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New Details in Berlin Truck Attack; Trump Jumps into Israeli/Palestinian Conflict; Trump Tweets about Expanding Nuclear Capability; Berlin Suspect Known to Authorities; Death Toll Rises in Mexico Fireworks Explosion; Mosul Civilians Hunkering Down Amid Fighting; Less Stressful Holiday of Festivus. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired December 23, 2016 - 02:00   ET


[01:59:57] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.


VAUSE: Hello, everybody. Great to have you with us. I'm John Vause. NEWSROOM L.A. starts now.

German police say they have foiled a possible terror plot to attack Europe's largest shopping mall in a western city. The suspects, two brothers from Kosovo, were arrested near the city of Essen Thursday night. It is unclear if they are tied to the attack in Berlin. We're getting new perspective on that attack. Dash cam video captured the moment the truck plowed through the Christmas market killing 12 people. Officials are almost certain this man, Anis Amri was behind the wheel. His fingerprints were found in the truck.

Chris Burns is in Berlin following the developments and joins me live with the latest.

Chris, what more do we know about the arrests overnight. What were they planning to do at that shopping mall?

CHRIS BURNS, JOURNALIST: That's what police are not saying. They say there was an attack planned on the Christmas market near the Dutch border. The two brothers were apprehended near Essen. And that's about all we know. The police send reinforcements to the market to make sure nothing happened. We have no further details on what kind of attack it would have been -- John?

VAUSE: We are getting new details about Anis Amri, the main suspect in the Berlin market attack, including his links to the terror group is. What more do we know?

BURNS: Well, yes, John. CNN got nearly 350 pages of German intelligence papers and gleaned through them. Among those is that he was connected to a group called Abu Allah. That is known as a blind -- and it was not only training, indoctrinating younger people. It had a boot camp where they were hiking with backpacks for 10 miles. He had been -- the German intelligence had heard Amri saying he did plan. He was volunteering to be a suicide bomber but the German intelligence did not take him seriously. All this adds up -- you might look at this headline here and it says

the hole, the gaps. It all refers to the gaps in the concrete at the market and the gaps in the investigation that allowed him to slip through -- John?

VAUSE: Chris, is it known if Amri is still in Germany or has he slipped across the border to another country in Europe?

BURNS: There was a search yesterday in Denmark. It's not ruled out that he could have left the country but we hear it's more likely he stayed in Germany. He had many hideouts and places. There are papers talking about how he was hiding in different parts of Berlin and in Westphalia as well. That is where the intense manhunt is going on. Hundreds of German police going through. They blew down a door of one apartment to try to find him. So, the search goes on --John?

VAUSE: Chris, thank you. Chris Burns, live in Berlin with the latest.

Australian police say they stopped a terrorist attack planned for around Christmas day in Melbourne. Targets included the railway station and St. Paul's Cathedral. Seven people were arrested but two were released with charge. Police say ISIS inspired the plot.


ANDREW COLVIN, COMMISSIONER, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE: Let me just reinforce this is a significant disruption of what we would describe as an imminent terrorist event in Melbourne, Victoria. Community safety will always be the number -ne priority for our law enforcement agencies and we have acted as soon as possible with the best evident, best material and best intelligence available to us to make sure the community safety is protected.


VAUSE: Recently, back in October, two teens allegedly linked to ISIS were charged with planning an attack.

In four weeks, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. Until then, Barack Obama is officially commander-in-chief. But unlike most other presidents in waiting, Trump has jumped in with both feet, into one of the most complicated difficult foreign policy issues for any president, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

As Elise Labott reports, the president-elect has been calling world leaders to scuttle an anti-Israel resolution at the U.N.


