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U.S. Detected "Heat Flash" in Air before Metrojet Crash; Egypt Analyzing Metrojet's Flight Recorders; Stranded Yazidis Desperate to Return Home; Controversial Iraqi Figure Ahmed Chalabi Dead at 71; Former Berlin Airport Used to House Migrants; Pistorius Accused Again; Amazon Opens First Bricks-and-Mortar Bookstore, Increases Parental Leave Policy. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired November 3, 2015 - 10:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST: Hi, there, everyone, welcome to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow at the CNN Center.
Now there are still so many questions. But there is new evidence on the Russian airliner that crashed in Egypt. We now know investigators are
starting to analyze the information contained in the black boxes.
And a U.S. official tells CNN a satellite detected a flash of heat in the air in the Sinai around the time the flight went down. Officials say
this indicates some sort of catastrophic event.
So what exactly is a heat flash and what sort of event are we talking about?
CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr explained a short time ago.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: This is an infrared signature. You basically have a heat indicator that is significantly
different than the natural environment.
So something very hot pops out on the satellite imagery. Now the U.S. officials have determined that this pop-out of this heat signature happened
in midair, not when the plane hit the ground. They saw that as well. But the first indication of a heat signature happened in midair. That
indicates a catastrophic event in midair.
So now what do we know?
We know that the U.S. has basically ruled out a missile strike. There is no technical data from the satellite to indicate that a missile was
What kind of catastrophic event in midair could have caused this?
Could it have been some kind of mechanical failure?
Yes, perhaps. All of that being looked at, certainly by Egyptian and Russian authorities.
But would an engine or fuel tank exploded in such a violent manner?
We don't know the answer to that. It is possible. All options are on the table.
But to be clear, one of the things the U.S. is now looking at is does any of this technical evidence, does any other intelligence point to the
possibility of a bomb?
We want to be very clear. There is no direct evidence at this point. No one has come to any conclusions.
But I can tell you the U.S. intelligence community looking at this closely because there has been that claim of responsibility by ISIS.
It's a question now, could ISIS, could some other group have had the capability to get a bomb on a plane in Sharm el-Sheikh, in Egypt, when this
plane took off?
It's a question the U.S. wants an answer to, obviously, as everybody does because if ISIS were to have that capability, if some other group has
that capability, that's something the U.S. very much needs to know and needs to know quick.
CURNOW: OK, Barbara Starr there.
For more on this development, let's go to CNN aviation correspondent, Richard Quest, he's standing by for us in London.
Like I said, so many questions still. But we aren't narrowing down the possibilities here.
RICHARD QUEST, CNN HOST: We are. Let us begin with what Barbara was saying.
If you're talking about a heat flash or an explosion, you're talking about something dramatic and obviously one's first thought goes to some
sort of explosive device or a bomb. If you move away from that, you're talking about this vast amount of -- or this sizable amount of fuel which
the aircraft has on board and something ignites it.
Now we've had history with this: TWA100, where a spark ignited the vapor in the central fuel tank and literally blew the aircraft out of the
air. And so what you can say here is, if there was a mechanical fault -- and I think mechanical is slightly understating it -- you'd be talking
about something dramatic, something very catastrophic happening, that blows the fuel up in one fell swoop.
Engine explosion, which takes the wing off and blows the fuel tank up, all that sort of thing is what you're looking at to create that sort of
Let me argue against myself, though, Robyn, and just remind everybody. The plane, by and large, is designed to account so that the fuel doesn't
explode gratuitously. But certainly that sort of level of explosion would give you that flare.
CURNOW: And also, like you've said before and we've talked off air, there are 1,001 possibilities here. And it's up to the investigators. But
there's also, besides the options of a mechanical failure or a bomb on board, there is also, perhaps, as some analysts are suggesting --
CURNOW: -- some sort of illegal cargo that might have ignited or was inflammatory.
QUEST: Well, up to a point, up to a point. Let's take, for example, the case of the lithium batteries.
Now if lithium batteries in the hold had smoldered and then ignited, that would create a fire, that would have been a warning. The pilots would
have been able to get a mayday or send a signal and eventually it might have blown the plane up. But you would have had a fire before you had the
explosion. So if you're talking about -- I'll give you an example: ValuJet, with
the old oxygen cylinders that suddenly set on fire in the cargo hold over Florida. Now, from incendiary to plane loss was some four minutes, just
about. Swissair had a fire which eventually led to the loss of the aircraft.
Now I think in this case, you are looking much more at something that creates an explosive incident, if the heat flash proves to be relevant in
this regard, you're talking basically about the fuel blowing up. You're talking about the fuel tanks blowing up because that seems to be what they
are suggesting when they talk about this heat flash.
