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Americans Among Hostages in Algeria; Notre Dame Star Had Phony Girlfriend; Boeing Dreamliners Grounded Worldwide; New York Police Commissioner Talks Guns

Aired January 17, 2013 - 12:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL. I'm Ashleigh Banfield, in for Suzanne Malveaux. And we are taking you around the world in 60 minutes. Let me start with what is going on.

Just when you think it can't get worse, or any worse, for Lance Armstrong, the beat-down biker has been stripped of his Olympic medal.

Also, grounded. Aviation authorities around the world are taking a hard look at the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

But first, new developments in the hostage crisis that's unfolding in Algeria, where Americans are among those being held by Islamist extremists at an oil field. We just got confirmation that a U.S. drone, unmanned, has flown over this site. Plus, we're getting reports that four of the hostages have been freed in an operation by the Algerian army and the Irish have said a fifth Irish national also has been freed. This operation is said to be ongoing.

And Vladimir Duthiers joins us from Lagos, Nigeria. Vladimir, what can you tell us about what's been happening? It seems there are a discrepancy of reports that are coming fast and furious.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ashleigh. The situation is very murky, very, very fluid and CNN can't independently verify some of the reporting that's been taking place. But here's what's been reported thus far.

On Wednesday, a group of foreign national, gas workers from the Inamina (ph) gas plant in eastern Algeria were on their way to the airport. They were attacked by a group of militants in three vehicles. Those militants, during that ensuing battle, killed a Briton and an Algerian. They took them back to the gas plant and held them hostage, and that's where the situation has been up until now.

Now, we've heard a bunch of conflicting reports, a bunch of unconfirmed reports, that there was an ongoing attack by helicopters, which the Algerian press service said that was absolute fantasy. We've heard also that, as you mentioned in your lead, that now four of the hostages have been freed. Two Britons, a French person and a Kenyan. Also, in addition to that, an Irish person has been freed. We don't even know really know many hostages there are. We've heard as low as 20 from the Algerian state media and as high as 40 from the militants.

So a very, very fluid situation. One that, you know, we're monitoring as the hours go by. But really don't have a whole lot to report because we just don't have any eyes on the ground as of now, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: So, Vladimir, I know this is extremely complex as to why this is happening and what the militants are demanding. I should let our audience know that it's thought that these militants are associates of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, but what effectively do they want?

DUTHIERS: Well, Ashleigh, they said -- what they've said is that this is in retaliation for the French military intervention next door in Mali. They say they had threatened the al Qaeda and the Islamic Maghreb and the militants that are now controlling the northern part of Mali, had threatened to strike back at western interests, strike back at the heart of France. They say this is in retaliation for that. For the fact that Algeria allowed France to use their airspace.

But there are others that say, look, this operation seems to be very sophisticated. It looks like it took a lot of planning to execute. They obviously knew what they were doing. It probably was not something that happened spontaneously just because of the Algerians made the decision to allow the French to use their airspace. So, again, conflicting, unconfirmed reports about what may exactly be the reason for this. But what they have said is this is because Algeria has allowed France to use their airspace and because of the military intervention against the jihadists in Mali, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right, Vladimir Duthiers reporting for us live. Thank you for that.

And my colleague, Hala Gorani, joins us with more on this developing story.

So, Hala, Vladimir was talking about Mali and the situation in Mali and how the associates of this al Qaeda wing are at least claiming that this has a lot to do with the French military operation in Mali, which is on the map to the left and south. Explain to the viewers, if they don't already know, what the situation is and why it's so critical in Mali and how it effects neighboring -- the two -- three neighbors countries, in fact.

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, just to give you a snapshot here of what we're talking about in terms of these militants, we're talking about either militants that operate more or less independently, like the group that is claiming responsibility for the attack on the gas platform, or a group called al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. This is an offshoot of al Qaeda operating in North Africa, in remote parts of the desert regions of Algeria, of Libya, of Mali. These groups make money by smuggling things, such as cigarettes, by smuggling refugees, but also by demanding ransom for kidnappings. There were instances of al Qaeda and the Islamic Maghreb kidnapping, for instance, a French tourist only last November, and a British tourist killed in 2009. So these are activities that have been ongoing over the last several year.

But, Ashleigh, what our viewers need to remember is, these groups operate in areas where there is no central government control. You're talking about countries such as Libya that have gone through their revolutions. But in Algeria, for instance, this is a huge portion of the Sahara Desert. You don't have local authority there. You don't have the security forces there. These al Qaeda militants are able to operate with impunity and make a lot of money with these criminal operations.

