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War in Syria Sinks To New Low; The Mind of a Suicide Bomber; Pesticides Causing Bee Numbers to Drop

Aired August 5, 2016 - 14:00:00   ET



[14:00:27] MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight on the program, the desperate battle for Aleppo puts thousands in peril. But have we turned

our backs?

The U.N. official dealing with the Syria catastrophe urges the world to listen and act.


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: And what goes through the mind of a suicide bomber just before he presses that bomber? The filmmaker who got unprecedented access to

terrorists preparing to blow themselves up.

Plus, a story creating a bit of a buzz. Why the bee is under increasing threat and how its survival is vital to all of us.

Good evening and welcome to our special weekend edition of the program.

I'm Michael Holmes in for Christiane Amanpour.

Well, this week has seen fierce fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Up to 300,000 people are trapped as the Syrian army attempts to choke this

opposition stronghold.

Food markets are empty; fuel levels low; medical supplies getting more scarce by the day after air strikes hit multiple hospitals. Residents are

now lighting tires to obstruct the view of warplanes flying above.

A raging offer of humanitarian corridors out of the city does not appear to be trusted.

U.N.-Syria Envoy Staffan de Mistura wants to kickstart stalled peace talks. Jan Egeland is his humanitarian advisor and is headed to Geneva to meet

American and Russian officials.

I spoke to him 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 action?

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 are 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.

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?

[14:05:00] 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: Jan Egeland, thanks so much for being on the program.

EGELAND: Thank you.


HOLMES: Coming up next, suicide bombers in training. I speak to a Norwegian filmmaker, Paul Refsdal who spent weeks with would be suicide

bombers in Syria.

What motivates them and what are they fighting for? That's coming up.


[14:10:21] HOLMES: Welcome back to the program.

What inspires someone to carry out a suicide bombing to kill themselves and all of those around them causing untold pain, death and destruction?

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

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, and 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.

He joined me here in the studio.


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

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

PAUL REFSDAL, NORWEGIAN JOURNALIST: 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 with 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 have the (INAUDIBLE) Nusra, the al Qaeda 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 --

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 had 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 them.

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. I mean, 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 it?

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.

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 sacrificed 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?


HOLMES: 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: Well, 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: Coming up on the program, for years the global population of bees has been dwindling in the U.S. As many as 70 percent of all colonies die

every year.

But it's not just their precious honey that is in peril. A new study shows the problem is getting worse. We try to understand why, next.


[14:21:14] HOLMES: And, finally, tonight, Albert Einstein is widely quoted as saying, "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man

would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

Well, he may or may not have actually said that, that's under debate. But the importance of the humble bee in our food chain is not to be


Much of our food requires pollination and the champion pollinator is the bee. The bee colonies have been dying off.

And a recent study has confirmed they are struggling also to reproduce. Why?

Well, I spoke to a leading expert.


HOLMES: Dr. Christopher Connolly joins us now to discuss this.

Doctor, how great is the threat to the bees of the world? I think it's called colony collapse or something.

How bad is it?

DR. CHRIS CONNOLLY, RESEARCHER, UNIVERSITY OF DUNDEE: Well, currently it's very bad. In the U.S., they currently lose between 30 percent and 70

percent of all honeybee colonies every single year. And when it comes to wild bees, we just don't know. The only measure we really have for wild

pollinating insect is the windscreen bug test.

This is when in the old days when you drove your car, long distances, you had to keep stopping to scrape the bugs off your windscreen. That's not a

problem we really have nowadays so all these insects have disappeared.

HOLMES: And it's extremely worrying, isn't it, because I think most people when they think of bees, they think of maybe bee stings or they think of

honey. They don't think of how important they are to the food chain.

Tell us about that.

CONNOLLY: Well, they're vitally important . The bees, the wild bees as well as managed bees together are responsible for pollinating about 80

percent of all of our food crops, but it's more important really than just our food supply because we have to think about the ecosystem.

The bees are probably the number one most important species or range of species on the planet because they also pollinate the ecosystem. All the

plants and trees that feed all the other animals that live on the planet. So our ecosystem is really dependent on the ability to be pollinated.

HOLMES: Well, that sounds all very dire.

Were the bees to die out or their populations be significantly reduced further, what's the worst case scenario?

CONNOLLY: We have a desperate need to balance the food production with the number of people. If we lose pollinators, which are fundamental to many

crops and play a major role in improving the quality and quantity of others, we're going to be in trouble. We're going to find it difficult.

HOLMES: And that brings us, of course, to the why.

I mean, I saw a study that said of male honeybees that showed the two particular insecticides were basically acting as a contraceptive if you

like, but that's not the only reason. It's habitat. Its other things.

Do we even know what the reasons are?

CONNOLLY: It's two things: it's habitat and pesticides.

For many honeybees, there's also an issue of disease. But for most wild pollinators that we really depend on, it's habitat.

In the UK, we've lost 97 percent of all our wild flower meadows. These are places where the wild pollinators live, nest. And if we destroy these,

then we've reduced the food available for them. The very diet they need and also places to nest whenever winter.

And if we lose the wild pollinators, if anything happens to our honeybees, we'll be in a very serious position.

HOLMES: I was reading that biologists found more than 150 different chemical residues in bee pollen in the U.S., which must be worrying. That

was from a University of California study.

What about pesticides and their role?

CONNOLLY: Well, pesticides are clearly playing a significant role. Neonicotinoid in particular. Because we know that they affect the brains

of bees and affect their ability to do higher cognitive things like learning, navigation, communication.

These are all things that are essential for social insects. But also we know that the other pesticides -- worldwide we have about 700 pesticides.

These could be used and not actually recorded.

So were you to have a combination of pesticides that were actually more toxic than the individual components, we wouldn't be able to detect that.

It's a complete unknown and it seems a stupid unknown.

[14:25:31] HOLMES: Yes. Well, it does and brings me to the final question, which is, is enough being done about it? Is it being taken seriously

enough? Is it urgent? What can we do?

CONNOLLY: The problem is there isn't enough funding to funds the research into pesticides and insects. The only people who really could afford to do

it big time are the industries, the ones who have produced and defend the compounds. But it's very hard for us independent academics to get

sufficient funding to, you know, to do the fairly easy science to prove it.

And when we do prove it, of course, governments quite often say that a laboratory study is not valid. We only are going to accept field studies

done by industry as evidence against or for the safety of a particular compound.

So there's many things that have to change from the very basic level of funding the research and also the governments taking this funded research

conclusions seriously.

HOLMES: Dr. Christopher Connolly, a worrying scenario.

Thanks for being on the program.

CONNOLLY: Thank you.


HOLMES: And that is it for our program for tonight.

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

Thanks for watching. And good-bye for now from London.