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Belgian Police Arrest Two over Attack Plot; Terror Threat Level Raised in Brussels; Ramadi Recaptured; Pastor Describes Church Flattened by Tornado; Extreme Weather Causing Havoc around the Globe; Professor's Trafficking Research Inspires Film; Affluenza Teen and Mother Caught; Reduced Prison Sentence for Former Israeli PM Olmert; 2016 Putin Calendar Selling Out; Coloring The Donald; Thousands Witness Rare Corpse Flower Bloom. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired December 29, 2015 - 10:00 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, everybody. I'm Robyn Curnow at the CNN Center. Well, we start with that foiled terror plot and a raised terror
threat level in Belgium.
Two suspects arrested Tuesday after raids in Brussels and around Brussels. Now prosecutors say they were plotting attacks over the New Year's holiday.
For more on this, I want to bring in Erin McLaughlin in London.
Hi, there, Erin.
What more do we know about this threat?
ERIC MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're getting some new information from a senior official in Belgium, telling CNN that, on Monday night, a
bulletin went out to law enforcement, warning them of a specific threat against the Grand Place in Brussels, which is a very ornate and historic
site, a main tourist attraction there in Brussels, a threat also against law enforcement as well as police.
Now that was a bulletin that went out Monday night to police. This morning, we're hearing from the Belgian federal prosecutor, letting the
public know of the two individuals, names have not been released, charged with terrorism related offenses and also letting them know that there had
been this suspected plot against key emblematic sites and New Year's celebrations.
Also today, authorities taking the decision to raise the threat level for police and military personnel from 2 to 3, meaning that an attack is
possible and likely, although not imminent. That would be level 4. That Level 3 is the same level as the rest of the country. Belgium as a whole,
their level remains the same, at level 3, which was raised following the Paris attacks.
CURNOW: OK. Thanks for that, Erin. I want to get more perspective from Belgium. CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank joins me now from
We just heard Erin there.
Give us what we know.
What else are we aware of?
These men, their names haven't been released but there are still some details.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERROR ANALYST: Yes, Robyn, the senior Belgian counterterrorism official telling me that they believe this was an ISIS-
inspired plot, not an ISIS-directed plot. And that means that these two individuals are not thought to have traveled to Syria or Iraq and actually
connected with ISIS on the ground there. That's what we saw with the Paris attacks.
But we're not seeing that in this plot. These seem to be home-grown radicals who were influenced by ISIS propaganda, who wanted to do something
over the New Year period here in Brussels, potentially against the Grand Place but also potentially against potentially police stations and law
enforcement personnel here in the capital.
CRUICKSHANK: The hope is, obviously, from the authorities' point of view, that they have now minimized the danger that something is going to happen
from this particular group of individuals. Not clear if it's just two or there are more that could be out there.
But clearly, they hope that this particular network of individuals are now not going to be able to mount any kind of attack over the holiday period --
CURNOW: You referenced the Paris attacks. Belgium has been connected to a few terror plots in the past year.
CRUICKSHANK: Well, I think one of the main reasons is there's been a significant amount of radicalization here in Belgium amongst some young
Muslims. And some of these inner city areas, particularly places like Molenbeek have been mentioned but there are plenty of other areas in
There's very similar dynamics quite frankly in a lot of parts of Europe, including France, parts of Germany, the U.K. I don't think Belgium sort of
stands out necessarily. But there is one reason perhaps why it does stand out to some degree.
And that's because early on in the Syrian jihad, the civil war, there were quite a few Belgians who went out there as some of the first Europeans to
travel there and they encouraged their friends to come and join them over there in Syria. So you've had a very significant travel flow from Belgium
to Syria to join ISIS.
Belgian officials just telling me a couple of days ago that the official estimate is now 272 individuals who have traveled to Syria and Iraq with
more than 130 that are now back in Belgium. Of course, some of those people who are back are trained killers. And that, of course, is causing a
lot of concern to Belgian authorities.
Also in Belgium, we've seen a nexus between gangsterism and jihad. Youngsters with a history of involvement in petty crime getting involved in
terrorism plots. We saw that with the Paris attacks, where quite a few of the plotters were based in Molenbeek.
Of course, that creates worries because these are young men who can get access to Kalashnikovs, to weapons and so on.
CURNOW: Paul, always great to have your perspective. Thanks so much.
