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Iranian Authorities Crack Down on Protests; A Child Traveling with the First Family is Injured; President Obama Speaks Out about Iranian Crackdown; AT&T Suspended Sales of iPhones

Aired December 28, 2009 - 17:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: You're in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Happening now, beatings, killings, and mass arrests, deadly street battles in the heart of the capital as Iran's hard line government cracks down on what may be the biggest wave of protests it has ever faced.

And President Obama orders a review of air safety procedures after a botched attempt to blow up an airliner. We'll show you a high-tech scanner that is already in use, but could this virtual strip-search machine have found the powerful explosives smuggled aboard last week's flight?

And a suicide bomber strikes a solemn religious procession, killing and wounding dozens -- how this attack may be tied to a split between Muslim movements dating back 1,300 years.

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

At least eight people have been killed, hundreds arrested in an extraordinary wave of unrest sweeping Iran right now. The clashes are the deadliest since last June's election violence.

A nephew of Iran's opposition leader is reportedly among the dead. Now relatives say his body has disappeared from a Tehran hospital. Oppositions reports say seven prominent activists have been detained.

Dramatic images of the unrest are being leaked to the world right now despite a media blackout inside Iran. I want to go straight to CNN's Reza Sayah at the CNN center in Atlanta to give us the very latest of what's happening on the ground. Reza?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Suzanne, things really getting nasty in Iran. What we saw over the weekend is some of the most intense protests, some of the fiercest clashes we have seen in Iran since the elections on June 12th. This Sunday turned out to be a deadly day.

And among the eight dead, and this is perhaps the biggest development over the weekend, is the death of the nephew of opposition leader and former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. Let's you see the procure of Mr. Mousavi's nephew standing to his right. Let's go to video of what's purportedly Ali Mousavi moments after he was killed in Sunday, noon local time, in Iran in Revolution Square.

Opposition web sites claim that Ali Mousavi was killed by security forces. Initially opposition web sites had reported that his body was missing. Now new information into CNN, Iran state-run news agencies are reporting, citing police, that Ali Mousavi's body is with police, is with authorities, pending an investigation because they have deemed his death to be suspicious.

In fact Iranian news agencies are claiming that a lot of these deaths have been staged by the opposition movement.

But Suzanne, look for this death of Ali Mousavi to be another rallies cry for an opposition movement that doesn't seem to be losing momentum despite a fierce crackdown by the government.

MALVEAUX: And Reza, if anything it seems to be gaining momentum. Are we seeing a change in tactics that these protesters and using? Are they more aggressive? Have things just deteriorated on the streets?

SAYAH: Based on what we saw from the dramatic and sometimes graphic amateur video coming in over the weekend, things are indeed getting more tense.

And no video illustrates it better than what you're looking at right now. What you're looking at is video showing protesters surrounding uniformed security officers who are -- who appear to be terrified. The protesters are surrounding them.

One of the security officers is saying, "I'm sorry," but the protesters continue to taunt them, demanding one of them to say the supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini is, and excuse my language here, "a bastard."

So that really illustrates how bitter, how venomous, how nasty things are getting. There's other video that shows protestors attacking vehicles belonging to security forces.

We should note there are some protesters who are actually helping security officers in need, but this gives you an idea how tense the situation is getting, despite a crackdown by the government that lasted six months. This is an opposition movement that is not backing down. In fact, neither side seems to be backing down, things escalating in Iran.

MALVEAUX: Unbelievable pictures that we're getting there, Reza. Thank you so much.

The violence in Iran is sparking sympathy protests in European capitals as well. In Paris, dozens of Iranian and opposition activists demonstrated outside the Iranian embassy, holding flags and posters, photos of opposition activists killed in clashes.

There was also a similar ceremony in Berlin. That's where protesters gathered with banners and placards shouting slogans again the Iranian regime. Now, as Iran's opposition grows stronger, authorities are cracking down with greater force. On vacation in Hawaii, President Obama spoke out about the violence a couple hours ago. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens, which has apparently resulted in detentions, injuries, and even death.

For months the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. Each time they have done so they have been met with the iron fist of brutality even on solemn occasions and holy days.


