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Suicide Bombing Outside Ariana Grande Concert in Manchester; Grief, Outrage and Unanswered Questions in the U.K.; Waiting on President Trump's Remarks with Mahmoud Abbas; New Developments into Flynn, Russia Investigations. Aired 3:30-4a ET

Aired May 23, 2017 - 03:30   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A suicide bombing outside a concert in Manchester being treated as a terror incident. Who was the attacker who inspired him? How are police responding worldwide?

More of EARLY START'S complete coverage right now.

Welcome back to EARLY START on a devastating morning, everyone. I'm Dave Briggs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour here in the U.S., 10.30 in the morning in U.K. where grief, outrage and unanswered questions this morning after a deadly bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in England.

An apparent suicide attacker, killing at least 22 people at the Manchester arena. Children are among the dead. You can see these pictures, all of these young people there, some with their parents, some with parents waiting outside, gathered for this concert.

At least 59 others were injured. This explosion ripping through a public space we're told just outside the main concert area as everyone was leaving the show. Police are treating this incident as an act of terror.

BRIGGS: We can tell you a male at the scene has been identified as the probable bomber. Investigators are digging into his background as we speak. It was certainly a chaotic scene at the arena in the moments after this blast with thousands of concert-goers all trying to figure out what was happening.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. What's going on? What's happening? (muted). What's going on? Oh, my God!


BRIGGS: We begin in Manchester with CNN's Hala Gorani with the very latest on the investigation.

ROMANS: Good morning, Hala.

BRIGGS: Good morning.

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. We heard from Ian Hopkins, he's the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police and he confirmed the grim news that the death toll has now risen to 22, up from 15 earlier in the night. Fifty-nine people wounded, six hospitals are responding to the emergency cases brought in and tending to those who have been injured.

The police are saying 400 extra officers are now deployed across Manchester. Many people here very concerned about what happened. The police also confirming that this was a -- possibly a suicide bombing, that one individual is responsible for this attack, that that man, that man's body was recovered at the scene, and that that person detonated an IED, an improvised explosive device.

The big question now obviously is was he working alone. This is not an unsophisticated attack. It requires some level of expertise, putting together a bomb. We understand that many of the injuries are shrapnel injuries, and this would, in fact, fit into the scenario of potentially a bomb with ball bearings and all sorts of other metallic shrapnel pieces designed to cause maximum carnage.

You know, this was an Ariana Grande concert here in Manchester. It was one of several tour dates for the pop star in the United Kingdom and in Ireland as well. This was an attack on children, on 10-year-olds, 11-year-olds, tweens, teenagers. This is her fan base.

I spoke to one woman, Coral Long (Ph), whose 10-year-old daughter Robin (Ph) was among those in the audience. She said it is a miracle that nobody died in what ended up being a stampede after that very loud explosion was heard.

A lot of concern, a lot of grief this morning as Manchester wakes up to this terrorist attack. It's been many years since this type, this severity of terrorist attack has struck this country, since 2005 since a suicide bombing on the 7th of July, 2005 took the lives of dozens of people in London. Back to you.

[03:35:14] ROMANS: And that, Hala, that London in 2005, that was a coordinated attack, I think four different bombers there and on the tube and on the train. That was something that really shook -- or on a bus. It was something that really shook Londoners to the core, 52 dead in that attack and changes to security and to surveillance in the city after that. Let me ask you about the response to this terror attack.


ROMANS: I mean, the hash tag room for Manchester popping up right away as people sprang into action around the arena there and started bringing in -- bringing in frightened children and their parents and helping them get settled and helping them get -- you know, get settled and get to their family members. Tell us a little bit about the response around the arena.

GORANI: Well, we did see a lot of solidarity in the hours following the attack. People offering rooms, places to sleep, places to stay for parents and their kids, also taxis were offering free rides for people who needed to get from a to b.

You can imagine, some parents for many hours after this attack didn't know where their children were. Dozens of them were gathered in a Holiday Inn hotel across from the arena. I'm on the other side of the arena to where this attack actually took place.

And so, for several hours you had parents and relatives who weren't sure that their kids were OK. The police provided emergency numbers and numbers for relatives and friends to check in on loved ones. So you did see a lot of solidarity.

But right now police and counterterrorism agents are scrambling because they need to know as quickly as possible was this person on their radar, and also almost more importantly at this stage was this person working alone.

