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Terror in Nigeria; Putin: Troops Pulled Back; Embassy Operations Suspended; Thunder Rumbles Past Clippers, 112-101

Aired May 8, 2014 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Terror in Nigeria. Hundreds slaughtered in the streets by Islamic militants. The attackers, the same group who kidnapped hundreds of young girls from their schools. Those children set to be sold to the highest bidder. This morning, a country in fear and waiting for help. We're live in Nigeria with the very latest.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Crisis in Ukraine escalating this morning. Deadly fights in the streets between soldiers and pro-Russian protesters. They rage on. This as Russia's president insists he has nothing to do with the conflict, and now he is giving Ukraine citizens advice on their upcoming election.

We're live in Moscow with what the Kremlin is doing now.

ROMANS: Happening now, a terror threat at a U.S. embassy. The public told to stay away. The new al Qaeda warning, ahead.

Good morning, welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. Busy morning in news.

BERMAN: Busy morning. I'm John Berman. Great to see you today. It's Thursday, May 8th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

We're going to begin in Nigeria, where this morning it seems that the terror group Boko Haram is on the offensive, unfazed by international calls to release hundreds of kidnapped girls, including now a call from First Lady Michelle Obama. Unfazed, to say the least.

This morning terrorists launching a brazen, grisly attack on a northern village, an attack that left at least, we're told, 150 people dead. The details incredibly disturbing. Some of the victims reportedly burned to death.

Our Vladimir Duthiers is live in Abuja, in Nigeria.

Vlad, tell us what happened in this latest attack.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, this latest attack happened in a border town, on the border with Nigeria and Cameroon. Boko Haram members attacked a market. They killed at least 150, although a local state senator tells us up to 300 people could have been killed.

Now, this area, this very volatile area is very close to the area where three weeks ago, a little more than three weeks ago, 276 girls were abducted in the middle of the night from their dormitory whilst they were sleeping by Boko Haram members. This Boko Haram group splinter cell essentially took these girls into the Sambisa forest on the border with Cameroon and Nigeria.

And over the last three weeks, an ineffective military has been unable to bring them home. Parents on the ground telling us that the military search-and-rescue operation, which they say is not happening, has now caused these girls to probably be trafficked into Niger, Chad or Cameroon. It's just the latest in a long line of atrocities, John.

BERMAN: The latest in a long line, indeed, although now there is some international support coming in, really for the first time, in the effort to help find the girls who were kidnapped. What can this help do?

DUTHIERS: John, any little bit of international aid will, hopefully, bring the Nigerian government some kind of ability to control this very volatile situation. Look, over the course of the last three or four years, Boko Haram has attacked people in the northeast with impunity. The military has been unable to stop them, although regularly will receive press statements boasting that they've smashed terrorist camps, that they've arrested dozens of what they say are suspected militants.

In fact, rights groups say that in the first three months of this year alone -- this is a staggering number for anybody listening to this -- 1,500 people have been killed in Boko Haram-related violence in just the first three months of 2014, John. Any other country in the world, those kind of numbers would have -- that country would be at a standstill.

In addition to the 200-plus girls taken three weeks ago, one girl goes missing in most countries around the world, again, you have an enormous manhunt looking for them. Here in Nigeria, it's been business as usual up until this very critical moment where now the international community is finally paying attention, John.

BERMAN: Business as usual -- deeply troubling that that can take place there. Vladimir Duthiers in Nigeria for us -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Now, to the crisis in Ukraine, where days of fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces have left dozens dead now. Ukraine has blamed Russia for the conflict, but now it appears Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking a different tact, saying an independence vote planned for this weekend should be delayed. Putin claiming his troops have pulled back from the border, something NATO says doesn't appear to be true.

Senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, live in Moscow with more.

And, Matthew, Ukraine is saying it will continue its operation to force out these separatists.

Moscow seeming to try, at least with words, to de-escalate the crisis. Is it working?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, there's certainly been a dramatic change of tone, I think it's fair to say, coming from the Kremlin with regards to the Ukraine crisis.

I mean, Vladimir Putin isn't a politician that is normally given to flip-flopping, but he has made a remarkable U-turn in his stance on Ukraine supporting the 25th of May presidential elections that are due to be scheduled there just a few days earlier. He spoke saying it would be absurd to stage those kinds of elections with such a terrible poor security situation on the ground, also calling on those pro- Russian groups in the east and south of the country to postpone their planned independence referendum, which is scheduled to be held this weekend.

That's thrown the whole region into a certain amount of confusion. The Ukrainian foreign minister has been tweeting that it shows who the boss of these pro-Russian groups are with Vladimir Putin essentially ordering them to postpone their referendum.

But there's still a debate going on on the ground as to whether they will heed the words of the Russian president. It's going to be very interesting to watch what actually happens there over the coming hours and days -- Christine.