BANFIELD: And, in fact, Hala, just to sort of give the primmer on Mali, for those who follow the developments there, this has been an extraordinary year for that country effectively. And you'll have to correct me if I'm wrong here, but effectively the northern part of Mali is completely out of the control of what should be the central government and is effectively in control of al Qaeda-associated militants.

GORANI: Right. And why did the French come in now into Mali? I mean you might wonder why a country like France would send hundreds and soon thousands of ground troops to that country to try to battle Islamist rebels when this is the kind of operation that could end up costing France quite a lot, not just in terms of money, but also in terms of troops.

The reason is, because in the northern part of Mali, with the help of the Tuareg, the association, this is a tribal group in the northern part of Mali, Islamist rebels have gotten closer and closer to the central government. That's when France and other western countries said, this is not worth the risk. We cannot have these Islamist militants take over the capital of a country like Mali. We cannot have this entire region ruled and controlled by these Islamist rebels. This is why France is going in. This is why the U.S. is saying we'll provide you with logistical help. And it's the same for other European countries and other African countries as well. This is a regional battle.

BANFIELD: But why --


BANFIELD: Why just France? Why not Germany? Why not others European nations that have a stake in this as well? Why is France only taking the lead here?

GORANI: Well, because, as along with other countries, France has economic interests in that part of the world. This is an ex-French colony. That part of the world was under French colonial rule. And they believe that it is in their natural self-interest to prevent the capital of Mali and the central government of Mali from being taken by these Islamist rebels. But other European countries are concerned as well.

What has this turned into? This has now turned into a regional issue and the risk as well is that you may have militants who see now France as a legitimate target. We've seen it with this gas platform kidnapping operation, for instance, and try to strike targets inside of France itself. French authorities of very well aware of this risk.

BANFIELD: Hala Gorani doing some excellent work at researching this for us. Thank you. Thank you for that. Great background from Hala. Switching now to a talented young football star who tragically lost his grandmother and his girlfriend on the very same day. But he persevered and he led his team to victory anyway. What a story, right? The only problem is, (INAUDIBLE) story. The girlfriend, part of an elaborate hoax. She didn't even exist. We're going to bring you the latest on a mysterious and bizarre story unfolding at Notre Dame.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you've never used your own blood for doping purposes, for example?

LANCE ARMSTRONG, PROFESSIONAL CYCLIST: Absolutely -- that would be banned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. I'm not trying to agitate you, I'm just trying to make sure the testimony's clear.




BANFIELD: It was pretty clear, wasn't it? You remember that? Seven years ago. Actually more than seven years ago. Lance Armstrong denying outright that he doped himself or did anything banned by the rules of his sport. And we know that pretty much wasn't true. He just wasn't telling the truth.

And here's something else. Take a look at this picture. Lance Armstrong proudly displaying his Olympic bronze medal that he won in the 2000 Sydney games. Take a good, long look at it because those two are going to get separated. Today, the IOC stripped away that medal and the Olympic title that went along with it. And then they actually told Lance Armstrong, send it back, physically. We want our medal back.

This is the latest fallout from Armstrong's alleged involvement with sports doping and cheating. Big-time cheating that he apparently has told to Oprah Winfrey. All of it supposedly going to air tonight. Cannot wait.

But it all begs the question, has cheating become commonplace? Today at 3:00 Eastern, my colleague Brooke Baldwin is going to examine why we cheat. The psychology, the science, all of that. Don't miss the CNN NEWSROOM special report this afternoon at 3:00 Eastern.

And now, today's other headline, and it is also a sports story, and it is also very bizarre. A little confusing. Trust me, a lot of us shaking our heads about it, too, and we don't even have the full story.

It's about this guy. The superstar of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football program. This name is Manti Te'o. Heisman runner-up. Rock star linebacker. The last three years of his love life sound a little like a cheesy romantic comedy. All that time, three years. Looks like he's been involved in an elaborate story of love, lies and heartbreaking loss. Even told reporters about the tragic death of the love of his life, quote/unquote, and her inspiration that drove him to win on the football field.

Here's the thing. It's all hogwash. Turns out there was no girlfriend. No. There was no tragic and inspiring death of said girlfriend. There was nothing. This whole thing was made up, supposedly.

And I've got someone in here to help me make heads or tails of this very strange and still developing story. Dave Zirin is the sports editor for "The Nation." He writes a weekly sports columnist.

First of all, as I report this story throughout the day, I feel like I have to keep asking if I still have it right, Dave, because things continue to change. Stranger developments happen. And people are even starting to say, maybe she did exist after all. Could you just qualify all of this for me?

DAVE ZIRIN, "THE NATION" MAGAZINE: Maybe she did exist, but we have to put "she" in quotes.

