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Manhunt for Tunisian Suspect; Trump: Berlin Rampage an Attack on Humanity; Manhunt Underway for Berlin Christmas Market Terror Attack; European Muslims Fear Public Backlash; Fireworks Market Blast Kills at Least 33 People; Turkey's President Meets Girl Who Tweeted From Aleppo; A Royal Change of Plans. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired December 22, 2016 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:21] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.

Ahead this hour, a name and a face and a frantic search. Authorities say this man is the prime suspect in the terror attack on a Christmas market in Berlin.

The U.S. President-Elect says that deadly assault in Germany is an attack on humanity. But questions remain about his plans to fight terrorism.

And later, a day after this devastating fireworks explosion in Mexico some families are still waiting for word on loved ones.

Hello everybody. Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause. This is NEWSROOM L.A.

A Europe-wide manhunt is underway for a new suspect in the deadly truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin. Authorities say 24- year-old Anis Amri is considered armed and dangerous. He arrived in Germany last year and has ties to radical Islamist groups.

His identity papers were found inside the truck used in the attack. And he was arrested in August carrying forged documents as he headed to Italy but a judge ordered his release.

Chris Burns joins us now from Berlin with the very latest. So Chris -- this Europe-wide hunt, where exactly are they focusing their search for Amri and anyone else who may have been involved?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely -- John. This is involving at least hundreds of German police across Germany. There have been searches both here in Berlin as well as in other parts of Germany.

Still, we have had heard nothing yet from authorities as to whether they have found him or found anyone else in relation to that but that was a good break for the investigator yesterday when they announced that they had found the documents in the truck that crashed into this market over my shoulder killing at least a dozen people. They have found documents linked to that Tunisian man. And that's what they're going from right now. Yes, as you said that he was released in August. How could he have been released? Well, he had been facing a deportation order and because authorities could not fully identify him by the name to deport him they had to release him, believe it or not. So that's where it stands right now -- John.

VAUSE: Now that the suspect is known to have been a failed asylum seeker, clearly that has political ramifications for the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

BURNS: Yes, it absolutely does, John. And joining me is Dominic Thomas. I'd like to talk to Dominic a bit about this. You are a professor of French and Francophone Studies at UCLA and also a research professor right now visiting here at Humboldt University.

Dominic the political ramifications of this, we actually even saw a bit of that last night. We saw the Alternative for Deutschland, the far right group that is going to be campaigning in the elections coming up next fall. They were outside Chancellor Merkel's office and the head of the party just a day or two ago said that the deaths here are Merkel's deaths.


BURNS: How much political mileage do you think they're going to get from this?

THOMAS: I think they're going to get extraordinary political mileage. I mean let's not forget that 2017 is the general election. And so leading up to the election, as we talked about the other day, this is an absolute nightmare for Chancellor Merkel's party.

BURNS: Indeed.

THOMAS: The Alternative for Deutschland is using this in every way possible to link terrorism with her policies on migration, immigration and so on. And other groups, like PEDIDA, this group of --

BURNS: -- who were there last night.

THOMAS: Exactly.

BURNS: And they have those protests in Leipzig about every week against the refugees.

THOMAS: Exactly. Against the refugees, linking refugees, immigrants to terror, and so on; so obviously this is a terrible situation for Angela Merkel.

BURNS: But how is this actually -- well, it's hard to say that there is any kind of poll yet that we see after this attack but leading up to the attack how much traction had they gotten because of the refugee situation?

THOMAS: Enormous traction. In fact, this is a party that initially came out of the Greek financial crisis but very rapidly shifted its political sort of policymaking towards the question of migration, German national identity and protectionism. So they did extraordinarily well in Berlin elections last year.

[00:04:51] They're now represented in all of the 16 federations of the German Republic and this is an absolutely sort of ideal event from them which allows them to sort of get visibility and to talk about all these kinds of questions that have proved throughout Europe in this move towards these populist far right parties to build electoral constituencies.

And it's very difficult to combat these kinds of arguments around these questions.

BURNS: So you reckon that -- I mean you're also a Francophone studies professor -- if the far right gains a lot of ground even, perhaps wins in France, what could that do to German politics here?

THOMAS: Well, the true situations are a little bit different. I think one thing to remember is that --

BURNS: The French election is coming up in the Spring.

