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German Officials: Recent Refugee in Custody for Terrorist Attack; Russia's Ambassador to Turkey Killed on Camera; Trump Blames 'Islamist Terrorists' for Attacks in Berlin, Turkey. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired December 20, 2016 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The truck came barreling through. Nobody knew what was happening.

[05:58:22] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had to -- out front, Christmas lights were being torn down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Berlin police have one man in custody. The second man found dead on the passenger seat.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: German authorities are investigating this as a terrorist attack.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It didn't look, it didn't feel like it was an accident.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The shocking assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The attacker quiet clearly says, "We must remember Aleppo. We must remember Syria."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gunman identified as a 22-year-old Turkish police officer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the rise of ISIS and a catastrophe in Syria, we are going to see attacks like this all throughout the world.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It's Tuesday, December 20, 6 a.m. in the east.

We do have breaking developments on the attacks in Europe and Middle East. Officials in Berlin tell CNN the suspect accused of deliberately driving through a crowd at a Christmas market is a recent refugee from the Afghanistan/Pakistan region. At least 12 people were killed, dozens more injured.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Now, there was another attack earlier Monday in Turkey. A gunman there shooting and killing Russia's ambassador to Turkey, invoking the horrors of the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

And in the past 48 hours, there have also been attacks in Switzerland and Yemen. Leaders around the world now promising strength in the battle to end terrorism. The question is how?

We have complete coverage this morning, starting with CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen live in Berlin -- Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Chris. There's a lot of concern here in Berlin after at 8 p.m. last night this massive tractor-trailer truck plowed through one of the biggest Christmas markets in the western part of the city.

And as you mentioned, now the German authorities coming forward, telling CNN that the man behind this, or who they believe is behind this, is probably from the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, and they are treating this as terrorism.

Here's how things unfolded last night.


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 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 (via phone): Nobody knew what was happening. Everybody just started scurrying and running.

PLEITGEN: The truck, loaded 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 (via phone): Some people were bleeding. There were people lying in the pavement.

PLEITGEN: 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 work site about two hours away and suggesting that the 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. Berlin's interior minister saying, quote, "Our free society needs to

be opened and celebrate Christmas as the festival of the family of happiness. This has been destroyed here."


PLEITGEN: And, guys, Angela Merkel came out earlier today with a statement saying that she was obviously appalled by this attack, offering her condolences to the victims. Also saying that she was also shocked by the fact that it could have been someone from the refugee community who may have been behind this act.

And you know, one of the things that the intelligence services here in this country were saying before this happened is that, first of all, they feared that there could be attacks in Germany around Christmastime and specifically that there could be Christmas markets that might be targets -- Chris.

CAMEROTA: I'll take it here, Fred. Thank you very much.

Now to another terror attack to tell you about. Six people detained for questioning after the chilling on-camera assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey. Most of those in custody are members of the shooter's family, we're told. This as a team from Russia heads to Turkey to investigate this brazen attack.

CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, has more from Ankara -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Alisyn, the diplomat's body is, as we speak right now, being repatriated back to Russia, being driven to the airport here in Ankara.

His cold-blooded assassination played out for all to see. It happened last night.


ROBERTSON: 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, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We stand ready to offer any assistance that may be required to Russia and Turkey as they investigate this despicable attack.

ROBERTSON: 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."


[06:05:11] ROBERTSON: Well, the United States embassy here in Ankara and consulates across the country are closed today.

Meanwhile, Russian -- Russian, Iranian, and Turkish diplomats are meeting in Moscow to try and figure out what they can do about the humanitarian situation in Aleppo and, of course, assess the damage this shooting has done to Turkish/Russian relations.

And just while we've been on the air here right now, we now know that authorities here have arrested another person, bringing to a total of seven detained over this killing.

Back to you, Chris, Alisyn.

CUOMO: All right, Nic, thank you very much. Please keep us up to date on any developments.

Let's bring in CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward. She is in Moscow. And we have CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank in London. And here in New York, we have CNN contributor and senior editor of "The Daily Beast," Michael Weiss.

So Michael, let's start with you. We have Switzerland, Yemen, Turkey, and now what we just saw here in Germany.


CUOMO: Is this just a reflection of the global assault at play, or is this something worthy to look at as coordinated?

WEISS: I don't think it's necessarily coordinated, but look, there is something in the zeitgeist, something in the air right now. The collapse of the Middle Eastern nation-states, which really began with the invasion of Iraq but has been exacerbated with the catastrophe in Syria.

