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Terrorists Threaten to Sell Girls; Crisis in Ukraine; Circus Collapse Investigation; Oscar Pistorius Murder Trial; Clippers Rout the Thunder

Aired May 6, 2014 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, al Qaeda-linked terrorists threatening to sell, sell hundreds of kidnapped girls in Nigeria. The threats made in a terrifying, new video. Now, the FBI offering to help bring the girls back.

We're live in Nigeria with the latest this morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The unrest in Ukraine intensifying this morning as the death toll rises. Bloody fights between soldiers and pro-Russian protesters, this as diplomats from Ukraine and Russia prepare to meet in Vienna. Can they keep this conflict from escalating? We're live on the ground with what's happening right now.

ROMANS: The show must go on. Ringling Brothers preparing its new performance as we learn what caused eight acrobats dangling high in the air to plummet to the ground.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Tuesday. Great to see you today. It's May 6th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And we do begin with the disturbing, new developments in Nigeria, where armed terrorists are now threatening to sell, to sell more than 200 young girls that they kidnapped from a school. It's been nearly a month since the girls were taken at gunpoint. They were loaded on to trucks. They were driven into the African bush.

The U.S. is now sharing intelligence with Nigeria, and with international pressure growing, there is at last new urgency in Nigeria to find these girls and free them.

Our Vladimir Duthiers is covering this story live in Nigeria with the latest.

And, Vlad, let's start with this new video from Boko Haram. How seriously is the world, how seriously are Nigerian leaders taking these claims about selling these young girls?

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, any time Boko Haram does anything in this country, the Nigerian government takes it very seriously. And the world is now waking up to the horror that the Nigerian people have lived under over the last several years. This is a group that since 2009 has killed thousands. And just this year alone, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch says that Boko Haram-related violence has killed 1,500 people in Nigeria. That's an astounding number.

This abduction of these young girls that happened on April 14th is just the latest in a long line of atrocities. And what the supposed leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, said on that video, as you said, chilling, disgusting, saying that he would sell these girls in a human market because this is what Allah wanted him to do in his distorted view of Islam. This is the parents' worst nightmare. For the last three weeks, they've been telling us that they had feared that their children might be trafficked into neighboring Cameroon, Chad or Niger.

In fact, they said that they had seen convoys filled with young girls and militants in those trucks on the road leading from Nigeria into Cameroon, and now this is their worst nightmare, John.

BERMAN: You say it's the parents' worst nightmare. It should be the world's worst nightmare as well, selling young girls.

Vlad, the United States now talking about possibly sending FBI help to investigate here. How's Nigeria responding to these offers?

DUTHIERS: John, the Nigerian government has been up front. Just a few days ago, President Goodluck Jonathan said that he welcomed any kind of support that he could get from international leaders. In fact, he had reached out to the United States, he reached out to neighboring countries, those countries that we mentioned where these girls possibly might be, because I think they realize that this is now not only garnered international attention and outrage, as people and the families themselves say that they've seen a sort of indifference to the plight of their children and the plight of the families, because we so far have not been privy to any kind of operational details that the military's undertaken.

The military has said to us that they will not divulge what they are doing on the ground for fear of jeopardizing the girls, for putting in jeopardy the lives of the girls and the families, but we would at least like to know some kind of detail as to how they are going about looking for these girls. So far, a lot of questions remain to be answered.

BERMAN: We'd like details or at least see some evidence that that is in fact the case.

Our Vladimir Duthiers, we're lucky to have you there. Thanks for reporting on this for us from Lagos in Nigeria.

ROMANS: Really just a lack of confidence, a real lack of confidence that the Nigerian government has a handle on what to do. And even the language coming from the president, originally saying that, actually blaming some of the families for not working better with the police.

BERMAN: I think the international community would like to see a lot more signs that the Nigerian government is taking this seriously and acting now. ROMANS: All right. Now to Ukraine, where this morning the government is stepping up its efforts to force pro-Russian militants out of Slaviansk. Intense fighting there so far has left at least four people dead, many more injured. A government helicopter was shot down, and the streets, the streets are a war zone.

Senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is live near Slaviansk for us this morning.

