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War In Syria Sinks To New Low; The Mind Of A Suicide Bomber; Olympic Torch Rounding The Final Turn; Hope For The Rio Games Abounds. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired August 2, 2016 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:18] MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST: Tonight on the program, the top U.N.- backed humanitarian dealing with the Syrian catastrophe tells me the war has sunk to a new low.


JAN EGELAND, HUMANITARIAN ADVISER TO U.N. SYRIA ENVOY: I cannot remember a war where, you know, civilians, schools, hospitals, doctors, nurses were

directly targeted as they have been in Syria. It's like we're erasing a century of progress for humanity for civilization.


HOLMES: My interview with Jan Egeland as he heads to Geneva to meet with American and Russian officials on the crisis.

Also ahead on the program, what goes through the mind of a suicide bomber just before he presses the button?

The journalist and filmmaker who got unprecedented access to terrorists preparing to blow themselves up.


PAUL REFSDAL, NORWEGIAN JOURNALIST: It's kind of absurd but I mean quite quickly you see that for them death is just a kind of every day sort of

thing. They are so casual about their own death and they speak about it business-like.


HOLMES: Good evening everyone. Welcome to the program. I'm Michael Holmes sitting in for Christiane tonight.

Aleppo in crisis. A huge number of people, up to 300,000 trapped in the east by government forces blocking off supply routes. A Syrian army trying

to choke off an opposition stronghold and it is having devastating consequences.

Food markets mostly empty, fuel levels critically low and medical supplies are getting more scarce by the day after air strikes hit multiple

hospitals. Residents are now lighting tires to obstruct the view of war planes above, but the fighting still rages on the ground.

Both sides accusing each other of chemical attacks. Syrian state television says, quote, terrorist groups launched a gas attack in Aleppo

although an anti-regime group says it was the government which used chlorine in an attack in Idlib Province.

CNN cannot confirm either claim. Although U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura wants to kick start stalled peace talks by the end of August. Jan

Egeland is his humanitarian advisor and is heading to Geneva on Wednesday to speak to American and Russian officials to give this a push.

I spoke to him just before he left Oslo, Norway.


HOLMES: Jan Egeland, thanks so much for being on the program.

You're again going to Geneva tomorrow to speak to the Americans and the Russians. What is your top request and what makes you think you'll get any


EGELAND: We need three things, really. We need free access into to besiege city of Aleppo for humanitarian supplies. Secondly, we need free

access for civilians to go out of that encircled part of eastern Aleppo. And thirdly, to enable relief in and civilians to be able to escape, we

need 48 hours pauses in the fighting, humanitarian truces where not only the Russian and the Syrian side say they will want this but all sides

fighting in and around Aleppo.

HOLMES: Although the Russians and the Syrian say that there are two corridors open already. They say they're going to open another four, but

is it your understanding that they are not being widely used and they are in fact widely mistrusted.

EGELAND: It is my impression that there is few people so far going out of those, through those so-called corridors precisely for the reason that they

have to be guaranteed by all parties in the area. It has to be a voluntary, you know, exodus from this area and they have to be able to go

to the area free of their choosing. Not only the areas controlled by one side in this fighting.

In short, I really hope this can be transferred into a normal international U.N. Red Cross Red Crescent-led humanitarian operation where it will be

good that the Russians and the Syrians, but also all of the other sides, you know, endorse a normal humanitarian plan for a quarter million people

now in a truly desperate situation inside Aleppo.

[14:05:00] HOLMES: Well, one would hope you would have more success than there has been so far. But you mentioned the situation for civilians.

Yesterday, we spoke on the program with the ICRC about the medical situation, in particular the bombings of medical facilities and deaths of


Do you believe those facilities: blood banks, hospitals, other facilities are being directly targeted?

EGELAND: Well, we're now in a vicious cycle, really, where indeed it seems like medical facilities have been targeted. They've been targeted in

Aleppo and they've actually been targeted also on both sides of the front lines.

That has led to humanitarian groups not trusting any system and not notifying where these protected sites are, which means that they can also

be hit by armed activists that do want to shield medical facilities.

