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Feds: Two New York Women Plotted Bombings; More Than 100 Rescued In Kentucky Flooding; Tornadoes, Hail Possible In Midwest, South; Man Missing For 66 Days Goes Home; "A.D." Hopes To Continue Bible Ratings Boom. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 3, 2015 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: This comes as we learn disturbing new details on the two New York women officials claim were hell-bent on unleashing a wave of terror here at home. Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui are accused of trying to build pressure cooker bombs much like the ones used in the Boston marathon terrorist attack.

I want to get right to CNN's Jason Carroll live in New York with the latest. Jason, what can you tell us about Keonna Thomas?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Keonna Thomas, she went by the alias "The Young Lioness." She is 30 years old. She's from Philadelphia according to the criminal complaint. This criminal complaint, Jake, lays out all the details and the allegations, basically federal authorities accusing this woman of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization.

One of the quotes here from the complaint reads that she attempted to travel overseas in order to join, fight with, and martyr herself on behalf of ISIL. Federal investigators began looking at some of her Twitter posts where she posted Jihadist types of comments.

One in particular, "If we truly knew the realities we all would be rushing to join our brothers in the front lines. Pray Allah accept us, as shuhada meaning martyrs."

Also in 2013, she allegedly sent an electronic e-mail to a known Somali terrorist. Last year again according to the complaint, Jake, she also communicated several times with another known terrorist in Syria.

Federal investigators began looking at her travel plans, saw that she was trying to get over to Spain and then over into Turkey with the hopes of crossing into Syria. So this is a young woman who now faces a lot of trouble with the legal authorities -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jason, let's turn to the case up in New York, those two women from Queens wanted to attack members of the NYPD and the military, the federal government says. Have we received any reaction from their families?

CARROLL: Well, we do have a reaction coming in from Velentzas' husband. As you know, she is married. She is the mother of a young child. He is speaking out defending his wife and also defending Siddiqui. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm surprised. Just like it was a knock at the door and everything changed. I didn't see anything like this happening, didn't see anything like this coming, just right now, lost for words.


CARROLL: He also went on to say that there was no sign at all that his wife had any Jihadist leanings. He says that he knew Siddiqui for a long period of time, Jake. He said he saw no sign there, either. That's why he's so confused, so hurt by all of this. Also, we should point out again that Siddiqui's attorney spoke out yesterday saying that she is not guilty.

TAPPER: All right, Jason Carroll in New York, thank you so much.

In other national news, several people dramatically rescued after a severe storm triggers flash floods. Now, that same storm is moving and could bring tornadoes with it. Several states under a tornado watch right now. That coverage next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. In other national news today, right now possible tornadoes are threatening large swaths of the southern United States including cities such as Nashville. Heavy thunderstorms, strong gusty winds and large hail have been pummeling parts of the south all day long and threatening to grow even stronger.

Tornado watches are in effect for parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and Virginia into this evening. Let's get to meteorologist Karen Maginnis live in the CNN Severe Weather Center. Karen, what can we expect within the next 12 hours from this system?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, over the last two hours, we have seen these fierce thunderstorms fire up and about nine million people under the gun for an enhanced risk of severe weather. What will that severe weather entail?

It looks like we could see some strong thunderstorms with the potential for tornadoes, large hail, and also we can expect some very heavy downpours. Right now much of the state of Kentucky and Tennessee are under tornado watches. They go until later on this evening.

We have already seen some outbreaks of thunderstorms across Louisville and Lexington towards Paducah and then down towards Campbellsville in Tennessee as well. This is just not the only area that we are watching.

All across the deep south, you have very typical springtime scenario with tornado watches out for much of Kentucky and Tennessee until 9:00, about three and a half million people, and going until midnight a little bit further towards the east.

Now as I've mentioned, tornadic activity certainly is a possibility, but we have already seen large size hail associated with these thunderstorms that have broken out. But all the way down towards Jackson, Mississippi, Birmingham, Alabama and towards Atlanta, Georgia, the threat of severe weather exists there. We will be in the CNN Weather Center to continue updates.

TAPPER: All right, Karen Maginnis, thank you so much.

That same storm system deluged parts of Kentucky with up to eight inches of rain overnight and into today, causing severe flash flooding, and stranding people in their cars. Nearly 200 people had to be rescued from the rising water levels in Louisville, and the forecast is calling for even more dangerous weather this evening.

Joining me on the phone to talk about this all and the flooding is Jodi Duncan with Louisville Emergency Management. Jodi, thanks so much for speaking with us. These pictures from the rescues are remarkable. Your emergency teams working so hard. Tell us about some of their efforts.

JODI DUNCAN, LOUISVILLE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT (via telephone): Well, they have been working since 1:00 this morning with rescue efforts, from vehicles as well as dwellings, apartment complexes. They have had about 185 water rescues. That has dwindled and between noon and 3:00, they have only had three of those, so the water is receding.

