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Berlin Police: Suspect in Custody Might Not Be Driver; Russia Sends Team to Turkey to Investigate Ambassador Killing; Trump Blames "Radical Islam" for Attacks in Germany and Turkey; NYPD Steps Up Security After Berlin Market Attack. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 20, 2016 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me. Violent attacks around the world. In Berlin, Germany, a truck plows through a crowd of shoppers in a busy Christmas market killing 11 people and injuring dozens more. Police do have a suspect, but they warn that person in custody may not be the driver of the truck.

And in Turkey, killed on camera. The Russian Ambassador to Turkey gunned down, his assassin shouting, "Don't forget Aleppo."

Also over the past two days, attacks in Switzerland and in Yemen and in Jordan, world leaders now calling for action.

We're covering these stories with our team of reporters around the world. Let's begin, though, with CNN's Senior International Correspondent, Frederik Pleitgen. He's in Germany.

Hi, Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Carol. Yes, and the authorities here still telling the people here in Berlin to be very careful when they go out on the streets because they're not sure whether the man that they have in custody, the 23-year-old man from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, whether he was also the same person who was sitting at the wheel of that truck as it plowed through the Christmas market that you see right here behind me.

They say if you see anything suspicious, don't act on your own. Call police because, of course, also, the incident that happened here yesterday was so very violent. Let's have a look at what happened.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Bodies strewn across the walkway, Christmas market stalls in pieces. This is the immediate aftermath of yesterday's deadly attack in central Berlin. Investigators say around 8:00 p.m., this black semi-truck steered deliberately into a crowd of holiday shoppers hitting at least 60 people and flattening several structures without slowing down.

SHANDANA DURRANI, WITNESS TO THE BERLIN MARKET INCIDENT (through phone): Nobody knew what was happening. Everybody just started scurrying and running. PLEITGEN (voice-over): The truck, load with 25 tons of steel,

dragging some pedestrians 50 to 80 feet before toppling a Christmas tree and coming to a halt.

EMMA RUSHTON, WITNESS TO THE BERLIN MARKET INCIDENT (through phone): There were people bleeding. There were people lying in the pavement.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Police have one man in custody. He was discovered about a mile and a half away from the scene. German police and intelligence officials tell CNN the suspect in custody in relation is a recent refugee from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Another man, a Polish national found dead in the passenger seat.

The owner of the Polish company to which the truck belongs telling reporters that he lost contact with his driver after he arrived in Berlin from their worksite about two hours away and suggesting that truck may have been hijacked.

The carnage, eerily reminiscent of the July terrorist attack in Nice, France when a truck driver ran over and killed more than 80 people during Bastille Day celebrations.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is saying we must, quote, "Assume this is a terrorist attack. And if it is confirmed the suspect is a refugee, it would be, quote, "Especially disgusting."


PLEITGEN: And, Carol, as we speak, I want to get out of your way really quick because Chancellor Angela Merkel has actually just now arrived at the scene of the crime. You'll see her looking at things right now with several police officers there with her. She'd been announced to come here. Of course, she's under a lot of political pressure right now that this happened, especially if it does turn out that the person who was behind this was possibly someone who was seeking asylum here in Germany.

Angela Merkel under fire anyway for her refugee policies here in this country, and that's certainly something, a debate that's been fueled once again. But at this point in time, we have to stress one more time. The authorities are saying they are not sure whether they have the right man in custody right now. They're still questioning and again, warning the population here to be very, very careful and very vigilant, Carol.

COSTELLO: OK. We just got a new statement from the President of Germany's Federal Criminal Office. And he said this about the suspect they have in custody. I want to stay on that picture of Angela Merkel so we can watch her as she strolls through that Christmas village, trying to gather information and calm the fears of her citizens right now.

But this is what the President of Germany's Federal Criminal Office told reporters this afternoon, it would be, in Germany. He said, "We are not sure if he, the suspect, is the perpetrator. We don't know if there was one perpetrator. We have not found the weapon. We are looking in all directions."

Frederik Pleitgen, I wanted to ask you about the weapon. There was a dead body found inside the cab of that truck. Was that person shot?

PLEITGEN: Yes, exactly. That's exactly what the authorities have said, Carol, and that's exactly why they're so concerned right now. What happened is that when this truck finally came to a standstill, obviously the man who was behind the wheel of the truck fled, but there was a second body or there was a body discovered on the passenger seat of that truck and that body had gunshot wounds.