So we need to go back to a normal, again, system whereby hospitals, schools, civilians are considered protected and are not, you know, a direct

target for armed groups.

HOLMES: That is such an important point in terms of precedent, isn't it? For so many years now, decades, hospitals and medical facilities, the

wounded themselves, be they civilian or otherwise, have been seen as protected during times of war. Syria seems to have done away with that

notion, the Syrian war.

Speak to your concerns about that precedent.

EGELAND: No, I mean, you're so right. We have now sunk in the Syrian war to a new low. I cannot remember a war where, you know, civilians, schools,

hospitals, doctors, nurses were directly targeted as they have been in Syria. It's like we're erasing a century of progress for humanity for


So we need now to really, you know, make everybody accountable for all the mistakes they have done and we need to get back to civilians, medical

facilities, humanitarian relief workers have to be protected. If not, we will fall into an abyss that will be Srebrenica all over again. And

remember 20 years ago, we said never again Srebrenica. Never again that kind of genocidal conditions.

HOLMES: And when you talk about Srebrenica, you're talking of course about 1995, the Bosnian war. 8,000 Muslims killed in that place. And you're not

the first to make this analogy. You think it is on that par?

EGELAND: Well, I was there on the so-called safe areas of Bosnia in the mid-90s. Yes, they were caught -- it was Sarajevo, it was Srebrenica,

Tuzla and many other places.

And because of the impotence of the international community and because of the cruelty of the armed actors, these areas was nothing but safe. They

were death traps for civilians.

Aleppo is a test for humanity. A quarter of a million people now besieged. We have to be able to come to the relief. They have to be able to have

voluntary escape to places of their choosing. And we need humanitarian forces to make that happen.

If this doesn't happen, it would be a black stain on the conscience of humanity and certainly of all of those members in the so-called Syria

support group where I am a co-chair. And that is why we are meeting the co-chairs with us in the U.N. tomorrow, Russia and the United States.

HOLMES: Among your many roles, you are of course secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. I wanted to ask you about Europe and the

refugee crisis.

The international organization for migration estimates that migrant deaths this year have now topped 4,000, that's 1,000 up from this point last year.

I'm curious since the Brexit, since the various terror attacks that we've seen in Europe, have Europeans lost their will to help. Has that early

widespread empathy that we saw started to evaporate?

EGELAND: It has really started to evaporate. What we can truly say is that Europe is a place where we're building walls that we thought we were

tearing down when the Berlin Wall was gone.

I remember vividly everybody saying thank God, that wall is gone. And now, I mean, a refugee family fleeing from Aleppo will they at all be able to

make it to Turkey? If they make it to Turkey, will they be able to find a smuggler because there's no legal way to get to Greece, and if they come to

Greece, they will only find walls when they try to reach safe places in Europe.

[14:10:08] But it's not only in Europe. I mean, it's not like North America is taking that many either or the Gulf countries or the rich Asian

countries and so on. It's an international paralysis faced with this Syrian and Iraqi and Afghan challenge to our conscience.

HOLMES: Jan Egeland, thanks so much for being on the program.

EGELAND: Thank you.


HOLMES: And we turn now to a place heavy with history. Five years since Osama Bin Laden's Pakistan compound was raided by American forces, local

authorities and the military now debating how to transform this place wondering whether it should be a graveyard or perhaps ironically a

children's playground.

Whatever happens, the compound has already paved the way for the latest work by my next guest, the filmmaker and journalist who secured unparallel

access to suicide bombers preparing to strike.

We take a look coming up next.


HOLMES: Welcome back to the program. What inspires someone to carry out a deadly suicide bombing to kill themselves and others around them causing

untold pain, death and destruction?

It is a state of mind few people could understand, most wouldn't even try to. But my next guest has seen it for himself. The Norwegian journalist

Paul Refsdal has had unprecedented access to one of Syria's biggest Jihadi groups and lived to tell the tale.

Refsdal spent weeks with fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, specifically those from the notorious suicide squads. He took a camera and filmed them as

they prepared for their deaths and then made a documentary about it.




