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Suicide Bomber Penetrates Baghdad Green Zone; BBC Makes Appeal for Release of Alan Johnston; Gangs Using Internet to Broadcast Messages, Threats

Aired April 12, 2007 - 12:00   ET


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I strongly condemn the action. It reminds us, though, that there is an enemy willing to bomb innocent people.


JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: A brazen attack. An explosion rocking a cafeteria inside Iraq's parliament building in the Green Zone, killing several lawmakers.

RALITSA VASSILEVA, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: It's a stunning breach of security. Just how was the bomber able to pass multiple checkpoints in the heavily fortified Green Zone?

CLANCY: And a sinister trend. A Mexican drug cartel uses the Internet to transmit a terror message.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I appeal to all those who may have influence with the kidnappers, to use their best endeavors to secure Alan's release, safely and speedily.


VASSILEVA: And an emotional plea. The head of the BBC and the parents of Alan Johnston appeal for the release of the reporter abducted in Gaza.

It is 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad.

Hello and welcome, everybody, to our report broadcast around the globe.

I'm Ralitsa Vassileva.

CLANCY: I'm Jim Clancy.

From Gaza City to Mexico City, wherever you're watching, this is YOUR WORLD TODAY.

There has been a fatal breach in security in Baghdad from two very significant explosions in the heart of the capital. VASSILEVA: There are, of course, casualties, but the wider impact of the explosions is what everybody is scrambling to find out.

CLANCY: And what is the message that the bombers sent about the security crackdown that the U.S. and Iraqi governments are banking on so heavily?

We're going to begin our coverage now with the basics. What happened and where?

Kyra Phillips join us live from Baghdad with the latest information that we have.

What are you hearing, Kyra?

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, it's unprecedented. This has never happened before.

A suicide bomber actually made his way through all the various checkpoints to get into the fortified Green Zone. This is supposed to be one of the safest places in central Baghdad, if not the safest place.

There's been mortar attacks launched from the outside in. There were two suicide vests that were found just a couple weeks ago. So it's been obvious that the extremists, you know, step by step have been closer to a bigger attack, but this was -- this took everybody by surprise.

And we had a chance to talk to with Major General Bill Caldwell. He's one of the main spokespersons here on the ground.

I asked him, you know, how could this happen? How could he get through the checkpoints. And you can see now even the helicopters airborne, circling around, dropping flares, trying to get eyes on what had happened.

It shocked everybody. So, the air response and the ground response was huge. But Major General Caldwell saying to me, "Kyra, this is what we're up against. We're up against murderers that will do anything possible to distract the process of building an Iraqi government and moving forward to a democratic Iraq."

And this was an example of that today.

One Sunni lawmaker killed, one Shiite lawmaker killed. Eight total lost their lives today, eight innocent individuals, about 20 wounded, when that suicide bomber made himself -- made his way into that convention center, into the cafeteria, right next to where the parliament was having session. They were moving in to have lunch and the bomb exploded.

The investigation continuing right now, Jim. They are actually questioning each one of those members of parliament to see if they are able to lead to any kind of information to how this individual got through all those checkpoints. CLANCY: Well, given the number of checkpoints -- and there's layer upon layer of security there. As you go in, of course, you go through separate checkpoints. Some run by Iraqis, some run by contractors, some run by U.S. soldiers there, at least triple security going in.

Obviously, some people have to be looking at the possibility that the explosive itself was smuggled in separately.

PHILLIPS: Well, and you know, Jim, I have to go through these checkpoints every time I go into the fortified Green Zone. And I hardly ever see U.S. troops. Maybe one or two at the very first checkpoint checking the car as we come through, but otherwise all the checkpoints have been taken over by Iraqis, taken over by Triple Canopy (ph), one of the security firms with ex-employees from Peru.

So the hand-over in security is also sending out a message, too. Who can secure these checkpoints? Who knows exactly what they're doing? Who can prevent this?

Because there are X-ray machines. They go through all your bags. It's not -- somebody obviously was not doing their job properly and this is what happened.

So, the investigation continues. We'll of course stay on top of it -- Jim.

CLANCY: All right.

A very important investigation, to be sure. Thank you.

Kyra Phillips live from Baghdad -- Ralitsa.