Now, the thing is that, so far, the police has not been able to retrieve a weapon or that weapon that was used in all that, certainly not with the person that they have in custody right now. So they're saying that if someone is still out there, if the person they have in custody right now is not the person who actually did this, if that person is still at large, then very likely, that person is not only armed but, of course, obviously very dangerous after having plowed through this Christmas market with a big semi-truck.

[09:05:12] So the authorities are very aware of that, very concerned about that, obviously also warning the citizens here to be very, very careful. And if they do see someone, don't try to do anything on their own.

That's also, of course, one of the reasons why Angela Merkel is here as well, to also try and quell some of those fears, to show that it's still at least all right and safe to go out even though do you have to be quite vigilant. But she also, of course, going through this Christmas market right now, taking in the scene for herself because, of course, right now, the German population is demanding an explanation from her and also words that will calm them moving forward, Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes. And I want to stay on that picture for just a while. I'm going to bid you adieu, Frederik Pleitgen, because I know you want to depart to ask some people some questions. But Angela Merkel under fire for allowing 800,000 plus refugees into her country, some of them not properly vetted.

In fact, this suspect they have in custody, they know very little about him. You know, like where has he been for the last year? Who exactly is he? They know he came from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, but they don't know much more about him.

Was he radicalized as he came into Germany? Was he radicalized before he came into the country? German officials don't know the answers to this questions right now. Of course, we'll keep you posted.

Also this morning, a team of Russians now in Turkey to investigate the deadly attack on their Ambassador. In the meantime, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey is closed today after a separate incident hours after the assassination. A man was arrested by Turkish police after he reportedly fired his shotgun outside of the building. Nic Robertson is following this for us. He's live in Turkey.

Hi, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. Hi there, Carol. Those Russian investigators arrived in here a few hours ago. A group of them came to the building behind me which is where the shooting took place, where the Russian Ambassador was gunned down. Not clear yet who was behind the attack. That's what we've heard from President Putin and President Erdogan of Turkey as well, both saying it's important to find out who was behind it. Seven people held in detention so far.

But it was in that building where these events unfolded less than 24 hours ago. I have to warn you, what we're about to see here, it's very graphic.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Leaders of Turkey and Russia are calling it a provocative terrorist act. The assassination of Russia's Ambassador to Turkey caught on video. Andrey Karlov shot multiple times in the back while giving a speech at an Ankara art exhibit on Monday night. The gunman shouting defiantly, "God is greatest," and, "Do not forget Aleppo. Do not forget Syria."

According to Turkey's Interior Minister, the lone gunman is a 22-year- old police officer born in Turkey. His body taken from the scene after he was shot and killed by security forces shortly after the attack. The brazen public assassination coming as many blame Russia for its part in supporting Syria's President in the civil war and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Aleppo.

Turkey and Russia, often at odds over the Syrian civil war, trying to put aside their differences this year. Russian President Vladimir Putin vowing the assassination won't damage relations, pledging to step up the fight against terror, and saying, quote, "Criminals will feel the heat." The President of Turkey agreeing, calling the attack a provocation aimed at driving a wedge between the two countries.

The U.S. State Department condemning the attack.

JOHN KIRBY, SPOKESPERSON FOR THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE: We stand ready to offer any assistance that may be required to Russia and Turkey as they investigate this despicable attack.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Just hours later, another frightening incident, this time outside the United States Embassy in the same neighborhood where the Ambassador was assassinated. Turkish police arresting a man who fired into the air with a shotgun, yelling in Turkish, "I swear to god don't play with us."


ROBERTSON: Now, the U.S. Embassy is just a few hundred yards from here. It's not just the Embassy that is closed today, but U.S. consulates across Turkey also closed down. Diplomacy continues in Moscow, the Iranian, Russian, Turkish Foreign Ministers there today talking about what they can do about the humanitarian situation in Aleppo, how they can work together.

Both the Presidents of Russia and Turkey saying that this will not divide them, yet we have heard from the spokesman of the Kremlin today saying that it is down to Turkey. It's Turkey's responsibility to protect its diplomats here, and it wants some guarantees now, Carol, a sign of a division.

[09:10:10] COSTELLO: All right. Thank you very much. Nic Robertson reporting live for us from Turkey.

I want to take you back to Germany for just a second to Berlin, to that Christmas market. You should see Angela Merkel, the leader of Germany. She's with investigators and she's also talking to people inside that Christmas market. You know, those people died when that truck plowed through. We'll keep you posted on any developments coming out of Germany, of course.