MALVEAUX: Joining the Afshin Molavi of the New America Foundation. Thank you so much.


MALVEAUX: Let's put this into perspective here. We've seen some dramatic pictures that have been surfacing. Are these protests different some way than what we saw six months ago?

MOLAVI: I think what is so significant about these protests is the mere fact that they're still taking place. We've seen protests in Iran over the past 30 years of the Islamic Republic. We've seen student protests, labor unrest.

We've never seen anything this sustained. This has taken six months. And it's also important to know that yesterday was not just any old day, it was Ashura, the mostly emotionally resonant day among Shia religious holidays.

And the fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran fired on protesters on this religious holiday, many people are viewing this as a potential tipping point, because it could get the more traditional religious-minded working class Iranians involved in the protests more so.

MALVEAUX: What does it mean for the leadership, for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

MOLAVI: I think it's a very significant challenge for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in particular, though, he was a president that liked to strut around on the world stage with the idea that the masses, the population was behind him. In fact, when he came into power in 2005, had did come in with a message populism, a message that I am with you, the ordinary Iranian common folk. And this is one of the reasons he got as many votes as he did in 2005. And what we're seeing today is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's popular base crumbling before our very eyes.

MALVEAUX: What does this mean for the Obama administration, because clearly there's a deadline for Iran to come clean with its own nuclear -- at least its nuclear ambitions that it's trying to build some sort of bomb, and he's been very defiant here. The Obama administration has not been successful when it comes to engaging Iran.

MOLAVI: No, the Obama administration has tried on and on again, and they really have extended an olive branch to Iran, and Iran has refused it. In fact, I would argue what we're probably going to see over the next few months as the hardliners continue to take control of more of the institutions of power is more rebuffs to the Obama administration.

And the one thing to watch out for, Suzanne, is foreign policy adventurism in the face of domestic crisis. This is the next step that we could see coming out of Iran.

MALVEAUX: Ok, thank you so much for joining us.

MOLAVI: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: We appreciate your perspective.

President Obama speaks publicly for the first time about that attempted Christmas Day airline terror attack. Why did he wait so long to speak out?

Plus, frightening details about the explosive the suspect is accused of using and why it's a favor of would-be terrorists.

An underground slaughterhouse is exposed on the outskirts of a major American city. The conditions are appalling. Now one man is determined to shut them down.

MALVEAUX: We want to go straight to Ed Henry, who's in Hawaii with the president. He has some new breaking news regarding the president. Ed, what do we know, just in?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Suzanna, there's been quite a buzz here in Hawaii all of sudden because the president cut shot a golf game. His motorcade raced from the golf course back to the rental home on the north side of Oahu. And the traveling press pool saw a lot of police activity, an ambulance leaving that rental home.

What I've just confirmed with White House aides is that nobody from the first family -- that's most important thing to know -- nobody from the first family has been injured, but there was a minor injury among one of the family friends who's traveling with the first family.

Again, we want to stress that we've gotten from White House aides that first lady, everyone else in the first family is OK. There was some police activity around the president's rental home, including an ambulance that left the scene.

We're told by White House aides that this was a friend of the family, and for privacy reasons they're still working out exactly who it was, but a friend of the first family that had a very minor injury, may have need some assistance from that ambulance.

But they think the situation is under control action, and they're stressing that nobody in the first family was injured, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Ed, do we know, did this take place while he was golfing, the president was golfing with a group of people? Do we know the circumstances around this?

HENRY: All we know is that it did happen while the president was golfing. After he made that statement about the attempted terror attack on Christmas Day, he made that statement at a marine base here. Then the motorcade headed to a golf match that the president was taking while family and friends were still back at the rental home.

So it appears that it happened while the president was golfing. He was notified on the golf course.

And then what sparked a lot of concern here in Hawaii was that the motorcade left the golf course very rapidly, something that usually, as you know, does not happen. And there was very little explanation about why the game was being cut short. The president was only on the course about an hour.

That sparked all kinds of attention. Then of course when the motorcade got to the president's rental home and there was more police activity, there was an ambulance, as you can imagine, there was quite a bit of buzz given what's happened around the world a couple days.

