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Vermont Lawmakers: Halt Propane Exports; Co-Pilot Hijacks Airliner, Seeks Asylum; Travel Insider: Fort Lauderdale; McCain: U.S.- Syrian Policy "Abysmal Failure"; Rare Glimpse of Islamist Group's Brutal Tactics; Obama Talks with Barkley

Aired February 17, 2014 - 10:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: A group of Vermont lawmakers wants the White House to step in and do something about the rising cost of home heating fuel. And they are asking the Obama administration to curb the export of propane to bring down skyrocketing prices.

Nationwide, prices are up about 60 percent from a year ago. Senator Bernie Sanders is an Independent and one of the lawmakers calling for urgent and decisive action. Welcome, sir.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Thank you very much.

COSTELLO: What are your constituents telling you about the cost of propane?

SANDERS: They are angry and they are frightened. Costs are skyrocketing. It's a cold winter. And people need more fuel. And in my state at least many of the people who use propane are low income people; 25 percent of the people who get fuel assistance from the federal government use propane.

So for these folks, it is now a choice about whether they stay warm in a very cold winter here in Vermont or whether they buy the food they need or the prescription drugs they use.

COSTELLO: And just tell us more about your plan to possibly bring those prices down.

SANDERS: Well, here is what we have as a nation. The production of propane domestically, has gone way up. In fact we are producing more propane now than ever before. And yet the costs are skyrocketing because the companies are exporting huge amounts of propane all over the world.

In fact, we have seen a doubling of exports of liquid petroleum gases in the last two years, a doubling. So we're producing more but the end result is that people in Vermont and throughout this country are seeing huge increases in their prices, because much of that new production is going abroad. And what we are asking the secretary of the Commerce to do, which she has the authority to do, under the law, is to temporarily limit the export of this propane gas.

COSTELLO: That seems so strange to me that we would be serving those overseas before serving our own.

SANDERS: Well that -- that is exactly the point. Obviously, I think most viewers know that the function of gas companies and oil companies is to make as much money as they possibly can. And they do that very well. They are very profitable.

But I agree with you. I think the function of the United States government and what we should be doing as a nation is to protect struggling people who are hurting in a difficult economy. Many of them are really low income people, from seeing huge increases in fuel prices at a time when the weather is very cold. And that's exactly what we are urging the Secretary of Commerce to do, to put a temporary restriction on the export of propane.

COSTELLO: Have you heard back from the secretary or the White House.

SANDERS: Not yet. But in fairness we just sent the letter on Friday.

COSTELLO: Is this a bipartisan effort?

SANDERS: Well, in Vermont, it is not. I'm an Independent and the other senator is a Democrat and the member of the House is a Democrat. But I should tell you that this problem extends far beyond Vermont and the Midwest prices have skyrocketed and in that sense, it is a bipartisan concern.

COSTELLO: You are right about that. Senator Bernie Sanders, thank you so much for joining me this morning. I appreciate it.

SANDERS: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, an airliner is hijacked. And that's not even the headline. We'll tell you why the co-pilot commandeered his own plane.


COSTELLO: Quite a drama unfolded overnight in Switzerland, the police are still trying to unravel it. A co-pilot hijacks his own flight and commandeers the airliner in a desperate mission for asylum. First off we'll tell you all 202 people aboard are safe.

Here is the route for that Ethiopian airlines flight. It left the capital, Ethiopia's capital last night bound for Rome. But when the pilot left the cockpit for the restroom the co-pilot sees his chance. He locked the cockpit door and rerouted the plane to Geneva, Switzerland. The airliner landed safely and the co-pilot was immediately arrested -- well, actually not without some drama.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen joins us live from Berlin to tell us how this all went down. Good morning.

I don't think Fredrik is hearing us. No he is not, all right well let me just -- as you can see the passengers were getting off the plane because that co-pilot allowed every passenger to get off the plane. And then there was a rope on the cockpit. And we're not sure if the co-pilot actually shimmied down that rope and then was arrested. Or if authorities went on board that plane and arrested him. We do know everything ended peacefully. The co-pilot is now in custody. We do not know if his wish for asylum was granted.

Other top stories this morning, a 19-year-old Pennsylvania woman facing murder charges along with her husband for killing a man they met on Craigslist is now saying she's killed at least 22 other people. On Friday Miranda Barbour gave an interview to the Daily Newspaper in Sun Berry, Pennsylvania and says she stopped counting once she hit 22 killings. The Sun Berry Police Department have been in contact with the FBI and law enforcement in places where Barbara has previously lived while they investigate her claims.

A Kentucky pastor best known for starring in a reality show about snake handling in church has died following a snake bite. Jamie Coots died Saturday after being bitten during a church service. The star of "Snake Salvation" believes in a bible passage that suggests poisonous snakebites will not harm those who are anointed by God. Coots refused to be treated instead he died at his home.


