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New Strikes on Syrian Town Attacked by Chemical; Russia Responds to U.S. Air Strike; Swedish Media: Explosives Found In Stockholm Attack Truck; Why The Syrian President Would Gas His Own People; Russia Suspends Hotline With Pentagon Over Syria. Aired 11a- 12p ET

Aired April 8, 2017 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Fredricka Whitfield in New York.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington. Nice to be with my friend and colleague, Fredricka. Lots of news this weekend, we continue to cover for sure.

WHITFIELD: We do have a lot. Thank you so much, Jim. Glad you could be with me.

So we begin with new developments out of Syria. The town bombarded by a devastating chemical attack is now being hit by airstrikes. Although it is not immediately clear who is behind these new airstrikes, the aircraft that are most -- that they most likely originate from are Russia or the pro-Syrian regime.

To be clear, this is not the same region hit by U.S. missile strikes earlier Friday. The U.S. targeted a Syrian airfield further south where it is believed the Syrian regime stored chemical weapons before launching them into civilian neighborhoods.

We're also now learning that same targeted airfield is back open and operational today. Witnesses are reporting aircraft taking off and returning to the base and getting technical checks and fuel or refueling as well. This as the Pentagon continues to investigate whether Russia was involved in the chemical attack and if it executed a cover-up.

We've got team coverage from the ground in Syria to Trump's southern White House in Florida. Let's begin with Ben Wedeman who is on the border between Syria and Turkey.

So, Ben, what more are we learning about these new airstrikes?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fredricka. There were airstrikes yesterday and today on Khan Sheikhoun. That was the town which on Tuesday morning aircraft struck, it's believed, with chemical weapons. And death toll to that attack, by the way, has now gone up to 89.

Now we understand one of the airstrikes today left a woman and several other people -- wounded, excuse me, and there was another airstrike on a town that's just about seven miles to the north of -- excuse me -- of Khan Sheikhoun as well. In that instance 10 people were killed. And of course, it's important to stress that chemical weapons were not used. This was conventional weapons, and of course, you know, we've been paying a lot of attention to the chemical weapons but the fact of the matter is this is routine for Syria. More than 400,000 people have been killed in Syria in the last six years. This is just one incident.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ben Wedeman, thank you so much. Hope you can get some water there. There you go. All right. We'll check back with you there reporting from the Turkey-Syrian border -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Fred, thanks very much.

We know the White House is denying any involvement in these new airstrikes. I want to bring in our CNN Pentagon reporter Ryan Browne.

Ryan, the Pentagon at this point is saying they haven't established who definitively is carrying out these new airstrikes but to be frank, who else would it be based on experience than Syria or Russian warplanes?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. We just spoke to a military official just now. They said that they did observe regime jets heading in that direction, said it was unclear whether or not they dropped the bombs that we're seeing now with these conventional strikes. But they have seen jets flying there. But like you said, no one else really operates there. In fact, the coalition has kind of reduced its operations in the Syrian airspace recently. So not much doubt.

SCIUTTO: And reduced those operations partly because of this cruise missile attack because they fear that they might become even bigger targets.

BROWNE: That's right. They are taking precautionary steps in case that the regime or someone allied to the regime might attempt some kind of retaliatory strike. Now they did conduct some anti-ISIS strikes in the (INAUDIBLE) areas, supporting local allies there, but fewer strikes than we've seen in the past.

SCIUTTO: So now we know that the Syrian air base that was struck by these 59 cruise missiles yesterday, al Shayrat, it's up and running again. Planes have taken off from there both yesterday and today. How does the Pentagon defend that result so soon after this U.S. attack?

BROWNE: Well, that's right. Well, the Pentagon talks about what they were attempting to do with these strikes which was to deter future chemical weapons strikes by the Syrian regime. Now they targeted about 20 Syrian planes they believe were destroyed. They targeted radar, anti-aircraft. What they did not do is destroy the runway or in one official's words obliterate the entire base. That wasn't the purpose. They're not surprised that some flight operations have resumed with that runway being intact particularly during daylight hours. It's a little easier to do that.