It is the source of ignition. It is the source of explosion that will be the interesting and relevant issue.
CURNOW: And, of course, as you're talking, we're playing these pictures, devastating images of the remnants of this plane and just the
devastation that was wrought at 31,000 feet.
When do you expect us to get some sort of answers and, more importantly, when do the families expect to know what happened?
QUEST: If there has been this explosion and it's not as a result of a bomb, then it's going to take some time. They're going to have to piece
together -- we're back to TWA800, where you're literally piecing together - - you get an idea of what happened, the black boxes will tell you because what will have happened here, Robyn, when they look at the black boxes and
they look at the data recorder, they will see very, very, very small amounts of reactions just before complete loss of power.
So we've seen this on a few occasions. It's literally -- you saw it on MH17. Everything is normal. You get a very small noise or residue or
an absolute scintilla of evidence and then nothing because power is lost immediately to the recorders.
And in that situation, you are going back to the debris, you're going back to the wreckage to find out what you can find within it.
Now if here -- and there's an urgency now. Let me be clear about this. There is an urgency because, Robyn, there are thousands of 320s
flying. So, bomb, yes, and we can put that there to one side. Structural failure and explosion of the fuselage, now we're really starting to say we
have an urgency to find out what this is because there are thousands of these planes out and about at the moment.
CURNOW: Excellent point, there. Richard Quest, as always, thanks so much, coming to us there from London. Thank you.
Coming up here at the IDESK, he was a key player, making the case that the U.S. should go to war in Iraq. When we come back, we'll examine the
life and legacy of one of Iraq's most controversial figures.
And later, Amazon announces a big change that's sure to cool the firestorm over the treatment of its employees. You're with the
INTERNATIONAL DESK. Stick around.
CURNOW: Welcome back. I'm Robyn Curnow. You're watching the INTERNATIONAL DESK.
Now thousands of Yazidi fighters are getting ready to go to battle against ISIS in Iraq, commanded by the Kurdish Peshmerga. They're
preparing to retake the town of Sinjar.
Last year, tens of thousands of Yazidis raced to get away from the Sunni extremist onslaught by going up the slopes of Mt. Sinjar. And as
Nima Elbagir reports, many are still stranded there in the cold and waiting to return home.
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mt. Sinjar: these desolate slopes claimed the lives of dozens of children last year and this
year the Yazidis are bracing themselves for the worst.
BUHA (PH) (through translator): The mountain is so cold. You can see, there is nothing up here.
ELBAGIR (voice-over): Buha (ph) is 30. She and her nine daughters escaped the ISIS onslaught last year. This year she says she worries it's
the mountain that will kill them.
ELBAGIR: Buha (ph) was just telling me that 17 of them live in this tiny tarpaulin-lined tent. And everything that you see here, the clothing
that they're wearing, the pots, the pans, this is it. This is all that they have in the world. And they are facing another incredibly brutal
winter up here on the mountain.
ELBAGIR (voice-over): The world watched as thousands of Yazidis were massacred during the ISIS push for the town of Sinjar last August. Sinjar
and the mountain that looms over it are at the heart of the homeland of the Yazidi minority. It shelters their holiest shrine, the shrine of the
It also falls along a crucial ISIS supply route, linking ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
Preparations are now under way to retake Sinjar. Hundreds of Yazidi guards, though, are still held by ISIS fighters as slaves.
Buha's (ph) sister and two teenage nieces are among the captives. She says she cries when she remembers that they're gone. As the offensive
draws nearer, she worries they're still in Sinjar.
BUHA (PH) (through translator): Where are they?
Will they take them even further away?
Will they be caught in the fighting?
ELBAGIR (voice-over): Down in the foothills, the Yazidi soldiers stand guard. Many of the fighters here have families up on the mountain
Today, a local folk singer has come to rally them on but they know too well what they're fighting for: their very existence. Ill-equipped,
poorly supplied, the force commander tells me they need all the help they can get.
KHEINA KHAFAT (PH), YAZIDI COMMANDER (through translator): We need international support. We need heavy weaponry, especially now. We stood
against ISIS with nothing but machine guns.
KHAFAT (PH) (through translator): We withstood a huge enemy and we stood strong. We need your help.
ELBAGIR (voice-over): For now, the Yazidis are clinging on, desperate to stay within sight of their abandoned homes. Everyone here hopes this
will finally be over and soon, even as they prepare themselves for what awaits them in the town below -- Nima Elbagir, CNN, Mt. Sinjar.
