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Malta Plane Hijackers Surrender, Now in Custody; Berlin Suspect Pledged Allegiance to ISIS in Video; Putin: If Someone Speeds up Arms Race, "It's not Us". Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 23, 2016 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Poppy Harlow in for Carol Costello. I want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. We begin this hour with breaking news on that hijacked plane, the Libyan plane that did land in Malta. Officials now saying those two hijackers who threatened to blow up the plane with more than 100 people on board have handed themselves over to authorities. They are now in custody. Our Ian Lee joins us with more. What more do we know about? What transpire?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, these were some very tense hours on the tarmac as the Maltese army was negotiating with these two hijackers who said they had grenades. They were threatening to blow up this plane. But they were able to negotiate first the passengers off. We saw the women and children going first, then later they released the men, 111 passengers, and then finally, they were able to negotiate with the hijackers and get them off as well as the crew.

We are hearing from Maltese officials that the two hijackers have been apprehended. Right now, they are trying to learn exactly, what were the motives behind this hijacking and from the video that we have been watching as this event has unfolded, at one point we saw one of the hijackers walk outside with a green flag. And for people who have been following Libya, the green flag is the former flag of Muammar Gaddafi. He was the leader of Libya up until 2011 when he was then overthrown in a civil war.

So, this seems like it could have some political elements to it at this moment. Right now, though, Maltese officials glad that it ended peacefully. No one was hurt and now they are looking into the motives of these two hijackers. Poppy?

HARLOW: Ian Lee, thank you so much for that reporting. Obviously, as we get more details as to the motive, we will bring them to you.

Meantime, another top story we are following very closely, the suspect in that deadly truck attack in Berlin is now dead. Just hours after he was killed in a police shootout in Italy, ISIS releases a video which appears to show Anis Amri pledging allegiance to ISIS Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But there is no mention of the Monday attack in that video and it is not clear when or where the video was shot. CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank is in London for us this hour. Also with us, Ben Wedeman, he is in Rome. And Ben, let me begin with you. How is it that the authorities apprehended Amri in this small town on the outskirts of Milan? Was it intelligence that led them there or was it chance?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we understand from Italian officials was, it was chance. It was sheer luck. At 3:00 a.m., a police patrol was outside the Sesto San Giovanni train station which is a suburb -- a working class suburb of Milan. When they saw what they said was a man acting suspiciously, they went up to him, asked him for some form of identification. Instead of identification, he pulled out a .22 caliber pistol, shouted "police bastards" and opened fire, shooting one of the policemen in the shoulder. And then he ran behind a car. However, one of the police officers was able to get behind him. He fired two shots, one of them fatally to the chest of this man, Anis Amri. Now, they found on his body, in addition to that .22 caliber pistol, about several hundred Euro and a small knife. However, they said he was traveling alone at the time that he was stopped by the police.

Now, why did he go to that neighborhood in Italy, it's not at all clear at this point. He did, however, spend several years beginning in the beginning of 2011 in Italy, including three and a half years in six separate Italian prisons before he came -- went to Germany. So the Italian authorities following up on the leads they have so far, but clearly, he does have some sort of contacts in Italy and they are looking at what -- those contacts might actually be. Poppy?

HARLOW: How broad this web could be and who else could be out there that they need to apprehend. Ben, stay with us. And Paul, let me bring you in. In addition to talking about this broad web that there is big concern that he is a part of, what do you read from this ISIS video? We don't know when it was taped. We don't know where it was taped. He doesn't mention the Monday attack. But the fact that ISIS has just released it, really within hours after his death, what does that tell us?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I think the working presumption is that he filmed this before the attack. And in fact, may well have uploaded it to ISIS before the attack. We would have been able to take advantage of encrypted apps to do that. And the reason for that is he didn't know whether he's going to survive this truck attack in Berlin or whether

[10:05:16] German police might have shot him at the scene.

So he wanted to be sure to get a message out to ISIS to help them claim ownership of the attack. He would have had to have done it before. And ISIS has crystal clear -- and communicates to followers in the west. You'd absolutely need to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi. You absolutely need to say that you are doing this on behalf of the Islamic state.

