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Official: Berlin Attacker was Pakistani Immigrant; Ankara Gunman Heard Shouting 'Don't Forget Aleppo'; Trump Blames 'Islamist Terrorists' for Attacks in Berlin, Turkey. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired December 20, 2016 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. it is Tuesday, December 20, 6 a.m. in the east. We are following breaking developments. Attacks around the world. The latest overnight in Berlin. A man drove a truck through a Christmas market. Sources tell CNN the attacker a recent refugee from the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, killing at least 12 people, at latest count, dozens injured.
[07:00:20] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Earlier Monday, a gunman shot and killed Russia's ambassador to Turkey, shouting, "Don't forget Aleppo" as he did it. In the past 48 hours, there have also been attacks in Switzerland and Yemen. Leaders around the world promising strength in the battle to end terrorism.
We have complete coverage this morning, starting with CNN senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen live in Berlin.
What's the latest, Fred?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn, we literally got some information just a couple of minutes ago from Germany's interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere. He gave a press conference where he now confirmed that the person who is in custody and being questioned over this appears to be an asylum seeker from Pakistan. And now he says that this man's asylum application was not finally decided on. That's something that is apparently still going on.
But he also said a second man who was found dead in the cab of the truck suffered a gunshot wound, and that so far the authorities have not been able to retrieve the gun that was used in that.
Of course, all of this sending shockwaves through Berlin and, indeed, through Germany. Here's what happened overnight.
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.
Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, 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."
CUOMO: All right. So from Germany to Turkey. Seven people are now being questioned after the disturbing on-camera assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey. Most of those detained are members of the shooter's own family. This as a Russian team of experts heads to Turkey to help investigate the brazen attack.
We have CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson. live for us in Ankara -- Nic.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, good morning, Chris. Well, literally in the last couple of minutes that team of Russian investigators have been inside the building behind me there. That's where the attack took place. That's where the Russian ambassador was shot down in cold blood. It unfolded in front of the cameras, and we have to warn you, some of these pictures are very disturbing.
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."
[07:05:08] 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."
ROBERTSON: Well, the United States embassy here, consulates across the country are closed. We have diplomatic relations ongoing in Moscow. Turkey foreign minister there today, meeting with the Russian foreign minister, an Iranian foreign minister, talk about the humanitarian situation in Aleppo.
Meanwhile behind me, you have those Russian forensic teams going in with their protective footwear on, their protective jackets. At the same time, the ambassador's body being taken back to Russia, driven just a few hours to the airport here in Ankara to be flown back home -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Nic, thank you very much for all those updates.
Meanwhile, President-elect Donald Trump condemning the attacks in Turkey and Berlin, while wasting no time pointing the finger. CNN political reporter Sara Murray is live in Palm Beach, Florida, where Mr. Trump is holding his latest transition meetings.
What has he said, Sara?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. Well, in a flurry of statements yesterday, Donald Trump offered up his
concern but also his condemnation, both for the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey but also for this attack on a Berlin Christmas market. And as you pointed out, he really wasted no time in tying both of these attacks to radical Islamic terrorism, even though authorities are still investigating both of these instances.
In one of the statements, Donald Trump was vowing to come together with any freedom-loving partners who will work with the U.S. to help to eradicate terrorism.
Now, in addition to putting out these statements, he also took to Twitter to express his concern not just for the attack in Berlin as well as the one in Turkey but also for an attack in Switzerland where a gunman opened fire at a mosque.
On Twitter, he said, "Today there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland, and Germany. And it is only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking."
Now, Donald Trump will be here in Mar-a-Lago today. He's expected to have more transition meetings. We're asking his team for any more information about whether he'll be getting updates throughout the day on these situations and who exactly will be briefing him -- Chris.
CUOMO: Sara, the president-elect learning there's no such thing as a vacation when you're president of the United States. We'll check back with you soon.
Joining us now is CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA official Philip Mudd; CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank; and former State Department official and U.S. ambassador to NATO, Nicholas Burns.
Mr. Mudd, we begin with you. If we look at this palette across the globe, you've got Yemen; that was an explosion. You have Switzerland; that was gunfire. You have Berlin; that was a truck. You have Turkey, that was gunfire, a targeted assassination. These are all different methods, but they're all being lumped together by the president-elect as the same problem. Is that the simple truth, or is this something missed in the subtlety?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: There's a couple things missed here. He is incorrect in lumping these together. Let's look at Turkey and Germany, for example. I would agree with him initially, although we don't know for sure, that Turkey is a radical Islamist -- pardon me, Germany is a radical Islamist attack. That is in contrast to what we see in Turkey. I think we will find there that that has to do with Turkish politics and disputes within Turkey about how much Turkey should be aligned with the Russians, especially as the Russians are responsible for part of the humanitarian disaster in Syria. Two very different situations that the president-elect is lumping together.