You say it's been quiet in recent hours but that there's this just foreboding feeling about what's going to happen next, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Christine, intensified by the decision by Ukrainian authorities to close Donetsk airport, and that's quite a far drive south from where I'm standing, but it's the main hub for Donetsk region, where all this unrest has been percolating now through for weeks. I think that's got many people concerned that perhaps they're worried about something that they know is about to come or they're about to broaden their operations here. Unclear at this stage.

But yesterday, I think it's fair to say we saw the start of what's probably the beginning maybe of civil conflict in this area. That's the first time Ukrainian troops moved in earnest against the pro- Russian militants. In the past, they had been testing each other on the outskirts of Slaviansk and we saw Ukrainian military moved down that highway in earnest, and ahead of the sniper who drove past them, and then of course, clashes ensued.

But the problem you have to understand here, Christine, is that these clashes, they don't achieve much militarily for the Ukrainian military. They clash with pro-Russian militants. They claim they yesterday potentially they inflicted dozens of casualties upon them. We didn't see any evidence of that ourselves. And you would imagine that if the 30 or so suggested by the interior ministry were killed, we'd have seen more of that there.

But they have these clashes. They deeply upset the local population, who saw one woman killed simply standing on the balcony hit by a stray bullet yesterday, and then they pull back often because they meet resistance too strong. And that's simply is galvanizing those inside Slaviansk against potential intervention by Kiev authorities.

Not to say the entire town is for pro-Russian unrest there, but it's certainly complicating matters, given really that Kiev has to move in, reclaim those towns and keep troops and police in there. It's a very tough challenge, not impossible at this stage, Christine.

ROMANS: It certainly is very difficult. Nick, thank you so much for that.

BERMAN: Really interesting. Losing the battle on the ground and losing the battle for hearts and minds. It shows the difficulty there.

Six minutes after the hour. A major ruling for the Supreme Court on the role of religion in public life. In a 5-4 decision, the justices say it is OK for towns to start their public board meetings with sectarian prayers.

Two New York state residents argued that their town was violating the First Amendment because opening prayers were almost always Christian prayers. The court disagreed, saying the prayers were ceremonial. Critics say the ruling sets minority faiths apart as second-class citizens.

ROMANS: Happening today, the White House set to release a key report on climate change. A report is expected to show the effect the changing environment is having on Americans' daily lives.

This report's been in the works now for years. It will build on a draft first made public last year. Its authors say the weather extremes we've seen this year and last are evidence the country must take action before it's too late.

BERMAN: We could find out more today about the inner workings of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's administration. A former aide is set to testify this morning before a legislative committee investigating the bridgegate scandal.

Christina Renna was the governor's director of government affairs. She worked closely with Bridget Anne Kelly, of course, the deputy chief of staff who wrote that famous e-mail believed to have triggered the shutdown of lanes on the George Washington Bridge.

ROMANS: New developments this morning in the investigation into the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other State Department employees in Benghazi.

House Speaker John Boehner has chosen South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, former prosecutor and a prominent critic of the Obama administration. He's chosen him to head up a House select committee looking into whether the administration tried to cover up what happened in Benghazi.

Democrats say they haven't gotten any details yet about this committee. Democrats are pushing for a no vote on forming a committee.

European stocks mixed in the early going. Dow futures point to a higher open. Stocks made a comeback yesterday after a really tough start to the day. Prosecutors in the U.S. now zeroing in on a European bank, Credit Suisse.


ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: There is no such thing as too big to jail. Some have used that phrase --


ROMANS: That's Attorney General Eric Holder. He's responding to critics who have criticized his department in the wake of the financial crisis for settling cases with big banks, big banks that never have to admit any wrongdoing. That may be about to change, the Justice Department close to a settlement deal with Credit Suisse in which the bank is expected to admit guilt. The case revolves around whether the Swiss bank used offshore accounts to help Americans dodge taxes.

By the way, that's not the financial crisis. People have so angry. It's been six years since the financial crisis and they don't think banks have been held accountable. This is about offshore taxes, not necessarily the banking crisis.

BERMAN: It's good to know that alleged malfeasance is not just confined to the financial crisis. Awful, actually.

Nine minutes after the hour.

Happening today: Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus arrives in the next city for its next performances as investigators reveal what caused a human chandelier of acrobats to plummet suddenly to the ground.

ROMANS: And neighbors coming to Oscar Pistorius' defense. The Olympic athlete accused of murdering his model girlfriend. The trial ongoing right now. We're going to take you live to the courtroom to South Africa with the latest after the break.


