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Hundreds Dead at Egyptian Sufi Mosque; Zimbabwe's Mnangagwa Sworn In; Dozens Arrested at Pakistani Protest; Flynn Lawyers Stop Communicating with Trump Team; Celebrities Respond to Trump "Time" Magazine Flap. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired November 25, 2017 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Muslim worshippers murdered in the deadliest terror attack in Egypt. More than 200 people killed. We'll have the latest from the region in just a moment.

In Pakistan, right now, protesters of a hard line Islamic party, clashing with police. Dozens injured and arrested. We'll go live to Islamabad.

In Zimbabwe, a CNN exclusive: hear from the priest who counseled Robert Mugabe in the final hours of his presidency.

Hi, everyone. I'm Cyril Vanier, live from the CNN NEWSROOM here in Atlanta. Thank you for joining us.


VANIER: The Egyptian air force is saying it found and destroyed vehicles involved in Friday's terror attack in Northern Sinai, killing at least some of the terrorists thought to be responsible.

They carried out a brutal, well-planned attack on a Sufi mosque, detonating explosives to draw people out and then opening fire as the worshippers fled, even targeting the ambulances that came to help.

By the end of it all, at least 235 people were killed, including several children, making it the deadliest terror attack on Egyptian soil.

Ian Lee is following this story for us.

Ian, do we know who is behind this?

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Cyril, no one has claimed responsibility so far. But when we look at where this attack took place, how it took place, we can draw the conclusions because it bears all the hallmarks of an ISIS attack.

This is an area where ISIS has been known to operate, this is, they -- ISIS has gone after Sufi Muslims. This was a Sufi mosque. ISIS has gone after them before. So it looks like it was that terror group that committed this attack, although, again no one has claimed responsibility.

VANIER: For years, in fact, ever since the current Egyptian president al-Sisi came to power, he's been trying crack down on the radical groups within Egypt and on the Islamist insurgency. He was guaranteeing the safety of Egyptians.

Do you think, with this latest attack, the deadliest one that Egypt has known, do you think that can be a turning point in how the government handles this threat?

LEE: You know, President al-Sisi came to power on a platform of stability and security. And he said that he was going to make Egypt safe again. And we have seen these deadly attacks, time after time; again, just last April.

Dozens of Christians were killed when ISIS attacked two churches. You know, every time, we see the government come out very strongly, saying that they're going to use brute force. They're going to hunt the terrorists down. And we always hear about operations that take place, that they say, go after those who are involved.

But, Cyril, we see again these attacks occur on a regular basis. So when the government says, that they have the upper hand, that brings that claim into a different light when you have attacks like this take place on a fairly regular basis. Even Egyptian security forces in the Northern Sinai, they face attacks almost on a daily basis.

VANIER: One aspect of this attack that is new, is the fact that Muslim worshippers were attacked this time. And previous attacks, it's been Christian worshippers targeted or law enforcement or soldiers.

Why were Muslims targeted this time?

LEE: Well, when you look at ISIS in the, especially in the Northern Sinai, they have a puritanical view of Islam. They see Sufi Muslims as sinners, as heretics. And so that's why we believe these militants went after this mosque because this was a Sufi mosque. It was in the heart of an area in Northern Sinai, that is the heart of the Sufi Islam in the region.

And Sufis have been targeted before across Egypt. ISIS has said they will go after them. So while we don't know if this was ISIS, we believe it ISIS; it bears the hallmarks but that's why, right now, people believe that this mosque in particular was targeted, because these were Sufi Muslims.

VANIER: All right. Ian Lee,, reporting on the story for us. Thank you very much.

And earlier, I spoke to Egyptian journalist, Mohammad Sabry, a short time ago and I asked him why this attack targeted Muslim worshippers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MOHAMMAD SABRY, JOURNALIST: I think this is a new development but

it's not surprising, unfortunately. ISIS in Sinai has been threatening and targeting Sufi clerics in the Sinai for over the past few years.

And this time they managed to step it up and declare a loud message, saying that even Muslim worshippers --


SABRY: -- praying in a mosque on the holiest day on the Islamic calendar, Friday, are not going to be safe from our attacks.

And this is something that we have not seen before. That being said, unfortunately, it is not surprising; this is the number sixth or seventh time that we see ISIS in Sinai executing successfully an unprecedented attack.

When they downed the military chopper, it was the first time in Egypt's history. When they bombed the capital's security director, it was first time in its history. And this time it's the deadliest attack in Egypt's modern history.

And parallel to that, we see the reaction and the words of the president, also very unsurprising and repeated, as he came out after various attacks before, pledging the same reactions and the same brute force in the fight against terrorism.

