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FBI Issues Warnings About Treats to Churches; State Dept Warn About Travel to Egypt and Jordan; Arrests in Connection with Berlin Christmas Market Attack. 9-10a ET

Aired December 24, 2016 - 9:00   ET




BLACKWELL: Let's get it right. All right, I'm Victor Blackwell, good to be with you, 9 o'clock here on the East Coast, 6 out west. CNN Newsroom starts right now, and we're beginning with terror threats, travel warnings, and breaking developments in that Christmas market attack in Berlin.

This morning there are three new arrests, one of them the nephew of the Berlin attacker. Officials are now revealing recent conversations between the two.

KOSIK: Plus (ph), the U.S. is on alert as many prepare for Christmas, one day away, and Hanukkah beginning tonight. The F.B.I. has issued a new warning about possible ISIS threats to churches and holiday events.

BLACKWELL: Meanwhile, the State Department has posted a travel warning for U.S. citizens traveling to Egypt and Jordan, and this comes amid ongoing threats posed by terror groups and recent attacks in both countries.

KOSIK: But first the breaking news on the Berlin Christmas market attack. Tunisian state TV has just announced three arrests in connection to the plot, the three men are between the ages of 18 and 27, and they're described as terrorist elements.

BLACKWELL: With this new information emerging as new video of the slain attacker, Anis Amri, pledging his allegiance to ISIS begins to circulate. Now in this video, Amri says he would serve ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and vowed to slaughter the, and this is a quote, crusaders who are selling the Muslims every day.

KOSIK: Here's the thing, but he doesn't refer to Monday's attack that left 12 dead, and injured 48. One of the victims, the body of an Italian woman, was transported to Rome this morning. CNN international correspondent Nina dos Santos is in Milan with the latest. First, with us, some new breaking details. All right, we have just lost Nina. We will come back to her when we can.

BLACKWELL: OK, let's go to Sajjan Gohel. He's a terrorism expert and international security director for the Asia-Pacific Foundation. Do we have Sajjan? OK, Sajjan, good morning to you. Let me first come to you with your take on what we're learning from Tunisian officials, that of these three men connected to, or accused of being connected to Anis Amri, one of them is his nephew, and they communicated via this encrypted app, something we've seen before, and he asked him -- Amri asked his nephew to pledge allegiance to ISIS. When you hear that, you think what?

SAJJAN GOHEL, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY DIRECTOR, ASIA-PACIFIC FOUNDATION: Well we know that Amri was part of a bigger network, that this wasn't someone who was suddenly radicalized, it wasn't some rapid event. This was a process that had taken a long period of time. And there's this belief that Amri was in communication with several people, that helped him provide logistics, and even his -- some of his family members are now under suspicion that they have been in communication with him.

The fact that Amri's now trying to get his nephew to continue this terrorist legacy is a concern. He mentioned about the nephew becoming a takfiri, and that is a very extreme sect, and interpretation that is designed not just to kill non-Muslims, but Muslims too.

BLACKWELL: I want to tick through a couple of other headlines here we're getting in the last several hours. This U.S. travel warning for Americans potentially headed to Jordan specifically, Egypt as well, but just days ago ISIS claimed its first attack in Jordan, first attack on a civilian -- terrorist attack on a civilian in more than a decade. What is happening in Jordan? Is this an expansion of their territory here?

GOHEL: Well as ISIS' territory contracts in Iraq and Syria, those shots are shooting off in different directions, and it is having an impact on the neighbors in the Middle East, in particular Lebanon and in Jordan as well, and unfortunately both countries are going to face a brunt and a backlash as that blow back takes place when foreign terrorist fighters move out of Iraq and Syria.

And what happened in Jordan recently, the event that you mentioned, that has now set a dangerous precedent that it won't be a one-off. We could see more plots in Jordan emerge, and as we also know, the problems are in Egypt as well.

BLACKWELL: And before we let you go, State-side here there is the warning from federal officials about -- rather bulletin, let me call it what it is, about potential attacks at churches or holiday events, maybe New Year's Eve events. No specific threat, no credible threat they know of right now, but is this an expansion or a shift from what we saw earlier that was focused specifically on the military and law enforcement? Are they expanding (ph) to go to the religious community, or is this is a shift from one to the other?

