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Yemen Welcomes U.S. Help In Tracking Down Al Qaeda

Aired December 29, 2009 - 17:00   ET


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (On camera): So Rapiscan does not recommend millimeter wave technology for certain airports. However, other companies do use it. Some airports do use millimeter wave technology. And officials and experts have told us that technology could also have possibly picked up this device on this suspect, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Brian. It is a very interesting demonstration.

Brian is continuing his reporting at Rapiscan. Right now we are going to bring you more of his reporting ahead on our show.


And happening now, could Yemen be the next American target in a growing battle against terrorism? How the United States might retaliate for the failed attempt to blow up an airliner.

He is the son of a banker, raised amid privilege. Why would the suspect in the Christmas Day plot turn toward extremism? His own apparent Internet postings may provide a clue.

And there is one screening method that would have been likely to intercept the explosive device used on that airliner, but it is a very controversial one.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The investigation of last week's botched attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner keeping leading back to Yemen. President Obama had some strong words about U.S. security from Hawaii, just moments ago.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It has been widely reported that the father of the suspect in the Christmas incident warned U.S. officials in Africa about his son's extremists views. It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community, but was not effectively distributed, so as to get the suspect's name on a no-fly list.

There appears to be other deficiencies as well, even without this one report, there were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have, and should have, been pieced together. We've achieved much since 9/11 in terms of collecting information that relates to terrorists and potential terrorists attacks, but it's becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and knowledge we have.

Had this critical information been shared, they could have been compiled with other intelligence, and a fuller, clearer picture of the suspect would have emerged. The warning signs would have triggered red flags. And the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America.


MALVEAUX: The government there is already engaged in a stepped- up battle against Al Qaeda insurgents and the U.S. is quietly involved in the fight, but is it ready to open a new front in the war against terrorism? That is the question. Our CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is standing by in Dubai, but first we want to first turn to CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Star.

And Barbara, obviously we are learning a lot more about Yemen, both the cover and overt operations that the United States is involved in. What kind of details have you learned today?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, we have spent the day talking to senior U.S. military intelligence officials and a number of government sources. Here as the bottom line. Multiple sources now tell us the U.S. military, U.S. intelligence services and the Yemeni intelligence and security services are now looking at a number of targets in Yemen.

That if president Obama was to order a retaliatory strike, for the Christmas Day incident, against Al Qaeda targets in Yemen, they will have a target list, they will be ready to go.

Here's what's so important, though. This is now a collaborative effort between the U.S. and Yemen. There's an agreement, a very private agreement with the government of Yemen that the U.S. would attack, only in agreement with the government of President Saleh in Yemen.

But here's the problem. The Yemeni government doesn't have the capability, officials say, to do very much just yet on its own. They really don't have the military force to go after these Al Qaeda targets with great precision.

No one is talking about these previous air strikes, whether it was the U.S., but all indications now are leading to the fact that the U.S. is playing a very central role in these previous air strikes. And is getting ready for possible additional air strikes if they can pinpoint the Al Qaeda targets, the people, the training camps, the Al Qaeda facilities that may have been directly responsible for the Christmas attack.

Let me add one very interesting item. A senior U.S. official tells us it is now possible, they're looking into the possibility that this Nigerian suspect, in the Christmas Day attack, did train at an Al Qaeda camp inside Yemen, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Barbara, do we know how close either the Yemeni government is, or the U.S. government is, in pinpointing those targets? Identifying where those Al Qaeda training camps are? So the kind of strike, the preemptive strike that they're talking about can actually happen? Is that a long ways away? Or do they have that kind of intelligence yet?

STARR: Well, you know, that's what we don't really know, how close are they to pinpointing the exact Al Qaeda people that may have claimed responsibility and actually been responsible for these attacks.

What we can tell you is senior U.S. military and intelligence officials tell us they have identified several Al Qaeda training camps over the last months in Yemen. Part of these have been subject to these previous strikes that we've been reporting on over the last several weeks. They are looking at these additional targets. One of key things there are still trying to determine is whether these previous air strikes have taken out some of the senior Al Qaeda leadership in Yemen, or whether these people have basically scattered, gone to ground. And now they have to start over, trying to track them down and find out where they may be hiding out, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Barbara, thank you very much. Clearly a lot of information there, and obviously the two governments getting much closer to potentially possibly going directly after Al Qaeda, and a clear acknowledgement from both governments that that is under way.