ROMANS: Certainly troubling, because this began as just sort of a war of words and lots of tension, and now you've got dozens dead. So, this is a real conflict with real, real tragedy at the end of it, and we want to see that de-escalate, no question.

Matthew Chance, thank you.

BERMAN: Happening today, the White House expected to -- sorry, the House of Representatives expected to vote on create a special committee to investigate the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, an attack that left the ambassador to Libya and three other state department employees dead. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has faced a whole lot of criticism from the right for her handling of security before the attack, and, of course, the investigation afterwards. She says, though, that she's satisfied all the questions about what happened have been answered.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Despite all of the hearings, all of the information that's been provided, some choose not to be satisfied and choose to continue to move forward. That's their choice, and I do not believe there is any reason for it to continue in this way.


BERMAN: Now, many Republicans say the White House is hiding information. They're alleging a cover-up. Democrats are pushing for a no vote on forming this committee. They call it a partisan witch hunt. ROMANS: The House has now voted to hold a former top IRS official in contempt over her refusal to testify on the agency's targeting of conservative groups. Lois Lerner has appeared several times before the House Oversight Committee but took the Fifth, refused to answer questions. The House vote was mostly along party lines with Republicans insisting this is all about getting answers.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Who's been fired over the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS? No one that I'm aware of. Who's gone to jail for violating the law?

When is the administration going to tell the American people the truth? They've not told them the truth about Benghazi. They have not told them the truth about the IRS. They have not told the truth about Fast and Furious.

Now, only one would have to guess, if they're not willing to tell the American people the truth, it must not be very pretty.


ROMANS: Lerner's contempt charge will now be referred to federal prosecutors. It's unclear if any further action will be taken after that. I think it's probably fair to say that litany of Republican complaints will be the theme song heading into November?

BERMAN: You'll hear that and Obamacare every day between now and November.

ROMANS: All right. European stocks trading higher right now. Investors waiting on a monetary policy decisions out of their central banks. Futures higher in the U.S. as well.

One thing we're watching closely here, the housing market. Janet Yellen, the Fed chief, said this week she's worried about housing, saying, quote, "Readings on housing activity have remained disappointing so far this year and will bear watching."

One new piece of housing news I'm watching, cash sales. According to RealtyTrac, the number of people paying cash, 100 percent cash for a house, surging. It's 43 percent of buyers paid cash in the first quarter.

BERMAN: That's just beyond belief.

ROMANS: That means that real people aren't part of that -- I mean, real people like you and me aren't part of the housing market, it's investors. Look, that's up from 19 percent last year, indicates people are buying homes, not first-time home buyers, average American families, but investors, people looking for a second home.

Some of that could be baby boomers cashing out of a bigger house and buying something all cash for their retirement home or something, but a lot of them are foreign investors who see value in the U.S. housing market, all cash. In California, it's crazy the amount of all-cash sales.

BERMAN: Must be nice.

All right, this morning there's new reaction to Monica Lewinsky's tell-all essay in "Vanity Fair," where the former White House intern details her affair with President Clinton. She calls it consensual, but she does say at one point she was taken advantage of by her boss.

There are some people saying the timing of this essay is suspicious. Among those now talking, the wife of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Lynne Cheney.

Take a listen to what she says.


LYNNE CHENEY, WIFE OF FORMER VP DICK CHENEY: I really wonder if this isn't an effort on the Clintons' part to get that story out of the way. Would "Vanity Fair" publish anything about Monica Lewinsky that Hillary Clinton didn't want in "Vanity Fair"?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's very interesting. I love this theory.


BERMAN: So, the magazine's head of PR was asked about this, laughed it off, telling the "Washington Post," quote, "Seriously?"

The full article doesn't hit newsstands until next week. You will be able to read it online on the "Vanity Fair" Web site starting today. I mean, the thing about the Lynne Cheney thing is, is you can make the case that the timing of this is beneficial somewhat to Hillary Clinton, if she wants to run. It's well in advance of a 2016 run, but the notion that the Clintons orchestrated anything Monica Lewinsky is doing at this point, it seems --

ROMANS: The idea of a conference call between the three of them makes me kind of laugh.

And I've been looking at sort of some of the text. It's really interesting. I mean, some of the things she says. She talks about an authentic connection with emotional intimacy, frequent visits, phone calls, making plans. We're learning kind of more beyond the salacious details of the relationship as well.

But I think that the beneficiary is really Monica Lewinsky. If you're going to be hearing Hillary Clinton's name over and over again until 2016, right, Monica Lewinsky's going to be, you know, brought up. So, she's trying to get ahead of it. That's at least what she says in the piece.