But we want to stress, it was not a security incident, there's been no injury to the first family, and we understand a very minor injury to one of the friends traveling with the first family, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Ed, do we know the president's schedule moving forward today. Do we know where he is now or if the schedule has changed in any way?

HENRY: All we know is that he is back with the traveling press pool at that rental home on the north side of Oahu. We are at Waikiki Beach. And we don't know what honestly he'll do after that.

This has obviously changed his schedule, interrupted the golf game, but in the grand scheme of things, obviously, the golf game doesn't matter much to making sure that the family friend is OK, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Ed, thank you so much. I'm sure you'll be following the details as you get them in. Thank for that update, and we'll have more after this quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MALVEAUX: Al Qaeda's branch in the Arabian Peninsula that is claiming responsibility for the failed Christmas Day attack on a U.S. airlines. President Obama today spoke out about the attempt to blow up the jet, and he warns the United States will respond aggressively to terrorism and will do all it can to protect travelers.


OBAMA: This was a serious reminder of the dangers that we face and the nature of those who threaten our homeland. Had the suspect succeeded in bringing down that plane, it could have killed nearly 300 passengers and crew, innocent civilians preparing to celebration the holidays with their families and friends.

The American people should be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you your family safe and secure during this busy holiday season.


MALVEAUX: Let's bring in our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. And Candy, in light what the president said today, it sounds like it could have been a very, very serious disaster. Is it surprising that he didn't respond in the first 24 hours, kind of get on top of this thing, that we are just hearing from him today?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It was to me for a couple reasons. First of all, Suzanne, you know full well that when the president was out selling the stimulus plan or when he was out selling health care, spending so much time outside Washington, they said, well, he's our best salesman, he's our best spokesman.

Well, in the same way, first of all, just the office of the presidency, and in particular this president, has a way of reassuring people. He has very good rhetorical skills.

And the main message when we heard it from Robert Gibbs the spokesman, when we heard it from Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security Secretary, was everything's OK, keep flying, we really think it's secure -- it doesn't mean as much unless it comes from the president.

And third, just politically, people understand that when presidents don't act quickly or don't look concerned, it can hurt them.

So I just think for a lot of reasons, first of all, because it play toss one of his talents, and second of all because politically it's always good to get somebody out there. You heard even Democrats saying I would have preferred him come out a little earlier.

MALVEAUX: I want to follow up too with what you had talked about, Secretary Napolitano, because you actually interviewed on "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sunday, and she said that the system had worked, and you pressed her on that. But she seemed like they was very consistent before today, before she came back on the morning shows and had to clarify and said she was talking not what had happened previously, but moving forward. What was your impression of what she was trying to convey?

CROWLEY: My impression was that they said to her, Janet, we want you to go out there and tell people that the system worked, that flying is safe. And what they first wanted to do was to say everything is OK, they wanted to be calming. And I think that was her marching order.

So she was trying to stick to that even when the questions was about, really, is the system working, when it just seemed like the bomb didn't work and you had some passengers willing to throw themselves on this guy?

And I think she if you sat down today would say of course it didn't work if somebody got on. And in her zest to say it's all fine, it's all OK, sort of miss the major point.

And again, to brings it back to the question of why didn't they put the president out there.

MALVEAUX: I want to move fast forward to the midterm elections we'll look at later on, but clearly a lot of people are focused on jobs and their own well-being. How much is terrorism an important issue to folks, or is that something that isn't so serious right now?

CROWLEY: I think what we see in the polling, any time there's a terrorist incident and when there has been a long period of time without a terrorist incident, what happens is people naming it at their main priority goes down.

But if there is a major incident, that always becomes the major issue, because you can say all you want about jobs, but if you are not safe, nothing else really matters. So I think this in and of itself doesn't make terrorism an issue, but certainly big terrorist incidents do affect people and why they vote and how they vote.

MALVEAUX: And it's certainly on everyone's radar right now.


MALVEAUX: OK, thank you, Candy.

Well, the explosive mistake at the lab where America's first nuclear bomb was built. Details of the blast that stunned researchers.

Plus, an iPhone mystery -- why did AT&T halt online sales to residents of New York City?


