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American Jihadist Killed in Syria; Shooting Range Tragedy; Storm Bringing Giant Waves to Southern California; American Freed From Captivity in Syria Speaks; Police Confrontations Lab

Aired August 27, 2014 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good evening. In the wake of the Michael Brown shooting, we're going to take you to a high-tech lab where police officers are faced with making split-second life and death decisions, should they shoot or not?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police department. Police. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Hey, come here. Hey, come here. Come here. In the door. Hey. Let me see your hands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got a gun.


COOPER: The simulation is so realistic it makes hearts race and adrenaline levels surge. What it's telling researchers about how and when police officers fire their guns.

Also tonight, American journalist, Peter Theo Curtis back home and safe after nearly two years, as a captive of Islamic militants in Syria. He's also speaking out, emotionally, about all the people who worked so hard to bring him home alive.

We'll bring you his comments, coming up.

We begin, though, tonight with breaking news. Word that not one, but now two American jihadist died in Syria in recent days fighting for ISIS. The claim is coming from an anti-ISIS opposition group in Syria. They say that in addition to this man, Douglas McAuthur McCain, who we told you about last night, a second American jihadist fighter was killed in a battle northeast of Aleppo.

While the group released pictures of McCain's passport and his body they did not identify the second American they say they killed or give any evidence of the death. For their part, ISIS hasn't mentioned any American fighters being killed. Now in the meantime, we're learning more about Douglas McAuthur McCain, how he ended up in Syria, joining forces with the terror group that wants to kill Americans.

McCain went to college in San Diego, which is where Pamela Brown is reporting from this evening -- Pamela. PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, despite

reports from that anti-ISIS group that a second American was killed in Syria, U.S. officials say they are not ready to confirm that.

Also, we are learning that authorities became aware of Douglas McCain back in the early 2000s because of his association with someone that they were interested with at that time. However, they say there was nothing linking McCain to anything nefarious. But they do say that just in the past several months, they became increasingly concerned about McCain after they learned that he traveled to Turkey, the gateway to Syria.


BROWN (voice-over): It was just months ago that Douglas McAuthur McCain began to attract the attention of U.S. intelligence. U.S. law enforcement tells CNN the government was investigating his overseas connection to the brutal ISIS terror group. But the extent of his radical side was not evident to his American family. The 33-year-old American told them just last week that he was in Turkey.

KENYATA MCCAIN, COUSIN OF DOUGLAS MCAUTHUR MCCAIN: Last time I communicated with him was on Facebook last Friday, on a picture I posted and he commented about my boys growing up.

BROWN: Within days of his Facebook post, McCain was killed in a battle between rival extremist groups near Aleppo, Syria. After his death, a rival opposition group released photos of McCain's body and his U.S. passport, seen here.

MCCAIN: This is so outlandish. That's not who he was. For him to be in Syria, fighting for a terrorist group, that doesn't make sense.

BROWN: McCain converted from Christianity to Islam a decade ago. Sources tell CNN it appears he radicalized gradually.

MCCAIN: His religion was very important to him. But those people, the ISIS people, they don't -- they don't represent what my cousin's beliefs are, or were.

BROWN: His family tells CNN they weren't alarmed by his conversion, but his recent posts on social media caught their attention. On a Twitter account reported to be McCain's, he wrote on June 9th, "I will be joining you guys soon." The next day he wrote, "I'm with the brothers now."

On June 26th, he re-tweeted this post, which says, "It takes a warrior to understand a warrior. Pray for ISIS." It's not clear if McCain was in Syria when he tweeted.

McCain grew up near Minneapolis and later moved to San Diego where he attended college. Between 2000 and 2008, he was arrested at least six times, all for minor offenses. McCain's radicalization and death in Syria stunned loved ones back home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what hurts the most because he was a good person.


COOPER: Well, Pamela, I mean, it seems to have been known by U.S. authorities if someone suspected of joining extremist groups. So what happened? Did he slip through the cracks or were they just monitoring him?

BROWN: Well, authorities say they were just monitoring him. That essentially, they say, that over the past several years, that he had several different associations, including with someone that he knew from Minneapolis, who went over to Somalia and was killed there, apparently by committing jihad. But officials say that even though they had the sense that Douglas McCain may be traveling over to Syria, that you -- he didn't meet the threshold, the probable cause to prevent him from actually going over there.

And it wasn't until he had already reached Turkey that they found out that he had already made it over there. And at that point, Anderson, he was put on this list, a special list for Americans believed to be linked to militant groups. And we've learned from sources, they found out about this through information gleaned from some of McCain's associations in Minneapolis -- Anderson.

COOPER: Pamela, appreciate the update. Thanks.