[02:05:10] ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Just hours before the U.N. Security Council was set to vote on a resolution, calling for Israel to stop building settlements, calling them a violation of international law, the ballot was abruptly called off. CNN learned that President Obama was prepared to let that resolution pass, either by abstaining or voting in favor of it. The U.S. has traditionally seen Jewish settlements in disputed areas as an obstacle to the peace process but never gone so far as to vote against Israel in a U.N. vote. This is really a parting shot at Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom President Obama has had strained ties and the settlement policy on which President Obama was vehemently opposed.

The Israelis warned the U.S. it would have to ask President-elect Trump to intervene if Washington did not cancel the vote. That's exactly what it did. A senior Israeli official said the government reached out to the president-elect. He sent out a statement calling for the U.S. to veto, saying peace between Israeli and Palestinians needs to be negotiated, not through, quote, "the imposition of terms by the United Nations."

We understand there was a call between President-elect Trump and Egyptian President al Sisi, whose country offered the resolution in the first place. And lo and behold, the Egyptians put the vote on hold. After that call, it averted a potential clash between the current and future president over U.S. relations with Israel.

Many experts say this is unprecedented for a president-elect to intervene in foreign policy before taking office, but Israeli officials are very grateful for President-elect Trump's involvement. And they argue by going ahead with this resolution, President Obama would have tied Donald Trump's hands once he takes office to negotiate with the president-elect has called, quote, "the ultimate deal" between Israelis and Palestinians.

Elise Labott, CNN, Washington.


VAUSE: So did the president-elect make the right call by jumping into this diplomatic issue? It depends on who you ask. Our experts weighed in.


PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERINTELLIGENCE ANALYST: This is unacceptable. The State Department and the president of the United States have to make decisions about how to vote on a very sensitive issue in the United Nations. And a man who has not been sworn in as president just said, if you choose to vote the way I don't want to vote, I will undercut you as soon as I take the oath of office, one president at a time.

The second thing I will tell you, if this president-elect wants to negotiate between Palestinians and Israelis, he's undercutting, if he is in for four or eight years, his ability to negotiate. He said there is a potential to move the embassy to Jerusalem, unacceptable to Palestinians. He is now saying he has a possession on settlements that is unacceptable to Palestinians.

If you want to go to office neutral in less than a month, you lost your opportunity. I don't understand what's going on here. In my world, to undercut the president before you are sworn in is just -- I don't know what to say. It's not what you should be doing.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: U.N. resolutions can't be changed. Once the United States does not veto or votes for it, it's there forever. It makes it much, much harder to have a peace process when the Palestinians believe, falsely, they can get a stake through the United Nations rather than through direct negotiations.

Donald Trump did exactly the right thing. He stood up for himself and he said don't tie my hands, I want to make these, I want to negotiate. The president of the United States is acting undemocratically in his last days in office.


VAUSE: This conversation will continue after a break, including how Trump's U.N. intervention could affect relations with some Arab nations.

Plus, President Obama takes a parting shot at Trump's campaign rhetoric. More on the program he's shutting down.

It's coming up to 10 minutes past 11:00 here in Los Angeles.


[02:13:06] VAUSE: It's just gone 13 minutes past 11:00 in Los Angeles. And Donald Trump's not the president yet, but he's already making some unprecedented diplomatic moves. He publicly pressured President Obama to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution ordering Israel to cease settlement activity. The Israeli government asked Trump to help, and he managed to get the vote delayed after a phone call to the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi. Egypt had offered the resolution in the first place.

Joining us is Democratic strategist, Dave Jacobson; Republican consultant, John Thomas; and international law and U.S. foreign policy lecturer, Josh Lockman.

Thank you for being with us.

Dave, first to you.

How extraordinary is the split you have right now between an incoming and outgoing administration? Especially on an issue like this one, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?

DAVE JACOBSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's unprecedented. Typically, there's a level of respect and etiquette that an incoming in president has as they transition to become president with the outgoing president. And it raises questions of how Donald Trump will act four years from now, hopefully, when a Democrat is the incoming president? How will he react if the incoming president were to act like this?

VAUSE: One president at a time, John.

JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: It is one president at a time. George W. Bush genuflected with Barack Obama and helped the transition process when he left office, and let the wishes of Barack Obama be held. There's no difference here. Trump will be the president, despite what Democrats wish, and he clearly said he wants changes in our foreign policy. It makes sense that Barack Obama should be respectful of Trump's wishes because we are only a few days from him taking over.

VAUSE: Josh, to you, the Obama administration was prepared to let the resolution pass and not use veto power. It is broad if you look at the language used here. In some respects, it would have meant that parts of east Jerusalem, including the Jewish City, the old city, and the Western Wall, would have technically been off limits to Israelis.

[02:15:06] JOSH LOCKMAN, INTERNATIONAL LAW & U.S. FOREIGN POLICY LECTURER, USC SCHOOL OF LAW: That's right, John. This was a broad resolution drafted by Egypt. It's important to note here, I think, that the Obama administration has vigorously defended Israel the last eight years. In fact, this administration, unlike the previous administration since 1967, both Republican and Democrat alike, has vetoed any resolution targeting Israel. It wouldn't be so strange for the administration to abstain given the frustration that the Obama White House has seen on the conflict. But yes, this resolution, at the Security Council would have been a broad one and would have targeted much of the activity much of them find illegal.

VAUSE: Barack Obama being a shield at the U.N. for the Israelis. You mention, back to Lyndon Johnson, every president has passed or supported a U.N. resolution, which is critical of Israel, maxed out at 21 under Reagan. If Obama had let this go through, it would have been a very strong diplomatic signal to the Israeli prime minister, especially Benjamin Netanyahu.

LOCKMAN: Yes, I think so. It would have been something of a parting shot by the president. Who has had an acrimonious relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu. But it is important to note in 2011 when the Obama administration vetoed a similar resolution condemning resolution it didn't do so because of the merits of the resolution itself and because the administration thought it would be an impediment to actively mediating in the conflict. That's an important move as well. We are already seeing the potentially destructive moves of the president-elect in foreign policy and specifically in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict arena. What this could portend for the region is disturbing.

VAUSE: To that point, John, there are concerns of what the blowback, fallout will be, especially for other areas of policy if you want the Sunni Arab nations on board. How will they feel about what is a pro- Israeli sentence by this new administration?

THOMAS: Sure. Let's not forget, I think I have to disagree with your guest, that the last administration has been pro-Israeli. Remember, there were times when the Barack Obama administration tried to oust the prime minister of Israel and running a campaign to defeat him. I don't think they were act exactly pro-Israeli in the process.

VAUSE: Josh, all of this diplomatic maneuvering in the last 24 hours seems to be coordinated between the can necessary set in Jerusalem and Trump's estate in Mar-a-Lago. This is what Benjamin Netanyahu said on twitter. Listen to this.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I hope it will abide by the principles set by President Obama himself in his speech in the U.N. in 2011 that peace will not through U.N. resolutions but only direct negotiations through the parties.


VAUSE: Which sounds almost word for word for what the president-elect actually posted on Facebook, "As the United States has long maintained peace between the Israelis and Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations of the parties and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations."

Within the region, within the Middle East and other Arab nations, how will the coordination be received?

LOCKMAN: It could be dangerous and reckless, John, especially if President-elect Trump does move toward some recognition of Israeli settlement building. We have seen from his choice of U.N. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a man that's, first of all, trafficked in hate and Islamophobia and also has scorned the two-state solution as a process and vehicle. That this type of choice for one of the keys in the region could be a devastating one. It could inflame the region if it is seen the United States is seemingly siding with Israel, as far as its settlement building. The United States has often been seen widely as not an honest broker, as taking Israel's side, and this would be even more one sided, and could destabilize and lead to reaction from the street.

VAUSE: Josh, thank you for being with us.

