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U.K. Terror Threat Level Raised to Critical; Trump Presidency; Protests Erupt in St. Louis after Police Acquittal; North Korea Threat; Syrian Civil War; Ethnic Cleansing Unfolding in Myanmar; Hurricane Irma's Aftermath. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired September 16, 2017 - 04:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Terror level critical. A manhunt underway in the United Kingdom after a bomb detonates during the tube rush hour.

Also ahead this hour, the U.S. president chiming in on the terror incident in London, offering condolences but rushing to judgment, blaming Islamic terrorism, his comments rebuked by Downing Street.

And after North Korea's latest missile launch, the United States (INAUDIBLE) its military options. (INAUDIBLE) Pyongyang.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: It is 4:00 am on the U.S. East Coast. Around the world, good day to you.

First to the United Kingdom, the terror threat there is at the highest level, meaning officials believe another attack is imminent. In the meantime, a manhunt is underway, all of this after a bomb went off on the London tube early Friday morning.

Thankfully, no one was killed but 29 people were wounded and it could have been much worse because authorities say the explosive failed to fully detonate.

The device may have used a substance called TATP. That is the same explosive used recently in attacks in Spain, France and England. Experts are still examining the mostly intact bomb. They are hoping to determine its contents, to determine also who made it.

The nation's prime minister, Theresa May, is also warning the public to stay vigilant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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.


HOWELL: Let's get the very latest, live from London this hour our Nina dos Santos standing by, following this story for us.

Nina, thank you for being with us. Again, thankfully no one killed in this incident but the station has reopened. There's still a lot of questions here for investigators to dig into.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR: That's right. Let's take a look at the scene behind me. Parsons Green tube station has reopened, as you can see. In fact, the police presence that was here, significant police presence, up until just a half an hour or so ago, with three or four officers guarding the station and still forensic police trucks finishing up the last of their work, that has all gone.

And there's a sense of normalcy here in this normally quiet West London suburb. But despite all of that, don't be deceived. There is a significant manhunt that's underway this hour across the British capital and across the rest of the U.K. to urgently intercept whoever left that suspicious device upon this packed commuter train, a device that was set to cause greater damage.

In fact, one counterterrorism official speculated to British media that this device could have been four times more deadly had it gone off the way it was intended than the Manchester attack that killed more than 20 people.

And when it comes to the actual components of the device, again, as you point out, it is a chemical component of TATP, which West used by the Manchester bomber as well as in other European cities recently, Barcelona, Paris.

It will be part of the focus of the investigation. But what I should caution here is that in contrast to the events in the aftermath of Manchester, what is interesting, just from a personal note to note today, George, is that we haven't seen a raft of arrests taking place overnight.

That comes in contrast to the Manchester attacks, very quickly, it seemed authorities were able to intercept a lot of different people who may well have had contact potentially with the Manchester bomber.

We haven't heard any update since yesterday evening from the Metropolitan Police, when they did update us. Obviously, we found out that the state of alert in this country has been raised to the highest possible level for the first time since the Manchester attack to critical. And that means that an attack on perhaps the capital or elsewhere in

the U.K. is imminent and then there has been a claim of responsibility by ISIS. But the Metropolitan Police, again, treating that with caution, saying often ISIS does claim responsibility for these kinds of attacks but perhaps on an opportunistic basis and they have no evidence at the moment to suggest that, in fact, it was jihadi terrorism that was behind this -- George.

HOWELL: Nina, there have been so many attacks to speak of here and, you know, the terror level alert, I should say, at its highest level.

How are people coping with all of this, given what we saw there (INAUDIBLE) and (INAUDIBLE) attacks?

DOS SANTOS: Well, in communities -- George, in communities like this, obviously there's a great sense of concern because --


DOS SANTOS: -- it's only two days before the Monday commute starts again. And this is a part of London that relies very heavily on the transport network, particularly the London Underground tube transport network.