GOHEL: Well keep in mind that back in late June of this year, there was an attack at a church in Normandy where two ISIS terrorists slit the throat of a Roman Catholic priest, and they then published an article in their propaganda magazine, Dabiq, in which the headline was Break the Cross. They are trying to stoke religious tensions to provoke a backlash. It is a very deliberate and warped strategy by ISIS, and more recently in their other magazine, Rumiyah, they talked about targeting Christmas markets, and as we saw the deadly effect that had in the Berlin attack.

So it is a concern, it is a worry. There may not be any specific intelligence about an event taking place, but it is the desire and the intention of ISIS, and that is something we should be concerned about.

BLACKWELL: All right, Sajjan Gohel with the Asia-Pacific Foundation, thanks so much for being with us.

GOHEL: Pleasure, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Alison?

KOSIK: All right we've got the signal back up for CNN international correspondent Nina dos Santos. She is live for us in Milan. So let's get right to those new, breaking details. What can you tell us about these new arrests?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what we're hearing from the Tunisian Interior Ministry is that three individuals, male individuals, have been arrested in Tunisia between the ages of 18 and 27 years old, and the Tunisian Interior Ministry also confirming this hour, Alison, interestingly enough that one of them was the nephew of Anis Amri who was killed here in this parking lot just a day-and-a-half ago by Italian police officials.

Apparently he has confessed to authorities that he had been in contact with his uncle via the end-to-end encrypted messaging service that many ISIS jihadis use called Telegram, and that his uncle had asked him to join ISIS, and that his uncle had in fact sent him money, and asked him to join the particular cell in Germany that Anis Amri himself had actually subscribed to, that cell of Awala (ph).

So we're getting a picture here of this cell moving towards Tunisia now, not necessarily here in Europe, but in the meantime authorities in Italy are trying to piece together the last steps of Anis Amri that brought him here to this nondescript parking lot.

And to do that, what they're doing is combing through CCTV images. They've already said that they've identified him on CCTV images in two major Italian cities where he passed through by train in a train station of the city of Turion (ph) and also in the center of Milan, and on both of those occasions it seems as though he was alone.

KOSIK: So I'm a little confused here because you spoke with counter- terrorism officials who said on rehab quote, hallmarks of being on the run alone, but then we hear about these arrests, so which is it?

DOS SANTOS: But the arrests are taking place in Tunisia, so obviously we're quite a few thousand miles away from Tunisia. The question is was he trying to make it to Tunisia from this parking lot? We know that a lot of international buses leave from this particular parking lot, some of them head to the south of Italy and they actually leave in the middle of the night.

He was caught here at 3 AM in the morning, by the way, Alison, on the same night that one of the buses left for southern Italy. Was he trying to make it towards the south of Italy, and then over towards his native Tunisia by sea? We just don't know.

Could he have been heading elsewhere in Europe, say east towards the Balkans, or could he have been planning to take one of those buses that we've seen over the last few days, that leave this car park for places like Algeria and Morocco in North Africa? At the moment we just don't know.

Investigators are trying to piece together what they can find about his links to terrorist organizations via Italy. This is a country that he spent four years in jail in, and also through the cells and networks that they've uncovered in Germany over the last week or so. Alison.

KOSIK: OK, they say he had the hallmarks of being on the run alone, but clearly investigators are not ruling out the fact that he was in touch with others. Nina dos Santos, thanks so much.

BLACKWELL: Well president elect Donald Trump is at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Palm Beach to celebrate Christmas, but he is still managing to cause a few waves when it comes to foreign policy. Let's bring in CNN politics reporter Jeremy Diamond. Jeremy, good morning to you. With that beautiful backdrop behind you, nobody is feeling sorry for you being up this early with the great weather.

Let me talk about the president elect, he's not taken office now -- yet, he's got another month or so. But he tweeted last night, as to the U.N., things will be different after January 20th. I wonder having followed the candidates and now the president elect, what you make of Trump's relationship with the U.N. thus far, and how this will play a role in his overall doctrine, his foreign policy view as he assumes office.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yeah, well clearly this was in connection to the United Nations vote yesterday condemning the construction -- the further construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem. Donald Trump clearly suggesting that he wants things to change with the United Nations when he gets into office.

But with -- as with many of Donald Trump's tweets, it's unclear exactly what he means, whether that will have to do with funding United Nations' programs, or perhaps United -- the United States participation in certain U.N. programs, but clearly there is growing bipartisan consensus that something needs to change with regards to the United Nations.