We will move on to other foreign policy news. The president-elect could be rewriting more than a half century of foreign policy when it comes to nuclear weapons. He is doing it with 140 characters. Donald Trump, suggesting it was time for the U.S. to expand its nuclear capabilities, sparking fears of a Cold War-style arms race.

We get details from Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.



[02:20:51] BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Did Putin and Trump just have their first nuclear standoff?


STARR: Today, Russia's president vowing more nuclear weapons are needed. PUTIN (through translation): We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems.

STARR: A clear shot at U.S. defense plans in Europe, something Russia believes is a threat.

Within hours, President-elect Trump tweeted, quote, "The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes."

The two declarations raising the specter of an arms race renewed.

Donald Trump briefed just yesterday by senior Air Force officers on the need to modernize the aging infrastructure.

During the second presidential debate, a hint of his thinking.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old, we are tired, we're exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing.

STARR: Nuclear weapons are limited by treaty. Today, Russia has 7300 warheads, the U.S. just over 6900.

The Obama administration gave up on the idea of a U.S. pledge for "no first use of nuclear weapons," worried the idea could embolden Russia and China. U.S. dismantling of its own arsenal has slowed in recent years.

Putin's nuclear vow came as he boasted of Russian military superiority after a year which saw successful Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee by the Russian military, sustained air strikes in Syria, and continued occupation of Crimea.

PUTIN (through translation): Today, we are stronger than any potential aggressor. I repeat, any aggressor.

STARR (on camera): The Trump transition team later issued a statement saying the president-elect was really referring to nuclear proliferation, trying to make sure nuclear weapons are kept out of the hands of terrorists and rogue nations. But it is still not entirely clear whether Mr. Trump supports more nuclear weapons.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


VAUSE: John, Twitter, Trump and nuclear weapons, what could go wrong?

THOMAS: it sounds like something we were talking about before the election was over.

VAUSE: Right. THOMAS: But this shouldn't be a surprise, from the standpoint that Trump said we need to rebuild our military and part of that is rebuilding our nuclear infrastructure. Trump believes in peace through strength and that then we're perceived to be weak on the national stage or the global stage and we need to change that. I think part of it is gamesmanship. He is telling Putin, no, no, you need to back down because we we're going to be strong.

VAUSE: Policy in 140 characters.

JACOBSON: Yeah. Donald Trump's Twitter account has become a national security threat. It's one thing to do it when you are a candidate and another thing when you are president-elect, but when you are commander-in-chief at the White House, theoretically, this could start a nuclear war if he pushes out a tweet like this.

The reality is I wonder, and it begs the question of, like, after all of this conversation about Russia undermining our election, the hacking, and Trump refusing to accept the recommendation from the national security apparatus, I wonder if this is a knee-jerk reaction, a pivot that he and Vladimir Putin are doing to shift the talk from Russia trying to undermine the election.

VAUSE: Almost out of time. Ivanka Trump was on a commercial flight with her husband and her children, they were harassed on a JetBlue flight. A passenger was removed. Everyone agrees he is a massive jerk for doing it.

THOMAS: And a Clinton supporter, allegedly.

VAUSE: Allegedly.

But what is the daughter of a billionaire, soon-to-be president, doing on a commercial flight on a budget airline doing coach?


THOMAS: I mean, that was the question I had when I heard this story. Poor Ivanka, no doubt about it. But seriously, coach? All I can figure is she is with the people.


THOMAS: She is a woman of the people. That was the most bizarre thing about the story.

It is a sad reflection that the left can't let it go. They are letting it out on his children.

VAUSE: Dave, is she the squishy liberal of the family?

JACOBSON: It never happened to Chelsea Clinton.

THOMAS: Right.

VAUSE: But there were some pretty awful headlines about Chelsea Clinton in the "National Enquirer."


VAUSE: Thanks, guys.

