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Berlin Suspect at Large; Diplomat Assassination Investigation; No Special Panel to Probe Hacks; Dow Jumps Near Milestone; Search for Berlin Attack Suspect; Aleppo Christmas Tree Lighting Explosion. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 20, 2016 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Vowing revenge.

But we're going to begin right now in Berlin, because there a suspect is in custody, has been in custody, but police are now saying they do not know if he is the man who intentionally drove a truck through a crowd of people at a Christmas market last night. In fact, there are indications that are leaning against that notion.

Twelve people died in that attack. Well, 11 were killed by the truck in the attacks. There was one person inside the truck found dead after. Eleven people, as we stand here this afternoon, 11 people are in critical condition.

A witness took video right after the crash. We should warn you, this video is troubling. You can see people tending to those who were injured moments before. Christmas markets in Germany, they are a quintessential part of the German Christmas culture. Everyone goes. They are everywhere. It's what you do as part of the celebration. This particular Christmas market was set up right near a very historic church. Of course, trees were lit, vendors serving candy, fruits and waffles, malt wine.

Germany's interior minister says among the dead, a passenger in the truck. Again, that man was found shot in the truck. He was a Polish citizen. The gun used to kill him, not found as of now.

CNN's senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen joins me from Berlin.

And, Fred, the big news that we're getting today is this man who had been in custody, the man who initially they thought may have been connected to the attack, now not necessarily the case.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're absolutely right, John. And the authorities there are saying that they've been questioning the man who was in custody, a Pakistani citizen who apparently was a refugee here in this country. and it appears as though a lot of his alibis were checking out. And that's one of the reasons - and also he's still denying any sort of participation in all of this. And that's one of the reasons why they say that it's highly possible that they might have the wrong person in custody. And that, of course, would leave them to the assumption that there is still someone out there at large who potentially would still be armed.

Now, you've mentioned the fact that there was a body on the passenger seat of that truck after it came to a standstill. And that that body had gunshot wounds in it. And there was no gun found at the scene of the crime. I can tell you, I was here throughout the entire night last night, and there were forensic units working away the whole night. So if there was anything here, any weapon to be discovered, presumably they would have found that weapon. So they say if indeed the person is still at large, that person could very well be armed - still be armed and also, of course, is highly dangerous we know from the fact that he plowed through this Christmas market with that truck.

And, of course, there's many, many people, John, who were coming here and showing their support. Also, of course, showing the fact how shocked they are. We want to pan down here really quick. You can see that there are people who are lighting candles. It's just a few that are out here. There's a lot more also in and around here with a lot of people just showing their sympathy. A lot of people also, of course, very concerned about what happened here at 8:00 p.m. last night when that truck plowed through that Christmas market. It is something that many, many Germans, of course, visit Christmas markets in this time. And, of course, people now feel very vulnerable, wondering whether or not their security is guaranteed at events like this one that are so much a hallmark of this festive season, John.

BERMAN: Vulnerable, especially because there very well could be a manhunt underway for the person behind this attack on the German market, if the person they have in custody is, in fact, not linked to it.

Frederik Pleitgen for us in berlin. Fred, thanks so much for your work. We're going to have much more on this in a moment.

In the meantime, six people are being held for questioning in connection with the assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey. Police have detained the gunman's parents and other family members.

Meantime, authorities are saying they have recovered some items from the assassin's home. This is according to Turkish-run state media. They say that books and al Qaeda have been found in the killer's home. The search came just hours after the deadly shooting was seen on video. And again, we should tell you, this video is very graphic and troubling.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking in foreign language).


BERMAN: The gunman shouted, "do not forget Aleppo," and "God is greatest."

Now, Russian special agents, they are in Turkey's capital to help with the investigation. The attack is being called a provocation by both Turkish and Russian leaders. Joining us now is CNN's Clarissa Ward in Moscow.

You know, Clarissa, you've been following so much of this, including the international developments. Not much space, you say, between Turkey and Russia, but still a lot of questions about the investigation itself and the man who carried out the attack.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I think the Russians have a lot of questions as to how it was possible that this young police officer was able to gain access to the event where the ambassador was killed. Video shows him standing coolly just a few yards behind the ambassador as he began to give his speech.

