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Jailed Mom in Mexico; Grandparents Take Home Rescued Newborn; Suspicious Letter Addressed To Obama; Interview with Fawaz Gerges

Aired May 30, 2013 - 12:00   ET



SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: A mom's cry for help.


YANIRA MALDONADO, DETAINED IN MEXICO: I need to be back with my family. I need out of here. I need help.


MALVEAUX: The latest on the Arizona mother of seven jailed in Mexico, accused of smuggling pot.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Then, there is hope for that baby rescued from a toilet drainpipe in China. We've got the latest for you on his condition and his mother's straight ahead.

MALVEAUX: And a suspect is charged in the killing of this British soldier. We'll have a live report from London.

Welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company today.

That Arizona mother of seven, who was arrested in Mexico for allegedly smuggling pot, says she is innocent.

MALVEAUX: Yanira Maldonado spoke to CNN from jail. This is Nogales, Mexico. Our Rafael Romo has the story.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Yanira Maldonado was emotional from the moment she saw us escorted into the prison administrator's office to be interviewed.

YANIRA MALDONADO, DETAINED IN MEXICO: I'm not a criminal. (INAUDIBLE) because people are not doing their work. This is not right. I need to be back with my family. I need to - I need out of here. I need help.

ROMO: Maldonado and her husband were returning by bus from the funeral of her aunt when Mexican soldiers stopped the vehicle at this checkpoint. Passengers were taken off and the bus searched. The soldiers said they found several packages of marijuana under her seat, 5.7 kilos, more than 12 pounds, and she says asked her to pay $5,000.

MALDONADO: It's a lie what they're saying. And they say they found something under my seat. But I never saw anything. They didn't show me anything. It was just amazing all what they did.

ROMO: Maldonado says authorities did not make it clear at first that she was a suspect, but she knew she was in trouble when federal agents started questioning her husband and her.

MALDONADO: I was in shock when they said that it was me they want, because first they said that it was - that it was - um, that it was my husband.

ROMO: Taken into Mexican federal custody, she was transferred to the state prison last Friday where she's being held in a temporary cell away from other inmates. Family members have been allowed brief visits.

ROMO (on camera): Now, your husband, Gary, and your children are going to be listening to this and watching you. What do you want to tell them?

MALDONADO: That I love them very much. That I'm going to be -- they know that I'm innocent.

ROMO (voice-over): And that belief is also held by a Mexican state official with extensive knowledge of the case who told CNN it would have been almost impossible for her to carry that much marijuana on to the bus without someone noticing.

MALDONADO: They have cameras in the - on the terminal in the bus and they haven't checked that. Why they don't check for fingerprints? I don't have -- my fingerprints are not in those package - or in the package or whatever they're saying that they found.

ROMO: Maldonado says she has not been mistreated, but she's rethinking the advice she used to give friends about traveling to Mexico on vacation.

MALDONADO: I used to tell people, come to Mexico, it's not true what they're saying. I go every year to visit my family and look what's happening to me now.

ROMO: All this devout Mormon can do now, she says, is pray.


MALVEAUX: Rafael Romo joining us from across the border in Mexico - from Mexico, rather, Nogales, Arizona (ph).

Rafael, first of all, the soldiers who arrested Maldonado, they were supposed to testify in court yesterday. They never showed up. Does the family see that as a good sign for them?

ROMO: It is definitely a victory of sorts, Suzanne. They were expected to testify yesterday, didn't show up like you said. But the reality is that in the Mexican legal system, if they show up say today where there's another hearing that will begin in a very short time, or even tomorrow, their testimony will still be valid. But the fact that they didn't show up is being seen by the defense as a victory of sorts.

HOLMES: Yes, and, Rafael, you know, a Mexican official familiar with the case saw him quoted as saying that he thinks she was framed. I'm curious, you've been down there a lot, how common are claims of, well, shakedowns if you like?

ROMO: It wouldn't be the first case where somebody from a different country, especially the United States, is framed in Mexico. I can talk, for example, about the case of a teacher who used to cross the border daily and drugs were planted in her car and was later found out that somebody else was doing that so that she would get the blame. So it's not entirely out of the possibility.

But the way in which this was done, two foreigners traveling in a bus and being accused of something like that when the evidence is flimsy at best, definitely is getting a lot of attention, not only in the United States, but also on the Mexican side of the border, Michael.

HOLMES: All right, Rafael, thanks so much. Rafael Romo there in Nogales, Arizona (ph).