Let me say one more thing. When he tweets before you get the Germans acknowledging what's happened in their own country, I hope he's willing to accept foreign leaders, when we get an event in the United States, intervening to say what they think has happened here before he determines the facts. This intervening overseas and commenting, even as he's not the president of the United States yet, in advance of what foreign officials are saying about their own events in their own countries, I think foreign officials are going to bristle at this. The U.S. president maybe should wait to see what foreigners say before he comments on their situations.
CUOMO: But Paul, this is part of the virtue to the supporters of President-elect Donald Trump, that he calls it as he sees it, and he doesn't get caught up in all these niceties Philip Mudd is talking about and all this political B.S. He sees it for what it is, that there are bad Muslims in the world doing bad things, and they need to be removed from the face of the earth. That's what he's been saying, basically. What's the problem with that?
[07:10:15] PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, the attack in Switzerland was an attack on a mosque. So presumably not something carried out by Muslims. We don't know yet the perpetrator of that attack.
But the Turkey attack may have no ties to terrorist groups whatsoever, as Phil was saying. And in Germany, officials are still trying to sort through all of this.
The bottom line is that this is an issue of the credibility of the United States. If you're going to have a president-elect or a president making calls and getting them wrong, that is going to damage the credibility of the United States internationally.
Now, when it comes to the Berlin attack, the pointers are, at this point, towards an act of Islamist terrorism, though the authorities have not yet found any sign of radicalization. But there are certainly a number of pointers in that direction. The sort of country of origin is perhaps a pointer. But also, the fact that ISIS have been calling for exactly these kind of truck attacks.
But it is very early on in this investigation. And U.S. officials do need to be very careful, just like their counterparts in Europe, about making these official determinations when they don't have the full facts.
CUOMO: Right. And Nick, you know, obviously I get the distinctions that are being made, but I'm telling you, the political state of play in the United States deserves some consideration right now.
And you have a president-elect that just did very well in the election by simply saying, "Look, what's our problem with terrorism? President Obama won't call it what it is." And that resonated very strongly through most of this country. What diplomatic problems are created by this blunt -- this blunt reality approach?
NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I agree with Phil and Paul that you've got to get your facts straight, and he didn't on the Switzerland case.
For a second, we have a tradition and a law in this country, one president at a time. I think it will be more effective for Donald Trump if he just tried to run his transition, form his government. He's going to be responsible as of noon, January 20. But President Obama is the president of the United States.
And just as we saw, Chris, with the underwater drone seized by the Chinese in the South China Sea, to have the president-elect intervening, making statements, making suggestions, we have a president, President Obama. I think it will be more effective for Donald Trump just to lie low, learn, dig into his briefing books, and then be ready to go on January 20.
And it is confusing, I think, for foreigners to be hearing two different voices from Washington, that of our current government and that of the president-elect.
CUOMO: Does the president-elect lose in that analysis at home, Philip Mudd? Because the optics, certainly in the base that elected him, is that the foreigners aren't getting it done. They're weak. They're losing. They need the United States. And the United States deserves to have a voice whenever it wants it.
MUDD: No way he loses at home. I think there's a difference between what we're talking about, which is sort of in some ways an inside-the- Beltway, inside-Washington conversation, which you referred to inappropriately as political B.S., and what we've seen happen over the previous few months, that is victory rallies where tens of thousands, or at least thousands of people are showing up, supporting the man they just voted for, and a Twitter campaign by the president-elect that mirrors what he did during the campaign so successfully.
So we can talk about -- and I completely agree, we have one president at a time. But a man who just won an election based on partly a Twitter campaign that was so successful, I don't see why we should anticipate not only that he will stop that but that it won't be equally successful when he becomes president on January 20. There's a difference between what diplomatic people say he should do and what he learned was successful on the campaign trail. And that difference is stark.
CUOMO: Paul, let's talk about the larger problem here, which is we just saw play out in real time the conflict in Syria. This attack, if it's taken on its face by what was said by the assassin when he took out the Russian ambassador, you know, "Remember Aleppo." This was not a guy -- yes, he was saying, "God is greatest" when he did this shooting, but that's being suggested as somewhat of a distraction here, that this is more about sectarian concerns and Syrian-specific concerns, political concerns about Russia's intervention in Syria than simple Islamic jihad. How so?