MALVEAUX: We're following a developing story in Hawaii. A friend of President Barack Obama's family received minor injuries during the first family's Christmas vacation in Hawaii.

On Monday White House aides said President Obama left the golf course. We're going to go back live to Hawaii in just a few minutes for the latest. But I want to first bring in Brooke Baldwin. She's monitoring some other top stories that are coming in to "THE SITUATION ROOM" right now. And Brooke, what are you watching?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Watching this first story here out of New York City. How about this? The mayor and police commissioner both saying 2009 set another record in crime reduction. New figures show overall crime down about 11 percent from last year and 35 percent since 2001. How about this -- murders down 11 percent.

The only crime they say is on the upswing is felony assault. That's up two percent. It's all part of this national trend according to FBI crime statistics.

And speaking of New York City, if you live there, you want to buy an iPhone online over the weekend, heads up here, no app for that. AT&T, the only network that offers service for Apple's smart phones suspended online sales but offered no clear reason why.

Online sales have now resumed, but bloggers theorize it was really just a method of handling heavy data traffic or perhaps to curb fraud.

And if you appreciate archaeology, you'll think this is kind of cool. Chinese archaeologists believe they have found a tomb of a third century general and leader. Historians say that leader's military and political talents enabled him to build the strongest state back when northern China back when China had three separate rulers.

Suzanne, I did some quick math. If this turns out to be the guy they think it is, the tomb will be 1,789 years old. That's an old tomb.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Brooke, amazing.

BALDWIN: Thanks.

MALVEAUX: An explosion at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the birthplace of the U.S. nuclear weapons program. The blast apparently caused by researchers themselves. Our CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working on a story for us. Barbara, what to do we know about this? It sounds rather bizarre.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It's a little bit unusual, Suzanne. This is a story we can get to pretty quickly.

It was back on December 16th when scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico were conducting a test of what they call one of their large powder bore guns. The test of this gun didn't go so well.

We have video of a similar incident, not exactly this one, but according to Los Alamos, basically the gun malfunctioned and the scientists accidentally blew up the building.

They say in their accident report after this, quote, "two doors have been blown off the facility and a concrete shielding block on the west and east side of the building were separated from the wall."

So, in plain English, basically they were testing a gun and they blew up a building. Why were they even testing this gun? That perhaps is the more relevant point.

You know, there's no nuclear weapons testing these days, so they use some of these other systems to try and replicate the pressures and the activities that would happen in an actual nuclear weapons blast so they can begin to mathematically model what happened, but in this case it didn't go exactly as planned and the building blew up. Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: OK, thank you, Barbara.

A powerful explosive that can have devastating results -- why PETN has been a weapon of choice for terrorists. We're going to show you just what a tiny amount can do.

And we're monitoring the latest in the incident that happened during the president's vacation. We'll have that right after the break.


MALVEAUX: We are following a developing story out of Hawaii, where President Obama is vacationing. I want to get right to our Ed Henry, who is traveling with the President. Ed, fill us in on what's happening there.

HENRY: Suzanne, there was a lot of drama just a half-hour or so here in Hawaii because the president was out golfing, all of a sudden he raced back to the motorcade, cut the game short. And the motorcade was literally racing back to his rental home here on the north side of Oahu. That certainly sparked a lot of concern about security or some other injury potentially for the first family.

But we've ascertained there was no injury to the first family. The new information we have is that a child of one of the golfing partners of the president -- we're not using the name for privacy reasons because of the health issue of the child -- but a child of one of the president's golfing partners cut his chin, basically, and needed stitches.

Since the president was golfing with the parent, out of an abundance of caution and fatherly concern, we're told by a White House aide, the president felt that it was the right thing to do to cut the golf game short, bring the parent to his child over at the rental home.

But that sparked obviously all kinds of what was described frankly as chaos by reporters in the traveling press pool with the president, because the motorcade was racing at a high speed back to the house, and then within moments of getting to the home, reports say an ambulance racing away from the home as well as various police cars, law enforcement activity. That obviously sparked all kinds of concerns.