Well, Iraq's prime minister paid a victory visit to Ramadi Tuesday after government troops proclaimed the city liberated from ISIS militants. The
troops are still sweeping the city, though, for bombs and booby traps. Let's right go to our Nima Elbagir, who joins us now by phone from Baghdad
Hi, there. The prime minister's visit sending a very clear message, I suppose. The question is over how this message will be received.
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Robyn. Really doubling down on this announcement of liberation, of complete liberation although they do
take pains to point out there are still pockets of fighting and those will take another perhaps two to three weeks to fully clear.
We're hearing from tribal leaders in Ramadi, who spoke to us from inside the city, that they estimate about 25 percent, perhaps, is still under some
sort of ISIS control. So those pockets, perhaps the government is referring to.
The U.S.-led coalition still not quite ready though to call it fully liberated in a press conference here. Military commanders told journalists
that they played a real role in terms of the support. They seemed very proud that their training, their advise and assist had been so key.
At the same time, of course, this is a real about-turn from where the training, advise and assist and support had led the fight against ISIS,
even just back in May, when Iraqi forces had to flee the city.
So they may not quite yet be ready to agree with their Iraqi allies that Ramadi is fully liberated but they're very happy to point out that they
played a pretty key role in supporting this.
CURNOW: Yes, indeed. Ash Carter, the deputy secretary, saying that he wondered if the Iraqi army had the will to fight back then.
Let's talk now about what happens next. You said it might take two to three weeks for Ramadi to be fully cleared of ISIS militants. But that
also, that's the military side of things. Politically, this is going to be a very sensitive time, particularly managing the sectarian sensitivities.
ELBAGIR: Yes, and that's really where we're going to see Ramadi's strategic importance absolutely unfolding. Because what they're doing here
is they're working through the local tribal leadership, trying to defuse some of the sectarian tensions that we saw when the Shia popular forces
came in to Tikrit and to other liberated territories we had taken from ISIS. And we saw that ramp up a lot of those tensions.
Here, what they're trying to do is very much almost a copy of that Sunni awakening back in 2006-2007, where the --
ELBAGIR: -- tribal leadership were a huge part of this, pushed out Al Qaeda in Iraq, essentially the precursor to ISIS.
So how this unfolds, when the local tribal leadership are placed in control of maintaining the liberation of Ramadi and how that can then be
implemented, that is going to be what we're all watching -- Robyn.
CURNOW: Yes, and the role of (INAUDIBLE) if any, if at all.
Nima in Baghdad, thank you so much.
Well, the weather phenomenon, El Nino, is creating quite a bit of weather havoc around the world.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PASTOR KEVIN TAYLOR, HARVEST OF PRAISE MINISTRY: I noticed that the doors of the church were imploding inward. And I'm thinking, you know, this is
not supposed to happen.
CURNOW (voice-over): You'll hear his amazing survival story. That's next.
CURNOW: Welcome back. I'm Robyn Curnow.
Well, a year full of weather extremes across the globe is ending with an exclamation point, isn't it?
And we are seeing the heartbreaking results on the ground. Flooding in South America has uprooted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
It's said to be the worst in 50 years in parts of Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina.
And rain in the U.S., lots of it for days on end. The Mississippi River is expecting record floods right now.
Also, epic flooding in England as well and the danger is not over yet for Britain with more rain expected on the way.
And communities across Texas are picking up the pieces in the wake of several deadly tornadoes that tore across that state. Each day, we're
learning more harrowing survival stories.
Take a look at what remains of this Ellis County church, completely destroyed by the powerful EF-4 tornado. Only the frame of the church left
standing. But inside, the church's priest survived unscathed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN HOST: Let us talk --
PEREIRA: -- about what happened on Saturday. So you were with your wife. Your wife was in the truck. You popped into the church for just a minute.
And literally, that's when the storm hit?
TAYLOR: Yes. We had just made it in from vacation. Got something to eat and someone needed something from the church.
So I went there to retrieve those items for that particular person. And in that quick minute, everything changed.
She was sitting in the truck and when I went in and turned the alarm off, turned around and hear a noise. I notice that the doors of the church were
imploding inward. And I'm thinking, this is not supposed to happen. And I begin to yell at her to stay in the truck, stay in the truck. But yet
still, I was standing in front of the glass.
And my instincts kicked in and told me to get from in front of the glass. And when I turned to run, that's when everything just went dark.
PEREIRA: So you must have known -- you knew there was inclement weather, you knew that there was stuff going on in the atmosphere. So you weren't
concerned that it was something else. You were able to snap some of these pictures inside.