Aleppo. Focus on Aleppo for a minute. This is going to be a rallying cry for a whole new generation of Sunni jihadis. Why? Because Aleppo was not taken by the Assad regime. It was taken by Iranian-built proxies. You have Shia clerics getting up and saying the city is Shia. This is incitement. OK, and people like this, the shooter in Ankara--

CUOMO: You think there's an echo effect there?

WEISS: Sure. He said, "Remember Aleppo." ISIS isn't in Aleppo, by the way. Jabhat al-Nusra -- a group formerly known as Jabhat al- Nusra, which is the al Qaeda franchise, is in Aleppo.

But this almost transcends any particular organization or ideological movement. This is a kind of rallying cry for Sunnis who feel like they are besieged, like they are the beleaguered minority sect, even though they are the majority in Islam.

And I just -- I've talked to a lot of people: Syrians who are secular, Syrians who you and I would not consider to be any shade of Islamist. They live in the west. Many of them were cheering the assassination of the ambassador. And this is a gruesome killing in cold blood. Why? They consider this guy to be an exponent of state terror, given what Russia has done in Syria. So we're in for a very long, nightmarish few years here.

CAMEROTA: Paul, you have new reporting on who was behind the truck attack in Berlin. What have you learned?

CRUICKSHANK: Alisyn, they have a suspect in custody. That suspect is a refugee from the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, who came into Germany sometime late 2015, early 2016 through the Balkan refugee corridor. They're still trying to establish for sure that he was, indeed, the attacker. They're investigating all of that.

But this news at a time when there's a lot of controversy about this, the refugee flows into Germany. More than a million refugees have come from countries like Syria.

And the peak of the migrant crisis was in the later part of 2015, early part of 2016, when this individual came to Germany. It was very difficult for them to sort of check everybody at that time.

But of course, it does have to be emphasized that the vast majority of refugees who have come to Germany have been fleeing things like ISIS terror and really don't pose a security threat. But ISIS have been trying to infiltrate operatives, and they've also been worried, the Germans, about people being radicalized, dislocated young men and women who've left their home country, being radicalized by extremists already present in Germany.

CUOMO: Clarissa, how is this echoing back in Moscow? Is it being regarded in terms of this kind of shade of complexity, the way Michael is talking about? That, you know, it's not just straight ordinary Islamic terror, that there may be a sectarian feel to this, based on what the Sunnis are feeling going on in Syria vis-a-vis Russia?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, there is no -- there are no shades of complexity here, Chris. I mean, the Russians see things in very Moniquian (ph) kind of black and white, binary terms. They have said that the killing of the Russian ambassador is an act of terror, and they are pursuing it as such.

At the same time, the Russians are very pragmatic, cynical even. They understand and have understood for quite some time that their intervention in Syria would have an impact, that it would potentially raise alerts and raise the danger or threat that some of their embassy staff, as well as soft targets of Russian people all around the globe, would face.

[06:10:00] And this isn't the first time they've been through this. They've fought their own insurgency in Chechnya. We just saw -- how long ago was it -- that the airliner was shot down, the Russian airliner was shot down in the Sinai Peninsula.

So Russia is well aware that it will face a backlash because of its actions in Syria, but it does not accept the kind of nuance and complexity that Michael was alluding to. I would say that Russians mainly see that as weakness. Their take on this is that the U.S. and Russia should form a unified front to fight this threat with everything and every weapon they have in their arsenal, Chris.

CAMEROTA: Michael, I want to get back to Berlin for a second. Because we saw a truck attack--


CAMEROTA: -- much like what happened in Nice. We also saw our own here at Ohio State University. Someone attacked the campus with a car. Is this a directive coming from ISIS?

WEISS: Yes, I mean, Abu -- Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the former spokesman of ISIS, said this in 2014. He said, "Look, it's becoming more difficult for you to make the immigration to the caliphate, to come here and be a trained-up agent of ISIS, so stay where you are and use whatever means or tools are at your disposal. Take a knife, stab the infidel through the heart. Take a rock, smash his head in. Get in a car, drive over him."

The last issue of ISIS's propaganda magazine, "Rumia," which means, "Roam," by the way -- just to give you a sense of their emphasis now on exporting jihad to the west -- had a whole feature on exactly the kind of knife that cuts through human flesh the best, which kind of knife a jihadi should wield.

So there's going to be this renewed focus on very kind of low-tech, you might even say crude methods of mass murder. It's much easier -- anyone can get in a car in Europe. Right? It's harder to get an AR- 15 in Europe. So this does bear all the hallmarks of what ISIS has been trying to do.