People are heeding warnings to turn around, don't drown. Oklahoma's Fire Department actually had to manage an evacuation from an apartment this morning. So they used boats to evacuate the residents and they evacuated 143 individuals.

[16:40:02] So the American Red Cross has some shelter open and they have been assisting our firefighters at the scene of a General Electric fire that we have so they have been wonderful.

In conjunction with all of this inclement weather that we have, we have firefighters that have been on the scene since 7:00 this morning at General Electric on a six alarm fire that escalated that far. And we have over 200 individuals out there working that fire. So we have had a lot of things going on today.

TAPPER: Jodi, looking ahead to tonight as more severe weather is possible, what steps are being taken to protect residents?

DUNCAN: Well, you know, we have notified the residents of the community already that there is a tornado watch in effect until 10:00, 10:30 tonight, and we like to kind of remind them what to do in the event of a tornado. We have our warning sirens, we have our community notification system, like a reverse 911, and you know, we are always in the community throughout the year, no matter what time of year, teaching them how to be prepared and talking about preparedness, how to do that. I think we give great effort as emergency management in doing that.

TAPPER: What's awaiting these residents when they are able to return to their cars and homes? How bad is the damage?

DUNCAN: Well, you know, because of things like this happening in the past, we were talking about that today, it's been about since 2008 that we have had this type of flooding and there could be a lot of water damage if they're returning to their homes or their apartment complexes.

Sometimes the vehicles having that much damage won't ever start again. There might be detrimental things, but you know, the great thing about this is, Jake, we have not had one injury or any kind of fatality or anything like that. So we are really counting our blessings that we have had nothing like that happen.

TAPPER: All right, knocking on wood for that to continue. Jodi Duncan with Louisville Emergency Management, thank you so much.

Coming up next, an unbelievable story of survival, a man missing for 66 days found 200 miles off the U.S. coast, clinging to his capsized boat. How was this inexperienced sailor able to survive this ordeal?

Plus, how does a mega-TV producer, Mark Burnett, say I told you so. He pulls in 100 million viewers on a series that all but one television executive rejected. Now he's back with his sequel to "The Bible." He's our guest coming up.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. The National Lead now, most of us probably couldn't survive without our Starbucks lattes for 66 days much less on the open sea with nothing but rain water and however many raw fish we are lucky enough to catch, which makes the story of 37-year-old Louis Jordan so curious.

Jordan was spotted by a vessel yesterday clinging to his damaged sailboat in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 miles off the coast of North Carolina and nowhere near the area he set sail from more than two months ago.

He was rescued by Coast Guard helicopter and walked on his own from the chopper to the hospital in Virginia. CNN's Nick Valencia is live in Norfolk, Virginia. Nick, what are investigators saying about this incredible story?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are saying that they believe his story and at this point, they have no reason to be suspicious about what Louis Jordan is saying. They did say, though, the U.S. Coast Guard officials who I spoke to, that Louis Jordan's physical condition is better than expected for somebody who would have been stranded at sea for 66 days.

Even still, they believe what he's saying. Louis Jordan and his parents, they say that God has answered their prayers to bring him home safe.


VALENCIA (voice-over): Louis Jordan named his 35-foot sailboat "angel," an often posted Facebook pictures like these from her deck, now bearded and red-nosed after what he says was 66 days stranded at sea. He credits that angel and his bible with helping him survive.

LOUIS JORDAN, RESCUED AT SEA: When you hear of people surviving for a long time in hard conditions, they always have a bible. That's like the main thing. There's power in that like nothing else.

VALENCIA: According to the 37-year-old, he left the South Carolina coast for a solo fishing trip in January and capsized three times in rough weather.

KRYSTYN PECORA, EXTERNAL AFFAIRS OFFICER, COAST GUARD: Somewhere along that time frame, his mast was broken and his gear, all his electronics were damaged.

VALENCIA: This German container ship spotted Jordan Thursday nearly 200 miles off the coast. Within hours, the U.S. Coast Guard airlifted him into a chopper and brought him to Norfolk, Virginia to be reunited with his family. Showing them his broken collarbone --

JORDAN: OK, here we go.

VALENCIA: -- and even posing for selfies.

PETTY OFFICER THIRD CLASS KYLE MCCOLLUM, U.S. COAST GUARD: You would expect sunburn, severe sunburn, blisters, maybe, a bunch of medical issues that could possibly be wrong with him for not eating for so long or hydrated, but for him to be in his current state was pretty amazing.

VALENCIA: Jordan says he survived on rain water and sea life even trying jellyfish.

JORDAN: I just put a little on my tongue. Pow! That hurt a long time.

VALENCIA: Jordan attributes his survival skills to months of living on the boat after losing his job.

JORDAN: I have been struggling with work. I have been living in a sailboat, which is rent-free and catching my food from the river with a net.

VALENCIA: Is this miracle on a ship named "Angel" too good to be true? (on camera): Do you doubt his story?

MCCOLLUM: I can't really say I doubt his story at all. I mean, as soon as we flew over land and I saw the smile on his face, that pretty much secured it for me.