The Obama administration is making its last moves before Trump takes office in January. A dormant program used to track Arab and Muslim men in the U.S. is being closed down. Many see it as a response to Trump's proposal to limit Muslims entering the United States after 9/11 under George W. Bush. It registered and monitored non-citizen visa holders who were male and 16 or older. Almost all of the affected countries were Arab or Muslim majority. The program supporters say it was a useful way to fight terrorism on American soil but critics say it stoked fears in the Muslim community and punished innocent immigrants. It was suspended in 2011.

[02:25:20] Next here on NEWSROOM L.A., authorities knew the main suspect in the Berlin attack may have had terror ties. What they did before Anis Amri -- before the attack. coming up next.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. It's coming up to 11:29 on a Thursday night. I'm John Vause.

We will check the headlines now.


[02:30:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Now back to Berlin and the terror attack there. Authorities in the United States and Europe knew the main suspect was a potential threat. Files from a German investigation obtained by CNN show that Anis Amri, was linked to an ISIS recruiting cell and he also discussed launching an attack.

Brian Todd has details from Washington.

(begin videotape)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Frightening new video seconds before impact, newly released dash cam footage of the tractor- trailer truck speeding through an intersection in Berlin toward the Christmas market. Now German authorities are more confident than ever this man, 24-year-old Anis Amri, from Tunisia, believed to be seen in this selfie video, was the driver of a truck that killed a dozen people in Berlin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translation)": We were able to find fingerprints on the outside of the truck, the door and door pillar.

TODD: Jarring information on Amri's ties to an ISIS recruiting network and what German authorities knew well before the marketplace attack.

According to German investigative files seen by CNN, an informant told police, quote, "Anis spoke several times about committing attacks."

The files say members of that ISIS recruiting network backed the idea and discussed driving a truck loaded with a bomb into a crowd."

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, the Germans dropped the ball here. Yet, that's not uncommon. In fact, in the United States, we have -- pretty much all of the lethal attacks in the United States since 9/11 has involved somebody known to authorities.

TODD: Italian police say that Amri entered Italy in 2011 without I.D. He served four years for assault, arson and other charges, stemming from a brawl at a refugee center.

BERGEN: I think this guy looks like a lot of other murderers we have seen associated with ISIS in Europe. Many of them are criminals. They have gone through the prison system. They may have radicalize there.

TODD: After his release in May of last year, Italian police say they tried to deport him to Tunisia but the Tunisians didn't accept him because there were no reliable records on him. Amri slipped in to Germany. His brothers say when he got out of the Italian prison, Amri was a different person.

UNIDENTIFIED BROTHER OF AMRI (through translation): We always had our differences and didn't agree on much. When I wanted to discuss something with him he would end the conversation and say just send my regards to the family.

TODD: Now a massive dragnet across Europe for the suspect. In Germany, several locations and a long-distance bus were searched but Anis Amri remains at large, armed and dangerous.

(on camera): What are the Germans and other agencies doing to corner him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going through the information they have, the information from the Italians, from when he was in prison, looking to see who did he communicate? Did he receive packages from anybody? As a fugitive, you have to have a place to hide and resources, money.

TODD: We are now told that Anis Amri was known to U.S. Intelligence before the Berlin attack. U.S. officials briefed on the investigation tell CNN he was put on a no-fly list, along with other members of a group of suspected jihadist supporters who German authorities are now focusing on.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


VAUSE: Joining me, in Los Angeles, CNN law enforcement contributor and retired FBI agent, Steve Moore.

Steve, to the overnight arrest, would you expect more arrests in the coming days? STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFROCEMENT CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I would. They are

going to everybody who has an open investigation and saying what have you got now? Is it enough to arrest and take people down? Amri, maybe with one or more of these groups.

VAUSE: What we are seeing in case after case, authorities say they had enough reason to suspect someone and, you know, either verdict them or put them under surveillance, but then they didn't have enough to arrest them. We saw that with Omar Marteen in Orlando, the pulse nightclub shooting the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston. Explain what is going on here.

