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Reporters Hear Gunfire at Mall; FBI Investigates American Involvement; Costa Concordia Trial; Typhoon Usagi Lands; Al-Assad Claims Rebels May Attack Inspectors; U.N. General Assembly Meets

Aired September 23, 2013 - 12:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome. You're watching AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in for Suzanne Malveaux today.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Michael Holmes. We want to welcome viewers here in the United States, but also all around the world with CNN International as well.

WHITFIELD: The Kenyan government says the final assault is on to end that deadly siege of an upscale mall in Nairobi.

HOLMES: Yes, this still goes on. It started Saturday. A government official says Kenyan troops have been attacking the terrorists holding people hostage in the mall. Apparently they have killed three, they say, so far.

WHITFIELD: The interior ministry is now telling us that more than 10 people are under arrest and being questioned about possible involvement in that attack.

HOLMES: Yes, but the interior secretary says other members of the al- Shabaab militant group may be on the run, perhaps even inside the mall. Now, as we said, the group took control of the mall on Saturday. At least 62 people are dead.

WHITFIELD: And our reporters there are hearing gunfire and they're trying to stay safe themselves. Take a listen to this.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's more gunfire. Is that more gunfire? OK. Can we have the helmet? Where's the helmet?


HOLMES: Yes, that sounded pretty close there, too. Things pretty tense. Not entirely clear what is exactly going on minute to minute. The militants claim they are still holding some people hostage. Now you see the black smoke there rising from the mall. We've been watching that for hours now.

WHITFIELD: In fact, the Kenyan government is saying the gunmen actually set some of these fires deliberately to try to distract troops coming in to end that standoff. And we're also hearing from some of the victims of the deadly assault. Victims who have watched a lot of this, but they were able to make it out safely.


SARA HEAD, AMERICAN SURVIVOR OF MALL MASSACRE: People were telling us to - to be quiet. I was - I was pretty afraid that it was unsafe to exit, but I did anyway.


WHITFIELD: Al-Shabaab claims three Americans are among the 10 to 15 attackers. Federal agents in the U.S. and overseas are working to find out if that is true.

HOLMES: Yes, they said that on Twitter. They've been doing a lot of tweeting.

Now earlier reports indicated women may have been part of the group, but now the Kenyan government is massaging (ph) that a little. They're saying that there are reports that some of the male terrorists were actually dressed as women when they went in.

WHITFIELD: In fact, a lot of people have seen -- there's been a lot of helicopter activity. Some of them flying very low near the mall and gunfire, of course, ringing out. The Kenyan government says it really is insisting that the end game is near. It's day three now.

HOLMES: Interestingly, we've been hearing that for 12 hours. Maybe it is true this time.

Nima Elbagir is in Nairobi and joins us now.

You've been hearing those reports for hours as well. Is there any indication that the end game is approaching?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's definitely a lot of indication that the Kenyan government is getting a much better grasp on the situation in a more broad way. They - as you've said, they've arrested 10 people, four of those were picked up at the airport, Michael. Insiders tell us that they believe they were trying to make their way outside of Kenya. They're now being questioned on suspicion of involvement in the attack.

And you can see very much in the language that the Kenyan government are using that they're feeling more confident. The tweets that are coming out from the Kenyan interior ministry and (INAUDIBLE) ministry, and this really has been - it has been a propaganda war on Twitter. Every tweet that the al-Shabaab movement have been sending out, that you've see the Kenyan authorities increasingly use Twitter for their own means to disseminate information to the public and to us, the media. So they're saying, please, don't worry. That you -- if you're thinking that anybody - any of these guys are going to slip away, we have pretty tight cordons. And we're seeing some of those cordons here. They've expanded their area of operation, the crime scene as they're calling it, far beyond what it was initially. They're blocking off quite a few of the roads leading to here.

We've also started speaking to some of those who are coming here every day to wait to find out what's going on inside. One young man, who we spoke to earlier, has been coming every single day since this siege began, Michael. But he's hopeful. He says he believes the government and, more importantly, he says he believes what he's feeling. And what he's feeling is that his father, whatever we're seeing, whatever the smoke, whatever the gunfire, he believes that his father is alive somewhere inside that building, Michael, in the middle of what some of these people have been going through.

WHITFIELD: And, Nima, I wonder, since authorities are saying they believe they have about 10 gunmen arrested and they are questioning them, is there a feeling that some of the gunmen are in a different location, that there are separate locations within the mall that authorities are targeting in order to apprehend some of the gunmen?