So they're saying it wasn't the objective. Now if there are future chemical weapons strikes by the regime particularly from that base, then that would definitely be a more problematic response by Assad's government.

SCIUTTO: And to have disabled the base it wouldn't have been a dramatic step forward. It really would have been as simple as cratering -- as the military will say cratering the runway with other munitions or possibly with manned aircraft.

BROWNE: That's right. And again, I think this goes to the nature of what this strike was intended to do, which is to deter specifically these chemical weapons attacks and that's why these kind of -- it was a tailored response.

[11:05:03] They wanted to also make sure they didn't kill any Russian or even regime personnel. They took steps to avoid that, in fact even warning the Russians about an hour in advance. So it was definitely this -- you know, they wanted a targeted strike for a specific purpose.

SCIUTTO: One final question, we know that the Pentagon because they've told us warned the Russians about this U.S. attack in advance. Does the Pentagon know if the Russians then shared that warning in effect with the Syrians or I imagine -- I assume that they would because they're allies.

BROWNE: That's right. I mean, they don't know for certain. But it's hard to imagine especially these units closely collaborating. I'm sure the Pentagon assumed that there was a good chance that the Russian forces there communicated this impending strike. But the Pentagon themselves were not looking to kill Syrian regime officers and personnel either. They were trying to minimize the number of human casualties associated with it.

SCIUTTO: A show of force. Solely a show of force.

Ryan Browne, thanks very much. And Fred, that's an open question going forward. What follows this attack because if it was message sending, the real test is going to be is that message heeded then by the Syrian regime and if we're already seeing airstrikes in the same area, remains an open question.

WHITFIELD: Right. What's the strategy? What's the plan? Thanks so much, Jim. Check back with you.

Meanwhile President Trump has no public events on his agenda today. Our cameras did see the president traveling to the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach.

So let's go now to CNN's Athena Jones who is nearby Palm Beach.

So, Athena, we know that China's president left yesterday. Any word on what was discussed in those final hours? ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. Well, we know

that North Korea, how to handle North Korea's nuclear ambitions was on the agenda. Also trade issues. And I can tell you the president who hasn't been tweeting quite as much in recent days did tweet -- send a few tweets just a few minutes ago. He said, "It was a great honor to have President Xi Jinping and Madame (INAUDIBLE) of China as our guests in the United States. Tremendous goodwill and friendship was formed but only time will tell on trade."

And that's an interesting last line there because we know that trade is an issue the president as candidate railed against all during the campaign, railing against China and the huge trade deficit the U.S. has with that country meaning the U.S. imports a lot more products from China than it exports to China. But we also know that the White House all along was playing down expectations for this meeting, not expecting any big announcements and in the end there weren't any big announcements.

This was all about the beginning of a relationship. Beginning to build a relationship. They often said it was an introductory meeting. And according to the president's Twitter page, he thinks that it went very, very well.

The president is also tweeting this morning about that attack on Thursday night. The first direct U.S. direct military action against the Assad regime in Syria. He said, "Congratulations to our great military men and women who are representing the United States and the world so well in the Syrian attack."

So a few tweets from the president this morning. He feels that things have gone well in terms of the response to the Syria attack and the meeting, the summit he had with President Xi -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Athena Jones, thanks so much -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Fred, thanks a lot. I want to talk now about what's next in Syria. That key question. What follows this isolated airstrike? What is the strategic change? We have Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, retired, he's a CNN military analyst, former defense intelligence officer who had served in Syria.

And Lieutenant Colonel, I know you have even been to that air base that was struck. You know about the area there. Looking at the photos of the damage, are you surprised that this airfield is back in operation today?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Not really. If you look at how many hardened aircraft shelters are there, 59 Tomahawks would not have shut down the base. It wouldn't even destroyed all the aircraft, although I'm reading different numbers. We're saying 20. The Syrians are saying 10. But either way, it's a loss of some aircraft.