VANIER: Mohammed, you are comparing this attack to previous ISIS attacks but there's been no claim of responsibility yet here.

For you, is it a certainty that ISIS is behind this?

SABRY: Oh, it bears all the fingerprints of ISIS. We definitely have various factions committing terrorist attacks in Egypt at the moment. But this is definitely -- this is definitely an attack that seems to come after many threats that were made by ISIS in Sinai against the Sufi clerics.

And we have to also understand that this specific mosque is run by Sufi clerics, who come from the Sawarka clan that is known for being a rival against ISIS, that is known for picking up arms against ISIS.

And again, the Sufi community in the Sinai is succeeding in what the military in the Egyptian state wouldn't be able to accomplish, which is an ideological and a religious fight against ISIS.

The Sufi community has been able to magnet hundreds of youth (ph) away from ISIS' ranks and away from joining ISIS.

VANIER: Now ISIS is on the back foot in Syria and Iraq, where it tried to establish a caliphate. It has lost the ground that it held, almost all of it.

Do you think there are going to be more attacks in other countries by ISIS affiliates, as they have lost ground in Iraq and Syria? SABRY: I believe that the (INAUDIBLE) in all the other countries such as (INAUDIBLE), such as Libya and even Western Africa, I believe all of those branches or so-called (INAUDIBLE) have existed long before ISIS.

And they will continue to exist long after ISIS falls in Syria and Iraq. And the situation in Egypt has been mainly wiped out. And this is why it was not taking a front-page headline basically on the news. And it became a headline when they pledged allegiance to ISIS.

But (INAUDIBLE) has again executed unprecedented attacks in 2012 and 2013 long they pledged allegiance to ISIS. And I believe they will continue to find their logistics. They will continue to force out their weaponry and their (INAUDIBLE) long after ISIS is gone.


VANIER: After nearly 40 years of oppressive rules, Zimbabweans are hoping for change with their new leader. Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as president on Friday, following Robert Mugabe's resignation. During his inauguration speech, Mnangagwa paid tribute to the former dictator, calling him a mentor. He also vowed to protect Zimbabweans' rights and lift the country out of poverty and stamp out rampant corruption.


EMMERSON MNANGAGWA, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF ZIMBABWE: (INAUDIBLE) goes to every Zimbabwean and my predecessor who invested a lot (INAUDIBLE) resolution of the challenges of the situation that did arisen in our country.


VANIER: When there is a military takeover, as there was in Zimbabwe, it is not often that you get to find out what happened behind the scenes, the moments that really shaped history.

Well, CNN's David McKenzie was able to do just that. He sat down with the priest who mediated between the generals and Robert Mugabe. Here is David's exclusive report.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With each passing day, the calls grew louder, the pressure on Mugabe mounted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you hear two bulls wanting to fight, you have to know how to tame both.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): And this priest persisted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did I feel the pressure?

I'm a tough nut. MCKENZIE (voice-over): As a mediator between Mugabe and he military, it was up to Father Mukonori (ph) to make sure the guns on the streets stayed silent. And the only sounds that the former president heard were the cries of his people and the reasoned voice of a long-time confidant.

MCKENZIE: What did those crowds mean to former president Mugabe?

What did he say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He saw that they spoke.

MCKENZIE: And he listened to them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are the --



You see the results. That's a sign that he listened.

MCKENZIE: Did it break him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It moved him. It moved him in this sense that he realized they are speaking to say, this is enough.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): The negotiations were long.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes in a day, we'd go to three different places.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): But they were always civil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was not a fight. It was a discussion.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): The generals even saluting the man they look to overthrow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a few weeks from now...

MCKENZIE (voice-over): It was during this address that the world thought Mugabe was ready to go. The resignation letter was already drafted. But before sending, Mugabe asked for just a few more weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listening of a 93-year old is not the same as listening of a 25-year old.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Adversity, says the priest, the cries were heard and a new president of Zimbabwe took the stage. Stripped of his office, Mugabe still wishes there was a more systematic transfer of power, says Father Mukonori.

He said he is available to Emmerson. He is available. He's at his disposal. He does not vanish from life, he is not dead. But he's vanished from limelight. MCKENZIE (voice-over): A man who ruled with an iron fist, perhaps not willing to completely let go -- David McKenzie, CNN, Harare.


VANIER: And you can learn more about developments in Zimbabwe on our website,

We are still tracking developing news out of Pakistan. We'll get right back to that after the break. Stay with us.




VANIER: As I was telling you before the break, we're still tracking developing news out of Pakistan, where police say 100 people arrested at a protest in Islamabad. Medical source reports more than 100 people were injured.

