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U.K. Terror Threat Level Raised to Critical; North Korea Threat; Syrian Civil War; Ethnic Cleansing Unfolding in Myanmar; Hurricane Irma's Aftermath. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired September 16, 2017 - 03:00   ET



NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Terror level critical. A nationwide manhunt is underway in the U.K. after a bomb detonates on the tube during rush hour.

After North Korea's latest missile launch, the U.S. considers its military options to deal with threats from Pyongyang. We'll tell you what President Trump had to say.

And later, life after ISIS. Fred Pleitgen flies along with the Russian army to look at a Syrian town just freed from ISIS control.

It's all ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen and we begin right now.


ALLEN: The terror threat in Britain is at its highest level after Friday morning's explosion on board the London tube. That means another incident is not only possible but expected.

Investigators are working to track down the suspect or suspects before that can happen. Meantime, forensic experts are trying to determine if this explosive device used a substance called TATP. That's been used in several deadly terror attacks in Europe this year.

The device also had a timer attached. It did not fully detonate. But if it had gone off as intended, dozens could have died. Even with just a partial explosion, 29 people were wounded, many badly burned. British prime minister Theresa May is warning people to stay alert.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The Joint Terrorism Analysis Center -- that's the independent organization which is responsible for setting the threat level on the basis of available intelligence -- has now decided to raise the national threat level from severe to critical. This means that their assessment is that a further attack may be imminent.


ALLEN: Let's talk more about that. Nina dos Santos is outside the station where this happened just about 24 hours ago there in London.

And, Nina, you were saying earlier that it's kind of calm there and even the station is back open, is that right?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR: That's right. Well, let me just step aside for a second so that you can see the station and it is heavily guarded. But as you can see, people are managing to go in and out. But a number of the passengers incredulous to the fact that it is open.

Often we've seen them stop the police officers and say, can I get through?

Are trains actually passing here?

And we have seen a number of trains stopped routinely, as normally; you can probably see the track just above me. That's where the stricken train has been taken away, clearing the track so things are now back up and running.

But this kind of increased security presence, it may be rare in these kinds of residential areas, the suburbs of London. But we are going to see a lot more of it, it seems, according to the Metropolitan Police, especially in some of the more central areas.

But you'd often think would be bigger targets than a place like for instance Parsons Green this leafy suburb in West London. And they've free up a number of officers by bringing in the army to help. That'll free up 1,000 officers to protect people across the British capital and the rest of the U.K.

But at the moment, as you pointed out, Natalie, the real focus is that the situation has been upscaled significantly in terms of the security threat to its highest level, which is a critical state of alert. That means that another attack is imminent.

And so obviously the people in communities like these and across the rest of the British capital, the big question is, how quickly will authorities manage to intercept the individual or individuals that could have been behind this attack before they can do further damage -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Right and any inkling that they have any people under suspicion?

They certainly have so much video to pore over. And you have said before they were asking people to send in more?

DOS SANTOS: Yes, that's right. We heard overnight in a statement from the assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Mark Rowley, that they had been interviewing hundreds of witnesses.

Remember, there would have been hundreds of witnesses on the train, on the tracks behind me this time yesterday, right at the height of the Friday morning rush hour. And they're appealing to anybody who has cell phone footage to send in. There's special e-mail addresses and counterterrorism hotlines for people to do -- use to do that.

But remember, that this is a very intensely surveillance-heavy network across the London Underground. It has been a target for years, all the way back since the days of the IRA campaigns of the 1970s.

And as such, there's lots of CCTV footage for them to go through. In fact, before getting to Parsons Green, there's only five stops that somebody could have got on, on this northbound line before Parsons Green if, indeed, they had left this device on the tube carriage on the way here, if it wasn't left at Parsons Green so there's --


DOS SANTOS: -- going to be five stops they will look at CCTV footage on.

It was left on a relatively new open carriage train, which is why the fireball seems to have gone all the way through the train. But those trains do have a lot of CCTV footage as well.

As you can imagine, they have to dedicate hundreds of officers to go through all of these hours of footage and then of course there's public pressure to find out whether or not they are closing in on the perpetrator here.

We should mention that ISIS has claimed responsibility for this attack online. But the Metropolitan Police treating that kind of statement with caution, saying, this is par for the course. Very often, ISIS does claim responsibility for attacks like these. Until we know exactly who is behind it, we are not confirming that we're giving that kind of claim any credence at all at this hour -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right. Thank you for bringing us the latest, Nina dos Santos for us there.

The U.S. president, Donald Trump, called the British prime minister after the incident to offer his condolences. Here's what he said afterward.


TRUMP: Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of London that vicious terrorists attack today. I spoke with a wonderful woman, British Prime Minster Theresa May, this morning and relayed America's deepest sympathy as well as our absolute commitment to eradicate the terrorists from our planet. Radical Islamic terrorism, it will be eradicated, believe me.