MOORE: I disagree they can't enough to arrest him. They arrested him at one point for burglary. There's information he was trying to buy a gun. There is a philosophical problem within counterterrorism groups right now where half of the groups, half of the counterterrorism groups are looking for the big crime. They are looking to solve it right before it goes out. Really, what you see is low-level crimes, cigarette smuggling, credit card fraud, you find on the microlevel these little cells that aren't getting huge amounts of money from ISIS.

VAUSE: So they let it go until they are close to an attack. And it is a gamble.

MOORE: You won't see it.


MOORE: The day before 9/11, what would you have got them on, possession of box cutters?

VAUSE: Good point.

A lot of criticism of German police. First, they arrested the wrong guy and 24 hours after the event they find Amri's I.D. papers in the truck?

MOORE: That's hard for me to wrap my mind around. That, to me, smacks of being too careful. Not being too loose but too careful saying we will go inch by inch on this truck and they find it 24 hours. What you do is an immediate sweep of the truck and then a deeper sweep and then go through microscopically and pick up DNA and fingerprints.

[02:35:13] VAUSE: A lot of conspiracy theories about why they found the I.D. papers now. People say it is too convenient. Why would this guy's wallet still be in the truck?

MOORE: Because he didn't think he was going to survive. How many of these guys survive? They get shot by police. When he got in that truck, i'm convinced, he thought he was going to die. Picking up his identification is not a real big concern of his. When he found that he could get out, he probably didn't want to stick around.

VAUSE: Wouldn't go back for his wallet? MOORE: Oh, I forgot my wallet.

VAUSE: OK. There's some speculation he left it in there because he wants people to know he did this, which could be indicative he is ready to shoot it out with police.

MOORE: If he left his wallet in there for fame, he would be shooting it out already with police.

VAUSE: We have a situation now, for a fugitive, you need money and a place to hide.

MOORE: Right.

VAUSE: Right now, it appears he has both. So, he can stay basically underground, he can stay basically out of the way of law enforcement for how long, how long before this guy has to make a move somewhere?

MOORE: The problem is you have these open borders in the E.U. He's got connections in Italy, as we've seen. He has connections all through Germany. He can move just about anywhere to any cell. When one cell starts to get warmed up, the police are getting closer and closer, they could move in to another country and there's not going to be road blocks like trying to get from the U.S. to Mexico.

VAUSE: OK. Steve, good to talk to you. Thank you so much.

MOORE: OK, thanks.

VAUSE: The death toll has risen again after the massive explosion at a fireworks market in Mexico. At least 35 people are confirmed dead. Dozens of others were hurt.

Layla Santiago met one survivor who helped to rescue his elderly mother.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seeing something like this can be tough to watch. For Miguel, seeing this video is too much. He can't watch the entire video and he doesn't need to. He was there.


SANTIAGO (on camera): So Miguel is telling me he thought he was dead but thank God, he wasn't.

(voice-over): When Miguel heard the explosion Tuesday afternoon his instinct told him to run, but he couldn't believe behind his 84-year- old mother.


SANTIAGO (on camera): He went back to help her.


SANTIAGO: And that's when as they were getting out together something struck him in the arm.


SANTIAGO: His mother then fell down.

(voice-over): Struck by debris. They waited for rescue together and he remembers thinking his single mother never abandoned him. This time he was not about to abandon her.

(on camera): And then his nephew and co-workers came in and had to take him out, carrying him and his mother as well.

(voice-over): She's in the hospital in stable condition now. They had been one of the hundreds of vendors in the fireworks market north of Mexico City. Days ago, state officials called it one of the safest in Latin-American. Yet, he lived through blasts that rocked the market in 2005 and 2006.

(on camera): I'm asking if he would go back to work.


SANTIAGO: And he says, yeah, that's what they live off of, and that's what they will keep -- that's the industry in which they'll keep working.