He was a son of a banker, raised amid privilege, so why would the suspect in last week's failed terror plot turn toward extremism? There's a series of Internet postings that may actually provide a clue.

I want to go to Steve Coll. He has written extensively about Al Qaeda. He is a former "Washington Post" journalist, he writes for "The New Yorker" and he is president of the New America Foundation.

Steve, thanks for joining us here.

We take a look at the background of Abdulmutallab, and he was from a privileged family, very highly educated, traveled the world. Does this surprise you, the profile, that he was the one who was responsible allegedly for this attack?

STEVE COLL, PRESIDENT, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: It is a common profile, particularly among leadership and the talented sectors of the Islamist radical movement, in fact it's the profile of Osama bin Laden, himself and the number two in Al Qaeda, Ayman Al Zawahiri, both products of privilege. In their cases, Saudi and Egyptian society, who became, both recruited at a young age into radical Islamic teachings, but also privileged to travel the world and to start to visualize a war that crossed borders.

While the attacker in this case was a much more junior member, like a lot of other suicide bombers before him, he seems to have gone from his home country to another place, where he felt dislocated, and became recruited. And then sort of traveled from there into a wider war.

MALVEAUX: I want to talk a bit about the dislocation you mention here. Because he has some postings online here, one very revealing about how lonely he was. He says, "First of all I have no friends. Not because I do not socialize, etc, but because either people do not want to get too close to me, as they go partying and stuff, while I don't. Or they are bad people who befriend me and influence me to do bad things. I have no one to speak too, no one to consult, no one to support me and I feel depressed and lonely. I do not know what to do." Is that typical?

COLL: You know, we've seen some of these narratives in the United States, where you think about people who have gone on shooting sprees at university campuses, and the stories that got them there. I mean it is a radicalization narrative is as complex as a weather system. You have elements of push and pull. The push is being away from home, losing your sense of place, your sense of identity and search. And the pull is the teachings and mentorship that some of these Islamic organizations try to provide as a substitute for family and as a substitute for culture.

MALVEAUX: But what struck me, or some of the things that seem to normal for a young man his age to be thinking of. Here is one of them, like he was worried about the SATs, scoring 1200 on SATs.

"I tried the SATs," he wrote in March 2005. "It was a disaster!"

This is a very practical, Westernized young man. How does he go from that to becoming potentially a suicide bomber? How does that happen?

COLL: Well, it's a mystery. Obviously not everyone who worries about the SAT becomes a suicide bomber. So, it is a necessary but not sufficient condition to be dislocated, to be away from your own sense of identity and purpose, and then to be recruited.

The pull part is equally important. Once Al Qaeda groups find a recruit, they do train and indoctrinate, just as other military organizations do. To try to persuade them it's a righteous act, suicide. It is a military act in their judgment, not an act of personal destruction. And teaching that takes time and it takes an environment in which trust is built between trainer and trainee.

MALVEAUX: You wrote a book in the 1980s about how Al Qaeda was born in Yemen. That was before this suspect, Abdulmutallab was even born - I'm sorry, rather, in Afghanistan, not Yemen.

But he wasn't even born when you wrote that book. How is Al Qaeda different today? How is the new generation different than the one you wrote about in the '80s?

COLL: You know, there are some patterns of change and some patterns of continuity. And this idea of young talented men crossing borders and becoming part of a globalized war. That has actually been an aspect of Al Qaeda's strength from the very beginning. Again, bin Laden and Zawahiri are examples of this.

But the pilots on the 9/11 planes were themselves similar stories in some cases. A young man raised in Egypt, goes to school in Germany. Becomes radicalized, goes to Afghanistan, receives training and then travels to the United States. These are modern figures. These are young men who feel comfortable in a globalized culture, but have also been radicalized in a doctrine that wants to destroy that culture.

MALVEAUX: Steve Coll, thank you for your insights. Really appreciate it.

COLL: My pleasure, Suzanne. Sure.