Look, I've been covering sports for 10 year. I've certainly covered stories more tragic, more heartfelt. But I've never covered anything more bizarre than the Manti Te'o and his virtual girlfriend story.

First, for you viewers who might not be sports fans, about the whole, why do we even care about this? The story of Manti Te'o's girlfriend dying of leukemia and this inspiring Notre Dame to come in within one game of the national championship was one of the main threats of the college football season this past year. It was something relayed to "Sports Illustrated," "ESPN," "The New York Times." I mean people even set up charities to give money to cancer in her name. And she never existed.


ZIRIN: And throughout it all, Manti Te'o gave interviews where, with a crack in his throat and a tear in his eye, he spoke about his girlfriend who passed away. Now we know she most likely never existed. And this leaves us with only two possibilities. Either Manti Te'o was a victim of a hoax, the likes of which would make David Mamet (ph) blush, and he followed it along for three years and this academic all- American was fooled into thinking he was in this loving relationship for three years with someone he didn't exist, or Manti Te'o was part of this ruse, was part of this fraudulent display that was then perpetrated by the Notre Dame athletic department and unknowingly by most of the sports media. And if that's the case, it leads to speculation of why is that?

Already people have come forward anonymously and saying that, well, he was doing it to build his chances to win the Heisman trophy. Give himself a tragic back story. And there are other people raising issues about was this to shield his personal life because he wanted his personal life to be personal and people would leave him alone if he had this mysterious girlfriend.

But the sad part is, in the middle of it all, there's this 22-year-old who I think is probably having the worst day of his life today and, clearly, has been caught up in something that spun out of control.

BANFIELD: OK, so that 22-year-old gave interviews in which he was quoted as having said, "I met her. I touched her hand."

His own father said that this woman used to go to Hawaii, meet with them. They'd spend time together. Those are interviews that were given. They weren't guesses made by journalists, so how ...

ZIRIN: Right.

BANFIELD: Look, if it's true that he had a three-year, virtual relationship in which he never met this girl and he truly has been duped and he is devastated, why would he say those things? And how is he going to accommodate for them?

ZIRIN: He needs to be able to answer that question. I certainly don't have an answer to that question. I'm tempted to say that this is somebody who probably needs a great deal of therapy.

I mean, it's very difficult actually -- honestly, it's a little bit sickening and upsetting to hear the interviews that he did. I was going back into the audio vault last night and listening to the interviews he gave about her.

And, I mean, you would have to accept that he would have a three-year relationship where he was in love with a woman who didn't exist and nursed this virtual woman through leukemia, through, first of all, a devastating car accident where they discovered she had leukemia.

Stories were told about how they would stay on the phone with each other for eight straight hours while he would sleep so she could hear him breathe because it eased her pain.

I mean, the level of detail is so intense either he was part of an insane hoax or he was part of this ruse.

And I'll tell you where this becomes now a bigger story is the Notre Dame athletic department, last night, came out four square in his favor. They said we've held an internal private investigation. Manti Te'o is a great person. He was fooled. He's most trusting person in the world and we stand by him a thousand percent.

They left themselves no wiggle room on this whatsoever and that's going to become a story in and of itself because Notre Dame has a lot to answer for. There have been tragedies connected to the football team, accusations of rampant sexual assault that there have been no internal investigations about, and the yet Manti Te'o, here we go.

BANFIELD: What about external? I mean, I could cite all sorts of different laws in which criminal behavior could have actually been tracked, if this woman had ever asked for a penny from him for treatment, if she had ever asked or encouraged him to raise money.

Those are crimes and that's something that the police can get involved and police can triangulate cell phone signals and they can go after i.p. addresses and they can find you in a nanosecond, so where is all of that?

ZIRIN: That's coming and it's going -- and, if doesn't come, you're going to have outside private investigations, as well, because Manti Te'o just graduated. He was slotted to go probably a top-five or top- 10 NFL draft pick. That's a $10 million to $20 million investment by an NFL franchise that's worth over $1 billion.

They do due diligence on players who aren't involved in the most bizarre sports story of the last 25 years. I mean, you better believe they're going to dig up every last aspect of this young man's personal life to find out what he did and why he did it and the story is only going to get more strange as we go down the rabbit hole, I believe.

BANFIELD: You know, I asked the famed sports -- the legendary sports agent Leigh Steinberg in the last hour if this young man's draft stock has gone down, if he's actually damaged his chances, even though it has nothing to doing with his athleticism. What do you think?

ZIRIN: I don't know what Mr. Steinberg said. I would certainly say, yes, and it has to do with Manti Te'o's position on the field. He's a middle linebacker.