[12:05:12] So certainly Russians have already sent a contingency of investigators to Ankara, working together with Turkish investigators, wanting to get more answers. Was he a lone wolf? Was he really just affected by the situation in Aleppo as he claimed? Was he possibly part of a larger ring? Was he a part of a militant jihadist group such as ISIS? A lot of questions that the Russians would like to see answered and I think that the Turks would like to see answered, too.

But what is distinctive here is that you're really seeing from the Kremlin and from President Putin, who spoke overnight about the situation, I think an effort to de-escalate the situation. Both leaders, President Erdogan and President Putin, calling this a provocation that is aimed at thwarting the warming of relations between Turkey and Russia.

Just over a year ago, John, Turkey and Russia were really on the outs. That was after a Russian fighter jet had been shot down by Turkish military. Turkish military claiming it was in Turkish air space. The Russians claiming they were in Syrian airspace. And there was a real devolvement of the relationship at that point. In the last six months, though, the relations have warmed significantly, specifically since the failed coup attempt against President Erdogan. And I think there's a real effort at the moment between Russia and Turkey to work together to try to bring about some kind of end, or a solution, or any kind of conflict resolution to the situation in Syria. Both sides saying they want that to keep continuing, they want the work to go on.

A summit today between the Russian foreign minister, the Turkish foreign minister and the Iranian foreign minister on the subject of Syria did go ahead as planned. Obviously, the assassination of the ambassador was mentioned, but it wasn't the focus point. I think both sides here saying, let's stay on track here, John.

BERMAN: Clarissa ward in Moscow for us. Clarissa, thanks for your reporting.

I want to bring in Graeme Wood. He's the national correspondent for "The Atlantic "and author of "The Way of Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State."

And I want to shift back to the investigation in Berlin. And, by the way, we should note that it's an example of just how troubling the situation is across the globe right now that we have these extremely dangerous flare-ups of violence going on all at the same time.

But back to Berlin, the major development there this morning, Graeme, is, the man they have in custody, the man at least for a few hours overnight who they thought may have been the driver of the truck, they're now leaning against that, which means that they have a killer on the loose.

GRAEME WOOD, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE ATLANTIC": Yes. And we've known for a long time that the number of people in western Europe who are sympathetic to the Islamic State, who have jihadist leanings is significant. And they've been told in no uncertain terms by the Islamic State that they should attack using exactly these types of tactics. They're using the tactics like renting trucks. They're being given specific instructions about how much clearance they should have under the type of truck that they rent so that they can crush the largest number of bodies possible. So it's well known that there are people at large who want to do this and one person in particular (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: You know, ISIS literally delivering the blueprint for this type of attack, and specifically calling for it around the world. And, of course, we saw that attack at Ohio State just a few weeks ago that follows the model here. But, again, the notion that there's a manhunt underway right now. That the person who may have perpetrated this attack is on the loose. This is a challenge for German intelligence.

WOOD: It is. And as you mentioned early, the number of Christmas markets in Germany right now, in every major city you're going to find people who are trying to enjoy the holiday season. And this type of tactic, the idea that there are people on the loose who are using the tools at their disposal to attack public spaces is exactly the type of terror that ISIS has been trying to sow. The idea that it could happen anywhere, any time, at the places where you are at your most venerable and at your happiest.

BERMAN: Now, there was a period of time overnight when German Chancellor Angela Merkel was talking about the idea they thought that this man they had in custody, who comes from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, a refugee into Germany, they thought he was the man behind it. Doesn't appear to be the case. But at the time when they thought that he was, she mentioned what a tragedy and how offensive it would be if that proved to be the case. Again, Germany has welcome, much more so than other European countries, the inflow of a great number of refugees from different parts of the world.

WOOD: Germany is, the this point, really the last nation standing in central Europe, as a bastion of welcoming for refugees. There is this populist wave that has certainly reached central eastern Europe. And for Germany then to have its politics disrupted with an earthquake of these proportions, if it does turn out to be someone related to the refugee wave, would be significant in a geopolitical sense.