CODY COOTS, JAMIE COOTS'S SON: I kept smacking him in the face, like dad come on talk to me, get responsive. And after he passed out in the bathroom, he never did say nothing else. I mean that is his last words was, "Sweet Jesus." And that was it.


COSTELLO: This is not the first time Coots was bitten by a snake. He once lost part of a finger from a snake bite.

If you thought you were going to get a break from winter guess again. From Minnesota to Maine, people will be getting slammed with more snow and bitter cold. In some parts of the Midwest, up to eight inches is expected. And parts of New York will see another five inches of snow. This on top of the latest blast New England got just yesterday. More than a foot of snow dumped on Cape Cod. Thousands are without power.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, Charles Barkley goes one-on-one with President Obama as NBA fans tune in. What the President has to say about everything from food to health care just ahead.

Spring cannot get here soon enough specially after all the snow and ice storms barreling across the country this winter. You know I just told you about that.

Nascar driver, Brian Vickers, is here to give you a glimpse of the warm weather to come. He is our travel insider this morning.


BRIAN VICKERS, NASCAR DRIVER: Hi I'm Brian Vickers, I'm a Nascar driver. Fort Lauderdale is my city. We're here at Yolos in Ft. Lauderdale. It actually stands for You Only Live Once which I find to be a great name. You know why I think Yolos is great, is obviously the food first and foremost. Being in Fr. Lauderdale it's good to have that open indoor/outdoor kind of atmosphere. And Yolos really has that.

Now we're sitting here at the Fort Lauderdale beach. And this is the wave wall it's one of the things that made the Ft. Lauderdale boardwalk unique. You see a lot of people out here running on the boardwalk, or riding bikes at bike path, if you're doing activities on the beach, swimming in the ocean. It's a great place really to stay healthy, stay active, especially when you are traveling on the road or if you live here.

Now, we're at Coconuts, one of my favorite places. It's a great place for a little 5:00 happy hour. It is a place you can boat to. It's no really a tourist spot at all. It's kind of tucked away.

I love coming here on the boat and just kind a nice, slow cruise and tying up and just going to the bar or sitting outside here somewhere just having a nice cocktail with friends when I'm at home in the off- season, not on the road and it's a great place to wrap the day up.


COSTELLO: Secretary of State John Kerry blames the Syrian government for a deadlock in peace talks aimed at ending the nearly three year old civil war. He says the U.S. remains committed to finding a political solution. A solution that Senator John McCain says is taking the Obama administration too long to reach. He calls U.S. policy in Syria an abysmal failure.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If there is still viable opposition that we can help and assist. We can do that and to do nothing, of course, we'll see a further deterioration and a regionalization of the conflict.


COSTELLO: In the meantime, CNN has obtained a remarkable collection of videos evidence of the draconian and brutal tactics employed by radical Islamic group ISIS that controlled much of Northern Syria. This is a group so radical that even al Qaeda has distanced itself.

In the videos recorded by the group itself ISIS is seen interrogating prisoners and conducting executions. We should warn you some of the images you are about to see are graphic.

CNN's Ben Wedeman has an exclusive report on what can be learned from these recordings.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The voice off camera asks, "How old are you?"

"I was born in 1980."

"Are you married?"

"Yes," he responds, "I have two children."

"Do you want to see them again?"

"God knows I do. I have nothing to hide."

A man who calls himself Bassem (ph) and a doctor pauses, collecting his thoughts.

"So talk, answer quickly. Are you cooking up lies," shouts the other?

This video is one of eight interrogations obtained by CNN from Syrian opposition activists. The interrogators speak with distinct Iraqi accents and ask questions about goings-on in the town of Al-Bab northeast of Aleppo. From the questions, it is clear the interrogators are not with the regime of President Bashar al Assad but rather with ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria.

It's not clear what happened to these men. But another chilling video we will show you later may be a clue.

Early last year ISIS emerged as a major power in opposition controlled areas of northern Syria. Since then, the ultra extremist group has exposed strict extremist law, held public floggings and executions and most recently has battled other execution groups in fighting that has left well over 2,000 dead. Even al Qaeda's leader has demanded ISIS leave Syria.

Missing in the interrogation is any mention whatsoever of the Assad regime. The only concern is the challenge posed by other opposition factions and the local populace to ISIS.

"Who is erasing the slogans and symbols of ISIS on the walls," demands the interrogator?

"I swear, I don't know, as God is my witness," responds this man, who identifies himself as Hammed (ph).

Another interrogation: "What were they saying about the Islamic State", he's asked. "Say the truth, save yourself."

