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U.S. Delegation Arrives In Dagestan; Alleged Plot To Attack Passenger Train

Aired April 24, 2013 - 05:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Boston taking back its streets. Boylston Street, that's the site where the bombs exploded more than a week ago. Now, this morning, finally open.

And new this morning, U.S. investigators on the move in Russia, trying to learn more from the bombers' mother and father. That's happening at this very hour.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Plus, we're expecting new developments today in the alleged plot to blow up a train out of New York. A second suspect due in court just hours from now.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Welcome back to EARLY START. Happy to have you with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin in New York. And John, we're missing you here.

BERMAN (on-camera): I miss you.


BERMAN: Someday. Someday, we'll be together, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. I'm looking forward to that.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman live in Boston by myself this morning, missing Zoraida. It is Wednesday, April 24th, about half past the hour right now. And we do have some news here this morning.

A proud milestone for this city. Boylston Street is open for business again. That, of course, is the site where the marathon finish line was where those bombs went off. And workers really on the scene late into the night, trying to repair the area, repair the surface where that bomb went off. And it will be open -- it is already open, in fact, to the public this morning. And I had a chance to take a quick walk on Boylston a little bit earlier.


BERMAN: This is the site of the first explosion. The first bomb went off right here at 2:50 p.m. on marathon Monday. They're filling it in right now. So, it's all closed off before the streets really open to the public this morning. But let me show you something. Look at this building, marathon sports. The fourth floor, all the way up to the fourth floor here, they have windows boarded up. Those were shattered by the force of the blast.


BERMAN: It was interesting to see them out working all night to resurface those streets.

Also new this morning, we've learned that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's condition has been upgraded from serious. He is now in fair condition. He could soon be moved out of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and brought to another facility. We've also learned that a delegation from the U.S. embassy in Moscow has arrived in Dagestan.

They're attempting to interview the parents of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. They're doing that with the cooperation of the Russian cooperation. All this as we are getting new details about what it may have been the motivation behind the bombings here. CNN's Miguel Marquez here in Boston. It's not far from here, close to Boylston Street. Miguel, what are you seeing this morning?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We are very, very close to you on Boylston. Before we get to the investigation, I just want to show you where we are. This is Dartmouth and Boylston Street. This is the memorial that was so painstakingly moved from other areas of Boylston up here to Copley Square. We're about a block from where the finish line of the Boston marathon. Right down the street here is Boylston.

That is really sort of struggling back to get back open. The bombings, they're being very, very sensitive about allowing access and even live shots on Boylston Street at the moment. So, we're trying to stay back and be cool about it. On the investigation, though, we understand that in further talks with Mr. Tsarnaev and investigators, he is telling them that their main motivation were the wars in Iraq and afghanistan.

They ware self-motivated, watching videos by Anwar al-Awlaki, among others. He's the radical cleric that the U.S. killed in a drone strike in Yemen about 18 months ago. They also said that it may be the case that they used "Inspire" magazine, the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, also the Yemeni sort of satellite of al Qaeda, in order to learn how to make those bombs, those very powerful bombs that they're cleaning up after today here in Boston.

So, there are slivers of information coming out of there. It is difficult for investigators at this point or for anybody to believe what he's saying because, obviously, he's facing a possible death sentence or death penalty in this case. And he also has very little reason to tell the truth at the moment, but it does seem he is talking.

One other bit about the hospital, families whose friends and victims are being cared for at that hospital at Beth Israel upset that he is there. He may be moved out, state hospital officials, as soon as he is well enough to move. And that may come in the either next days or weeks -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Miguel Marquez, not far from us right now on Boylston Street, which, again, is back open for business this morning. Thanks so much, Miguel.

And in new developments this morning, we're learning that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, we are learning bought fireworks from a New Hampshire dealer back in February. The clerk on duty said he seemed -- nothing about him seemed suspicious, and she remembered him for one reason only.


MEGAN KEARNS, ASST. MANAGER, PHANTOM FIREWORKS: Pretty much the only thing that was remarkable about him was that he had a Russian accent, which we don't get too many people in here who have Russian accents.


BERMAN: Tsarnaev bought two lock and loads, those are large reloadable mortar kits that contain a firing tube and about 24 several shells. The store official says if he was trying to break down the product to get all the black powder, he would not have been able to get very much out of it. After the marathon bombing, the company alerted the FBI that Tsarnaev had been in the store.

Veterans who lost their limbs fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are offering hope to victims of the Boston marathon terror attack. Celeste Corcoran (ph) lost both her legs when the bomb exploded. Veteran marine sergeant, Gabe Ramirez (ph), is also a double amputee. He paid her and her 18-year-old daughter, Sydney, a visit with some words of wisdom.