So, he was following their orders as spread around the world by their propaganda. So, I think that's the working assumption right now, that it was prerecorded. And then ISIS has been aware of this for some time. And only decided to put it out after he was confirmed killed. With the timing of the release, it was just really a few minutes after there was absolute confirmation that he was dead.

HARLOW: We have also learned, Paul, that Amri was not only known to authorities and known to have said that he was planning an attack in Germany. He was also on Germany's list of the most dangerous Islamists and potential terrorists there. And they had known this for months.

CRUICKSHANK: That's right. Two German intelligence officials, telling CNN, he was put on that list, known as the danger list in the spring of this year. That's a list with 549 individuals on it from the Islamist terrorist spectrum. These are the most dangerous people they feel they face from the jihadi side in Germany. So, that is a very long period in time. In fact, one official is telling us that he was first put on the list in March, which would be nine months before the attack. And why did they know that he was so dangerous? Well, they had a police informant inside this network, ISIS recruitment network that he was part of. That police informant often met with him, spoke with him, communicated with him and so was able to feed all sorts of information back to German security services, including the fact that he wanted to launch an attack and other members of the group were considering launching a truck attack.

So, lots of questions for the Germans, given all this information coming in many months ago about just how big a threat this individual was. An individual connected to a network in touch with German ISIS operatives in Syria and Iraq. And in fact, some links to some very senior German operatives indeed according to the investigative files including some within ISIS' internal security apparatus, the Anya (ph) which is the Praetorian Guard, the crack troops of ISIS.

So there would have been plenty of opportunity for him to exploit all those contacts he has in Germany to find the people that he needed to send this statement to before the attack. And you might ask would that be risky doing it. Well, unfortunately, now we are living in a reality where with the widely available encryption applications, even the NSA cannot crack them end to end.

HARLOW: And we know that he used and this group was using Telegram, one of those encrypted apps, the same one that was used by the terrorist in the Paris attack. It makes it very hard, as you said, for the authorities. Paul, thank you very much. And I do want to also bring in Bill Braniff. He is the executive director at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.

Paul just walked us through how well known Amri was to the authorities. For months on end he was on the U.S. no-fly list. He was on this list of the most dangerous people in Germany, the Islamist terror spectrum list. At the same time, you have these porous borders in Europe. He was able to cross at least two borders to get into Italy from Germany, a lot of criticism coming from the far right in Europe now about this. What do you make of the fact that they knew who he was? They knew who his network was, and still this happened? BILL BRANIFF, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NATIONAL CONSORTIUM FOR THE STUDY OF TERRORISM AND RESPONSES TO TERRORISM UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Well, I think that the investigation will help us understand if there was a predicate crime that the German authorities could have used to have interdicted Amri prior to this attack. But what I think this attack really illustrates is the international nature of counterterrorism, right? This is terrorism that crosses borders. And so, Germany didn't necessarily have to solve this problem by itself.

In fact, if you think about mitigating risk internationally, bringing in refugees and asylum seekers from a place like Iraq or Syria, where they are much more likely to get mobilized into a terrorist organization because of the proximity of terrorist organizations to those potential recruits, bringing in refugees to a country like Germany can actually really mitigate risk internationally. But then, the risk, although smaller, gets displaced to a country like Germany.

[10:10:16] You then have to assume that the authorities have the resources and the capabilities to mitigate risk or in this case, follow the procedures that they have followed. It was Tunisia and their inability to issue a passport that really created the vulnerability that Amri took advantage of. So, in order for this to work internationally, Germany has to do its part. Italy has to do its part. Tunisia really had to have done its part. And in that case, we might have seen really a better outcome across the global context.