There will be a lot of people who come Monday if somebody hasn't been apprehended or we don't have any news about what exactly happened, who could have been behind this attack. There will be a lot of people who'll be thinking twice perhaps before walking through the doors of a station like Parsons Green.

So it is imperative for the authorities to reassure people across the British capital that they are safe, particularly on a network that is the busiest -- one of the busiest in the world, the London tube network. In fact, conducts about 1.4 billion passenger journeys every year and has more than 400 kilometers' worth of track to protect.

So when it comes to the investigation, that is progressing apace; they'll be looking at forensic evidence, obviously fingerprints, DNA. This device was largely left intact. It was also left inside a supermarket shopping bag.

Now when you purchase a supermarket shopping bag, they have a bar code now. So perhaps they can try and find out who bought that supermarket shopping bag and traffic that.

And to actually use the London underground system, which by the way, has a lot of CCTV that officers will have been poring through over the last 24 hours, you have to swipe in and out with a special registered card.

There's only five stations between here and Parsons Green that someone could have mounted the train to leave this device. If they didn't leave it here at Parsons Green, and so they'll be looking at all of the CCTV inside the train carriage and also on the stations between here and Parsons Green. One of the other things they'll want to find out, though, George, is

whether or not since this had a timer, whether this was the original target for that device or whether it was supposed to go further into the center of London, further underground, where the relief effort would have been far more challenging, had it really detonated to the extent that the perpetrator would have wanted -- George.

HOWELL: And thankfully it didn't. CNN correspondent Nina dos Santos on the scene following this investigation, thank you for the report. We'll, of course, stay in touch with you.

Here in the United States, the U.S. president, Donald Trump called the British prime minister after the attack in London. Downing Street says that he offered his condolences but he is also being criticized by British officials for his response on Twitter. CNN's Athena Jones with more on that for us.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to say that our hearts and prayers go out to the people of London, who suffered a vicious terrorist attack.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump responding to Friday's terror attack on London's subway system.

TRUMP: Radical Islamic terrorism, it will be eradicated, believe me.

JONES (voice-over): Those comments coming after a flurry of early morning tweets about the incident.

"Another attack in London by a loser terrorist," Trump wrote, adding, "These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive."

The president's national security adviser, H.R McMaster, later trying to explain what Trump meant by "in the sights of Scotland Yard." The London police department headquarters.

LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I think what the president was communicating is that obviously all of our law enforcement efforts are focused on this terrorist threat from, you know -- for years. He didn't mean anything beyond that.

JONES (voice-over): The president's tweets prompted strong pushback from London police, who said they didn't yet know who was involved. And similar criticism from British prime minister Theresa May.

MAY: I never think it's helpful for anybody to speculate on what is an ongoing investigation.

JONES (voice-over): The president seizing on the incident to push his proposed travel ban, targeting nearly all refugees as well as people from six Muslim majority countries, a ban that is facing several legal challenges. Trump tweeting, "The travel ban into the United States should be far

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

Asked to explain his tweet, he would only say --

TRUMP: We have to be tough and we have to be smarter.

JONES (voice-over): The latest terror attack on an ally coming in the wake of yet another missile launch by North Korea, the second one to fly over another key ally, Japan, in less than a month, a problem international diplomatic pressure has, so far, been unable to solve.

Amid the escalating threat from North Korea, the president visited Joint Base Andrews outside Washington Friday, where he talked up the country's military might.

TRUMP: When our enemies hear the F-35 engines, when they're roaring overhead, their souls will tremble and they will know the day of reckoning has arrived.

JONES (voice-over): Meanwhile, here at home, the president may be extending an olive branch to Democrats, signaling his willingness to make a deal to protect young people brought to the United States illegally as children.

TRUMP: We're looking at allowing people to stay here. We're working with everybody.

JONES (voice-over): But the move is causing a stir among some conservative supporters of the president. White House press secretary --


JONES (voice-over): -- Sarah Sanders making clear the president won't accept any deal without a strong border security component.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He supports making an agreement on DACA but that would have to includes massive border security and interior enforcement. The president continues to push for those things.