BERMAN: Happening right now, a new terror threat shutting down a U.S. embassy. The public no longer allowed to enter. The new al Qaeda warning -- we'll tell you about it, just ahead.

ROMANS: Plus, an out-of-control car plows through a crowded street. Why police say he did it.

BERMAN: A serious weather situation going on right now, tornadoes tearing through the middle of the country.

ROMANS: Very dangerous.

BERMAN: The threat not over. Indra Petersons tracking these storms, coming up next.


BERMAN: Breaking overnight: major, new developments in South Korea. The CEO of the company that operated that capsized ferry has now been arrested and charged with death by negligence. Kim Han-sik is also facing charges that he violated ship safety laws, and the government is working to revoke that company's license to operate any more ferries.

Investigators now say that too much cargo was loaded on to that ship and it was improperly secured. That contributed to the accident, they say, that left nearly 270 people dead, more than 30 other victims still missing.

ROMANS: All right. In Yemen today, the U.S. embassy is closed to the public, officials telling CNN there is credible information of a threat against western interests there.

Mohammed Jamjoom is here with the details.

Mohammed, nice to see you here with us.

Tell me, what is it that officials are seeing that has them so concerned?


Well, it's a major development, because in the past couple weeks, there has been a huge crackdown against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, it's called AQAP, that is the most dangerous wing of the al Qaeda network. They are based in Yemen, have been for several years.

The Yemeni government, and to a large extent, the U.S. government in helping the Yemeni government, has been going after them in parts of the country that are extremely rough terrain, in the south. But there has been a lot of credible evidence the last couple of weeks that there are terror cells even in the capital. So, there have been these raids going on.

And because Western targets have been attacked, including some diplomats who have been killed in the past few days, U.S. embassy says -- look, there's a credible threat against Western targets, including our embassy, so they've closed it to the public yesterday and today.

BERMAN: We are lucky to have you here talking with us this morning and talk about this, Mohammed. You're based in the Middle East. You're a frequent visitor to Yemen. You're deeply sourced in that country.

You've been covering the problems there for several years, including several al Qaeda attacks. They've been very successful there.

JAMJOOM: Yes. One of the things we've been talking about the past couple weeks is the fact that even though there have been consistent drone strikes in Yemen the past few years, even though there is massive cooperation between the Yemeni and the U.S. government against AQAP in trying to vanquish that organization, the fact is, that organization is still extremely dangerous. I've been to Yemen many times.

People ask all the time, is it a threat even in the capital? Yes, it is. In fact, this past year, you had a massive attack against the defense ministry.

This is almost an impregnable fortress, one of the most secured sites in the country. I've been there many times. And yet, AQAP was able to blast through the gates there and was able to attack a hospital on that site. They were able to kill 52 people in one day alone, and that's just the latest in a string of attacks.

So, they are very strong. They are very resurgent. And when the U.S. government decides, hey, we need to shutter our embassy for a day in the capital because of security threats, that really means there are security threats throughout Yemen.

BERMAN: There is background noise there, so when they take this extra step, there is evidence that something is going on. At least that's their fear.

ROMANS: Mohammed Jamjoom, nice to see you. Thank you.

BERMAN: Great to have you here.

JAMJOOM: Thanks.

BERMAN: All right. An accused terrorist back on the stand at his terror trial. Abu Hamza al-Masri has already told the New York court about his early days in Britain, working as a bouncer and a strip club manager after moving from Egypt. He testified that he wanted to make money and have fun like an American, but he turned to Islam once he realized the hypocrisy, he says, of his lifestyle.

Al-Masri faces 11 counts, including aiding kidnappers in Yemen and trying to set up a terror training camp in Oregon. He has pleaded not guilty to all these charges.

ROMANS: The surviving Boston bombing suspect is making new demands before his trial. Lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are now asking a federal judge to bar statements he made to the FBI after his capture. They say he was wounded, on painkillers. He didn't have an attorney present.

They're also asking the judge to bar the death penalty, saying it shouldn't be on the table just because a crowded event was the target. The trial is scheduled for November.

BERMAN: We have some scary moments to show you from Houston, where a car barreled into a crowd that had gathered at the scene of a deadly shooting. Look at this.


BERMAN: This is really a bad situation that got worse. Witnesses say the driver was the father of the alleged shooter. That was who was behind the wheel, and that he may have been taunted by members of the victims' families.

Police have not publicly identified the driver but have charged him with aggravated assault. The shooting left one person dead, another hurt. Witnesses say the alleged gunman escaped during this chaos.

ROMANS: All right. It could be a dangerous day of weather for much of the country today. A major storm threat from Texas all the way to the Great Lakes. That's a lot of red.