A lot of bipartisan criticism of the United Nations' security council vote yesterday to condemn the Israeli settlements. And you know, Donald Trump's transition team has really been involved in this vote in quite an unprecedented manner for a president elect's team. I had a senior transition official tell me yesterday that it was quote all hands on deck. Senator Lindsey Graham also told CNN that U.N. ambassador-to-be, should she be confirmed, Nikki Haley, the current South Carolina governor, was actually making calls yesterday to U.N. ambassadors.

So clearly the Trump transition team, you know, not only Donald Trump had put out a statement initially criticizing this, urging President Obama to veto this resolution, which he ultimately did not do, but also behind the scenes, the Trump transition team working actively almost as if they were a government in and of themselves to counter this United Nations resolution.

BLACKWELL: All right, Jeremy Diamond for us there, near Mar-a-Lago, just across from the Intracoastal from Palm Beach Island. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

KOSIK: The U.S. defies Israel, and now the Israeli prime minister is pushing back. The latest reaction from Jerusalem on this unusual and controversial move by the U.S., that's next.


BLACKWELL: There is a new diplomatic fall out this morning after the U.S. refused to veto a highly controversial U.N. resolution defying pressures from Israel and president elect Trump. So Israel says it will not comply with the resolution which condemned the construction of Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

KOSIK: And now Israel is retaliating against two of the countries that supported the measure. It's also offering sharp, parting words for the Obama administration. CNN Oren Liebermann has the latest for us from Jerusalem, so what kind of reaction are you getting from those living in Israel, and have you had a chance to talk with anybody who settled in the West Bank? You know, 60,000 of those are actually Americans.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well we haven't gotten a reaction from the settler community just yet, but by and large that is a religious community, and it is the sabbath here, but I don't think there will be any surprise in terms of their reaction. That, similar to what we're hearing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, you used the word sharp reaction. This goes beyond sharp.

This is the harshest criticism we've seen from an Israeli government of an American government in years, perhaps ever. Listen to this statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office. The Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang up at the U.N., it colluded with it behind the scenes. Israel looks forward to working with president elect Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.

Netanyahu making it very clear that he's done working with Obama, he's already working with president elect Trump who's intervened in an unprecedented fashion as this diplomatic exchange was coming through over the last 48 hours. He's already looking forward to a few weeks from now, when he works with President Trump when he takes the White House.

KOSIK: That gang up that Netanyahu's talking about in part, probably a reaction to what happened in the United Nations chamber where there was a - everybody applauded when this vote actually happened. What does that say to you about the sentiment, the world's sentiment, about Israel?

LIEBERMANN: Well Israel's position on this has always been that settlements are not the obstacle to the piece. Israel is just about the only country that holds that position though, especially when we heard from the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, the reason for this resolution, and the reason the U.S. let this go through by abstaining, was settlements.

They believe that settlements are absolutely an obstacle to peace, and that they're an obstacle to a two-state solution, which has been a goal of the United Nations and the United States for decades. Israel did what it could to try to avert this.

But when Egypt pulled the resolution just a day earlier, it was very obvious that other countries wanted to see this go through, it was reintroduced, the U.S. abstained, everyone else voted for it, everyone sees settlements as the obstacle here, and that's something Israel has to be aware of.

All right, very controversial outcome, CNN's Oren Liebermann, thanks so much. Let's go ahead and continue this conversation with CNN political analyst and columnist for the Washington Post, Josh Rogin. Good morning, Josh. Thanks for getting up early on this Christmas eve morning.


KOSIK: You know, the fall out from this for the Obama administration is certainly one that many people see this as a parting shot from President Obama who did not get along with Benjamin Netanyahu at all during his term in office. Many are seeing this as a parting shot, many are seeing this as President Obama essentially giving the finger to Netanyahu. But the administration is actually pushing back on Israel's assertion that the White House doesn't have their back. White House deputee national security advisor Ben Rhodes says that's not true. Let's see what he said.


BEN RHODES, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: It's just not backed up by the record. We just concluded a $38 billion 10-year MOU for security assistance to Israel. We've had unprecedented security cooperation with Israel under this administration. But the fact of the matter is, for years, Jim, and you know this from covering the issue, we have expressed grave concern about continued Israeli settlement construction. And the fact is, this settlement construction pushes far outside the boundary of even the security barrier that the Israelis built for themselves. It's deep into the West --


KOSIK: What do you think? Is he right, or is this really the Obama administration, President Obama, giving President -- giving Prime Minister Netanyahu the finger?