What we can also report that this child appears to be doing OK, was treated on the scene, we're told by a White House aide, did not go to the hospital. But this White House aide adds that it's possible the child who cut his chin may go to the hospital later, just what's being described as an abundance of caution.

So to underscore -- ho security threat to the president, no health threat to the president or anyone in the first family, but an injury to a family friend traveling with the president here in Hawaii that sparked concern from the president and one of his friends to race back to his rental home, but it now appears that all has settled down, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Ed, obviously we know that there are doctors in medical facilities that always travel with the president and those would able to be used for his friends and those who are immediately in the vicinity. Do we know where the president is now, or if there's a change in his schedule later in the day? Are they all tending to the child now? Do we know?

HENRY: That is the impression we're getting. We know that the president has not moved from the rental home, so it's safe to assume that he's there, and what he's doing behind closed doors, obviously we don't know, but the press pool is still there as of a moment ago, as far as I can tell. A white house aide said it was unclear whether the president and the father of the child would go back and golf or whether they'll stay there. Obviously there's concern for the child. They want to make sure they take care of that.

In terms of the medical personnel, as you know there's always an ambulance traveling with the president wherever he goes, so it's possible in this case the medical personnel that are with the president were with him at the golf course and not at the home, but again we're still trying to dig out those details. So that may have been why another ambulance was needed to be called to the scene. We're try to go piece all this together, but to underscore the bottom line, what at first seemed like a very serious scare, people here were very concerned, given what's happened since Christmas day with the attempted terror attack, then yesterday's what appeared to be another security threat of a plane heading into Detroit that turned out to just be a sick passenger, now this, I can tell you there are a lot of people with the traveling press corps, not just the first family, wondering when the actual working vacation will start.

MALVEAUX: The vacation part. Okay Ed thanks so much for all those details. Appreciate it. We'll be back with you a bit later.

President Obama is vowing the U.S. will do all it can to protect air travelers. Already in use is one high-tech machine that is also very controversial. It can see through clothing. Our Brian Todd actually tried it out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, the newest weapon in the war on terror that can see through clothes carrying explosives. Already used on millions of passengers, these special x-rays can catch all kinds of contraband.

PETER KANT, RAPISCAN SYSTEMS: Regular weapons, guns, knives, box cutters and the like but also unusual types of weapons, explosives, liquid explosives, gels.

TODD: Officials at Rapiscan, the manufacturer, say the machines can also detect the pentaerythritol tetranitrate, an explosive known as PETN, which the suspect in the Christmas day incident was allegedly carrying. The machine's images will look like this, outlines of the body, not in detail, but weapons and other items do show up. This technology has been very controversial because previously it was much more invasive. I went through a so called back scatter machine. I was advised if I didn't want my private areas shown, I should put a metal plate in my pants. I stepped just in front of the machine, turn around. In just a few seconds, the monitor displays my humble contours. Now in this test, I'm playing the role of a would be terrorist. I try to hide a plastic lipstick container in my vest pocket. Busted. I sneak a sports drink bottle, busted again. How about wires in a sealed sandwich bag hidden in my sock? On the monitor they show up on my ankle. But the machines have limitations. When I pour water into a sealed sandwich bag, place it inside my belt line and in a sock, you can barely see it, but one company behind this technology says trained screeners would detect it and the Transportation Security Administration says they have other methods to detect liquids.

When this came out, privacy advocates called it a virtual strip- search and they're not much more satisfied with the newer technology.

MARC ROTENBERG, ELECTRONIC PRIVACY INFO. CENTER: Essentially they're putting a digital fig leaf on the image. This protects the image from what the operator will see but the machine itself can still record all the detail and store that information for use at a later point.

TODD: A TSA official tells CNN there won't be hard drives to store the images and says no one will have access to pictures without the so called fig leaf on them. From one passenger tested on the older machines ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been through it over in Europe. I didn't like it.

TODD: Officials with Rapiscan and the Transportation Security Administration tell us the machines are only used if more than a metal detector is require and passengers then get a choice between the machines and patdowns.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


MALVEAUX: For more on PETN, I want to go live to our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson.

