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Berlin Suspect Tied To Pro-ISIS Network In Germany; German Official: Suspect Was Targeted For Deportation; Thirty One Dead In Fireworks Blast At Crowded Market; Did Russia Drop Ball On Ambassador's Security?; O'Reilly: Left Wants Power From "White Establishment" Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 21, 2016 - 11:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: John Berman here. Kate is off today. We have breaking news out of Germany. Police raids now under way connected to a Tunisian man suspected of plowing a truck into a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 people.

Investigators say the suspect was a known risk to various security agencies in Germany for his ties to radical Islamist groups, and that he was arrested in August with forged documents on his way to Italy, but was later released.

We also know he had been refused asylum and that proceedings to deport him had already begun. The suspect's I.D. was found in the cab of the truck and indicates he was in his early 20s.

CNN International's Hala Gorani live in Berlin with these fast-moving developments. Hala, what else are you learning?

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are getting a lot of significant information. You listed some of it there, German authorities are urgently and actively looking for a Tunisian man in his early 20s born in 1992. Security officials are telling us he's 24, 25 years old.

You also said he was stopped in August of this year with forged papers trying to make his way to Italy, but later released and if indeed he is connected to this terrible truck attack on Monday evening, it means that authorities at one point had him in custody but let him go.

What more do we know? They believe that he was refused asylum. The interior minister of (inaudible) tells us where this man was located that he entered Germany in July of 2015.

According to the local interior minister, since February of this year, he was mainly in Berlin, but he was highly mobile so he was going back and forth between the capital Berlin and this northwestern region of (inaudible), which is significant because that is where it is believed that an ISIS-linked network is based.

The leader of that network nicknamed (inaudible) was arrested and charged with terrorism related offenses, but this individual potentially connected to this network is someone who is still on the run and this is very worrying for Germans and authorities.

Because if it is the perpetrator that means he's armed, we know that whoever committed this attack killed the truck driver who was found in the cab of the truck on Monday evening after this terrible incident.

So there's really a sense of urgency right now to try to hone in and capture this individual as quickly as possible because lives are at risk at this stage -- John.

BERMAN: Indeed they are. All right, Hala Gorani for us in Berlin. Hala, thanks so much. Want to bring in CNN terrorism analyst and editor-in-chief of the "CTC Citadel," Paul Cruickshank. Paul, so many developments as we last spoke just a few hours ago. Number one, they have a suspect now that they are trying to hunt down. Do you have a sense from your contacts on the ground if they think they know where he might be roughly?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, John, there have been raids today in the northern part of Germany where the Tunisian suspect was at a certain point residing in Germany. That's also where this radical ISIS recruiting network were mainly based that he was connected to recruiting people to go and join ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

There's concern that because of his ties to this network inside Germany that they may be able to hide him or maybe even smuggle him out of the country. After all, that's what these Jihadis were doing inside Germany.

They were smuggling German recruits to go to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Of course, after the Paris attacks with Saleh Abdeslam, he was hidden by a logistical support structure in Brussels linked to the network in that attack for months and months and months before security services were able to find him.

If he's getting help from this network that he was moving with, then it could be a much more complicated task indeed. They have not got him in custody, I'm told, at this point and they are very worried that he may strike again because he's considered to be armed and dangerous.

Look, he could go and hijack another truck somewhere else in Germany or Europe and do this all over again.

BERMAN: That urgency to this hunt right now. Paul, once again, we hear he was known to authorities. That was something we heard in France. Once again we hear that he was in custody at one point. That's something again we heard in France and known ties perhaps to terror groups, enough so that he was refused asylum.

[11:05:01]CRUICKSHANK: Well, there are a lot of questions for German authorities because of all these missed opportunities to apprehend him. There were deportation procedures against him, but they had to drop those after they were not able to confirm his identity.

Under German law, you have to know who you are deporting before you are able to deport them. That all complicated the task of German security agencies. I have to say, though, they can't follow all these radical extremists all the time.

You can only monitor a fraction of them at any one time. Dozens maybe at the very most. Otherwise, it runs into ridiculous amounts of money and resources. So that's the challenge in Europe where you have tens of thousands of people who have become radicalized by this ideology.

That number is astronomical, way beyond the capabilities of European security services to deal with. There will be more attacks.

BERMAN: I have just about a minute left. What can you tell us about this German organization that this suspect may have been connected to?