CRUICKSHANK: Well, we'll see what the motivation was in that attack, but make no mistake that the brutal Russian Assad regime intervention in Aleppo is going to super-charge the global jihadi movement. It's going to radicalize people in Syria. It's going to radicalize people across the Sunni world. And it's going to play into the hands of ISIS and al Qaeda recruiters who are going to make the argument that the Sunnis are under attack by some alleged global conspiracy. [07:15:11] It's also going to play into the hands of those who would
want to say that the United States is somehow complicit in some of this because of the warming relations between Russia and the United States, sort of the jihadis in their attempts to try and lump in this sort of global conspiracy against Islam.
So we're entering a very dangerous period indeed, where these -- this brutal crackdown against the rebels in Aleppo is really going to energize the global jihadi movement. It's going to make the sectarian problems so much worse in the Middle East on which these terrorist groups thrive. So a lot of really severe challenges now for the Trump administration moving forward.
CUOMO: Nick, let's take one last beat here on a discussion of something that we may not like, but you have to give voice to.
Here we are five days away from celebrating the birth of Christ for Christians, and this war of "us" versus "them" is more and more, in the United States, becoming shaped by the idea of the west, which is being reckoned as the Christian base of the world, versus the Muslim base of the world. What do you see as the risks of that type of paradigm?
BURNS: There's a great danger here for the American political leadership. Both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama were very clear over the last 16 years that we are not at war with 1.6 billion Muslims. Obviously, we are in a war against violent Islamic radical groups, terrorist groups in the Middle East. And so I think you've got to make that distinction, and sometimes it doesn't come out on Twitter. And that's why it's so important to be careful in public statements. We're not as war with Islam.
But we're going to see two things happen. The majority Sunni community in Syria has been assaulted by the offensive by president Assad and the Russians and others. That's going to metastasize, not just in Syria but outside of Syria. And as you see the decline of the Islamic State, if Mosul falls, if at some point in 2017 or '18 Raqqah falls in northern Syria, they're very likely to resort to these kinds of terrorist attacks. So we're going to have to expect, unfortunately, more of this. We're going to be -- have to be smart in how we fight it.
CUOMO: There is something satisfying about simplicity, but the war that is being fought against terror is anything but that. Gentlemen, thank you for giving us the truth of the situation. Appreciate it -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Chris. Coming up, we're going to speak to two people at the Christmas market who witnessed the attack in Berlin, Germany.
[07:21:41] CUOMO: Following news of the worst kind. German officials investigating a horrific crash as an act of terror. The driver of a tractor trailer barreling through a Christmas market, killing at least 12, injuring at least 50. This coming just hours after a gunman assassinated the Russian ambassador to Turkey. President-elect Donald Trump labeling both attacks radical Islamic terrorism.
Let's bring in Senator Angus King of Maine. He serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee.
There is satisfaction in the simple. And when the president-elect says, "Look, let's call these things what they are. They're Muslims trying to kill everybody else, Islamic radical terror," it is satisfying to the American people. We just saw it play out in the election. What is your problem with him defining both of these events the same way?
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Well, the problem is, Chris, that simple answers to complicated questions are usually wrong. And in this case, it appears that, No. 1, we don't really know the facts. So it's premature to come to a conclusion.
But No. 2, it appears that the attack in Turkey on the Russian ambassador wasn't a religious attack but was a political one, revenge for what's going on in Aleppo, which by the way, is going to generate a generation of hatred and resentment and probably violence. It's one of the great war crimes that's been committed in our lifetimes.
And so to say they're both Islamic jihadist attacks, I just don't think is correct factually. And the one in Berlin, yes, that appears to be. The one in Zurich was an attack on--
CUOMO: A mosque.
KING: -- an Islamic mosque. So yes, that's a -- it's a complicated situation. And just to say it's all Islamic terrorism, I think, is, A, not the correct answer, as I said; and, B, will only enflame tensions and could conceivably make them worse.
CUOMO: Give me another step on why. Because to many ears, sounds like semantics. You know, this is political correctness. This is trying to play it safe. Whether the Turkish 22-year-old killed the Russian ambassador for religious or for political reasons, it was still a Muslim killing somebody who's not a Muslim because they're angry. And that's the same thing in Berlin. Whether the guy's a refugee from Afghanistan or he isn't, he was a Muslim, and he tried to kill people who aren't. That's the problem. Deal with it on its face.