Nic, a small amount of this can have a devastating impact, effect, explain how this works.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I spend the day at a farm in the English countryside with an explosives expert here and he set off an amount of explosives PETN that would fit in the pen top here, just the pen top itself. He set that off on top of what would be a double skin, if you will, of an aircraft fuselage and it almost -- that tiny amount of explosives, which was just a fraction of what the alleged bomber was supposed to be carrying on Christmas day, that tiny amount of explosives almost blew a hole in this double thickness aircraft skin. What he told me he would have expected it to punch all the way through. What we could clearly see there is that a very tiny amount of this explosive can be very, very destructive.

MALVEAUX: In light of that fact, is it difficult to get this kind of substance?

ROBERTSON: It is if you're not a skilled chemist. That's what he told me. The problem is it's not too hard to make, but it's very, very hard to get the core ingredient. If you're a really skilled chemist, you can make that core ingredient, but it makes it a much more complex explosive to manufacture compared to what we've seen with some of these home-grown terrorists making and using on the underground, the subway network in London and in other places, a more complex thing.

The other thing that I learned about this explosive today, you can bang it and bang it with a hammer. It takes a lot of force to make it detonate, if you will. That means it's ideal for a suicide bomber on a long-haul flight, he can bang into people, bump into people and it's not going to go off.

MALVEAUX: All right. Nic, thank you so much for all those details. Nic Robertson will have more on this story tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" starting at 10:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.

Well, the stress of holiday air travel, it's even worse now after that attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas day. We're talking to passengers about what they're encountering today.

Plus a deadly series of fires; why police now suspect arson.


MALVEAUX: Brooke Baldwin is monitoring some other top stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Hey Brooke. What are you working on?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey Suzanne. Got a story for you out of Massachusetts. A task force of officials there is investigating the series of suspicious fires that's killed two people over this past weekend. At least nine fires, homes and cars have happened within this half mile radius of the college town North Hampton. Authorities are suspecting arson, the governor even offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Lake Champlain, the bridge that is between New York and Vermont is no more. Listen to that. Look at the video there. Controlled explosions brought this span down as you can see it into the freezing water and ice blow. The 80-year bridge was closed in October when engineers decided it was unsafe because of erosion to the concrete piers. Construction is scheduled to begin in the spring on a new bridge slated to open in 2011.

Civil rights attorney Percy Sutton has died. He represented Malcolm X before becoming an influential politician and broadcaster. Sutton is credited with leading the revitalization of Harlem including the restoration of the famed Apollo Theater. President Obama called Sutton a, quote, true hero to African-Americans in New York City and all around the country. Percy Sutton was 89 years old, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Truly a historic figure. Thank you, Brooke.

A former classmate is now speaking out about the suspect in the botched airliner bombing and talked about the young man he used to know.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When you heard this news, what was your reaction?

EFEMENA MOKEDI, FORMER CLASSMATE OF ABDULMUTALLAB: : I was shocked and surprised, and didn't believe it at first, until I saw more photographic images that showed this was the student that went -- this was the student that I went to school with. So once I saw that, I was like, man, this is unbelievable, out of this world. We would have never guessed.


MALVEAUX: There's an update on President Obama's early departure from the golf course in Hawaii. It was because a friend's child was hurt. We are told the president's motorcade was back at now the golf course. We're going to go back to Ed Henry in just a few minutes for another update.

Well, a former classmate of the suspect in the foiled terror attack on an airliner says he is shocked and there was nothing from their school days that gave any hint that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab could carry out the crime of which he is now accused. Our CNN's Mary Snow, she got a chance to talk to that young man about his former friend.

Mary, how did he describe him? What did he say about the suspect?

SNOW: Well Suzanne, he really is just in disbelief. The years we're talking about are middle school and some high school years. He describes his former schoolmate as peaceful and remembers him as being very religious. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Mokedi is having a hard time making sense of how his former schoolmate Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab could now be a suspected terrorist. Mokedi, seen here as a student, went to the same school as Abdulmutallab in the West African nation of Togo. When you first heard this news, what was your reaction?

MOKEDI: I was shocked, surprised and didn't believe it until I saw more photographic images that showed -- this was a student I went to school with. So once I saw that, I was like, man, this is unbelievable, out of this world. We would have never guessed, you know.