SGT. GABE RAMIREZ, VETERAN MARINE: This is basically the start, you know? This is a new beginning for both of you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't see any hope right now.

RAMIREZ: Right now, yes, but, I'm telling you, you know, with all my heart, you are going to be more independent than you ever were.


BERMAN: Celeste is keeping her spirits high. She's even talking about running the Boston marathon next year.

If you want to find out how you can help the survivors of the Boston attacks, you can go to our website at We always have direct links and ways to help, including several victims' personal fund pages that you can donate to -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: You know, John, i think it's remarkable how many of them had said that they look forward to running in the future or running that particular marathon. I guess, it's a way of healing for them, right?

BERMAN: That's right. And as everyone says, 118th Boston marathon next year will be the greatest ever.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, indeed. Thank you, John.

Meantime in Canada, new developments this morning in the alleged terrorist plot to attack a passenger train running between New York and Toronto. Canadian authorities say al Qaeda is behind that plot. Two suspects are being held without bail at this hour. One is due in court in just a few hours from now. His alleged accomplice had his hearing yesterday.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is following the story live in Toronto for us. What's the latest here, Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chiheb Esseghaier will be in court here, Zoraida, in Toronto. We expect later this morning. As you mentioned, his accomplice was here yesterday while his family stood by his side in support.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): The mother and other family members of suspected terrorist, Raed Jaser, had no comment leaving a downtown Toronto courthouse Tuesday. Jaser remains in custody for allegedly planning an al Qaeda supported train attack with this man, 34-year- old, Chiheb Esseghaier.

According to multiple U.S. government sources, the suspected terrorists were planning to use explosives to derail a New York to Toronto passenger train. Jaser's lawyer, John Norris, says his client will plead not guilty. He also questions the timing of the arrests.

JOHN NORRIS, ATTORNEY FOR RAED JASER: They've been very clear that there was no risk to public safety. And, it's surprising to say the least that this arrest would be made now close on the heels of the events in Boston.

ROWLANDS: Investigators say Boston had nothing to do with these arrests. That instead, they were a culmination of months of surveillance.

MUHAMMAD ROBERT HEFT, PARADISE FOREVER: We do have our idiots in the community.

ROWLANDS: Muhammad Robert Heft says he's worked as a liaison between the Muslim community and law enforcement for more than a decade. He thinks the government likely has a case and he's pleased that a local imam's tip sparked the investigation.

HEFT: Are you going to let them, God forbid, do something like what happened in Boston? Are you going to be the first line of defense, and like we, as community leaders, and calling it in to the proper authorities?


ROWLANDS (on-camera): And Zoraida, yesterday, Canadian authorities stood by the accusation that these two suspects were getting support from al Qaeda elements out of Iran. There was considerable blowback out of Tehran yesterday, saying that there was no way that that could be happening, but Canadian authorities are sticking to their guns saying, absolutely, that's what they believe transpired here.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Ted Rowlands, appreciate having you there monitoring these latest developments for us. We'll back in with you.

And coming up, a Texas man witnesses tragedy twice over. First, the Boston terror attacks, then days later, this earth rattling fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. What he told us about narrowly escaping both of them? We are back after this.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman live in Boston this morning. And we have a really amazing story to bring you right now. This is about resilience and counting your blessings, not once, but twice over.

A Texas couple was in Boston for last week's marathon. He just finished the race. She was just feet away from one of the bombs. Both of them survived. But then two days later --




BERMAN: Two days later, simply unbelievable. He witnessed the catastrophic fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. Gary Tuchman has the harrowing story.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joe and Amy Berti look at this past week of disasters in Boston and West, Texas, from a very different vantage point in others, so unique it's hard to even contemplate. They also look back with a deep sense of gratitude.

JOE BERTI, RUN BOSTON MARATHON: We're just blessed that we're both OK and able to be sitting here and talking to you today.

TUCHMAN: Joe Berti's story begins last Monday in Boston. The Austin, Texas resident was running his marathon for a charity called Champions for Children. This picture of him was taken at the finish line. Just seconds after he crossed --


JOE BERTI: Amy was ten feet from the first explosion.

TUCHMAN: His wife, Amy, was so very close but not injured.

AMY BERTI, WIFE OF JOE BERTI: that doesn't seem to make any sense when the person who was standing beside me in Boston was so maimed.

TUCHMAN: Meanwhile, Amy had no idea where her husband was and grew panicked when she couldn't reach him on his cell.

