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Fire Rages in Atlanta Apartment Building; Israelis Siege Palestinian Prison; More Than 80 Bodies Discovered in Baghdad; Moussaoui Sentencing Derailed; Shooting at Illegal Immigrant Operation in Houston; "Da Vinci Code" Author Defends Work in Court

Aired March 14, 2006 - 13:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, HOST: As we start LIVE FROM, it's breaking news right here in our city of Atlanta, Georgia. Tony Harris working a massive fire in Cobb County.
Right, Tony?

TONY HARRIS, ANCHOR: Boy, Kyra, you said it. Massive, indeed. This is in Cobb County, Kyra, just north on Interstate 75, from downtown Atlanta. Take a look at these pictures, courtesy of our affiliate WSB here in Atlanta.

Cobb County fire, all ladders, on the ground, this fire really burning right now. And I can tell you, it's a windy day here in the Atlanta area. And when we go back to these pictures, you'll see the firefighters really having a tough time, having a difficult time.

Here we go, back to the live pictures now, or maybe picture from just a few moments ago. Windy here in the Atlanta area. Firefighters having a difficult time containing this fire and keeping the flames from jumping to nearby trees and any other structures in the immediate area. Thick black smoke billowing from this building.

It is believed, Kyra, that the fire started on a balcony and then spread back inside the apartment building and then throughout the building. No reports of injuries at this time, Kyra, but we will stay on it for you.

PHILLIPS: All right, Tony. Thanks so much.

HARRIS: Sure thing.

PHILLIPS: Once again, those live pictures coming to use from our affiliate here in Atlanta, Georgia, WSB. We'll continue to follow that.

Well, the siege over in Jericho, where Israeli troops raided a Palestinian prison and Palestinians exploded in anger. The final six prisoners have surrendered to Israeli troops, including six militants wanted by the Israeli government.

CNN's Guy Raz following that story now from Jerusalem.

Guy, what's latest? GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kyra, indeed, that siege is over. And all six of those militants wanted by Israeli security forces have given themselves up to Israeli military custody, including Ahmed Saadat, the man who is believed to be the head of the militant group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group that had claimed responsibility for the assassination of Israel's tourism minister back in 2001.

This comes after a ten-hour Israeli military siege on a jail, a prison facility, in the West Bank city of Jericho, a siege that left some three people dead.

Now, there were wide and deep repercussions as a result of this raid. Palestinians demonstrated and rioted in various towns in the West Bank and in Gaza, attacking western offices and at one point, kidnapping as many as six foreign nationals, including an American, Douglas Johnson, a university professor. He has now been released. Some of those other hostages have been released.

But we've just received word from that group that PFLP, the Popular Front, that it intends to carry out retaliatory -- retaliatory attacks against Israeli interests -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Now Guy, why did the Israelis launch this raid now? Ahmed Saadat has been in Palestinian custody since 2002, right?

RAZ: That's right. And the reason why the Israeli government says it launched the raid now is because U.K., British and American observers who had been stationed at that prison for the past four years as observers, under an agreement reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, had been withdrawn. They were withdrawn because they said that the Palestinian Authority simply could not ensure their security and safety at that prison facility.

At the same time, several Palestinian officials in the past several weeks had been suggesting that they would release these six prisoners, particularly now that the militant group Hamas is set to take over control of the Palestinian Authority.

Now, finally, Israel feared that once these international monitors left, these prisoners would manage to escape. And so the government, the Israeli government, the Israeli military, at least at this point, is saying it carried out the raid directly as a result of all of these possibilities -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: So Israelis were just waiting for that moment, then?

RAZ: Well, it appears as if they were. Now, there are some accusations that they had received prior warning by both -- by either British or American diplomats. Both British and U.S. officials are vehemently denying it, saying they gave neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians prior warning.

But they had been warning for the past several months that if security conditions did not improve they would essentially withdraw their monitors. And we can assume that Israeli security forces had been awaiting that moment to come at any time.

We're talking about an area, think about it geographically, it's very small. It doesn't take that much time for a contingent of Israeli military, a contingent of Israeli soldiers to arrive on scene. It happened 20 minutes after these international monitors were withdrawn from that prison.

PHILLIPS: Guy Raz, thanks so much.

Well, every day we report the latest bombings and shootings and killings and kidnappings in Iraq. And behind those numbers are troops and police and especially civilians who woke up that day, well aware it could be their last. Today's report, at least 86 bodies discovered in Baghdad since early yesterday, the victims all male, either shot or strangled.

CNN's Nic Robertson is in the capital.