ROGIN: I think it's, you know -- I like to think of it as like the worst break up ever, so the relationship's been bad for a long time, they knew they were going to have to split up, but they just couldn't do it cordially. And here's Netanyahu sort of parading his new BFF around, and it happens to be Obama's worst enemy.

And you know, I think Ben Rhodes is right on the facts, but wrong on the politics. Yes, you know, the U.S. under President Obama has done a lot for Israel, but you know, that's undermined by the fact that, as you said, you give him -- he gives him the finger on the way out the door.

And you know, I think the question that you have to sort of ask of people like Ben Rhodes is what does this really get you? OK, if it's not going to really help the peace process, if it's not going -- if it's not part of some sort of larger strategy to pressure Israel into doing A, B, and C in the last what, 28 days of the Obama administration, then it's just sort of punitive. And the fact is that the results might actually be the opposite of what the Obama administration would really like.

KOSIK: Yeah, I mean -- because what this winds up doing is isolating Israel even more, when you talk about it in the realm of the peace process --

ROGIN: Not only -- yeah, they are also forcing Israel to get its -- you know, to be defensive, and actually take a more adversarial position, and then putting the Trump administration and the U.S. congress on Israel's side of that position.

KOSIK: Exactly, so you look at what president elect Trump's relationship with Israel is going to be, this pretty much assures that, you know, Donald Trump is going to be right there alongside Israel as Israel's true friend.

ROGIN: Yes, I call -- I call it as close as lips and teeth, OK, that's -- there's going to be zero daylight between the Trump administration and the Netanyahu administration, and again, we'll have to see, does that produce better outcomes in Middle East peace, or worse?

You know -- you know, if you -- if you come from the position that there's not going to be a two-state solution or a peace process anyway, then I guess there's no real reason to use the stick on Israel, and to try to get them to do things they don't want to do.

On the other hand, if you think that a peace process is actually possible, and if you think that you're going to need the buy in of Arab states, the international community, and the Palestinians to get there, then this move -- then this, you know, closeness between Trump and Israel could actually make that more difficult.

KOSIK: OK, so I'm going to ask you to take out your crystal ball, you know, Donald Trump nominated David Friedman as ambassador, who is supportive of settlements. What do you see transpiring?

ROGIN: Yeah, no, I think not only is the Trump administration using Ambassador Friedman, if he gets confirmed, going to have a policy that actually supports settlement building, which will be sort of new and interesting to watch.

I think that administration and the new ambassador to Israel is going to support this idea to be tough with the U.N. in response to this. I talked to Lindsey Graham yesterday after he issued that statement, and he said that he talked to Friedman and he talked to Netanyahu, and the message that Netanyahu gave him was it's time to take the gloves off with the U.N.

And I asked him what that means, and he says well, you know, they're not going to tell the U.S. what to do, but if the Republicans and the Democrats for that matter in Congress want to start taking away U.N. funding, punishing all the states that voted against Israel in this resolution by taking away their funding, and overall just escalate this to a total all out war in international diplomacy, the Israelis are going to like that, and I think Ambassador Friedman's going to like that, too.

KOSIK: All right, Josh Rogin, thanks so much for your perspective on this.

ROGIN: Any time.

KOSIK: Donald Trump releasing a Christmas letter from Vladimir Putin. Next, what it says about the Russian president's hopes for the New Year, and Trump's response.


BLACKWELL: Well from President Vladimir Putin to president elect Donald Trump, warm Christmas greetings and the wish list for the New Year. Sounds like a script from maybe SNL, but the kremlin confirms the letter is authentic. It was sent more than a week ago, but they just released it, the Trump team did.

Putin offers his, quote, warmest Christmas and New Year's greetings. He also urges Trump to quote, to take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation. Joining us now, Jill Dougherty, former CNN Moscow bureau chief, and global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Good morning and merry Christmas weekend to you.


BLACKWELL: Let's start with -- this day started with the release of the letter. It ended with Donald Trump quoting Vladimir Putin on Twitter. Let's put up the tweet so our viewers can see it. He tweets out here, I've got it on my laptop here, where he says Vladimir Putin said today about Hillary and Dems, in my opinion it is humiliating. One must be able to lose with dignity. So true.

After what the U.S. has dealt with with the Russians in Crimea, Syria, even buzzing ships and planes, your take on now the president elect quoting Vladimir Putin in opposition to Hillary Clinton.

DOUGHERTY: Well you know, Victor, I looked -- I watched that news conference by President Putin, and I'd have to say that he was really spiking the football, you know, he knows Hillary lost, he really hates Hillary, and there was a lot of kind of he's a subtle guy, doesn't always show it, but I think there is a lot of glee that she has defeated the man that he wanted.