KING: Well, I think, No. 1, again, going back to the attack in Turkey, it doesn't appear anyway now -- and again, we don't really know the facts, but it doesn't appear that it was a religious attack. It was a political one. It was revenge for something that's going on in Aleppo. But the larger question I think your prior panel really hit it very well--
CUOMO: Yes, they did.
KING: And that is--
CUOMO: They did, you're right.
KING: -- do we really want to -- do we really want to have a war of half the world against the other half the world, 1.6 billion Muslims?
In the U.S., I've met with officials from the FBI and our intelligence agencies. Most of the tips and the help that we get in dealing with these problems, in thwarting these problems here in the U.S. come from people within the Muslim community. Do we really want to radicalize all of those people and make this a world conflagration? I don't -- I just don't think it's in our best interests.
[07:25:06] The -- yes, we have to go after the bad guys and the ones that are using these -- these incidents to enflame the population, but to spread it -- and I'm not being soft-hearted here. I'm just being practical. And if you -- if we radicalize the more moderate members of this community -- and there are many of them around the world, millions and millions, and probably over a billion -- then we've just made the problem that much worse.
CUOMO: Thank you for making the case on that point. Let me ask you about something else. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, says he does not endorse a bipartisan committee hearing on the involvement of Putin and the Kremlin in the hacks during the election. He says we can take care of this during the ordinary course of business within your own committee. What do you think of that?
KING: Well, let's not mischaracterize what Mitch has said. The intelligence committee is a bipartisan committee. It's a select committee. It's members of both parties. The chairman of armed services, the ranking member of the armed services, the majority leader, and the Democratic leader are on that committee. So I'm not taking a position as to whether it should be a new committee set up just for this purpose or whether the intelligence committee can handle it.
But the intelligence committee is, as I say, a bipartisan committee that we've already been working on this subject for the better part of six months.
And so I think, Chris, what you're going to end up with is probably a couple of different investigations. John McCain at the Armed Services Committee and Lindsey Graham want to go forward with something there. There may be a special subcommittee there.
But I think the important thing for the American people is there is going to be an investigation of this, and we're going to get to bottom of it. Most important to me, we need to make public what we learn. Because the point is to not re-litigate this past election but to be sure that this doesn't happen in the future, and the best defense is if the American people know when the Russians are trying to mess around with our politics.
CUOMO: You know, one of the interesting bases of skepticism in this situation is, you know, everybody's wringing their hands now in our government, saying it was Putin; it was the Kremlin. This is bad. They do it all the time. They keep doing it. They're doing it right now. Where was that during the election? Where was that out of the White House when they learned as far back in July? Where was that after Clapper came forward in October with his statement saying that this was -- how come you guys weren't up in arms then?
KING: Well, I think that the public statement of the director of national intelligence that you mentioned, Jim Clapper, in October was a big deal. It was a very affirmative, unequivocal statement that the Russians were involved, that they were trying to interfere in our elections, that it went to the highest level of the Russian government. The problem was it just got lost in the noise of the -- of the campaign. And just became a one- or two-day story.
CUOMO: But there were no calls for a special committee. McCain wasn't jumping up and down then. Lindsey Graham wasn't doing it then. It seems like it smacks a little bit of political opportunism.
KING: No, I don't think so. I mean, I don't think you can accuse two Republicans of being politically opportune. John McCain was just re- elected. He's just -- he's just being John McCain, which is somebody who takes these things very seriously. He has a very clear-eyed view of Russia as our adversary. I don't think--
CUOMO: Right. But why would you complain about something -- why would you complain about something more after the period of urgency had passed? If you knew about hacking, you know, during the thing that you didn't want hacked, during that event, why weren't you loud and proud then? Why would you wait until after it's over? That's the question.
KING: Well, I think a lot of people did raise it. And I remember saying every time I heard those Podesta e-mails, that the reporting should have been brought to you by the Russians. But it just got lost, as I say, in the noise.
I don't -- I think people were upset and concerned about it. And more and more information started to come out. And that -- that statement in October was extraordinary, but it just didn't -- it didn't get picked up to the extent that it should have.
CUOMO: Senator Angus King, always a pleasure to get your clear-eyed perspective on situations. The best to you and your family for Christmas.
KING: Same to you, Chris. Thank you.
CUOMO: All right. Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Chris, this deadly attack with dozens of witnesses standing by, watching in horror. what they say and what the U.S. Is doing now to make sure a similar attack on a holiday market does not happen here. That's next.