He's still 100 percent committed to the wall. And we're going to be laying out what our specific priorities and principles are in that front over the next seven to 10 days.


HOWELL: Let's now bring in Ron Brownstein. Ron is a CNN senior political analyst and senior editor with "The Atlantic."

It's good to have you with us this hour to talk, Ron. So let's start with the president's comments regarding the London terror attack. You heard him in Athena Jones' piece quick to mention the words "radical Islamic terror." Keeping in mind, though, we still don't know all the facts at this

point. But when the facts were clear back in August, right after the Charlottesville protests, a woman killed there in clashes between white supremacists and protesters, he was not as quick to mention the term "white supremacists" and he also had had this to say about facts.


TRUMP: Very important to me to get the facts out and correctly. I couldn't have made it sooner because I didn't know all of the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts. I had to see the facts. I want to know the facts. I want the facts. I wanted to see the facts.

Before I make a statement, I need the facts. You don't make statements that direct unless you know the facts. I want to make a statement with knowledge. I wanted to know the facts.


HOWELL: All right, so as a journalist, speaking for the information we're learning from our newsroom, the facts are still not in on this London terror attack. However, the president, much more sensitive in this case.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: It's been really striking that when he sees an event that he believes can advance his ideological agenda, he has been much quicker to jump in than when you have something that he sees as an ideological problem.

And often with even less facts. There are a lot of ways since General Kelly has become chief of staff in which we have seen more normalcy out of this presidency -- the handling of the hurricanes, negotiation with (INAUDIBLE), there are a lot of different things that have become more like other presidents than what we have seen before.

But today's tweet is a reminder that that process is only ever going to go so far. There are still ways and his tweets about ESPN and the White House calling for them to fire their reporter.

There are just core ways in which this presidency will never be like pretty much any other presidency that we have seen, even as there is some bending toward the curve of kind of more normal moments.

HOWELL: Bending toward the curve of more normal moments, as you point out.

But a string of contradictions that we see time after time.

What does this do to the president's credibility?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, it's really interesting. I mean, you know, the president's approval rating, for example, has ticked up a little bit. But it's still essentially in almost every poll that I'm aware of at 40 percent or below after what has been ostensibly a pretty good couple of weeks in which the administration has responded effectively and efficiently to the hurricanes, where they have achieved a bipartisan deal to keep the government open, at least until December, potentially a progress towards a deal with undocumented immigrants.

Why is his approval rating staying so low?

It's staying so low, I believe, because when you look at the numbers across the board, on a variety of measures, Americans have doubts about his personal politics and whether he is fit by temperament, by values, by experience, by judgment and by honesty to be president.

I think, you know, there are clearly elements of his agenda that have been highly polarizing but if you ask why his approval rating has been so much lower than almost any other president at this point in their presidency, I would say to you, it's primarily about personal judgments as reflected in the kind of behavior we've been talking about.

HOWELL: Ron, as you rightly opponent out, the president is at a historic low. However, it is a bump nonetheless. This approval rating now at 39 percent.

Who is the president appealing to at this point?

BROWNSTEIN: Look, the first link is that he got 46 percent of the vote and he has been running his approval rating well below the vote. And so I think that, you know, the lowest hanging fruit for him are people who voted for him the first time but have had grown -- have had more doubts.

And there is a portion of the American electorate that is really about performance and success and not about ideology. It's a pretty small part at this point in our history. But nonetheless, there is 5 percent, 7 percent, 9 percent of the electorate that is movable, based on just the way things --


BROWNSTEIN: -- are going.

And as I said, I think the clearest reason he has seen a few point bump is that a majority of Americans say the administration has done a good job of responding to these two hurricanes.

But I guess I would submit to you to that to be, to bump, to, quote, "bump" the 39 percent, 40 percent or 38 percent after several previous good weeks, you know, relatively speaking, for this administration, I think, is a marker of the ceiling that he faces and how rooted that limit is in personal judgments about him.