Oftentimes in cases like this you need someone who knows how to build a bomb. This requires a certain level of know-how. Was that person the person that detonated the bomb? Did they get the information online or were they helped by somebody who knows how to put together this type of explosive device? Is it a network, is it a lone wolf?

All of those questions need answers and they need answers to those questions very quickly because they want to make sure they catch any plot unfolding before it happens this time, because this is going to be a huge shock for the U.K.

As I mentioned, it's been years since this type of suicide attack has struck this country. Now, unlike France and Belgium and other European countries, the U.K. is an island, it's more isolated, it can control who comes in and out.

And again, that will lead to the question, is this home-grown or is this someone who came in from abroad. So right now they have their work cut out for them.

And at the highest levels of government, the prime minister is holding a security meeting called Cobra in London, and we're expecting her also to update us with more on what authorities know actually happened in Manchester at around 10.33 p.m. last night. Back to you.

BRIGGS: Hala Gorani, thanks so much. We will check in with you next hour. We are expecting that Cobra meeting as she said 9 o'clock local time in London. We are expecting to see and hear from the President of the United States any moment now. No official White House statement yet. He will appear alongside Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President.

ROMANS: White House adviser to the president spokesman saying he is now being briefed and kept up to date by his national security team. Interesting, Theresa May who is the Prime Minister of Britain is going

to hold that high level meeting with her national security folks, she used to be the home secretary of her country so she is intimately aware of the issues and challenges for the United Kingdom.

Some 60 ambulances responded to the blast at the Manchester arena, taking victims to local hospitals.

Our Erin McLaughlin joins us live. She is at the Manchester Royal Infirmary where some of the wounded are being treated. Have you been briefed? Are doctors there or officials there telling you about the extent or the types of injuries here?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not at the moment, Christine. Right now authorities here say their priority is very much treating the victims that were admitted to the hospital in the wake of that horrific explosion.

We know that some 59 victims in total were administered to some six hospitals throughout the Manchester area. We're still waiting from authorities to hear what kinds of injuries that they're currently treating.

It was very much an all-hands-on-deck situation, especially when you consider in the overnight hours they closed this hospital to normal patients. They were only treating urgent cases. So that just gives you a sense of the magnitude of the emergency that authorities here were facing.

[03:40:00] I spoke to one eyewitness, 17-year-old Ellie Ward. She was here -- she was actually inside the arena when the explosion took place. She said that Ariana Grande had just finished her last song on stage when she and her friend heard this explosion.

They said they felt the explosion inside the arena. Her grandfather was nearby and sustained head injuries and he was brought to this hospital. So you're starting to get the sense not only were children involved in this horrendous attack, but also victims were parents, grandparents and who were there to actually pick them up.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much. Our Erin McLaughlin there in front of the hospital there in Manchester. Keep us up to speed with any information you get from doctors there. Again, 22 dead and, you know, some 50 or 60 injured here. So we are going to be watching closely as the day wears on here.

BRIGGS: And one of the heartbreaking things here, Christine, as you check on Twitter and there are parents and loved ones searching for their children, have not yet been reconnected with them. Just a deplorable, despicable act of terror in Manchester.

We are waiting to hear from world leaders, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister called this an appalling terrorist attack. We also heard from Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who perhaps best characterized what he saw overnight in Manchester.


MALCOLM TURNBULL, PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: As parents we keenly feel the anxiety of those parents waiting to learn of their children's safety on this terrible night.

Mr. Speaker, this incident, this attack is especially vial, especially criminal, especially horrific because it appears to have been deliberately directed at teenagers. This is an attack on innocents. Surely there is no crime more reprehensible than the murder of children.


BRIGGS: Now, as we await remarks from President Trump alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, you can see the screen in the lower portion of the corner.

Let's bring in Robin Simcox. He is a counterterrorism and national security expert at the Heritage Foundation. Thanks for joining us, Robin. Needless to say we will jump out to join the president as soon as they begin speaking, but from what you have seen about this attack, whether it be the style of attack, who was targeted, what are you gleaning?

ROBIN SIMCOX, COUNTERTERRORISM & NATIONAL SECURITY EXPERT, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Well, obviously we don't know the particulars yet. We don't know for sure which group carried this out, and there's a lot we still need to learn. But the fact that it's a suicide attack, the fact that it was targeting civilians with such impunity, the kind of -- the fact it appears to be some kind of nail bomb and shrapnel and you're getting -- it is clearly intended to inflict the most amount of casualties possible suggest that this is something like a group like ISIS who have carried this out or individuals inspired by them.