Authorities earlier tried to break up the demonstration, using tear gas and rubber bullets. The protest began more than two weeks ago when around 2,000 people began blocking a major road.

They are supporters of a hardline Islamic party and want Pakistan's law and justice minister to resign. They accuse him of undercutting blasphemy laws. Let's try and get our heads around this with CNN's Sophia Saifi in Islamabad.

Sophia, tell us more about the root cause of this protest?

SOPHIA SAIFI, CNN PRODUCER: Well, Cyril, the root cause appears to be a change in electoral laws that happened last month in October. Now the protesters are claiming that had something to do with the status of the (INAUDIBLE) minority in Pakistan.

(INAUDIBLE) are not considered Muslims in the constitution of Pakistan.


SAIFI: And according to the protesters, there was an alleged change in electoral laws claiming something with the regard to whether any of these are Muslims or not.

And because of this, now the government is denying that these changes actually took place. There's a lot of confusion in that regard. But despite whatever the actual story was, the protesters have been out on the streets of Islamabad, of the capital, for two weeks, completely shutting down traffic, causing economic losses and having a major breakdown between the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

Now there has been a sort of, you know, dialogue. There was an attempt to make a dialogue between the government and the protesters because laws themselves are a very sensitive issue in the country, bringing out vigilante justice.

But these have not come to much. The 23rd of November was the deadline. And early this morning, you saw police (INAUDIBLE) the paramilitary come in and shoot rubber bullets into the crowd, into the protesters as well as tear gas.

Now what we were hearing was we were seeing on local media and what we were seeing on the ground as well is that the police were actually being pushed back. We have had numbers of over 100 people being injured, including civilians and police and frontier call (ph).

But what is something very unusual which has just happened right before I came on air was that the Pakistan electronic media regulatory authority just passed an order, causing a complete blackout of all local news channels in the country.

Now this is something that is very unprecedented and has never, has not happened in at least a decade. The last time this happened was when former president Musharraf called for an emergency law in the country, called for an emergency in the country. And that's when there was a complete blackout of local media.

There aren't any channels airing anything. There aren't any channels, news channels, airing anything on Pakistani television at the moment. And local media, local journalists that I just spoke to right before coming on air saying that this is just going to add to the rumor mill. This is going to add to this fear and this unease that is kind of spreading throughout the country because right before these channels went on air, they were reporting.

There was a protest breaking out in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, which are the three main cities of the country -- Cyril.

VANIER: Yes, Sophia, we're definitely going to have to keep an eye on that because it's certainly, in my experience, reporting on protest situations, when there is a blackout of the media in any country, it's usually an ominous sign.

Sophia, thank you for your reporting. We'll come back to you in the later hours. Thank you.

President Trump made a big promise to Turkey's president Friday. In the ongoing war in Syria. According to Turkey's foreign minister, Mr. Trump said the U.S. would immediately stop arming the YPG. Now that's the Kurdish militia fighting ISIS with American help.

In May, President Trump approved a plan to supply weapons to the YPG. So this would be an about-face. The White House says there are impending plans to stop selling arms. Turkey has long condemned the YPG, which it considers a terrorist group.

And it is a holiday weekend in the United States. And President Donald Trump is at his Mar-a-lago resort in Florida. Among the weighty matters on his plate apparently turning down an offer to be "TIME" magazine's Person of the Year.

He tweeted this on Friday.

"'TIME' magazine called to say that I was probably going to be named Man of the Year like last year. But I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and I took a pass. Thanks anyway."

But "TIME" magazine later tweeted, saying the president is incorrect about how the magazine chooses the Person of the Year. And "TIME's" chief content officer also said the president's tweet didn't have, quote, "a speck of truth to it."

By the way, "TIME's" Person of the Year will be announced on December 6th. So we'll see what comes of that.

Peter Matthews is a political analyst, professor of political science at Cypress College, author of "Dollar Democracy: With Justice and Liberty for Some."

I asked him, why would the president tweet about this in the first place?


PETER MATTHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: It seems to me that Mr. Trump wanted to make it known that some important source, such as "TIME" magazine, really wanted him on the cover or whatever, to be interviewed. That's something that gives him a great sense of importance. He's done this in past as well in different ways.

So it's quite interesting and probably very instructive of how he operates quite often.

VANIER: It also reminds us that Mr. Trump has turned down interview requests with mainstream media, any major media but FOX, since May, since -- that was just days before the Mueller investigation began.


VANIER: Is that a factor here as far as you're concerned?

MATTHEWS: I think so. I think to some extent he doesn't want to face media that could be very critical or analytical of what actually doing. He'd rather be on a friendly network like FOX that would praise him and, you know, embellish what he's doing rather than coming out and critically analyzing it, as CNN and MSNBC --


MATTHEWS: -- and other stations do.