CURNOW: A pivotal and controversial Iraqi political figure has died. A senior Iraqi military official tells CNN that Ahmed Chalabi died of a
heart attack at his home in Baghdad. He was 71. Chalabi was a key supporter of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
He provided intelligence to Washington about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction. The information, which was later discredited,
was the foundation for the U.S. invasion. His influence on events both before and after the Iraq war are undeniable.
Joining me now from Erbil, Iraq, is Ken Pollack. He's the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings Institution.
Hi, there, thanks, Ken, for speaking to us. We talk now about the life and legacy of this man, very controversial figure.
KEN POLLACK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: To say the least.
CURNOW: But you knew him and you met him.
POLLACK: Yes, I was not a fan of Ahmed Chalabi's. From the moment I met him, I felt that this was a man who was very much in it for himself,
very much looking to make himself the leader of Iraq and was going to do so however he possibly could.
There are a lot of people out there claiming that Ahmed was a great patriot. That really wasn't my experience of him. When I worked with him
in the U.S. government, this was a man who gave us lots of problems because he always had to be in charge. And it didn't really matter if something
was good for Iraq, as long as it was good for Ahmed.
CURNOW: You say that but what made him so persuasive?
Why did the U.S. go with his intelligence?
POLLACK: God, I wish I knew the answer to that question. To me, it was the great mystery of Ahmed Chalabi, which was that on the one hand,
this was a man who I looked at and felt like he was clearly very duplicitous, had betrayed us any number of times.
And yet there were a number of bright, experienced Americans who really bought what he had to say. As best I could tell, it was because
they wanted to, because they wanted to find an Iraqi who was going to tell them what they wanted to believe.
In particular after 9/11, the Bush administration had decided for a variety of reasons that they wanted to topple Saddam Hussein. And they
wanted to believe it was going to be easy. They wanted to believe that the Iraqis would receive the Americans with open arms and they wanted to
believe that there was someone who they could just hand over Iraq to and then be able to leave quickly.
And Ahmed furnished that. Ahmed Chalabi was the guy who came in and said, it's going to be easy, the Iraqis are going to love you and I will be
the great democrat that you want to leave behind. So just give Iraq to me and I'll take care of everything and you can leave. And I think it's just
that they wanted to believe that.
CURNOW: They wanted to believe that.
When I was reading, there was one line that I think struck me. In a sense many people saying he was the personification of what went wrong in
Iraq, the lies, the arrogance and the occupation as a disaster.
POLLACK: Yes, I couldn't disagree with that. I think that sums it up pretty nicely. I think that we Americans, we think about Ahmed Chalabi,
the guy who helped persuade the Bush administration to go to war. And I think it's putting too much on Ahmed to say that he's the one that's
Again, I think the administration made up its mind to go to war for its own reasons. Ahmed just made that more palatable.
But Iraqis think about Ahmed Chalabi also as the man after the invasion, the politician who came in as the darling of the Americans but
who died as one of the most pro-Iranian figures in Iraq, who came in as an ardent secularist.
And when he died, claimed to be this great Islamist, this incredibly religious figure. And again, to me, that represented Ahmed Chalabi. He
was someone who was absolutely determined to succeed, absolutely determined to gain power and was willing to make himself into anything and say
anything to gain power.
CURNOW: Ken Pollack, great to have your analysis coming to us there from Erbil, Iraq. Thanks so much for joining us.
POLLACK: Thanks so much for having me.
CURNOW: You're at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. Still to come, an unusual location to shelter refugees in Germany; hundreds of people are making a
temporary home inside a hangar at an airport in Germany.
CURNOW: Welcome back.
The German chancellor is yet again calling for a European-wide approach to the minority crisis. In remarks to a conference of industrial
leaders, Angela Merkel said refugees must be fairly distributed across E.U. nations as Germany struggles with the overwhelming influx of people.
Now some public spaces are being used in new ways, as Atika Shubert now reports.
ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Orville Wright flew one of the world's first airplanes at Tempelhof in Berlin. And by the
1930s, it had become the busiest airport in Europe and the aviation hub for the Nazi regime.
After the war, it became a symbol of freedom and a lifeline for West Berlin. Cut off by the Soviet Union, U.S. forces defiantly flew supplies
in. The airport had secured its place in history long before it was closed in 2008.
SHUBERT: Now Tempelhof Airport exists almost as a time capsule. You can still see an old U.S. troop carrier parked out there. And you can
cycle all up and down the massive runways here.