MALVEAUX: The explosive that the suspect allegedly used in the botched attack, why it appeals to terrorists, and why security officials are so concerned.

Plus, an international uproar over China's execution of a British man who may have been mentally ill.


MALVEAUX: Iran's hard-line government takes an even harder line, its president today downplayed sometimes deadly antigovernment protests as a play ordered by Zionists and Americans. It's parliament is calling for a harsh punishment of opposition leaders and it is arresting protesters while lashing out at the West for supporting them. Our CNN's Becky Anderson has the latest.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Supporters of Iran's government hell rallies on Tuesday, demanding the arrest and punishment of opposition protesters. And amid chants of "Down With America" Iran's parliament speaker also took a hard line.

ARI LARIJANI, SPEAKER OF PARLIAMENT, IRAN (through translator): The Islamic parliament demands government security officials, including the interior ministry, the intelligence ministry and the judiciary system arrest these blasphemers and consider the harshest sentence without any forgiveness against these people who are anti- revolution.

ANDERSON: Iranian news sites reporting that at least a dozen opposition figures have been arrested, as well as hundreds of protesters nationwide, in the days since Sunday's violent anti- government protests. Nobel peace laureate Sharina Abadi (ph) says that her sister, Nishan (ph), a medical professor was arrested after they had a conversation. Abadi (ph) told the AP, "She was warned not to contact me. She is detained for the sake of me. She was neither politically active nor had any role."

On Monday U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the violence against protestors. And British foreign secretary David Miliband praised the great courage of the demonstrators. On Tuesday, Iran's foreign minister shot back.

MANOUCHEHR MOTTAKI, FOREIGN MINISTER, IRAN (through translator): They should not get excited about a couple baseless statements made by some countries. If Britain does not end its nonsense remarks, it will be slapped in the mouth.

ANDERSON: And a foreign ministry spokesperson announced that it would summon Britain's ambassador to launch a complaint.

RAMIN MEHMANPARAST, SPOKESMAN, IRAN FOREIGN MINISTRY (through translator): Some countries have fallen into miscalculation and they prefer to support several thousands who are rioting instead of having the cooperation of the big 70 million Iranian nation. This move is a wrong move. And in this regard the British ambassador will be summoned today.

ANDERSON (on camera): Britain's foreign office said Ambassador Simon Gass, quote, "responded robustly" to Tehran's criticism and called on Iran to respect the human rights of its citizens. Becky Anderson, CNN.


MALVEAUX: Bureaucratic finger pointing, as the U.S. government tries to figure out how warnings about the accused bomber were actually ignored.

Plus a chilling attempt at a world record. We have the cold, hard facts.


MALVEAUX: Brooke Baldwin is monitoring the other top stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Hey, Brooke, what are you watching?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Suzanne, let me get you this story out of Iraq. Here is what we are hearing, at least five people are wounded in a car bombing, this is in eastern Baghdad. It is car exploded in a parking lot used by employees of the ministry of transport. The bombing comes after one weekend of attacks against Shiite Muslims in eastern Baghdad, and elsewhere.

In Pakistan, officials there are pleading for calm as the victims of yesterday's bombing in Karachi are buried. Security very tight, as thousands of mourners jammed the streets for the funerals. You see them there, packing in, on the attack on the Shiite Muslim procession killed 43 people and triggered rioting in retaliation. It is still unclear as to who is behind that attack

A lot of buzz on this. Have you heard about this? After traveling to the southernmost tip of Argentina, down to Patagonia, two men became the very first gay couple to marry in Latin America. Both men, are HIV positive and wore large red ribbons in solidarity for others living with AIDS virus in Argentina. The issue of gay marriage, by the way, is decided on a local and a state level.

And you mentioned the cold hard facts. Let me give them to you on this guy. We are calling this the chilly challenge. Yes, it is kind of chilly. An Israeli magician entered the subzero ice cube in Tel Aviv today. There he is, no shirt. His goal, to remain inside 64 hours and set a new record.

A U.S. magician, David Blaine, performed a similar stunt, you remember this? It was about 10 years ago in New York's Times Square. He lasted 58 hours. I don't know about you, hang you out in an ice cube not really my thing.