THOMAS: April -- right. April and May so they'll be ahead of the German elections. Certainly not only has Marine Le Pen's Front National Party continued to rise in the polling but the candidate for the right, the Le Republicain Francois Fillon's political platform has almost moved to the right talking about Islam, talking about immigration and so on.

So far right politics are shaping the discourse today in Europe. The one difference I would say is that the economic situation in Germany is very different than that in Italy and in France.

BURNS: Indeed.

THOMAS: Germany is doing well. These other countries are not.

BURNS: That's -- I think another thing too, though is how far is Merkel's coalition going to shift to the right as a result of this. We already saw Horst Seehofer who's the head of the CSU which is a sister party in Bavaria saying we have to take another look at refugee policy. What is going to happen there?

THOMAS: We are seeing cracks in the coalition.


THOMAS: Angela Merkel's CDU and the CSU sister party in Bavaria have been making more and more comments about the problem of migration and linking it to Merkel's chancellorship. So it is becoming difficult for her to do that.

The one thing I will say is her response to this has been remarkably measured. She has refused to go down the road of fear and anxiety which is being exploited by the FD and one should say by members of the coalition especially in the CSU.

BURNS: Dominic Thomas -- thank you very much.

John -- that's what we're going to be watching in the coming days is how Merkel herself reacts to that. So far, yes, she has taken a very, very calm approach to this. And let's see how she reacts in the coming days -- John.

VAUSE: Ok. Chris -- thanks to you. Also thanks to Dominic Thomas there in Berlin.

Let's talk a little bit more about the manhunt right now. Security expert Aaron Cohen is with us. He's a former member of Israel's Special Operations counter terrorist unit. Aaron -- thanks for being with us.

We understand law enforcement can't track everyone. But you have a failed asylum seeker facing deportation, links to known ISIS recruiter, he'd been the subject of a terrorism investigation, he'd been under surveillance because they thought he was planning a burglary to raise financing to purchase weapons. I guess it could have been anyone, really -- just a face in the crowd. This guy has (inaudible)

AARON COHEN, SECURITY EXPERT: Yes. This isn't just a face in the crowd. This is clearly somebody who German authorities have been looking at. And it's not just German authorities when we talk about that because Interpol in Europe is really where it's strongest. The reason why is because there are so many countries across Europe. So for them to really centralize all that information, Interpol is a key ingredient with that.

But this guy -- where was the surveillance? Where did it stop? Why did the surveillance stop? That surveillance is the key and first part of all of the pre-emptive work in order to prevent future terror attacks.

Why weren't we listening to his cell phone? Why weren't we tracking his cell phone? Let me be2 really clear -- everything is done with the cell phones. If they tapped into that cell phone; if he has already been red flagged then there's a team of people who just sit there and they track the cell phones of these suspects that have been red flagged.

You know exactly where he is going. And if he is an asylum seeker or he's someone who's trying to leave the country or he's trying to get into another country -- again, this is an operational failure. Something happened in the actual movement portion of the operations to allow this guy to be able to get into a truck and then drive into this crowd of people.

VAUSE: Right.

Ok. Amri's father has spoken publicly. He said he hasn't actually talked to his son in years. They do confirm that his son spent time in jail. This is what he said.


ANIS AMRI'S FATHER (through translator): He went illegally to Italy with some friends where they burned a school. He was jailed for four years then he moved to Germany. I have not spoken to him in a long time. It has been about the seven years since he left home. I have not spoken to him directly for that long. I do not even have his cell phone.


VAUSE: The family also went on to say they had no idea that he was obviously planning anything like this. He said the mother and maybe his brothers have spoken to him over a period of a couple of months but they had no idea that he was planning anything like this which is pretty typical in a case like this.

COHEN: Yes. It's almost typical -- it feels like ISIS because again with the rental of the truck with the false name. There is operational planning that these terror groups are getting better and better at.

[00:10:04] And so it seems like they are training their operatives or their would-be operatives or their copycats or anyone who wants to jump in to the terrorism game.

Don't share things with your family members. Don't share things that are going to break what we call op sec, or operational security. So I'm not saying that the parents don't know that might be ideologically aligned with wanting to commit acts of terror. But I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't know anything about the specifics of this particular operation because it allows these attacks to be carried out successfully.

VAUSE: But they may have been suspicious that something had changed in him which is often the case. They become more religious --


COHEN: Agreed. Agreed. The fact that the father hasn't spoken with him for seven years maybe and he doesn't just agree with his ideology.