AMY BERTI: For an hour, it was the worst hour of my life. I didn't know if he was dead or alive.

TUCHMAN: Amy went back to their hotel.

AMY BERTI: All the way up the elevator, I thought, dear Lord, just let him be there when I get there. And I opened the door to our hotel room, and thank God, there he was.

TUCHMAN: Tell me how it felt when you saw her.

JOE BERTI: It was incredible. We were both very happy that we had found each other. The not knowing was the worst thing and not getting any response.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): Joe and Amy flew back to Texas on Tuesday to reunite with their children. On the next day, Wednesday, Joe had a business trip. So, he drove from Austin to Dallas. After a few hours, there he started heading back home. And to get back to Austin, you have to drive on the interstate through this town, the town of West, Texas.

(voice-over) Joe was minutes away from the West fertilizer plant when he was stunned to see huge plumes of smoke. He pulled his car over.

JOE BERTI: Right out of the middle of the black smoke came a giant explosion. So, I saw a fireball, and then I saw a giant cloud of smoke. It was just so big, and it was so loud. It shook my car when I was driving. I was worried about stuff falling out of the sky. So, I kept looking up, and I heard something hit the top of my car. So, I quickly jumped out and took a picture.

TUCHMAN: And you must be thinking to yourself, I just went through this on Monday.

JOE BERTI: Yes. I was -- the first thought was I can't believe this. What is it? You know, is it another terrorist attack? Is it a bomb? What is this explosion? It was so massive.

TUCHMAN: I mean, how old are you?

JOE BERTI: Forty-three.

TUCHMAN: In 43 years, have you ever been near a bomb or an explosion before?

JOE BERTI: No. I've never seen anything --

TUCHMAN: And then it happens twice in three days? JOE BERTI: Yes.

TUCHMAN: Joe got back in his car, and in a jittery voice, called his wife Amy back at home.

JOE BERTI: I said, you'll never believe this, but I've seen another explosion, and I'm starting to describe it to her, and her first reaction was just get home. Get home as quick as you can.

TUCHMAN: And that Joe did, returning home to a wife and children who want him to stick around for a while.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Austin, Texas.


BERMAN: Just get home. He's not going away for a long, long time. Wow!

SAMBOLIN: You know, I wonder --

BERMAN: Imagine being in both places.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. It makes you kind of take a step back and kind of ask big questions, right? About why you witnessed things like that twice. And then, you worry about things coming in threes, at least I do. So, my superstitious nature this morning, Joe -- John, rather. I'm sorry.

All right. Forty-six --

BERMAN: A good time to stay home with your family.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. No kidding. I agree.

Forty-six minutes past the hour. Swollen rivers and deadly flooding has parts of several Midwestern states still in danger this morning. We're going to bring you a live report coming up.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. I'm John Berman live in Boston this morning. The surviving suspect in the bombings here, he is on the mend. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been upgraded from serious to fair condition, recovering from gunshot wounds to the head, neck, legs, and hand. He could soon be moved out of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to another facility.

Meanwhile, a milestone for Bostonians and a good one. Just nine days after the bombing, the site of the attack on Boylston Street, it is open again. Boylston Street back and open for business this morning. All this is happening while a delegation from the U.S. embassy in Moscow is in Dagestan attempting to interview the parents of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. They're doing this with the cooperation today of the Russian government -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Happening right now, more rain has made a bad situation in the nation's midsection much worse. Swollen rivers are already to blame for fourth deaths. And Governor Jay Nixon declaring a state of emergency in Missouri after flash flooding drenched many parts of that state. CNNs Jim Spellman is live in St. Louis this morning. And Jim, how bad is it, and the big question, is it expected to get worse?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, just take a look here, Zoraida. This is sort of a boat terminal. Usually, this is dry land, and there's a road here between where I'm standing and this terminal. The Mississippi River has just come out of its banks here. To give you a little context, right now, the river is at about 35 feet, and they believe that that's about as high as it's going to get, that it will crest later today.

Flood stage is 30 feet. Normal is 15 feet. But last year in the middle of the severe drought, it was as low as three feet. So, what an incredible shift, a change from last year to now during this flooding. So, we believe that things are going to start getting slowly better down here in the St. Louis area. Up in Fargo, North Dakota, they're just getting ready.

This spring's storms, spring rain is accelerating the melt of the snow there. They're bringing in sand bags. They're getting ready to just get started up there. It's had a serious toll. We know that four people are dead and one woman is missing from this flooding, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: What can you tell us about the search for that missing woman? I believe she's from Peru. Illinois, that is.