(voice-over): He lives a mile from the fireworks market. This is a market that sells 100 tons of fireworks annually. This industry, he explains defines who they are and who he is. His family depends on it. So, he plans to continue this life once he can overcome the physical pain and the emotional pain.

(on camera): He tells me he's crying not only for himself but the lives that were lost.


SANTIAGO: And all the injured that he saw there beyond himself.

(voice-over): Leyla Santiago, Tultepec, Mexico.


[02:39:18] VAUSE: Next here on NEWSROOM L.A., the battle to free Mosul and Iraq from ISIS control. Many residents are hunkering down in their homes, rather than fleeing the fighting.

Back in a moment.


VAUSE: 11:42 here on the west coast. Welcome back, everybody. The battle for Aleppo is over. The last of the Syrian rebel and

civilians fled the city on Thursday in a convoy of vehicles. Soon after, government forces moved in to reclaim what is left of the battered neighborhoods of eastern Aleppo. The military announced on television the city had been liberated.




VAUSE: Celebrations across the city. Jubilant crowds vowed to rebuild and return to their former lives before the war.

But U.N. officials are warning of dire circumstances facing countless people displaced by the fighting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tens of thousands of people from east Aleppo join hundreds and hundreds of thousands in displaced already. It is a race against the clock and against the winter to provide shelter, warmth and relief to people who are sick, exhausted, malnourished, from five years of war.


VAUSE: 600 kilometers east of Aleppo in Iraq is Mosul. That's where Iraqi forces are fighting a major military battle to reclaim the sprawling city from ISIS control.

CNN's Ben Wedeman visited one neighborhood after it was liberated.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This family returned today to find their home in shambles. A missile landed outside of their house in the eastern Mosul district. They had fled two weeks before.

I asked how she reacted when she walked through the door.

"Put yourself in my place," she responds, struggling to hold back tears.

The front line is just a rocket's throw away, but her husband, Hamid, is worried about the risk.

"Here there's danger, on the other side there's danger," he says. "All of Mosul is inflamed. If we die here, it's our place. It's God's will."

Those that stayed home while the battle waged around them have no regrets. "We hung on because we knew that displaced camps are uninhabitable,"

says this teacher. "We accepted that either we die in our homes or make it out alive."

There's an odd feeling here. Soldiers in Humvees and the occasional crackle of gun fire, while seemingly carefree children wander in the street.

[02:45:26] (on camera): Unlike previous battles in Iraq, this time, the Iraqi government told local inhabitants to stay in their homes if they felt safe. By doing that, they prevented a flood of people leaving the city. The problem is, the city, as the battle goes on, is still full of civilians.

(voice-over): This general concedes the presence of civilians has slowed down the offensive but insists Iraqi troops are still ahead of schedule.


WEDEMAN: The battle for the city will almost certainly go on for months, with its residents close to or directly in the line of fire.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, in eastern Mosul.


VAUSE: And we'll be right back.


[02:50:08] VAUSE: The holidays are here, time for cheer, gift giving and heading off to church. If that is not your thing, there is a less stressful holiday created by the TV show "Seinfeld," Festivus.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for son.


I reached for last doll they had but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What happened to the doll?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: It was destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: But out of that, a new holiday was born, a Festivus for the rest of us.


(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: Instead of a Christmas tree you get a metal pole like this one. And instead of giving presents, well, this is how the holiday starts.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: The tradition of Festivus beginning with the airing of grievances.


I got a lot of problems with you people! Now you're going the hear about them.



VAUSE: OK. Entertainment journalist, Segun Oduolowu, is here with us right now.

So, let's have the airing of the grievances and, given the year that we have had, you cannot start too soon.

SEGUN ODUOLOWU, ENTERTAINMENT JOUNALIST: Can I air my first grievance? i'm the only one in this ugly sweater.

VAUSE: You fell for it.

ODUOLOWU: I was told like we were all going to be doing this. I was sold a bill of goods, like the election.

VAUSE: The media told you.