BERMAN: Angela Merkel, really, the only leader left from the old world order. And when I say old world order, I'm talking about, you know, six months ago.

WOOD: Right.

BERMAN: So it's not even that old.

Let me ask you, if I can, and shift to Turkey for a moment here, this attack. The attacker, we heard him on tape saying "do not forget Aleppo." Obviously, Aleppo having essentially fallen now to the Syrian regime. This could be the first of the reverberations around the world. The aftershocks of such a seismic event there.

[12:10:18] WOOD: Yes. And Russia is particularly concerned about this. The number of Russian whose have been fighting in the Islamic State for the Islamic State is probably in the range of about 5,000. So you have to think about how Russia is seeing its place in the world, the threats that its officials will face. They will see this as, you know, one instance in what's probably a long future of retaliation for what they've done in Syria.

BERMAN: So what do they do about it and where?

WOOD: Well, they're going to have to look at home for terrorist attacks. Remember that they have faced cases like the storming of theaters. Major, major attacks on civilian targets. That - it's been going on there for, at this point, decades. And I think what they're looking at now is the possibility that it will continue, that it will intensify, and that as their actions in Syria are better known and more - more brought up as grievances that they'll have more attacks like this in the future.

BERMAN: Graeme Wood, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

WOOD: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, we're going to take you to a holiday market in this country as the United States obviously watching what's going on very carefully and stepping up security.

And then just in, as Donald Trump refuses to acknowledge that Russia was behind the hackings in the U.S. election, the Senate's top Republican breaking with some of his colleagues who want a select committee to investigate. Hear why.


BERMAN: Just in, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell standing his ground. He is rejecting calls for a select committee to investigate Russian hacking of the U.S. political system. The senator's decision comes after a bipartisan group of senior senators pushed to create that select panel.

[12:15:13] CNN's Manu Raju with the latest from Washington.

No one better equipped than Manu Raju to explain why the majority leader made this decision and what the impact of not having a select committee is.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right, John. I mean, actually, we don't know for sure if this select committee will not happen because there has to be a vote on the floor of the Senate in order to establish it. That means there needs to be 60 senators to join forces, Democrats and Republicans, to create this committee. Forty-eight Democrats are going to occupy the chamber next year. They'll need to get the support of 12 Republicans who are willing to buck their leader. But having Senator McConnell opposed to creating this committee creates a huge roadblock for those who want to create this separate panel.

Now, McConnell says he wants to get to the bottom of Russia's involvement in the elections. He said it's a very serious issue. But he wants this done through the regular order. That means that the committees of jurisdiction to look into that, that are already existing, including the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Now, some Republican and Democratic senators do not believe that goes far enough. They worry that that classified, very secretive panel will not air any of those findings publicly, so they're pushing for something that would raise the visibility, like a Watergate-type committee, or a 9/11 Commission, or like the - what Republicans did to investigate the Benghazi attacks after those 2012 attacks in the House. But McConnell does not want to go that far.

And in a very key development also yesterday, John, we learned that two senators who are swing votes on this issue, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Susan Collins of Maine, both are resisting calls for a separate select committee as well. They are siding with McConnell on this issue. So this is a fight that's going to take place in the beginning days of the new Congress. The question is, will there be enough support to create this committee when they vote for it on the Senate floor, John?

BERMAN: Yes, hard to get to 12 without the majority leader and without Susan Collins and Jeff Flake.

Manu Raju, thanks so much for being with us.

RAJU: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: All right, we do have some breaking news just into CNN. We're getting word of an explosion at a Christmas tree lighting in Aleppo in Syria. That war-torn city where thousands have been trying to evacuate, trying to flee. We're going to get a live report from the region coming up next


[12:20:55] BERMAN: All right, we have very nearly breaking news, though not quite there yet. The Dow Jones average, you can see it right there, heading into uncharted territory, on the verge of hitting the 20,000 mark. What we call a big round number.

CNN Money's Paul La Monica live at the New York Stock Exchange with more.