For Donald Trump, the attacks and their aftermath could pose an early test of his administration. The President-elect issuing a statement but also this tweet saying, quote, "Today, there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany -- and it is only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking!"

CNN's Sara Murray is live in Palm Beach with more. Good morning.

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Well, Donald Trump put out a flurry of statements in which he was expressing his concern but also condemning the attacks that we've seen. And he tied both the incident in Turkey as well as the incident in Berlin to radical Islamic terrorism even though investigations there are still ongoing.

Now, I want to read you a portion of a statement he put out in the wake of the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, who Donald Trump says was assassinated by a radical Islamic terrorist.

And we continue to see that kind of language from him when he was talking about the incident in Berlin as well. Let me take you to that statement in which Trump said ISIS and other Islamic terrorists continue to slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad. "These terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the earth, a mission we will carry out with all freedom loving partners."

Now, Carol, we're waiting to see if Donald Trump will have more to say on this today. We've asked his aides whether he's being continually briefed on the situation in Turkey as well as the situation in Berlin and, of course, whether he's going to receive the presidential daily brief today and get the latest on that. So far, Carol, we have not heard back.

COSTELLO: All right. Sara Murray reporting live from Palm Beach, Florida. So let's talk about all of this. With me now, Mike Baker, a former covert field operations officer for the CIA. Aki Peritz is a former CIA counterterrorism analyst, and Nicholas Burns is former ambassador, former State Department official and Harvard professor. Welcome to all of you.

So, Mike, President-elect Trump is lumping all of these attacks together, but the attack in Switzerland was on a mosque. The attack in Russia was on a Russian Ambassador in what appears to be retaliation for Russia's involvement in Syria's civil war. And in Germany, officials have a suspect. He's a refugee but right at this moment, they don't know if he was involved in that truck attack. Should these attacks be lumped together?

MIKE BAKER, FORMER COVERT FIELD OPERATIONS OFFICER, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: No is the short answer to that. Not that it matters but what I would like to see from the President-elect's office is more discipline in the messaging and less of these tweets. They're not really helpful.

It's never helpful whether you're, you know, the current administration, the incoming administration. No matter what your position, it's never helpful in the aftermath of an attack to get out ahead of the investigations.

As you pointed out, the German authorities are still trying to figure out if the suspect they picked up is, in fact, the perpetrator. They will figure that out and they likely have already figured it out in the course of the forensic investigation that goes on in a post-attack site. But getting out in front of these things, it's not helpful in anyway. So, again, discipline should be the word of the day from any administration, including the incoming.

COSTELLO: Aki, President-elect Trump also blamed this attack, well, at least the attack in Russia, on a radical Islamic terrorist. And now, many generals don't use that term. They warned against it. So was that the way to?

AKI PERITZ, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Well, that's the funny thing, is that not even the Turkish authorities right now think that this person is a, quote, "radical Islamic terrorist." Now, the question is this, what does that even mean? What does it mean to be a radical Islamic terrorist?

Now, what happened in Germany, we still don't really know who the perpetrator is, as your other colleagues have said. The individual who shot and killed the Russian Ambassador, according to Turkey, thinks he's part of the Gulen organization which is an Islamic organization, but the head of this organization actually lives in Pennsylvania.

And so it's unclear when you use extremely vague terminology whether it's actually useful in fighting these actual organizations. If you want to kill and you want to hunt down ISIS, let's hunt down ISIS. If you want to hit al Qaeda, let's hit al Qaeda. But when you use a broad brush and say that these are all one of this monolithic organization, that doesn't help American national security planners determine how to actually destroy them.

[09:15:01] COSTELLO: But, Ambassador Burns, I can hear many Americans citing this attack in Germany, in Berlin, on a Christmas market and saying, of course, it was Islamic terrorism. What else could it be? Mr. Trump is just stating the obvious.

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Well, Carol, it's logical Donald Trump will be focused on terrorism writ large. One of his greatest responsibilities to counter it once we get to noon on January 20th.

But I agree you got to be straight with facts. It's a problem when you get ahead of the German government or the Turkish government on these two attacks yesterday. It's normal international politics. You let the governments that are actually on the ground articulate what happened announce the results of the investigation.

And in our country, Carol, we've had a tradition that we have one president at a time. President Obama is our president until January 20th. And I just think it's unwise and ineffective for Donald Trump to be tweeting out in response to these attacks and the drone captured by the Chinese last week, it's interfering with the Obama administration. I think it hurts Donald Trump's effectiveness. He ought to really stand down and wait for January 20th.

