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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Fury & Friday Prayers; Libyan Authorities Make Four Arrests

Aired September 14, 2012 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Egypt erupting again overnight. Live pictures from Cairo here. New fury, the violence spreading as Friday prayers fan the flames in the Muslim world.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And new developments in the Benghazi, Libya, attacks. Four people now under arrest, all four victims now identified.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Christine Romans.

KEILAR: And I'm Brianna Keilar. John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin are off.

And it's big news this morning. It's 5:00 in the East. So let's get started.

ROMANS: All right. New this morning, anti-American protests erupting in more countries overnight and with Friday prayers ending in just one hour, U.S. embassies around the world are bracing for more. Overnight, the anger and defiance that started Wednesday over an anti- Muslim movie made in the U.S. spreading to 11 countries from Egypt to as far west as Morocco and as far east as India.

The worst of it in Yemen, where at least five Yemenis were killed as hundreds of protesters stormed the American embassy in Sana'a. Cars and bottles smashed, water cannons brought out to control this crowd.

In Egypt, where the violence first erupted three days ago, more clashes. Protesters setting fires and the Egyptian military deploying tanks to keep things calm.

And in Libya, news overnight that four people arrested in the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

This morning, we're learning of the identities of the other two Americans killed in that attack, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, former Navy SEALs who were acting as security.

KEILAR: Meantime this morning, more U.S. firepower has arrived, the President vowing all necessary steps to protect U.S. citizens around the world. And new information on the mysterious filmmaker who duped his cast and lit the match. We're covering this important story the way only CNN can. We're live in Libya, Egypt and Washington, D.C. ROMANS: We begin in Cairo, where a violent protest raged through the night. Riot police carrying shields and batons, rushing several hundred protesters. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood calling for demonstrations after Friday prayers. Similar calls for protest in Iran and the Gaza Strip, and large protests expected in Baghdad and Iraq's second largest city, Basra, as well as Amman, Jordan.

Ian Lee has been following the developments in Cairo.

Ian, what's the scene like right now?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, Christine, we still have battles going on between protesters and police. We're still seeing the tear gas used, rubber bullets used, protesters responding with Molotov cocktails and rocks. This battle has been going on since Wednesday night. It's now Friday, just about noon.

So it's been a sustained battle. Really no either side getting the upper hand on the other, but we're seeing injuries and more injuries on both sides as this battle continues.

It is happening near the U.S. embassy on a road that goes from Tahrir Square to the U.S. embassy. Right now, the protesters are about roughly 80 to 100 yards from the embassy, but the police have been able to hold them off. The military's also building a huge, concrete wall on the road leading to the embassy. This wall is about 10 feet tall, and we've seen this used in the past to stop protesters from advancing toward critical places -- Christine.

ROMANS: Ian, overnight, Egypt state-run news reporting 37 people arrested in connection with the U.S. embassy attacks. What are the details of those arrests?

LEE: Well, what we're hearing is that the first four were Islamist that the government say were ones that were organizing the protests. But all of them are being questioned for inciting violence against the embassy. And really, this is what the government is trying to do. They said they were going to try to hold those accountable for entering the embassy, and these 37 people arrested is what they say is them actively doing that.

ROMANS: It's midday prayers coming very soon, Friday prayers in particular. Concerns protests will become more angry or violent this afternoon?

LEE: Well, you know, Egypt, it's known Fridays are the days of protest, so we are expecting large numbers to go into the streets. Many protesters -- the Muslim Brotherhood, the main group behind the protests, have been calling for their protests to be peaceful and to stay away from Tahrir Square and the U.S. embassy.

But we do tend to see violence pick up on Fridays. And President Mohamed Morsi has reassured American officials -- this is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MOHAMED MORSI, PRESIDENT OF EGYPT (through translator): We assured President Obama that we will be keen and we will not permit any such event, any such occurrence in our country against the embassies present in our territories.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: Mohamed Morsi was slow coming out condemning the incursion into the U.S. embassy, but now, yesterday and today, we've seen him come out with more force, saying that he will protect diplomatic missions from large protests -- Christine.

