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"Unacceptable, Unforgivable"; "Unprecedented" Operation Against Al Qaeda; Boston Marathon: One Year Later; Ukraine in Crisis

Aired April 21, 2014 - 05:00   ET


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Victor Blackwell.



I'm live in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, and at the starting line of the Boston marathon, where just in a few hours right now, this race will kick off. It is Monday, April 21st, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And as I said, this is the spot where just a few hours from now thousands and thousands of runners will hear the starting gun. It's just right back there. Some 36,000 runners will pack this very small town and take to the 26.2-mile course, this a year after terror marked the end of the race, but this year, very, very different, feelings of joy, anticipation for so many people. And I'll have the story of one family of survivors coming up.

But first, Victor and Alison have the rest of the day's headlines.

BLACKWELL: All right, John, thank you. We'll check back.

Up first, new developments in the South Korean ferry disaster. Four more crew members have just been arrested. Their actions and the captain's now described as akin to murder by South Korea's president. And we're getting new information about the chaos that unfolded in the moments before the vessel capsized, and ultimately, sank.

Let's get live now to the latest from Will Ripley, live off the coast of Jindo, South Korea.

OK. So, we'll get back to Will. We're having a bit of a technical issue, attempting to report live from the Yellow Sea. We'll get back to him in just a moment.

KOSIK: We'll move on to this story. Breaking overnight, a massive, unprecedented operation targeting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is ongoing at this hour. At least 30 militants killed by air strikes, part of a joint U.S./Yemen official.

Let's get the latest from international correspondent Mohammed Jamjoom live from Washington this morning. Mohammed, what's the latest on this?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Alison, what we know is that the operation is still ongoing, and the fact that it's still going on is very significant. Now we know that there are Yemeni commandos that are on the ground in parts of Shabwa and Abian (ph) provinces. These are part of Yemen that are extremely, rugged, mountainous. In short, the perfect type of hideout for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is the most dangerous wing of the al Qaeda network and which is housed in Yemen.

Now, these attacks are led by the U.S. and Yemen. They have come just a week or so after the release of a videotape that shows a lot of leadership of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, quite frankly, sitting comfortably at their hideout in Yemen, meeting, talking about future plans. That was seen as a huge embarrassment with regard to the counterterrorism efforts of the U.S. and Yemen, who for so many years have been trying to vanquish al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

So, the officials that I spoke with yesterday said, yes, this was a response to that. It was a massive and unprecedented response. At least 30 militants have been killed at this stage, and that these commandos are on the ground there now trying to go after high-value targets. What's not known is if any of the people who have been killed are, in fact, high-value, very wanted targets from amongst the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula organization. That has yet to be seen, and that will entail DNA tests that could take days to confirm.

But the operation's still ongoing, and many of the officials I spoke with yesterday who were skeptical at first and wondering if this wasn't more of a propaganda effort led by the Yemeni military, now seem to think that this really is an unprecedented operation, and they're hoping for the best, and they hope this is the kind of operation that really will effectively deal with the al Qaeda problem that Yemen has -- Alison.

KOSIK: OK, Mohammed Jamjoom from Washington, thanks.

BLACKWELL: Let's get back now to Will Ripley, live off the coast of Jindo, South Korea, for the latest on that overturned ferry and the search for any possible survivors -- Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Another day of searching, and we know (AUDIO GAP) hundreds of divers have been working to access the third and --

BLACKWELL: All right, a bit of a technical glitch there. Will, thank you. We'll try one more time.

Now, let's get to this agonizing search for Flight 370. Overnight, Bluefin-21, that autonomous, underwater vehicle, completed its eighth trip below the ocean surface, still no sign of the missing jetliner. Two-thirds of the underwater search area has now been covered, leaving some to wonder if they're even searching in the right place.

Let's go now to Erin McLaughlin. She is in Perth, Australia, this morning.

So, before people regroup and reconsider, as we heard from the leader of this search, or at least from the prime minister there in Australia, they are going to finish this, and hopefully, there's something in this 30 percent remaining.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Victor. Officials here saying that it's really important that they either rule in or rule out this current search area. Why? Because based on their calculations, with the limited information that they have, they believe it's the most likely place that they're going to find that black box.