VASSILEVA: Well, Jim, U.S. President George W. Bush strongly condemned the suicide bombing in the Iraqi parliament building. Speaking to reporters after a meeting at the White House, the president said the U.S. will continue to stand with the Iraqi government.


BUSH: First of all, I strongly condemn the action. It reminds us, though, that there is an enemy willing to bomb innocent people and a symbol of democracy.

In other words, the assembly is a place where people have come to represent the 12 million people who voted. And there's a type of person that will walk in that building and kill innocent life. And that is the same type of person that is willing to come and kill innocent Americans. And it is in our interest to help this young democracy be in a position so it can sustain itself and govern itself and defend itself against these extremists and radicals.


VASSILEVA: And as we've heard, this attack was certainly stunning. It just elicited a reaction from the U.S. president. It was so high profile. And it wasn't the only one today.

CLANCY: No, it wasn't the only one. If you look at the situation, a suicide truck bomb damaged one of Baghdad's oldest bridges. And it's a symbol, really.

At least 10 people killed in that incident. Cars plunging into the Tigris River below. This is a bridge that has some history.

VASSILEVA: Absolutely. And the Iraqis are very proud of that bridge.

It was built by the British engineers more than 60 years ago. It connects a Shiite neighborhood with the West Bank of the Tigris. And it's in northern Baghdad.

CLANCY: You know, as you look at it, it was a very beautiful bridge. Iraqis say this is a psychological blow for them as much as a physical attack.

Let's get more now on this story, the stunning attack inside the most heavily-fortified area in Baghdad, the Iraqi parliament, just one of many government buildings that are inside that Green Zone, the special enclave. First built for Saddam Hussein. It's protected, certainly, but it's been coming under increasing attacks nonetheless.

Jonathan Mann joins us now with some insight -- Jonathan.

JONATHAN MANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: The Green Zone's always been home to the most powerful and protected people in Iraq. It was where Saddam Hussein built his palaces, where his son Uday kept his plaything, like his collection of lions. After the invasion, they were gone, and it became a center of the occupation. A lot of people today call it the bubble, but very clearly the bubble's been burst.


BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Routine intervention into the Green Zone by bad guys? Of course. Of course there is, both on the ground, and through mortar fire and through indirect fire. I mean, that stuff kind of happens.


MANN: The U.S. military calls the rest of Baghdad the Red Zone. Think of a traffic light and you'll get the point.

The Green Zone is right in the center of the city, right on the West Bank, the bump there in the Tigris River. It is roughly four square miles or 10 square kilometers of palm trees and parks, big monuments, and even bigger empty spaces in an otherwise crowded city.

The parliament meets not in its own building, but in the old convention center, which is almost right in the middle, next to the republican palace. The zone itself is not easy to get into. We've been reporting that quite seriously. It is heavily guarded, protected by blast walls, by barbed wire, and by a lot of guys with guns. But insurgents lob mortars at it all the time. They attack around the edges. And sometimes they do get in.

In October of 2004, for example, there were twin bombings at a market and a cafe inside the zone. The first and the deadliest attack until today inside.

Six people, including four Americans, were killed that day. Nearly 30 people were wounded.

Fast forward to November of 2006, explosives-sniffing dogs discovered two car bombs in the parliament speaker's motorcade. No one hurt that day, thankfully.

Just two weeks ago, authorities made another but equally disturbing discovery.


REAR ADM. MARK FOX, U.S. MILITARY SPOKESMAN: What we found yesterday were two suicide vests, not people, but we did discover two suicide vests in the international zone. The matter is under investigation. I think it reflects the nature of the security challenge that we're facing. But in this case, they were discovered without them actually having been used.


MANN: But how could that happen? How could bombs get in when everyone is being so thoroughly checked? Well, it's not well known outside Iraq, but right after the fall of the old regime, as Saddam's loyalists fled the zone, squatters moved in. There are a lot of Iraqis, thousands of them, inside the zone who have no ties to the government or the American presence. They just live there.

Add the people who work there, and you've got a big group in a big area that's hard to police in an absolutely perfect way.

CLANCY: Jon, there are so many people that work and live inside that Green Zone in Baghdad. Were they already nervous?

MANN: No. Not compared to people outside the Green Zone. This is probably the safest place in the capital to live. And though the mortars fell day and night, they missed mostly because there's so much empty space there.