Now it really does stand as a sort of monument with plenty of space. So when the need came to house hundreds, even thousands of refugees, well,
this seemed like a natural choice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No this is not a hotel or this is not an exhibition center or a conference center. This is a hangar. It's an old
hangar. It's a monument. Nothing is there. There's no water, no heating. Just step by step, we had to bring in everything which you need to host so
SHUBERT: I've just walked inside one of the airport hangars and this --
SHUBERT: -- is where refugees will be housed. Take a look. There are four dedicated airport hangars here. The capacity in all will be
roughly 2,200 people.
This is where refugees will be sleeping. You can see they've got it set up with bunkbeds, about a dozen people in each compartment.
And there are dedicated spaces for men, for women and for families. The idea is this is a temporary home, just for a few days and weeks until
they are registered as asylum seekers and able to find more permanent housing.
SHUBERT (voice-over): Only a few have started to move in after their long journey across Europe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Afghanistan, Pakistan, (INAUDIBLE), Turkey, (INAUDIBLE) --
SHUBERT: What do you think after this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's good.
SHUBERT: It's good? (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So good. Good. (INAUDIBLE).
SHUBERT (voice-over): It will be used as a temporary shelter for at least the next year. Even in retirement, it seems Tempelhof Airport has
found itself yet another place in history -- Atika Shubert, CNN, Berlin.
CURNOW: Thanks to Atika for that report.
Another rite of passage for the new U.S. House Speaker, Paul Ryan is holding his first news conference now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW (voice-over): There he is -- since being elected to the powerful post last week. He gaveled the chamber into session for the first
time on Monday and he faces a real plateful of difficult issues. Ryan is still settling in though and says he'll continue his long-time practice of
sleeping on a cot in his old office.
His fancy new office apparently smells of cigarettes because his predecessor, John Boehner, was a smoker.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW: You're at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. Still to come, South African prosecutors try to send Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius back to
prison. Find out what they told the bench of appeal court judges.
CURNOW: Welcome back to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow. Here's a check of the headlines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW (voice-over): A U.S. satellite picked up a flash of heat in the air over Egypt's Sinai just before Saturday's Metrojet crash, according
to a U.S. official. That signifies some sort of explosion but we don't know what caused it. The plane's black boxes are being examined in Egypt.
All 224 people aboard were killed.
A senior Iraqi military official tells CNN that controversial Iraqi political figure Ahmed Chalabi has died of a heart attack in Baghdad. He
was 71. He was also a key supporter of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. He was credited with providing intelligence to the U.S. about Saddam Hussein's
alleged weapons of mass destruction. That information was later discredited.
And Yemen is taking a beating from Tropical Cyclone Chapala. The storm slammed into Yemen's central coast early Tuesday. It is the first
tropical storm on record to make landfall in the impoverished Arab country. Among other concerns it's feared that the high volume of rain will trigger
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW: The latest in the ongoing legal troubles for Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius. South African prosecutors say Pistorius should be
convicted of murder and sent back to prison for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in 2013. They made their appeal before Supreme Court
Our David McKenzie joins us now from Johannesburg with more details.
Hi, there, David.
What more can you tell us?
DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, Robyn, it was a day or several hours of very intense questioning from this five-judge
panel, the Supreme Court of Appeal. Very different feel from the trial which you, of course, covered so extensively. We did see the judges
interjecting frequently, trying to get a push to the legal arguments, particularly on the defense side of why they feel their side will win the
Essentially, it's the state saying that this was a question of law, that the judge got the law wrong and that, in fact, Pistorius should be
convicted of murder. Let's listen to the prosecutor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Justice Barton, what we then say is we say that what should have rejected as evidence as impossible; it -- the book took
into account the circumstantial evidence and the court should have rejected it as evidence because it was a poor witness.
Then all that remains is objective fact. On the objective facts, the judge cannot escape the conviction of murder.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCKENZIE: Certainly the defense seemed to have far more intense questioning , Robyn, but legal experts say that doesn't necessarily mean
they are on the losing side of this. If there's anything we know it's that this case has thrown up all sorts of twists and turns. They've deferred or
referred the case, meaning they'll come up with a final decision potentially in the next few weeks -- Robyn.
CURNOW: So what next?
We know that Oscar Pistorius is under correctional supervision at home.
If this appeal is lost -- I mean, if this appeal is won by the state, what happens to him then?
MCKENZIE: Well, it could be that he gets moved over to prison in short order, Robyn. But, again, it doesn't necessarily mean if the state
wins the case that this is the end of the road.
Pistorius' legal team may well take this to the constitutional court, the highest court of the land in South Africa. But then they have to prove
that this is a constitutional matter, not just a criminal matter. And that might be hard to prove.