In fact he said nobody expected that he would win, Mr. Trump, but we did, and then he said, you know, they just should be graceful in defeat. And it was really, I thought, a very striking moment, because he was showing his emotion in that.

And then, to have Donald Trump quote that, is extraordinary too, because I mean, you know, he could leave it, he could just kind of ignore that, but this has ignited a firestorm about Trump quoting Putin, and it's all -- I guess the word we're always going to use, we'll probably get used to it, is extraordinary, never has happened before, but it really is true.

BLACKWELL: Yeah, extraordinary, and another one we're using a lot is unprecedented. Let me go back to another element of that four-hour news conference, yes, is when President Putin was asked about Donald Trump saying let it be an arms race, potentially against Russia, and Putin said it's nothing unusual.

You've studied Putin, have watched him for years. Does this seem like a response that matches what's happening at the kremlin, to hear the president elect say nothing unusual about a potential arms race with the U.S.?

DOUGHERTY: Yeah, you know, I get confused sometimes about the sequence of those comments, because Trump made two comments at that time, but you know, rebuilding weapons, I think that's kind of what Putin is doing, is not a big deal. Both sides are doing it.

But what he is doing is I really believe that as he looks at Donald Trump, he knows that there is a lot of exaggeration, a lot of over the top comments will come, and they're coming in Twitter, and so I think Putin is kind of taking off maybe 25 to 30 percent at the top, and saying OK, that's exaggeration, and he will not, Mr. Putin, react in that form.

He's a lot more, let's call it passive aggressive. He will say what he had to say. He had to say Russia is strong, and he said look at the weapons that we've been using in Syria. Our military is back, and we can defeat anything that the Americans get in terms of missile defense.

So in a subtle way, he was saying look, don't mess around with us either, but if -- if you're not an aggressor, we can get along. And I think that's his message to Donald Trump, we want to get along, but ultimately it's the United States that he's dealing with, and there's a long history there.

I also think that he doesn't really totally trust that Donald Trump can follow through and deliver on everything that he said during the campaign.

BLACKWELL: Yeah, President Putin was careful I guess a domestic message, we won't spend too much more than we can afford, after the investment of the latter half of the last century. Jill Dougherty, always good to talk with you.


BLACKWELL: All right, Alison?

KOSIK: OK, Victor. When we come back, corruption, a failed coup, a civil war, and terror attack. We count down the top stories from around the world, next.


KOSIK: Good morning and welcome back. I'm Alison Kosik in for Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you.

KOSIK: And we have an update now on Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher. She -- the actress' brother actually told CNN she's in stable condition, but still is in ICU. Fisher suffered a full cardiac arrest on board a flight that was going from London to L.A. yesterday, last night.

BLACKWELL: Yeah, her Star Wars co-star, Mark Hamill tweeted in support of her recovery saying as if 2016 couldn't get any worse, sending all of our love to Carrie Fisher.

KOSIK: All right, from scandals, political chaos, and heartbreak, CNN international correspondent Clarissa Ward has a look at the top 10 international stories of 2016. Take a look.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We begin our top 10 with Brazil, the country whose roller coaster of scandals and triumphs made news the world over. A mosquito-born Zika virus outbreak, leading to a spate of rare birth defects.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Brazil is losing the battle against this virus.

WARD: Then, a political crisis that rocked the corridors of power.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The senate removed Dilma Rousseff as president.

WARD: All this, a backdrop to Brazil's moment in the sun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole world will be watching Brazil as it hosts the Olympics. WARD: Which despite a few setbacks, was widely considered a success.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Turkish military announcing it has taken over the country, and imposed martial law.

WARD: In the dead of night, machine gun fire rings out as a coup attempt takes hold, and almost as quickly as it began, it was over. The president survives the coup attempt, but some 290 others would not. Seeking retribution, President Erdogan would go on to detain and dismiss tens of thousands of people.

A diplomatic thawing sees a U.S. president touch down on Cuban soil for the first time in 88 years, infuriating Fidel Castro. Eight months later --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Breaking news out of Cuba, Fidel Castro has died.

WARD: For some, grief for the loss of a revolutionary. For others, celebration for the death of a ruthless dictator. Cuban exiles thrilled, as they remember a tyrant who imprisoned and executed his opponents, and brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. A global migrant crisis worsening by the minute, 65 million people now displaced.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 2016 has been the deadliest year ever for migrants and refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Among those rescued, this 5-day-old infant peering out of his pink blanket.