And that's largely based on the second acoustic detection that was made on April 8th. It lasted about 13 minutes. It was the strongest signal of the four signals that were picked up by that American- operated towed pinger locator.

And what they're doing right now is they're searching in a 10- kilometer or 6-mile radius around that point, slowly and meticulously.

Now, Australian authorities saying that these efforts, the last 30 percent, expected to finish in the coming days, and when that happens, they're really going to have to assess what they're going to do next. There is possible talk of broadening the search area out, maybe introducing more submersibles into the mix to help cover that broader area.

At the moment, they're on mission nine, and we're also hearing, I just want to mention, of a tropical cyclone, Jack, which is to the north of the search area, and that could potentially complicate things in the coming days. A tropical cyclone possibly causing increased waves, some isolated thunderstorms that could impact, perhaps, the Bluefin's work, but also, certainly that visual search for debris, the search by plane and by sea, which so far has yielded absolutely nothing, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Erin, there was a period, I guess several weeks ago, in which it seemed as if every day or every other day there were reports of potential debris, objects found, and those turned out to be nothing. Have they found no potential objects related to this plane, or are they just not reporting them until they get an absolute yes or no?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, as far as we know, that visual search by plane and by sea has yielded not a single sign of the missing plane. The last press conference, Angus Houston, the man responsible for spearheading this international search effort, saying it was looking less and less likely that they would find any piece of the plane from that visual search. He also said that in the coming days, the countries participating in that search would have to reassess.

So far, though, those efforts seeming like they're continuing, at least through the Easter weekend, and perhaps into next week, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Erin. Thank you very much, reporting from Perth for us. KOSIK: They're promising to make Boston the safest place on the planet for the 118th running of the Boston marathon, and many of those taking part have very personal connections to the horror at the finish line. John Berman is live with the story of survival. That's coming up next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

We are less than five hours now from the start of the Boston marathon, and for thousands of runners, thousands of survivors from last year's race, this day could not come soon enough, not to mention the millions of people from this area. Security very tight today, they're calling this the safest place on earth. Some 35,000 law enforcement will be manning the streets, the 26.2-mile course, 100 security cameras in place, 36,000 people will be running with a million more expected to watch, cheering them on, including from right here at the very start in Hopkinton, where I am right now.

Now, for one family that I met one year ago, this has been a remarkable year, a comeback story. The White family. And they're looking at today as a reawakening.


BERMAN (voice-over): Kevin White is running. Bill White is walking. But most importantly, the entire white family is standing, tall.

KEVIN WHITE, BOSTON BOMBING SURVIVOR: Last year, I was on the ground at the finish line. This year, I'll be running across it. So, you know, it kind of proves to people that, you know, evil isn't going to win.

BERMAN: I first met the Whites nearly one year ago after the Boston marathon.

(on camera): This is a picture of right after the race. Show me where you are.

K. WHITE: I am right here. I kind of got blown away from the blast by about five feet. My father's in the red right here, laying down, and my mother is right next to him over. And then you can see that the blast happened right around there.


BERMAN (voice-over): Kevin, then 34, had shrapnel all through his legs. Mary Jo, then 67, a broken wrist. And Bill White, at age 71, lost his leg.

BILL WHITE, BOSTON BOMBING SURVIVOR: Because when I woke up after the surgery, the first thing that dawned on me was I have one leg. That's a shattering moment for you. To lay there and say, you have one leg, how am I going to live the rest of my life?

BERMAN (on camera): You did write, you know, "I question God as to why."

B. WHITE: Why me? What did I do wrong and why did my life change this way? But I've learned to get over that in terms of, it happened, and I had two choices -- either continue to learn how to walk or to give up, and I'm not a person who gives up easily.

BERMAN (voice-over): No. None of them are. Bill did learn to walk. And son Kevin, he's running the Boston marathon.

(on camera): You still feel the shrapnel at all?

K. WHITE: I do. It doesn't hurt.

BERMAN (voice-over): Kevin explains why this is so important to him in his blog.

(on camera): The name of your blog is "Footsteps."

K. WHITE: Yes. For us, the concept of footsteps was taking steps forward from where we were. And with my dad, that's literally walking. So, those are his footsteps forward. You know, mine is training for the marathon and just kind of coming to grips with everything that happened last year, and probably the same for my mom, just recovering from that.