The mission was actually to send a message. The shutting down the air base would also entail probably cratering the runways. The Tomahawk as you mentioned earlier, Jim, is not the best weapon for that. You'd probably want to bring in manned aircraft and drop specific weapons for that. So with the Tomahawk they were taking out other facilities on the base. Primarily to send that message and of course the timing was done so it's not to kill any people. It was trying to destroy material.

SCIUTTO: I was speaking to Senator McCain yesterday. And he mentioned that as well. To get the runway, you would have probably needed B-2s. That of course puts those U.S. pilots at risk and raises the risk profile of the operation. But I've got to ask you a question. So if this was about sending a message specifically about chemical weapons and that's what I've been told and many of my colleagues have been told. If within the very same day we know that planes took off from that base yesterday, and here we are today, about 24 hours later, a little more, and there's bombing under way on the same area where that chemical weapons attack happened.

[11:10:02] Not chemical weapons, granted, but still bombing, targeting civilians, does it seem to you that the message was received by the Syrian regime if they're continuing similar military activity?

FRANCONA: Yes. And that's hard to judge, Jim. But I think the message was received and probably understood. And I think it's being resisted. I think Assad is doing what he can to resist that message and he's doing what he can to say, I got it but I'm going to continue my operations there. I'm not going to use chemical weapons but I'm going to continue to extract a price on what I believe are these rebels in the Khan Sheikhoun area. Airstrikes are going to continue. We're going to continue to use conventional weapons.

Jim, I have to tell you, I'm a little confused as to why he would even use chemical weapons in the first place. He doesn't need them. He's already got the upper hand. He's got the support of the Russians and Iranians and his military is on a roll. He just invited -- he just invited all of this international criticism for using chemical weapons. So very confusing as to why he would do that.

SCIUTTO: Indeed. But is it that far out of character with Assad and his use of military force because whether it's chemical or barrel bombs, a part of his military campaign has been to specifically and intentionally target civilians as a mean of scaring the heck out of not just civilians but forces supporting them.

FRANCONA: Exactly. The barrel bomb is a great example of that. It's a terror weapon. It creates a screaming noise on the way down and tremendous blast effect and it's just filled with basically shrapnel so it's a very effective weapon in these cities. Also, we see the systematic destruction of almost all the medical facilities in any areas that he wants to go after. So combine that with the barrel bombs and now the use of chemical weapons, he's instilling a lot of fear in the population. He's trying to terrorize the people telling them that, you know, you have no choice. You're on the losing side. I'm going to win this and I'm going to extract a price to your opposition to my government.

SCIUTTO: I mean, any sense that there are rules of warfare, you know, the Red Cross or the Red Crescent keeping away military action, that's just -- that's is long gone. But I want to ask about what happens next. U.S. officials, administration officials have said listen, this was to send a message. It's not part of an ongoing military campaign against the Syrian regime.

Let's have a listen to what U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley had to say about the air strikes on the floor of the U.N. yesterday.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The United States took a very measured step last night. We are prepared to do more. But we hope that will not be necessary. It is time for all civilized nations to stop the horrors that are taking place in Syria and demand a political solution.


SCIUTTO: So political negotiations typically need leverage, military leverage, changes of facts on the ground. Did this strike change the facts on the ground, change the leverage enough to bring about, do you think, a true political process?

FRANCONA: I don't think so, Jim. I think what we're looking at is a one off reaction to the use of the chemical weapons. If President Trump sticks to his guns and continues his policy, he will focus on taking down ISIS, hoping that there will be a political solution in the future for the Assad issue. Hopefully they can get rid of Bashar al-Assad via some sort of settlement with all of the parties involved.

I don't know if that's going to happen. That's what the hope is. But I worry that we're going to go back to this double headed policy where we'll want to remove Bashar al-Assad at the same time we're taking on ISIS. And that complicates our relationship with the Russians.