HARLOW: It's such an important point that you make, Bill, sort of the double-edged sword here. The necessity for a lot of these refugees, especially from Syria, to get to a better life but also the risk that is posed when -- I mean, this year alone, you have 900,000 plus immigrants coming into Germany alone. And you heard Angela Merkel, the Chancellor, address that concern in her public remarks earlier this week. What lessons do you believe have been learned since the Paris attack about sharing Intel across borders in Europe? Because a lot of criticism in the wake of the Paris attack was the intelligence sharing was not where it needed to be.

BRANIFF: Right. And Europol certainly has taken on a greater role in trying facilitate intelligence sharing, creating the - in essence, a National Counterterrorism Center like equivalent that we have in the United States to share information across agencies. But yet, you know, just because you are starting to create these processes or procedures or there are these databases that are generated, it doesn't mean that every authority at every border crossing point is using them or has access to these data sets and understands how to use them.

So, I think that they are making strides because democracies demand that of their governments, but this is not easy to do. In Europe, nation states, even in the context of the EU, have really retained sovereignty over national security issues. There's been less information sharing there when compared to things like economic transactions. But these attacks starting really in Paris have started to I think change the willingness to share national security information across borders because again, this terrorism crosses borders. Each of these countries cannot really mitigate the risk alone. HARLOW: Absolutely not. Paul, you are still with us. The concern is still broad, right? Who is this broader network, the Walaa (ph) network? Who is leading it? How many are there? Now that he's dead, those are answers that the authorities are not going to get from this 24-year-old attacker, and last night, as you reported, we saw these two arrests in Duisburg, Germany. Suspects potentially planning a mall attack, another Christmas market attack. Now what do authorities do to really get their head around and apprehend the broader web?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, the glass half full here is the fact they have an extraordinary amount of information on this network. And in fact, I have been looking through quite a lot of it, 345 pages of investigative files that I have been looking through. Based on months and months and months of investigations into this so-called Abu Walaa network, a network named after its leading light, an Iraqi preacher called Abu Walaa, who had a large effort underway to proselytize, to brainwash youngsters in Germany and persuade them to either, go and join ISIS in Syria and Iraq, or to launch attacks in Germany. This was centered in Dortmund, other parts of northwestern Germany. They used to have seminars. They had sort of bureaucratic subdivisions where different proselytizers dealt with different regions. They even had, if you can believe this, a common curriculum for brainwashing.

So, this was a large effort underway. And the Germans have been trying to grapple with the scope of this and understand all the different individuals who have become radicalized, thanks to the efforts of these radical proselytizers for ISIS. These are individuals as well with connections as I was saying to ISIS in Syria, connections to smugglers and so, a network which does pose a significant threat moving forward.

In November, the Germans to a significant degree decapitated the network by arresting five of the leading figures, including Abu Walaa or in counterterrorism rise and they have now been charged with terrorism offenses. But quite a few of the foot soldiers were not taken into custody and it's fair I think to presume that quite a lot of them would have been very angered by those arrests and that might have been an extra incentive to move forward with attacks.

One more point here, and that's that throughout Europe, what we are seeing is that it's these radical clusters whether they are in Brussels, whether they are in the UK,

[10:15:16] whether they are in Germany that can make a very, very big difference when it comes to radicalization, when it comes to the recruitment of foreign fighters. Well, Germany in the northwestern part of the country has got a hell of a radical cluster.

HARLOW: Thank you very much, Paul Cruickshank for your excellent reporting, as always. Bill Braniff, for the analysis, we appreciate it.

Still to come, a lot ahead this hour, Russian President Vladimir Putin, downplaying fears of a nuclear arms race, but this morning, President-elect Trump reportedly saying, "Let it be an arms race," details ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:19:20] HARLOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin is shrugging off fears of a new nuclear arms race with the United States. This, one day after President-elect Trump tweeted that the U.S. needs to expand its nuclear capability. Putin downplaying those comments today at his press conference saying there's really nothing new about the president-elect's position and that any arms race would not be Russia's fault. Listen.


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


HARLOW: CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is following this story for us from Moscow. This was a long press conference. He covered a lot of ground. What is your overall read from Vladimir Putin on the issue of perhaps a new nuclear arms race?