We're going to bring in our panel now, national security analyst and former Bush Homeland Security adviser, Fran Townsend. Also, Patrick Skinner, senior director of Special Projects at the Soufan Group. He's formerly with the CIA.

Fran, let's start with you. I mean, these former -- these two American jihadists killed on the battlefield, do you think this becomes then a recruiting tool for a group like ISIS?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It absolutely does. Look, when they see that these guys have actually -- part of the recruitment effort is to entice these guys that you're actually going to get to fight.

COOPER: You're going to see action.

TOWNSEND: That's exactly right. You're going to see action. It's the adventure of it, right? It's the bravado of it. And so when they see that these guys really do make their way there, do fight on behalf of ISIS, it is a recruiting tool. And it's a recruiting tool not only for Americans, which is concerning here in the homeland, but for other Westerners, that you can get in, you can fight, you can --

COOPER: And right now really it's large numbers of Western Europeans we're talking about. I mean, there are -- there may be as many as 100 Americans, according to some estimates, but it's really huge numbers of Western Europeans and North Africans.

TOWNSEND: That's right. They're talking thousands.

COOPER: Right.

Patrick, I mean, there's another way to see this death by this guy, Douglas McAuthur McCain, and allegedly another one, on the battlefield.

Does it tell you something, that they are actually being used in battle? That they're not being necessarily groomed for some international suicide mission?

PATRICK SKINNER, THE SOUFAN GROUP: Yes, I mean, there's a perception that anybody with a U.S. passport is gold. And that they will become a secret agent and go to a sleeper cell. And the truth is, not everybody is suitable for that. And so they covet the passport, but the person carrying the passport also has to be a suitable agent. And so, thankfully, this guy evidently wasn't. And so they used him as a regular foot soldier. But I agree, that's tremendous propaganda.

COOPER: Patrick, do you buy that ISIS is this direct threat right now to the United States? Or -- I mean, when you look at attacks that have occurred since 9/11 in the United States, you're looking often at sort of homegrown people, who have become self-radicalized, Major Nidal Hasan and others who have watched stuff on the Internet, and then committed acts of terror in the United States.

SKINNER: Yes, I mean, there's an increased risk that somebody radicalized over there might come back. I'm more worried about people that are here, stay-at-home jihadist that see what's happening in the Middle East. There's been constant war in Syria for three years. And there's a cost to that. It puts fuel on the fire. And so therefore I'm worried about people that are here and they become radicalized and do not get on a plane to go fight but they stay here to fight.


COOPER: Fran --

SKINNER: The threat is not --

COOPER: Go ahead, Patrick.

SKINNER: -- Overblown.

COOPER: Yes, Fran, I mean --

SKINNER: Understand that it's --

COOPER: It's not overblown, you're saying?


COOPER: Fran, I mean, the -- those guys are almost harder to track, the ones who are just here and kind of self-radicalizing, you know, with a few friends.

TOWNSEND: That's right. Look, the homegrown jihadist threat has always been more difficult for us to uncover before an act, right? Because they don't have to cross a border. They have less opportunity for interaction with law enforcement. And so they represent the real near-term threat. And I worry about those fighting because they're not only a threat to the American homeland, right, but to U.S. interests around the world.

And so these Europe -- the Europeans, who got European passports go back and they can target American interests around the world. And those of Iraq --


COOPER: Really than even part -- within the United States.

TOWNSEND: That's exactly right. That's right. And I think that's where you'll see the sort of foreign fighter threat manifest itself first. They're likely to come out of Syria and out of the actual conflict itself, and as they bleed out, as we call it, which is what we saw from fighters in Afghanistan, they'll go to their home countries first, where they're more likely to sort of secrete themselves in their local communities and then plot and plan attacks there.

COOPER: So, Patrick, I mean, you're former CIA, working the Middle East. You saw airstrikes employed when you were a case officer. Does it work? I mean, against a group like this, can you bomb them from the sky?

SKINNER: Yes, I mean, it's a very short-term solution to relieve the pressure. Iraq is under tremendous pressure, and so the airstrikes have worked. They -- but they're not the solution. They are part of a solution. But they're not as surgical as people think, and in Syria, the battlefield is so complicated, just in Aleppo, you have 10 different rival groups, one of them is the Free Syrian Army, which we support to some degree, and then you have the Assad regime, and then you have ISIS.

And so trying to do airstrikes there without a lot of people on the ground spotting would be like doing -- bombing people on a trampoline. Everyone's moving all over the place.

COOPER: Fran Townsend, appreciate you being with us. Patrick Skinner, as well.

A quick reminder tonight, make sure you set your DVR. You can watch 360 whenever you want.

