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Hijackers Threaten to Blow Up Plane in Malta; Berlin Attack Suspect Killed in Milan Shootout; Berlin Suspect Pledged Allegiance to ISIS in Video; Putin Downplays Fears of New Nuclear Arms Race; Trump's Unprecedented 24 Hours on Twitter. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 23, 2016 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:01] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: -- the spa card. You don't even have to give the tip.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: You're so wonderful. Have you opened mine yet?


CAMEROTA: It's a bottle of tequila. It's upstairs for you.

CUOMO: It is coal just like last year.

CAMEROTA: No. And thank you all for being with us this year. It's been a very intense year, obviously. We've had so much news. And we wish you all a merry Christmas and wonderful holidays.

CUOMO: You are a gift to us every day. As is the great reporting of people here at CNN like Poppy Harlow, who is in for Carol Costello. Merry Christmas to you, the beautiful new baby, and your husband and family.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Where's my spa day, Cuomo?


HARLOW: What? What?

CUOMO: It's downstairs. It's another envelope.

HARLOW: What? What? Yes, I know. No one is quite like Alisyn. You deserve the spa day, momma. Enjoy it.

CUOMO: True. I can only have one number one.


HARLOW: Enjoy it. Merry Christmas, you guys. You too. See you soon. NEWSROOM begins right now.

All right. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Poppy Harlow in the chair today for Carol Costello. We have a lot of breaking news to get to this morning. Let's begin out of the Mediterranean island of Malta where we know at

this hour two hijackers with grenades have taken over a passenger plane. They are, at this moment, threatening to blow it up on the tarmac. The Maltese police conducting negotiations with these hijackers by phone. Obviously, this has been intensifying, going on for a few hours now. It is 3:00 in the afternoon there in Malta.

We know that at least some of the passengers, we know, have been released. Potentially all of them? We are staying on top of this story. Ian Lee joins us now with more.

This is an Airbus 320. This is a plane that left from the Libyan city of Sabha. It was headed for Tripoli, obviously diverted to Malta. What else do we know about the passengers on that plane, Ian?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was 111 passengers on that plane. And we're hearing from the Prime Minister's office that 109 passengers have been released, leaving two presumably. Those are both of the hijackers. We're hearing this from Maltese Foreign Ministry saying that the two hijackers claim they have grenades.

We do not know their demands yet. We're expecting to get that shortly. But they have been, as we've been watching this over the course of the hours, they've been allowing people to leave. First, they allowed the women and children to leave, and then the elderly.

We're hearing from the Prime Minister's office that they're going to allow the crew to leave, too. But when you're looking at these pictures, the crew doesn't look like they've left the plane yet.

HARLOW: Ian, obviously, we don't know motivation here. We don't know the identity of the hijackers. We do know the context and the context is that Libya has been in the midst of a very complex, to say the least, civil conflict with, you know, a number of armed groups, obviously, you know, in the wake of the Gadhafi government there. I mean, what else can you tell us about what could have sparked this?

LEE: Yes, there's a lot of factions in Libya right now. ISIS is also operating there. We don't know who these two people are, but I think the important thing to look at is that they allowed this plane to land. So it looks like that they have demands. What those demands are, we don't know.

But we did see a man who left the plane a little while ago. He waved a green flag. And so the green flag was the flag of the former leader Muammar Gadhafi who was killed in that civil war, so it could be supporters of the former leader who hijacked this plane. But we're still waiting from the Maltese government. Right now, the armed forces of Malta are conducting the negotiations.

HARLOW: Yes. All right. Ian Lee, we'll stay on top of this. Thank you for the reporting. Bring us more when you have it.

Also I want to get to this manhunt, obviously, that swept across Europe, now ending in an explosion of bullets. Berlin truck suspect Anis Amri is killed in an overnight shoot-out with police just outside of Milan, Italy. It began with, frankly, a chance encounter just after 3:00 a.m. local time. This ended after the fugitive pulled out a handgun out of his back pack, and just started opening fire on police there in Italy.

Amri's death leaves many, many questions, though, still unanswered. Where has he been since the attack on Monday? And did he have help in crossing at least two borders in Europe before arriving on the outskirts of Milan? We have a lot to cover and the right people to break it all down.