VAUSE: Right. That's a good point.

Amri is believed to have links to Ahmed Abdel-Aziz Abdullah. He's known as the preacher without a face. But we actually have a photograph of him -- this is the image that we have of him. This comes from Paul Cruickshank. He is one of the top ISIS leaders in Germany if not the top ISIS leader. So that would indicate right now that Amri has some kind of support network out there and he was certainly no lone wolf attacker if he has links to this guy.

COHEN: Abdul Aziz is somebody who's being watched by many governments. This I can tell you for a fact. Not just the Europeans with Interpol, not just the Americans and Brits but there are many organizations including Israel who have been watching this guy for a very long time because of the command in the youth that he controls.

He is a known spouter of hatred. He is very visible online and in social media as well as his public image in the news. He is somebody who is very similar to Sheik Ahmed who Israel ended up assassinating. Again -- one of these clerics, these zealots who can almost command violence because of their ability to be able to lead on camera and get people to follow their ideology, a very dangerous creature this guy.

They've been watching him for a really long time. The hard part is that where do you draw the line between free speech and inciting rhetoric that can cause death? That's the trick.

VAUSE: Ok. If we look at what is happening right now all throughout Europe arrest warrant for him -- this Europe-wide arrest warrant. We also have essentially what's called a BOLO, be on the lookout or a public statement from the authorities trying to (inaudible) because the name was leaked to the media.

And so the authorities in Germany thought they had no choice but to do that. How does that jeopardize the search for this guy that leaked to the media?

COHEN: I almost feel like it had been done intentionally. Leaks are a part of operations. There is a time and a place to give things to the media because with this type of outlet you can get the word out quicker. You want the photo on the cell phones, you want traveling on Facebook and on Twitter and on Instagram. I say leak it.

I say get the name out there because really the only -- the best set of eyes are the masses. You want everyone to see the picture of this guy and report it and text it immediately. They are going to catch him much quicker.

It was the same thing that happened in prior terror attacks that we saw in Europe. And so get the information out there so they can just catch this guy. He may have weapons -- you know, very dangerous guy who needs to be arrested immediately. So, you know, law enforcement needs to be careful because these guys are really dangerous.

VAUSE: Ok. Aaron -- good to speak with you. Thanks so much.

COHEN: Thank you.

VAUSE: We'll take a short break.

When we come back, Donald Trump makes his first public comments on the Berlin terror attack. But questions linger about where he is getting his intelligence information.

Also ahead, a young Syrian girl who tweeted months of bombing in Aleppo gets a presidential meeting in Turkey. .


VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody.

Donald Trump has called the Berlin Christmas market rampage an attack on humanity. The U.S. President-Elect also said it is vindication of his controversial plans to ban immigrants from terrorist-prone countries.

Here's CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: When President-Elect Donald Trump addressed reporters today he had his new national security adviser right behind him; Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn in Florida to discuss world events and staffing. The meeting was on the schedule before the terror attacks in Germany and Turkey.

Trump began the day with an official president's daily brief, the PDB, his first of the week. Trump's staff insists he is getting some type of intelligence briefing every day and will be on top of things from day one.

JASON MILLER, TRUMP COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: He's very much up to speed in what's going on and fully ready for to be sworn in next month and take over the role as commander-in-chief.

STARR: A U.S. official tells CNN Trump is averaging one formal briefing a week, the same type of intelligence briefing that President Obama gets every day. Trump is also getting briefings on specific topics.

MILLER: The one thing I will say is that the President-Elect is receiving numerous briefings, whether it's from his national security team, with General Flynn and others as well as the formal PDB.

STARR: The briefings come amid increasing global turmoil.

The Kremlin today said relations with the U.S. have frozen a day after President Obama imposed new sanctions aimed at Russia's involvement in Crimea and Ukraine; sanctions the incoming president could reverse.

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The next administration will obviously have to make their own decisions about this. We hope that they will come to see the wisdom in not conducting business as usual with Russia.

STARR: All leading to the greater question, how friendly will the incoming president be to Vladimir Putin?

DONALD TRUMP (R), U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: I think when he calls me brilliant I'll take the compliment -- ok.

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: He sure to be more cautious about Russia than he appears to be. I mean he has to understand that their interest and their attitude does not align with ours.

STARR: Nowhere may that be clear than the Moscow meeting of Russian, Iranian and Turkish officials on what to do next in Syria.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): All three countries presented here are united.