You know, we were just starting to cooperate with the Russians. Hopefully getting them on the side of taking on ISIS. And I think that's going to go by the wayside if we continue to move toward removing Bashar al-Assad.

SCIUTTO: A little policy whiplash because frankly the beginning of the week Secretary Tillerson was saying that it was no longer the U.S. policy to remove him and now you have military action and different public comments from the administration.

Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, thanks very much.

FRANCONA: Always good to be with you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Coming up ahead, Russia showed its force by sending a warship back into the Mediterranean very close to where U.S. warships are operating.

Phil Black is in Moscow with more on Russia's response to U.S. strikes in Syria.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jim. Russian officials are continuing to voice their outrage at the American strike, what they describe as illegal and unjustified. Just as the Russian navy directs a cruise missile capable frigate to the region to bolster its forces. Details after the break.


[11:18:51] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in New York. So since Thursday's attack, Russia has responded to the U.S. by saying the missile strikes actually helped ISIS. It is a significant blow to relations between U.S. and Russia and it's denying any role in the chemical attack in Idlib. Russia, that is. And now Russia is flexing its muscles and sending a warship to the same area of the eastern Mediterranean where the U.S. destroyers launched the missiles against the Syrian air base.

I want to bring in CNN's Phil Black in Moscow.

Good to see you, Phil. So what can you tell us about the Russian ship that is headed toward the eastern Mediterranean?

BLACK: So, Fredricka, it is the Admiral -- Admiral Grigorovich, excuse me, it's part of the Russia's Black Sea fleet. It's being moved back into the Mediterranean, we're told, to join its standing naval task force there. And it is cruise missile capable. This is a vessel that has five cruise missiles on Syrian targets before but it's also important to note that Russia has fired sea-based cruise missiles from as far away as the Caspian Sea.

So, although this vessel is expected to call into the Russian military base into Syrian port of Tartus, it doesn't have to do that.

[11:20:04] Russia doesn't have to send vessels there in order to project this sort of force. Of course it's what this vessel does that really counts. But at the very least it is a statement of Russia's continued willingness, its continued intent to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad to continue sending military resources into this region even as the Assad regime comes under once again extreme pressure from the international community -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So, Phil, the U.S. is looking into the possibility that Russia had a role in the Idlib gas attacks. How are the Russians responding to that?

BLACK: Well, they're saying quite simply it's not true. They deny it absolutely. They still don't buy the American reasons for launching this attack in the first place. They are sticking to their narrative, which is the Syrian government did not drop chemical weapons on that day, that it was a stockpile of weapons that was hit by a Syrian government weapon but those weapons in fact belong to local fighting groups, the chemical weapons I should say. So they say there's no justification.

They're maintaining their fairly predictable outrage, I think, describing this as an illegal and justified strike against a sovereign government and one that only helps the groups on the ground that are in fact fighting that government. I describe all of this as predictable because it's very much the

language that Russia has been using throughout the Syrian civil war when anyone on the outside has tried or even talked about putting pressure on the Assad regime. So on one level you've got this outrage. There's also even a degree of scorn. The latest statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense uses what I can only describe I think as a mocking tone in likening this American strike and the justification behind it to America and Britain's justification for seeking out weapons of mass destruction and invading Iraq in 2003.

But in addition to this, make no mistake, Russia is also being pragmatic. There are pragmatic calculations here. Russia is very cautiously, carefully trying to determine just what this means for America's policy and why the strategy in Syria. Was this a one off strike as many have suggested? Or could this be part of a new wider plan, a wider policy that could see a renewed effort and engagement by the United States and particularly a new effort by the United States to pressure the Assad regime?

All of this is going to absolutely key to the talks that are going to take place in Moscow this week when the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits and meets with Russian officials here -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And so far it is still scheduled to happen. All right.

Phil Black, thank you so much in Moscow.

All right. I want to bring in my panel now. CNN diplomatic editor Nic Robertson in London, and Michael Weiss, a CNN contributor and the co-author of, "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror."