ALLEN: But earlier President Trump responded to the bombing with a series of tweets and this is what he said.

"Another attack in London by a loser terrorist. These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive." And, "The travel ban into the United States should be far larger,

tougher and more specific. But stupidly, that would not be politically correct."

Theresa May and London mayor, Sadiq Khan, were asked directly about President Trump's tweets. Here's what they said.


MAY: I never think it's helpful for anybody to speculate on what is an ongoing investigation. As I've just said, the police and security services are working to discover the full circumstances of this cowardly attack and to identify all those responsible.

SADIQ KHAN, MAYOR OF LONDON: I have not had a chance to look at Twitter, let alone tweet. What I do know is that there are many Americans in London who love London. There are many Americans, not just in America but around the world, who stand shoulder to shoulder with London.



ALLEN: Joining me now is Josh Rogin, he's a CNN political analyst and columnist with "The Washington Post."

Josh, thank you for being with us. Yet again President Trump begins the day with tweets and jumping to conclusions on the London terror.

Why does he keep doing that?

And why does that rattle some people in London?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There are two theories about why President Trump decided to speculate about the London terrorist attack, as the police investigation was just getting underway. One theory going around is that he was watching "FOX & Friends" and "FOX & Friends" was speculating that the London police must have known the identity or been tracking the identity of the terrorists beforehand. And Trump simply regurgitated that without checking his facts.

Another theory is that the president was simply looking to feed some positive messages to his base, to give them something to bolster their spirits after going against them on the issue of immigration earlier this week.

Either way, the result was the same. He put out information, which the London police immediately said was pure speculation and extremely unhelpful. He was then forced to talk with prime minister Theresa May about it.

He didn't apologize but they did talk about it. And the end result is another in a long line of incidents, where the president has jumped ahead of the facts, created an international diplomatic incident for no reason and used it to advance part of his domestic political agenda.

ALLEN: Right. Theresa May's former chief said on Twitter, "True or not -- and I'm sure he doesn't know -- this is so unhelpful from leader of our ally and intelligence partner."

Where's General Kelly in this?

He was supposed to bring some order to the White House. He's apparently done that somewhat but we have a president who still does this, speaks his mind without checking his facts.

ROGIN: Right. What we've learned is that General Kelly generally has the ability to manage down. He's put in processes to control the staff. He cannot manage up. He cannot manage the president. He cannot take away the president's phone. He cannot stop him from tweeting nonsense. He cannot stop him from starting diplomatic incidents before anyone figures it out.

And that's the best that anyone has been able to do with President Trump. So there is more order. There is more semblance --


ROGIN: -- of a process for the way that the president gets information. But the president can always turn on the TV and hear something wrong and repeat it. And it doesn't seem like General Kelly or anyone else can stop that.

ALLEN: And it doesn't seem to bother him, because he chose not to apologize to Theresa May.

ROGIN: Unfortunately.

ALLEN: As far as North Korea goes, he said today, on Friday, that military options would be robust as a result of their latest missile strike; whereas other analysts and former Trump allies say there is no good option with North Korea.

ROGIN: Right. I mean generally, you know, we call a Kinsley gaffe in Washington, is when you say something publicly that everybody knows is true but you're not supposed to say it. And that's what happened when Steve Bannon, shortly before he was fired, said that there is no military option for North Korea because tens of millions of South Koreans would die in that scenario.

Now the president still maintains and his senior staff still maintains that military options are on the table. And technically, that's a true statement. Those options do exist. They are a last resort.

At the same time, the credibility of those options is waning day by day as North Korea's military nuclear and missile programs advance. There's no real enthusiasm for starting a war with a nuclear-armed North Korea.

But for the purposes of the negotiation and for the purposes of posturing, this is what the president's going to continue to say. And I think you're going to see a lot of that next week at the United Nations general assembly in New York.

ALLEN: We'll be waiting for that. Josh Rogin, thank you so much for joining us.

ROGIN: Anytime.


ALLEN: Of course, Josh there, talking about U.S. frustration and dealing with North Korea. The U.N. Security Council on Friday condemned Pyongyang's latest missile test. But leader Kim Jong-un remains as defiant as ever.

He reportedly called the test "perfect" and said it marked an important step toward deploying nuclear weapons. It was the second time in less than a month that North Korea has fired a missile over Japan.

Ian Lee joins us from Seoul, South Korea, with the latest from there.

Ian, certainly Kim Jong-un always gleeful and smiling after he watches a launch, and those pictures indicate that.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, especially after a successful launch and test of a missile, Natalie. We've seen him gleeful lately with not only this missile test but also you have the testing of the hydrogen bomb and the declaration that North Korea can put an intercontinental ballistic missile on top of an ICBM.