Of course, we don't know exactly yet, we don't know the identity of the perpetrator, but everything I'm seeing from the police, the statements that are coming out, we're hearing from intelligence officials, it looks to me as if that's the direction that this is heading in.

ROMANS: It is the ultimate soft target. The bomber was not inside the venue but outside we are told from these preliminary reports from law enforcement. So these children, teenagers, preteenagers, their parents and grandparents walking out of the facility, so you have just all of this humanity coming out of the -- out of the facility.

What does the choice of this location tell you about potential strategies or how many people it would have taken to pull something like this off?

SIMCOX: Well, I think if -- if it was a suicide bomb, an IED, I don't think that's the sort of thing that's very easy for somebody who has been radicalized, for example, over the internet to construct.

And it's not especially easy for ISIS to guide somebody like that through the process of constructing it. I think it requires a bit of expertise. So then you're essentially asking, well, is there a broader network surrounding the suicide bomber?

Where did he get the expertise from? Did he have any training abroad? Could he have possibly been to Syria or Yemen or Afghanistan? If it's the case that it was this suicide attack and it appears that indications are pointing that way, that would suggest to me that there is a broader network.

And so then the U.K. authorities are going to be not only trying to find out who the perpetrator of the bombing is but also who does he know, was he on intelligence radar, who was on his phone list, who has he been contacting, does he had any kind of electronic communications abroad, is he using encrypted messaging apps?

[03:45:06] And these are the things that the authorities are going to have to try and find out in the days ahead.

BRIGGS: All of these questions being asked as this investigation is underway as we speak. We are awaiting remarks from President Trump alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. You can see the screen in the lower portion of the corner, we will join them as soon as those remarks begin. Still no official comment from the White House.

Let's now put up a tweet from the 23-year-old pop singer Ariana Grande who was performing at this concert. She react with these words. "Broken, from the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry. I don't have words."

She is fine, we are told from her manager, was not injured in this attack. Robin, let's get back to you on the terror threat level there in the U.K. was set at severe by m-15, meaning an attack is highly likely. Some would ask, well, then how would this happen? Is there any way to guard against attacks like this involving a suicide bomber? Is it impossible?

SIMCOX: Well, it is certainly not possible to stop every terrorist attack, that's for sure. There's around 3,000 people in the U.K. that mi-5 has believes are terrorist suspects. Obviously the U.K. doesn't have the resources or the capacity to be able to track anything like that amount of people.

So it is constantly making assessments, who are the people we think are closest to going operational, who are the people that are just talk a good game but don't actually carry on, aren't actually willing to go through and carry out an attack.

So, of course, it's not an exact science. You are always going to get it wrong on occasion. I think what's a bit concerning about this is the fact that it was an IED and that this -- so the vest, the suicide bomb was constructed in the U.K., it was constructed under the noses of the authorities.

None of their informant networks picked this up, none of the electronic communications picked this up, because this is not just like going to buy a knife at a local shop or hiring a truck and then seeking out civilians.

BRIGGS: Right.

SIMCOX: There was a level of expertise, and you would hope enough red flags were raised that the U.K. authorities would get wind of the plot. It doesn't look like that happened.

ROMANS: Theresa May, the Prime Minister, used to be the home secretary. So she is intimately aware of, you know, protecting the homeland there for the United Kingdom.

Just two months ago, there was this car ramming, knife-wielding attack in Westminster. It was terrifying, right there in the heart of London.

What kind of pressure does this put on the government in terms of immigration policy and in terms of security policy here?

SIMCOX: Well, immigration is a subject never far from the minds of British people. It's been a very important subject in recent months and years, and partially helps explain why Britain voted to leave the European Union.

But, of course, it may be the almost three-quarters of people who are involved in Islamism-related offenses in U.K. are actually British nationals. So the overwhelming threat in the U.K. is from home-grown terrorism. It is also mostly home-grown terrorists who carried out the suicide bombings on the London transport network back in 2005.