[00:15:01] STARR: But U.S. officials still believe the talks will not stop Moscow from continuing its military operations in Syria beyond Aleppo.


STARR: But getting some of the essential national security jobs filled still on the to-do list. Topping that list may be a nomination for a Director of National Intelligence and for Mr. Trump to select his White House advisers on Homeland Security and counterterrorism, perhaps, all the more urgent given recent events -- John.

VAUSE: Barbara Starr -- thank you.

Joining me here in Los Angeles, Democratic strategist Matthew Littman and in San Francisco a member of the Republican National Committee to California, Harmeet Dhillon. Thank you both for being with us.

It has been 147 days now since Donald Trump held a news conference. He did speak to reporters on Wednesday for just over a minute, mostly about the attack on Berlin and he seems that he doubled down on some of his hard-line immigration policies, listen to this.


TRUMP: What's going on is terrible. We have intelligence here right now. What's going on is terrible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has it caused you to rethink or reevaluate your plans to create a Muslim Register or ban Muslim immigration to the United States.

TRUMP: You've known my plans all along and I've been proven to be right 100 percent. What is happening is disgraceful.


VAUSE: Harmeet, to you, the criticism it seems is that we don't know what the plans are because they keep flip-flopping. They keep changing.

HARMEET DHILLON, RNC CALIFORNIA: Why would he tell his plans about national security and terrorism to the media at this point? I mean I think he is really focused on picking good advisers. He is ahead of pace on that compared to the Obama transition and I think that what he said about the European terror attacks is spot on. So I'm not really sure what the criticism is about.

VAUSE: Well Matt -- you want to pick it up.

MATTHEW LITTMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all when we say he's focused on picking good advisers, there is an article in tomorrow's "Washington Post" that discusses the fact that he is picking a lot of his advisers based on appearance. And he didn't pick John Bolton for secretary of State because he didn't like his mustache.

So when we talk about the fact that he's picking people who know what they're doing, I think he is picking people who might appear to look good on a reality show.

VAUSE: Ok. Well, I guess the criticism that a lot of people have right now is that we don't know where the Muslim registry stands. Will there be a Muslim registry? Will there not? Will there be this ban on Muslims coming in to the country? How will it work? How will it be implemented?

And Harmeet, one of the things that looks like may be underway after that news conference there in Mar-A-Lago, a very brief one, is that a Muslim registry could be on the cards similar to the one that was put in place after 9/11 that, you know, the FBI and various others said was a complete failure. It was expensive and it didn't work.

DHILLON: Well, I think what I've heard is the focus is on heavy scrutiny on people from certain terror sponsored regions of the world. And that still seems to be the plan certainly from what I've heard and what I've seen and what I've spoken to some of his adviser as well.

I think that is legitimate in this time of terror around the world. People from foreign countries do not have a human right to come to our country and there is a right in the United States to protect its sovereignty and its borders by giving closer scrutiny to places where, let's face it, in some parts of the world, young people are being taught to blow up their little children. I mean it's terrible.

So it's appropriate to protect American interests to do that.

LITTMAN: Let me just interrupt one second. That's not what Donald Trump is saying. Donald Trump is saying that there is going to be a religious test and if you are a Muslim you're not going to be allowed in the United States. That's on his Web site.

And I can't tell you how many people who support Donald Trump have told me that Donald Trump doesn't actually mean that. And that he means something else like what you just said. But Donald Trump keeps saying that he means it and there will be this Muslim ban.

So let's take Donald Trump at his word and assume that's the policy, how is it going the work? I have no idea. Is TSA going to ask people questions about their religion? I don't know. But Donald Trump keeps saying and it's on his Web site that this is the plan.

DHILLON: Well, that's from his campaign several months ago so you can take anything out of context. And --

LITTMAN: How is that out of context if it's from his campaign?

DHILLON: Because his position has changed to the one that I articulated just now. That's how. LITTMAN: You articulated it but Donald Trump has not.

DHILLON: He has repeatedly articulated. Let's not pretend he hasn't -- Matt.

LITTMAN: Ok. Donald Trump has said that that's just today -- he confirmed the fact that there would be this Muslim ban in the United States. I mean I don't know how many more times he has to confirm it. Other people who work around Donald Trump have said that's not case but Donald Trump hasn't.