Where did you end up finding shelter inside that church?
TAYLOR: In the front foyer of the church. I turned and ran and was trying to make it down the hallway that's on the south side of the building. And
I had a table down there that was a pretty hefty table. I figured that if I could make it to the table, I could get under that table and shield
But something hit me and knocked me to the ground, which I later discovered was the debris. And I didn't make it that far.
However, you know, God is still good. I'm here to tell the story that God will keep you if you keep your mind on Him.
PEREIRA: Did you get battered and bruised?
Are you a little beat up this morning?
TAYLOR: I walked out with not a scratch anywhere on me.
CURNOW: What a tale there being told to Michaela Pereira on CNN a little bit earlier today.
Well, Jennifer Gray is following the severe global weather. She joins us now.
What is stirring up all these extreme storms?
What is causing all this havoc?
JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, that's the million-dollar question. It really is remarkable, all these extremes that we have seen around the
globe. A lot of it has to do with El Nino. A lot of these weather patterns that we're seeing, which may seem odd are typical for an El Nino
In fact, for the United States, we typically see wetter than normal conditions across the southern portion of the U.S. and warmer than normal
conditions across the northeast. And that's really what we have seen.
In fact, Christmas week, these are those storms where you were just hearing that interview in Texas. We had almost 70 tornado reports during Christmas
week. In fact, normally during the month of December, we only see about 24 tornadoes in an average year. Texas typically sees about five. And that's
on average. Some years, we don't see any. So definitely well above normal.
We had very warm air being pumped in. That was just one of the triggers for that severe weather event. A lot of moisture across the southeast has
been in place. It's actually created this atmospheric river, if you can imagine that.
It stretches from the southeast all the way up to the U.K. We have heard so much about the record flooding across the U.K. and we've had reports of
rain about 214 millimeters. Some areas, it's 183 millimeters of rain and the rain is continuing as we speak.
Also across South America, as you were talking about, wetter than normal in a typical El Nino year. That's what we're seeing.
Look at this river that ends up running into portions, southern portions of South America, Argentina. And look, this is an image from space. And you
can see the flooding. The rivers are overfilling their banks. We go back to what it normally looks like, just a thin line that's being drawn.
So the flooding there has also been remarkable. It also affects portions of Australia, where we'll see record heat. In fact, yesterday, just north
of Perth, a couple hundred kilometers, it was the warmest spot on the planet.
Temperatures were record setting, right around 45 degrees. In fact, luckily, they have cooled off a little bit, but back up to 38 by Friday.
And so, Robyn, it does seem quite odd we're seeing all these weather extremes.
A lot of it is due to El Nino, as we said. We're in the midst of one of the strongest El Ninos ever recorded.
CURNOW: But global warming doesn't help, does it?
Jennifer Gray, thank you so much.
Well, still to come at the INTERNATIONAL DESK, CNN's Freedom Project will hear from a Harvard professor who is combining his research on human
trafficking with the power of the movies to help in the fight against modern-day slavery.
CURNOW: This week, CNN Freedom Project brings us a special series that features an extraordinary array of experts who are fighting modern-day
slavery on several fronts.
Today, we focus on a researcher, who spent years documenting cases of human trafficking. Now he's taking those stories to the big screen. Stephanie
Elam takes us on set behind the scenes.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Inside the secluded California ranch --
UNKNOWN MALE: I'm not, I'm not and if I just get back, we'll be fine.
ELAM (voice-over): A film crew is busy shining the bright lights of Hollywood on a crime traditionally hidden in the shadows.
PROF. SIDDHARTH KARA, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVT.: Every character in this film, every scenario, everything that's happening is drawn from
something real that I documented.
ELAM (voice-over): Siddharth Kara is a noted Harvard professor and human trafficking expert. He spent the past 15 years documenting trafficking
cases around the world. Those cases provide the inspiration for this film.
(VIDEO CLIP, "TRAFFICKED")
ELAM: "Trafficked" stars Ashley Judd as a social worker and Patrick Duffy, best known for his role in "Dallas," plays a corrupt Texas congressman who
uses his power and connections to operate a lucrative international trafficking operation.
(VIDEO CLIP, "TRAFFICKED")
PATRICK DUFFY, ACTOR: It's an important subject matter, but I think more important is to unencumber the minds and hearts of people just in general,
to allow them that, even if they're involved in thinking about a subject matter, it's better than ignoring it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you grab if you put it down to try and get it.