"I will speak the truth even if I lose my head", responds this man who says he is called Mustafa.

All of these clips were found in the residence of this man known by his nom de guerre Abu Ahmed el-Iraqi or "The Iraqi". Activists describe him as an ISIS amir -- a commander and an intelligence officer. They found the abandoned video in January after he fled fighting between ISIS and other factions.

Some of the clips and still shots show a young woman in the company of Abu Ahmed trying her hand at shooting an AK-47 assault rifle.

"Steady," he tells her, "Steady".

ISIS is imposing the strictest possible dress code on women in the areas it controls. Given that her face is uncovered, clearly this was for Abu Ahmed and this unidentified woman, a private moment.

So what happened to the interrogated man? It is not clear from the videos. But one of the last recordings documents in detail ruthless ISIS style justice, execution by flashlight. "Ready," asks the voice off camera. 14 men, some apparently quite young are shot -- one after the other.

The scenes are too graphic for us to show. Some fall into the mass grave already dug. The new boss in this part of Syria -- not unlike the old boss.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Gaziantep, Turkey.



COSTELLO: President Obama talks hoops, politics and a whole lot more with former NBA star, Charles Barkley. It aired on TNT before last night's All-Star game. The President told Barkley he has a lot of respect for Michael Sam, the University of Missouri football player, who could become the first openly gay player in the NFL.


CHARLES BARKLEY, FORMER NBA STAR: This week, Michael Sam came out.


BARKLEY: I saw the First Lady call his decision courageous.

OBAMA: Right.

BARKLEY: What do you think about that?

OBAMA: I really like the fact that Michael did it before the draft. His attitude was, you know what, I know who I am. I know I can play great football and judge me on the merits.


COSTELLO: Barkley also asked the President about the term Obamacare.


OBAMA: I like it. I don't mind. And I tell you five years from now, when everybody's saying man, I'm sure glad we've got healthcare, there are going to be a whole bunch of people who don't call it Obamacare anymore because they don't want me to get the credit.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COSTELLO: CNN political director, Mark Preston joins me now from Washington. A of viewers complain -- well, I should say many viewers complain --when we use the term Obamacare. But the President, he embraces it.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: He does embrace it. And in fact, Carol, he really has no choice but to embrace Obamacare. I mean it is his signature domestic issue. It is something that's going to be his legacy. The fact is, you know, his presidency is going to be determined whether it is a failure or whether it is a success.

And that's why we see the President really out there trumpeting it and really trying to make it work. He acknowledges that there are problems with it. He acknowledges that there were problems with trying to get people signed up on the web site.

We have seen a turn around. We just saw in January, another million people have enrolled in Obama care. But the fact is, there still are problems with it. That's why we have seen Republicans, Carol, continue to talk about all the problems of it. And they said that they are going to make an issue of Obamacare in the November elections. That's why they continue to talk about it.

COSTELLO: I know there is a new CNN poll of polls out on the President's approval rating. What does it show?

PRESTON: It shows that they are sliding. Right now, you know, in the past year, we have seen the President's approval rating continue to slide down now to 42 percent, you know from a high of about 53 percent this time last year. It just goes to show you right now that there is quite a bit of uncertainty right now Carol in the country.

Not only is there uncertainty when it comes to the economy but the fact is that there is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the housing market, it comes with a lot of uncertainty when it comes to people's jobs. It comes with a lot of uncertainty with global unrest right now with terrorism and what have you. I think that's what we are seeing right now with this second term regarding President Obama.

I still think that you are seeing a lot of backlash against Washington, D.C. There is a lot of anger right now directed at Washington. And I think that President Obama is facing a bit of the brunt. You know, if we were to show what the approval rating is at Congress, it would be far below 42 percent right now.

COSTELLO: That's true.

Do interviews with Charles Barkley help the President, you think?

PRESTON: I do think. That's why we see President Obama, we see Michelle Obama going out and doing interviews with the likes of Charles Barkley or Jay Leno or Jimmy Fallon or doing interviews, you know, on "Entertainment Weekly" or any of these types of shows, because it is opening him up to a whole different audience.

He did an interview with Bill O'Reilly. It didn't go so well during the Super Bowl. But the fact of the matter is, there are folks who watch CNN or Fox News or MSNBC or any of the news programs but there are also a whole lot of other folks who tune in to entertainment programs or only tune into sports programs. So this allows the President to try to reach those types of viewers.

So when you have Charles Barkley interviewing the president, it does give him an opportunity to try to reach out to a different type of viewer.

COSTELLO: All right. Mark Preston, thanks as usual. I appreciate it.

PRESTON: Thanks Carol.

Thank you for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello. @THISHOUR with Berman and Michaela starts after a break.