I can't really emphasize that enough. It's not clear to me that those are judgments that are susceptible to being changed, for example, by a better economy. There is a piece of that that can be changed by a better economy but there is kind of a wall out there, based on the way people have viewed him and his fitness for the office.

HOWELL: Ron Brownstein, we always appreciate your insight. Thank you so much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

HOWELL: And still ahead this hour, a not guilty verdict is sparking protests across one U.S. city as outrage festers over police violence. We look at the trial and hear directly from the officer involved, as CNN NEWSROOM continues.






HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

The credit monitoring firm Equifax has announced its chief information officer and chief security officer are both retiring, effective immediately. This announcement comes after Equifax disclosed last week a security breach may have exposed the personal data of up to 143 million Americans. Both the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI are investigating.

There is anger on the streets of St. Louis, Missouri, following the acquittal of a police officer in a racially charged case. Friday, former police officer Jason Stockley was found not guilty of murdering -- of the murder, rather, and the shooting of an African American man, Anthony Lamar Smith, this happening back in 2011.

The decision was reached by a judge, not a jury, and the decision sparked protests across the city.

You see this image, the video of protesters walking the streets there in St. Louis. Four police officers were injured; 23 people have been arrested in those demonstrations.

CNN's Ryan Young has more for us.


RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Things in St. Louis got tense overnight. If you look down the way here, you can see the officers who decided to make a line and tell the protesters it was time to go home.

We'll have to show you this dramatic video outside the mayor's house. It was a mostly peaceful process through the night. Protesters marching for miles, stopping at intersections, even in front of the hospital.

But when they got to the mayor's house, someone decided they wanted to break the windows. And we actually got that part on tape. Once that happened, officers swarmed the neighborhood and once they swarmed the windows, they asked the protesters to leave. That happened with some force, some teargas. People did move on.

For most of the night, it's been peaceful. Protesters have been marching and talking about a change for justice. They want to see something done. A lot hasn't healed here ever since Michael Brown and what happened in Ferguson.

So tonight you saw a multicultural group, walking through the streets of St. Louis, talking about change, wanting the neighborhoods to know that they want to see something different happen.

But by the end of the night, obviously, some emotions got maybe a little too heated. In fact, we even saw this in the middle of the street, protesters using this to clean out their eyes after that teargas got into their nostrils and into their face.

So far, police have been able to move people back. But the helicopters remain up in the sky as they continue to look for people who decided not to go home -- Ryan Young, CNN, St. Louis.


HOWELL: Ryan Young, thanks for the reporting there.

And as Ryan mentioned, the case has many people comparing this police shooting to the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. During the trial, prosecutors accused Stockley of planting a gun to justify the shooting, while the former police officer insisted he acted in self-defense. Our Randi Kaye has more on this case.


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You're watching the final moments of a man's life. It's December 2011 and motorist Anthony Lamar Smith is being chased by St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley and his partner.


KAYE: The officers suspected he'd been involved in a drug deal.

The officers would later say, when they approached Smith, he jumped in his car and drove off, hitting the police cruiser and knocking Officer Stockley sideways. The officer fires several shots, saying he feared for his life and the safety of others.


KAYE: The high-speed chase tops 80 miles an hour. During the pursuit, Stockley is going heard saying, "Going to kill this blank, don't you know it."

It's difficult to hear on the dashcam video, but court documents say that's what he said.

The chase ends with a crash, which Smith survives. But when officers approach, an internal report says Stockley ordered Smith to show his hands and that he thought he saw Smith reach for a handgun. Officer Stockley fires four shots.

Anthony Smith is struck in the chest and dies at the scene.

An internal report says Officer Stockley entered his car to locate the weapon and render it safe and remove the ammunition from a silver revolver. According to the criminal complaint, forensic analysis revealed that only Officer Stockley's DNA was on the gun he said belonged to Smith. Officer Jason Stockley is relieved of his duties and charged with first-degree murder.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We all knew what it was when it happened. There couldn't be any doubt about it. We knew it was murder from the beginning.

