of leaders - in their 30s and 40s. They are focused less on the spectacular - hijackings and "dirty" nuclear bombs - and more on a war of attrition. And they see opportunities for establishing new bridgeheads as the Arab revolts undermine authoritarian rulers and their ruthless intelligence services.

Ten years ago al Qaeda was a bureaucratic organization headquartered in Taliban-run Afghanistan which had its own personnel and IT departments.

ALSO READ on Security Clearance  "Dead, Captured, Wanted: How the US has fared against Al Qaeda since 9/11"

It comprised mainly Arab fighters and had loose ties to other jihadist outfits - in Chechnya and south-east Asia for example. Today groups proclaiming their affiliation to al Qaeda find a home in ungoverned spaces in Somalia, Yemen, the Russian Causcasus and the Sahara. There are even al Qaeda cells in Egypt's Sinai desert, according to Egyptian military intelligence.

Under pressure, al Qaeda "central" - the remnants of bin Laden's group - has developed links with militant groups such as the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba - all of which are well entrenched in Pakistan.

The battle against al Qaeda in the next ten years will be on a much broader canvas. FULL POST

Filed under: Al Qaeda • Arab Spring • Libya • Living With Terror • Osama bin Laden • Pakistan • Terrorism • Yemen
September 12th, 2011
12:32 PM ET

Authorities investigate Afghan blast that injured 77 U.S. troops

By Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr

Authorities believe a truck carrying more than 1,500 pounds of explosives caused a massive blast outside a combat outpost that injured 77 U.S. troops and killed at least two Afghan civilians over the weekend, a U.S. military official said.

The attack - which occurred on the eve of the 10th anniversary of al Qaeda's 9/11 attack on the United States - left a large crater at the site that could be 20 feet deep, according to the official, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the ongoing investigation.

Most of the U.S. troops have concussions, the military official said. More than half of them were evacuated to U.S. military medical installations for evaluation, but all are expected to return to duty, the official said.

Two Afghan civilians were killed and 25 others were wounded in attack, U.S. Army Sgt. Lindsey Kibler said.

The truck bombing took place in the central-east province of Wardak, and those killed were Afghan laborers, said Shahidullah Shahid, the Wardak governor's spokesman.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault. NATO's International Security Assistance Force confirmed the attack was carried out by a Taliban suicide bomber.  FULL POST

Turkish prime minister to visit Egypt as regional tension widens
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is embarking on a three nation tour. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
September 12th, 2011
11:55 AM ET

Turkish prime minister to visit Egypt as regional tension widens

By CNN's Ivan Watson

Turkey's prime minister is poised to visit Egypt, as twin diplomatic crises are shaking the foundations of several critical Middle Eastern alliances.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives here Monday night, part of a three nation tour that will include Tunisia and Libya as Turkey expands its diplomatic efforts.

Israeli ambassadors have been forced to abandon their posts in both Turkey and Egypt over the past week, albeit for sharply different reasons.

On Friday, Israel's ambassador to Egypt fled the country along with other Israeli diplomats, after an angry crowd broke down a protective wall around the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and stormed the bottom floor of the diplomatic mission.

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Filed under: Diplomacy • Egypt
Lessons of September 12
President George W. Bush talks with the press about the previous day's terrorist attacks during a cabinet meeting Sept. 12, 2001. Gen. Hugh Shelton is on the far right.
September 12th, 2011
08:00 AM ET

Lessons of September 12

EDITOR'S NOTE: General Hugh Shelton served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1997 to 2001.  He is a member of the National Security Advisory Council of the US Global Leadership Coalition.

By General Hugh Shelton, USA (Ret.), Special to CNN

As our nation comes together to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, we find ourselves with a poignant opportunity to reflect on the lives lost and the dramatic changes we have seen around the world over the last decade.

On that tragic day, I was serving as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the principal military adviser to the President of the United States. I will never forget the personal sense of loss all of us felt as we processed the events of the day – devastation on a scale that had seemed unimaginable even the day before. But what I will also remember is what happened the day after.

In our first National Security Council meeting after the attacks, our intelligence and law enforcement leaders briefed the President, telling him that the attacks were planned and executed by al Qaeda. In the dramatic pause after this information was presented, all the eyes in the room seemed to turn towards myself and the Secretary of Defense. The silent question that hung in the air was obvious – what are we going to do about this?

Filed under: 9/11 • Living With Terror • Opinion