Good to see both of you. So, Michael, you first. Russia says these U.S. airstrikes helped ISIS. Did it?

MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. I don't think so. And it's rather rich of the Russian government to say that when they launched their intervention in Syria in September of 2015, within the first two weeks between 80 percent and 90 percent of their sorties were against not only anti-ISIS targets but Syrian rebels who have actively been fighting ISIS. And I well recall in Aleppo there were four or five villages that ISIS have not been able to take but managed to take those villages on the back of Russian airstrikes.

So they're essentially accusing the United States of doing what they themselves have done. And let's not forget, they both -- helped the regime retake Palmyra. Lost Palmyra. Why? Because all of their resources, all of their material and their manpower was being expended in taking east Aleppo where there was no ISIS presence.

Russia did not go into Syria to fight ISIS despite what Putin had said at the U.N. General Assembly two years. Russia went into Syria to prop up the Assad regime and to deter exactly this kind of U.S. intervention.

WHITFIELD: So, Nic, is there a feeling on the global stage that ISIS may have been emboldened by these U.S. air strikes? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I don't think

there is. I think the calculation is that this is -- these airstrikes have been a message to Assad that ISIS is already doing whatever it can to hold its territory, to fight against the United States and the Iraqis in Iraq, and in Syria as well, to hold onto their territory against an onslaught from the -- that led an alliance led by the United States that targets ISIS.

So, you know, I think the idea that certainly in capitals in Europe the idea that this narrative, that this strike is going to aid ISIS, I think that falls flat. I think what you're looking at from a European perspective is to get some more clarity from the United States on what the next move is. You just had the British Foreign secretary today who was due in Moscow on Monday ahead of Rex Tillerson announce now that he's not going to go. He's going to focus on the foreign ministers' G-7 meeting in Italy on Monday and Tuesday. Rex Tillerson will be there as well. The Germans, the French, the Italians, the Japanese, the Canadians as well, to try to get a sense of where America stands now on Assad and as well on ISIS.

[11:25:05] Remembering just a week and a half ago Defense Secretary James Mattis was here in London and the focus was entirely on ISIS and not Assad. So you had allies lining up behind the United States, if you will, with that view. That perspective. But now clearly Assad has entered a key part of the frame for the United States. They want to know what that picture looks like.

WHITFIELD: And so, Michael, what might that visit be like for the Secretary Tillerson in Moscow with this visit? Because there are mixed messages, you've got the U.N. ambassador -- U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley saying one thing.


WHITFIELD: There might be more and you've got Secretary Tillerson and even the president saying this could possibly be a one off and now you've got this meeting in Moscow. So how might this shape the U.S. strategy or impress an urgency to have a strategy?

WEISS: There's a lot of ambiguity about Rex Tillerson and his relationship with Moscow. He holds Sergey Lavrov in much lower steam than John Kerry did. Remember, every time John Kerry looked like he took a pie in the face from the Russians, that would be followed with some press conference where there'd be back slapping and yucking it up with Lavrov. Tillerson doesn't play like that even though in 2012 he was personally awarded the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin because of ExxonMobil's relationship --

WHITFIELD: Could that be leverage?

WEISS: Yes. Because I'm told look, Rex Tillerson is a very savvy negotiator. He knows how to deal with the Russians because he has done. It's not easy to do business with that government. He's prepared to walk away from the table if he feels like he's getting a bum deal. So whether or not this kind of manic depressive approach the White House is pro-Russia and yes, tomorrow it's anti-Russia, what are we going to do? They didn't expect Donald Trump of all presidents to launch airstrikes against Assad even however symbolic or negligible they may have been in the long-term.

This does provide the White House some opportunity to put Putin on notice and say we wanted to work with you. We came into office perhaps, you know, with your assistance --

WHITFIELD: Promising.

WEISS: Yes. And promising but now there's a new sheriff in town. And we're not going to roll over like the last administration did.