Nic, we've been talking about this type of fighting, talking about the type of deaths. Very different, an increase in these type of killings. We haven't seen this. It's very different from what we've seen in the past. What's going on? What can you tell us about this execution-style shootings?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have had numbers of bodies turning up before, Kyra. But the numbers that we're seeing now are quite unprecedented. See what has been over 40 show up today, more than 40 bodies turn up yesterday, as well, just in the city of Baghdad. Those are very big numbers.

The rise in this type of violence, which appears to be sectarian violence, started just over a couple of weeks ago with that attack, the destruction of a Shia shrine in the town of Samarra. That spawned a whole wave of sectarian violence. Several hundreds of people have been killed, a lot of mosques and shrines attacked.

Government officials here are saying that this is the work of terror groups rather than -- rather than sectarian violence. But certainly, the way it's playing out on the ground here that people see it, they're very worried about their safety and security. We're seeing militias, sectarian militias take control of different areas the city.

If you take Baghdad, the Sadr City suburb, two million Shia Muslims live there. There is a -- there are check points around that town, around that suburb now. Armed checked points, and being run by the Mehdi militia, loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the fire brand Shia cleric.

There other parts of the city where other militias are taking control of their neighborhoods to provide security for the people there. The Iraqi army is helping out, in some of those neighborhoods, at some of those checkpoints.

But that's the situation. People here are now very concerned that they could be targeted just for their -- just for their religious beliefs. And families have been moving neighbors, moving out of areas, because they just don't feel safe, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Now you had an exclusive interview with the Iraqi prime minister. Does he believe that there's a civil war going on? What did he tell you about this increase?

ROBERTSON: He says it isn't. He says, look, what we're seeing is not Shias killing Sunnis and Sunnis killing Shias. He says this is all the hand of the insurgents.

And in one way, he is right. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been trying to stoke sectarian tension here. He has been targeting -- or he's had his groups target Shia Muslims, targeting -- he's believed to be behind the targeting of that shrine, the destruction of that shrine that triggered much of this violence.

So one part of what the prime minister is saying is perhaps very accurate, that the insurgents here, at least some of them, do want to stoke this sectarian tension.

But I think people here believe that they very much are under threat. If they are a minority in their area, minority Shias in a Sunni area, minority Sunnis in a Shia area. The prime minister, however, says as far as he can see there isn't a civil war right now.


IBRAHIM AL-JAFAARI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): If you are asking if we are in the midst of civil war or not, of course, a civil war is the most dangerous thing for a country to go through. Like this happened in America during the times of Abraham Lincoln in 1861. But we are now in a civil war. There is the risk of it. There has been an escalation of violence, but we are not in a civil war.


ROBERTSON: A lot of analysts, Kyra, would tell you what they think is going on here is a low-level civil war -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Nic Robertson, LIVE FROM Baghdad. Thanks, Nic.

And we're just getting word in -- actually it's something a lot of us here at CNN knew. But he was making us keep it a secret until now. Now the scoop is out.

Mike Wallace, you know him, you love him, since 1968, he started with "60 Minutes." Of course his career began in the '40s. But he probably won't want me to go that far back. But we're getting word he is going to retire from "60 Minutes." He started his career there in 1968.

And as you know, you've watched him win numerous Emmys. He's won 19 Emmys, beginning in 1957. He's also earned himself a lifetime achievement Emmy. He got that in September 2003.

Anyway, Mike if you're watching, I'm going to try to get you on the phone so please take my call. We'll talk more about Mike Wallace and his retirement, "60 Minutes," hopefully soon.

On hold, the sentencing trial of confessed al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. Under fire, government authority now seeking a lawyer of her own. Keeping track of all the twists and turns in this case, our own Jeanne Meserve at the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

Jeanne, tell us what happened in court today.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, what didn't happen is questioning of Carla Martin. She's the Transportation Security Administration lawyer who's at the center of this. She sent e-mails, including transcripts of court testimony, to seven potential witnesses in this case, in violation of a court order.

She did appear in court today. She did not have legal representation. So questioning of her has been delayed.

However, there was questioning of four of those potential witnesses, who had received from her the transcripts and the e-mails. Some of them said they had read those e-mails and transcripts. Some said they'd read portions of them. Some said they hadn't read them at all. Some revealed that there had been additional e-mails and conversations with Carla Martin that had not previously been disclosed to the court.

But the bottom line from all of them was that none of them felt their testimony in this case had been impacted from what she had to say.

However, under questioning by defense attorneys, many of them did concede that, in fact, she had brought to their attention certain subject areas which might be brought up in this trial, subject areas which they perhaps previously had not been keyed in on.

Now, there's still no indication from the judge as to exactly what she's going to do about this violation of her court order. We're still waiting to hear about that. Of course, what the defense has asked for is the dismissal of the death penalty against Moussaoui.

Kyra, back to you.