ELBAGIR: Well, they're saying that they have 10 suspects who they suspect of involvement, and that doesn't necessarily mean that they're gunmen. These could be people who they suspect of being involved in the planning. I mean this was a very, very complex, multilayered operation. So the manpower that you generally -- the expertise that you would need to carry something like this off, there are a lot of people and the Kenyan government are hoping that there are going to be leaks from those people and they're going to be able to follow-up on those leaks.


WHITFIELD: All right, Nima Elbagir, thank you so much, reporting from Nairobi. Keep us posted.

HOLMES: Yes. So the FBI, of course, is now trying to figure out if al- Shabaab's claims made on Twitter, they've been tweeting an awful lot throughout this thing, they claim that Americans were among the attackers in Kenya. The FBI's trying to work out whether that's actually true or not.

WHITFIELD: In face, our Nic Robertson continues to do some digging on that, joining us from London right now.

So, Nic, the terror group also claiming that people from other countries may be involved. How are investigators trying to get to the bottom of all of those participants?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're not really going to get to the bottom of it until the Kenyan authorities take control of the situation and they're able to identify the people that they've captured or killed. We've heard from the Kenyan officials that they're using CCTV footage from in that area that they've been able to identify the people in there as being male. So we know that they have some level of knowledge about who they are. But this claim that some are Americans, it really can't be substantiated. And I think what we have to remember looking at this is that al-Shabaab sees this as a huge propaganda opportunity. It's choreographed it, this complex attack, taking hostages to give them the maximum opportunity to get their message out. And one of the messages they want to get out as being part of al Qaeda is that they have a long reach, that they have members of al-Shabaab from the United States, from the United Kingdom, Britain.

And certainly there's some evidence to support that. Forty people at least believed to have left the United States over the years to join al-Shabaab. Over 100 believed to have left the United Kingdom for the same reasons. But it doesn't mean to say that they're in this attack. We won't really know until the end. And, of course, anyone Twitter feed, this associated with al-Shabaab or not, it can't be determined until this operation is entirely over. I think we just have to be cautious. This is a propaganda opportunity for al-Shabaab and they will exploit it every and any way they can.

HOLMES: Yes, as we've seen. Yes, Nic, of course, the fear for the west, and the U.S. in particular I suppose with the way the ready availability of guns here is that some of those people would get trained and come back. What -- when it comes to recruiting people who are living one presumes reasonable lives in places like the U.S. or Europe, what's the sales pitch that al-Shabaab is using?

ROBERTSON: The sales pitch is quite a simple one. They're appealing to people who are perhaps economically deprived, quite insular in their communities, whose lives are not going as well as they would like. Perhaps first generation immigrants or perhaps born to parents who left Somalia or east Africa tend to be the people that they've targeted in the past. And the message is, come back to Somalia, fight for your country, go back to the mid-2000s, the narrative was they were being invaded by Ethiopia. The historic line that would definitely appeal to some young Somalis.

HOLMES: Yes, Nic, appreciate your reporting on this. Nic Robertson there in our London bureau.

WHITFIELD: We've seen some extraordinary images coming out of Nairobi. In fact, a photographer for "The New York Times" happened to be near Nairobi's Westgate Mall shortly after the gunmen opened fire.

HOLMES: Yes, and while everyone was running out of the mall, Tyler Hicks ran in to cover the attack. He's used to such sorts of scenes. We want to show you some of the amazing pictures that he took and also listen to what he told us about the attack.


TYLER HICKS, PHOTOJOURNALIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" (voice-over): I happened to be close by to Westgate Mall when the violence broke out. And as I approached the mall, I could see lots of people running away. And as I got closer, it was clear that there were -- people had been shot. I saw people who had been shot in the stomach and the leg. Dozens of injuries streaming out among just terrified civilians. I continued to move along -- carefully along the front of the mall where I saw three men who had been killed just at the front entrance to the mall. One of them still inside the car that he had been driving. And continued to proceed up a -- into an upper parking garage where I, again, saw more people streaming out. The police and the army who were working there were desperately trying to get people evacuated out of the building.

I saw this as an opportunity to get inside, to go, you know, against the flow of the people and into the mall and to see what was going on inside. And that's really where we got a real sense much how bad things were. Even after being there an hour, an hour and a half, two hours, people continued to suddenly come out of shops. They had barricaded themselves inside either by locking the doors or by pulling the metal gates down in front of the storefront windows. And that was - you know, every 15 or 20 minutes suddenly it seemed, you know, 20, 30, 50, 100 people would come out of another place that were just terrified. You know they -- even though they could hear that there were people outside, they couldn't really tell who, that that was the police or the army. They were just petrified and staying low, which was really, you know, the right thing to do.