CRUICKSHANK: It's the so-called "Abu Walaa" (ph) Network." This a guy known as Abu Walaa (ph) real name Ahmed (inaudible), 32-year-old Iraqi, who is the most charismatic figure in a network who were smuggling want-to-be Jihadis from the northern part of Germany to go and fight with ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

The fact that this perpetrator allegedly had ties to this network suggests that he would have had plenty of opportunity to actually get in touch with ISIS and so one real question now is whether they were perhaps communicating with him.

They had some advance knowledge of this, whether they were grooming him to do this using encrypted apps, which they have done in so many cases in the west where they were figuratively holding the hand of these radicals in the west as they moved through the various phases of terrorist attack planning.

BERMAN: Another phase in the investigation they are working on right now. But first and foremost right now, the manhunt. Paul Cruickshank, thanks so much.

We also have breaking news out of Mexico, 31 people are now dead following giant explosions at a fireworks market north of Mexico City. That number, the death toll rising just a few minutes ago.


BERMAN: Those were pictures of the explosion. I think we also have new pictures of the aftermath, what it looks like today. More than 72 people were injured, some with severe burns.

Want to go live to CNN's Sara Sidner near the site of this blast. Sara, the images we are seeing are just devastating.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They absolutely are. It's not just devastating to watch them. Of course, you have families that are at the morgue still wondering if their loved ones are among the dead. There are bodies so charred they cannot identify the bodies in some cases and we have also just now talked to one of the stall owners here. I will let you see what the scene looks like right now. We have been

watching as cadaver dogs have been going inside of the remaining buildings that are standing and through some of the rubble as well as forensics teams.

You are also seeing the army soldiers and police who are here en masse going through some of this rubble. What we just heard from a stall owner is that everyone in this market pretty much knew each other. There are about 300 stalls.

There are only a handful of them that are still standing and still viable. This is not only devastated this community because of the number of people who died, but also because of the economy. This is what fuels the economy here in Tultepec, Mexico.

She says we are absolutely financially devastated. She almost sort of said our life is over when it comes to having a living and being able to make a living here in Tultepec. Pyrotechnics are what people make a living off of here.

There were families coming because Christmas is a time where in Mexico folks go and buy fireworks and blast them off on Christmas. They also blast them off of course on New Year's. So families are here, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, children and we do know children have been devastatedly injured.

Three of them had to be flown out with 90 percent of their bodies burned, flown to Galveston, Texas. It is a very difficult day in Tultepec. We are about 25 miles north of Mexico City -- John.

BERMAN: The video of the blast, the succession of blasts, simply remarkable. Sara Sidner for us in Tultepec. Thanks so much, Sara.

Joining me, retired ATF explosives investigator, a consultant, Anthony May. Anthony, this town, this area was an open air market, stall after stall of fireworks set up. It's a huge, huge place. It has to be incredibly high risk for just this type of event.

[11:10:11]ANTHONY MAY, SECURITY AND EXPLOSIVES CONSULTANT: Good morning. These markets in Mexico are not uncommon. They are open air markets. I have not been to this particular one, but I have been to several when I was living in Mexico City. But these stalls are made up of concrete blocks, concrete buildings, and these events and this particular market has a history of explosions.

BERMAN: There was one back in 2005, to be sure. Is there anything you can do to keep an area like this with so many explosives, is there anything you can do to keep it safe?

MAY: Well, they in fact did, from the 2005 the Mexican government required that the stalls be separated, but what you have got to understand is that the quantity of material and with fireworks, they are nice to look at, pretty, entertaining, but also very dangerous, as this event demonstrates.

In Mexico, there's no regulatory agency that controls the quantity of energetic or explosive materials that is in this product. Unlike in the U.S., we have the Consumer Product Safety Commission that will regulate the quantity of energetic material inside what's considered a consumer fireworks, what we can go to a store and buy.

In the aerial display shells, which you see shoot up in the sky on the different celebration events, those are regulated by ATF as an explosive product. A lot of times people will go to Mexico, try to buy fireworks and try to bring them in the U.S., and this is the very reason that we try to prevent that, because there is no regulatory control.

This tragic event, most likely carelessness, safety, somebody may have been smoking or the weather has been kind of cool in Mexico City in the last couple days, they may even have had an open fire just to keep warm. There's a lot that could have happened here.

BERMAN: Anthony, how do you find out? How do you investigate this type of accident now?

MAY: Well, first of all, they have got to account for all the bodies. Once that occurs, the investigators will go through and try to identify the point of origin or where the initial blast occurred.

In that video you saw, you saw several, as -- you saw several different explosions, different locations. What's happening, wherever that initial explosion occurred, we have kick-outs. It will kick out product that's on fire that's landing in other product causing explosions to propagate throughout this whole market.