COSTELLO: OK, I want to continue on with this thread in the conversation but we have a bit of breaking news.

Two German intelligence officials telling CNN the latest assessment is that this suspect in custody was likely not the perpetrator. In fact they got his description from a witness that they now call or they intimate that witness unreliable.

So, they are looking for a suspect or suspects. They believe this person is dangerous.

And, Mike, you got to believe it's going to be difficult for them to find him, right?

BAKER: Well, yes. In a situation like this, you can imagine nobody in the square during the course of the attack is focused on getting a witness identification. And the chaos involved. I mean, it's tough enough in less chaotic situation to get credible eyewitness accounts.

So, this is going to be difficult. Again, there's a process to this in terms of the forensic investigation that goes on. They may be fortunate enough perhaps if they already got information on the individual who was the perpetrator on file in the database. But it's probably unlikely at this point.

Look, you just talked earlier about the scope of this problem in terms of the number of refugees that came into the country and the inability to keep track of a large number of them.

So, this is going to have widespread implications for Angela Merkel, of course, but in the immediate aftermath of this, the authorities there in Germany have a very serious problem right now trying to actually get their hands on the perpetrator.

COSTELLO: All right. I want you all to stay put because we have a lot more to talk about. So, stay with us. We're going to continue our conversation in just a few minutes.

Still to come, highly trained teams and high-profile locations right here in New York City. Police making changes in security after that Berlin attack.


[09:21:21] COSTELLO: All right. Just to update you on that Christmas market attack in Berlin, Germany. Investigators there thought they had a suspect in custody. They still have that man in custody but now, they are not so sure that he's the person that they are looking for. They are now widening their search but they are no longer calling that person a suspect. Of course, we'll keep you updated.

In the meantime, police in New York City are stepping up security after a string of attacks around the world. The department now moving highly trained teams to a number of high-profile locations around the city. Many here at home feel on edge after that truck barreled through a crowd of shoppers at that holiday market in Berlin, Germany. Of course, as I said, that incident killed 12 people.

Let's get right to CNN's justice correspondent Evan Perez.

Hi, Evan.


Well, you showed pictures of one of those holiday markets in New York. I think that's one right across the street from the CNN Center, Time Warner Center there in Columbus Circle. The NYPD says that they are moving these critical response command teams to places like that in order to try to give people a measure of assurance and to actually provide more security.

But, Carol, as you've seen in Berlin and in the attack in Nice and even last month in Columbus, Ohio, at Ohio State University, it's really difficult for police to secure these type of locations. These are the types of soft targets that ISIS has urged its supporters to try to carry out attacks on and so that's one of the big issues for law enforcement around the United States right now as they try to beef up security at these types of locations.

Why is this happening right now? Well, we're told that there's a lot of chatter, a lot of intelligence chatter coming in indicating efforts by ISIS to encourage people to carry out attacks like this, again on soft targets in Western Europe, in particular, but also in the United States.

And so that's a part of the question, part of the thing that's worrying law enforcement and intelligence officials in the United States. We've heard from officials that they believe they've stopped a number of plots across Western Europe in the past few months, Carol, but clearly things like this are impossible to stop. The perpetrators have all of the advantages. They know where they are going strike next and so, that's part of the problem for law enforcement intelligence officials, Carol. COSTELLO: All right. Evan Perez reporting live for us this morning.

Thank you so much.

So, I want to bring back my panel, Mike Baker, Aki Peritz, and Ambassador Nicholas Burns.

So, Aki, how concern should Americans be?

PERITZ: I think Americans really should be sort of concerned but they shouldn't allow these kind of organizations and these kind of attacks to actually stop them from doing their -- behaving in their normal activities in this holiday season. You can't allow people to completely change the way you behave because you're scared, because in that case then the, quote/unquote, to use the phrase, "the terrorists win".

So, I suggest people take precautions, obviously. Avoid large huge crowds, but continue on as things are going in this holiday season.

COSTELLO: And, Ambassador Burns, I think many people are quick to blame refugees from the Middle East. You know, as far as who is to blame for these attacks in Germany and in Turkey.

Is this a rush to judgment in light of the fact that we don't know who the suspect is now in Germany? And we just found out from intelligence sources that he might not be the guy?

BURNS: Well, that's exactly right. There is some indication over the past year some, a few of the refugees that have come in to Germany have been responsible for attacks, either in Cologne on New Year's Eve, or some of the other attacks. But in large main, that's not the focus of the problem either in Europe, certainly not here in the United States.