Our Ben Wedeman is live for us in Rome. CNN Terrorism Analyst Paul Cruickshank is in London.

And, Ben, let me just walk through this with you. I mean, this is someone who, since he carried out this horrific attack killing twelve people, injuring 48 more, was able to make it across international borders, you know, all the way to the outskirts of Milan.

The question is, where was he going? Was he headed to North Africa? Did he have help from people he knew in Italy when he used to live there? What do we know at this hour?

[09:05:06] BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of questions. What we know at this point, Poppy, is that we'll, first of all, keep in mind that when he's crossing from Germany to France to Italy, these are borders with very little in the way of controls. In fact, anybody has done it. You just drive across these borders without any identity to be shown whatsoever.

What happened was that, at 3:00 in the morning outside the train station in Sesto San Giovanni, which is a working-class suburb of Milan, a police patrol stopped a man they said was acting suspiciously outside that train station. They asked him for identification, a sort of thing that's not unusual in Italy.

Instead of pulling out a passport or an I.D., he pulled out a 22 caliber pistol, shouted, "Poliziotti bastardi," in other words, "Police bastards," and he opened fire. He hit one of the police in his shoulder. That policeman's currently in hospital. He then ran behind a car to take cover, and one of the other policemen was able to go behind that car, firing twice hitting him fatally in the chest.

Now, they found on his body afterwards, in addition to his 22 caliber pistol, a train ticket stubs indicating that he came from Germany via France, first stopping in Turin, and then finally in the Milan central train station before going to this working class suburb. They also found a small knife on his body and several hundred euros.

They said the police chief of Milan stressed, however, that when he was stopped by the police patrol, he was by himself. He was not with anybody else. But obviously, the initial phases of this investigation will be focusing on this suburb of Milan. Why specifically did he go there? Poppy.

HARLOW: Absolutely. Was there a broader network there helping to harbor him, or that was his hope? Stay with us, Ben, and thank you for the reporting.

Paul, I want to go to you now with some new information just coming in. We know that a video was uploaded today on an ISIS affiliated website, basically their media wing. And this shows the 24-year-old Tunisian now dead, suspected terrorist Anis Amri, pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi, obviously the head of ISIS.

It's not clear when this was filmed and there was no direct mention of the Berlin Christmas market attack. But what does this tell you, at this point? Not only has ISIS claimed responsibility, but now you have this video where this attacker is saying, I am, basically, a soldier of ISIS?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, CTC SENTINEL: Yes. This video was put out just a few minutes ago by the Amaq News Agency, a news agency affiliated with ISIS. They put it out on their official telegram page. And a video in which the attacker pledges allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS.

The strong presumption is that this was filmed before the attack because, on the video, he makes no mention of the attack, any kind of details. And also he may not have known whether he would survive the attack. And so everything points, at this point, to this being prerecorded and then uploaded to ISIS in Syria, at some point.

And it may well be that ISIS actually have this for quite a few hours, even days, because the timing of this release was right after there was a confirmation by the Italians that he had been killed in a shoot- out in Milan. So it may well be that ISIS was waiting for that to happen, for another attack or for him to be killed, before putting out this video pledge of allegiance to ISIS.

And he's doing this because he wants ISIS to be able to take ownership of this attack. And in fact, in its advice for one of the jihadist in the west in launching truck attacks, ISIS, in a recent communique, said that it was absolutely vital for them in some way to say that they were doing this on behalf of ISIS. And he's done exactly this.

Now, this poses all sorts of questions about his links back to ISIS because, to be able to upload a video to the group, you need a few contacts at the least in Syria and Iraq. And of course, we know that he was part of an ISIS recruitment network in Germany whose senior members were in touch with German ISIS operatives in Syria. And some of whom were in touch, we understand, from U.S. sources, with members of the external attack network of ISIS in Syria.

[09:10:05] What remains to be seen is whether ISIS was giving him instructions before the attack and they had any advance knowledge before the attack. But if he sent this to them before going and launching it, then I guess they would have some advanced knowledge that something was on the way.

HARLOW: Let's also bring in to the conversation CNN national security analyst and former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security Juliette Kayyem, because Paul brings up a very good point, Juliette. And that is, just because this one suspected terrorist is dead does not answer so many questions about the broader network, how big was it, what were they plotting.