ROMANS: You know, Ian, Wednesday night we heard President Obama say Egypt is not an ally but not an enemy, a careful distinction. How's that playing in Egypt?

LEE: Well, the United States and Egypt are trying right now to feel each other out. It's kind of like an awkward first date, because before the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood was an adversary of sort of the United States, and there was a lot of mistrust there. So, right now they're trying to build a relationship, trying to come together. But the military, the Egyptian and the American military do have close ties, and this is one of the military officials in the United States said.

ROMASN: Ian Lee, thank you.

KEILAR: Now to Libya, where authorities have announced four arrests --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE LITTLE, ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: And we continue to do so today. We look forward to continuing our bilateral defense relationship. As you know, the Secretary recently visited Egypt, had very productive discussions there with President Morsi and others, and our relationship with Egypt, we believe, is on the right track when it comes to our military ties.

REPORTER: Why not call them an ally?

LITTLE: I don't think that we really need to get into semantics. I think I've said what I have said.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: Diplomatic tensions may exist, but the military between Egypt and the United States are still good -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Ian Lee -- thank you, Ian.

KEILAR: And let's head now to Libya, where authorities have announced four arrests and the Benghazi airport has just been shut down.

Jomana Karadsheh is joining us live on the phone from Tripoli. What can you tell us, Jomana, about these arrests?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN REPORTER (via telephone): Well, senior Libyan government officials are announcing they're making great progress in their investigation. They're saying that a number of people, four, like you mentioned, have been arrested. We know that at least one of those men is a Libyan national. The arrests were made on Thursday in connection to the attack.

We're hearing today from Libyan officials that these are people who are not directly linked to the attack on the consulate. They are people who are known to have links to extremist groups in the area.

And we heard yesterday from the Libyan prime minister, speaking with CNN's Christiane Amanpour in an interview, saying they don't know what group is responsible for this attack, but he did say these individuals, the long-term extremist group, it's something they cannot confirm yet. They suspect it's an extremist group and that is what they're investigating.

KEILAR: And obviously, we'll be getting more details on that.

Jomana, we'll be checking back with you. Jomana Karadsheh for us in Tripoli -- thanks.

ROMANS: Let's go down to the Pentagon where we're learning more this morning about the two other Americans who were killed in the Benghazi consulate attack. Both were decorated military veterans.

Barbara Starr joins us now live.

Barbara, what do we know about these two men?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESONDENT: Well, now, Christine, we can confirm that the two men were former U.S. Navy SEALs, both highly decorated military veterans. They've now been identified by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as 41-year-old Tyrone Woods and 42-year-old Glen Doherty. Both of their mothers have spoken.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CHERYL BENNETT, MOTHER OF TYRONE WOODS: Ty would not want to be seen as a hero. He would want to be seen as a guy on his team who did his job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And did it well.

BENNETT: And did it well, did it the best he could. Obviously, obviously, and unfortunately, and I'm sure -- I'm sure my son went down fighting. I don't know the ins and outs of it, I haven't been told, but I'm sure he went down fight. I'm sure he did. I just hope (INAUDIBLE) weren't painful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Glen was an amazing human being, and we're devastated. He was a great friend and brother and really good at his job, and it's a huge loss for everyone. (END AUDIO CLIP)

STARR: Tyrone Woods leaves behind a wife and three children, three boys, including a son Kai who was born just a few months ago.

And Doherty was in Libya, actually, as part of a mission to search for shoulder-fired weapons left over from Moammar Gadhafi's regime, a big threat in Libya. Both men remembered by their SEAL community brothers today -- Christine.

ROMANS: Just a tragedy, just a tragedy, Barbara.

Meantime, U.S. warships, Marines moving into the region, are they now in place, do you know?

STARR: Right. Let's go back over that. This is 50 Marines, who of course, yes, are at the embassy only for security duty at the embassy. Combat action by them is not an option. However, two U.S. Navy warships, one already off the coast of Libya, one approaching Libya in the next couple of days.

Remember, President Obama has said justice will be done, that the perpetrators will be brought to justice. It could be through further arrests by Libyan authorities. This could become a law enforcement issue, and we'll wait to see what else happens.

The options, though, are in place for the President.