HOLMES: And Paul Refsdal joined me here in the studio.


Paul Refsdal, thanks so much for being with us.

First of all, what made you want to go and do this?

REFSDAL: It was a kind of a continuation of the project I started in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, I went to the Taliban to kind of show their

every day life of the Taliban soldiers, of our enemies.

So when the war started in Syria and there was a group affiliated with al Qaeda, I thought I should just going to pick it up a notch and go to the al


HOLMES: Of course, the obvious question is, you know, what made you think you could trust them.

REFSDAL: It wasn't that difficult. You know, they had (INAUDIBLE) affiliates in Syria. They have a good reputation among other groups and,

you know, the problem was actually getting the access. It took a lot of time. I mean, I have spent a lot of time inside Syria with other rebel

groups. Finally, I had to make an application, a written application to them and then after a while they --

[14:15:16] HOLMES: It was like putting out a CV, wasn't it? Writing out the application.

REFSDAL: Yes. I made a -- I had to include a CV and references, my previous works so it was like a job application.

HOLMES: And it's true, isn't it, that one of your quote, unquote, "references" was your name had cropped up on a document found in Osama Bin

Laden's computer. Is that right?

REFSDAL: Yes, that's right. Because when he was killed, obviously the U.S. Special Forces that brought his computer and they published some of

the letters. And one of the letter is a recommendation for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

And in this letter, there is -- they are talking about certain journalists that maybe should receive some kind of information package and they said

that in Europe, there is this Norwegian journalist who made a film about the Taliban showing that they are human beings.

HOLMES: And so that helped you get it. But despite that level of trust, did you not at any point fear -- and we got to make it clear, you were

kidnapped by the Taliban as well when you were in Afghanistan.


HOLMES: Why did you not fear that would happen again?

REFSDAL: It was a total different level of let's say education. I mean, in Afghanistan, you know, the Taliban can be a little bit amateuristic.

The Syrian affiliate of al Qaeda, it's a total different level. I never felt unsafe going with them. You know, there was no problem.

HOLMES: You were saying too, you know, part of what appealed to them about your documentary with the Taliban was you were -- you put a human face on


Did you ever wrestle with the concern that by humanizing these Syrian rebels, these men who were planning to blow up enormous truck bombs, that

by humanizing them, you could create empathy with people that most of the world sees as terrorists.

REFSDAL: You know, I think that's the problem. I mean, we see that the al Qaeda is just one group and they're all the same, and they're all black so

to say. And I'm trying to show that there's a difference there.

I mean, they're all individuals and they make their decisions. They make their choices. They have their problems also. They are not super humans

or super fighters.

So I think that's a very important thing in a war that we should know, actually what kind of people are on the opposite side.

HOLMES: At the beginning of this segment we ran a clip from the film which showed one of the fighters basically walking us through what was on the

back of the truck.

There's another clip I want to play now from that same sequence, where he's in the cab of the truck. Let's run that.




HOLMES: I'm just curious, you're watching that and the smile on his face as he is going through that, just so calmly, even gleefully telling you

which buttons he's going to press and he in fact also said in that sequence he was going to be on the phone with his father as he pressed the


What was it like as you listened to that?

REFSDAL: It's kind of absurd, but I mean quite quickly you see that for them death is just a kind of every day item, so to say. They are so casual

about their own deaths and they speak about it businesslike like this one.

I went actually with this guy on one of his missions, which were aborted, and you know when he -- when he learned that the truck was not available

anymore, his reactions were OK, let's go out to a restaurant and have dinner. You know, it was somewhat absurd.

But you're talking about also the operation. I mean, you have to keep in mind that this is not -- they don't use these truck bombs against

civilians. This is not Islamic State. They used them against the Syrian army. So these -- these men we're seeing here in the film, they are, what

I would say soldiers fighting other soldiers.

HOLMES: What do they think of those who then carry out attacks like we saw in Paris, you know, attacks like we saw in Brussels?

What do they think of that?