MALVEAUX: OK, Brook, I've got to admit, I went to the Ice Bar in Norway, in Oslo, and you're only allowed to be there for 45 minutes and then they escort you out.

BALDWIN: And then they give you a really big thick --

MALVEAUX: Then they escort you out. We lasted for 30 minutes.

BALDWIN: They give you those big, thick jackets, too, right?

MALVEAUX: Absolutely. And thick parkas.

BALDWIN: A little bit of vodka, too.

MALVEAUX: That is a pretty difficult thing to do.


MALVEAUX: All right, thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thanks, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Well, it is still the flu season, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the spread of H1N1 flu is declining. In the most recent report this week, only seven states reported widespread flu activity, that is down from 11 during that previous period.

The H1N1 pandemic, no doubt, it was one of the big newsmakers of the year, and it was really striking fear of a massive global outbreak all around the world. It began in Mexico last spring. Back then our CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Doctor Sanjay Gupta actually found the boy who came to be known as patient zero.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the number of cases of swine flu build around the world, everyone has been on the hunt for the source.

(on camera): We've long suspected the origin of swine flu may have been on a pig farm, and now we're Oheaded towards one about two hours north of Mexico City. We think we may find where this virus started. We may also find him, Edgar Hernandez. People believe he is patient zero, the first patient to contract the virus.

(on camera): La Gloria, it is a village where everyone knows someone. I show this motorcycle rider Edgar's pictures. His name is Frederick, and he offers to take me.

(on camera): Don't drop me. OK.

So after hours of searching and hours of driving, we're finally going to meet the little boy that everyone is calling "Patient Zero."

(voice-over): There he is. Edgar Hernandez, a little five-year- old boy who got so sick.

(on camera): Did you have a headache?

EDGAR HERNANDEZ, PATIENT ZERO: (speaking foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He had a headache and throat.

GUPTA (voice-over): He was brought to this clinic where diagnosed as possibly the first case of swine flu of this outbreak. So where did it come from? Edgar's mom thinks she knows.

(on camera): A lot of people are saying the swine flu came from some of the pig farms. Do you believe that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is what she hears.

GUPTA: No question we stumbled onto a controversy. The citizens of La Gloria really believe that the pig farms in the nearby areas got so many of their citizens sick, so we decided to pay those pig farms a visit.

(voice-over): The industrial pig farm is huge and owned by American company Smithfield Foods. People in town say they believe this is the source of the outbreak.

(on camera): We finally made our way to the hog farm, but the Mexican Department of Agriculture and the company itself says they have done testing and the tests have come back negative. They simply won't let us through security. They simply won't show us the pigs.

(on camera): This medical mystery now only half solved. We know who may have first contracted swine flu, we just don't know where he got it.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, La Gloria, Mexico.


MALVEAUX: We'll bring you more of the top stories of the year as the week continues, as one of our stories that we're going to be focusing on, a favorite weapon of terrorists. They're tiny amounts of explosives that can have devastating results. We're going to show you why it's so dangerous.

And could a controversial airport screening method have caught the man accused of trying to bomb that Christmas Day flight?

Plus, a spurned offer of marriage leads to a horrifying act of vengeance, now justice may be delivered eye for an eye.


MALVEAUX: You are in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the family of a young American man believed to be held in North Korea, speaks out about their son's ordeal. Details of who he is and what he was doing there.

And shocking new video just emerging allegedly showing an Iranian police vehicle plowing into protesters.

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

Well, clearly something went wrong with the explosive device allegedly used by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on that Detroit-bound flight, but the material in question is extraordinarily powerful. It is a weapon of choice for terrorists. Our CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson shows us why.


SYDNEY ALFORD, EXPLOSIVES EXPERT: It doesn't compress down very well.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What you are looking at is a bomb in the making. The white powder is the explosive PETN. Six grams of it, just a tiny fraction of what alleged Christmas Day bomber Abdulmutallab intended to use.

ALFORD: If it goes off, it should blow a hole in the plate, yes indeed.

ROBERTSON: At a remote farm in the English countryside, we're getting a lesson about PETN's destructive force.

(on camera): Ready to go, fuse has been lit.

(voice-over): Everything about the test is real. PETN is dangerous.

(on camera): Not taking any chances. That stuff is going to go off in just a few seconds.