The sign that something was potentially wrong came about three weeks ago, when American authorities started telling Americans in the Green Zone when they were walking around in the safest part of the city they need to wear helmets and they need to wear body armor. That's unusual.

And then just a few hours before this attack on the convention center, they started using bomb-sniffing dogs to find out what people were carrying inside the building. Indications that clearly authorities, even if not the people working in the zone, the authorities were expecting trouble.

CLANCY: All right. Jonathan Mann with a little bit of insight on all of this. Important.

Thank you.

VASSILEVA: And Jon raised a lot of questions, including how could that happen, with all these layers of security in what's supposed to be the safest part of Baghdad? Well, we're going to pose all these questions to Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver. He's the director of coalition Press Information Center in Iraq. He joins us now.

Lieutenant Colonel, thank you so much for joining us.

I'll this question that we've been asking: how could this have happened with all the layers of security?

LT. COL. CHRIS GARVER, COALITION PRESS INFORMATION CENTER: Well, thank you for having me on the show.

And I would like to say initially that, as your last guest was saying, the international zone is safer than many places in Baghdad. But it is obviously not safe. And there is no place here that is perfectly safe.

We live under the same threat of indirect fire as many of the citizens do. We live under the same threat of, obviously, people trying to come in and attack. And as we saw today, there are some high profile targets here in the international zone.

That being said, we work very hard to provide security by -- as your last guest was talking about -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.

VASSILEVA: Colonel, I wanted to ask you, who do you think is responsible? What does your investigation and reading of the facts so far tell you?

GARVER: Well, we're obviously going to conduct the same type of forensic investigation that one would expect after some type of explosion like that. There are obviously several different groups that would want to discredit the government, that would want to drive a wedge between the population and the government to prove them unable to protect themselves, to prove them unable to protect the population.

VASSILEVA: Are you speaking about al Qaeda-related groups?

GARVER: We see those attacks -- we see those attacks all around Baghdad. Al Qaeda would be one of those networks, one of those organizations that would want to do that, that would want to separate the population from the government, that would want the government to fail, that wants the security plan to fail in Baghdad. So obviously, we are a target, as well as any of the other Iraqi citizens and any of the other bases where there are coalition fores around the city.

VASSILEVA: So you think the most probable claim of responsibility would probably come from somebody in al Qaeda?

GARVER: Well, we'll wait and see what the investigation identifies. Obviously, the people who did this do not have the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind. They do not have the best interests of the government of Iraq, of the future of Iraq.

These are people who are killing innocent civilians in order to try and make a point, in order to try and discredit the government. And, you know, we kind of have been saying today, we're the type of -- you know, we and the government of Iraq are building water purification plants, and these are the type of people who are using chlorine to attack the population and try and kill civilians.

So we continue to try and maintain security around the international zone, and we -- we'll continue to do that with our Iraqi counterparts here.

VASSILEVA: Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver, thank you very much for speaking with us.

CLANCY: We're going to stay in the Middle East but shift our focus now, because it was one month ago today that BBC reporter Alan Johnston was seized in Gaza. We haven't heard a word from him since or from those who took him. His parents, his boss, all appealing this day for his safe return.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas may have -- may have some good news.

Atika Shubert has more on that.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): With stoic faces, the Johnston family in Scotland gathers in front of the media, making an emotional plea for the release of their son.

GRAHAM JOHNSTON, FATHER OF ABDUCTED REPORTER: As I have said before, please, let my son go, now, today.

Alan, our heartfelt warmest love is sent to you from all your family, and in the fervent hope that you'll be released unharmed.

Chin up, my son.

SHUBERT: BBC reporter Alan Johnston was kidnapped one month ago by armed gunmen in Gaza. No word on who is holding him or why. No demands have been made.

BBC managing director Mark Thompson is in Ramallah. He met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who promised to do his utmost to free Johnston.

MARK THOMPSON, BBC MANAGING DIRECTOR: He told me that he had credible information that Alan is alive and well. But I have to say, as of this moment, we've had no direct contact at all. So we can't say with certainty who is holding him, why they're holding him or, in particular, why this abduction is taking so much locker to resolve than other western abductions have done in Gaza.

SHUBERT: The BBC has rallied international media, including CNN, in a day of unprecedented joint coverage to appeal for his release. For colleagues in the field, it is an expression of solidarity.