We're also hearing now that the North Koreans are going to the U.N. Security Council, saying that the joint exercises between the United States and Korea, that those exercises threaten international peace and security.

It's interesting, though, is that those exercises are within legal international law, except for, you know, when you look at North Korea, their nuclear tests are not. So it will be interesting to see how the U.N. Security Council actually deals with their petition. But this is really just a defiant North Korea.

ALLEN: Right. President Trump will be there and we will hear what he has to say. But this time, South Korea fired back, quite literally.

What can you tell us?

LEE: That's right. Just six minutes after North Korea tested their missile, South Korea launched two missiles of its own. And they say this missile could -- their missiles could hit the Sunan air base or -- which is where North Korea tested their missile, although one of the South Korean missiles did fail. It fell into the sea.

This is just a continuation of the show of force we have seen from the South Koreans, matching everything that the North Koreans have done. Whenever North Korea tests something, South Korea comes out with their live-fire military exercises. And then we have these two missiles that were tested while that North

Korean missile was in the air. You know, President Moon Jae-in has said that he could reduce -- he could take out North Korea militarily if he wanted to, if there was any provocations from the North. But he has insisted that he still wants to solve this crisis through dialogue -- Natalie.

ALLEN: That certainly would be a better option. But it has not worked in the past. We will wait and see what happens next. Ian, thank you.


ALLEN (voice-over): Also don't forget to tune in to our special program on North Korea. It's this weekend, Will Ripley's "SECRET STATE" has an exclusive look inside North Korea. That's Saturday at 1:00 pm in London, 9:00 pm in Seoul.

And coming up here, for years, ISIS fighters had tight control over a major Syrian city. Now people in Deir ez-Zor are slowly coming back home and they thank the Russians for that. Fred Pleitgen goes along.




ALLEN: And welcome back. You're watching CNN.

We are following the anger is St. Louis, Missouri, after a judge acquitted former police officer Jason Stockley of murder in the 2011 shooting death of an African American man named Anthony Lamar Smith.

A short while ago, demonstrators were hit by tear gas. Police arrested 13 people. Four officers have also been injured; at least two hurt by a thrown brick. Critics are comparing the judge's decision to the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri, police. The former police officer in the Smith case claimed he acted in self- defense. Prosecutors accused him of planting a gun to justify the shooting.

CNN is getting access to one of the cities in Syria hardest hit by the war there. Deir ez-Zor was once gripped by ISIS, and often the scene of military clashes. Now we're getting a look at how residents are trying to rebuild and why many of them thank Russia for that. Here's our Fred Pleitgen.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Takeoff towards one of the most brutal battlefields in Syria, protected by heavily armed gunships. The Russian army is taking us to the former ISIS stronghold, Deir ez-Zor.

PLEITGEN: Even though the Syrian and Russian armies managed to push ISIS back, there are still a lot of ISIS fighters here in this area. That's why taking a helicopter is the safest way to get to Deir ez- Zor.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): After landing in this dusty desert town close to the Iraqi border, the Russian army takes us to the city center. ISIS ruled most of Deir ez-Zor for more than three years and besieged government-held parts of the town.

Now commerce is returning here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Russia is a friend, a very, very good friend. We like Russia. We respect and appreciate them. What Russia did for us is so great. Their efforts are too great to describe.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The Syrian army and its Russian backers are continuing their offensive against ISIS in Southeast Syria, trying to win back the remaining parts of this key town, which remains scarred by the fighting.

PLEITGEN: This area here used to be right on the front line between Syrian government force and ISIS. And the entire area that you see behind me here, all of these sand berms, just a few days ago, those were ISIS fighting positions.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The Russian military says it believes a victory in Deir ez-Zor would put them close to ousting ISIS from all of southeastern Syria.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Our forces have already pushed ISIS about five to six kilometers away from the city on the left side of the Euphrates. But the most important thing is the blockade on the city has been lifted and the people are receiving humanitarian aid.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): But gains are quickly reversed in the Eastern Syrian desert and Russia warns, while the forces they support have been moving forward fast, tough battles still --


PLEITGEN (voice-over): -- lie ahead -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Deir ez- Zor, Syria.


ALLEN: Human Rights Watch has issued a new report accusing Myanmar of deliberately burning Rohingya villages near the Bangladesh border. It matches similar findings by Amnesty International, which calls the operation a clear case of ethnic cleansing.

CNN's Alexandra Field is at a refugee camp in Bangladesh.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're just a few miles from the border of Myanmar, where the United Nations says it's seeing a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.

(INAUDIBLE) triggered a humanitarian crises that has sent some (INAUDIBLE) thousands Rohingya Muslims refugees streaming across the border right here into Bangladesh in just about three weeks.