So the perpetrator, the identity of the perpetrator will go some way to informing the discussion in weeks and months ahead. Either we're going to see a renewed conversation around immigration, refugee flows, for example, and related issues or we're going to be asking why does this home grown radicalization happen in the U.K. time and time again? How are we not able to stop it? What can we possibly do to avert this kind of attack in the future? So either way there's going to be lots of hard questions ahead for the U.K.

ROMANS: Hard to watch these pictures of so many young people so terrified. Robin, I want to read a statement that we're getting from the State Department. "We are closely monitoring the tragic incident at Manchester arena which U.K. police are treating as a terrorist attack. We stand ready to provide all possible consular assistance should we become aware of any affected U.S. citizens. We urge U.S. citizens in Manchester to contact family members and loved ones to notify them that you are safe."

From your vantage point in counterterrorism what is the next step? I guess officials in big cities around the world -- I know in the United States, New York is monitoring all of its -- all of its security procedures, you know, from a counterterrorism perspective. What's next?

SIMCOX: Well, I think you have to question is this going to -- is it going -- are there going to be copycat attacks. Has this -- has this provided some inspiration for others to think, OK, this is how -- these are the soft targets, this is how I can carry out my plot, this is how I can do my bit if we -- if we work on the assumption there's some kind of ISIS-inspired motive. [03:50:05] So, there is going to be lots of concern across Europe that

there may be similar attacks. I especially think of when the -- you've had a spate of vehicles being used as weapons in Europe in recent months after taking the lead from the Nice truck attacker back in the summer of 2016.

But, you know, ultimately the problem is there are venues like the one in Manchester in cities all over the U.K., in Leeds, in Nottingham, in Sheffield. There's lots of them in London. And this is -- this is the situation across Europe.

So really there's no way that you can have any kind of police capacity to be able to -- to be able to safeguard all of these venues. Ultimately this comes down to having the best intelligence possible.

ROMANS: Right.

SIMCOX: And, you know, Europe has different quality levels of intelligence service. The British are actually about the highest level you can get in Europe, but it wasn't enough.

ROMANS: Yes. Mi-5 when they track the people on their list, you know, French authorities, for example, or critics have said the French authorities should take a, you know, a page out of the mi-5's book for how they track there.


Robin stay with us. Here's the thing we're tracking at 3.51 Eastern Time. In nine minutes, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, expected to hold an emergency meeting called a Cobra meeting to address this situation and where the investigation goes next.

Now, we had expected to already have heard from President Donald Trump alongside Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President. That was slated for around 3.40 Eastern Time, which is 10.40, local time there. We are still awaiting these remarks. You can see that screen at the bottom of your corner and we will get to it as soon as they begin.

But now we want to hear from some of the victims, some of the victim's families, some of the parents still waiting to be connected with their children after this deadly, gruesome terror attack last night in Manchester.


CHARLOTTE CAMPBELL, OLIVIA CAMPBELL'S MOTHER: She went to the concert with her friend. I spoke to her just before 10 o'clock. She was enjoying herself. And we've not heard anything from her since. We've been -- we've phoned hospitals, we've phoned everywhere we can think. We've posted on every social network and there's nothing, there's no news of her. She is now registered as a missing person.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: We're going to put her picture. There she is. We're putting her picture on the green for our viewers to see. What do you want people to know about what parents like you are dealing with tonight? I don't know if you could even put it into words.

CAMPBELL: I can't. It is the most horrible feeling ever to know that your daughter is there, you can't find her. You don't know if she is dead or alive. I don't know how people can do this to innocent children.



CAMPBELL: She's just petrified that whoever did this would come to the house or would go to her school. She's just -- she's devastated. For her at 10 years old to witness something like that, it's just horrific.

People just pushing and trying to get out, and I was screaming at people to stop pushing because my daughter was being pushed. For children to see their idols and then have this then impacting the rest of their lives is disgusting. These people are cowards. They're just sick cowards.


ROMANS: And to target children, to target preteens. Robin Simcox, I want to bring you back in. This is, of course, the point of terror attacks like this, to find a soft target and maximum public relations value.

SIMCOX: Yes. So this is obviously going to get huge amounts of ISIL, well, whatever terrorist group is responsible for this...


SIMCOX: ... is able to use it, of course, the recruit in the future. But let me offer an alternative possibly. This attack focusing -- which is so clearly focused on young girls, teenagers.

ROMANS: Pop culture.