SNOW: What was he like?

MOKEDI: He was a peaceful person, you know, a friendly person, sociable, and someone, if you had a problem you could always go and talk to. He was always willing to help students. A lot of teachers in the school liked him, because he was an intelligent kid.

SNOW: Was he a religious kid?

MOKEDI: Religion was a key aspect of his life, and he was someone, you know, that always prayed and followed the traditions of his religion.

SNOW: Was there anything that he ever talked about that made you think he was a radical?

MOKEDI: No, never.

SNOW: Mokedi, who's 20, says he last saw Abdulmutallab in 2007, when Mokedi left Nigeria to come to the U.S. He described the boarding school he attended with Abdulmutallab in Togo as a small elite school. He says while the two mostly talked about basketball, they sometimes did discuss religion. Mokedi is a Christian, and says he did ask Abdulmutallab questions about negative perceptions about Islam.

MOKEDI: What we saw on TV, they were being portrayed as bad people. That's what led me to curiosity even to talk to him and ask him, is it true? He said, no, do I value coming to a school with a bomb or something. No, it was always peace. That's the main general philosophy is about Islam.

SNOW: Mokedi says in the last few days he's been keeping in touch with former schoolmates on Facebook.

MOKEDI: They were all shocked, some were terrified. Some didn't want to talk about it. Some were like I can't believe it. Some of them are like this is unbelievable. Some of them said I don't even want to believe that it's him.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SNOW: I asked Mokedi about what may have happened to Abdulmutallab in the years since they went to school together. He doesn't have an answer. He just kept saying he's completely in shock. Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Mary, you can tell how surprised he is. It just doesn't seem like the same person he used to know.

SNOW: Absolutely.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Mary.

One man's crusade to shut down secret underground slaughterhouses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were 1,000-plus animals in these farms as we speak being brutalized. They were being burned to death, sledge hammered to death, axed to death. And that's how they were being put down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you've seen all this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've seen all this.

MALVEAUX: There's a disturbing report that reveals dozens of flourishes on the outskirts of one major American city.


MALVEAUX: We want to warn you that some of you will find the next story hard to watch. You are about to see a few of dozens of underground slaughterhouses that have popped up outside Miami and you're going to meet one man who is determined to shut them down. Our CNN's John Zarrella has the story. John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, it's been called Miami's dirty little secret, illegal slaughterhouses where animals are sometimes brutally butchered. A warning to our viewers, some of the pictures are graphic.


ZARRELLA: The roads are dirt. The vegetation, thick, uninviting. This is the western fringe of Miami along the rim of the Everglades, a no man's land.

RICHARD "KUDO" COUTO, ANIMAL RECOVERY MISSION: It's probably one of America's last frontiers where anything goes in this area.

ZARRELLA: Including the slaughter of animals for their meat. Richard Couto has been on a crusade to shut down illegal slaughterhouses, operating without licenses. No health or agriculture department oversight.

COUTO: What I'm showing you today are the 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 slaughter farms you can see from the roadside. ZARRELLA: In most places only the driveways are visible. Tarps are strung around the fence line hiding what goes on. Customers, ordinary people attracted by word of mouth, line up in cars waiting to go in. From the road, a rare glimpse of a butcher carving a pig. How the pig likely died is what troubles Couto the most.

COUTO: There are a thousand-plus animals in these farms as we speak being brutalized, they are burned to death, sledge hammered to death, axed to death and that's how they are put down.

ZARRELLA: You have seen this?

COUTO: I have seen this.

ZARRELLA: Armed with his handy cam, Cuoto simply walks right in to dozens of slaughterhouses. Who runs them, who owns them? Unclear.

COUTO: I go in acting like a customer, not that I have ever had an animal slaughtered. I ask them, how much for the pig. They say $120. How much for the kill? $20. We'll slaughter it for you for $20. It's that easy.

ZARRELLA: On the bloody tables, knives, a machete, a sledge hammer, an ax. If you care about animals, this is revolting. Outside one property, hidden in the brush, animal remains.