ELAM (voice-over): One of the film's most riveting performances belongs to Charlie Kanter. The high schooler plays a young woman, fooled by a fake
modeling offer and then made to work in a brothel against her will.
Kanter says she learned of the issue and Siddharth Kara long before ever landing the role.
CHARLIE KANTER, ACTRESS: I did a research paper about human trafficking my freshman year and I read Siddharth's book. And I just learned an abundance
of all these things that are going on, that --
KANTER: -- nobody at least in my environment knew about.
ELAM (voice-over): For Kara, reaching a broader audience while seeing the script come to life, still calls up a range of emotions.
KARA: There's a fair bit of pain, as I think back to those true people, and I wonder what happened to them. But there's also some hope in that, as
I see this young girl, saying what she said to me, I'm realizing she's got a voice and her story is being told.
ELAM (voice-over): With hopes that by telling it, the story will prevent others from going through it themselves -- Stephanie Elam, CNN, Los
CURNOW: Thanks, Stephanie, for that report.
And this programming note for you: CNN's Richard Quest moderates a discussion that examines the battle that's raging in Main Street America.
What is being done to put an end to this trade in human life and what about dismantling the international networks that run this global criminal
enterprise? That's Thursday at 9:00 pm in London, 10:00 pm Central European time, only on CNN.
Now to a milestone in West Africa. Guinea, where the Ebola outbreak started two years ago, is now Ebola-free. Liberia and Sierra Leone were
declared free of Ebola earlier this year. Now the declaration in Guinea came from the World Health Organization after six weeks passed with no
confirmed Ebola cases.
Guinea now enters a 90-day period of heightened surveillance to monitor for any new cases. The epidemic has killed more than 11,000 people in West
Well, still ahead, he was on probation for a deadly car crash two years ago on a defense that he was too rich to be responsible. He vanished earlier
this month. Now the so-called affluenza teen has been caught.
CURNOW: Hi, there. You're watching the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow. There's a lot of news this hour. So let's get to it. Here's a
check of the headlines.
CURNOW: Now to the case of Evan Couch. Now he's the Texas teenager, who got probation rather than jail time for a car crash that killed four
people. There was public outrage but not only for his light punishment.
Couch was dubbed the affluenza teen for a unique legal defense that argued he was too rich, too spoiled to be held accountable. Couch vanished along
with his mother earlier this month.
Now CNN's U.S. Justice correspondent Evan Perez tells us how the pair has been caught in Mexico.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. Marshals' service was tracking a cell phone and, in recent days, they alerted Mexican authorities that they
had tracked down Ethan Couch. Police in the Pacific Coast region near Puerto Vallarta moved in yesterday to make the arrest and they found the
18-year-old fugitive with his mother.
PEREZ (voice-over): Breaking overnight, the so-called "affluenza teen," Ethan Couch, captured in Mexico, the Jalisco State prosecutor's office
releasing this photo to ABC News, showing Couch with noticeably darker hair, mustache and a beard.
The manhunt ending when Mexican authorities nabbed the 18-year old, along with his mother, Tonya, nearly 1,000 miles from their hometown in Tarrant
County, Texas, detaining them both near the popular beach resort town of Puerto Vallarta.
The mother and son duo on the lam for more than two weeks, leading U.S. Marshals on a massive manhunt. Couch went missing earlier this month and
officers issued a warrant for his arrest after this video surfaced on social media, appearing to show Couch playing beer pong at a party, a
violation of his probation.
At the time of his conviction, violating probation meant up to 10 years in prison.
Shortly after Couch vanished, Texas authorities placed his mother, Tonya, on a missing persons list as well, believing she might be helping her son.
DEE ANDERSON, TARRANT COUNTY SHERIFF: Our hope is they will both be locked up for some time.
PEREZ (voice-over): Couch first made headlines two years ago after only receiving 10 years' probation in a drunk-driving crash that killed four
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had over 180 years of life taken and two of those were my wife and daughter.
PEREZ (voice-over): Couch's defense attorney argued that he suffered "affluenza," meaning his wealthy upbringing was to blame for his behavior.
Mexican authorities are expected to turn Couch to the U.S. Marshals for his return back to the United States. That could happen as soon as later
CURNOW: OK and the U.S. Marshals' service has so far not commented on the likely deportation of Evan and Tanya Couch.