[10:20:16] MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he kind of stepped to once, swept that idea to one side and downplayed it quite considerably. He said, when -- he was asked about Donald Trump's tweet about the U.S. nuclear arsenal. He played it down. He said this is nothing new, and he said it's understandable that the United States would want to modernize its nuclear weapons, given that Russia had done the same thing. He said the United States is probably anxious about the efficient capability of Russia's nuclear arsenal.

But what Russia is concerned about when it talks about renewing its own nuclear arsenal and modernizing it, is that NATO and the United States is building anti-missile defense systems. Russia has feared for years that these systems could be used to neutralize its own nuclear - you know, the US's that are aimed to other countries. And so, you know, this whole idea that there could be a new arms race is something that I think Putin at this point, when it comes to dealing with Donald Trump is trying to downplay and move to one side.

HARLOW: And we know at the same time, though, the president-elect said this morning in a phone call with another anchor on another network, "Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them." We will get to more on that in a moment. But I do want to ask you about his other remarks because he did address the U.S. election and accusations of Russian hacking into the election. What did he say? How did he address those?

CHANCE: Yes. Well, he was asked about that a couple of times. I mean, frankly, he didn't say anything that he hasn't kind of said before in the sense that you know, he categorically denied that he had anything to do with it and that Russia had anything to do with it. And -- he did, he was very critical. I have to say, about the Democratic Party in the United States. Saying, that look, the current -- and the current Obama administration. The current U.S. administration, he said, "Always tries to find a scapegoat for its failings. Democrats lost the presidency, the senate, the House of Representatives. Am I to blame for that?" He said. "Are we responsible for everything? If you lose," he said, "you should lose with dignity."

And so, this was a very you know kind of vicious, really, attack on the Democratic Party in the final weeks of the Obama administration. And I think Putin's drawing a contrast, while he expects the relationship to be like when Donald Trump enters the White House, he has spoken much more positively about Donald Trump as has Trump about Putin. And the expectation here in Moscow at least, is despite the latest Trump comments about a nuclear arms race, that there can be a much more constructive dialogue between the Kremlin and the White House.

HARLOW: Matthew Chance, live for us in Moscow. Thank you Matthew for that, we appreciate it.

This morning, President-elect Donald Trump appears to be ramping up the rhetoric though, as I just said, saying "Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass." Trump speaking to NBC, clarifying this tweet yesterday. Let's pull up the tweet there, saying "The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability." Bigger picture here, this follows 24 hours on social media where the president-elect jumped into the political fray in a way that is pretty unprecedented while in transition. Our Boris Sanchez joins us now live near Trump's Mar-a-Lago Palm Beach resort in Florida. Good morning, Boris.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. Yes. These tweets are certainly unprecedented. What isn't, though, is Donald Trump's rhetoric when it comes to nuclear weapons. I actually want to point out in an interview he did with the "The New York Times" back in March where he said, "The biggest problem to me in the world is nuclear and proliferation."

So, Vladimir Putin making the point that Donald Trump using nukes in his speeches during the campaign is certainly valid. We did hear from the Trump campaign or rather, the Trump camp after that tweet came out. Jason Miller, saying, that the tweet was specifically about proliferation when it comes to potential terrorist organizations getting their hands on nukes. Despite that, we did hear from the spokesman for the RNC and the future Press Secretary for Donald Trump, Sean Spicer, on "New Day" this morning, not backing down when it comes to the sentiment of the tweet. I want you to listen to what he said.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR "NEW DAY": 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 mean? SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think it goes back to what I just said with respect to the tweet that 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, our sovereignty, he's going to do what it takes.


SANCHEZ: Of course, this comes amid so many questions about the future of U.S. relations with Russia when you consider that the tweet came on the heels of Vladimir Putin talking about the Russian arsenal of nuclear weapons. And then you heard Matthew Chance discuss earlier talking about the State of the Union press conference that Vladimir Putin held overnight in which he said that

[10:25:16] relations between the U.S. and Russia could not be worse. Meantime, Donald Trump is actually not here at Mar-a-Lago. He's about a mile away at Trump International Golf course, playing golf with Tiger Woods at the golfer's request. He is expected back at Mar-a-Lago later this afternoon where the transition team tells us that he's going to be holding some high level meetings. Poppy?