HOLMES: Tyler Hicks there. Now, survivors fighting for their lives as those terrorists stormed into that mall in Kenya.

WHITFIELD: Well now a lot are sharing their stories of fear and of gratitude.


BENDITA MALAKIA, AMERICAN SURVIVOR OF KENYA MALL MASSACRE: While we were back there, they're methodically kind of going from store to store talking to people, asking questions, shooting, screams. And then it would stop for a while and then they would go to another store.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm OK. I'm very grateful to be alive. I'm also very grateful for like the Kenyan people. Everyone was so helpful and supportive.


HOLMES: More from the victims coming up here on AROUND THE WORLD a little bit later this hour.

WHITFIELD: And now this. Syrian President Bashar al Assad says the United States and the U.N. are fighting an imaginary enemy he says.


PRESIDENT BASHAR AL ASSAD, SYRIA (through translator): Weapons of mass destruction are only useful during extremely hopeless situations and they have been considered suicidal by many. Syria is never suicidal.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOLMES: And then, are your fingerprints safe? New Apple technology uses them for added security on iPhones. But a German hacker group says they've beat the system and cracked Apple's new code.

WHITFIELD: And this Instagram photo of Rihanna with an endangered animal gets two people in Thailand in trouble with the law. We'll explain why. All straight ahead AROUND THE WORLD.


WHITFIELD: The manslaughter trial of the Costa Concordia's captain resumes today in Italy. Francesco Schettino's lawyers asked the court for permission to examine the shipwreck for evidence.

HOLMES: Yes, salvage crews, of course, have been razing the huge ship off the rock. It's still partly under water, but they've got it upright. Thirty-two people died, you'll remember, when the cruise ship carrying thousands of passengers struck a reef almost two years ago. The captain accused of causing the wreck by steaming too close to shore and he's also accused of abandoning ship.

WHITFIELD: And vice president Joe Biden heads to Colorado today to survey the massive flood damage. Ten people died and at least 1,800 homes were destroyed in two of the hardest hit counties northwest of Denver.

HOLMES: The flooding was triggered by torrential rains that drenched the Colorado Rockies for a week.

WHITFIELD: And then a typhoon slams into China killing at least 25 people.

HOLMES: Yeah, it's called Usagi, and it has weakened, but, boy, it affected millions of people in southern China, Taiwan, the Philippines.

Hong Kong was in the firing line for a while, but escaped the brunt of the storm, although they were still a lot of problems.

Here's Anna Coren.


ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was billed as the most powerful storm on the planet this year, and Typhoon Usagi unleashed its fury, bringing death and destruction to parts of southern China.

At least 25 people were killed, tens of thousands were evacuated as winds of up to 100-miles-an-hour lashed the coast.

Now here in Hong Kong we were expecting a direct hit, but the city narrowly escaped.

But it did shut down Hong Kong's international airport, closing businesses and schools as well as Hong Kong's stock exchange for part of the day. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: Yeah, amazing stuff there.

WHITFIELD: Very frightening stuff, typhoons.

All right, let's bring in Chad Myers to look at this and what kind of season they're having on that side of the world.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, that was the biggest storm so far, anywhere in any ocean this year.

Now, there are some satellite indications, at least because they don't fly through their hurricanes or typhoons like we do, so here's no real way to know what the pressure truly was, but there's satellite indication that is it could have been the strongest storm in any ocean for many, many years, not just this year.

It is a very -- was, at least, a very big storm. Look at the eye right there. Here's Taiwan and the Philippines. There is something going on here that we can't explain how it missed both of those islands. It went right in between.

Now there are some smaller islands in between, but could you imagine at this point a 162-mile-per-hour storm, either hitting the Philippines or Taiwan. That would have been absolutely devastating.

So it came onshore over the weekend. An awful lot of rain on this side. There was some rain in Hong Kong, but they were on the easier side of the storm.

This is the bad side because the wind is going this way and so is the storm. This is the easier side. Storm going this way, but as the wind is blowing this way, you actually subtract the winds.

And as the storm moved into the mountains of eastern China, Guangdong Province, a lot of rainfall here, we could still see quite a bit of flooding and also mudslides.

But at this point in time, 25 people, with a storm that could have been the largest in any ocean for 40 or 50 years, the loss of life of 25 is actually quite miraculous because the storm did die quite a bit before it moved onshore.

Had that came onshore as a super typhoon, those numbers may have been 100 times that.

HOLMES: Yeah, I had friends in Hong Kong in high-rises who were just hating it, but you're right. I mean, boy, that could have been a lot worse.

MYERS: You bet.

HOLMES: Chad, thanks so much.