Two factors, Carol, one is as the Islamic State is pressured by the Iraqi military and U.S. military in Mosul, as there's pressure in Raqqah in northern Syria, we're likely going to see the Islamic State resort to these types of terrorist attacks just to keep their organization alive in front of their supporters.

[09:25:15] And second, Syria is disintegrating. Twelve million homeless and majority Sunni community is feeling aggrieved. And so, that's another reason why terrorism may be on the uptick.

I think we have to expect a continuation of terrorist attacks certainly in the Middle East and Europe as well.

COSTELLO: Well, Mike, there certainly has been a rush to judgment by some politicians across the globe. For example, far right populist politicians in Britain and France are already speaking out.

Nigel Farage tweeted this, "Terrible news from Berlin. No surprise. Events like these will be the Merkel legacy."

And this from Marie Le Pen in France. She said, quote, "How many massacres and death will be necessary for our governments to stop bringing in a considerable number of migrants?"

Are those comments fair at this point?

BAKER: Well, no. Look, this problem definitely predates the refugee cries that hit the E.U. and Germany in particular. It's -- this shouldn't be a surprise. For years now, we've been watching, you know, this problem develop.

It's not -- people need to be very careful. This is not necessarily about at the 30,000-foot level the refugee crisis. Can that exacerbate the problem as Ambassador Burns said? Well, yes, obviously. I mean, that's just common sense.

But, you know, we have again, going back to the earlier discussion about getting out ahead of investigations, this is a complex problem that does not deserve just a broad brush statement. If I could, to the point that Aki made and to your question about should Americans be concerned, you can't stay at a heightened state of alert throughout the course of your entire day, throughout your life. You've got to stay busy living. But you do have to be smart about certain things.

We had intelligence. We had intelligence reports from the U.S. and also from our liaison partners in Germany and throughout the E.U. related to potential targeting of Christmas festivity, Christmas events in Germany, including Christmas markets. We had that going back a few weeks ago.

And that's fine. So we have the intelligence about this. We know that these things are going to happen potentially. Can we reduce the risk down to zero? No.

So, what do you? You pay attention when you are out and about in public place. You raise your alert level at appropriate times in transportation hubs. But otherwise, get busy living. Don't let this change your life, don't let it change the fabric of your life.

COSTELLO: So, you bring up a good point, Mike, and I want to pose this to Aki because both of you guys are CIA, right? So, Donald Trump has expressed some distrust in intelligence officials. So how does that play into all of this? Because our intelligence officials are keeping Americans safe. They have thwarted I would suspect a great number of terrorist attacks in this country.

So, how does that play into all of this, Aki, Donald Trump's distrust of the CIA, especially?

PERITZ: It's actually quite difficult for both for the incoming administration and for the intelligence community itself. I've actually talked to a number of people in various places in the intelligence community over the last couple of weeks about this very issue and they are all rather concerned, because these individuals by and large are apolitical, silent professionals, and they are trying to do the best thing they can do which is either collect intelligence or do analysis to give to senior policy make towers keep this country safe. And when you have a president-elect who says we shouldn't trust the CIA or the intelligence community because for his own particular reasons, that's actually quite distressing for both the people who are trying to keep this place safe and for Americans at large, because the intelligence community and law enforcement as well are trying to maintain sort of order and stability both here in the United States and elsewhere, because these are the folks who are fighting terrorists, fighting terrorist organizations at home and abroad.

COSTELLO: All right. I have to leave it there.

Mike Baker, Aki Peritz, Ambassador Nicholas Burns -- thanks to all of you.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM: the families of three Orlando shooting victims suing Facebook, Google and Twitter.

Also, we're just mere moments away from the opening bell.

Christine Romans is here with the preview.



Eight trading days left in a year, and this is what we're looking for today. The Dow Jones Industrials Average knocking on the door of 20,000 but not quite there yet. Futures slightly higher. Around the world, you have Frankfurt markets up a little bit. London also up, Paris.

But in Asia, markets closed lower. They, of course, closed for the day.

Here's what the Dow looks like for the year, Carol, because it's been a pretty stunning rally. It was just 22, 23 days ago you had Dow hitting 19,000. Now, it's very close 100 points away from hitting 20,000.

What does that mean for the year? For the entire year, up 14 percent. Since the election, up 9 percent on hopes that Donald Trump will have pro-growth policies, slash regulations. Companies and Wall Street think Donald Trump will be very good for business.

Since the low on February 11 of this year, the Dow is up 27 percent.