(voice-over): In a moment we'll see the force of the explosion.

ALFORD: People like to exaggerate just a little.

ROBERTSON: A little earlier in his lab, explosives experts Sydney Alford detonates just a few grains of PETN.

(on camera): That was quite a big crack, though. (voice-over): The core chemical in PETN is hard to make or get your hands on. Though it's an explosive, because it's not volatile, it's perfect for a terrorist on a long-haul flight.

ALFORD: No, no, it wouldn't go off accidentally. If I were carrying a pocketful, suitably packaged, of just neat powder in my pocket, it's blowing up would be the last of my worries.

ROBERTSON: Sources familiar with the investigation tell CNN the working assumption is that the alleged bomber, Abdulmutallab, may have had some 80 grams of PETN.

ALFORD: That would probably by, if it were dry, closer to 80 grams.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Is that enough to blow a hole in an aircraft?

ALFORD: Certainly it is enough to blow a hole.

ROBERTSON: From what we understand he was wearing these explosives in the sort of groin area. Can you imagine that you could some way fit these into, sew them into a set of underpants?

ALFORD: Certainly you could. Yes, yes, I've done it. No problem at all.

ROBERTSON: It looks just like sugar, just like salt, and it is easy to imagine how this can be stitched into clothing and hidden around the body. That's what makes PETN such a challenge for airport security officials to detect.

(voice-over): Alford believes the only reason lives were spared this time is because the alleged bombers lack of training meant he couldn't detonate the bomb. That means he probably didn't make it.

ALFORD: On the one hand he's been given, shall we say, a high- value substance. On the other hand seems to be left to his own efforts.

ROBERTSON: Is it easy to make, for the average person?

ALFORD: The average person probably not.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Back at the farm, Olford's crude six- gram bomb is about to show what PETN can do in the hands of professionals. Very impressive. It's gone through?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It may have burnt away.

ROBERTSON: This is what six grams of PETN does to something twice as thick as an aircraft fuselage. Just six grams. That's pretty damaging. That was a tiny amount, easy to sort of hide about a person.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. ROBERTSON: The alleged bomber had much more than six grams, and he smuggled it on board an airliner. But he didn't have the expertise to detonate it.


MALVEAUX: Nic Robertson is joining us live from London. Nic, as best we understand, why didn't the suspect's bomb go off? Can you explain that to us?

ROBERTSON: You need something that really creates enough energy inside the explosive to make it go off. That's quite difficult to smuggle those components on an aircraft. OK. He can stitch this powder, or maybe made into a paste in his underwear, but we heard about a syringe, so what he was trying to create was perhaps, according to our expert some kind of ignition that would then spark, let's call it a fuse or detonator cap, whatever it was, that would then explode thinks explosives. It seems that part of the mechanism didn't work properly. The main reason our expert believes that that was the case, because he believes these things should go off 90 percent of the time is he probably didn't have any training on this initiation procedure, nobody had given him that specific training, but that's the tough part to, to detonate the explosives, have a big enough device to detonate 80 grams as it was in this case, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Do we know how difficult it is to get this PETN?

ROBERTSON: There's only one that we've been told that you can get it, and even then it's hard to get this material. Explosives experts would have this, you know, about them, it's the sort of thing they would have in a cupboard. So they can get it from some devices. Most people would have to make it, start from scratch, and you would need to be a well-trained chemist. The core ingredient itself is hard to find. If you went to a supplier and started asking for this core ingredient, red flags would go up immediately. Number one, you would have to be a very well-trained chemist, you would have to have a supply of the chemicals that's not going to trigger suspicion, so it will be difficult to make if you're living in New York or London let's say. If you happen to be in Yemen where PETN has been discovered in al Qaeda camps, you're a little bit freer to do what you will with them.

MALVEAUX: If you were someone asking for that chemical would you be suspected of terrorist activity, because it's so rare? Unless you're obviously a chemist to try to get something like that?