WHITFIELD: Appreciate that. All right, coming up, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says the United States is trying to find an excuse for a war.


BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT (via translator): If the U.S. wants to find excuses for war, it will find them, as it has never stopped war.

There was a Russian-Syrian agreement for surrendering chemical weapons, to raise international opposition for war against Syria, as well as opposition from within the U.S. because there are no justifications for it.


HOLMES: The Syrian leader gives yet another interview, this time to Chinese television.

We'll hear more about that when we come back.


HOLMES: And welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world to AROUND THE WORLD.

WHITFIELD: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says outside governments may urge rebels to attack international inspectors in his country.

HOLMES: Interesting warning.

This was during an interview with China's state-owned TV, the Syrian president saying the scheme would be to blame his government for any attack on the inspectors who are, of course, being sent in to secure Syria's chemical weapons.

WHITFIELD: And he also again defended why his country has had those weapons for so long.


AL-ASSAD (via translator): It is no surprise they are large in amount. We are a country in a state of war with some lands that have been occupied for more than 40 years.

But no matter what, the Syrian army is prepared to fight with conventional weapons.


WHITFIELD: Last week, Syria turned over an inventory of its chemical weapons to the U.N., a list that is.

HOLMES: Yeah, that was all part of a move that was, of course, brokered by the U.S. and Russia to get rid, once and for all, of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. Now the Syrian crisis is just one of the hot issues, of course. It's going to make for a huge week at the United Nations.

WHITFIELD: In fact, world leaders are gathering in New York for the annual general assembly meeting, and our Christiane Amanpour is in New York.

So, Christiane, the other big news is about a possible meeting between President Obama and the Iranian president, Rouhani, the new president.

And what can we realistically expect?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, it's not clear yet. Certainly previous American presidents at this UNGA meeting have wanted to meet Iranian presidents, particularly President Clinton with the then reform Iranian President Khatami.

Now, at the time it didn't work. Khatami did not get permission from the supreme leader in Iran. Therefore, it didn't happen.

This time, however, everybody is thinking perhaps some kind of short- ish meeting or exchange of handshake may happen and certainly the new president, Hassan Rouhani, has indicated that he has the backing of Iran's supreme leader.

This is very, very important, Ayatollah Khamenei, not just moving forward with relations on various issues, but also in really trying to resolve Iran's nuclear issue, which, as you know, has been a sticking point with the U.S. and the West for many years now.

So if that does happen, it will obviously be a major step towards breaking down the incredible walls of distrust and enmity that have existed between the two nations over the past 34-plus years.

HOLMES: Yeah, and, of course, the U.S. president came into office saying that he was leaving the door open with talking with Iran. It's going to be interesting to see if he now takes this opportunity to walk through that door.

Christiane, it's going to be such a busy week. One imagines that, of course, Syria will be high on the agenda as well.

But what about Kenya? Do you think that's going to be conversations in the corridors about al Shabaab and the impact it may have on other nations around the world?

AMANPOUR: Look, I think for sure. I'm interviewing the foreign minister later in the afternoon and, of course, tomorrow I will be interviewing President Rouhani of Iran, so we can talk about all of these things.

But, look, this is al Qaeda rearing its ugly head. There is a dispute as to whether this shows a strengthening al Shabaab or a desperate al Shabaab lashing out.

I spoke with the Somali president not many months ago who basically felt that al Shabaab is being pushed back from real ability to cause mayhem in Somalia itself. It's had to give up control of several areas. It's not as prominent in the capital, Mogadishu, nor in the port city Kisimayo.

And is this sort of a desperate attempt for some kind of recognition and some kind of recruitment? We don't know yet. But these are some of the questions that are being asked there.

And, of course, it will be discussed in the corridors and in the meetings at the U.N. because this is really a global threat and one that, look, we all know has been ongoing even before 9/11.

HOLMES: Yeah, it's going to be -- I'm looking forward to your interviews, particularly with Mr. Rouhani. It's going to be fascinating. It's going to be his first one, of course, on U.S. soil here for the U.N.

Christiane, great to see you, as always.

And, by the way, for our international viewers, you can work her program at 2:00 p.m. Eastern. That's about 90 minutes or so from now.

Don't miss it. Always a good program to dip in on, find out what's going on in the world.

Good to see you, Christiane.

WHITFIELD: All right, very good. Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, some very tense moments outside that mall still attacked by terrorists in Kenya.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Is that more gunfire? Can we have the helmets? Where is the helmet?


WHITFIELD: That's one of our reporters right there. Very frightening.

HOLMES: Yeah, Zain Verjee, we're going to be talking to her, actually, about what it's like to report from that scene.