ROMANS: Welcome back.

Happening today, the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus heads for Hartford, Connecticut, and is promising a very close inspection and changes for an aerial apparatus that failed, leaving nine performers injured. Investigators now say it was a single metal clamp that broke, causing the accident.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The apparatus was attached to a cable, which then fed back to a winch machine located on the floor. So, if you can imagine, it goes from the floor up to the rafters at the top and then comes down, grabs the chandelier apparatus that the performers were hanging from. It was a single piece of equipment that failed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did it snap, the metal itself, or did it --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It did, it snapped.


ROMANS: The circus says it will replace all of those metal clamps before the next show on Thursday. Eight of the performers remain hospitalized. Two are in critical condition. But the circus says none of the injuries appear to be life-threatening.

BERMAN: The FAA says last week's air traffic control problem in Los Angeles that canceled 50 flights, delayed more than 450, was caused by a U2 spy plane. The U2 --

ROMANS: Hate when that happens!

BERMAN: Crazy! The U2 typically flies about twice as high as commercial airliners, but apparently, a computer system misinterpreted the flight path as much lower, causing it to overload. The agency says no flights were in danger, the problem has been corrected.

I am much more troubled than you are about this, the fact that there are apparently U2 spy planes flying everywhere, disrupting potentially air traffic control.

ROMANS: I'd like more transparency, was it Justin Bieber or Lindsay Lohan we're spying on? I just don't know. L.A.? What else could it be?

All right. An incredible scene outside Denver, a single-engine plane with an advertising banner crashed into a home, bursting into flames. The pilot escaped with minor injuries. Miraculously, no one was inside the home at the time. The owner of the plane says the engine lost power. The cause not immediately known.

BERMAN: Fire crews in Oklahoma think they may have the upper hand on a huge blaze north of Oklahoma City. The fire in Logan County did leave one person dead. It damaged at least 30 structures, charred more than 3,000 acres. Dozens of firefighters were hurt battling the fires, but it is now at least 75 percent contained.

ROMANS: It's been one year, one year since three women and a child escaped a Cleveland home where they had been held for upwards of a decade. Today, we're hearing from one of those women, Michelle Knight, who endured 10 years, tortured, starved, beaten by her captor.

She tells Anderson Cooper she never expected to escape.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did you think that this would at some point end, that it wouldn't go on, that he would let you go? Did he promise that he would let you go?

MICHELLE KNIGHT, KIDNAPPING SURVIVOR: No, he told me he'd never let me go.

COOPER: He said that from the beginning.

KNIGHT: Yes. He said, you don't have a family that cares about you. If I kill you right now, nobody would even care.


ROMANS: Today, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus will be honored by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for giving courage to families trying to find their missing loved ones. Part two of Anderson's interview with Michelle Knight airs tonight on "AC360." BERMAN: The World Health Organization has declared a global emergency for a disease once nearly eradicated, warning a 25-year campaign to end polio will be lost without quick action. This is serious.

The paralyzing virus is making a crippling comeback in Pakistan, Syria, Cameroon. It spread to neighboring countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. The declaration recommends travel restrictions, including vaccination requirements on the three countries in question.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check of your Tuesday forecast.

Indra Petersons is here! Good morning, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, good morning, guys. We're still seeing a little bit of that trend, kind of mild to the Northeast, pretty nice yesterday. Pacific Northwest also mild, but the middle of the country continuing to make headlines as we're still expecting another day of record-breaking heat. That, of course, includes Oklahoma City, where they're still worried about the wildfires there.

Today, looks like another day of record-breaking heat for them. Yes, some light showers are out there, not a big deal, but towards D.C. this morning, a couple scattered showers cruising through the region. But again, it's the middle of the country where we still have that fire danger in places. Red flag warnings are expected again today.

Let's look at these temperatures, very easy to see the problem here. Wichita, again, looking at about 25 degrees above average for this time of year. We're starting to see that spread even farther to the north. So, Chicago today in the 60s, just below normal, but by tomorrow, you are going to be looking at that heat.

So, what's the story? We're looking at the cool air I showed you in the Pacific Northwest. This guy's going to start to progress farther to the East. So, by tomorrow and through Thursday, you're going to look at that clash, all that warm air in the south clashing with that cold air. Again, we're talking about the threat for more severe weather.