ROMANS: All right, Barbara Starr -- thank you, Barbara.

KEILAR: We are staying atop of this developing story. We have experts weighing in all morning long.

Later on EARLY START, we're talking to Nasser Weddady, he's the director of the American Islamic Congress, along with Peter Brookes, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense.

And later on, on "STARTING POINT," former Assistant Secretary of Defense, Jamie Rubin, Middle East analyst Robin Wright, and Obama campaign foreign policy adviser, Ambassador Tim Roemer, and Ambassador Richard Williamson.

ROMANS: Still ahead on EARLY START, we're also watching the markets this morning. Stocks soar on word of more stimulus from the Federal Reserve. Goal here is to get jobs to follow. But will it happen? We'll break down the announcement and what it means for your money.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Well, the Federal Reserve is unleashing more stimulus, and obviously, the goal here is to rev up the economy. Starting today, the Central Bank will buy billions of dollars in mortgage-backed securities every month with no specified end date. So, break this down for us in normal language.

I mean, mortgage-backed securities are really what started this whole thing and here --

ROMANS: That's right.

KEILAR: -- we are years later and this is --

ROMANS: This means the Fed is trying to keep the economy going, it's trying to not even rev up, it's trying to keep it going. We're barely growing. They're trying to keep interest rates low, specifically mortgage rates, and the hope is the low mortgage rates will encourage people to borrow and more spending eventually means more hiring.

It's a dose of confidence, and it's really an injection of money into the American economy. How? Buying $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities each month, starting today. They're calling it QE3.

This doesn't use taxpayer money. Instead, the Fed expands the money supply, electronically crediting banks with more funds. This keeps -- they're also going to keep short-term interest rates low we know through at least mid-2015. Previously it was 2014.

This means the Fed is basically, because there's a two-year lag to fed policy, Ben Bernanke is basically admitting that we've got 10 years of very low, slow growth, something that has not happened in most of our lifetimes, 10 years.

KEILAR: Ten years.

ROMANS: Bernanke justified the QE3 at a news conference, saying the economy isn't where it should be.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN BERNANKE, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL RESERVE: The economy appears to be on a path to moderate recovery. It isn't growing fast enough to make significant progress, reducing the unemployment rate. Fewer than half of the 8 million jobs lost in the recession have been restored, and at 8.1 percent, the unemployment rate is nearly unchanged since the beginning of the year and is well above normal levels.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Of course, investors love this, because this means money just pumping through the system. So, the Fed support pushed the Dow and the S&P 500 to five-year highs! The NASDAQ hit a 12-year high.

And homebuilder stocks rallied pretty sharply, Brianna, because I'll tell you why, this is supposed to be something that's good for the housing market as well. So, very, very low interest rates.

So, low mortgage rates, we're hoping the mortgage rates stay low for some time. They've been incredibly low. Have you been watching mortgage rates?

KEILAR: Oh, I refinanced.

ROMANS: Good for you. KEILAR: Not too long ago.

ROMANS: Good for you.

KEILAR: Took advantage of it like a lot of people, but -- or a lot of people who can. That's really the issue if you're --

ROMANS: I'll tell you one of the big criticisms. So you get the big criticism from folks who say this is the Fed artificially supporting the economy and they're worried about inflation down the road, and saying what's the payback going to be and the exit strategy? So the Fed is walking this --

KEILAR: Because it's open-ended.

ROMANS: Right. The Fed is walking this tight line, saying we'll keep the rates low, let the money flow, be more confident, let the economy start to work again.

The flip side of that is things are so slow and so bad, the Fed is doing the unprecedented to keep it going, and that's a little bit of a dent to confidence. So, for now at least the markets really like it.

KEILAR: Yes, it can be alarming. Christine, a fantastic breakdown. Thank you very much.

And right now at 17 after the hour, let's get you up to date.

Embassies around the world are bracing for potentially more protests when Friday prayers wrap up here in just about 45 minutes. The anti- American rage is spreading. Protests breaking out across the Middle East, North Africa, even in places like Morocco, Kashmir and Israel, all over a crude, 14-minute movie produced in the U.S. that has angered millions of Muslims.