CUOMO: Paul, what is your take on why it's necessary to distinguish motivations? Here the president-elect saw both of these events in Germany and in Turkey equally, calling them Islamic terrorism. Is there a mistake in there? Are the Russians right that, if you parse, well, it's a Sunni sectarian thing versus ISIS-inspired, that that's just of expression of weakness and distraction, or is there some validity in the distinctions?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, neither investigation has conclusively made that determination yet in Berlin and Ankara, that this was Islamist terrorism.

On the Berlin case, there's certainly a number of pointers which lead you in that direction.

But people in positions of responsibility across the West need to be cautious on labeling acts, the particular motivations, until the facts come out. And I think every single intelligence official worth their salt will tell you that. You need to go where the facts lead you.

And there have been cases before where we've been surprised, frankly, where attacks seem to have an Islamist motivation. They've turned out to be something completely different. So for every official in a position of responsibility to name, intelligence officials will tell them be very cautious before coming up with these kind of determinations.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much for all of your expertise and sharing all of your reporting with us. We'll check back through the program.

As we've been speaking, we'll have much more on President-elect Donald Trump's fast response to the attacks. Were his statements accurate? Did they go too far? We discuss all of that next.


[06:12:07] CUOMO: President-elect Donald Trump condemning the attacks in Turkey and Berlin, wasting in time placing blame. CNN political reporter Sara Murray live in Palm Beach, Florida, where Trump is holding his latest transition meetings.

How did the president-elect see it?


Donald Trump put out a flurry of statements, both offering his concern and also condemnation for the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, as well as this attack on a Berlin Christmas market.

And even though authorities are still investigating both instances, Donald Trump wasted no time in tying both of them to radical Islamic terrorism.

He also vowed to come together with his freedom-loving partners to eradicate terrorism across the globe.

And in case the flurry of statements was not enough, he also took to his favorite medium, Twitter, to continue to express his concern about these terror attacks. And he invoked not just what happened in Turkey, as well as in Berlin, but he also pointed to an attack in Switzerland where a gunman opened fire on a mosque there. And he said, "Today there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland, and Germany, and it is only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking."

So Chris, it tells you that, even though Donald Trump is the president-elect, even though he's heading to the White House, clearly not adopting this sort of dose of caution about whether to get ahead of investigators and immediately label these attacks by radical Islamic terrorism. We saw him do this throughout the campaign. Clear he's going to do it throughout the transition, as well.

CAMEROTA: OK, Sara, thank you very much for all that reporting.

Let's discuss it now with our panel. We have CNN political commentator and senior contributor for "The Daily Caller," Matt Lewis; and "Washington post" reporter Abby Phillip. And joining us once again, CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward.

So let me just read Mr. Trump's tweet. This was about everything that had happened in the past 24 to 48 hours: "Today there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland, and Germany, and it is only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking."

Matt, what does that mean?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think a couple things are at play here. If you look at, say for example, what happened in Russia, I mean, that is between Russia and Turkey.

CAMEROTA: You mean in Ankara? Where the Russian ambassador was assassinated?

LEWIS: Right. So it's not exactly clear what Donald Trump would do about -- to prevent something like that.

But if you're talking overall about the international situation that we face, and I would lump in the battle against ISIS with Russia, with China, with this sort of geopolitical situation that Donald Trump is about to inherit, I do think that he's going to sort of have a Reagan model of peace through strength.

And I do think it's true that President Obama has basically allowed a vacuum and allowed a situation where, internationally, a lot of things have gotten out of -- out of control, whether it's Iran, whether it's Russia, whether it's China. I think drawing the red line invited some of this stuff--


[06:20:06] LEWIS: -- in Syria. And I do think that it's possible that Donald Trump will take over and send a signal that, you know, this is no longer going to be tolerated. CUOMO: So Clarissa, let's get your take from -- you're in Moscow

right now. And of course, the government there shares the perspective of our president-elect here that just call all of this the same thing. It's all terror. It's all Islamic jihadi terror. And it is weakness to say otherwise. Don't burden this with complexity.

But in covering the issue the way you have, what do you see as the best way forward?

WARD: Well, Chris, let me just say that we've actually had a response from the Kremlin to President-elect Donald Trump's tweet that you mentioned. A spokesperson for Putin wrote, "Trump's statement echoes what Putin has been saying for the past 16 or 17 years about the need to fight -- about the need for a joint fight against this common threat. No single country can fight it on their own."