Just ahead, we're going to dig deeper on some of the other Americans who like Douglas McAuthur McCain have converted to Islam and gone to Syria to fight with terrorist groups that want to kill American.

The video you're seeing right now is a guy who was fighting for the al-Nusra Front, who blew himself up in a suicide attack but not before coming back to Florida and then gone back to Syria. Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Tonight's breaking news, a Syrian opposition group is claiming that a second American in addition to Douglas McAuthur McCain was killed in Syria while fighting for ISIS. They didn't identify the second American, an ISIS fighter, though, or give any evidence of the death.

To most of us, what Douglas McAuthur McCain did was unthinkable and incomprehensible. What could possibly compel an American citizen, born and raised here, as a Christian no less, to join forces with a terror group that wants to kill Americans among others. And not just any terror group, ISIS. Tactics so brutal that even al Qaeda has distanced itself from them.

As we've reported, U.S. officials estimate that dozens of Americans have tried to join ISIS and other groups in Syria.

Jason Carroll has more tonight on some of these American jihadists.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They may come from different backgrounds, but they're all Americans, who ended up embracing a radical ideology that drove all of them into the arms of terrorist organizations. One of the first to make headlines, John Walker Lynn.

This was Lynn in 2001, after American soldiers captured him fight alongside the Taliban. He was born in Washington, D.C. and converted to Islam at 16, after studying world cultures in high school. Lynn was upset at the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and decided to fight for the Taliban. He's now serving a 20-year sentence for aiding the Taliban. He's scheduled for release in 2019.

This suicide bomb in Syria may have been the result of a former high school football player from Vero Beach, Florida.

MONER MOHAMMAD ABU-SALHA, AMERICAN JIHADIST: You've never won. You'll never defeat Islam.

CARROLL: Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha seen here in this video posted online is alleged to have helped carry out the attack. The Florida native seen ripping up his U.S. passport in this video was the son of a Palestinian father and Italian-American mother. The FBI investigating how he became radicalized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bashar al-Assad, your days are numbered. You're going down in flames.

CARROLL: And this is former Army vet, Eric Karun, who posted this YouTube video from a battle in Syria. The so-called American jihadist fought with anti-Assad rebels there. The FBI began tracking his movements after he posted videos online. He was arrested last year and charged with fighting with a branch of al Qaeda. Karun pledged to a lesser charge and served six months in prison. Earlier this year, he died from an apparent drug overdose. And it's not just men accused of becoming radical Islamists. Nicole

Lynn Mansfield from Flynt, Michigan, ended up in Syria as well. Mansfield had converted to Islam. Her daughter says her mother is not a terrorist, but may have gotten involved with the wrong group of people.

TRIONA JONES, DAUGHTER OF NICOLE MANSFIELD: They lied to her. They misled her.

CARROLL: Mansfield was killed last year while allegedly fighting with rebel forces.

Perhaps most notable among the women, Colleen Renee LaRose, AKA, Jihad Jane. LaRose led a troubled early life, finally finding salvation with Islam. In 2009, LaRose was indicted on a number of counts, including conspiring to support terrorists. She is serving a 10-year sentence.

(On camera): And what you've heard is just a small sampling. Taking a look at Syria, for example, U.S. officials believe more than 100 Americans have gone there and to the region to fight for militant groups.

Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Well, to get inside the mind of someone like Douglas McAuthur McCain, it takes someone who has made similar choices, someone like Maajid Nawaz, a former member of the Islamic extremist group Hizb ut- Tahrir and author of "Radical: My Journey Out of an Islamist Extremism." He's now the director of the Quilliam Foundation. He joins me tonight.

Maajid, is there anything specific to the fight in Syria, now Iraq, that's drawing these Americans, these Western Europeans to fight there?

MAAJID NAWAZ, AUTHOR, "RADICAL": Absolutely. But specifically, they have managed to gain control of territory. They have managed to demonstrate lightning conquests, which to the Islamist and jihadist mindset proves that God is on their side. That that's something that they draw from -- in a traditional prophet. And so ISIS or the so- called Islamic State will be using their lightning speed victories to demonstrate that God is on their side.

And finally, the -- I mean, the importance, the significance of their propaganda, their social media, their use of very, very slick videos and social media campaigns to draw young people in, by demonstrating a semblance of normality. I mean, let's not forget, when Robin Williams passed away, the Hollywood actor, there were ISIS fighters talking about how they liked "Jumanji." There were ISIS fighters talking about how they like Nutella.

And what this does is it makes the young angry, disenfranchised Western Muslim feel like they're table to relate to their equivalent who's out there doing something that's far more worthy than they're doing back home. It makes them feel like it's normal and it's not that out of the ordinary to go and join them.