PHILLIPS: All right, Jeanne Meserve, thank you so much.

We're going to get straight to Tony once again in the newsroom. He's working another story for us out of Houston, Texas.

Tony, what do you have?

HARRIS: Crazy story here. Our CNN affiliates, Kyra, in Houston, Texas, reporting that one person has been shot at what is being described as an illegal immigrant smuggling house. Houston police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials briefed reporters just moments ago.

Let me see if I can put some meat on this story a bit here. The house in question, once again, being used in an alleged illegal immigrant smuggling operation. An immigrant on the scene tells the story of arriving at the house, Kyra, yesterday and paying $2,000 to be brought to the U.S. from Mexico and that there were about 50 immigrants in the home with heavily armed men, four of them.

Residents reported hearing gunshots in the home -- this is in southwest Houston -- at about 9 a.m. local time. And residents there described this as a beautiful neighborhood. You're seeing live pictures now of the police activity on the ground. A beautiful neighborhood with a garden club where the kids played with one another. Residents obviously saying that now everything has changed.

Once again, one person shot and we don't know at this time the extent of those injuries. But, Kyra, we will continue to follow this for you.

PHILLIPS: All right, Tony, thanks so much.

Straight ahead, author of his own fate. Dan Brown takes the stand again in defense of his "Da Vinci Code." LIVE FROM has chapter and verse when we return.

ANNOUNCER: You're watching LIVE FROM on CNN, the most trusted name in news.


PHILLIPS: Now the novelist and the not so novel idea. Copyright cases rarely get so much news copy -- well, news copy and air time. When the author is Dan Brown and the work in question is "The Da Vinci Code", the plot thickens by the day.

Our Mallika Kapur has the latest.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Witness the biggest cover-up in human history.

MALLIKA KAPUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The movie is already in the can, slated for release in May. In the meantime, the little matter of just who came up with the big ideas that have made "The Da Vinci Code" a global best-seller.

The books makes the case that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a family. The clues, according to the book, to be found in the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci. Author Dan Brown takes the stand at London's high court this week to defend charges he stole his ideas from a book published 24 years ago called "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail."

Brown says, "It's absurd to suggest that I have organized and presented my novel in accordance with the same general principles as that book." He told the court that much of the research for his work was done by his wife, and that neither he, nor his wife consulted "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" until "The Da Vinci Code" story line was well developed.

PETER KNIGHT, ASSOCIATED, NORTON ROSE: I think the key points will be bringing out at which -- at what stage in the process he was aware of the Leigh and Baigent book and trying to make it clear that he was aware of that at a very early stage. And then casting doubt as to whether, in fact, he can really remember exactly what from that he took and what he didn't take from that.

KAPUR: Brown's lawyers questioned the originality of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail", saying the authors are not alone in suggesting Jesus had a family with a bloodline that continues to this day. They argued the ideas cannot be protected by copyright.

Certainly plenty's at stake in this case. Not just Brown's reputation but millions of dollars in future book sales, not to mention revenues from the film.

Mallika Kapur, CNN, London.


PHILLIPS: "The Da Vinci Code" introduced readers, some 40 million at last count, to any number of theories concepts and real places and real groups, among those, the conservative and little understood organization Opus Dei.

John Allen looks at the myths and realities of this controversial force in the Catholic Church in his book, "Opus Dei". Joining me now from Rome to talk about it.

John, great to see you. Are you keeping your eye on the trial?

JOHN ALLEN, AUTHOR, "OPUS DEI": Hi, Kyra. Yes, think I'm doing all right.

PHILLIPS: Well, tell me what are your thoughts? We're going to move on into your book, into Opus Dei. But I'm curious, as you follow the trial, what do you think about what's happening?

ALLEN: Well, I mean, on the one hand, you know, I read "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" when it came out, and therefore many years later when I read "The Da Vinci Code" I clearly recognized many of the central ideas.

You know, whether Dan Brown read that book before he read "The Da Vinci Code" or during I don't know, but they do cover much of the same ground.

On the other hand, you know, Kyra, the traditional standard for plagiarism has not been that you copied someone's ideas, it's that you copied their words. And I don't think to date there's been much suggestion that Dan Brown in any kind of literal sense copied the text of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail." And what I'm hearing from my colleagues in London is that on that basis his legal team feels pretty good about where this thing is going to end up.

PHILLIPS: We're going to continue to follow what's happening in court, as well.

But with regard to the U.S. bishops, we were reading today, they're now posting this site, The word just came out today. What do you think about that? I know you've been outspoken about the Catholic Church and that you think it could actually take "The Da Vinci Code" and kind of spin it to its advantage. Yet we're continually seeing a lot of resistance.