In terms of your larger question about the best way to tackle it, I don't think anybody exactly knows, because there isn't a sort of one- size-fits-all answer to eradicating terrorism.

And the three examples that President-elect Trump gave, one example was in Zurich, where three Muslims were shot in a mosque. One is, you know, a situation in Turkey between Russia and Turkey, based on the atrocities playing out in Aleppo that, frankly, could have been any one of a number of millions of Muslims who feel horrified by the atrocities that they have seen taking place in Aleppo. That does not necessarily fall into the rubric, in a classical sense, of a sort of ISIS or militant attack.

And then you have, of course, the attack that we saw in Germany. Horrifying again, deadly again, difficult to solve again. But none of these three attacks really fall into the same category. So it becomes very difficult, I think, to talk about just taking a blunt instrument to the entire situation or to the entire problem.

The Russians have gone with the sort of theory of Tacitus, right? "I have created a desert and named it peace." The idea being that you bomb it into submission. You bomb it until there's nothing left except for peace. Well, that may work in Chechnya, and it may work yet in Syria, but there are repercussions for those kinds of actions, as we saw in Ankara, Chris.

CAMEROTA: Abby, Mr. Trump did not mention Yemen, where a suicide bomber killed 50 people. But is it overly ambitious, overly optimistic to think that there is a way to stop four disparate attacks -- Turkey, Yemen, Switzerland, Germany -- four individuals? This seems like a very tall order.

ABBY PHILLIP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, it's worth noting also in Trump's statements that he called out terror attacks against Christians but didn't mention that several of the attacks that we saw yesterday were brought against Muslims, and that Muslims are, in fact, some of the most -- the greatest victims of terrorism around the world. That went unsaid in his statement.

And also, Trump, I think, is signaling that these attacks, no matter what their motives or even their -- who they were going against, are going to fall into a category of things that help him make the case against ISIS, things that help him align himself more closely with countries like Russia, who he believes is fighting terrorism in a way that he wants the United States to emulate.

What that means for -- what that could potentially mean for U.S. foreign policy is that, while there's a lot of concern about how Russia and Syria and Iran are prosecuting a war in Aleppo against, in many cases, civilians and NGO workers -- there's concern about that -- but Trump has not expressed any concern about that at all. And in fact, he's put more of a premium on this idea of fighting terrorism, no matter how you do it.

CUOMO: Right. Well, but that's -- it can achieve the same goal though, right? The president-elect has decided to keep it simple. Right?

Clarissa has been covering this in a very different way. She understands the complexity of it. It informs her journalism. So seeing it in the context of a Roman historian, Tacitus, makes sense. For the president-elect, he is not burdened by that kind of complexity. So for him, he sees all these things as the same thing: bad guys doing bad things. Is that the right approach for the United States?

LEWIS: Well, look, I think your last guest actually nailed something about the big -- again, these are three disparate attacks or more. It's hard to sort of have a cohesive, you know, what would a president do.

CAMEROTA: Game plan against these four. Right?

LEWIS: Right. They're very different. But I do think that there is a common thread. And Peter Beinart has written about this at "The Atlantic," and I think he nailed it.

[06:25:04] America, you know, that I grew up in, sort of the Ronald Reagan America, the dominant paradigm was the forces of freedom versus the forces of tyranny. I believe we are now entering into an era that will basically be Christendom, or Western civilization -- call it what you want -- versus radical Islam. I think that is the new paradigm that Donald Trump sees the world in, at least for now.

CUOMO: As a religious war?

LEWIS: Well, I would say it this way: if the paradigm is freedom versus tyranny, then Vladimir Putin is on the wrong side. If the defining, you know, fight of our time is between the forces of Christendom and western civilization versus radical Islam, now all the sudden Vladimir Putin is an ally in that struggle. And that's not a--

CUOMO: Not a big embracer of Christianity, by the way.

LEWIS: Well, ostensibly -- obviously, he's a former KGB agent, was part of the Soviet Union, who were atheists, but he is sort of harkening back to the church and trying to create this, basically, a war. It's not create. This war exists between radical Islam and the forces of western civilization.

Now this -- you know, I think it's a crazy sort of alliance, because -- because I'm not a big Putin fan, but the argument here is that radical Islam poses an existential there. And just as America teamed up with Josef Stalin to defeat Nazism, Donald Trump will now team up with Putin.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much for your perspective on all of this.

CUOMO: All right. We're tracking the latest developments in Berlin. A truck plowed into a Christmas market, killing at least a dozen, dozens more injured. This is considered an act of terror. When NEW DAY returns.