COOPER: You know, I heard one reporter the other day just say, look, these guys are psychopaths. And while it might be satisfying just to be able to say something like that, is that really the case? Is it that simple?

NAWAZ: No, unfortunately, it's not. These ISIS fighters, they are committing some very, very gross, medieval level atrocities. They think they're fighting for justice, and that's the absurdity of it. And they genuinely do not see that there's anything wrong in what they're doing because they have a twisted logic and a belief in a scripture that's a medieval interpretation of my own religion, Islam, but makes them feel like they're doing in fact what is going to make God happy and take them to paradise.

COOPER: I would think somebody who had been raised in the United States, raised in Great Britain, it would take a long time to get to the point where, you know, beheading somebody seems like an appropriate thing to do. It seems like it happens very fast.

NAWAZ: Well, there are certain people that self-select and join these organizations. And those people probably come from certain troubled backgrounds. They're already seeking a sense of belonging and an alternative identity. They're already seeking charismatic individuals that they can bond with. They're already seeking an alternative, let's say, set of values to what society subscribes to.

So they're already -- there's a level of preparedness before they join these organizations. It's not like people who have already thought through their life and their values and have arrived at rational and reasonable conclusions, there are some quite disturbed or let's say disconnected people that are attracted to these sorts of movements in the first place. And then, of course, the social media campaign that normalizes such an affiliation makes it even -- feel even more normal.

COOPER: Would you agree that part of the broader problem is that for a long time this ideology has been allowed to spread unimpeded? That it doesn't seem as if there's -- has been, I mean, I know this is something you're working on, but there hasn't been a real strategy by governments, certainly, around the world about how to challenge it? Fighting a war of ideas as well as a war of -- I mean, a military war.

NAWAZ: Look, Anderson, nobody should pat me on the back for saying they don't deserve to be beheaded. I mean, the baseline, surely, is that we have a civil duty to respect each other's difference of opinion. Condemning IS is a nonstarter. What we should really be talking about is the -- the sorts of democratic values we want to see settled in the Middle East, human rights, equality before the law, individual autonomy.

These are the sorts of values that Muslim community leaders and media and government and institutions in our society should be pushing among communities, and sadly, they've only been focusing on the blunt measures of law and war thus far. COOPER: You don't seem to hear, you know, people coming forward on

television, in a leadership role, saying, this is outrageous, this has got to stop. Is that a misperception?

NAWAZ: Well, look, if I were to make a personal appeal, look, I'm a Muslim, it's my faith, and on top of that, I've been imprisoned in Egypt, I'm a former political prisoner from the war on terror decade. I've faced torture. I understand and I feel personally the grievances that my co-religionists, my fellow Muslims across the world feel. I know what it feels like to be hounded on the streets because of the color of my skin, people wielding hammers and knives and machetes wanting to stab me just because of what I look like.

I get that anger. But I will make an appeal to my fellow co- religionist. If we expect the rest of society to stand up when Muslims are profiled, when we're sent to Guantanamo, when we're tortured, when we're rendered to -- to be tortured in different third countries, if we expect the rest of society to do that, when the rest of society discriminates against us, then likewise, we have to stand up and speak against these sorts of atrocities. And as I said before, it's not enough for us to say, we condemn beheadings and killing children.

COOPER: Good words. Maajid Nawaz, appreciate it. Thanks.

NAWAZ: Pleasure.

COOPER: His book, "Radical," is an excellent read about extremism.

For more on the story and others, of course you can always go to

Coming up, some disturbing questions after a 9-year-old girl with an Uzi accidentally killed the instructor at a shooting range who was showing her how to shoot it. For starters, what's a 9-year-old girl doing with an Uzi and how can that possibly be, well, acceptable to her parents, that's next.


COOPER: Well, a 9-year-old girl from New Jersey accidentally killed her instructor at a shooting range, a man who was teaching her how to fire a submachine gun. Her parents were there with her at the shooting range in Arizona, according to a local sheriff's office. It was a shooting range where children as young as 8 can shoot a weapon if they're with a parent or guardian.

Still, even some gun advocates say putting an Uzi in the hands of a 9- year-old is questionable, even if it is legal.

Tom Foreman reports.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give you one shot. All right. TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the Bullets and

Burgers Gun Range, instructor Charlie Vacca is leaning over the 9- year-old girl, telling her how to handle the Uzi as she squeezes off a shot. Then moments later, she pulls the trigger for a burst of fire and the 9 millimeter submachine gun jumps towards Vacca's head. He is mortally wounded.