KAYE (voice-over): Stockley's murder trial started last month. The key question, whether or not the motorist, Smith, had a gun at the time of the shooting. Prosecutors argued that the ex-officer may have planted the revolver in the car --


KAYE (voice-over): -- to justify the shooting. Even though multiple cameras captured the incident, the gun was never seen.

Still, in his not-guilty ruling, Judge Timothy Wilson said, "The gun would have been too large for Stockley to hide and then plant."

The judge said he'd reviewed the video footage innumerable times and that just because Smith's fingerprints weren't on the gun didn't mean the driver didn't touch the gun.

Judge Wilson was left to determine whether the killing was intentional or a lawful use of deadly force by an officer acting in self-defense -- Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


HOWELL: Jason Stockley is speaking out about the trial giving his side of the story. Here is how he described what happened to the "St. Louis Post-Dispatch."


JASON STOCKLEY, FORMER ST. LOUIS POLICE OFFICER: I did not murder Anthony Lamar Smith. I did not plant the gun. As I testified at trial and to homicide on the day of, it was an imminent threat to my life. I had to.

It's -- the taking of a life is the most significant thing that one can do and it's not something that is done lightly and it's not something that should ever be celebrated and it's just a horrible experience altogether. But sometimes it's necessary.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOWELL: Again, that was former police officer Jason Stockley, speaking with the "St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter, Christine Byers (ph), after he was acquitted of the murder of Anthony Lamar Smith.

Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, we continue following the terror attacks on London's Underground.

Live from Atlanta, Georgia, to our viewers here in the United States and around the world, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.





HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. It's good to have you with us. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.


HOWELL: More now this hour on the London terror attack. Our Brian Todd is following the investigation and filed this report for us.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Flames emanate from a crudely built bomb placed by the doorway inside a train in London's Underground. Officials say this IED sent more than 2 dozen people to the hospital with wounds like flash burns and singed hair.

Witnesses say it also caused a stampede of panicked commuters, desperate to get out of the Parsons Green tube station in Southwest London.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People just got trod on. It was every man for himself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This wall of fire was just coming towards us.

TODD (voice-over): The suspect or suspects still at large.

MAY: A further attack may be imminent.

TODD (voice-over): The full resources of Scotland Yard and British counterterror forces engaged in an intense manhunt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are many urgent inquiries ongoing now with hundreds of detectives involved, looking at CCTV, forensic work and speaking to witnesses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bomb itself did not go off, which, for law enforcement, is a great thing because the bomb, in and of itself, it's sort of a fingerprint of the individual who made it.

TODD (voice-over): A British security source tells CNN a timer was found on the device, that it's clear that although this was a crude bomb, it was intended to cause much greater damage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're only aware of one device. So we now have the remnants of that device. It's being examined by our experts.

TODD (voice-over): One source briefed on the investigation says an initial assessment of the bomb indicates it's highly likely to have contained TATP, an unstable explosive, that packs a nasty punch.

This video shows TATP combusting just from a tiny film canister.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: TATP is one of the most sensitive explosives known to the bomb tech community and it really takes very little initiation to set it off.

TODD (voice-over): Now the fact that a timer was used and the suspect is still at large has Londoners bracing for the worst.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The timer is really what's freaking people out.

And did this individual place bombs at other locations?

I mean, they are, obviously, sweeping all the train stations in London, all the tube stations right now at this particular time. They're looking for other devices.

TODD (voice-over): This marks the fifth significant attack this year in Britain after the attacks at Westminster Bridge, London Bridge, the mosque at Finsbury Park and Manchester arena.

TODD: Experts say these attacks in Britain, along with the recent attack in Barcelona, means terrorists are going to keep coming at these European cities, that they remain a very high-value target for jihadists, second only, possibly, to cities here in the United States -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: Brian, thank you for the report.