MALVEAUX: And they hope this is going to wraps up by Friday, by tomorrow.

HOLMES: Really?

MALVEAUX: I mean that family very nervous. But that is the hope at least.

HOLMES: It doesn't move that fast down there Rafael was saying earlier too. It could -- it might be a week or two before they sort it out.

MALVEAUX: Now, we've got this amazing story, you know, of this newborn baby rescued after being stuck in a sewer pipe in China. Well, it does have a happy ending, thank God.

HOLMES: It does. And a lot of stuff being cleared up too. The child in good condition, now not in the hospital, gone home with the grandparents. David McKenzie reports, neighbors and police now believe -- the mother says the whole thing was an accident. They now believe her.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is where this extraordinary story unfolded, on the fourth floor of this building. The pictures have gone across the world. A mother who panicked, rushed to the toilet, according to police, and she gave birth after she had complained from stomach aches. The child got wedged inside a sewage pipe. And the images have become famous, hacking away at the pipe and trying to get the child out.

They then came here with the pipe, brought it on to the street and tried to get him out right here, this newborn. But it was impossible to reach in and physically pry him out. It was just too narrow. So they took the pipe to a nearby hospital and they pried it open with pliers, surgeons and the firefighters. They called the child, baby 59, after the incubator it was placed in. And the latest details are this. Apparently the mother's parents took the child away. The hospital and police saying that it was sufficiently recovered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): With assistance from our local police, the baby's family came to the hospital and took away the baby. The baby's condition met the rules to be discharged from our hospital.

MCKENZIE: Amazing when you consider the ordeal that it went through. Neighbors say that this could have been all a case of a mother being ashamed at her situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): After she became pregnant, she moved out of her parents place. She said she couldn't explain to her parents how come she was carrying a baby when she was so young and single. She has no solution but staying at this place. And day after day, her belly was growing.

MCKENZIE: People in this area and particularly people that were in the building where this happened are too afraid and ashamed to talk to us. And the family, both the mother and the parents, have asked that their privacy be respected. It might be hard to believe, but the police are saying that this is really an accident. The investigation's met up with what the woman said about her ordeal. They say it could have been just a case of someone who was very afraid and very ashamed.

David McKenzie, CNN, Jinhua, China.


HOLMES: Amazing story. Yes, there is a stigma attached in China to unwed mothers having babies and David --

MALVEAUX: And the one-child policy as well.

HOLMES: And that as well. Yes. And this woman apparently was just ashamed, tried to hide the pregnancy, and then the rest if it was an accident. So, just an extraordinary time.

MALVEAUX: Got to wonder where the father is in all this too, though.


MALVEAUX: That is another question.

HOLMES: Exactly.

MALVEAUX: Well, coming up AROUND THE WORLD, the World health Organization calling for a new deadly virus, a threat to the entire world. Should you be concerned? We have more after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MALVEAUX: We are getting breaking news here. A suspicious letter that is sent to the president. Our Deb Feyerick's in New York with some of the details.

Deb, first of all, what do we know? What makes this letter suspicious?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: OK, what we're hearing now, according to our sources, that FBI -- or they're analyzing a letter that was sent to President Obama. It was received at an offsite facility. But it appears to be similar to the two letters that were sent to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of those letters in Washington, another in New York.

We're beginning to learn more about what was in the actual letter. Specifically the writer says, quote, "you will have to kill me and my family before you get my guns. Anyone wants to come to my house will get shot in the face. The right to bear arms is my constitutional God- given right and I will exercise that right until the day I die."

Now, the two letters that were sent to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and also the organization he heads, which is Mayors Against Illegal Gun Violence, those letters were mailed from Shreveport, Louisiana. It is not clear whether, in fact, the one received or sent to President Obama was also sent from the same address, but officials are telling us that it does appear that the content, the tone of the letters and the message in the letters was similar.

Suzanne. Michael.

MALVEAUX: Do we know about the letters that were sent to Mayor Bloomberg, the other two letters, whether or not they contained ricin? We've been talking about that throughout the morning. Do we know that that, in fact, is true?

FEYERICK: Yes. And initially there were tests that were done in the field. And those did not -- tested negative and then they were later tested and it was tested positive, trace amounts of ricin. So now we're being told that, yes, it was ricin that was in the letters, trace amounts, but still sufficient. Somebody clearly trying to either weaponize or trying to make people ill by including that in the letters that were sent.