VALENCIA: One of Louis Jordan's first orders of business when he got on land was to get something to eat. He told me that meal was some barbecued ribs. We are told that earlier today, he made his way back home -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, well, we hope he has a good holiday. Nick Valencia, thank you so much.

Coming up, he's the master mind behind hit television shows such as "Survivor" and "Shark Tank" and "The Apprentice," but there was one project almost nobody wanted to make. Mark Burnett proved them all wrong. He joins me next.




TAPPER: This weekend hundreds of millions of Christians around the world will celebrate the holiday of Easter. In this country, thanks to the leadership of one man after all the ham and Peeps you can gather around the TV and watch a new mini-series, NBC's "A.D." which looks at early Christian life after the biblical story of Jesus's resurrection.

It wasn't so long ago that producer, Mark Burnett and his wife, were shown the exit from myriad television executives' offices when they pitched "The Bible" mini-series. One hundred million viewers later, Burnett is hoping the sequel will be just as miraculous with audiences.


TAPPER (voice-over): If you're one of the millions of people who likes it when people get voted off the island --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys ready to get to today's immunity challenge?

TAPPER: Fired by the Donald --

DONALD TRUMP: You're fired.

TAPPER: -- or swim in the shark tank --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're standing there asking for money. [16:55:12 TAPPER: -- you have this British reality TV producer to thank. Mark Burnett is the man behind all of those shows. He is rich and successful beyond measure. But three years ago, he and his wife, actress, Roma Downey, took the risky step of jumping genres and producing a scripted drama that no major broadcast network wanted to air, "The Bible" mini-series which ran on the History Channel.

(on camera: "Survivor," "The Apprentice," "The Voice," "Shark Tank," what was the moment where you went from those shows to bringing "The Bible" into people's homes?

MARK BURNETT, TV PRODUCER: If you look at all those shows you mentioned, also are you smarter than a fifth grader, they are all family friendly. I have to tell you when we went around pitching "The Bible" so many people said have you lost your mind.

TAPPER: Right.

BURNETT: Nobody is going to watch "The Bible" on prime time American TV. Stick to Sundays in church. Roma and I said, we think you're wrong.

TAPPER (voice-over): Were they ever. The success of "The Bible" stunned the entertainment industry as 100 million people tuned in over the course of the series.

BURNETT: It's become mainstream, Jake. That's what's amazing. In three short years it's gone from niche, I don't think so, to bring me some of that.

TAPPER: This Sunday, Burnett's follow-up to the series, called "A.D." is going from basic cable to broadcast, airing on NBC.

(on camera): Are you at all concerned that this story, the new testament stories, might not be as familiar to people as the old testament plus the moments leading up to the resurrection?

BURNETT: "A.D." really starts crucifixion, resurrection and goes on about the birth of the early church, those dangerous times when it was 12 men against the might of Rome. More Americans know the New Testament than would ever know the Old Testament.

The 150 million people sit in church every month in a Christian church of some denomination, they know these stories. They recognize these stories. This is the time that changed the world. Think of it. The date changed, A.D. was the beginning of year one. Everything changed.

TAPPER: "Forbes" estimated that you made $86 million last year.

BURNETT: That's it?

TAPPER: You are obviously not wanting for anything. What drives you? It's obviously you don't need more money.

BURNETT: We're just loving what we do. You know, especially around this biblical programming it's a calling. TAPPER: Any compunctions at all about profiting off faith?

BURNETT: With affluence which we have gained affluence in this nation, comes influence and how you can influence goodness and charity and influence what the world does is important. One of the huge things we have been doing is dealing with the persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq.

ISIS didn't manage to kill all the Christians, 500,000 of them escaped into the winter, about to freeze to death. Roma and I have helped 72,000 of those get through this winter and we wish we could help someone else.

TAPPER (voice-over): Burnett and Downey created the Cradle Fund working with the Institute for Global Engagement. The group is distributing the couple's monies through established charities in Syria and Iraq, providing everything from temporary shelters to food and clothing.

So far, the fund administrators say they have helped 57,000 people and expect to help at least another 30,000 according to an internal report provided to CNN.

(on camera): You have talked about this being a spiritual experience and a calling. What do you mean?

BURNETT: Many people get called to take action, spread the word of their faith, but a lot of it is getting the butt off the couch and doing something about it. Me and Roma got off the coach and took action and put ourselves on the line, money on the line, our careers on the line with "The Bible" and again now in making "A.D."

TAPPER: The 12 disciples walking to the board room with Donald Trump, who does he fire first?

BURNETT: First of all, I'm sure Donald would have to fire Judas first, right? Assuming Judas is gone, Donald might be mad at Peter for denying Jesus three times and not having his back.

TAPPER: Who is the last one standing?

BURNETT: John The Beloved because he was the only one who showed up at the crucifixion.


TAPPER: Good news for John The Beloved. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Brianna Keilar in for Wolf today in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Have a wonderful, peaceful Passover and Easter.