Turning now to North Korea, the U.N. Security Council Friday condemned the latest missile tests by Pyongyang. The statements attributed to leader Kim Jong-un show that he has no intention of halting the missile program or abandoning that quest for nuclear weapons. CNN's international correspondent Ian Lee is in the South Korean capital following this story live in Seoul this hour.

It's good to have you with us, Ian. North Korea remains defiant and determined despite diplomatic pressures.

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right and they recently --


LEE: -- the U.N. Security Council passed these sanctions and it doesn't look like it's having any effect on the North Koreans. And the North Koreans have said that, that they're going to continue not only their missile program but also their nuclear program.

What is significant about this one, though, is that this is the first missile test that has taken place since North Korea detonated that hydrogen bomb, which is believed to be 160 kilotons, far larger than previous bombs they've detonated.

Also after North Korea has announced that they've been able to put a miniaturized hydrogen bomb on top of an intercontinental ballistic missile. So with all of this, George, it just shows how North Korea is still advancing at a rapid pace.

HOWELL: And is there any sense that you're hearing from leaders that they have any recourse here because North Korea is not looking to stop what it's doing?

LEE: That is the real question, George, is what can South Korea, Japan, the United States, the international community do to put a stop to North Korea's activities?

Right now that is the million-dollar question because no one really has the answer. We did see South Korea launch two missiles of their own just shortly after North Korea launched theirs, actually, within six minutes, while the North Korean missile was in the air. They launched those two missiles.

And South Korea, one of them failed and fell into the ocean. But here the president, Moon Jae-in, said that this shows that South Korea is ready and capable to strike the North if need be and shortly after, if there's any sorts of provocations.

He also went on to mention that they have, South Korea, the permanent ability to disable North Korea and said that if North Korea tries to go after it or any of its allies, that they're willing to do that.

So you still get tough talk from here in the South but it doesn't seem to have any effect on the North, George.

HOWELL: Ian Lee, live for us in Seoul, South Korea. Ian, thank you for the reporting. We'll stay in touch with you.

Still ahead this hour, Deir ez-Zor was trapped under ISIS rule for years but now the Syrian city is slowly getting back to what it was, once normal. We'll tell you who the residents wish to thank for their return home.

Plus, two brothers who almost lost everything in Hurricane Irma have left the U.S. Virgin Islands, all thanks to an unexpected gift. We'll have details on that story ahead as NEWSROOM continues.





HOWELL: A diplomat for the Vatican who has been working in Washington, D.C., has been recalled to Rome, this after the U.S. State Department says the priest possibly violated laws relating to child pornography images.

He represents Pope Francis at the Holy See embassy in Washington and has diplomatic immunity. The Vatican says it has opened its own investigation and will not be waiving his immunity.

We're getting an inside look at one of the bloodiest battlefields in the fight against ISIS. The terror group held Deir ez-Zor in Syria for three years. But now people there are returning home and even reopening their businesses. And many of them are thanking Russia. CNN's senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen explains why.


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 lie ahead -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Deir ez-Zor, Syria.


HOWELL: Fred, thank you for the report.

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 and has this story for us.


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.


FIELD: 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.


HOWELL: Alexandra, thank you for that report.

Still ahead, Hurricane Jose remains in the Atlantic Ocean, far from the United States at the moment but it could yet again turn and threaten the Northeast. We have the latest on the storm's path.

Plus, how two teenagers were able to leave the U.S. Virgin Islands after barely surviving Hurricane Irma. Their story -- next.





HOWELL: Which way will it go?

Hurricane Jose still making up its mind about its direction.


HOWELL: In the meantime, picking up the pieces of their lives after Hurricane Irma, two teenage brothers on the island of St. John survived that storm with almost nothing left to them. But their story does have a happy ending, courtesy of a country music star. Our Sara Sidner has this 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 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.


HOWELL: Sara, thank you for that report.

And thank you for being with us this hour. I'm George Howell, live at the CNN Center in Atlanta. The news continues here on CNN, right after the break.