WARD: War, terror, poverty, seeing migrant camps across the world swelling to unsustainable levels, one camp in France bulldozed to the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (interpreted): What is this life? Have mercy on us, have mercy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (interpreted): I wanted to tell you that you're not alone.

WARD: Coming in at number six, seismic stations around the world pick up on the unmistakable signs of North Korean aggression, but this time it's different.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: North Korea exploding its most powerful nuclear warhead ever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The equivalent of at least 10,000 tons of TNT detonated deep underground.

WARD: The question now, will the next warhead be mounted on a missile?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you have this many tests, you're eventually going to get it right.

WARD: Unimaginable acts of terror in the name of ISIS leave a bloody trail beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two explosions rocking the main terminal at Brussels Airport.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Across town, in the center of the city, a bomb exploded on a metro train.

WARD: Those three suicide bombers killed 32 people. Three months later, another airport is hit. Three men wearing explosive vests, carrying AK-47's, exiting a taxi curbside, shooting at panicked travelers before blowing themselves up. Forty-four people would never make it out of that Turkish airport.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: About six to eight gunmen have taken over this bakery restaurant in Dhaka on -- in this more affluent, posh area of the city in Bangladesh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Military commandos moved in, the siege ended with 13 hostages saved, but 20 others dead at the restaurant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are following breaking news out of France.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More than a mile of carnage as the truck drove down the beach side promenade, killing as many people as the driver could.

WARD: A day of celebration for French independence ending with the slaughter of 84 people. While the so-called soldiers of ISIS waged war in cities across the world, back in Iraq, the land they once laid claim to, was being taken back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Iraqi city of Fallujah we understand has been liberated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Iraq's military is claiming victory in Ramadi.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Breaking news into CNN, in Iraq an offensive to retake the key city of Mosul from ISIS is now underway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) with much international support, a lot of coalition planning (inaudible) air power, one came right at me.

WARD: CNN's own team would later make it inside the city limits of Mosul, and very nearly would not make it out.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We realized we're trapped. Our MRAP takes a direct hit. We need to move, but every time we try, gunfire drives us back.

WARD: Arwa Damon and her team would spend 28 hours trapped, an estimated 1 million civilians are still within this embattled city. Across the border in Syria, another hellish landscape unfolds. It's biggest city, Aleppo, the epicenter of this horror.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is what hell feels like.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Syrian regime's latest aerial assault.

WARD: Gallon drums filled with explosives and shrapnel shoved out of helicopters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're racing (inaudible), they say nine people still stuck under that rubble.

WARD: A dazed and shell-shocked boy pulled from the wreckage of his home, would become the bloody face of Syria's suffering.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He doesn't cry once. This is Omran. He's alive. He wanted you to know.

WARD: Coming in at number two, Russia flexing its military muscle at home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vladimir Putin moving nuclear capable missiles to the border with Poland and Lithuania, and, on a global stage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S. is blaming Russia for bombing a humanitarian convoy in Syria.

WARD: Moscow using its superior arsenal to turn the tides of war in favor of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He told us that Russian and regime forces target hospitals cynically and deliberately.

WARD: The diplomatic vacuum between the U.S. and Russia intensifying with accusations of hostile acts still shrouded in mystery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A series of cyber attacks on Democrats indicate Russia is trying to sway the election for Donald Trump.

WARD: And in our number one slot this year, the surge of populism across the west, as voters rejected the establishment, many feeling ignored by politicians, and left behind economically.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people have voted to leave the European Union.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Death (ph) has reigned (ph), but the dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom.

WARD: It was a vote that took the world by surprise. One of the main forces behind Brexit, anger over immigration.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They should go back to where they came from, this man says, before we rip their heads off.

WARD: And of course, in the U.S., where president elect Donald Trump capitalized on the issue.

DONALD TRUMP, 2016 PRESIDENT ELECT: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shut down of Muslims entering the United States.

WARD: The rejection of globalization resonating with voters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CNN projects Donald Trump wins the presidency.

WARD: Will the march of populism continue? With elections in France and Germany coming up, 2017 promises to be an interesting year.


BLACKWELL: Well still to come, president elect Donald Trump's inauguration festivities, they're struggling with booking high profile talent. So the question a lot of people are wondering, who will perform? Well we've got some news for you on that front.