COUTO: I just came across the head of a goat. This is how they are disposing of these animals, just throwing them basically into our wetlands.

ZARRELLA: Much of the meat available here you can't get in a supermarket. In a holding pen, a goat lies in filth awaiting slaughter. At one place an emaciated lamb, at another a cow in the same condition. Horses, too.

COUTO: A lot of the meat is toxic. The animals are sick.

ZARRELLA: They will all end up on someone's dinner table. Couto was first exposed to what he calls the dark underbelly of Miami a year ago when, with the SPCA, he began investigating the slaughter of horses for meat -- illegal in the United States. He left the SPCA to form his own organization called A.R.M., Animal Recovery Mission. Couto took his story and videos to every local agency he could think of with oversight. Couto says they listened but nothing was done. The man in charge of enforcing the county's environmental regulations in the county told me his inspectors have passed to other agencies information about shady activities outside their purview.

In this case, you have done that? Is it safe to say you have done that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we have done it.

ZARRELLA: Why then was nothing done? Espinosa said, you will have to ask those agencies. We did. Charles Danger who heads the county building and zoning department told us that Couto's persistence has finally led to the formation of a task force called Operation Miss Piggy and Mr. Ed. Danger admits part of the reason nothing was done before -- fear for the safety of inspectors. "Every time we go in there, we have to go in there with the police and even the police don't want to go in there." That may finally be changing. Couto says he'll stay on them until it does.

COUTO: All they have tried to do is shut me up. That's not possible.


ZARRELLA: Authorities tell us that soon after the New Year, they will finally begin cracking down on the slaughterhouses. Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Unbelievably disturbing. Thank you, John.

We are following developments at President Obama's vacation rental home in Hawaii. That's where there was a bit of a scare just a short time ago. A child whose family is vacationing with the Obamas suffered a minor injury. We are working on getting new details about that.

Plus, a new branch of al Qaeda claiming responsibility for the botched attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner thrusting Yemen front and center now on the fight against terror.


MALVEAUX: Quilting for a cause. Injured Americans are coming home from war and it's called quilts for injured soldiers. Our CNN photo journalist John Benna is following this labor of love from the sewing machine to the hands of wounded warriors as part of our series "Giving in Focus."


CHRISTINA POWELL, QUILTS MEMBER: This is my stash. I have a lot of pinks, purples. These are neutrals. This is my sewing machine. These are all threads. I caught the bug. It's been love at first sight and I have been quilting for probably about 25 years. For me, it's a mental restoration place. I'll just walk into my sewing room and pick up something. I'd rather be quilting. The soldier quilts in particular, there is a lot of gratefulness and thankfulness that somebody actually is protecting my freedom. Where these quilts are going, they were injured somehow. Okay. There we go. I don't like seeing so many young people go away and come back wounded. And you put the loop here and go underneath it there. Unfortunately right now it's just a fact of life. I try to do what I can. You're going to do that corner. You have already done these three. You're going to do these two. This is the finished quilt. We're going to fold it so we can pack it in the box. Are the Afghans going this time?

PAT TERRY, QUILTS FOR INJURED SOLDIERS: Yeah. This particular quilt for soldiers' project has distributed over 9,000 quilts. That's a lot of injured soldiers. I collect the quilts, pack them up and send them down to the person in Maryland who distributes them to Bethesda or Andrews Air Force Base.

PFC. JONATHAN WINKER, WISCONSIN NATIONAL GUARD: My name is Jonathan Winker. I'm coming from Iraq. I have been in the National Guard for three years. This is my first deployment. My father served in the Marine Corps as well as my uncle. Makes me feel pretty good that I can do something that I enjoy doing and I can help other people at the same time. I think it's a great way to say thank you to the wounded soldiers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was made especially for you.

WINKER: It looks like a lot of time went into that. It's amazing. Thank you for your service to our country. This is a small token of appreciation for all you have been through. My prayers for you are contained in this quilt. This will probably go into my bedroom so it's close to me all the time.

POWELL: Our servicemen need to know it is not just their family and friends supporting them. There is a whole country rooting for them. I'm one of them.


MALVEAUX: You can see more of our favorites from our series this Saturday afternoon at 3:00