SEAN SCARMARDO, GUN RANGE OWNER: We really don't know what happened. I mean, our guys are trained to basically hover over people when they're shooting and, you know, if they're shooting right-handed, we have our right hand behind them, ready to push the weapon out of the way and if they're left-handed, the same thing.

FOREMAN: Developed in the 1950s, the Uzi can fire 10 rounds per seconds at close to 900 miles an hour. And in the hands of a skilled marksman, it can be highly effective. But groups like the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence have long argued that guns in the hands of young people bring inherent risks. Twenty-eight states plus Washington, D.C. have laws to prosecute adults who allow children unsupervised access to guns, but they point out such laws don't apply to supervised use.

MICHAEL MCLIVELY, LAW CENTER TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: There might not be a law on the books, but this is one of those situations where we think common sense should probably dictate our behaviors and it just doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to give young children access particularly to very powerful automatic weapons.

FOREMAN: Still, it's happened before. In 2008, an 8-year-old boy at a gun show in Massachusetts shot himself in the head while firing an Uzi. The former police chief who organized that show could have gone to prison for more than 20 years, but he was acquitted. And local authorities say so far, in this latest incident, charges will not be filed against anyone, calling the death the result of an industrial accident.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Remarkable.

There's a lot more happening tonight. Susan Hendricks has the "360 Bulletin" -- Susan.

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a Texas jury has found a father not guilty in the shooting death of the drunk driver who killed his two sons. David Barajas cried after that verdict was read. His sons, ages 11 and 12, died in 2012.

A crew member of the TV show "Cops" has died after being shot by police who opened fire at an Omaha, Nebraska, fast food restaurant while responding to a robbery there. The suspect was also shot and killed.

In hard-hit Liberia, the director of the CDC says the sooner the world comes together to fight Ebola, the safer we will all be. Nearly 1500 people have died from the virus in West Africa.

And take a look here. A foamy mess at an Army National Guard base in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ten Blackhawk helicopters were covered in anti-fire foam. This stuff was accidentally released during a test of the base's safety system. Once the foam is cleaned up, they can see if the choppers have any damage, but at least they now know that the system does, in fact, work.

COOPER: Yes, it certainly seems to. Susan, thanks.

It's bad news for swimmers, good news for extreme surfers in Southern California. Take a look at some of these images. A hurricane churning hundreds of miles offshore is bringing giant waves to Los Angeles area beaches.

Forecasters say Hurricane Mary won't come anywhere close to making landfall, but the big waves are going to hang around until Friday. Akiko Fujita joins me now live from Malibu. What's it like out there?

AKIKO FUJITA, REPORTER: Well, Anderson, I can tell you the waves have died down just a little, but we got quite the spectacle earlier today, 10 to 15-foot waves. That's about double what this area gets this time of year in this area.

We are in in Malibu, known as Surf Rider Beach, certainly living up to its name tonight. Take a look at all the surfers who turned out today, to ride that wave. The largest in decades out here and further south, even bigger, 25-foot waves reported at the famous wedge in Newport Beach.

Among the surfers, we found legend, Laird Hamilton. And I want you to take a look at this video shot by a drone because it's pretty incredible. Laird Hamilton riding out that wave here in Malibu from one side of the pier, all the way to the other.

We had a chance to catch up with him earlier today. He said this was a surfer's dream.


LAIRD HAMILTON, SURFER: We're just thankful that we get to ride these waves, but I think everyone just needs to be heads up right now. This is just, it's not a game. This is some serious stuff and you know, somebody passed away last night down here, and some people have been hurt. And it's something that you've got to have your respect for the ocean.


COOPER: Yes, I heard lifeguards were working overtime. A lot of people pulled out of the water and he said somebody actually died?

FUJITA: Absolutely. Just as Laird Hamilton referred to right now, last night we saw a surfer that died out here. Officials say they don't want to call this a drowning just yet because they're not sure if he drowned out here or if it was because of a medical condition. But certainly they want to stress that the conditions are dangerous, 115 rescues yesterday alone. I just checked in with L.A. County. They're saying they're on track for more today.

And while the search peaked today, the effects of this hurricane expected to last for a few more days. So lifeguards out here certainly on alert -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Akiko Fujita, appreciate it. Thanks very much. Coming up, the American journalist released after nearly two years in captivity in Syria finally reuniting with his mom. Peter Theo Curtis spoke to reporters just today. We'll show you what he said.


COOPER: Welcome back. The American journalist who has just been released from captivity in Syria says he had no idea how much people were thinking about him, working for his release. Peter Theo Curtis spoke with reporters briefly today after being reunited with his mom in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

He was held for nearly two years by Al Nusra front, a rebel group with ties to al Qaeda. He was handed over to Sunday to U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights and made the trip. It was a long time coming back home. Miguel Marquez reports.



MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After nearly two years in the dark of captivity, Peter Theo Curtis, now in the middle of a global spotlight.

CURTIS: Total strangers have been coming up to me and saying, we're just glad you're home. Welcome home. Glad you're back, glad you're safe.

MARQUEZ: Dressed in t-shirt, jeans and sandals, the journalists not used to being the subject of such intense attention had a question for the gathered media. Where do I stand?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right there, sir.

MARQUEZ (on camera): While being held, he had no clue how much effort was being made for his release. He wasn't even sure anyone knew he was alive.

CURTIS: When I was in prison, I had no idea that so much effort was being extended on my behalf. And now having found out, I'm just overwhelmed with emotion.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Videos released late in his captivity show Curtis agitated and fearful that nothing was being done to help him.

CURTIS: My name is Peter Theo Curtis and I'm a journalist in the city of Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

MARQUEZ: For nearly a year after he was kidnapped, Curtis' friends and family only knew he had disappeared. For Curtis, it was like he didn't exist.

CURTIS: In the days following my release on Sunday, I have learned bit by bit that there have been literally hundreds of people, brave, determined, and big-hearted people all over the world working for my release.

MARQUEZ: His freedom, bittersweet. It comes on the heels of the sickening murder of James Foley, taken captive by ISIS, an Al Nusra front rival. Peter's mother says she became close with the Foley family as they worked to free their loved ones.

NANCY CURTIS, PETER THEO CURTIS' MOTHER (via telephone): These people are like family to me, you know? I didn't know Jim, but I think it sounds as if he and Theo had a lot in common.

MARQUEZ: A happy yet intensely sad homecoming. Curtis' freedom won with the help of the Qatari government, which insists it did not pay a ransom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us what it feels like?

CURTIS: No, that's all I can say to you. But in the future, in promise that I will respond to your e-mails and I will be present and help you guys do your job.

MARQUEZ: Tonight, Peter Theo Curtis and his family are bonding, as he put it, after so much heartache and fear. A family's bonds may never be tighter.


COOPER: Miguel Marquez joins us now. It's just extraordinary. I mean, do we know what he's doing?

MARQUEZ: Well, we know that he is spending time with his mother and the rest of his family. They had all gathered here. Now they seem to be going back to their respective places in New Hampshire, in Vermont. He spent a lot of time in Vermont.

We do know his mother is a very good cook and she has promised to make anything he wants. We also know he's an avid bicyclist. So we suspect on these beautiful days as it moves into fall that he will spend some time on the road.

And reconnecting with not only his family, but with life here in the U.S. His mother also said to another reporter that she's going to take away his passport and he won't be traveling anytime soon.

COOPER: I can imagine that feeling. Miguel, thanks very much.

Joining me now is David Rohde, an investigative reporter for Reuters. He was kidnapped by the Taliban while on assignment for "The New York Times" in Afghanistan, held for seven months before he was able to escape.

David, I know, obviously, you followed this case closely. Just, I can't imagine what that feels like, to suddenly, one moment you're being held, and then in a matter of days, you're back home in Cambridge.

DAVID ROHDE, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, REUTERS: It's wonderful. I had a similar transition, but look at how fast this was. It was literally one day in Israel, he flies to New York, and then on to Boston, you know, within 24 hours.

And he's thrilled that the common question is always, you know, is it traumatic to come home? There'll be issues in the long-term. I had sleep problems and other things, but right now, he is in heaven. He is so happy to be home with his family, can eat when he wants, you know, go outside when he wants, and talk to whoever he wants.

COOPER: It's such a contrast to Bowe Bergdahl, who went through this entire, you know, process of, you know, being examined and then being interviewed and psychologically examined. Is one better than the other?

ROHDE: I don't know and we'll see. I mean, the sad thing here is that there's many multi-year captivity cases emerging and I forgot to say, I was held only seven months, so it was easier for me, two years for Curtis, and five years for Bergdahl.

But it is completely different, how a civilian comes home immediately. I flew to Dubai very quickly, you know, and then came home very quickly as well, and Bergdahl went through this weeks and weeks --

COOPER: And I talked to, you know, his mom, Nancy. I mean, is there -- is an adjustment -- is it just for the person who is held captive, or is it also an adjustment for the family?

ROHDE: It is, it's a huge -- they're under this pressure cooker. There's this tremendous fear, and you know, earlier, there was this video released by the family of Sotloff, who is, you know, held by the Islamic State pleading for his release.