DOMINIC WAGHORN, SKY NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It shows the concern that we have for him and for his family, who must be going through hell at the moment. But also, as well as this concern that the rules of the game in Gaza seem to be changing.

SHUBERT (on camera): According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 15 reporters have been kidnapped in Gaza in little more than a year, used as bargaining chips for money and jobs. Most are released unharmed. But Alan Johnston is now the longest-held hostage in Gaza, and no one seems to know why.

Atika Shubert, CNN, Jerusalem.


VASSILEVA: Well, the Middle East is not the only dangerous place to be a journalist these days.

CLANCY: Not at all. Up next on YOUR WORLD TODAY, many reporters becoming part of the story as they put their lives on the line in just about every part of the world.

VASSILEVA: And Mexican drug gangs turn to the Web to spread shocking messages of fear and intimidation for all to see.


CLANCY: Hello, everyone. Welcome back. This is CNN International and YOUR WORLD TODAY.

VASSILEVA: We're covering the news around the world and what the world wants to know.

CLANCY: The Internet has certainly changed many aspects of our lives today. There's a lighter side -- shopping, chatting, dating.

VASSILEVA: But there's also more sinister element groups like al Qaeda who use this tool for their own purposes. And now, as Harris Whitbeck reports, drug gangs have begun using the Internet to send messages and threats.

CLANCY: Now, we must warn you, some of the images that you are about to see in Harris' report are disturbing.


HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It looks like a video from Iraq -- a hostage bound, interrogated, tortured by his captors, who remain off camera. But the language is not Arabic. It is Spanish.

The country is not Iraq. It is Mexico.

And along with the threats scribbled on this hostage's body is a big "Z" which stands for the Zetas, the name of one of Mexico's many drug cartel hit squads. The victim allegedly a member of the Zetas. His captors apparently from a rival gang, seven of whose members were recently killed.

"Are you responsible for killing our people?" the interrogator asks. "Yes," he answers.

Soon after, the beheading takes place. As shocking as its content is the way the video was made public. It was put on YouTube, the U.S.-based Web site that allows anonymous users to post videos. And while YouTube removed the posting after a few hours when it became aware of it, it is only the most recent posting on a variety of sites in what Internet security experts in Mexico say is a trend among the Mexican drug cartels.

GABRIEL CAMPOLI, INTERNET CRIME EXPERT (through translator): It is a message to society, a way of saying that the government's efforts to combat drug trafficking have failed and that the cartels are alive and well.

WHITBECK: Here's another Mexican video that made the rounds on the Internet. The singer is Valentin Elizalde, who is said to have quite a following among drug traffickers. Over images of victims of the drug cartel battles, he sings what's known in Mexico as a narco ballad, "I am singing this song to my enemies" is the lyric.

Several months later, Elizalde himself wound up dead, shot 20 times. And pictures of his autopsy appeared on another Web posting.

Federal prosecutors in Mexico have seen many of these videos, and the chat room messages that they trigger. They say they are investigating them for clues that might lead to their authors.

But experts say Mexican law enforcement is ill-equipped to track criminals in cyberspace.

CAMPOLI (through translator): The problem is one of legislation. Mexican law does not allow the police to dig very deeply into the identities of people in danger. What we really need is a special prosecutor for Internet crime.

WHITBECK (on camera): The Web may be a powerful medium for transmitting drug traffickers' messages, but if properly investigated, it could also be a treasure trove of clues about their whereabouts and identies.

(voice over): In fact, at the end of that beheading video, a message scrolls on the screen that serves as both a clue for police and a warning to a rival drug lord. Citing the drug lord by name, the message says, "You're next."

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Mexico City.


CLANCY: All right. We're going to take a short break here.

VASSILEVA: Yes, we need a break.

CLANCY: Very disturbing video in that story, but an important story to tell, nonetheless.

VASSILEVA: Absolutely.

CLANCY: But just ahead, we'll change pace a little bit. We'll have the business news that you need to know, including the latest numbers from Wall Street.

VASSILEVA: That's right.

And later on YOUR WORLD TODAY, insurgents strike the Green Zone and the heart of Iraq's government. We'll have the latest from the scene.

CLANCY: And then a little bit later, journalism, the dangerous job. You don't have to be in a war zone to find yourself under fire. We're going to show you the risks reporters face all across the world.

Stay with CNN.