But they have to go back to the source of where that was and that's a difficult task for investigators. But for example, the ATF international response team has been to events like this before.

If the government of Mexico asks for their assistance, I'm sure the government probably, U.S. government would send them in. It's a difficult task. It's a labor-consuming task.

BERMAN: First and foremost is helping those people who were injured and tending to the families of lost loved ones. Anthony May, thanks so much for being with us.

MAY: You're welcome.

BERMAN: All right, next, new people detained in connection to the assassination of a Russian diplomat and new video of the chilling moments just before the killer fired the shots.

Plus, new video of American hostages being held by the Taliban including their toddler sons who were born in captivity. Hear their message for the president-elect.

And new this morning, Donald Trump sounding off on the election saying his Electoral College win was more sophisticated than it would have been to win the popular vote and this comes as one of his favorite TV personalities is under fire for comments he made about the Electoral College and race.



BERMAN: Chilling new video this morning that shows the 22-year-old Turkish police officer turned assassin stalking his victim. You can see him right there, standing behind Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov for several minutes, even pacing a bit before calmly pulling his gun and killing the ambassador.

This is a shocking public assassination at an art gallery in Turkey. Authorities have 12 people in custody. Russian and Turkish investigators are on the case. The kremlin cautioning against jumping to conclusions about who supported the assassin.

Want to bring in former Secret Service agent, Jonathan Wackrow. He spent five years on President Obama's detail and he is now the executive director of the risk assessment company, Raid.

Jonathan, we were looking at that video together. Put that back up again. You can see the assassin walking behind the ambassador there standing there and you say even this image here raises alarm bells for you.

JONATHAN WACKROW, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Absolutely. When you look at -- this is a photo op for the ambassador. Traditionally in this type of environment you wouldn't have security standing right behind him. Also, you start looking at some pre-attack behavior that's exhibited by the assassin.

Walking back and forth, a little bit shifty. This isn't the environment for that. This is supposed to be a more secure environment. Again, there are a lot of red flags that preceded just the video we are watching.

BERMAN: I will get to the red flags in a moment. It's interesting because we all saw this at first, initially with the assassination, this man is dressed in a suit, looks like he could have been at first blush maybe a member of the security detail, maybe he worked for the art gallery. It's interesting to me that you say where he's standing and how he's behaving is not normal at all.

WACKROW: Exactly. The problem here is also he's just hiding in plain sight. He has -- he's exhibiting he has a reason to be there. He's blending into the environment. This assassination is a game changer, John. Absolutely.

BERMAN: So he got in apparently through security by showing his police badge. Initially they stopped him and said hey, you can't go in there. He said no, I'm a cop, let me in.

WACKROW: Red flag number one. Red flag number one. Absolutely. There was a security protocol that was set up at this gallery. The moment that an unknown law enforcement officer comes in to circumvent screening in that environment, that's a red flag. It need further investigation. Someone should have followed up. Why did that individual come around? The fact that he was standing

right behind the ambassador during a press conference. All the years I was with the Secret Service, for an optic they wanted security off to the side if there was no threat. This wasn't a threatening environment.

BERMAN: Who is responsible for security there? I know U.S. diplomats overseas. It's diplomatic security. We bring our own security.

WACKROW: Absolutely. When you start talking about ambassador security, there's all different types of levels. You know, the Russians do the exact same thing that the United States does.

[11:20:10]Lot of times they have to rely on a host country to provide local security. Again, if it's a low threat environment, that security protocol might be just a law enforcement driver in a car, not necessarily this dynamic security protocol that you are normally accustomed to.

BERMAN: You say low threat environment. Yes, it's an art gallery. That should be a low threat environment, but isn't it a high threat environment when your country, Russia, is engaged in a war just over the border of the country you're in right now?

WACKROW: Listen, I think, you know, after this attack, both Russia and Turkey will have to go back and deconstruct what happened here. What were the decisions that were made to have a low profile security posture in that environment and then we are going to start getting answers from that.

You know, how did this officer get through screening, internal controls to the police department? You know, 20,000 police officers were terminated after the coups for different ideological reasons. How did this guy get through?

BERMAN: What does it say if 20,000 people were fired that he wasn't one of them. Jonathan Wackrow, always great to talk to you. Have a nice holiday.

New video of an American family held hostage by the Taliban, they may have been prisoners for so long the two boys you see on camera there were born in captivity.

Plus Bill O'Reilly facing heat for saying that liberals want to get rid of the Electoral College to take power away from the quote, "white establishment." We'll discuss next.