Paul, are we going to get there and why? PAUL LA MONICA, CNN MONEY DIGITAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it's going to be

really close today, John. I think there's a chance that we might get there sometime this week. It may not be today. But the reason, it's a continuation of the optimism that we've had about the U.S. economy since the election of Donald Trump. You're seeing a lot of financial stocks rally, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase. With oil prices surging lately, that's been good news for Exxon and Chevron. You've got optimism about the consumer lifting Walmart. These are all members of that exclusive club of 30 Dow stocks.

BERMAN: All right, not there yet. We can see it's a good day for the stock market, up 68 points. Still some more to go.

And, Paul, just remind us, 20,000, it really means nothing officially, but it's a type of big, round number that investors, especially casual investors, like to see.

LA MONICA: Definitely. It is a psychologically important number if the Dow were to get to 20,000. It's crazy, though, because it was only a month ago that we got past 19,000 for the first time. So some investors are starting to grow a little worried that maybe 2017 might be tougher. All the big gains that you could have had next year are already happening in this ferocious year-end rally.

BERMAN: Concerns of too much of a good thing. And like you, I'm old enough to remember when the Dow broke 19,000.

Paul La Monica, thanks so much for being with us.

LA MONICA: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, we do have breaking news. Whoever plow a truck into a holiday market crowd in Berlin may still be at large right now. Twelve people were killed, dozens more injured. German officials say they have no doubt they believe it was a terror attack, but they also say that the man they have had in custody since last night, it's likely that he was not the driver of this truck, which means the driver at large, which mean there is a manhunt underway.

This latest incident in Berlin capped off a violent 48 hours. One that involved attacks in countries across the globe. We're talking about Turkey, Switzerland, Jordan, Yemen. A lot to discuss.

I want to bring in CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer. Also with us, Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University Law School.

And, Bob, you know, German officials say they don't think they have the guy. There's a manhunt underway right now in Germany for whoever drove this truck into a market. Tell me what you believe to be going on, on the ground right now in Germany.

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, there's - I mean, how did they find this guy if it wasn't the person they arrested, John? I mean he - you know, from fingerprints? Possibly. I mean this is terrifying that a driver in an attack like this could actually get away and very easily steal a second truck and run it through a crowd. I mean, Berlin, it's very easy to find one at Christmas time, shopping streets, the rest of it.

What scares me about the Islamic State, and I'm assuming this is, you know, at least inspired by the Islamic State, is these people, their tradecraft is getting better. They don't need to buy guns. They do not need to buy acetone and peroxide to make suicide vests. And they are getting better and they are getting more violent and they're getting harder to catch. And I think that's what has the Germans very worried now.

BERMAN: And, by the way, they may not even had to have bought or rented a truck in this case. There are sign that this truck was hijacked. So they didn't even leave a trail as long as that goes.

Karen, we were talking to Michael Weiss, our friend, last night, who said, this may be the first series of events we're seeing post-Aleppo. Aleppo essentially fallen now to the Syrian regime. And there are a lot of forces, a lot of very angry Sunni Muslim forces, whether it be militias, whether it be terror groups, who will take that as an event now, as an instigation to strike out now. You see it perhaps in Germany. You see it perhaps with this attack, the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Turkey?

[12:25:04] KAREN GREENBERG, DIRECTOR, CENTER NATIONAL SECURITY AT FORDHAM UNIV. LAW SCHOOL: Yes, this is something that experts have been worried about throughout the Syrian conflict, that the idea that as ISIS begins to get threatened in the hot battlefield, that they will choose battlefields and choose their victims and choose their means.

The other interesting thing here in these attacks is that what you're seeing is a combination of a lot of different terrorist targets and strategies. Both government officials, as the, you know, example in Turkey and civilians. You know, both the use of trucks and the use of guns. And so we're starting to see sort of a proliferation of strategies, methods, targets and - that are bringing together many of the terrorist narratives from the past. And that's interesting.

BERMAN: Guys, you know, Karen, Bob, hang on for one second. Bear with me. We do have breaking news from inside Syria at this moment.