You know, obviously, Europe on high alert right now. Given all of that, this was the most wanted man in Europe. And it is clear this morning that it was not intelligence that led authorities to him on the outskirts of Milan. It is clear that this was happenstance, that he looked suspicious to the authorities. They asked him for his identity, he instead pulled out a gun, a gun fight ensues, he's dead.

The most wanted man in Europe and this is how he is caught. How concerned should the authorities be right now?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, they should be concerned because he not only touched Germany with the attack but obviously went through France and then Italy. Italy's not that surprising given his background there and the years that he spent in Italy. But the question is, who was he coordinating with in either France or Italy, and was he on his way to, essentially, a safe house?

In the history of counterterrorism, this is not that surprising that he's captured because of some, you know, just a sort of random patrol. Remember a New York-New Jersey case just a few weeks or a few months ago, he was caught outside of a bar. There's the Seattle attack in 1999, Tim McVeigh in 1995. Sometimes these things do happen.

But I think now that he is captured and killed, the bigger question is, is why this itinerary? This itinerary is bizarre for a variety of reasons, and so they have to figure out what was motivating him in all of those countries and who was there to help him hide.

HARLOW: Of course, you know, voices across Europe speaking out right now. We are expecting to hear from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The French far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, blasting this, calling it a security disaster, talking about the open and porous borders, obviously, because of the Schengen Agreement which has been in place in Europe for decades but allowing him to travel without these checkpoints through multiple countries.

Paul, you've also got these two overnight arrests in Duisburg, Germany, police looking at if these other people were planning another attack in a mall at a Christmas market. Could this all be part of the same network?

CRUICKSHANK: Yes. I think that's the short answer. And in fact, in a presser German officials held just a few moments ago, they said they weren't sure whether there was a connection or not yet between those arrests linked to a possible plot against a large shopping mall in northwestern Germany in a Christmas market and the Abu Walaa network, the network of the truck attacker.

This very interesting sort of developments in Germany, and very concerning developments, because the Abu Walaa network were actually very operational in exactly that same area of Duisburg that, overnight, we saw arrests.

And one more piece of information just coming in to me from two German intelligence officials, and this is actually a quite stunning information, they say that the truck attacker was put on a list of the most dangerous Islamists in Germany, all the way back this spring.

That list has 549 names on it, the people considered to be the greatest threat, the greatest Islamist terrorist threat, inside Germany. And so for months and months and months, he has been very much at the top of that list of concern in terms of the 500 or so most dangerous radicals inside the country.

HARLOW: And very quickly, to Juliette, then how could this happen? How could he not have been stopped prior?

KAYYEM: Well, that's a great question and that's going to be the second part of this review. Look, there are people that touch law enforcement intelligence agencies throughout the world that are on lists. But Amri was not just on the list that Paul is describing, sort of the most wanted. He was on, you know, essentially some of our, the United States, lists, meaning that he would never be able to touch U.S. soil.

This wasn't some random sort of pickup, some guy who was maybe toying or flirting with ISIS. The amount of information they had about him beforehand and the concern that they had beforehand is relatively unique in these cases. I mean, in a lot of these ISIS cases, the guy's sort of known but doesn't have a lot of detail behind him. And so it makes me think that there is a bigger network behind him helping. He wasn't just some random player.

HARLOW: Juliette Kayyem, appreciate the analysis. Paul Cruickshank, as well, and that new reporting. Thank you both.

[09:14:58] A lot still to come here. Russian President Vladimir Putin tamping down talks of a nuclear arms race saying, nothing to see here, folks. But did the President-elect just ramp up the rhetoric? We'll discuss next.


HARLOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin downplaying fears of a new nuclear arms race with the United States, this one day after President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that the U.S. needs to expand its nuclear capability. Putin shrugging that off today in this news conference saying there's nothing new about that and that any arms race would not be Russia's fault. Listen.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The tactical nuclear arms of the United States are updated, are modernized. So, if someone accelerates and speeds up the arms race, it's not us.


HARLOW: Our CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is following the story live from Moscow for us. And, Matthew, the president, Vladimir Putin, also went as far as to

say U.S. relations with Russia can't be any worse than they already are.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, a lot of the stuff he said during this press conference is stuff that he's stated before. And just a couple of days ago, Vladimir Putin's spokesman told the media that the basically all dialogue with the current U.S. administration and President Obama had been effectively frozen except for the bare minimum.