In Libya, authorities have announced four arrests in connection with the attack on the U.S. consulate that killed four Americans earlier this week.

And Mitt Romney won't be out of the national security loop much longer. The GOP nominee will be getting regular intelligence briefings from the Obama administration beginning next week. That's customary for presidential challengers in the late stages of campaigns.

ROMANS: New video from Syria appears to show the military's shelling of a town in the Damascus suburbs. The video is a bit shaky, but you can see a plane apparently firing a rocket over the town of Yabroud. Smoke is seen rising from buildings below. The opposition says nearly 60 people were killed yesterday in the area surrounding the Syrian capital.

Talks have gone from bitter to hopeful in the Chicago teachers strike, and today, today could signal the end of the standoff. The teachers union and school officials have scheduled a vote at 3:00 p.m. today. The earliest classes will be back in session is Monday. So a lost week for Chicago school children.

KEILAR: And they don't need that.

Coming up, we're continuing to follow our developing story, the President promising all necessary steps to protect Americans as new anti-U.S. protests rage around the world. Security beefed up to prevent another Benghazi. We'll have a live report from the State Department, next.

Egypt on guard for more violent protests there and across the region. We'll have a live report coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Returning now to our top story:

The anti-American protests spreading across Muslim countries. The Obama administration is in full court press mode this morning, beefing up security at all of its posts in the Mideast and anywhere else that demonstrations may pop up.

Our foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is following that angle for us.

And, Elise, it's Friday prayers here that are part of the concern. If things are going to boil over, the thought is this is when it would happen, right?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right, Brianna.

In 48 hours or so since the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya and in light of these protests at U.S. embassies in Cairo and Yemen, embassies everywhere, in the Middle East, Muslim world, particularly in these fragile countries, have been kind of seeing what they can do to beef up facilities, President Obama ordering all U.S. facilities to review their security, and that could mean more U.S. personnel at these facilities, or it could mean going out to the host country and saying we need you to give us more personnel, we need more barbed wire, we need barriers, road closures, anything that can be done to make sure that nothing happens, Brianna.

KEILAR: And obviously, to not -- to try not to have a repeat of what we saw in Yemen and in Benghazi.

Former U.S. administrator, Elise, in Iraq, Paul Bremer, he criticized the Obama administration. Let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL BREMER, FMR. U.S. ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: I think we should be concerned, because what we are seeing now is this spread. That started in two countries, today it moved to three or four more, including Iraq, which is quite a ways from North Africa, and that spread is eerily reminiscent of what we all went through in the late 1970s --

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: In Iran.

BREMER: Well, not just in Iran. We had an ambassador killed in Kabul, followed by the embassy in Islamabad being burned to the ground, followed by the takeover in Tehran. I mean, these kinds of things have a way of spreading, and I think they are a mark of the fact that the administration has basically conveyed weakness in this region, and weakness always begets trouble.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So, he's raising the specter here of something of this developing into something much larger, which is obviously the fear of so many people watching this, Elise, and he's criticizing the Obama administration as being weak. Is the administration responding to this?

LABOTT: Well, not specifically to Paul Bremer's comments, and I think there might be a little kind of political bickering going on. Paul Bremer, as you know, worked for the Bush administration in Iraq.

But at the same time, I mean, there has been a lot of talk about kind of U.S. weakness and influence in the region over the Arab spring, but I mean, in some of these countries, the U.S. helped get rid of Moammar Gadhafi, Hosni Mubarak, Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, I mean, really helping these movements. And so, even yesterday, protests in Morocco, at the same time, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday had a whole day of meetings with the Moroccan foreign minister in terms of how the U.S. can help Morocco kind of withstand this Arab Spring and move forward.

So, there is talk about the U.S. loss of influence in the region, but it's also this movie and the U.S. reaching out to imams and any credible voices in the region to say, listen -- and governments, too -- you need to speak up and say, listen, the United States is with us, is your friend, had nothing to do with this movie, Brianna.

KEILAR: Elise Labott for us -- thank you, Elise.