Russia is indicting five people in the February murder of opposition figure Boris Nemtsov. They're being charged with contract murder and firearms
violations. Authorities say they're all from a rebellious region of the Caucasus. Nemtsov was shot in the back in February as he walked on a
bridge near the Kremlin. He was an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, the president, and many opposition sympathizers blame Mr. Putin for his death.
Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert says he honors a court decision reducing his sentence on bribery charges but he says he was never offered
and never received a bribe. Olmert was sentenced in 2014 to six years in prison for taking bribes while he was the mayor of Jerusalem.
But he appealed and the Israeli Supreme Court today reduced his sentence to a year and a half and acquitted him on one of the charges.
Well, next at the INTERNATIONAL DESK, Russia's president like you have never quite seen him before, as a pin-up model. We'll peek inside the 2016
Vladimir Putin calendar.
CURNOW: As the year draws to a close, it's a time of reflection, isn't it?
Also a time of hope for the coming year. So with that spirit in mind, fans are snatching up this limited edition Vladimir Putin calendar. Each month
features the Russian leader in various different outfits, sometimes topless, paired with a quotation.
In March, holding a flower, looking pensive, Putin tells us "Russian women are the most talented and beautiful."
In April, a sporty Putin's message takes on substance abuse. He says, "A love for sport is inconsistent with tobacco, alcohol and drugs."
And in November, one of my personal favorites, we're told that Mr. Putin and dogs have, quote, "warm feelings for each other." So sweet.
The calendar is published by a Russian tabloid. Mr. Putin enjoys high ratings in his country so it's no surprise that this calendar is selling
out all across Russia.
Well, let's turn now to one of Mr. Putin's favorites, U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.
The Republican front-runner has been dominating the political headlines in the U.S. and many other places all through this year. And as Jeanne Moos
now reports, some are hoping to cash in on his popularity, not by featuring him in a calendar but by putting him in coloring books.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Trump is used to being parodied. But now the parody is interactive.
You can color him Donald.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here, let's get those eyebrows.
MOOS (voice-over): Donald as the Statue of Liberty, on Mount Rushmore, on the million dollar bill. Donald with his wife, Melania, Donald arm
Donald as a Beatle?
MOOS: I never thought I would be coloring Donald Trump's fig leaf.
MOOS (voice-over): Even Donald on the Sistine Chapel.
I colored my way through the entire interview with the creator and publisher of "The Trump Coloring Book."
MOOS: Do you think Donald Trump would be flattered or insulted by his coloring book?
M.G. ANTHONY, WRITER AND ILLUSTRATOR: I'm not so sure if he'll sell this at his gift shops in his casinos but I think he would enjoy this.
MOOS (voice-over): It turns out adult coloring books are the hottest category in publishing right now. So cashing in on Trump made sense.
There's also the off-color coloring books, featuring notable Trump quotes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Trump.
DONALD TRUMP, ENTREPRENEUR: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you Batman?
TRUMP: I am Batman.
MOOS (voice-over): Go ahead and color that quote.
But who needs a whole box of crayons?
ANTHONY: Which is the beauty of this coloring book. You really only need one or two colors.
MOOS: You only need orange and yellow?
ANTHONY: That's pretty much it. And you're good to go.
MOOS (voice-over): But we weren't good to go almost from the get-go.
MOOS: Oops. Oh, no. That's trouble. I just broke the yellow.
MOOS (voice-over): But just that yellow stub was enough to get to the roots of The Donald's hair on the page he shared with Albert Einstein.
MOOS: I'm just doing Einstein's tongue.
MOOS (voice-over): 25,000 copies will be shipped just in time for Christmas. So you can color the candidate who is already beyond colorful.
TRUMP: Bing, bing, bing.
MOOS (voice-over): Jeanne Moos, CNN --
ANTHONY: Well, we're trying to make coloring great again.
MOOS (voice-over): -- New York.
CURNOW: I love that she just needed two colors. Fabulous.
Well, now to something that really stinks. Thousands of Australians have been flocking to a botanical garden in Adelaide to see a flower -- a very
large flower -- that's called a corpse flower and it smells something like rotten flesh. The plant is found in the rain forests of Sumatra and is
incredibly difficult to cultivate.
This one took about a decade to bloom. It will only last for about two days before collapsing on itself. Not before giving these Aussies a strong
Well, that does it for us here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow. Don't go anywhere. "WORLD SPORT" with Amanda Davies is up next.
Thanks so much for watching.