VASSILEVA: Welcome back to our viewers joining us from more than 200 countries around the globe including the United States.

CLANCY: This is YOUR WORLD TODAY on CNN International. I'm Jim Clancy.

VASSILEVA: And I'm Ralitsa Vassileva.

Well, now for an update on that suicide bombing we've been telling you about in the Iraqi Parliament. Let's go back to Kyra Phillips in Baghdad. Kyra, what have you learned?

PHILLIPS: Unprecedented. This has never happened before. A suicide bomber making his way through a number of checkpoints, possibly six different checkpoints in order to get into the fortified Green Zone, to get in that convention center, to get into the Iraqi Parliament and blow himself up.

It happened in the cafeteria right next to where that session was happening. The Parliament members were leaving to have lunch, and he blew himself up in the cafeteria. Eight people dead, two lawmakers, one Sunni, one Shiite, 20 others were wounded. Now the other members are being detained for questioning to try and find out if this was an infiltrator, if somehow this was an inside job. Authorities still trying to figure out what exactly happened.

But when you talk about the conditions around the Green Zone and how tough it is to get into, you know, this is no longer manned by U.S. troops. Every now and then you might see one or two U.S. troops at the very first checkpoint, but they go through the Iraqis now that man these checkpoints. Iraqi Army, Iraqi police. Triple Canopy, a company that has been hired with workers from Peru.

So there have been changes in how you get through into the Green Zone. And that may be looked at a little differently now. When this all happened, seven helicopters airborne circling above the Green Zone trying to figure out where exactly this happened, if they could see anything on the ground to give that intelligence back to those waiting to find out what happened.

Now, Major General William Caldwell did speak to me by phone not too long ago. I asked him how could this happen, how could a suicide bomber get into the fortified Green Zone, and this is what he told me.


MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. ARMY: I mean, this attack against the Parliament building today was not an attack against members of Parliament, that was an attack against the Iraqi people. I mean, so they will continue to strike and try to do these type of things.


PHILLIPS: And Ralitsa, he told me, look, we're up against murderers, Kyra. They're going to kill themselves at any cost. They're going to try to get into any part of the governmental system to try to blow up anything that is moving towards progress here in Iraq and trying to form a government to be able to take over this country and take over security.

So I asked him, who is claiming responsibility? Who does he believe was behind this? And at this point they are pointing to al Qaeda, that is who has performed these type of attacks in the past. We'll wait and see. The investigation is still going.

VASSILEVA: Kyra Phillips in Baghdad. Thank you very much. Jim?

CLANCY: Well, of course we're getting reaction to this attack that is coming in from Europe. And here in the United States, the secretary of state, in fact, Condoleezza Rice blamed the attack on those who want to stop the democratic process in Iraq. She made that comment during a meeting with U.S. Senator John McCain who recently returned from Baghdad.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's obviously again the terrorists and those who wish to stop the Iraqi people from having a future that would be based on democracy and stability. And I noted that this is the Parliament building and that in a sense is they've made an attack on the institution itself.


VASSILEVA: The British government is also condemning the bombing in a message on the British Foreign Office Web site. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said, quote, "Nothing could highlight more the twisted minds of those who are seeking to disrupt the democratic process in Iraq."

She goes on to say, quote, "Those who carry out these outrageous attacks offer nothing to the Iraqi people except more murder and destruction." And Beckett also says, quote, "The Iraqi people have shown great fortitude and courage." End of quote.

CLANCY: Well, let's step back a little bit and look a little bit further, a little bit deeper into this story. And bring in an Iraqi photo-journalist who has spent time with both foreign and Iraqi insurgents, learning about their operations. Gaith Abdul Ahad is now in Beirut.

He joins us. You know, it's been two months almost to the day, tomorrow would mark the two-month point since this new security plan proposed by the Bush administration has gone into effect in Baghdad. These kinds of high profile attacks, the bridge, inside the Parliament, the ding area, an indication of the response of the insurgents?

GHAITH ABDUL AHAD, IRAQI JOURNALIST: Well, Jim, first it's the insurgency, they will try to keep giving these messages that we are still there and will keep, you raise the bar, we'll raise it further. And they will keep trying to do these kind of operations.

The most significant thing about this specific operation inside the parliament is we are looking at the parliament that it is split on itself, like most of the Sunni lawmakers accuse the Shia lawmakers of having links with the Shia militia while most of the Sunni lawmakers are accused of having links with the insurgency.