SPELLMAN: She's 62 years old. Her name is Nancy Greening (ph). Last Friday, officials were out in a plane surveying flooding and taking photographs. And they spotted a woman next to a white van in a flooded out road completely surrounded by water. They couldn't land there to try to help her. When they went out to try to look for her, they couldn't find her. They posted this picture on Facebook saying, does anybody know who this woman is?

People connected her with a missing woman, Nancy Greening (ph), in Peru. And now, the search is on for her, but they've had to suspend that search because of this condition is just too dangerous for them out there to be out looking for herself. As soon as they can, they're going to be out there, trying to find her. But, the circumstances did not look so good for this missing woman, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: How horrible for her family as they stand by waiting. Jim Spellman live for us, thank you very much.

And things are bad in the Midwest, but they could get worse. More rain is expected. It could speed up also the melting of snow, making the rivers rise even faster. Jennifer Delgado has more from the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta. And, I guess, we want to know where is the worst of all of this expected to head next?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right. Now, we're actually focusing on Missouri as well as in Illinois. Of course, you can see all the areas that are dealing with flooding as it shows up in green. But what was going to be happening, I know Jim is live in St. Louis, as we go farther down river across the Mississippi River, we're going to see more flooding. For areas like Cape Gerard, they're expecting their river to cross -- I'm talking to Mississippi, 10 feet above flood stage tomorrow.

Now, keep in mind, for Mississippi River and St. Louis at moderate flood stage. Illinois River and Peoria at major flood stage. A lot of these aren't going to recede until the weekend because we've had that recent rainfall. It means it's going to be slower for some of these rivers to actually recede. Now, as we look what's happening on the radar right now, yes, still some rain out there for areas like Indianapolis into St. Louis.

You can see for parts of Southern Illinois, showers and thunderstorms out there. They'll be moving over towards the east as we go through the next couple of hours, but the problem is we're also going to be looking at a cool down, and that's going to be pulling that cold air down towards the south. As we go through today, tomorrow, that frontal system fizzles out, and then high temperatures today are going to be running roughly about 15 to 20 degrees below average.

Now, I want to point out to you from the Dakotas right now. We're expecting highs in the 40s. As we head into Thursday as well as into -- or to say Friday as well as into Saturday, high temperatures running into the upper 70s. That is going to lead to rapid snow melt. That is going to lead to more flooding concerns as we go into the weekend for areas up towards the north.

SAMBOLIN: A big mess for them. Jennifer Delgado, thank you very much.

DELGADO: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: And still ahead, he tried once and failed. Now, an openly gay kicker is determined to get another shot at an NFL job and a place in history.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Fifty-eight minutes past the hour. Trending online this morning, he has been openly gay since high school. Now, 23-year-old Alan Gendreau, a former star kicker from Middle Tennessee state wants a shot at the NFL. He might have been drafted in 2012, but a disappoint senior year meant (ph) that that did not happen for him.

Gendreau just talked to "Out Sports" magazine and says he knows the NFL is a long shot and that he's an unlikely pioneer. Gendreau's currently a free agent and will have to wait until after this week's NFL draft to see about getting a tryout. Good luck to him.

EARLY START continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN (voice-over): Back on Boylston Street. The city of Boston marking a major milestone in its recovery just a short time ago.

So, were the Boston bombing suspects do it yourself terrorists? The latest this morning on how they might have pulled this all off, also why.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): And a stunning twist in the ricin letters investigation. The man thought to be behind them now out of jail and talking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've never heard of ricin or whatever. I thought they said rice. So I said, I don't even eat rice.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): All right. Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. Glad you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin in New York.

BERMAN (on-camera): And I'm John Berman live in Boston this morning. It is April 24th, and it is 6:00 a.m. in the east.

It is a proud morning, a proud milestone for Boston this morning. Boylston Street is back in business. That is the street just right behind me right now. It is the site of the Boston marathon bombings, and it is open to the public today nine days after the terror attacks that, in some ways, left the city and the nation reeling.

There are also new developments this morning with the suspected bomber who was charged with shutting that street and this city down. Here is the latest. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's condition has been upgraded from serious to fair this morning. We're hearing he could soon be transferred out of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to another facility.

And as for the terror investigation, a U.S. official tells CNN's Jessica Yellin, there is no hard evidence that the Tsarnaev Brothers had any accomplices or any connections to extremists.

In this new development which is unfolding right now, a delegation from the U.S. embassy in Moscow is arriving in Dagestan to attempt to interview the parents of the Tsarnaev Brothers. They're doing that with the cooperation of the Russian government.