WHITFIELD: All right. So, Nic, as it pertains to the U.N. now, how undermining to the U.N. is this U.S. missile airstrike especially since reportedly the U.N. was working to solidify some sort of international plan? Can that still happen?

ROBERTSON: The answer is there's a lot of hope that it can. The reality is that it sets back. I mean, if you look at the U.N. as the main institution that's trying to bring a lasting peace to Syria, that was U.N. Resolution 2254 that led to the talks that are going on still dragging out in Geneva that should have concluded this summer after 18 months and are a million miles from being concluded but had really rested and resided on their sort of ability to move forward at all on some sort of cooperation between the United States and Russia or a mutual understanding.

That just doesn't seem to be there. But there is a lot of emphasis from the European partners and in the region as well that their focus should now after this strike be put into finding a ceasefire and getting those political talks up and running. That's a huge diplomatic lift from where things stand right now. So does -- has the U.N. been undermined by this particular action?

In a way, it's been set back. What the United States has done what I would say some of its allies have been hoping might be done that Russia's bluff has been called. Nikki Haley has essentially said to the Russian ambassador there, by we don't -- what you're saying we don't trust it. We don't believe it. This is what we believe. We believe -- we believe essentially you're lying. So rebuilding that trust always around to make the U.N. effective and the talks effective. It's a long way from here.

WHITFIELD: All right. Michael, you wanted to punctuate that?

WEISS: No. I think he said it all.

WHITFIELD: OK. All right. All right. Very comprehensive from both of you. Thank you so much, Nic Robertson and Michael Weiss. Appreciate that.

All right. For ways that you can help those affected by the violence in Syria, go to and we will be right back.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back. There are a few things that Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Donald Trump agree on. Apparently hitting Syria's air capabilities after chemical weapons attack is one of them. Senator McCain calls the strike a positive first step.


SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We have choices. If you think the last eight years were a good idea, let's keep doing it. If you don't, then we ought to back the president but also recognize this is the beginning. This is only the first step. If we want to succeed, we're going to have to step by step do a lot more.


SCIUTTO: Just hours before the U.S. strike, we heard Hillary Clinton push for a military response to chemical attacks.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I really believe that we should have and still should take out his airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them.


SCIUTTO: Let's speak to our panel now. David Swerdlick is a CNN political commentator and an assistant editor at the "Washington Post," Michael Allen, a former majority staff director of the House Intelligence Committee, and Josh Rogin, a CNN political analyst and columnist at the "Washington Post."

David, if I could begin with you. I mean, to be fair, military action is almost always gets bipartisan support. It's the U.S. against a bad actor particularly in a case like this, horrific attack, one that involves children, women, et cetera. Does this bipartisan support following this attack matter? Does it have value going forward?

[11:35:09]DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, good morning, Jim. I think it does to a degree. It worked out well for President Trump that Secretary Clinton, for instance, spoke out just hours before the missile launch took place urging him to do essentially what he did.

I think that probably muted some potential criticism that he might have gotten from some Democrats and I do think as you point out that in a situation like this where the commander-in-chief is taking action, you have people on both the left and right and people bunched closer to the middle, Democrats and Republicans, backing up this kind of limited, you know, sort of message sending action.

And then you have people on the far left and far right in this case being a little less, you know, more disenchanted with the action the president took. So I think at this stage, there is going to be some bipartisanship among Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. It depends on what the president does going forward that is going to shake out where people stand on this issue.

SCIUTTO: Josh Rogin, what would the bipartisanship be for exactly? Would it be discussions of a more comprehensive U.S. military intervention in Syria? Is anybody really talking about that or considering that including the president?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's where I disagree with David a little. I don't think President Trump did what Hillary Clinton was talking about. She's talking about actually degrading Assad's ability to do this thing. That's not what happened this week. This was symbolic strike.

That airfield is up and running and several other airfields are also up and running are still killing Syrian civilians at a blistering rate even today. So this bipartisanship for a number of different reasons is very fleeting.