We just told you, word of an explosion at a Christmas tree lighting in Aleppo. Interesting that they were trying to even do that given the events that are going on in that city.

CNN Mohammad Lila is on the border between Syria and Turkey.

And, Mohammad, again, there have been evacuations over the last several days as Aleppo falls to the Syrian regime, but tell us exactly what happened with this explosion.

MOHAMMAD LILA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, you know, we know that there was this explosion. And this comes as the regime has been trying to normalize parts of Aleppo. I mean they've been talking about reconstructing certain areas, certain historic areas and they've been holding Christmas events, not only in Aleppo, but in other cities that have been recaptured as well. The government trying very hard, the regime of Bashar al Assad, trying very hard to make it look as though Aleppo is safe once again. But clearly with this explosion, it shows that it is not.

And, John, this all comes at a very critical time because the evacuations that have been taking place in the eastern part of Aleppo are expected to be wrapped up in the next few hours. And what that means on the surface, anyway, is that Bashar al Assad can come out and claim that his forces have retaken the entire city. But an explosion likes this shows that even if his forces have, on the surface, retaken the entire city, by no means does it mean that it's safe because there may be elements inside the city that want to cause damage still.

BERMAN: All right, Mohammad Lila, you've been doing fantastic work, right along the border between Syria and Turkey. Thanks so much for being with us.

Back now with Bob Baer and Karen Greenberg.

And, Karen, this playing into exactly what we've been talking about, right? Aleppo on the verge of falling to the Syrian regime, but not just the Syrian regime. The Syrians with Iran and Hezbollah backing them. You know, Syria with Russia backing them. So if you are a Sunni militant inside Syria, you have a range of people you could blame, not to mention the west and the United States for not doing enough to support you in your battle against Assad?

GREENBERG: It is a tremendous recruitment tactic, you might say, because it has so many things going for it. It's not just the politics, it's the humanitarian crisis. It's not just the battlefield, it's also Europe. And it's also Christmas. And so it's bringing together an awful lot of issues all at the same time. So this is very concerning.

BERMAN: And, Bob, again, you know, it's remarkable. I have so much to ask you about because there have been so many events over just the last 24 hours around the world. But there are investigations now on the ground in Ankara with Russian investigators now helping out Turkish officials looking at this policeman, this 22-year-old cop, who shot and assassinated the Russian ambassador there.

Bob's not hearing me right now, so I'll put this question to Karen.

And one of the - one of the things that we're all struck by over the last 24 hours is, how could this man, this armed individual, get so close to the Russian ambassador? Where was the diplomatic security?

GREENBERG: Yes, well it's a very good question and who knows if it's because, you know, he's an off-duty on - you know, but he was a cop. And so you never know why and how. But what it really tells you is the kind of vigilance. Fr all of the vigilance that we think we have, we just don't have it. And at a public event, and a foreign event. And it tells you that there's a sense that - that there's a safety zone, that there isn't. And that's why I mentioned, you know, attacking foreign, you know, or domestic officials. This has always been part of the terrorist mantra and it's now back in a big way, and it's going to raise the concerns of law enforcement around the world and so they're going to have to step it up a little further.

BERMAN: And the U.S. embassy, by the way, we should say, closed in Ankara today -

GREENBERG: Yes, exactly. Exactly.

BERMAN: After a man was shooting a gun outside there.


BERMAN: So, obviously, there is that concern around the world.


BERMAN: Karen Greenberg, thanks for being with us. Our thanks to Bob Baer, who we lost, and also Mohammad Lila, right on the Turkey/Syria border.

Just ahead, how would President-elect Trump handle these attacks? He's already getting ahead of his officials with his responses.

Plus, the president-elect calling out Bill Clinton for comments the former president made about him. Their back and forth next.

[12:29:42] And it was the reason that FBI Director James Comey came out with that letter that many Democrats saw as the reason, or a reason, that Hillary Clinton lost the election. Well, just moments ago, the FBI unsealed the search warrant in the investigation of Anthony Weiner involving some of Hillary Clinton's e-mails.