These families sit around and wonder, what if they say the wrong word in that video, what if they go public or stay private? It's a huge transition for the family, but again, a relief. This is a wonderful, wonderful thing. These captivities are just horrible.

COOPER: Nancy Curtis was saying that her response has been somewhat muted because she's become such close friends with the Foleys, Mrs. Foley in particular, that her heart is broken for Jim Foley's loss.

ROHDE: And that's, you know, all these families kind of kill themselves, what should they do, you know, and a lot of it is sort of, who is your captor? And Curtis was lucky -- it was terrible how he was treated, but he was taken by this group, who seems to have some ties or at least the Qatari government has some influence over this group. And he is free. It's not clear that anyone has influence over the Islamic State, which killed Jim Foley. The Foley's -- everyone tried as hard as they could. It's not like one family did the right thing and one family did the wrong thing.

COOPER: And yet there is this bond among the families who are waiting for word of their loved ones. I mean, it seems like people compared notes, compare strategies.

ROHDE: Absolutely. And there aren't answers. Several of these families with captives in Syria would meet, families have contacted me. Captives held in other countries about what to do. And there really isn't any answer, and we've talked about this before.

Because the kidnappings have spread, European governments are paying more and more money in ransoms. There's no answer for these American families. They can't come up with the millions of dollars that is needed to free someone. The Curtises got lucky, but other families are still trapped.

COOPER: There is a Reuters report right now that Qatar might be working to try to get the release of several other Americans being held hostage.

ROHDE: And I applaud what Qatar is doing, but it leads to this broader question. For years, Qatar has been accused of secretly sort of funding these jihadist groups, other governments have done it. Pakistan sort of helps the Taliban.

So how do they have the influence to get Curtis freed without paying any ransom? Are they lying about paying a ransom? They were able to get about a dozen nuns released that were also help by Al Nusra.

Again, Curtis was held by a group aligned with al Qaeda, but somehow Qatar gets him out. And I'm just -- it's very -- it's terrible when these governments have these double games when they work with Jihadists on one hand and you know, deny it --

COOPER: Arguably, you could say, well, look, they have some influence if they're the ones who are funding these Jihadists. At the same time, it's very hard to see how they would make a deal without more money being passed or some other kind of deal.

ROHDE: These groups, I saw it in my case, they spend lots of money feeding the hostage. They spend manpower, all these guards. They move the hostage around to different areas, controlled by different commanders.

So they can't just give up the hostage and have nothing to show, clearly for their own internal politics. They have to have a result. So there must have been something that happened here. I don't know what it was.

COOPER: David Rohde, appreciate your expertise. Thanks for being with us.

ROHDE: Thank you.

COOPER: As we just said, the family of the American journalist, Steven Sotloff, who is still being held by ISIS, they are hoping they'll see him again, despite the promise that they made in retaliation. And Steven's mom made a plea to ISIS, begging them to spare his life.


SHIRLEY SOTLOFF, MOTHER OF STEVEN SOTLOFF: I'm sending this message to you, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State. I am Shirley Sotloff. My son, Steven, is in your hands. Steven is a journalist who travel to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hand of tyrants.

Steven is a loyal and generous son, brother, and grandson. He's an honorable man and has always tried to help the weak. We have not seen Steven for over a year and we miss him very much. We want to see him home safe and sound and to hug him.

Since Steven's capture, I have learned a lot about Islam. I've learned that Islam teaches that no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others. Steven has no control over the actions of the U.S. government. He's an innocent journalist.

I've always learned that you can grant amnesty. I ask you to please release my child. As a mother, I ask for justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over.

I ask you to use your authority to spare his life and to follow the examples set by the Prophet Muhammad, who protected people of the book. I want what every mother wants, to live to see her children's children. I plead with you to grant me this.


COOPER: We'll be talking more about this in our next hour with Dan O'Shea, a former Navy SEAL, who's currently co-founder of a firm that specializes in recovering kidnapping victims.

Up next though in this hour, the shooting death of Michael Brown. More than two weeks later, there are a lot of questions, including whether Officer Darren Wilson acted correctly. Tonight, a look at how a split-second decision can mean the difference between life and death and the training that police officers receive.


COOPER: Well, the question remains, was Police Officer Darren Wilson justified in shooting and killing Michael Brown? The unarmed 18-year- old was laid to rest this week. His family demanding justice. Much remains in dispute about the shooting.

Investigations underway, multiple investigations, a grand jury this week. Brown's death sparked days of protest. In the middle of it, Ferguson police chief is already taking steps to try to repair its image.


CHIEF THOMAS JACKSON, FERGUSON POLICE: It's our first priority to address it, to fix what's wrong. We're working very closely now with the Department of Justice, community relation office, and they're making recommendations for us to, for training and things to work and get involved with the community that is at odds with us now and to rebuild that trust and that relationship.