MALVEAUX: And what makes them think that the letters that came from the mayor and also were sent to the president were from the same people? Is it because of the language in those letters or anything -- any other similarities?

FEYERICK: Yes, that's exactly right. And right now we're being told that at least those that were sent to Bloomberg were, in fact, by one writer, same message, same postmark. And they believe because of the content, the nature of the message that was in the letter sent to President Obama, they believe that, in fact, they're linked. So now we have three letters that appear to have the same message that basically rails against any sort of gun control. Again, the message being, come to my house, I'll shoot you in the face.


HOLMES: And of course - yes, and of course, Deb, the security precautions are in place that these sorts of letters don't get anywhere near the president.

FEYERICK: Correct. President Obama and the mayor were never in any immediate danger. Clearly the threats are being taken very seriously. But the letter that was sent to his organization -- the Mayors Against Gun Violence - the -- or against guns, illegal guns, the man who heads that organization, he was the one who actually opened the letter himself. So that was not sent to an offsite facility. No one handled it except the man who it was actually intended for. So, obviously, that's going to be closely watched as well, Michael, Suzanne.

HOLMES: All right.

MALVEAUX: All right, I want to bring in Tom Fuentes, who's on the phone, joins us on the phone here to talk a little bit about the analysis and the national security implications of this. What do you make of the fact that the language is similar that went -- this kind of threatening language to the mayor, Mayor Bloomberg, as well as the president?

HOLMES: Yes, I think we've - I think we've lost him. So we're going to try to get him back. Tom Fuentes, we'll get him back. And we'll continue to follow this. He is back. Tom is back.



HOLMES: Oh, you do hear us.

MALVEAUX: Tom, quick question for you here. What do you make of the fact that the language is similar? The language that we heard to the president in that letter and then also the language that was sent to the mayor, Mayor Bloomberg of New York, very threatening language, but also ricin that was found in the mayor's letter?

FUENTES: Well, first of all, if the letters were mailed at approximately the same time, then there'd be no way for a copycat to know what the wording was in the first letter or the second letter compared to the wording of the letter that was sent to the White House and went through the White House screening center.

The second thing would be that, if the letters have similar text or were mailed from the same postal address, that would indicate that the letters may be connected to each other.

That doesn't necessarily mean it connects the letters to an individual yet, and that will have to be determined in the investigation.

Also, it's going to have to be determined if all three letters contained ricin.

Now, the fact that preliminary tests indicate positive testing for ricin, there's a lot of false positives with those preliminary tests. They're very inaccurate. They're known to be inaccurate.

So we're going to have to have the more definitive testing occur, probably at Fort Detrick Maryland, and it may take up to a week to actually determine possibly if the letters contained ricin, what type of ricin, how potent was it, all of that information, but that has to come from the sophisticated lab testing, not the preliminary test.

HOLMES: Yeah, but they are, as you say, and it's a very valid point, they are notoriously inaccurate in those early stages and it does require further testing.

And, Tom, it is concerning, though, that we see this stuff being -- it's something you can do at home, if you know what you're doing, but it's not necessarily massively dangerous unless it is refined down. Is that right?

FUENTES: Well, that's correct. I mean, but it can be very dangerous. It just depends on the expertise of the individual and what they were able to learn as far as making it at home.

That's the problem with this and so many other explosive materials that we've seen is that there are so many websites that educate an individual on how to produce deadly material, whether it be an explosive device or something like ricin, which can be mailed and sent to anywhere you want to send it to.

MALVEAUX: Tom, question here about the language in the letters. If this is in fact true, that the letters sent to the mayor and the gun group as well as the president says "what's in this letter is nothing compared to what I've got planned for you," what are you looking for? What do you think that means?

FUENTES: Well, you know, it really depends. It obviously sounds very ominous, and it could mean, you know, everything from further mailings of poison to possible assassination attempts.

This would be something that the FBI already has a violation now, sending this threatening material in the mail, but also would work closely with the Secret Service in terms of threats to the president and the type of mailings that have gone to the White House.

Fortunately, those type of mailings, at least to the White House or to members of Congress or to key federal agencies, go through a screening process. They go through a screening center to test the mail initially.

But, again, the mailing to someone in Washington, D.C., that opened the letter himself, that poses the danger of an individual that's not a postal employee possibly getting sick, or, you know, a fatal injury from the ricin.

HOLMES: All right, Tom Fuentes, thanks so much. Appreciate your expertise on this.