SIMCOX: Pop culture. I wonder whether there's a possibility that this is such an egregious and outrageous attack that it may just turn some people away, because this isn't like targeting the military or some arm of the government, as reprehensible as those attacks also are.

This is very clearly something above and beyond what we've seen in the U.K. before, and so I do -- my only possible hope from such a horrendous incident is that maybe this will finally force a reappraisal from some of the people who are perhaps on the periphery of radicalized movements to see this is what these people -- this is what these ideologues, this is what these fanatics truly want to do.

[03:55:00] They want to blow up young girls, people who have -- couldn't possibly have been in any way involved in any of the grievances you hear terrorist groups push forward about why they carry out these kind of attacks. I mean, is it perhaps a follow-on hope that -- it is the only thing I can possibly offer as any kind of optimism on a night like tonight.

ROMANS: That's a -- a little optimism 10 hours into this, 11 hours into this is something that is sorely needed.

We are watching in the lower right-hand corner of your screen, we are awaiting remarks from President Trump with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. They are arriving at that location, at least the folks who are with them, their entourages.

Robin, finally I just have one question, you have been seeing all of these pictures of these young people running out of the stadium. Are there -- is there a need for new procedures and policies do you think here?

I mean, this was an explosion outside of the main area, in a public area. Does there need to be maybe a perimeter, do we need to do things differently, or is this just the one that got through?

SIMCOX: I tend to think it is the one that got through just because of the scale of what you would have to do if you were -- if you were going to change the way that we -- I mean, concerts take place across the U.K. all the time, of a similar size, a similar scale.

And so, do the police have to change the security getting into the concert or establishing a perimeter? Possibly so, but then, you know, if it is not concert halls it's football matches or its restaurants. And so you then end up being at the stage where there is always going to be another soft target.

And so where does it possibly end? Now, it may be that there are some changes that need to be made as in context of what has happened tonight, but I think we also need to accept as long as this hateful ideology is out there willing to kill innocents, there's only so much we can ever really expect government to be able to do to fix that.

ROMANS: All right. Robin Simcox, so great to have your perspective here. Almost 11 hours after this attack, being treated as a terrorist attack in Manchester. Thank you, sir.

SIMCOX: Thank you.

BRIGGS: All right. We will check back with you next hour. On top of all that's been happening with the Manchester bombing and the president's trip, there is a long list of important developments on the investigation into Michael Flynn and the Trump campaign ties to Russia.

First, President Trump called two top U.S. intelligence figures, asking them to publicly deny or push back this evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russia during the election. That story first report by the Washington Post.

ROMANS: Current and former U.S. officials tell CNN that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates and NSA Director Michael Rogers were both uncomfortable with the president's request and refused to comply. The president called Rogers and Coates after then FBI Director James

Comey publicly revealed in March that the bureau was investigating possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia.

BRIGGS: Also Robert Mueller, the new special counsel investigating Russian election meddling, has now been brief on memos Comey wrote documenting conversations he had with President Trump.

In one memo Comey wrote that the president asked him to end the FBI probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. People familiar with the matter say Mueller has also visited FBI headquarters to meet counterintelligence agents who have been working on the case for nearly a year.

ROMANS: We have also learned that Michael Flynn will not comply with the subpoena from the Senate intelligence committee and will invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

The republican chairman of the committee, Richard Burr and the ranking democrat Mark Warner say immunity for Flynn is off the table. They say they are reviewing options to compel Flynn's testimony including possible contempt charges.

BRIGGS: And the top democrat on the House oversight committee now says Michael Flynn lied to investigators who vetted him for his 2016 security clearance renewal.

In a letter to committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, Elijah Cummings says "Flynn claimed his foreign trips were paid for by U.S. companies and that he did not receive any benefit from a foreign country, but in fact the trips including a 2015 event where he received $45,000 to speak were paid for by R.T., a propaganda arm of the Russian government.

We will speak with David Drucker, a CNN political analyst, from the Washington Examiner shortly on this.

ROMANS: And we are just getting word that Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader has expressed his condolences over the Manchester attack directly to Theresa May, and he has had a statement out now.

We are awaiting word directly from the President of the United States, we have heard from his -- Sean Spicer, his spokesperson saying he has been briefed by his national security team on what happened in Manchester.

BRIGGS: More than 10 hours after the attack we soon expect to hear from the president alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

[04:00:01] EARLY START continues right now.