Certainly through the day the defense said that, in fact, they should not even be looking at this case at the appeal level because, in terms of
case precedent, it didn't meet those minimum requirements. So there are several hurdles that the state has to cross to, in fact, overturn this
And you could even see a retrial. Now that's something both sides say is too expensive and not advisable.
There was one moment at the very end that I have to mention as they closed the proceedings, where you had this hot mike incident when Barry
Ruby (ph), defense attorney, mentioned in Afrikaans, said, "I've lost this thing."
Now we don't know the context to that or whether it was just kind of banter between two lawyers. But certainly that's something that the South
African press and social media is chitchatting a great deal about. I think it speaks more to the fact that no one really knows where this is going to
do -- Robyn.
CURNOW: Indeed. Trying to read the tea leaves on this case from the beginning, I think, is dangerous. The legal --
CURNOW: -- process has to continue. We're seeing the appeal court there in Bloemfontein on our screens.
When will these judges come up with a verdict, a judgment?
MCKENZIE: Well, they have reserved the verdict -- the key is they're working on a bit of a deadline. The recess for the Supreme Court of Appeal
is in the end of November. So they have to work from their standards relatively quickly.
Legal experts say they might, in fact, delay this into next year. However, the high-profile nature of this case, the fact that the case and
even the appeal was broadcast live in its entirety in South Africa on television here, means they might be under some pressure to come up with
some answers very quickly.
But some of these are complex legal questions that may not even be resolved through this one-day oral argument -- Robyn.
CURNOW: OK. We're going to leave it at that. David McKenzie there in Johannesburg.
Well, still ahead, Amazon is famous for selling books online.
So why is the company opening up a brick-and-mortar store?
More on that after the break.
CURNOW: I just want to bring you new information now on our top story. Listen to this.
Russia's Interfax news agency reports the flight recorder from the Metrojet flight picked up sounds that indicate a, quote, "unexpected and
nonstandard emergency" just before the plane crashed.
The report cites a source in Cairo, who was not named. The report also says the sounds indicate an emergency occurred instantly, which could
be why no alarm was heard. We'll update you if we get anymore information on that story.
OK. Moving on, a brick-and-mortar bookstore and better benefits, these are a couple of the big changes in the works at online retail giant,
Amazon. CNN's Alison Kosik joins me now with a look at these twists and Amazon's business model.
More importantly, as someone who likes a hard copy of her books, it's great news because this seems to be an indication that Amazon is saying,
listen, the paperback, the hardcover are not going out of fashion, this is about bookstores still.
ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what's old is new again. Just when you think Amazon is going backwards, it really isn't.
It's just reviving --
KOSIK: -- those old softbacks or paperbacks and hard book covers. What it's doing is it's opening its first physical bookstore since it began
20 years ago after it began selling publications online. The bookstore will be at the University Village in Seattle; Seattle is its home city.
It's going to stock 6,000 books based on what its sales on Amazon are like and reviews. Prices for these books will be the same. So it looks
like it's not going to try to cannibalize itself by having a physical bookstore and then the opportunity to buy e-books on Amazon's site --
CURNOW: OK. So a new chapter effectively.
Tell me also about this other development. There was a scathing article in "The New York Times" a few weeks ago about being employed at
Amazon. It really didn't do the company any favors. It's pushed back now, particularly when it comes to benefits.
KOSIK: Yes, so if you look at this broadly, this is a situation of tech companies in general trying to recruit good workers and retain them.
But, yes, when you look at Amazon's situation, it's more on the defensive after that scathing article in "The New York Times," which
basically gave a bird's-eye view based into what it's like to work at Amazon, based on past employees' and current employees' sentiment, to the
point where there's one past employee said he saw almost every colleague sit at their desk and cry, talking about grown men as well.
Also there are lots of questions about Amazon's lack of work-life balance.
Now just an aside, Amazon did say that this article in "The New York Times" was shoddy reporting. "The New York Times" stands by its reporting.
But the reality is, it's out there, the thinking is out there. So now you have Amazon upping the ante by expanding its parental leave policy --
CURNOW: OK. Thanks so much for that, Alison Kosik. Thanks for joining us.
Before we go, I want to show you an unusual sight in the night skies over Thailand.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW: Take a look at this. Dashcam video captured a large fireball -- wow -- believed to be a meteor, shooting across the Bangkok sky. "Time"
media report the spectacular fireball was spotted in several other provinces across the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW: That does it for us here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow. I'll be back in just over an hour. In the meantime, "WORLD
SPORT" with Amanda Davies is up next.