ROMANS: All right. Next on EARLY START, the latest from Libya: new information on the hunt for those who murdered two American diplomats and two Navy SEALs 11 years to the day after 9/11. A live report from Tripoli.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR (voice-over): Live pictures as protesters are amassing in Cairo with Friday prayers starting to wind down. Thousands more are expected when those prayers end in just about 30 minutes. The U.S. beefing up security at embassies worldwide right now in anticipation of that.

ROMANS (voice-over): And new developments in Libya this morning. Four people now under arrest. All four victims now identified, Americans who were killed in the mayhem during the Benghazi attack.

ROMANS (on-camera): Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans this morning for you.

KEILAR (on-camera): And I'm Brianna Keilar. It's half past the hour.

New this morning, anti-American protests erupting in more countries overnight and with Friday prayers ending around 6:00 a.m. our time, U.S. embassies around the world are bracing for more. Overnight, the anger and defiance that started Wednesday over an anti-Muslim movie made in the U.S. spreading to 11 countries from Egypt to as far west as Morocco and as far east as India.

The worst of it in Yemen, where at least five Yemenis were killed as hundreds of protesters stormed the American embassy in Sana'a. Cars and bottles smashed. Water cannons brought out to control the crowd. And in Egypt, where the violence first erupted three days ago, more clashes, protesters setting fires, and the Egyptian military deploying tanks to keep things calm.

Let's go to Libya now. News overnight that four people arrested in the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

ROMANS: This morning, we're learning identities of the other two Americans in that attack. Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, former Navy SEALs who were acting as security there.

Meantime, this morning, more U.S. firepower has arrived. The President vowing all necessary steps to protect U.S. citizens around the world. We're covering this important story the way only CNN can. We're live in Libya, Egypt, and Washington, D.C.

KEILAR: First to new developments unfolding in Libya where four men have been arrested. Libyan officials say they're suspected of instigating the attack on the U.S. consulate that killed four Americans earlier this week. And Jomana Karadsheh joining us live now from Tripoli by phone.

So, Jomana, what can you tell us about these suspects and also Benghazi's airport is closed. Tell us what's going on there.

KARADSHEH (via telephone): Brianna, we have little information yet on the closing of Benghazi airport. According to Arwa Damon, who is there at the airport, which shut overnight here, we're hearing this is possibly for security reasons. Just in the hours ahead, we should have more information on the reason for that closure.

Now, regarding the suspects, we have heard from senior Libyan government officials, saying they've made progress in their investigation into the attacks. In an interview yesterday with our Christiane Amanpour, the prime minister announced these arrests. And also, we've heard more Libyan officials saying that a total number of four suspects were arrested.

The prime minister yesterday saying at least one of those individuals is a Libyan national. The arrest took place in Benghazi on Thursday. And interrogations are under way with these suspects for their role -- for their suspected role in the attacks. But we're also hearing from another Libyan official today saying that these individuals may not have been directly linked to the attack, but they had ties to extremist groups.

Brianna, the Libyan Prime Minister yesterday saying this is a top priority for Libya saying they are taking this very, very seriously. Here is what he told Christiane Amanpour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MUSTAFA ABUSHAGUR, LIBYAN PRIME MINISTER: I mean, we are conducting the investigation, and we have had bilateral commission, which is right now heading, which is also continuing to also have the foreign minister, the ministers of defense, interior and the intelligence and also members from our new Congress.

So, we are taking this very, very seriously, because as I said, this is something which we will, clearly, we won't accept that something like this would happen again in Libya.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARADSHEH: This is something that not only senior government officials are saying, a lot of the people here on the ground in Libya, Libyans, ordinary Libyans who are shocked by this attack saying that this is not something they accept.

KEILAR: Jomana Karadsheh for us there in Tripoli, thank you for that.

ROMANS: The anti-American rage showing no sign of letting up this morning. In Iran, hundreds of protesters have been gathering outside the Swiss embassy in Tehran, shouting, "Death to the United States!" Of course, the Swiss embassy handles U.S. interests in Iran and is being heavily guarded by police.

Demonstrators are calling for all U.S. embassies in Muslim countries to be suspended. And in Iraq, hundreds are taking to the streets of Baghdad, burning American flags and denouncing the U.S. as the enemy of the people.