You'll have people like John McCain, who are going to be saying, OK, great. Now we've done the first strike. Now we need to do a lot more. That's not where a lot of other Republicans are and not where a lot of Democrats are and it doesn't seem to be where the Trump administration is, OK.

They're putting out signals that we might do more if Assad puts out more chemical weapons attacks but what about the ways he's killing people all day long. It doesn't seem like they're changing their military posture on that stuff at all.

In fact, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said don't expect a major change in policy after this. Everybody can sort of get behind we stood up for the principle of an international norm where people can't use chemical weapons but that's just for today.

You know, until we see what the plan is and until they come up with a plan, I haven't seen one, a strategy for what happens when Russians retaliate and Syrians continue to do horrendous stuff, I think that bipartisanship is tough to keep together.

SCIUTTO: Michael Allen, you served on the House Intelligence Committee. You had to deal with in your time decisions like this. Military action response to bad behavior. Looking at this within 24 hours, there were planes taking off from that runway and bombs dropping on the heads of civilians. Not chemical weapons but civilians were dying at the hands of the Syrian Air Force backed by Russia. Is that embarrassing following a show of U.S. military might like this?

MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER MAJORITY STAFF DIRECTOR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I don't necessarily think it's not embarrassing. I think the United States did marginally increase our credibility by going after this chemical weapons capability that Assad has. But look, I agree fundamentally with Josh. I think Senator McCain and others will be disappointed in the long run. I think Trump administration saw this as one and done or as the military says a bracketed sort of event that's over with now. I mean, the real question is Tillerson goes to Moscow this week. Is he going to be able to succeed? I know he would like to.

Is he going to be able to succeed in causing any kind of wedge between Assad and Putin? I think that's very unlikely. It looks like the Russians are doubling down again with Assad.

SCIUTTO: You know, it's interesting, Josh and David, as I watched this. It reminded me a bit looking back a little bit for some younger viewers but to 1998 after the U.S. Embassy bombings, the U.S. fired under President Clinton cruise missiles at al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan what they thought was chemical weapons factory in Sudan.

That was kind of one and done, a bracketed event. Of course, a couple of years later you have the "USS Cole" attack and 9/11 following, and I remember President Clinton got criticism for sort of you know, a symbolic show of force rather than an actual strategy. Is that a fair parallel?

ROGIN: Not only is it a fair parallel, Jim, remember in 2013 before Obama decided to strike and then decided not to strike, John Kerry got up and said don't worry. These will be unbelievably small pinprick strikes and everybody laughed at him, everyone. All of the Republicans who are now saying, wow, this is such a great, strong, blah, blah, blah, John Kerry why say that?

If you do small things that are just symbolic with no real plan or willingness to do a lot more, that's not going to work, OK.

[11:40:10]And now there's a lot of aspirational thinking this is going to really work. The truth is we don't know if it's going to work. The only difference between this and 1998, Syria is a much, much bigger problem and has implications as President Trump said in his justification for attacking Syria for the region and the world and refugees and terrorism.

You know, you can do a one and done when random Shabab people bomb the outer wall of an embassy somewhere in Africa. The Syria problem affects millions of people including America and so you can't just sort of hit them and then walk away and be, like, we did it. This is great. It's not going to fly.

SCIUTTO: It's all in the follow-through. David Swerdlick, Michael Allen, with me here. Josh Rogin, thanks very much. Please stay with us. We got a lot more to discuss. More news coming in. We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: All right, new developments out of Sweden where Friday's deadly attack in the nation's capital there could have been far worse. Swedish media says that a bag of undetonated explosives were found in the truck that rammed pedestrians.

Swedish police are trying to determine if it was a bomb or flammable device. Police say the man arrested Friday on terrorism offenses is from Uzbekistan and known to intelligence services. That man apparently suffering burns from the faulty explosives.

CNN international correspondent, Max Foster, is live for us in Stockholm with the very latest. So Max, what are you learning?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fred, it could have been so much worse if those explosives had gone off indeed. If you could see the road behind me, you can't see it because of the wall of flowers, you see how the road he thundered down was tight and full of people and extraordinary that more people died.