ROBERTSON: That's what our expert believes. You know, he wasn't about to tell us which chemical it was or where to go to try and obtain it. He doesn't want to let that information get out in the public domain widely, any more widely than it exists on the internet and other places. But as we know from some of the cases, Abdula Zazi, the same with some of the terror plotter in Britain, triggered suspicious because they purchased large amounts of hydrogen peroxide, that's a subs you can boil it down essentially and use it as a main constituent. So the notion is, if you are buying something like that, it's going to flag a big warning signal to authorities, especially if it's in quantities that will make substantial amounts of explosives.

MALVEAUX: Nic Robertson, thank you very much.

There's one screening method that may have caught the man accused of trying to bomb the Christmas day flight, but it's a very controversial one, our Sandra Endo explains. Sandra?

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne it's a controversial screening method for passengers but one which may be necessary to combat terrorism. The question is, are travelers willing to bare it all.


ENDO (voice-over): Some call it a digital strip-search, a full body scan at airports. Security experts say it may have detected the explosive concealed in the underwear of that alleged terrorist on Northwest flight 253, but some air passengers we spoke with are in disbelief about calls to make every passengers get a full body scan. It shows the outline, but also specific body parts.

(on camera): Does that concern you at all?

BELINDA OLYMPIO, TRAVELER: Absolutely. No, I wouldn't want to have that at all.

KARLA O'FRRELL, TRAVELER: They're taking extreme measures, so a body scan that's just -- it's -- it's inappropriate.

ENDO (voice-over): Nineteen airports nationwide use body scanning, usually for secondary screening, but at six airports in the United States, it's used for primary screening. Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz is leading the fight in Congress against making body scanning mandatory for everyone.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: I don't know that you need to get my 8-year-old daughter naked in order to secure an airplane.

ENDO: After getting scanned himself at a Salt Lake City airport, an outraged Chaffetz got a bill passed to limit the use of scanners to only secondary screening, and he believes only suspicious-acting or red flagged travelers should be scanned.

CHAFFETZ: I want to find that proper balance and not give up too many civil liberties in the name of safety and security.

ENDO: A travel industry spokesperson says it could be a win/win for security and harried passengers.

GEOFF FREEMAN, U.S. TRAVEL ASSOCIATION: Is it possible that this technology is so good travelers can keep the jackets and sweaters on and have the process work more efficiently?

ENDO: Some passengers say they're willing to electronically bare it all in the name of safety.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To have a secure flight is better than to be concerned about invasion of privacy.

PAUL LEE, TRAVELER: I'm sure for safety reasons I would be more than happy to go into that.


ENDO: Right now passengers do have the right to refuse a scan, but would get a pat-down instead. The TSA says 98 percent of passengers choose to get the scan when it's at the primary point of screening -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: That you. We're going to have much more on how these body scanners work. Our CNN's Brian Todd is standing by to give us a demonstration.

Also, multiple warnings about the man who's now accused of trying to blow up the plane. How were so many signs missed and why was he allowed to board the plane despite being on a watch list?


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

Hey, Brooke, what are you watching?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Suzanne, two stories we want to bring you. First an Afghan commander says six militants were killed and eight others wounded in a battle in northern Afghanistan. Two Afghan soldiers and a member of the national police were also killed in this gun battle. It lasted about two hours. The commander said the militants fled the area leaving behind weapons and bodies of their comrades.

And another story, this one out of Argentina about severe flooding. It's killed two people and forced the evacuation of 3,000 more, and three days of relentless rainfall and illegally built irrigation canals are being blamed for the severity of this flooding. The governor of the province says a criminal investigation is now being launched into those canals -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you, Brooke.

His own father alerted American authorities to his behavior, so how did the suspect in the failed Christmas day bomb plot make it onto a flight to the United States? Our CNN's foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty has been looking into that. Jill, I understand you have new information.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Just a few minutes ago, I did Suzanne talk to a senior U.S. official and he says that actually the father he can confirm met at the embassy once that he is aware of and that there are several follow-up phone calls, so more contact than we actually knew.

And there other part about this you know a few minutes ago President Obama was slamming U.S. security agents for not sharing information, not connecting the dots that would have put the suspect on a no fly list. Some of that information came from the suspect's own father and today a senior U.S. official familiar with the father's warning admits that there is a system for reporting that data, but not a system for taking action on that information.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): With imaging still fresh of what could have been a devastating terrorist attack, the state department is analyzing how warnings from the suspect's father that his son might be under the influence of religious extremists fell through the cracks. Spokesman Ian Kelly insisting department staff did what they were supposed to do, send a cable from the embassy in Nigeria to the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington, the braintrust of all federal agencies fighting terrorism.