So, that's going to be the concern Wednesday in through Thursday. And eventually, as we go towards Thursday and through the weekend, we'll be talking about maybe light showers into the Northeast as that spreads farther off to the east along the warm front.

So, big change again for Wednesday and Thursday. All eyes will be on that.

BERMAN: All right. We'll keep a watch on that. Thanks, Indra.

ROMANS: Happening now at the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa, the defense putting on two critical witnesses. A neighbor and his wife testifying they heard a man, not a woman, begging for help the night Reeva Steenkamp was shot, directly contradicting other neighbors, who said they think they heard Steenkamp herself.

CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps is at the courthouse for us this morning in Pretoria.

Kelly, this seems to be a major part of the defense case. Is it enough to overcome what others have said?

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it is a crucial part of the defense case, and it can potentially overcome what the others have said, particularly if you consider the proximity of these neighbors in comparison with the earlier neighbors. So, earlier neighbors that testified that they heard a woman screaming was as far as 170 meters away.

And today, we've heard from the two neighbors who were immediately next door to Pistorius' house, estimated to be under 20 meters away. So, there is an issue of credibility there. And of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that the earlier neighbors' testimony was untrustworthy, but it could lead the judge to conclude that those earlier neighbors were simply mistaken as to what they heard.

ROMANS: Defense is moving quickly here. How much longer might this testimony take?

PHELPS: Well, we're expecting the defense case to wrap up in the next two weeks. We know that there's a total of between 15 to 17 witnesses in total, so we're reaching about the halfway mark of their case now.

ROMANS: All right. Kelly Phelps, thanks for that from Pretoria this morning. It's been a long trial, a two-week delay in it, a delay at the start. Emotional testimony from him, but still a long way to go.

BERMAN: Another week and a half, maybe two weeks before they wrap this up.

BERMAN: Meantime, a big-time blowout for the Los Angeles clippers, not letting the controversy over their owner get in the way of how they perform on the court.

Andy Scholes, the king of the playoffs, has the details next in the "Bleacher Report."


ROMANS: I would say the Clippers made a pretty big statement in game one of the second round of the series, blowing out the Thunder in Oklahoma City.

BERMAN: All those three-pointers. C.P. three!

Andy Scholes joins us now with a highlight in the "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, you know, good morning, guys.

The home court advantage continues to just not mean much in this year's playoff. The Clippers went into OKC last night, just put a beatdown on the Thunders. Star point guard Chris Paul, who usually doesn't shoot many threes, he was raining them down in game one. He hit eight in the game, six coming in the first half, as the clippers ran away with this game, winning 122-105.

And Paul now has a new nickname, CP-3 pointer.


REPORTER: Eight of nine three-point shooting, does that rank near the best shooting of your life?

CHRIS PAUL, L.A. CLIPPERS: That's what I do. That's what I do.

That is a lie. I don't know. I mean, it's just one of those nights. I promise you, that's got to be a career high for me.


SCHOLES: Trending on this morning, Pacers center Roy Hibbert did it again! The all-star center scored zero points and grabbed zero rebounds in last night's game one loss to the Wizards. He's 7'2" and I did as well as him last night. Incredible.

Hibbert's teammates not happy with him after the game. They said he has to be a part of the fight.

All right, the NBA playoffs continue tonight on TNT. Game one between the Nets and Heat tips off at 7:00 Eastern followed by game one between the Blazers and the Spurs.

The NFL draft is not until Thursday night, but Philadelphia Eagles may have already added a difference-maker this week. The team announced yesterday they have signed U.S. army ranger Alejandro Villanueva to a free agent contract. The former army wide receiver served three tours in Afghanistan and was recently promoted to captain. And if he didn't sign on with the team, he said he was going to go back for a fourth tour in Afghanistan.

And, guys, he hasn't played organized football since 2009, but he told that he stayed sharp by playing HLZ football, which stands for helicopter landing zone football, and he said sometimes they would even hear gunshots and have to hit the deck while they were playing out there in Afghanistan. So, it's great to see this guy get a shot in the NFL. We'll hope he's a success.

BERMAN: Wonderful thing. Yes, the stakes a little higher in football over there.

Thanks so much, Andy.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Andy.

BERMAN: This morning, a desperate search to find hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped by terrorists. We are live with this crucial story right after the break.