Thankfully more people didn't die, of course, but this has really shaken people up and this is really behind me an expression of that because people are coming down here whether they are ministers that went from prime minister down to people that were involved in the attacks and saw it unfold.

Just members of the public who just want to express themselves some way have come along and put flowers in this fence which is basically just a fence around the building site and they hung flags and some young guys came along a little earlier on and just hung up this flag and there's a sign there that says stronger together.

So what you have when we arrived this morning, Fredricka, was a building fence we could see straight through to the attack site and the department store, which is right on the corner of it because the truck drove straight into it.

We can see all that earlier on. And now, you know, in an impromptu way people come along and created a wall and something quite beautiful has formed here. It really is. The message we get today is an act of defiance.

The foreign minister telling me we that shouldn't learn to get used to this. We just saw the prime minister walk down the high street. The part of it that's still open just talking to people and showing that life goes on. This is a country and a city and actually a continent because it echoes many other attacks that won't be cowered by terror -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Max Foster, thank you so much from Stockholm, Sweden.

All right, these next few images we're about to show you I do want to warn you are graphic. A man holding his two lifeless kids after the recent chemical attack in Syria. Ahead, we'll explain how the Syrian president has used this weapon in the past on his own people.


[11:52:03] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. More than six years of civil war in Syria now, bloody civil war in one of the most horrific chemical attacks yet coming just months into President Trump's term. Why would Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gas his own people and why now? I want to warn you, the images we're about to see are disturbing. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has the story.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When ordinary Syrians rose up against injustice over six years ago, they had no idea they were opening a Pandora's Box of hell, of hospitals being bombed, starvation, the rise of ISIS and even mass use of chemical weapons by their President Bashar al-Assad.

But that's what the world let happen until this attack on a northwestern Syrian village in Idlib Province prompted the White House to act. Bombing the Syrian air field used to carry out Assad's gas attack. The scenes are horrific.

Children, gasping for air, twitching likely because of a nerve agent. Why would Assad do this? Why here? It is a major rebel stronghold in his way, but it wasn't the rebel jihadists here he hit but women and children, too.

People who may have fled violence but whose lives in rebel areas he wanted gone to terrify those who defied him into submission. Chemical weapons can do that.

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Explosives don't have the same dispersal and they are more discriminate. Chemical weapons are indiscriminate and people die horrible deaths.

WALSH: The world has been here before with Assad in August 2013. He used sarin said investigators near Damascus, crossing Barack Obama's red line. Obama didn't bomb but the U.N. did take away Syria's chemical weapons. Well, most of them.

Some experts believing Syria may still have hit those behind the 2013 attack to conceal their guilt. Assad may have misread Trump's willingness to act, but he may also benefit from this as his anti- American allies like Russia now have to stick by him.

BAER: I don't think, you know, judging Putin's character, he's going to back down on Syria. He will not back away from Assad. He will not come to a compromise with the Trump administration.

WALSH: None of these high-stakes chess games any consolation to those whose lives were torn apart by the invisible poison that hit Idlib's weakest.


SCIUTTO: Gut wrenching video there. That was CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. We're going to speak with him live at the top of the hour. Then why several Syrians in the U.S. support President Trump's message and even want him to do more now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about time. It's about time. I mean, to get rid of this tyrant, this evil tyrant and stop him and stop those who are supporting him.




WHITFIELD: Hello, everyone. Thanks so much for joining us. We're doing things a little differently this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in New York.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto joining Fred here in Washington. Just in to CNN, communications now suspended after Russia revoked the Syrian airspace agreement between the U.S. Russia is now confirming after some confusion over the last 24 hours that it will shut down the phone hotline that aims to prevent midair collisions over Syria.

Our Pentagon reporter, Ryan Browne, is here to give us a response from the Pentagon. Has the Pentagon responded to this so far?