So someone with a very high security profile managed to smuggle a suicide bomber inside that fortified Green Zone, through these six checkpoints. Now the insurgency in Iraq, be it al Qaeda or Iraqi insurgency both have done these kind of operations, though not as spectacular as this one.

They've tried to assassinate the deputy prime minister a couple weeks ago. And almost two years ago they managed to infiltrate into an U.S.-Iraqi base and kill 30 personnel there. So they will keep trying ...

CLANCY: Let me ask you -- Excuse me. But let me ask you this. When you talk with them, what do they think that they accomplish from all of this? Some would look at it and say you've killed innocent people. What was the point? Isn't this going to backfire on you? But what do they believe?

AHAD: Well, it depends who you are talking to. If you talk to the Iraqis, the main kind of -- their aims have changed in the last couple of years. Now they're mainly calling themselves fighting a Shia Iranian occupation. America has come to a number two enemy for them. If you talking to al Qaeda people, it's this global vision of fighting the Americans, fighting the Shia, the infidels everywhere.

CLANCY: I apologize. We're having a little bit of a satellite difficulty there. Can we bring that back in? Able to reset that? All right.

Ghaith, I apologize, we lost you there for a second on the satellite. But you were detailing how the different groups have different attitudes of who they're fighting against. The civilians. They're not even thinking of consequences of these acts. They're just trying to show their presence, their determination?

AHAD: And also they're trying to achieve their goals. If we're talking about the Iraqi insurgents, for them, though there are Sunni lawmakers inside the Iraqi Parliament, for them it's a Shia institution, it's part of the Shia government. It is part of this whole, what they call is a Shia Iranian occupation of Iraq.

So for the Iraqi insurgents, if the Iraqis are responsible for that, for them it's kind of fighting that Shia institution. If we're talking about al Qaeda, those people have their own vision about the Islamic state where shariah and a fundamentalist form of Islam will reign. And to achieve that, they will try to dismantle every single form of government institutions. So both ...

CLANCY: Ghaith, just to sum all of this up, give people a bit of an idea, because they've been watching this on their television screens for, it's going into the fourth year. And you know, when you look at all of this, people wonder, will it all end if U.S. forces pull out? The truth you seem to be saying is no, it will continue against any elected official until whichever groups feel that they've gotten their upper hand?

AHAD: Now we go back to the main point, which we're talking about the government and institutions and Parliament that is totally split along sectarian lines. You have this fundamental issue now with all the Sunnis accusing the Shia of being Shia militias and all the Shia accusing the Sunnis of being linked to the insurgency.

So the issue now, though created by the U.S. presence in the first place, but now it is not about the U.S. Army anymore. It is not about the occupation or whatever you want to call it there anymore. It is about this -- I call it civil war, others call it civil strife. It's that issue at the moment that will continue as long as these conditions are set there, which is a government that's split, a Parliament that's split and in a state of underground civil war.

CLANCY: Ghaith Abdul Ahad, photojournalist joining us there from Beirut with a little bit of perspective from the ground. A man whose work has brought him into contact with the insurgents of various forms in Iraq. Thank you so much for being with us.

AHAD: Thank you, Jim. VASSILEVA: Well, we're going to take a short break now. Coming up, he committed an unspeakable act in Thailand and was supposed to pay the price behind bars.

CLANCY: But instead, the Swiss national received a reprieve from the very man that he insulted.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you look at Gaza, you look at Iraq, if you look at Afghanistan, you see a situation in which journalists are being detained, kidnapped and held for ransom.


VASSILEVA: And later, we will look at one of the most dangerous jobs in world.


CLANCY: Hello, everyone. And welcome back. You're watching YOUR WORLD TODAY right here on CNN International.

VASSILEVA: Which is seen live in more than 200 countries and territories around the globe.

American novelist Kurt Vonnegut has died in New York at the age of 84. He was famous for his darkly humorous works, including "Slaughterhouse Five" and "Cat's Cradle." Vonnegut, who often marveled that he had lived so long despite his lifelong smoking habit, suffered brain injuries after a fall at his home several weeks ago according to his wife, photographer Jill Krementz.