ODUOLOWU: The media told me.

VAUSE: You were stupid enough to wear the sweater. I'm blaming CNN.

ODUOLOWU: The pundits were like we're all wearing ugly sweaters.

VAUSE: Yeah, and Hillary Clinton will win.

ODUOLOWU: Yeah. I was there with the Festivus pole, believing polls. This is what it gets you.

VAUSE: Very good.

ODUOLOWU: We lost Muhammed Ali and Prince and David Bowie. We lost a lot of good people. And there was a lot of ugliness in the world. So, you know, police shootings, all types of stuff. We go on forever.

VAUSE: did we lose more people this year than in the past? It seems that way, doesn't it?

ODUOLOWU: We lost more influential -- that spoke to your core. I grew up on Prince music and remember the socialist stances that David Bowie took and we all knew Muhammad Ali. If you are a kid of any age you knew that and he's the challenge. But we lost people -- even Zsa Zsa Gabor, darling --


VAUSE: Larger than life.

ODUOLOWU: Larger than life people passed.

VAUSE: This was the year of police shootings. That was a depressing thing this year.

ODUOLOWU: We lost creditability and faith in those who are there to protect and serve in cities like Baton Rouge and Dallas we had cops killing people and people killing cops. We have a litany of names and people that were either shot or were in police shootings. Our protectors -- we watched Charlotte. We were watching Charlotte burn on TV as people rioted.

VAUSE: One of my big grievances this year is how every discussion has seemed to have gone insane. You cannot have a fact-based discussion because it becomes partisan or political. And it just don't seem to be any room any more for a civil discourse with people who may not agree.

ODUOLOWU: Think about the war on Christmas. How is there a war on Christmas?

VAUSE: It's won now. It's over.

ODUOLOWU: It is. But people are like, if I say happy holidays, it's Christmas, i'm an American. If you say Merry Christmas to me and I say i'm Jewish, Merry Christmas to you and Happy Hanukkah. It's a made-up conflagration of anger for no reason.

VAUSE: As we look at everything that happened through this year. There are some people who are happy with how some things turned out this year and that's fair enough. But 2017 could be a lot worse than 2016.

ODUOLOWU: 2017 is the unknown. And for last eight years we went into the next year. We knew who the president was going to be and kind of had an idea what his politics were and where we stood in the world and now in 2017 we are still dealing with hackers that hacked Hillary Clinton's e-mails and dealing with the election fixed. We're dealing with people saying "Hail Trump" at Maggiano's, which I will never eat at again, because when you put the words Nazi and hail in the same president as the same sentence as the president of the United States --


ODUOLOWU: Yeah. You lose faith in government and politics. And we're going into 2017, kind of what do we do?

VAUSE: Give us a reason to be hopeful. [02:55:02] ODUOLOWU: Give us -- we're alive.

VAUSE: That's it.

ODUOLOWU: I know it seems silly, but we woke up today breathing and we get to face another day. And I know people may be down on Christmas. I've seen things in parking lot while I've been shopping. We will go into debt but we are alive to do it. But we're alive to do it, and, hey.

VAUSE: Merry Christmas and have a little Fareed Zakaria in your life.


ODUOLOWU: i'm mad that i'm the only one wearing this sweater. This is where my career dies. Right here.

VAUSE: That happened ages ago.


Thanks, Segun.

ODUOLOWU: It's over.

VAUSE: The winners are happy. The el Gordo lottery winners, celebrating after hitting the jackpot. This year it totals more than $2.4 billion. A vendor in Madrid sold the winning tickets, more than 16,00 in total. The top prize for individual lottery winners $400,000. That's a reason to be happy. Good on them.

You are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I hope you are all happy. I certainly am. I'll see you next year. I'm John Vause.

The news continues with Natalie Allen and George Howell.


[03:00:07] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The fingerprints were in the truck. New evidence tying the suspect in the Berlin attack to the crime scene.