REFSDAL: A word you frequently hear about the Islamic State is horrid (ph) extremists. They really dislike Islamic State. And, you know, things like

slavery. I mean, they were shocked by it. The Islamic State imposed slavery on the Yazidi girls. So there's a huge difference between this

group and Islamic State.

[14:20:00] HOLMES: How would you have felt if they had carried out a successful attack while you were there making this film?

REFSDAL: Against the Syrian army? It would be, you know -- I would film it as normal.

HOLMES: As just part of war.


HOLMES: If you look at a suicide truck bombing like this, it's not -- they say they're in a war but these aren't conventional weapons of war.

What is then the psychology of the person who says I will do this?

REFSDAL: The problem comes when you talk about religious justification. And they refer to something called the verse of the boy, which also is in

the film where a boy sacrifice his life for a king to praise God, and they said that makes it legal in Islam to do this.

HOLMES: That's an interpretation isn't it, because Islam forbids suicide?

REFSDAL: Yes. And you know, I'm not 100 percent sure that they are convinced this is legal because they are -- they are very reluctant to use

these bombers. They use them very carefully and very few instances. And also during an operation -- operations like this, they always have a backup

in case the person in the car changes his mind.

HOLMES: And if that person changes their mind, is there retribution?



REFSDAL: No. I mean, there is more people on the list than actually there is trucks. So there's a long waiting period that I think is 1/2 year, 2

years maybe.

HOLMES: And as we've discussed too, although we've talked about the joy and the embrace of death among many of them, some of them do change their

mind, don't they.

REFSDAL: Yes. Yes. And that happens also in the film. There's one other fighter, he gets married. He starts to have doubts and at the end of the

film actually he decides he cannot do it.

HOLMES: Because his wife is pregnant.


HOLMES: And so he changes his mind?


HOLMES: You were kidnapped in Afghanistan. And as I understand it, you converted to Islam as part of the deal to be released. It was part of the


REFSDAL: It was part of the kidnapping, yes. They gave me several options, including, you know, exchange of prisoners, ransom, converting to

Islam or getting beheaded. I converted there, but I'm also practicing Muslim now.

HOLMES: I was going to ask you. That was my question. Why did you remain a Muslim after basically doing a deal to become one? Why did you remain


REFSDAL: Well, actually, I was -- I was -- you know, I wanted to convert and I would have converted anyways. In my way of thinking, I made a

promise to God and I will keep it.

HOLMES: Paul Refsdal, thanks so much for being with us.

REFSDAL: Thank you.


HOLMES: And "Dugma: The Button" is now available on iTunes worldwide.

Well, the world is perhaps in need of a celebration so next week we head to Brazil for the 2016 Olympic Games. The torch is rounding the final turn.

We'll head into the stretch Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday. And on Thursday, a citywide holiday. It will allow the Olympic flame to pass through the


Despite an almost constant stream of criticism, we imagine a Rio Olympics offering hope to the many left behind in Brazil. That's after this.


[14:25:50] HOLMES: And finally tonight with the Rio Olympics just around the corner, the Summer Games have been plagued by scandal after scandal.

But tonight, we imagine the beacon they offer to some of Brazil's most desperate people.

The national team is a record 465 people strong ranging from a 16-year-old ping pong player to the 54-year-old shooting pro who recovered from a

stroke in 2008.

While it would be so easy to be lost among the throngs of athletes in Rio, individual and exceptional achievements are shining through.

Lohaynny Vicente spent most of her childhood without her father, a crime boss killed by Rio police when she was just 4. Well, now she aims to make

her country proud as Brazil's number one badminton player.

And Davi Albino was homeless for ten years before he became Greco-Roman wrestling champ.

While boxer Robson Conceicao was penniless until his boxing passion transformed his life.

The whole show kicks off in Rio de Janeiro this Friday at the opening ceremony. Until then, the country and its athletes wait with bated breath

for a chance at Olympic glory.

And that is it for our program tonight.

Remember, you can listen to our podcast, see us online at and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. I'm @HolmesCNN.

Thanks for watching. Good bye from London.