HARLOW: Boris Sanchez, reporting for us live in Florida. Thank you very much for that. A lot to get to with our panel, I'm joined by CNN senior political analyst and senior editor for "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein, CNN political commentator and Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker," Ryan Lizza, as well as CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" columnist, Josh Rogin. All-star panel guys, one day ahead of Christmas. -- Thank you for being with me.

Ron, what I find fascinating is Trump saying to Mika Brzezinski this morning on the telephone, "Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all." This is the first real aggressive posture we have seen from the president-elect towards Putin or towards Russia at all. Why now, why about nuclear weapons?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST AND SENIOR EDITOR "THE ATLANTIC": Right. And there's a lot on the other side of the ledger. -- You know, as Boris said, I mean, his comments about nuclear weapons go back into the campaign. The question, I find myself wondering, is there's no doubt that many voters, for many voters who supported Donald Trump, his principal asset was that he was a disruptor. That he would bring change to the political system. But when you kind of look across the board at now, the nuclear arms posture, at our relations with China and the call with Taiwan and whether we still absorb -- adhere to a One-China policy, on Israel and the Mideast, the intervention at the U.N. before the transfer of power. How much change can the system absorb? And whether in fact, even for voters who liked Donald Trump, the idea of Donald Trump bringing change, will the idea of kind of in essence kind of breaking this much crockery this fast ultimately look more like a plan or a little bit of chaos.

HARLOW: Ryan, it's not just you know the tweet about nuclear weapons, it's the last 24 hours of tweets about Israel and the settlement vote at the United Nations, it's the tweets pitting -- two big U.S. companies against one another, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the social media diplomacy that does have real ramifications, right? I mean, you've got responses from the Israelis and calls to the president- elect saying, trying to push the Obama administration's hand on this U.N. vote that was delayed. You've got the stock price of Lockheed Martin going down off the tweet. What do you make this of the big picture social media diplomacy not from a sitting president, from a president-elect?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT "THE NEW YORKER": Well, a couple of thoughts. I mean, one is it's very hard when you read some of these tweets to know as an outsider, as a journalist or as a foreign state, whether these are expressions of well thought out and specific policy statements or this is literally just Donald Trump reading a head line, seeing something and tweeting what pops into his mind. --

HARLOW: Sean Spicer said to Alisyn Camerota this morning when she pressed him on what should we take literally and what shouldn't we, he said you should take these literally.

LIZZA: Right. -- On Taiwan, the incoming -- the folks in the transition told reporters that this was well thought out, that this was a specific change in policy. On what he said about nuclear weapons, it's very unclear if he literally means an expansion as in more nuclear warheads, which obviously have been steadily reduced from tens of thousands to you know, just about 7300 since the height of the cold war, or if he's just talking about modernization which you know both Russia and the United States within current treaties are doing. We are making our nuclear weapons smaller and easier to penetrate each side's defenses. That's nothing new. Obama is doing that. So, the question is, what did he mean by that. Did he genuinely mean to rip up Obama's START Treaty and increase the numbers or is he just talking about modernization? --

HARLOW: And as you know, his team came out last night, Jason Miller, and said, actually he was talking about you know nuclear proliferation and about you know reducing -- but it wasn't -

LIZZA: That's not what he was talking about.

HARLOW: -- The clarification wasn't what he was tweeting on that issue. I want also get to this. -- Let's listen to some of what Vladimir Putin said during the press conference this morning.


PUTIN (through translator): I mentioned that today, the Russian federation is stronger than any potential aggressor. Mind that, aggressor. It is very important to note. And it's such a coincidence (ph), put it that way. What does an aggressor mean? That is the one who potentially could attack the Russian Federation. And right now, we are stronger than any potential aggressor.


HARLOW: Josh, what is your take away from that thing? You know, I mean, this is a president who -