BERMAN: That's a lot of red. We want to show you pictures right now from Colorado, tornadoes touching down in the eastern part of the state, about 150 miles from Denver. That's not all, though. It's caused severe thunderstorms as well and hail, hail on May 7th, piling up on inches, by the inches on a couple roads and lawns, but luckily, no reports of damage.

ROMANS: The same weather problems in Wyoming, where up to five inches of snow fell on some areas, tornadoes also reported in Wyoming.

BERMAN: I want you to look at this from Kansas. That's a train that was blown off the tracks because of wind gusts that topped 60 miles per hour. Damage in that area north of Wichita said to be widespread with a lot of windows destroyed.

ROMANS: All right, today's severe weather could affect millions of people.

Indra Petersons tracking that swath of red. She's got the rest of your forecast.

Hi, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's spring, right? Definitely that time of year.

Very easy to see exactly where we see the problems. Again, smack in the middle of the country. Very easy to see how explosive these systems are, and especially kind of farther to the north in the Upper Midwest.

So, that's exactly the area we're going to be focusing on that has a moderate risk today. So, a heightened risk for that severe weather. Again, southern portions of Minnesota and in through Iowa.

But a good 51 million of you are still talking about a slight risk for severe weather today, really from Minnesota, all the way back, again, down through Texas today. This is the concern, yes, damaging winds. We showed you what that can do, right? Large hail and even the threat for some isolated tornadoes will be out there today.

One side of the story's how warm it is. We're still talking about this unbelievable heat into the south, and that's even spreading farther to the East. You will notice the change in the Northeast, though. Temperatures are cooler than what we did see yesterday, but Chicago up to 85 degrees today.

So, let's talk about the timing of the system as it makes its way across. Notice this morning into the northeast, yes, we're already seeing rain, still looking for showers to stay in the forecast. We're going to watch right along the cold front as this system really kind of builds and we'll start to see more explosive thunderstorms, especially as we go through the afternoon into the overnight hours tonight. Then in through tomorrow, still talking about severe weather, still talking about these showers spreading all the way to pretty much the eastern half of the country.

That's going to be the story as we go through the weekend. Just keep in mind, in through the Northeast by Saturday. It should be kicking out of here, and temperatures at least will be rebounding. It's going to feel a lot better.

So, rainy but warmer. We'll take what we can get.

BERMAN: Two or three days of heightened concern in that region.

PETERSONS: Unfortunately, yes.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Indra.

BERMAN: All right. So, the Clippers may not be so easy for them to make it to the finals after all. The Thunder roaring in game two. Kevin Durant showing why he's the MVP and his mom loves him. And now, Russell Westbrook playing well, too. A big wow!

Andy Scholes has the highlights for us in the "Bleacher Report," next.


ROMANS: All right. Kevin Durant showing why he is the NBA MVP last night, as the Thunder beat down the Clippers to even their series at a game apiece.

BERMAN: Kevin Durant, Christine Romans' favorite player, as you can tell.

Andy Scholes joins us now with the "Bleacher Report."

Good morning, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys. Last night's game is what they call a virtual must-win. You know, the Thunder couldn't afford to lose the first two games of the series at home, and they definitely played with a sense of desperation last night.

Kevin Durant receiving his MVP trophy before the game, and he quickly showed why he is the MVP, scoring 17 points in the first quarter. His running buddy, Russell Westbrook, check out the monster slam! These two combined to score 63 points in the game. The Thunder win big to even the series at a game apiece.

Trending on this morning, we have a Roy Hibbert sighting. The Pacers all-star center finally snapped out of his slump, going for a season-high 28 points in game two last night against the Wizards. This, of course, after putting up the dreaded double zero in game one of the series. Indiana would go on to get the win 86-82. This series now also tied at a game apiece.

All right, the day football fans have been waiting for is finally here. The NFL draft starts tonight at 8:00 Eastern. The Houston Texans have the top pick, which could be South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, or it could, of course, be the most polarizing figure in the draft, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Football. Or, of course, they could trade the pick.

Guys, as you know, I am a huge Houston Texans fan. I've been reading about the draft every day for probably two months now. The anxiety's been killing me. I can't wait for it to be over. But I'm also very excited to see who the Texans get.

BERMAN: I think they're going to trade the pick. That's my prediction right there.

SCHOLES: I'm fine, as long as they end up with Johnny Football. If they trade the pick and get Johnny Football, that's my dream scenario.

BERMAN: I have been to the NFL draft as a fan, Andy Scholes. I try to watch it every year. And my wife cannot understand. She will put up with a lot.

But the NFL draft is beyond the realm of what is acceptable, she thinks, to fixate on. She might be on to something. I'm not sure. She might be on to it.

Andy Scholes, great to have you.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: All right. Terrorists on a killing spree in Nigeria, days after abducting dozens of school-aged girls. Right now, a team of experts from the United States on the way to help. We're live next.