We've really tried to work together and individually at our own marathons this year. Just every day.

B. WHITE: And I think probably for Kevin and the others who are running, hopefully, we'll get to that point in the run where they remember they can and the will, but they can say to themselves, they can see the finish line and saying, I'm doing it. I'm doing it.

There's a huge difference between saying you can and you will, but doing it.

BERMAN (voice-over): They are doing it, all of them, together.

K. WHITE: I think looking back and reflecting, you know, we all kind of appreciate that we're still here and together.


BERMAN: So, get this -- Mary Jo white ran a 5K race this weekend. Bill White, the father, did a 1-kilometer walk all himself. He finished it in great condition. And Kevin White, the son, who is running his first marathon today and will start just behind me in a few hours, has already signed up for his second marathon in Chicago.

As I said, they're looking at today as a reawakening. Kevin texted me overnight. He says, "Today is the day that tears of pain will be replaced by tears of joy."

BLACKWELL: Wow. BERMAN: A wonderful day here at the Boston marathon. Now, let's go back to Alison and Victor in New York.

BLACKWELL: The entire family.

KOSIK: It's just amazing how powerful. And it really puts everything into perspective, when you think about your own problems. Listen to what they're saying.

BLACKWELL: Especially Bill at 71 back on his feet.

KOSIK: Getting up and doing it again.

BLACKWELL: All right, John. Thank you very much.

Here's a story people will be talking about all day. Breaking overnight, this 16-year-old boy is recovering this morning after apparently stowing away in the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines flight, making it all the way from California to Maui.

Now, some people doubt his story. They say it would be difficult, if not impossible, to survive with, of course, the lack of oxygen, the frigid temperatures at 38,000 feet. But surveillance footage shows him jumping a fence at San Jose, the airport there, and then crawling out of the landing gear in Maui, rather. Hmm.

Expeditions to the top of Mt. Everest could be canceled for the rest of the year, officials say in Nepal, after an avalanche killed 13 Sherpa guides, 3 others still missing. Many of the remaining guides are threatening a strike if they aren't better compensated for their dangerous work. An American adventurer Joby Ogwyn has now canceled a wing suit jump slated for next month on that mountain.

KOSIK: In Wyoming, officials are racing to stop a slow-moving landslide that's already destroyed one home and is threatening to bury many others. The ground in Jackson has been moving at about an inch a day for several weeks, but authorities worry the recent construction may have set it moving even faster. Still, they say it's unlikely the hillside will suddenly give way like one did in Washington state that left 39 dead.

BLACKWELL: All right, let's get a look at your morning forecast. Chad Myers is here.

Chad, more people, 9,000 more people are going to be in Boston for this marathon.

KOSIK: How's the weather looking?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We're all looking at each other, is this good running weather? I don't know.


BLACKWELL: We don't know. MYERS: It seems so. I would like, if I was a runner -- 53 is a nice start, 57 by 1:00, and probably by the time you're done, somewhere around 60 degrees out there. I was on the plane up here with some people that were going to the marathon, and they said that, you know, 35,000 people is an amazing amount of people to be running all at one time.

So, we hope that they have a great time up there. Sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. It's going to be a really great day. There will be bumps across the southern part of the plains, if you are flying, and there are 1,050 planes in the sky already. So, this has already started for today, and high pressure across the east coast, rain across the Midwest. Even severe weather possible across parts of Texas, Texarkana back to Dallas. That's the only area, though, that we have to worry about for today.

There goes the cold front for us. We will get rain showers in the Northeast for tomorrow evening. There's a slight risk for this afternoon across parts of the Deep South.

But enjoy your day or enjoy your run, I guess.

BLACKWELL: Hopefully, things stay dry for the White House Easter egg roll. A lot of kids looking forward to that.

All right, thank you, Chad.

KOSIK: Nashville and country music fans are mourning the death of Kevin Sharp, a country singer who topped the charts after surviving cancer as a teenager. It's a diagnosis that led to him meeting award- winning producer David Foster and the start of his singing career. Sharp's biggest hits were on his first album, "Measure of a Man," including the number one song "Nobody Knows." Sharp went on to become a spokesman for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He was 43 years old.