VAUSE: Ok. One of the other areas of confusion when it comes to Donald Trump it seems to be his own statements when it comes to what he actually said on Monday after the Berlin attack.

Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The attack in Berlin being an attack against Christians?

TRUMP: Well who said that? When was that said?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think -- I believe you said it in a press release.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, I'm wondering how this might affect relations with Muslims.

[00:25:01] TRUMP: It's an attack on humanity. That's what it is. It's an attack on humanity and it's got to be stopped.


VAUSE: Ok. So this is exactly what the press statement said on Monday. "Innocent civilians were murdered in the streets as they prepared to celebrate the Christmas holiday. ISIS and other Islamic terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad."

Harmeet -- is the President-Elect now backing away from that statement or did he not sort of realized just the implications of what he was saying in that statement which was put out on Monday?

DHILLON: Well, most of those statements are true. It is an attack on humanity and specifically attacks on Christians around Christmas time in a largely Christian country. That's what happened here. So I think both of those things are accurate and he broadened it to humanity. That is also accurate. But in fact, people in Berlin (inaudible) are likely to be Christians shopping during the holiday season.

VAUSE: Matt? LITTMAN: Yes, so the second statement that Donald Trump made was the right statement. His press team probably put out that statement without him knowing it. He realized -- he was smart -- he realized that separating by religion was the wrong thing to do in that one and said that this was about humanity, not necessarily Christianity. So in that case, Donald Trump was going back on what the first statement was which was smart of him. They shouldn't have put out that statement.

VAUSE: Ok. So do we remember this from the campaign?


TRUMP: When we win on November 8th we are going to drain the swamp.


VAUSE: Now it seems draining the swamp might not happen. This is what Trump adviser former Speaker Newt Gingrich said to NPR. The President-Elect has moved on. Listen to this.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I'm told he now disclaims that. It was cute but he doesn't want to use it any more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He doesn't want to use drain the swamp anymore?

GINGRICH: I don't know. Somebody sent me that note last night because I had written what I thought was a very cute tweet about the alligators are complaining. And somebody wrote back and said they were tired of hearing this stuff.


VAUSE: So Matt, when it comes to Donald Trump, how do you spot the difference between a campaign device and a campaign promise?

LITTMAN: Well, it seems like there were a lot of campaign promises that he is already reneging on. Far from draining the swamp it seems like there's going to be more of what he was criticizing before which was insiders making money off of the government. That is one.

Number two, he said he was going to prosecute Hillary Clinton. He's not doing that.

Number three, building the wall on the border with Mexico it seems like he may go back on that.

Number four, we're just hearing that he may go back on the Muslim ban which I don't know whether he is or he isn't but there are a lot of promises that he made to his supporters that he is immediately going back on and he hasn't even been inaugurated yet.

VAUSE: Harmeet? DHILLON: Yes. Well, I don't think Newt Gingrich saying somebody sent

me a note, you know, has any sort of policy significance. Newt is not exactly in the list of the nominees right now.

But beyond that, I mean I think it's very humorous to hear Democrats complain that Donald Trump is now not going to prosecute Hillary Clinton and he's not going to build a wall. I thought that's what they wanted.

But the fact of the matter is that certain rhetoric is used in speeches. From what I've seen from the people who've been appointed, I absolutely see a team of people who are ready to clear out Washington's corruption and excessive regulation.

And, you know, even today he made an appointment that's very important in that regard of Carl Icahn. So I'm really looking forward to seeing those promises carried out. I don't see anything to the contrary any of the appointments so far.

VAUSE: Ok. Matt -- you have the last word.

LITTMAN: Well, so his kids are in a position where they're in these meetings and they're going to be running his company. And if draining the swamp doesn't mean not allowing your kids who are going to make money off of your administration, I mean does that make sense to you?

VAUSE: Ok. We'll leave it at that and we'll catch up next hour. Thanks to you both.

And after the break, the recruitment strategy of ISIS -- we'll look at how the terror group is trying to spark an anti-Muslim backlash driving more Muslims into their arms.

It's 9:28 here on the West Coast. Back in a moment.


[00:32:30] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: 9:32 here on the West Coast. Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour.

A Europe-wide search is underway for this man. The prime suspect in the deadly attack on the Berlin Christmas market. Authorities say Anis Amri is a Tunisian native with ties to radical Islamist groups. He was arrested in August with forged documents but police say he had so many fake names and fake paper they couldn't deport him.