The official camps for refugees are already full so these people are setting up whatever kind of shelter they can find. They've got some tarps. This is where entire families, entire communities are now living. They are sitting along the sides of the road, trying to make their way into other settlements. They are badly in need of food, water and medical care.

International aid organizations tell us they see people arriving with gunshot wounds. They also see people who have been injured by land mines. There are pregnant women who are arriving so malnourished, so sick that they are giving birth to babies that international aid organizations cannot survive. Those organizations say some of these babies are born, they die and they are buried right in the mud. That is the scale of the kind of catastrophe that we are witnessing here.

There are already some 400,000 Rohingya refugees were living here in Bangladesh (INAUDIBLE) Myanmar during previous bouts of violence. This latest mass exodus was triggered by an outbreak of violence that began back on August 25th, when Rohingya militants were said to have attacked -- when Rohingya militants attacked a border-- a number of border security posts.

The military responded with a campaign that has left some 1,000 people dead. Again, this is something that the United Nations is calling a textbook case of ethnic cleansing. The military says they are driving terrorists out of the country, 400,000 Rohingyas fleeing that country in just three weeks.

International aid organizations say there's no way they can keep up with the demand that is required by those who are arriving here in Bangladesh every day by the tens of thousands.

We have seen handouts of water, of food, of various supplies but those things are being given to the most vulnerable parts of the population, the sick, children and women. Of course, these aid organizations say, that with the supplies they have up against the number of people that they are trying to serve, they are only beginning to scratch the surface.

And an international effort is truly needed in order to deliver to these people the kind of help that they need -- in Bangladesh, near the border with Myanmar, Alexandra Field.


ALLEN: The once beautiful islands in the Caribbean are struggling to recover after Hurricane Irma. The ferocious storm struck the area last week and it killed 44 people. Many survivors are still lacking food, power and fuel.

On the island of Barbuda, almost all the buildings were destroyed, leaving the island uninhabitable for the first time in 300 years.

In the U.S., of course, Florida felt the brunt of the storm. About 1.5 million people there still without power.

On the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, two teenager brothers survived the hurricane but were left with almost nothing else. But their story has a happy ending, thanks to a country music star. Sara Sidner has our report.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A heartfelt goodbye to the complete stranger who took the Bruce brothers in after the storm. The teenagers were on St. John when hurricane Irma blasted the island and decimated the home they grew up in while they were inside.

JAH-HAILE BRUCE, ST. JOHN RESIDENT: We were inside the shower laying down against a concrete wall, and five minutes later the roof gets ripped off our head.

JAHBIOSEH BRUCE, ST. JOHN RESIDENT: That's the moment I was terrified, because I felt like Irma was a spirit, because, like, I felt like I saw the hand grab the roof, squeeze it, and throw it off into the wind.

JAH-HAILE BRUCE: Ripped it off.

JAHBIOSEH BRUCE: It was just crazy.

SIDNER: They survived alongside their grandfather, but the winds tore nearly everything else apart on the island.

JAH-HAILE BRUCE: I feel like the best way to put the image in your head is picture a car on the highway going 185 miles and you know you put your hand out the window sometimes, you feel the wind, picture your face outside, picture your body outside, you feel you're going at this speed, that's what it felt like.

SIDNER: When it was all over, they were left with nothing, their childhood home gone along with almost everything in it.

JAHBIOSEH BRUCE: There's basically nothing to go back to on St. John's.

SIDNER: The brothers were picked up by a private boat like this one to St. Croix, taking them supplies and picking up evacuees. That's where they met Sue. Her sons owned the boat. She took one look at the boys and said --


SIDNER: -- you are staying with me, not in a shelter.

What are your lives going to look like now since the house is gone?

JAHBIOSEH BRUCE: Well, we're trying to make it to Philadelphia to our mother right now.

SIDNER: But there were no commercial flights out of the island. Then an unexpected gift arrived.

JAH-HAILE BRUCE: I don't even know what to say, but thank you. There's really nothing to say. I heard that the guy wants to stay anonymous. Thank you very much.

SIDNER: The brothers were told an anonymous donor had donated his private jet to fly them to safety. We found out who that anonymous donor was. It's country star Kenny Chesney.

JAHBIOSEH BRUCE: I kept saying one day this is going to be one hell of a story to tell. It's going to be one good story to tell.

JAH-HAILE BRUCE: And now we're on CNN telling our story, you know. It's crazy.

SIDNER: Soon they'll be telling their story in person to their mother, who is anxiously awaiting their arrival back in Philadelphia -- Sara Sidner, CNN, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.


ALLEN: That's a good one, wasn't it?

That other hurricane in the Atlantic is still a cause for some to be concerned; thankfully it's not staring at any of the places that have already been wracked by hurricanes.


ALLEN: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I am Natalie Allen. I'll be right back with our top stories for you.