The U.S. officials pushed back on that a little bit. The State Department said that John Kerry had been in contact with his counterpart. The Pentagon said they're in constant touch with the Russian military over Syria to avoid clashes in the air.

But, yes, I mean, look, it's a comment about which we already know the details. Over the past couple of years, it's no secret that Russia and the United States have been at odds over a range of issues, not least Syria conflict, but also the expansion of NATO and Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

[09:20:12] So, Vladimir Putin there really stating, really obvious.

HARLOW: What has the reaction been if there has been significant reaction in Moscow just among the Russian people to Donald Trump's tweets that basically we need to escalate, improve our nuclear capabilities?

CHANCE: I think there's been reaction to that specific tweet. And in fact the Russian president spoke about -- Putin spoke about the contents of that tweet a few hours ago during this annual press conference that he gives. He basically played it down, saying that the contents of that tweet from Donald Trump is nothing new. Trump has spoken in his campaign about renewing the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

And what Putin said is one of the reasons is because we've renewed our arsenals. The Russians have new missiles online as well. The United States understands -- they're very effective and the United States understandably feels very threatened by that, very anxious by that is what he said.

Look, I mean, the area of nuclear weapons control, arms control, is one of the areas where traditionally, Russia and the United States have done deals. It's area, as well where Russia feels it still has parity with the United States. So, this is one area where I see an actual deal being done between Putin and Trump in the future.

HARLOW: Right, and any agreement between the two nations as recently as 2011 on this front.

Matthew Chance, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

And this morning, the president-elect appearing to ramp up his rhetoric saying just an hour or so ago, "Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them." Well, speaking on NBC Trump was asked to clarify a tweet yesterday where he called on the U.S. to, quote, "greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability." This following 24 hours on social media where the president-elect jumped into the fray in a way that is pretty unprecedented for a president-elect still in transition.

Our Boris Sanchez joins us now right here in Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, where the president-elect is.

Boris, good morning.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Poppy. You said it unprecedented. We watched Donald Trump change the playbook during the campaign with his use of social media, often bypassing the traditional media altogether to get his message directly to the public via Twitter. If anyone thought that some of the more controversial rhetoric that he espoused on Twitter would slow down after the election yesterday proved them wrong, Donald Trump tweeting out some eyebrow raising remarks about foreign policy.


SANCHEZ (voice-over): President-elect Donald Trump shaking up international relations weeks before taking the oath of office. On Twitter, Trump tweeting that the U.S. must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability, until the world comes to its senses regarding nukes, bucking almost 50 years of historical precedent against nuclear proliferation.

This pledge coming hours after Vladimir Putin spoke about strengthening Russia's arsenal, prompting concerns about the possibility of a re-ignited nuclear arms race.

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: It's difficult to know what to make of it all. We're submitted to our new START obligations with Russia and to again maintaining a strong, modernized nuclear deterrent here in the United States.

SANCHEZ: Trump's team attempting to clarify the president-elect's tweet hours later, saying that he actually meant he wants to prevent the threat of nuclear proliferation. The opposite of what he initially tweeted.

Trump also openly undermining President Obama, and signaling a major shift in diplomatic policy in another unprecedented move via social media, calling for the Obama administration to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity just hours before the scheduled vote.

A senior Israeli official telling CNN the Israeli government reached out to Trump directly, asking him to intervene. Egyptian President Abdel al-Sisi putting the vote on hold after taking a call from the president-elect.

KIRBY: Nobody here felt boxed in by a tweet from the president-elect. And he's perfectly entitled to express his views on these kinds of things.

SANCHEZ: Trump then using Twitter to take aim at a major American company, defense contractor Lockheed Martin, threatening to replace the Pentagon's costly new F-35 fighter made by Lockheed with a less expensive plane made by Boeing, costing Lockheed Martin and its shareholders millions in market value.

Despite backlash, Trump's team signaling that the president-elect will continue his use of Twitter.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY FOR PRESIDENT-ELECT TRUMP: He has a direct pipeline to the American people, to talk to them in a way that no one's done before.

[09:25:00] I think it's fascinating.