For those of your viewers who aren't football fans, that's like the quarterback of the defense. It relies as much on trust and as much on leadership skills as it does on physical ability.

And, so, the idea that a team would say, you're our middle linebacker. You're our quarterback on the defense, but, by the way, maybe half your teammates think you might have serious issues that need to be dealt with and that you might not be an honest person, that will hang over him, even if he ferociously sticks and Notre Dame ferociously sticks to the story that he was the victim of a three-year hoax.

But I've got to tell you. There's going to be a lot of drip, drip, drip out of Notre Dame on this. You're already beginning to hear it, former players, former teammates, asking questions, and it's really sad.

BANFIELD: Yeah. Dave Zirin, I'll tell you what. Leigh Steinberger agrees with you. He says it's all about a brand. It's a big, big package and a package deal is a package deal.

Thanks, I appreciate it and I hope we can get some more information out of this, but soon. Dave Zirin, joining us live, thank you.

ZIRIN: Exactly.

BANFIELD: And we have some more bad news ahead for Boeing. The 787 Dreamliners on the ground, all around the world, in fact. And the reason? Safety. Your safety. We'll explain.


BANFIELD: Countries around the world are following the lead of the United States and Japan and they're grounding all of these planes. As beautiful as they are, they're not in the air.

They're 787 Dreamliners and the FAA says that they will not be allowed back up into the sky until a fire risk linked to battery failures is fixed.

Here's a look at all airlines around the world that pulling 787s from their service. The groundings aren't just having a financial impact on the airlines, either. It's kind of hard to read that graphic, although it looks like a whole lot of planes.

The market is also being heavily affected by this. Sandra Endo joins us live now from Washington. So, give me a bit of a feel for Boeing's stock? How bad is this news for Boeing?

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, it's certainly taking a hit. The shares fell 2 percent today, 3.2 percent yesterday and, in terms of Boeing, this is a huge black eye for the company in terms of p.r. for its marquee plane that debuted in 2011, but also, especially, when it comes to safety.

The company and 787 operators now have to prove to the FAA that the lithium batteries on these Dreamliners are safe and in compliance with standards. And just to give you context here, Ashleigh, the FAA has never mandated grounding a fleet of planes since 1979.

BANFIELD: Wow, so this is really significant and, when you just mentioned that this is the -- I hate to say it's the Cadillac of the fleet because it is so much more than that. I mean, this is really one of the sweetest aircraft out there. It is technologically superior to so many other, but isn't that effectively part of the problem? Because all of that technology requires a lot of battery power around the batteries are what are causing the problem?

ENDO: It's definitely high-tech, Ashleigh and it's definitely new technology never used before, these lithium ion batteries in commercial airliners to this capacity.

Now, these batteries are lighter, smaller. They're more powerful and, of course, now the concern is possible overheating. Boeing actually had to get special permission from the FAA to use these batteries and it was only approved under the condition that it would install specific safety measures to address these potential problems.

BANFIELD: I've got just the news here that Boeing stock is apparently flat right now, but that's the least of their problems. They've got this whole public story while they look at their Bart charts. They also have to deal with how they react to this news.

What are you hearing from the company? ENDO: Well, Boeing is certainly defending their advance plane and, in a statement, it says that, "We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity.

"We will be making every necessary step in the coming days to assure our customers and the traveling public of the 787's safety and to return the airplanes to service."


BANFIELD: Sandra Endo reporting for us live. Thank you for that.

The president laid out his plan and made it real, real clear, gun control, all going down yesterday. And I asked New York's police commissioner Ray Kelly if he thinks the new rules are going to make any difference.


BANFIELD: Well, President Obama has made no secret. He wants to do something about gun violence, and he stood before the country yesterday with a concrete set of proposals, some of them executive actions, some of them some work that Congress is going to have to do, but many of the things he talked about still leave a lot of questions unanswered.

And my next guest has a lot of those answers, and is still trying to work through some, as well. He's New York's police commissioner, Ray Kelly.

Thanks very much for coming in. I know you were in D.C. for the event yesterday, and I'm sure you're still getting your head around a lot of what's been, it seems, put together in warp speed time. But just from what you do know, your reaction to the president's actions?

RAY KELLY, POLICE COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK CITY: My reaction's certainly positive. I think it's something that has been overdue. Certainly, Mayor Bloomberg has led the charge, so to speak, in this area, and the president, I think, in essence supported everything that the mayor has put forward.

BANFIELD: One of the big criticisms is that while assault-styled weapons sound terribly menacing and some of the big news items include actions like Newtown that were carried out with an AR-15 or Bushmaster-223 and the Aurora shooting, et cetera, et cetera, the bigger problem is actually handgun violence.