CLANCY: Well, it is good to be king. And in Thailand, it is even better to be nice to the king. A Swiss man is going to be deported from Thailand soon. He is being pardoned by the Thai king.

VASSILEVA: And his offense, you want to know that? Vandalizing royal portraits. To some his 10-year sentence may have seemed extreme, but as Dan Rivers reports, many Thais see their king as semi- divine.


DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He committed the most profound offense in Thailand, doing something few Thais would even talk about. Oliver Dufer (ph) defaced a picture of Thailand's revered king, Bhumipol Adulyadej.

Dufers claims he was drunk but was convicted of violating the country's strict rules lese majeste rules, which forbid any insult of the monarch. And he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

But the first westerner ever convicted for such an offense was pardoned by the king, whose picture he defaced. And is being deported back to his home in Switzerland. What made Dufer's act of vandalism all the more offensive was its timing. Last year Thailand was swept up in royal fervor as the king celebrated 60 years on the throne. And this year, the country will again pay respects as the king reaches his 80th birthday, securing his record as the world's longest reigning monarch.

Sensitivity about the king had again been highlighted earlier this month when the Internet video site YouTube was blocked by the Thai government after degrading images of the king were posted on it.

Thais consider the king almost as a living god. But he's also respected for his work to help the rural poor improve the environment and encourage education.

MECHAI VIRAVAIDYA, SOCIAL ACTIVIST: The king is dearly loved and respected and revered because of his performance, not because of his blood.

RIVERS: Although the king gave his endorsement to last September's military coup, he doesn't play an active role in politics, serving instead as a constitutional monarch. But the turbulence of Thai politics often makes the king's steadying influence rather welcome.

(on camera): And that turbulence is particularly acute at the moment. Thailand is trying to draft a new constitution. There are rumors of another coup. Elections are due later this year. Amid all that, Thais are fiercely protective of the one institution that hasn't changed for centuries, the monarchy. And Oliver Dufer has learned that lesson the hard way.

Dan Rivers, CNN, Bangkok.


CLANCY: Bringing you up to date on the very latest details that are coming in. "Time Magazine" scoring something of a coup here. They looked on a Web site and found al Qaeda in Iraq has claiming responsibility for the bombing inside the Green Zone.

VASSILEVA: Eight killed, two wounded in that brazen attack right in the heart of Baghdad and in one of the most heavily fortified and protected zones, the so-called Green Zone, in which the Iraqi Parliament, the U.S. embassy is based. An attack in the cafeteria which claimed the lives of two lawmakers, a Sunni and a Shiite. Now "Time" magazine is reporting that they found on a Web site a claim of responsibility of al Qaeda in Iraq.

CLANCY: And Brian Bennett, the "Time Magazine" correspondent there, as everyone is looking, how did it happen? How did they get this bomb inside? Bennett is reporting that on Thursday the metal detectors were not in operation in that building. Now it's not known whether that's where the bomb came through, but that's one of the things that "Time Magazine" is reporting right now from Baghdad. All right.

We've got to take a short break here.

VASSILEVA: We'll be back with more news including news on the kidnapping of journalist Alan Johnston in Gaza, which brings to light the dangers that many journalists face.

CLANCY: That's right. Up next, a close-up look at the hazards covering stories in conflict areas around the globe. Stay with CNN.


CLANCY: You're with YOUR WORLD TODAY and we want to show you now some pictures that are just coming in that show the aftermath of that apparent suicide bombing inside the cafeteria.

You're looking at a hallway here in the Iraqi Parliament building, which is part of the convention center. The cameraman moving up here. This is smoke from the blast. The blast and the debris, the plaster, everything that would have come down in all of this. Let's listen.

VASSILEVA: Certainly gives us an idea of how horrifying such an experience is.

CLANCY: Well, there's people calling for help. There's people that are calling out names. People are trying to, you know, make -- this is literally seconds after that blast went off. Now, we know so far that eight people have been killed. Twenty wounded in this attack.

VASSILEVA: And the questions again, how could somebody have penetrated so many layers, some say six layers of security to get inside that Parliament building? And we see the cafeteria.

CLANCY: This is the cafeteria.

VASSILEVA: That's where it happened. And it could have been worse because most of the lawmakers had finished eating when that happened.

CLANCY: Some of the first video that we've been able to bring you on all of this. And we're going to continue to follow it there, but that gives you a glimpse of what it looked like for the people on the scene. I believe that's from al-Hara (ph), the U.S. sponsored television station in ...