Donald Trump is calling the Berlin rampage an attack on humanity. He spoke to reporters before a briefing from his national security adviser. Trump says the attacks proved he has been right all along about banning Muslims or people from terror-prone countries from entering the United States.

And North Carolina lawmakers have failed to repeal the state's so called Bathroom Bill during a special session on Wednesday. The law bans anyone from using public bathrooms which don't correspond to the biological sex listed on their birth certificates. The state has lawsuit estimated $650 million in revenue because of backlash against the law.

Now back to the manhunt in Germany. Police are looking for this man, Anis Amri, the main suspect in this week's attack on a Christmas market.

We have more details now from Hala Gorani who is in Berlin.


HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, it's a race against the clock to find the man authorities say is connected to Monday's devastating truck attack at that Christmas market in Berlin.

Take a look.


GORANI: A massive manhunt underway across Germany as a picture and the name of the man they are urgently looking for are circulated among European police force. He's a Tunisian national named Anis Amri, born in 1992.

They say his identity papers were found inside the truck used to carry out Monday's deadly attack on a Berlin Christmas market. And they say he could still be armed and dangerous. Authorities say he had known links to radical Islamist groups revealing the suspect entered Germany in July 2015 and claim asylum.

RALF JAGER, INTERIOR MINISTER OF NORTH RHINE-WESTPHALIA (through translator): In July of 2016, his asylum application was rejected by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. The man couldn't be deported as he didn't have valid identification papers. The process for issuing replacement papers were started in August. At first, Tunisia denied that this person was their national.

[00:35:00] GORANI: Also released today, a picture of the truck's Polish driver who completed a planned run from Italy to Germany before losing contact with his employer.

Authorities believe that the truck was hijacked about four hours before the attack. The driver's body shot at close-ranged was found in the passenger seat. As the clean up operation in the now abandoned Christmas market continues, mourners gather to share their shock and sadness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People go here to have a good evening, to have -- they drink wine and eat something, and stay here with friends or family. And then they are dead after five minutes. It's shocking. Yes, it is.

GORANI: The German president visited a local hospital to pay his respects to the injured. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's re-election bid has been complicated by the assault as she faces growing concerns over her government's generous acceptance of nearly 900,000 asylum seekers over the past year.

Despite the fact that initial reports about the driver being a refugee were wrong, far right leaders in Europe are already casting blame on Merkel for attack.


GORANI: But Berliners say they are resilient. In fact, the anticipation is that the Christmas market behind me will open again on Thursday. People here saying they want their life to get back to normal as quickly as possible.

John, back to you.

VAUSE: Hala, thank you.

And while there is still doubt over the ISIS claim that one of its so called soldiers carried out this truck attack, the strategy seems to be clear. Spread fear and chaos to spark an anti-Muslim backlash, which could then drive many Muslims into the arms of the terror group.

Well, for more, Salam al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council is with me now.

Salam, thanks for coming in.

The strategy from ISIS seems to be to try and widen the gulf between Muslims and non-Muslims so that for people in Europe, when they see a refugee, they equate that refugee with a terrorist. And for Muslims, when they, you know, are living in Europe, they experience essentially Islamophobia, prejudice and bigotry. This strategy just by the political reaction to some degree seems to be working.

SALAM AL-MARAYATI, PRESIDENT, MUSLIM PUBLIC AFFAIRS COUNCIL: Well, exactly. And I think, we, as America-Muslims or Muslims in the West are fighting xenophobia on the one hand and fighting ISIS on the other hand in terms of their ideology. So we are right in the middle in terms of having an answer for both.

And, really, what we're talking about is the opposite sides of the same county. They both have an ideology of hate. They both want to see a religious war. They both want to widen that gap, that gulf as you said, of misunderstanding between the West and the Muslim world.

We, the moderates in the West, of the Muslim communities are saying no to hate, that we need to bridge that gulf and that we need to offer solutions in dealing both with xenophobia and the ideology of ISIS.

VAUSE: One of the strongest arguments you could make, I guess, is you know equating refugees with terrorists would be this is exactly what ISIS wants.

Why doesn't that seem to resonate as much as it should?

AL-MARAYATI: Well, I mean, unfortunately, politicians like to use now tweets to offer policy recommendations when they are not really policy recommendations. if you want to stop the refugees from coming from Syria, then you've got to deal with the Syrian conflict. You have to stop supporting Russia and its bombardment of Aleppo and Syrian towns and villages.