BLACKWELL: Remembrances this morning also for Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the boxer who spent 19 years in prison for three murders he did not commit. Carter was a contender for the middleweight title when he was convicted in 1967.

Now, the case drew international attention and a Bob Dylan song. Maybe you saw the movie starring Denzel Washington. His convictions were eventually thrown out in 1985. And in recent years, Carter lived in Canada, where he died of prostate cancer. Rubin Carter was 76.

KOSIK: A little biz news for you. With many markets around the world closed for Easter Monday, Asian stocks were down slightly after the holiday weekend, but futures in the U.S. looking higher. A nice follow-up after stocks ended last week with their best gain in nine months. The Dow and NASDAQ climbed a little more than 2 percent, and the S&P 500 up 2.7 percent.

This uptick you're looking at is thanks to earnings season looking a bit better than expected, and this week, some of America's most recognizable brands will report first-quarter earnings, including Netflix, Apple, Google and Amazon. Turning to another recognizable name, Pfizer reportedly was looking to buy AstraZeneca in one of the biggest deals the pharmaceutical industry has ever seen. "The London Sunday Times" is reporting that the two drug makers talked several months ago about a takeover valued at more than $101 billion. Talks have ceased for the moment, but AstraZeneca has attracted attention for its experimental cancer drugs.

BLACKWELL: You know the great thing about filling in on this show?

KOSIK: What is?

BLACKWELL: Is that I can get answers to all my financial questions and advice. When Christine is here, I get her answers. Now, when you're here, I get yours, too.

KOSIK: There you go.

BLACKWELL: Works out that way.

Hey, this morning, there's supposed to be a truce in eastern Ukraine, but it could actually be closer to a tipping point after a shoot-out leaves three people dead. We are live with the latest next.


BLACKWELL: Twenty-three after the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START.

Vice President Biden is on his way to Kiev this hour. He is scheduled to meet later today with Ukraine's acting president and prime minister. You know, the tensions are running extremely high in that region after a deadly shoot-out Sunday in eastern Ukraine shattered an Easter truce.

Phil Black joining us live now from Donetsk, Ukraine.

Phil, after this agreement in Geneva and then the renewal, it seems as if things have gotten worse, actually.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's what it looks like here on the ground, Victor, indeed. Now, there are competing, different versions, and some of the details still murky in terms of what just happened with this shoot-out, but it is the pro-Russian forces in the tone of Slaviansk who have really controlled this town, say that one of their checkpoints was attacked in the middle of the night, an ambush with men arriving in cars, opening fire, and in the shoot-out, six people, they say, three on each side, were killed before the attackers then fled after two of their cars were destroyed.

Now, they say that this attack was carried out by a nationalist group called Right Sector. That group denies involvement, says it had nothing to do with it. The Ukrainian government's only security services say they believe the pro-Russian forces actually staged this attack as some sort of propaganda event. No matter what happened here, the consequences are potentially pretty serious, because what we're seeing across the region is that pro-Russian supporters are now refusing to put down their weapons. That was a key part of that agreement struck in Geneva last week, to try and end this crisis.

And these pro-Russian groups are now also pleading with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to send in soldiers to protect them, send weapons, send humanitarian aid. So, whether or not this was a bold nationalist attack or a pro-Russian propaganda stunt, ultimately, the goals would have been pretty similar. It was to increase the tensions here, to really try and escalate this crisis even further.

Victor, back to you.

BLACKWELL: All right, Phil Black for us in Donetsk -- Phil, thanks.

We're going to have all of your top stories coming up, including the latest on the search for survivors in the South Korean ferry accident and a major offensive against al Qaeda in Yemen, all of that coming up after the break.


KOSIK: Shock, sorrow and anger as divers search a ferry for survivors. South Korea's president lashes out at the captain and crew, saying what they did was unacceptable, unforgivable and akin to murder. We're live with the latest.

BLACKWELL: Breaking overnight, dozens of suspected terrorists killed in Yemen as the government there goes after al Qaeda. Drones are in the air, commandos are on the ground. We're live with the late- breaking details.

BERMAN: And Boston strong and Boston secure. This city locked down for a marathon unlike any other, one year after a terror attack. Runners take to the road once again.