VASSILEVA: "Time Magazine," another bit of information that we just reported. "Time Magazine" saying that they have found a claim of responsibility from al Qaeda in Iraq on a Web site.

CLANCY: Also, a reporting Brian Bennett, a correspondent there in Baghdad, reporting that the metal detectors, the magnetic detectors going into that building were not operational on Thursday, still questions, no one knows, did they come through the front door or perhaps is it more likely that those explosives were smuggled in in some other manner through the back door? If we can, let's take another look at that videotape that's just come in, just in case anybody is just joining us now. Because it is the first glimpse. You can hear the sounds of confusion and chaos that are in there. As the cameraman makes his way through the smoke caused not only by the explosion but by the falling plaster and debris that comes down after such a bomb goes off in an enclosed area.

VASSILEVA: And they have taken special precautions. They have bomb sniffing dogs on that particular day. It seemed like authorities were expecting something to happen. They had tightened security. However, as Jim was just mentioning, "Time Magazine" found out that one pedestrian entrance, the scanner was not working.

So they had to just send people in after just hand searching them and sending them there in that area. And again, "Time Magazine" uncovering a claim of responsibility from al Qaeda in Iraq with a message saying that basically it's aimed at those who are cooperating with what they call the occupier and its agents, saying ominously, quote, "We will reach you wherever you are."

That coming from a Web site that was found by "Time Magazine", al Qaeda in Iraq claiming responsibility for the aftermath of what we're watching here.

CLANCY: These are the first pictures that have emerged. And you can see the only light that was in the cafeteria at one point came from these cameras. And this is what it looks like in the aftermath of one of these bombings. The chaos, the dust. You can see a man comes up here in a moment. And you can see the white dust.

VASSILEVA: The disorientation. The shock, the drama of this whole ...

CLANCY: Let's listen. If we can.

There you see the television station was doing an interview with a lawmaker, and then you actually saw the blast as it exploded. It appeared to be in an open area or at least that's where we saw the flash coming out in what is - there are large layers of glass fell down to the ground level in this building in Baghdad. I've been there many times.

VASSILEVA: They say it happened in the cafeteria, just as lawmakers were finishing up lunch. A massive explosion, a very brazen attack, a brazen breach of security.

CLANCY: You know, and this comes as we have noted in our report today, this comes two months, almost to the day, after the U.S. started the new security plan, the so-called surge inside Baghdad, trying to cordon off areas and improve security.

The insurgency, whether it is al Qaeda or some of the sectarian groups that are operating there, trying to overcome that in various ways. There's been an increase during the late weeks in March.

There's the -- that's the moment of the explosion. You can hear the explosion. You can see the lawmaker ducking and the cameraman as well, all rattled because of this. This shows the wide area in the aftermath, some of the cameras that were set up there to do interviews inside this building.

So we in the media are very used to being inside here. We in the media find it incredible that someone was able to smuggle in explosives and detonate them in this manner and leave this chaotic scene in the aftermath.

In all eight people dead. At least two of them legislators. Another 20 wounded. We don't know their conditions right now, Ralitsa.

VASSILEVA: And certainly this happening just as you mentioned, Jim, the U.S. in its second month of this new policy in which they were inserting U.S. soldiers inside neighborhoods. And it seemed to be working, at least in the capital, Baghdad.

Some say 20 percent drop of attacks in Baghdad. However, an increase in the out lying areas outside of Baghdad. But now we see certainly this attack showing that ...

CLANCY: All right. All right.

That was the moment, that was the moment that the explosion occurred. It looks to me, at this point, the tape either froze there or that's what happened was it just jumped right off of the heads of the tape recorder, at that point.

VASSILEVA: Or whoever was taping this was - maybe went to help his buddies...

CLANCY: Everybody had to be rattled because any time glass certainly flying all across that building, which as I said, it's open in the center. In several areas. In different areas, it is open in the center and it goes up stories.

It was on the second floor, we understand, where this cafeteria was and where the casualties were all suffered. The apparent suicide bomber going up to a cashier's station and setting off the bomb.

This was the aftermath. This has been ...

VASSILEVA: Now our viewers in the United States will be joining our colleagues on CNN USA, Fredricka Whitfield and Don Lemon.


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