Iraq's prime minister denouncing that U.S. film that's sparking all this outrage, calling on all divine religions to go after the racists and stop them from spreading their dangerous thoughts.

KEILAR: Meantime, President Obama offering a more cautious and nuanced take on problems in Egypt saying the U.S. relationship with that country will be shaped by how the country responds to the embassy assault in Cairo. Here's what he said during an interview on Spanish- language network, Telemundo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't think that we would consider them an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy. They are a new government that is trying to find its way. They were democratically elected. I think that we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, declined to parse the President's words, but she conceded the U.S. still refers to Egypt as a major non-NATO ally. A former U.S. ambassador to Egypt says he thinks President Obama is simply giving Egypt's president space to work through the many issues he's dealing with.

ROMANS: Let's bring in Nasser Weddady right now. He's the director of the American Islamic Congress, a non-profit group dedicated to promoting tolerance. And welcome to the program. You've said you think that imams in certain countries might be using the Friday prayers to maybe fan the flames. Tell me a little bit about what you expect to happen today.

NASSER WEDDADY, DIRECTOR, AMERICAN ISLAMIC CONGRESS: I mean, today we should expect to see a lot of radical elements surfing on this wave and trying to untie American sentiment.

The reality is that it is very important to stress out that we know who triggered this and we know how to stop it, and I think that it hasn't been, unfortunately, commented enough that there is a wide network of satellite TVs that are controlled by Salafis or (INAUDIBLE) varieties of the Muslim Brotherhood who basically never stopped looking for an opportunity to get back in the news and be at the forefront as they used to be before the Arab uprisings.

ROMANS: So, you're saying very conservative elements are fanning these flames already?

WEDDADY: Yes, and political elements, too, because a part of between the lines that sort of the script between the lines that has not been said is that as a result of these riots and this explosion of outrage, all critical thinkers are being silenced effectively by this. No one can come out at this moment and take a different opinion that has been broadcast, and basically, that this is used to rouse the masses.

And I think it's also very important and timely to point out that this has nothing spontaneous to it, and it's a replay of the Danish cartoon that was triggered by a cadre of radical elements.

ROMANS: Do you think this turns into a movement now or is this a flashpoint that fades once Friday prayers are over?

WEDDADY: No. There are two things going on here. You're going to see popular anger that's going to continue to spread for a moment until the big next thing happens, but there is also the governmental elements of this.

There are some governments that are to be expected to try to leverage this to drive through an effort that has been in the works for years, where the former Egyptian government, Saudi government, among others, have been trying to impose through the U.N. the anti-blasphemy laws as a new international norm, and that's going to continue.

And that is, I believe, is cause to concern, because it will create basically this double standard where free speech is going to be curtailed not only in the west, which is not really the matter here.

The real risk of accepting this kind of double standard is that you're going to have all these free thinkers and people who, frankly, will be silenced by the clerics in this, like, new conservative or new Islamic conservatism that has been rising across the region in the last three decades.

ROMANS: All right. Nasser Weddady, director of the American Islamic Congress, thank you for joining us this morning, sir.

KEILAR: And after bashing the Obama administration for its response to the unrest in Libya in the Middle East, it looks like Mitt Romney is ready to move on. He's refusing to escalate the war of words with the White House. Romney pivoting in an interview with ABC News after the President questioned whether the GOP nominee thought through the ramifications.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I said was exactly the same conclusion the White House reached, which was that the statement was inappropriate. That's why they backed away from it as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And no direct response then when the President says you shoot first and aim later?

ROMNEY: Well, this is politics. I'm not going to worry about the campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: During a rally in Virginia yesterday, Romney was interrupted by a protester who shouted, "Why are you politicizing Libya?"

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, Governor Romney's chances of winning the White House not looking good in some must-win states, at least, when you take a snapshot of the polls today. New polls from the battlegrounds as we hit the home stretch of 2012.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: A beautiful live shot of the Capitol there in Washington, 64 degrees, going to 85 today. Beautiful, beautiful day.

ROMANS: Will they get any work done? Will they get any work done?

(LAUGHTER)

KEILAR: I don't know, but you can hold class outside today in Washington. It's beautiful there. Welcome back.