Want to bring in Jim Acosta now who is at the White House. Jim, I don't know if you've been able to get any reaction there yet.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Not yet here at the White House. White House officials are not commenting on all of this.

But we can tell you a little bit what you were just talking about a few moments ago, that a letter addressed to President Obama was intercepted at an offsite mail-sorting facility for the White House earlier today.

A law enforcement official we spoke to here at CNN does believe that this letter is connected to the letters that were sent to Mayor Bloomberg and the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group that is connected to Mayor Bloomberg.

A couple of things that we can tell you about these letters. As is the case with the letters to Bloomberg and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the letter to President Obama was also postmarked from the Shreveport area.

Law enforcement official that we talked to does not believe at this point that this case is related to that case that happened in Mississippi last month where a man in Mississippi was charged with sending ricin-tainted letters to the Capitol, to Senator Roger Wicker, to President Obama. That case is not believed to be connected to what is going on here.

But essentially what they're looking at this point, guys, is that the FBI believes there may be some copycats out there. One law enforcement official telling me, quote, "people are getting bad ideas."

MALVEAUX: Jim, it might be a little too soon to know this because you said the White House is not necessarily reacting to this, but do we know first of all where is the president, what is he doing, whether or not he has been informed of this?

And if not, what is the protocol here for dealing with something like this as soon as they do get this kind of information?

ACOSTA: Well, Suzanne, you know, as you've worked here at the White House, in the initial hours they're pretty tight lipped about this, and that is the case that we're getting this morning.

The president did spend the night in Chicago. He was in his hometown for a big fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He is en route back to the White House today.

No word yet whether or not he's been informed, but they do know here at the White House, and you know this, Suzanne, that these sorts of episodes do come up from time to time.

And what they usually caution in these cases and what they're cautioning to us through law enforcement sources is that there's no threat to the president, that this letter and other letters in the past are intercepted at this offsite sorting facility.

Again, and I think you've probably talked about this with Tom Fuentes, this infrastructure was put in place in the aftermath of September 11th and the anthrax scare that happened here in Washington and these sorting facilities are in place for this purpose.

HOLMES: Jim, thanks so much. Jim Acosta there.

We're going to continue to follow this story, of course any developments we will bring them to you.

MALVEAUX: obviously a copycat situation and they're watching it closely.

HOLMES: Yeah, strong language, too, in those letters.

All right, we'll be right back.


MALVEAUX: Syrian President Bashar al Assad says his country has received the first batch of surface-to-air missiles from Russia. That's according to reports of an interview that he actually gave to Hezbollah TV station in Lebanon.

HOLMES: Yeah, you have to confirm that independently.

Russia, of course, recently defended that arms shipment, saying it would help contain the conflict. Not everyone agrees.

This move coming only days before an E.U. arms embargo is set to expire. That opens up the possibility in a couple of months of perhaps the West arming the rebels.

MALVEAUX: Want to bring in Fawaz Gerges. He is the director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics. Thank you so much for joining us from Istanbul.

And, Fawaz, first of all, Russia -- if Russia has in fact sent these missiles to Syria or if they're on their way as Assad says they are, does it change the balance of power between the Syrian government and the rebel forces?

FAWAZ GERGES, DIRECTOR, MIDDLE EAST CENTRE, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Well, the reality is one of the lessons that we have learned from the last few years is that Russia has made major investments in the survival of the Assad regime.

Literally it has emerged as its most powerful ally. Forget Iran. Forget Hezbollah. Russia is the backbone of the Assad regime. It has provided them with arms. It has provided them with political support. It has used its veto twice in the security council. It has gone to great lengths to prevent any kind of military intervention in Syria.

And last week's decision to basically announce the shipment of advanced S-300 missiles to Syria is a clear case of Russia's commitment to the survival of Assad and also a powerful message to the West, stay away from Syria. That's what Russia is telling the Western powers.

HOLMES: Well, in fact, Fawaz, of course, the E.U.'s not renewing its ban on shipping weapons in, so you have this proxy-war scenario.

And, of course, one of the great concerns, the truth is, once weapons go into the country, you can't really control exactly who's going to end up with them eventually.

What's to stop al Nusra, the extremists, getting hold of them, or them being fired, say, into Lebanon, heaven forbid?

GERGES: Well, Michael, you're raising really not just one question, several points.

As you suggested, one of the lessons we have learned about civil wars, once weapons go in, no one, not even the supplier, would have basically control of who or where the weapons go.