So maybe that's why he's stayed away since May. Very interesting.

VANIER: All right. Let's look at what we learned this week, that former national security adviser Michael Flynn's lawyers have stopped talking to Donald Trump's lawyers, indicating that Michael Flynn may now be cooperating with the Russia investigation or at least in talks for potentially cooperating with the Russia investigation.

Should the White House be afraid of this?

MATTHEWS: I think that there's no guarantee that he will cooperate against Mr. Trump but there's a good chance that he will because, otherwise, why would they actually cut off the communications with the Trump lawyers?

I think there could be something here and, if that's the case, it's very problematic for the Trump side because Flynn, of all people, would know a lot of about what happened in the campaign. He would know what kind of activity or contacts that were with Russia, from not just himself but other people as well and perhaps maybe even, you know, what the president did and said at certain times.

More than anyone else, this is very, very important. I think that this development is instructive of what could be happening.

VANIER: He's thought to have the most criminal exposure, he and his son. In fact, he has said to people around him that he was worried about what might happen to his son.

MATTHEWS: Yes, Michael Flynn Jr. Yes.

VANIER: So obviously there's an incentive for him to come clean and to try and reduce his criminal exposure as far as the Russia investigation is concerned and share everything he knows or might know.

MATTHEWS: Absolutely because when your son is involved, it's your family, your most immediate family and you've got a double responsibility to yourself and your son. And that, from the Flynn perspective, to do as much as they can or he can to avoid any real prosecution after indictment.

So it looks from the outside -- and we can't really exactly know what's going on from the inside yet -- but it looks from the outside that General Flynn is really trying his best to save his son and himself.

And it's possible he'll have to tell everything he knows to Mr. Mueller, especially, Mr. Mueller has actually agreed to that. So it'll be very interesting to follow this up and see what happens.

VANIER: OK. And CNN is also learning on Friday that the State Department, run by the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, does not want to send very high-level representatives to the global entrepreneurship summit that's going to be held in India.

Apparently the reason, this is what our sources are telling us, is that Ivanka Trump is going to be there and they essentially don't want to give too much support to Ivanka Trump because Rex Tillerson is frustrated with her.

MATTHEWS: Well, certainly the whole idea of having your own children, in the administration at such high levels, as Donald Trump has done, is quite problematic. Not to mention the idea of nepotism but also how qualified is Ivanka Trump or Jared Kushner in terms of really shaping foreign policy?

So very important question. I'm sure Mr. Tillerson is very concerned about that as well and perhaps that's why the State Department has decided that, to not give credibility or a lot of that type of -- shoring up support for Ivanka being there.


VANIER: Look, is there any question as to who's running U.S. diplomacy?

MATTHEWS: Well, of course there is a question because, officially, the secretary of state is supposed to be in charge of the whole thing and has to have the full confidence of the president, which is really important to other leaders in the world, will actually believe the secretary of state when he makes comments and make pledges or certain policy. They will believe him if he has the confidence of the president.

But this president has undermined Secretary of State Tillerson several times; for example, when Secretary of State Tillerson said that we have open channels toward North Korea, that we in fact are working on a diplomatic solution. A diplomatic solution is very important, he said.

And the same day practically, President Trump went out and said, Rex Tillerson is a good man but he's wasting his time negotiating. That completely undermines him. So there's a real problem here as to who is really running the show with U.S. foreign policy.


VANIER: Every day, right around this time, we also track the major weather stories around the world.



VANIER: Back to President Trump's tweet about turning down the "TIME" Person of the Year. Now that drew a lot of reactions on Twitter, much of it skeptical of the president's claim. Julia Louis-Dreyfus tweeted, "'The New York Times' just called to say I was probably going to be named Comedian of the Year. I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway."

Tennis star Andy Murray tweeted that the BBC had just called him to be sports personality of the year. He passed as well.

Actor David Schneider tweeted that Hollywood had just called him to be the next James Bond. He, too, decided to pass.

And Mark Hamill AKA Luke Skywalker, tweeted this, "'TIME' magazine called to say that I was definitely going to be named Man of the Year but I would have to agree to leak major episode 8 spoilers. I said, no problem. But then they told me to turn it down and now I don't want it anymore. Thanks, anyway."

Also this. Those who skipped the Black Friday shopping lines at U.S. stores to order Christmas presents online can thank Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of the online retail giant, Amazon. But really, he should be thanking you because he just became the planet's newest $100 billionaire. Bloomberg, which tracks the net worth of the super rich, says Bezos cracked the milestone for the first time on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year in the U.S.

That's it from us. Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I will be back with the headlines in just a moment.