With the race for the White House entering the home stretch, President Obama appears to be making a late charge right now. Just take a look at the latest CNN/ORC poll of polls. Forty-nine percent of likely voters now backing the President, 46 for Romney. CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser, live from Washington. Beautiful weather there in Washington this morning, Paul. There's a lot of fresh numbers also coming in from key battleground states, and we look at the national polls, but we really want to know what's going to happen in these states that will decide the election. What's up there?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Exactly, because the race for the White House, as you know, is a battle for those states and their electoral votes. So, let's get right to it. A whole batch of polls came out over the last 24 hours, as you mentioned. Take a look at these from NBC Marist and the "Wall Street Journal." This is interesting.

Ohio, such a crucial battleground state in the Midwest. So, look at this. The President with a seven-point advantage in this new survey, slightly larger than we saw before the Democratic national convention. All these polls, of course, conducted after both conventions. Florida, a five-point advantage for the President, and Virginia, the same as well, a slight bump there.

According to this new poll of Michigan, this is really interesting to me. This is from Epic MRA, also came out over the last 24 hours, and the President with a ten-point advantage in Michigan. Remember, this is the state where Mitt Romney was born, and why is this so important?

Well, at the Democratic convention, as you well know, you were there, Brianna, the Democrats spent a lot of time touting the auto bailouts over and over and also talked about how Mitt Romney was opposed to them. Maybe, maybe that is having somewhat of a factor there in Michigan.

Of course, again, all these polls conducted after the Democratic convention. So, if there was a bounce, maybe it will fade -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, we'll see. And obviously, the Romney campaign is hoping that there is this kind of late break that you see closer to the election and that more of the persuadable voters will go for him. But let's talk about -- there's also some polling that we have on the economy. This is pretty fascinating, because a lot of people aren't really happy compared to where they were four years ago, but maybe they don't blame the President. Is that what we're getting from this?

STEINHAUSER: That's one of the senses we're getting from this. And you remember about a week and a half ago, what were the Republicans doing coming out of their convention? They were asking are you better off now than you were four years ago? And Obama campaign officials and some other top Democrats have first stumbled on that question before they said the answer is definitely yes.

Well, what do Americans think? Take a look at our brand new numbers. Forty-four percent say they are worse off than they were four years ago. Thirty-seven percent say they're better off, and about one in five say you know what, I'm about the same financially as I was four years ago. But, as you said, who are they blaming? Who are Americans blaming for the bad economy right now? Well, guess what? It seems more are still blaming President Bush, former President Bush and Republicans for this than they're blaming for Democrats. You can see 57 percent of registered voters we asked say Bush and the Republicans, 35 percent say the President and Democrats. Of course, the economy remains by far the top issue on the minds of American voters, Brianna.

KEILAR: Of course. And this means we will continue to hear President Obama blaming the Bush administration and saying that he had a long way to go with the economy. Paul Steinhauser for us, always a pleasure, thanks.

ROMANS: All right. It's 46 minutes after the hour. Let's get you up to speed this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (voice-over): Rage against America spreading around the world as Friday prayers turn into protests in the Arab world. Protests breaking out across the Middle East, North Africa, and even in places like Israel, Morocco and Kashmir, all over a crude, 14-minute movie produced in the U.S. that has outraged Muslims.

In Libya, authorities have announced four arrests now in connection with the attack on the U.S. consulate earlier this week, an attack that killed four Americans.

KEILAR (voice-over): A guard who was taken hostage by prisoners in a maximum-security prison in South Carolina is a free man this morning. Officials say he was rescued without incident by armed officers around 9:45 last night after being held by prisoners for almost five hours.

This was at the Lee Correctional Institution. The guard suffered cuts on his arms and face but was able to walk out on his own volition.

ROMANS: Wow.

A volcanic eruption in Guatemala has forced the evacuation of 35,000 people who live nearby. The Vulcan de Fuego, which translates, of course, volcano of fire, began spewing ash, spewing lava around 10 o'clock Thursday morning near the former capital city of Antigua. A CNN iReporter was working at a nearby golf course when he shot this breathtaking video with his iPhone.