You have to stop the dictator from prosecuting a war against humanity in Syria. You have to deal with that situation so that there are no refugees coming from there.

The refugees want to go back home.

VAUSE: Sure.

AL-MARAYATI: And when you start talking about a ban on Muslims, just, you know, this case in Germany, this guy had false documents. They are going to say they are not Muslim. I mean, how are security authorities going to know who is a Muslim and who is not. They don't know the difference between a Persian Muslim and the Persian Jew or an Egyptian cops or an Egyptian Muslim.

So, you know, people don't know what they are talking about when they start resorting to these kinds of slogans.

VAUSE: Germany seems to be a particular target here right now for ISIS simply because it has taken in so many refugees, and that is sort of, you know, the antithesis of what ISIS actually wants.

You know, ISIS doesn't want these countries taking these refugees.


VAUSE: This is why Germany is a target right.

AL-MARAYATI: Well, Germany is definitely a target by ISIS like many Western countries, because ISIS wants to launch a war between Islam and the west. And they will then send individuals. And, unfortunately, you have individual isolated incidents. Lone wolf. And they are lone wolf because we, in the West, the Muslim community to the West have rejected ISIS ideology and rejected the al Qaeda ideology.

And so they go on the Internet and social media to recruit these individuals. So we also have to look at how we have been pushing back against that ideology. And what we need then for these individuals is community-led intervention programs.

[00:40:00] VAUSE: Well, this is a question like everyone keeps asking what more can be done? You know, the Muslim community especially in the United States and in Europe, you know, there are asked to speak out against these attacks and they've done that. But I get the sense that there is a real fear especially in the United States because there's been such a backlash over the last couple of months against, you know, minorities and Muslims in this country that they are now scared to speak out.

AL-MARAYATI: Well, no, we're not scared. I mean, I'm not scared.

VAUSE: Sure. There is a fear there as well.

AL-MARAYATI: There are going to be hate crimes. There are going to be situations just like there is -- there are hate crimes against any community. And we have to work with the authorities, with law enforcement, with the FBI to go after those that are going to commit hate crimes against any community whether it's Jewish, Christian, African-American, Hispanic, Japanese-American.

So we actually are standing on the shoulders of those people that have worked for pluralism in America and we feel confident that we have a plan for integrating Islam and Muslims into American pluralism. That's number one.

Number two, it requires a partnership between communities and law enforcement to deal with these situations. And when people say, well, you need to speak out more, we have been speaking out.


AL-MARAYATI: But, you know, we rarely do we have a platform.

VAUSE: Sometimes, it's hard to be heard.

AL-MARAYATI: It's hard to be heard, but at the same time, people have to listen.

VAUSE: That's the other part of the equation.

Salam, thank you so much.

AL-MARAYATI: Thank you.

VAUSEL: Great to talk with you.

AL-MARAYATI: Thank you.

VAUSE: A short break here. 9:41 here on the West Coast.

When we come back, the scene of a massive fireworks explosion in Mexico has turned into a graveyard. We'll have the details on the investigation after the break.

Also from the nightmare of Aleppo to the presidential palace, a young Syrian girl who came to symbolize the innocent victims of war begins her new life.


[00:45:00] VAUSE: Just coming up to 9:45 here on the West Coast. Welcome back, everybody.

At least 33 people are now confirmed dead at a massive fireworks explosion in Mexico. The blast was so powerful it shook the ground in neighboring towns. Forensic teams are now combing through the charred rubble search for human remains.

We have details from Leyla Santiago.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, there is a strong desire for not only the families searching for answers, but also for law enforcement and rescue crews who have spent much of the day in this market going through the debris, trying to figure out exactly what led to this explosion.

When you ask government officials here, they will tell you that the focus is on the victims and providing support. But there really isn't much information as far as what caused it or what preliminary cause investigators may be looking at right now.

I know that at this time, a lot of families are asking the government to help them find their family members. I spoke to one woman who went to the morgue, who went to the hospital and is still standing outside that fence hoping to get more answer.

This is a market, by the way, that just nine days ago, state government officials called one of the safest in Latin America. And it is massive. We're talking about ten football fields, give or take, and about 300 vendors that government officials tell me all had permits to be here as people came here to look for fireworks for Christmas and New Year's, which is something that is very, very common.

So in the meantime, the investigation continues and the search for answers not only for law enforcement but also for families.