COOPER: Well, there are a lot of special programs for police officers. Tonight, our Gary Tuchman takes us inside a one-of-a-kind lab where the sole focus is research or police confrontations, like the one between Officer Wilson and Michael Brown that quickly spiralled out of control. Here's Gary's report.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This Spokane, Washington, police officer is getting wired. So his brain and body functions can be monitored as he gets ready to make life-or-death decisions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spokane police! Police department! Talk to me!

TUCHMAN: Decisions in a most unique laboratory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing? Let me see!

TUCHMAN: Corporal Jordan Ferguson is one of many police officers, military members, and civilians who have volunteered time in this violence confrontation lab, complete with frighteningly realistic actors and a huge virtual reality scene.

ANNOUNCER: You receive a call from a person who says a convenience store is being robbed. Do you understand?


ANNOUNCER: Stand by.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back up! Back up! Back up! Put your hands up! Put your hands up! Drop the knife! Right now, drop it!

TUCHMAN: While the volunteers make split-second decisions, brain waves and heart rates are checked. It's all part of an ambitious research project at Washington State University, partly funded by the Defense Department, with the goal of improving justice in America. Professor Brian Vila is the man in charge.

PROFESSOR BRYAN VILA, WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY: We don't know yet, still, a hundred and some years since Teddy Roosevelt had the first police firearms training in New York. We still don't know whether there's a connection between the training we give police officers and their performance in a combat situation.

TUCHMAN: Sergeant Terry Parenger is told he has pull offered a stolen car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I see your driver's license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want my driver's license?



TUCHMAN: The researchers say these volunteers' hearts are generally racing, because it's all so realistic. Many findings from the study will be released by the end of the year, but some have already been published.

The research is declaring that volunteers of all races all view African-American suspects as more threatening than white suspects, but they may have subconsciously overcompensated because of those biases.

VILA: The surprise is they were more restrained in shooting African- Americans than they were whites.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police officer! Let me see your hands! You at the counter, let me see your hands. Don't move! Stop! Stop!

TUCHMAN: The officer never knew if the man had a gun, but did not shoot.

SGT. TERRY PREUNINGER, SPOKANE POLICE DEPARTMENT: Sometimes we don't know if we made the right decision or wrong decision. We make a decision and live with it for the rest of our lives.

TUCHMAN: Now they're also used as volunteers. So with the cops guiding me, I pull over a suspicious car with a broken taillight.

(on camera): Hello, sir, your taillight's broken. Do you know that? Sir, take your hands out of your pockets. Sir, Sir! Sir, take your hands out of your pockets. Sir! Sir! Put your hands on the steering wheel. Sir! Sir, you're not listening. Hands on the steering -- OK, thank you.

Yes, that guy looked like he was getting a gun out. So I took the gun out, didn't point it at him, proper way to deal with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop, stop! Police!

TUCHMAN (voice-over): There is a lot more to learn, as these researchers try to make life safer for citizens and for the cops who serve them. Gary Tuchman, CNN, Spokane, Washington.


COOPER: Split-second decisions. We'll have more on police confrontations in the next hour of 360.

Also ahead, President Obama weighing options. Will he authorize a strike against ISIS in Syria? New developments from the White House, next.


COOPER: Thanks for joining us tonight with our extended 360 coverage. A lot to get to in this hour, starting with the decision President Obama is facing in Syria, whether or not to order air strikes against ISIS fighters in the wake of the beheading of American journalist, James Foley, Mr. Obama is under growing political pressure to act.

In a video, an ISIS militant says Foley's execution was retaliation for U.S. air strikes in Iraq. He also said another American hostage, journalist, Steven Sotloff, would be the next to be killed.

Since then, ISIS has made more gains in Syria. Now, a video that ISIS posted on its web site shows its fighters firing from an American cannon. CNN cannot verify its authenticity.

Tonight, the question being debated in Washington and beyond, what will be President Obama's next step and when? Our Dana Bash, Pamela Brown, and Jim Acosta are working their sources and digging deep on several angles.

Let's start with senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. So the president authorizing surveillance flights, we know about that, to gather intelligence about ISIS fighters in Syria. Do we know when he'll make a decision about air strikes?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the president has been meeting with his top officials all week and more of that is expected, but White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said he did not have a timeframe for a decision. And when I pressed Earnest earlier today on whether the president wanted to defeat ISIS, he said "Of course" and the president's top advisers have said, "ISIS really can't be beaten without dealing with the group in Syria." So, that's a good indication of what's to come.