KOSIK: OK, where's our count-down clock? We are less than a month away from president elect Donald Trump's inauguration, and it looks like he's having a tough time securing star talent performances. His transition team announced the Rockettes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, that they are set to perform with more to come.

BLACKWELL: But Trump took to Twitter saying he doesn't need celebs, he just wants the people. So who else can we expect to hit the stage? CNN Sara Ganim is following this for us. Sara, Donald Trump has surrounded himself, literally surrounded himself, with celebrities for years on a television show, and is struggling now to get them to come to be part of this inauguration. What are you learning (ph)?

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people are talking about this, Victor. You know, Donald Trump, a celebrity himself, having a hard time getting A-listers to perform at his inauguration. Even SNL made a joke about this, people are talking about it.

And the latest thing they're talking about are the Radio City Rockettes. They've accepted an invitation to perform at the inauguration, but some of the Rockettes expressed concern about not wanting to go. The union clarifying yesterday that they're not being forced to perform if they don't want to, but as a whole they will perform.

And Madison Square Garden, which owns the Rockettes, even releasing a statement yesterday saying this, saying for the coming inauguration we had more Rockettes request to participate than we have slots available.

Look, A-list celebrities, Victor, we all know, they're a staple of these inaugurations, and while nothing - no run-up to Donald Trump's presidency has been normal, we know he's the king of show biz, he even wanted the Republican National Convention to be more show biz like, we know that he likes to make these events big events.

It's unclear how much success he's having here. You know, this is Hollywood, it's a tough crowd, it's a generally a more liberal crowd. His -- his inauguration committee chair had said back in November that Elton John would be performing, then Elton John spokesman said no, he's not going to be there.

Here's what we do know. We know the Rockettes will be there, we know the Mormon Tabernacle Choir will be there. We know that Donald Trump is saying this now, he's saying, he's tweeting saying these so-called A-list celebrities are all wanting tickets to the inauguration, but look what they did for Hillary, nothing. I want the people.

That's his response to all of this, Victor. Of course an inaugural committee spokesperson saying that they will have, quote, a ton of great performers. We're expecting, hopefully, more of that list to be released in 2017.

BLACKWELL: So the suggestion from that tweet is that Donald Trump or the transition team, they're denying A-list celebrities from getting those tickets, right.

GANIM: The suggestion is that if they don't want to come, I guess, that he doesn't want them there either, that he would rather have people there, who knows. This is his response to all of this, and people are surely talking about it.

BLACKWELL: All right, Sara Ganim, thanks so much.

KOSIK: OK, here's a good stuff story for you. A little boy who spent most of his life in foster care has the greatest Christmas gift he could have hoped for. We're going to introduce you to his new family, here they are. That's coming up next.


KOSIK: All right, this is the perfect Christmas gift for one 3-year- old boy who lives in Arizona. After more than 800 days in foster care, he has found his forever family. Just look at the pure joy on Michael Brown's face. His new sister took this photo just after his adoption became final, and his reaction won over the hearts of the internet with tens of thousands of posts and comments.

And we are lucky enough to have the family with us. Michael and his mom, Tara Montgomery, along with his sisters Dezhianna and Tyana (ph). They are joining us now. Good morning. It is bright and early where you are. Tara, let me ask you this. You said in an interview that Michael's adoption, that his adoption was meant to be. Why do you feel that way?

TARA MONTGOMERY, MOTHER OF MICHAEL BROWN: We got him on Valentine's Day, his last name was already Brown, which is the same as my kids' last name, and he just fit right into our family. He looks just like my girls, and it was just meant to be.

KOSIK: So your girls are -- how old are they?

MONTGOMERY: 17 and 16.

KOSIK: And I understand you're a single parent.

MONTGOMERY: I am. KOSIK: So why -- why go and adopt a youngster, 3-years-old, that's kind of starting over again?

MONTGOMERY: It is. Because he had been with us for so long, and he was a part of our family. And yes, I will be starting over, but with -- with Michael it's worth it.

KOSIK: Talk to me about when he did, you know, first get to your home, 18 months ago. What was it like? How did you get him acclimated? How did you make him feel part of the family?

MONTGOMERY: We just treated him like he was part of our family already. We treat kids just like, you know, they are ours, and he fit right in.

KOSIK: And he's an active toddler. I remember that, when --


KOSIK: -- my kids were 3, I get that. So talk to me about a little bit about the reaction since this story has spread. I know that it's gone viral, it's really won the hearts of so many people, especially at this time of year.