ALLEN: Well, I mean, I actually think this is a very creative move on the part of the U.S. bishops. I mean, look, the plain reality is that arguing whether "The Da Vinci Code" is good or bad, in my view, is a bit like arguing about whether winter is good or bad. I mean, it's here. And so the question is what do you do about it?

And the one thing you can say for "The Da Vinci Code", from the point of view of institutional Christianity, is that at least it has people talking about Jesus. It's created a kind of mass market curiosity. And therefore, I think what's incumbent upon the church is to step up and communicate. And in that sense I think what the U.S. bishops are trying to do is a very healthy sign.

PHILLIPS: All right. Let's talk about your book "Opus Dei". Also "The Da Vinci Code", of course, talks about Opus Dei. Why is this such a controversial group of individuals?

ALLEN: Well, you know, Dan Brown didn't invent the myth about Opus Dei. I mean, what he did was take it -- take it mass market. I mean, the truth is that, really, since Opus Dei was founded in the late '20s there has been a kind of mystique around it.

You know, some see it as ultraconservative, of course. Others see it as kind of a cult-like group within the Catholic Church. And I think a lot of that is because Opus Dei is a very new concept in the life of the church. It's about lay people and clergy together, sharing the same vocation, trying to do the same work, which is making holy the details of their ordinary everyday work.

It also had a very rapid expansion, and that always attracts some curiosity and some skepticism.

And you know, let's not forget, Kyra, the Catholic Church is, at its heart, a very conservative institution. It resists change. Therefore, anything new, particularly anything new that shoots up overnight, you know, will always attract some question marks and some detractors. And so I think in that sense it's a fairly natural phenomenon.

What's happened, of course, in recent years is that -- particularly with Brown, is that that very normal kind of conversation about a new reality has been mythologized in these incredible ways, to the extent that Opus Dei has now become, in a sense, you know, the boogeyman hiding under every Catholic bed.

PHILLIPS: Well, myths versus realities. You can even go to these web sites where former Opus Dei members say it's very cult-like. They have harmful practices, you know, eating habits, taking cold showers, all these various practices. They don't -- they really don't -- they cast quite a shadow on this organization. Do you think they're pushing it a little too far?

ALLEN: Well, look, I would put it this way. It certainly is true that Opus Dei have maintained that practices that mainstream Catholicism in the last 40 or 50 years has largely abandoned.

But you know, on the other hand, those are practices that are fully endorsed by officialdom in the Catholic Church. And it's not just Opus Dei members who do them.

You know, I would put it this way. I think Opus Dei is a bit like the Marine Corps of the Catholic Church, particularly for their inner-most core members called numeraries. They set the bar very high. There's a very high set of expectations.

I think for some people that is tremendously fulfilling; it's a source of great joy. For others who try it and it just doesn't fit, they can often feel ground down by it and in some sense victimized by it.

And so I don't think it's the case that Opus Dei members are telling the truth and the ex-members are lying or vice versa. I think these are simply people who have reacted very differently to roughly the same experience.

PHILLIPS: John Allen, new book on Opus Dei. Thanks so much, John.

ALLEN: You're welcome, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Coming up on LIVE FROM, ailing animals, jittery humans. As bird flu and Mad Cow Disease make the headlines, we're checking the facts. What are your risks?


PHILLIPS: As surely as a return, the Feds are betting the bird flu will make it to the U.S. in the next few months. And many people, if not all, well, their eyes are on Alaska.

Scientists who track spring migration routes figure that's where bird flu will first make U.S. landfall. Birds coming in on the East Asia flyway intersect in Alaska with birds on the Pacific flyway.

The head of Health and Human Services puts it this way: "Let me be clear. It is only a matter of time before we discover H5N1 in America."

Mike Leavitt figures that will happen sometime between now and the fall of this year. He also estimates that it would take at least six months to produce a bird flu vaccine if a pandemic erupts. The virus still does not infect humans easily, but scientists continue to warn that H5N1 could mutate at any time.

For America's beef industry, the stakes couldn't be higher. State and federal investigators are tracking the history of an Alabama cow confirmed as the nation's third case of Mad Cow Disease while other officials rush to reassure consumers at home and abroad that U.S. beef is safe.

The U.S. is still trying to get back into some foreign markets that slammed shut in 2003 after the first case of Mad Cow. The latest cow did not enter the food chain, but there's keen interest behind in finding out its age. Older animals could have gotten feed that was contaminated by ground up cattle remains. The U.S. banned such feed in 1997.

Well, another airline freebie is going away. You may be very surprised to hear what you're going to have to pay for next if you fly Northwest. Susan Lisovicz joins me live from the New York Stock Exchange.

Luckily, we're pretty small compared to a lot of other passengers. We don't have to worry about this.



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