KEILAR: And a missile test lit up the skies near White Sands, New Mexico, Thursday morning. It's kind of beautiful looking. This could be seen all over the state along with the Phoenix Metro Area. A target called a Juneau was fired out of Ft. Wingate in Gallup, New Mexico, followed by a patriot interceptor missile that was launched out of the White Sands missile range.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (on-camera): All right. New information on the deadly attack on America in Libya, the first arrests now and word that the mayhem may have come in two waves. We're live in Libya next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Four people have now been arrested in the Benghazi consulate attack that killed U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans. Arwa Damon is at the consulate in Benghazi for us this morning. Arwa, you actually spoke to a Libyan official there. What did he tell you?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He's the head of the General National Congress. He is now saying that they do, in fact, believe that this was a deliberate, preplanned attack on U.S. interests designated to inflict maximum damage and drive a wedge between both countries.

This entire compound has been utterly destroyed. I'm actually standing in what I was told was the main residence. The walls are tarred black, debris all over the floor. It's been completely and totally gutted. This is also the very same building where eyewitnesses are saying that the ambassador died.

I spoke to the owner of the compound who rented it out and he wanted and asking that a message be sent out that this act of horrific violence is not representative of all Libyans. This is not why they took on the revolution to bring down Gadhafi's regime, and he wanted to send his deepest condolences to the ambassador's family and to the families of all those who perished.

The government now very aware that it has to somehow bring those who carried this out to justice. Those four who were arrested at this point, not much detail's being disclosed about which group they were affiliated with. All we're being told by the government is that they believe they were affiliated with some sort of extremist organization.

The big issue right now, though, is, Christine, that the government pretty much is currently, as it stands, incapable of controlling these armed gangs that operate in some parts of the country right here in Benghazi. It's pretty much complete and total impunity.

ROMANS: Arwa Damon live for us in Benghazi at the consulate this morning. Thanks, Arwa.

KEILAR: We have a packed hour ahead on EARLY START. Protests erupting again across the Muslim world. Today may be the most angry day yet on the streets of places like Cairo and Benghazi and Baghdad. And we'll have live reports from the hotspots.

Also, our experts on the region and the possible response weighing in all morning long. Later on EARLY START, we're talking to Peter Brookes, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense.

And then, starting at 7:00 a.m. on "STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN", former Assistant Secretary of Defense Jamie Rubin, Middle East analyst, Robin Wright, and Obama campaign foreign policy adviser, Ambassador Tim Roemer as well as Ambassador Richard Williamson.

ROMANS: A big lineup. Still ahead, remembering the man behind the diplomat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT COMMANDAY, STEPBROTHER OF SLAIN AMBASSADOR: Instinctively and intentionally and through his training, he was about bringing people together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The family of U.S. ambassador, Chris Stevens, talks for the first time about his life and his death in the Benghazi consulate attack. You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: All four Americans who died in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, have now been identified. The last two to be named are both former NAVY SEALs. Tyrone Woods is from Southern California. He served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 2010, he has been protecting diplomatic personnel in outposts from Central America to the Middle East. His ex-wife telling a San Diego TV station that Woods loved being a SEAL more than life itself. Glenn Doherty was also a Navy SEAL and an experienced paramedic. He's from Massachusetts.

His sister says he'd only been in Libya for a week. He put his life on the line to protect Americans in many foreign hotspots. Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, says Doherty died the way he lived, with honor and valor. Diplomatic officer, Sean Smith, was previously identified as one of the four victims along with Ambassador Chris Stevens.

KEILAR: And the family of the slain ambassador is now speaking out. Christopher Stevens' stepbrother telling the world who he was not just as a diplomat but as a person. He says Ambassador Stevens was all about bringing people together.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMMANDAY: Be able to listen to a Palestinian, an Israeli, and theoretically ,at the opposite ends of the universe from religious beliefs and political beliefs and honor them without either one of them feeling that he was either simplifying the situation, oversimplifying it, or being patronizing. I mean, that's what peacemaking is about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: And he says Ambassador Stevens died trying to help build a better Libya.

ROMANS: EARLY START continues right now.