SANCHEZ: I should tell you, Poppy, we found out just a few moments ago Donald Trump is actually about a mile away from here at Trump International Golf Course golfing with Tiger Woods. It was apparently Woods' request that the president-elect go out for a round of golf. So, that's where he is right now. Later this afternoon he's expected to return to Mar-a-Lago and the transition team says that he has a slate of high level meetings ahead for the rest of the day, Poppy.

HARLOW: A busy time. Boris Sanchez, thank you so much. Appreciate the reporting.

Let's talk about all of this. There is a lot to get to. I'm joined by CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News, Errol Louis, national correspondent for "The Hill", Reed Wilson, and former U.S. undersecretary for political affairs and former NATO ambassador, Nicholas Burns.

Thank you all for being here.

And, Nicholas, let me begin with you because the president-elect this morning spoke on the phone with a TV host and he told her when she asked for clarification on that tweet about nuclear weapons, he clarified it by saying, let it be an arms race, we will outmatch them, Russia, at every pass, and outlast them all.

Our Alisyn Camerota on "NEW DAY" asked Sean Spicer about that, listen.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: He said to her, let it be an arms race in terms of building up our nuclear capabilities with, I guess, against Russia, let it be an arms race, because we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all. What does let it be an arms race --

SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it goes back to what I just said with respect to the tweet he put out. He is going to do what it takes to protect this country and if another country or countries want to threaten our safety or sovereignty he's going to do what it takes.

CAMEROTA: Sure, but he's --


HARLOW: So, Nicholas, this is a first aggressive posture we've heard from this president-elect at all really towards Russia or towards Vladimir Putin. But the context of it is a world where for decades since the Reagan administration, the focus has been on the part of the United States to reduce the number of nuclear weapons globally. What's your read on all of this?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDER SECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Well, it's an odd statement in an odd situation. You're right that since President Carter actually we've been all of our presidents, Republican and Democrat, have wanted to reduce and limit nuclear weapons in the world. We have achieved strategic stability with both Russia and China. There's really no reason to set out an arms race.

There is the issue of nuclear modernization of our existing nuclear weapons. That's a major issue in Washington. President-elect Trump will need to deal with that in January.

But I think here's the important part of this -- nuclear weapons is arguably the most dangerous global issue. You want a serious, sober, and careful president on this. You want that president to have consulted all of his advisers, listened to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That doesn't appear to have happened here.

You also have one president at a time, and President-elect Trump is not yet president so the world is hearing different American presidential voices. It's unfortunate. It's a crisis that he doesn't need to have at the start of his presidency.

HARLOW: Errol, we're also hearing something different from the Trump team than what this tweet says. Jason Miller and his communications team coming out shortly after that tweet yesterday trying to clarify what the president-elect meant saying, look, he was referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation, the critical need to prevent it.

That is not how this tweet read. Should there be concern that different things are being tweeted that the world sees and then sort of back tracking, and clarify by the team after?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this is a perfect example, Poppy, of the kind of confusion we're going to get until this administration decides how it's going to proceed. What you're saying is exactly right. The tweet said expand -- expand nuclear weapons.

And then you know, good luck to Jason Miller, Sean Spicer, great guys, they're going to have their hands full trying to dial back and clarify over and over and over again as long as the president-elect decides on a whim in the middle of doing something else to sort of pop off a statement here or there without consulting anyone.

Ambassador Burns is exactly right. We all grew up or many of us of a certain age under the shadow and threat of what was called Mutually Assured Destruction. Donald Trump was part of that generation, as well.

One of the great achievements of the last generation was to move away from that. And one would think that the lessons of history would have taught that you don't do this recklessly. You don't do it on a whim. You don't do it in such a way that your staff has to run behind you and clean up and clarify what you meant because this is not speaking to a political rally.

The campaign is over. This is not just trying to energize your voters. This is speaking to the entire world. This is the president being the leader of the free world. And what we've seen so far I think doesn't bode well for how that's going to look over the next four years.

HARLOW: Well, in fact, during the campaign the president-elect did have seemingly different position on nuclear weapons. You know, at one point saying to our Anderson Cooper in a town hall essentially you know perhaps it would be better if Japan and perhaps Saudi Arabia, perhaps South Korea, had nuclear weapons themselves, so we don't have to defend them.