BERMAN: Thirty days before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, Israel's ambassador to the United States is voicing hope that the U.S. Embassy will soon be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is something that Donald Trump has promised repeatedly. Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer (ph) told guests at his annual Hanukkah

reception that such a move would be quote, "a great step forward toward peace." It certainly would be a great break from the policy of many past administrations.

CNN's Oren Liebermann joins us now from Jerusalem. To hear the ambassador say this while he was in the U.S., Oren, was very, very interesting.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A big statement. Dermer is considered one of Netanyahu's closest confidants and this would be the highest endorsement of Trump's plan to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem from Netanyahu's inner circle.

Here's exactly what Ron Dermer said. He said at the annual Hanukkah party put on by the Israeli Embassy in the U.S., "I hope that next year the U.S. ambassador to Israel lights the menorah in his embassy in Jerusalem where the Maccabees lit it 2,200 years ago."

So again, a very high level endorsement from Netanyahu's inner circle. Prime Minister Netanyahu however has been much more careful with how he words his excitement about President-elect Trump.

He has certainly been optimistic and he's called it great. He said there will be opportunity for some new ideas about how to handle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the U.S.-Israel relationship which is strained now with current President Barack Obama.

So this goes back to 1995 where there's a law on the books in the U.S. that says that the embassy should move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem but every six months since that law was passed, that option has been waived for national security reasons by now three different presidents. Trump has said repeatedly that he would move the embassy.

Meanwhile, Palestinians furious about the idea, the possibility of Trump moving the embassy saying it would violate international law and they would consider revoking the recognition of the state of Israel.

PLO secretary general saying it would also -- they would also cancel agreements between the Palestinians and Israel. So very harsh reaction to the possibility of moving the embassy coming from the Palestinians -- John.

BERMAN: It would be controversial, but it was a campaign promise for the president-elect. We will see very quickly if he follows through with that. Oren Liebermann, thanks so much.

All right, this morning, with violence flaring across the globe and new fears of terror attacks, new questions about whether he received the classified daily briefing on these attacks, we understand president-elect is getting one today, what is the president-elect doing this morning?

He's trash talking Hillary Clinton's campaign. Donald Trump wrote this morning, "Campaign to win the Electoral College is much more difficult and sophisticated than the popular vote. Hillary Clinton focused on the wrong states!"

Now Hillary Clinton won nearly three million more votes than Donald Trump, but that doesn't mean very much. She lost in the Electoral College. For some Democrats that is reason enough to question the Electoral College system. Fox News host, Bill O'Reilly, though, thinks they have another motivation.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST, "O'REILLY FACTOR": The left in America is demanding that the Electoral College system put into place in 1787 be scrapped but there's a hidden reason for this. Talking points believes this is all about race. The left sees white privilege in America as an oppressive force that must be done away with. Therefore white working class voters must be marginalized. Summing up, left wants power taken away from the white establishment. They want a profound change in the way America is run. Taking voting power away from the white precincts is the quickest way to do that.


BERMAN: With me now, CNN political commentator and Spectrum News political anchor, Errol Louis, former U.S. Navy SEAL and a Donald Trump supporter, Carl Higbie, and Democratic strategist, Daniel McLaughlin.

Errol, there are really two issues here, what O'Reilly said, and there is also what President-elect Trump is saying about the Electoral College this morning instead of focusing on other issues. Let's take Bill O'Reilly. He says it's all about race. There are questions about the Electoral College system at this point, are they all about race?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, of course, not. Although the Electoral College has ignominious origins in the slavery system in which it was born. So that's just a historical fact and reality. That's part of the discussion about why people have said maybe it's time to take another look at it.

The more pressing issue is that we have never had to deal with this before. We are increasingly seeing a growing gap between the popular vote and Electoral College outcome. If that continues, from two million to three million, when it becomes 10 million or 15 million it will be obvious it needs a second look.

Not necessarily outright abolition but clearly there's an issue that will have to get dealt with. What Bill O'Reilly is up to, who knows. That's been his brand, that kind of divisiveness, the sort of ugly talk about race, it will probably work for his ratings.

We are talking about him now on a rival channel. Maybe the worst thing you can do with the kind of platform that he's built but that's Bill O'Reilly.

BERMAN: Carl, I want to know what your take on this. I should note that some people think it over-represents rural voters, largely white, not necessarily white working class voters, but beside the point, what did you make of what Bill O'Reilly said?

CARL HIGBIE, CONSERVATIVE PUNDIT: You know, like I generally agree with Bill O'Reilly, but I don't really agree. I think he's oversimplifying it in the terms of race. I think he's -- it is a --