MONTGOMERY: Yes. We obviously did not know it was going to go viral. Dezhianna put it on her Twitter, and it just blew up from there, so very exciting.

KOSIK: He's really been through a lot, this is his third foster family, he was in foster care for 832 days. Does he talk to you about that, and how happy he is to be with you now?

MONTGOMERY: He doesn't talk about it, but he does every day ask, and tell us, mom, I'm so happy. He asks the girls all the time, De, are you so happy? And he is, he wakes up in the morning, and he is truly happy.

KOSIK: Dezhianna, Tyana (ph), how do you guys -- Tyana (ph), first to you, what do you think of your new bro?

TYANA (PH) BROWN, SISTER OF MICHAEL BROWN: It's really cool, like it's always felt like normal since he like became part of our family. The making it official just made it official, it still feels the same.

KOSIK: Dezhianna, do you feel like you're going to be -- you're going to kind of be the person that he leans on maybe, as a big sister?

DEZHIANNA BROWN, SISTER OF MICHAEL BROWN: Yeah, I want to be like the type of person he looks up to, and yeah, it was really exciting for us to finally adopt him, and have it all finalized.

KOSIK: So Tara, what message do you have, you know, for other families who are considering, you know, being a foster family or adopting a child?

MONTGOMERY: You know, you don't have to be, you know, a married couple. I -- I -- when I started this, it was just truly for foster, to help out kids that are in transition, and when his case plan changed to severance to adopt, we knew then this was -- we were adopting, there was no question. So the message to other people, anybody can do it, and it's so rewarding in the end.

KOSIK: Tara, can you ask Michael how he feels that he's having his first Christmas with his real family? How does he feel, can you ask him?

MONTGOMERY: Michael, are you excited that we're going to have Christmas tomorrow?


MONTGOMERY: What's Santa going to bring you? What's Santa going to bring you?


MONTGOMERY: What kind of toys?

MICHAEL BROWN: Thomas the Train.

MONTGOMERY: Thomas the Train?


MONTGOMERY: Yeah, he's very excited.

KOSIK: I don't blame him. I'd be a little shy, too. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Congratulations, I'm really happy for you and your family.

MONTGOMERY: Thank you so much.

KOSIK: And merry Christmas.

MONTGOMERY: Thank you so much.


MONTGOMERY: Say merry Christmas.

KOSIK: Merry Christmas. Thanks, Tara.

MONTGOMERY: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: I think he did really well for five minutes to eight (inaudible).

KOSIK: I know, it's really early there too.

BLACKWELL: All right, merry Christmas to that family, and to yours. Let's get to the breaking developments this morning in this -- this deadly Berlin Christmas market attack. We have the very latest for you at the top of the hour. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLACKWELL: So a lot of kids we know dream of getting their favorite new toys for Christmas, but for some, it's not as easy as a trip to the store. I went to visit a unique version of a toy work shop that's stepping up to help.


BLACKWELL: This is UNF Adaptive Toy Project. Students are customizing popular kids' rechargeable sports cars and SUV's to suit children with developmental challenges. And Professor Mary Lundy says the toys play two roles.

MARY LUNDY, UNF ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF PHYSICAL THERAPY: Children that have developmental disabilities can't always explore their environment and play. So you know, that's one piece. At the same time, through this increased mobility, they learn cause and effect, they learn object permanence, they learn balance, they learn mobility.


KOSIK: All right, you can see the rest of that story tomorrow morning during our New Day Christmas special. We are on from 6 AM to 9 AM Eastern time. We are going to have your top headlines, plus tons of holiday stories, and we've got the Spelman College Glee Club performing some Christmas favorites as well. That will be fun.

BLACKWELL: Great music tomorrow, so be with us for that. Lots more news to tell you about today.

KOSIK: Next hour of Newsroom beginning now. Good morning, I'm Alison Kosik, sitting in for Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell, 10 o'clock now on the East Coast, 7 on the West Coast. CNN Newsroom continues right now, and we're starting this hour with the terror threats and the travel warnings, and breaking developments in that Christmas market attack in Berlin, the investigation we should say.

This morning, three new arrests, one of them the nephew of the attacker. Officials announced saying the two were in recent contact, and we're learning this as the mother of the man who authorities say drove that truck into a crowd of people, says her son is not a terrorist.

NOUR EL HOUDA HASSANI, MOTHER OF ANIS AMRI (interpreted): I want the truth about what happened to my son. I want the -