VAUSE: Leyla, thank you.

We go to Syria now. The first snow of the season is making evacuations from Eastern Aleppo even more urgent. The International Red Cross estimates 25,000 people have fled over the past week. On Wednesday, Syrian state television reported another 20 buses left the area.

One of the most heart breaking voices from the Syrian war zone belongs to 7-year-old Bana al-Abed. Her tweets inside Aleppo put a face on a civilian tragedy. Now she is safe and she's met with one of her Twitter followers, Turkey's president.

CNN's Muhammad Lila has the story.


MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (VOICE-OVER): It's the latest footage of 7-year-old Bana al-Abed not in war torn Syria but in Turkey's presidential palace in a carefully-managed photo op with President Erdogan.

With the camera lens snapping away, Bana wearing new clothes, smiles, kissing Erdogan on the cheek. He in turn kisses her hand later as she and her brothers sit on Erdogan's lap. She looks to Erdogan and says... BANA AL-ABED, SYRIAN REFUGEE: I would like to thank you for the buses that you drove to Aleppo and help us to get out.

LILA: The opulence of the presidential palace is a stark contrast to the doomsday scenario she and her mother had been warning about on Twitter for weeks.

Living in an area controlled by the armed opposition, area bombarded almost daily by air strikes and artillery, her family somehow managed to get an Internet connection. Her mother tweeting several times that each tweet would be their last.

But the tweets weren't their last. As the evacuations were underway, photos of young Bana surfaced smiling at a refugee camp run by a Turkish religious charity in Northern Syria. At one point, her mother tweeted directly to Turkey's president and foreign minister saying, "Please, please, please, make the cease-fire work and get us out now."

Turkey's foreign ministry told reporters they were making special arrangements specifically for Bana and her family to be whisk out of Syria and straight to Turkey's capital Ankara.

Many praised Bana and her family for offering a daring glimpse into the harsh realities of living through a devastating war.

AL-ABED: Help, Aleppo.

LILA: But critics accuse armed rebels of exploiting her to further a conflict that's killed hundreds of thousands of people on both sides. Today, Bana's only tweets were this, the official government photos of her smiling and safe.

Muhammad Lila from along the Turkish-Syrian border, CNN.


VAUSE: OK. We'll take a break here on NEWSROOM L.A.

When we come back, a royal change of plans. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip delay a regular Christmas trip to the country. We'll tell you why.


[00:53:30] VAUSE: Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip are putting off their holiday travel because both are suffering from bad colds. The Royal family traditionally heads to Sandringham estate for Christmas. They head down to Kings Cross Station, they take the 1044 train all the way up there to Sandringham, but that did not happen on Wednesday. Buckingham Palace did not say if the trip is cancelled all together or the event is just being delayed.

And the Christmas spirit can sometimes go into overdrive like for two brothers in the U.K. Every year they go all out for the holidays lighting up their mom's home like few others.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our Christmas house in Bristol what we decorate every year. It's our mom's house and she lends it to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We started in 1994 and we bought our first --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's what they call a silhouette on a Christmas tree. In Brailsford family Christmas is like massive. So, you know, it's a Brailsford tradition to go stuff at Christmas, if you look.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have had Americans visit in Bristol and stop to look at our lights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got in the Australian newspaper, didn't we?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We did get into Australian newspaper.

[00:55:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was last year we got into Australian newspaper. So, you know, some people travel a good few miles to come and see a decent set of Christmas lights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We live around the corner from mom's house. It's an easier task.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do get problem with the wind and putting stuff upon the roofs blowing like reindeers off the roof and stuff are flying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you see how much you can do the fasten it out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And my favorite.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Nativity is my favorite.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's probably our number one question is the electric cost.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We used to do a big turn on ceremony of the light. It used to be just a few neighbors come out and family but it got so big we have done a main event.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know we celebrate a little store to the hot chocolate and candy floss. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Waffles, burgers, hotdogs. We've been raising money now for what's called (Inaudible) Bristol Children's hospital for by what, eight, nine years now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're actually every moment what we can do for them. You know, this is our hope is raising money for the children's hospital.

We stand aside because people don't know it's necessary our display. We hear this lovely comments and nice to like us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's nice. And it's like warming when you see it. It's not even just for kids. It's for all ages you know.


VAUSE: Good stuff. You've been watching NEWSROOM L.A. Stay with us. I'm John Vause. A lot more after this.