Could the state department have pulled the suspect's visa which allowed him to visit the U.S. anytime? No, Kelly says, it's an interagency decision, but the bureaucratic finger pointing has begun. A U.S. government official familiar with how the embassy cable was handled in Washington, telling CNN -- just one of hundreds of reports that the center evaluates daily. Not enough to warrant putting the suspect on a no-fly list or revoking his visa, but in may British authorities did refuse a visa and put him on a watch list. A Britain source tells CNN it was because he lied on a student visa application, claiming he went to a bogus college. That information, however, was never passed on to U.S. authorities, he says, because it wasn't linked to terrorism.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: I think we have to ask why wouldn't our allies have shared this information, even if it was not terrorism related. If this individual lied on their visa application in their visa application process, why wouldn't they have shared that with us? Because frankly if an individual is known to have lied to another immigration authority around the world, I would want to know that.


DOUGHERTY: Already the state department is pointing to some possible loopholes that might allow someone to fly even with a revoked visa, information that a visa has been pulled goes into a database. That's communicated to other U.S. agents, but no automatic notification goes into airline databases.

MALVEAUX: That kind of explains the loophole, the gap. You brought up something very important in the beginning. Can you just reiterate what you're learning?

DOUGHERTY: Yes, we can say it appears there was more contact than we knew about between the father and the U.S. embassy. A senior U.S. official is saying there was one physical meeting where he went into the embassy, that we are aware of, but there were several follow- up phone calls.

MALVEAUX: Suggesting perhaps there was multiple contacts. Thank you very much, Jill.

A marriage request is rejected, leading to a horrifying act of vengeance. Now justice may be delivered according to an ancient formula.

A latest excuse in China sentence shockwaves through Britain. Why an outrage is mounting.



MALVEAUX: A spurned offer of marriage leads to a horrifying act of vengeance in a Pakistani village. Now justice may be delivered by ancient formula of an eye for an eye. Our CNN's Arwa Damon has a shocking story from Pakistan. Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, this goes the story of the mutilation Fazeelat Bibi and we have to warn our viewers what they are about to hear and see is disturbing.


DAMON (voice-over): Fazeelat Bibi used to be the family jokester, her mother's favorite. But a chilling act of violence ruined the 22-year-old's face, destroyed her life, killed her spirit.

FAZEELAT BIBI, VICTIM (through translator): I can't sleep without fear. Whenever I try to sleep, I see the whole brutal act in front of my eyes.

DAMON: It all happened here in the small village outside Lahore. Her attackers live across the street from her house and are family. Her cousin wanted to marry her.

BIBI (through translator): My family refused, because my eldest sister was already married into their family and she was being mistreated.

DAMON: This is the brick kiln where the family worked. A month and a half after the proposal she was on her way home with her brother and elderly father.

BIBI (through translator): Five people jumped out of the crops. I recognized them I begged them not to beat me but they said they were going to kill me.

DAMON: Her brother says he was helpless, held at gunpoint along with his father.

SABIR ALI, VICTIM'S BROTHER (through translator): We begged them to take my sister's gold earrings, but they told us to keep quiet or they would kill us.

DAMON: It was the man who wanted to be her husband who held the knife. BIBI (through translator): They said we will kill you. Since your mother did not accept our marriage proposal, we are going to leave you in such a state that no one will want you.

DAMON: Fazeelat says he sliced off her nose and slashed her ears. She lost consciousness. She came to at the hospital, only to confront terrible news. Her mother had died from the shock of seeing her youngest daughter's mutilated face. The police have so far arrested three of her five assailants, two brothers will already been tried and convicted. Fazeelat's case was heard at this court. The judge ruled her attackers were to be subjected to the same mutilation. Like Fazeelat, they are to have their ears and nose cut off. This unusual sentence is in accordance with the Pakistani penal code, a blend of British and Islamic laws.

CHAUDHRY JAHANGIR, PROSECURITY: I have no doubt in my mind, I think they are guilty, they have committed the offense and rightly punished.

DAMON: Villagers and local leaders say they support the decision. They believe it would act as a deterrent. Fazeelat takes us along to her first visit to the site of the attack.

BIBI (through translator): I cannot control my body shaking while I'm standing here. I am so afraid.

DAMON: But the vivid memory is too much for her.


DAMON: Fazeelat says that she and her relatives still live in fear of the family of the attackers that they will come after them again in retaliation. Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Tragic, tragic story. Thank you, Arwa.

An American man believed to be held captive in North Korea and his family is speaking out about his plight.


MALVEAUX: An execution in China is sparking outrage in Britain. The man put to death was a UK citizen whose mental condition was in doubt. Our CNN's Phil Black has more details. Phil?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Susan, Britain is furious that China proceeded with the execution. They believe they did everything they could to convince China that this is a vulnerable man who deserved mercy, but in the end, it wasn't enough.


BLACK (voice-over): Akmal Shaikh is described as delusional, a mentally ill man who was duped into becoming a drug mule. They say he lived on the streets of Poland where he dreamed of starting an airline and becoming an international pop star with this little song. News of the execution has triggered great anger in Britain. Prime Minister Gordon Brown appealed directly to China to show mercy. I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted. I am particularly concerned that no mental health has been undertaken. China's ambassador was summoned to the office, and the minister said he had a difficult conversation with her.

IVAN LEWIS, FOREIGN OFFICE MINISTER: We provided China with lots of evidence of bizarre behavior by Mr. Shaikh over a long period of time. But the courts refused to undertake a medical assessment prior to proceeding with this exeuction. By any standards of human rights in the 21st century, that cannot be acceptable.

BLACK: Shaikh was convicted of trafficking up to four kilograms or nine pounds of heroin, and China says it is an internal criminal matter and the independent of its judiciary must be respected.

JIANG YU, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY: During the course of the trial, his rights were protected.

BLACK: Well China says this shouldn't disrupt relations between British and Chinese relations. Britain says it will continue to have a relationship with Beijing, but this case will impact that relationship. Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: China accounts for 75 percent of the world's executions. This is according to amnesty international. 1,718 of the executions were in China. And Iran had the second highest with 346 followed by Saudi Arabia with 102 and the U.S. with 37 and Pakistan with at least 36. Of the 58 countries that have the death penalty, only 25 actually carried out executions in 2008.

Well, he is a young American man believed to be held in North Korea and we are learning new details about who he is and what he is doing there.

Plus a school on wheels trying to make sure that the homeless kids don't lose out on an education.


MALVEAUX: A retired schoolteacher has a unique program to tutor homeless kids. Our CNN photo journalist Greg Hanes introduces to us the "Schools on Wheels" which is part of the giving in focus series.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are 1.5 million children who are homeless in the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are 290,000 kids homeless in California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Homeless children are the most vulnerable children in our society. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, it is a lot going on, because you are struggling to do good in school, and you worried about where you are going to stay, where you are going to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Homeless children move around all of the time, and sometimes three, four, five times a year. The longer they are homeless, the further behind they fall in school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is the job of every child in America to go to school and learn. It is also the job of every homeless child.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, out of all of the schools that you have been to, do you like this one the best?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The kids were making fun of me, because they had beds, and I didn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell me something that is gigantic? Something that is enormous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many of the homeless kids if they fall through the cracks, that I will be homeless themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a program that provides free academic tutors for homeless kids from kindergarten up through 12th grade. We have volunteer tutors who go to where the child is living at, either the shelter or the hotel or the foster home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a documentary maker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief financial officer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been volunteering for three years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My first year as a tutor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They tell you be encouraging and to go to school.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is the heart and soul of school on wheels is the volunteers. They are there to tell them that just because you are in this situation now, doesn't mean you always have to be

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am doing better in all of my subjects and I am getting straight A's.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Joey (ph). And I'm 10 years old. And when I grow up, I want to be a lawyer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Ali (ph). I'm 9 years old. And when I grow up, I want to be a doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. My name is Miranda (ph). I'm 14 years old. I want to be a crime scene investigator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Moses (ph). I'm 5. I want to be a rock star.