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Conspiracies Surrounding the Benazir Bhutto Assassination; Iowa Caucus Countdown; Christmas Eve Murders in Washington; Tiger Attacks

Aired December 29, 2007 - 12:00   ET


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Pakistani authorities are already saying who they believe orchestrated the killing.
JAVED IQBAL CHEEMAN, INTERIOR MINISTER SPKSMN: We have intelligence intercepts indicating that al Qaeda leader Baitullah Mehsud is behind her assassination.

MESERVE: Baitullah Mehsud is a militant Islamist from Pakistan's tribal area or South Waziristan with ties to al Qaeda. In a transcript of the intercept provided by the Pakistani government, Mehsud says to another militant: "Congratulations to you. Were they ours?" The response, "Yes, it was us."

The former CIA station chief in Pakistan says Mehsud had threatened Bhutto even before her return to Pakistan.

ROBERT GRENIER, KROLL: She was highlighting her links with the United States, and particularly her determination to rid Pakistan of Islamic extremism. And he made an announcement to the effect that if she were to return, that he and his followers would see to it that she was killed.

MESERVE: In fact Bhutto thought Mehsud might have been behind the October attempt on her life. "He certainly has the skills," according to a former intelligence official, Mehsud runs a training camp for suicide bombers and has carried out suicide operations in Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan. His fighters are said to number in the thousands.

Earlier this year they captured more than 200 Pakistani soldiers, releasing them only after winning concessions from the government.

(on camera): One senior U.S. official describes Mehsud as a "known bad actor" and says there is good information that he may be responsible for the assassination, but until authorities complete a review of intelligence, the U.S. is not ready or able to pin the blame.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.


ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I'm (INAUDIBLE) our very own Zain Verjee joins us now from Karachi to bring us the very latest on the situation on the ground, there. And Zain, before we talk politics, let's get the latest on the situation on the streets. What is the mood there, where you are?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: It's extremely tense. People here are in shock. And the situation is extremely uncertain and volatile. Pakistan is bracing for potentially more violence. We arrived here in the port city of Karachi a few hours ago, people were out on the streets burning tires. But really the city itself was relatively quiet, though shops were shut, there were very few people out and about on the streets, going about their ordinary business and the streets were pretty empty.

But in Rawalpindi, the military garrison town, Benazir Bhutto's supporters were out in full force, they were demonstrating and clashing with police. In the cultural capital of Lahore, they were also out on the streets burning tires and blocking roads. One of the things that we're not seeing a massive action of people out on the streets really in droves here is because there's a major fuel shortage, nobody can get here, because all the petrol stations are shut, so, it's difficult to move around.

But there is a definite sense of anger from those on the streets, many people directing their rage toward President Musharraf says saying he didn't do enough, the government didn't do enough to protect and get adequate security to Benazir Bhutto. So, they're frustrated and they're pointing fingers.

The government, though, is saying that they did. The interior ministry came out and said that Benazir Bhutto died from a fractured skull, there are a lot of questions from her supporters, many of them saying -- party officials saying it's a cover-up, she died from a bullet wound. Interior minister also said to put all of this to rest, if what the family wants, they can exhume the body and conduct an autopsy. There's no response from the family whether they'd actually go and do that. They had initially said no -- Isha.

SESAY: Well, Zain, talking of exhuming the body, you saying no word yet from the family, but the government seems to be behind such a course of action. Would it have kind of cultural religious implications if they were to exhume the remains of Benazir Bhutto?

VERJEE: Well, yes. I mean, there is definitely a religious component, here. Under Islamic law, one doesn't do that, that's a big no-no, simply because the body is viewed as something that's very sacred, really as a gift from God, so destroying it or touching it in any way has religious implications. So, it's unlikely that they would do that. They have indicated that they're not willing to do that.

There are other schools of Islamic thought and other scholars that have said, well, in a specific circumstance, and if the family really desires it and it's really important, it's OK to do that. But, it would definitely be something that would lay all the controversy and the disagreements between all the different groups here that have the potential of becoming more volatile and fanning the flames of anger, here on the streets -- Isha.

SESAY: And, Zain, one of the things that everyone will be looking at in these coming days -- and there's much to look at -- the question of elections slated for January 8. What are we hearing on that front? Is the government still on track to hold this vote?

VERJEE: Well, I spoke to the information minister, Nisar Memon, a short while ago and he said, yes, the government is still committed to holding those elections and that they are on track. But, he also said that they are holding consultations with the different parties, so no ultimate decision has been made. He also said that the current constitution had to be taken into consideration.

But, the reality on the ground here, for everybody that I talk to, they're saying that there's no way that they can hold the elections on the 8th of January, they're going to have to postpone it.

The Pakistan People's Party, itself, is having a major crisis. There is no heir apparent to Benazir Bhutto. She was a giant, and she would leave a very difficult vacuum to fill. What they are doing, though, is they're going to sit down tomorrow and have an executive meeting. Her son is going to read out her will to the party and the party is also going to decide who succeeds Benazir Bhutto, and if they are going to go for an election on the 8th of January or after that.

And so I think we're going to have to see what comes out of that and the government and the other opposition parties are likely to take their cue from that -- Isha.

SESAY: All right. Our very own Zain Verjee, our state department correspondent, joining us live from Karachi here, many thanks.

Well, Bhutto's assassination is complicating U.S. efforts to close the rift between her party and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. President Bush met with his top advisers just yesterday to discuss the situation. (INAUDIBLE), our White House correspondent, Ed Henry is with the president today in Crawford, Texas.

And Ed, you know, I want to get a sense from you, what are you hearing about the Bush administration possibly putting pressure on the Musharraf government to open up this investigation to foreign law enforcement officials to investigate exactly who was behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto?


Certainly U.S. officials have considered the possibility of getting outside investigative forces involved in this probe for a simple reason, to try to bring credibility to it because of all the conflicting accounts of what really happened.

But, the U.S. does not want to look like it's meddling and that really mirrors the U.S. approach to the diplomatic efforts with Pakistan, as well. The U.S. wants to try to help bring stability to Pakistan, but they do not want to look like they're interfering. And as you can imagine, that's a very delicate balancing act.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) HENRY (voice over): Signing a condolence book at the Pakistani embassy in Washington, secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, wrote Benazir Bhutto was a woman of courage and champion of democracy.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: The way to honor her memory is to continue the democratic process in Pakistan, so that the democracy she hoped for can emerge.

HENRY: But moving forward will be easier said than done, since the U.S. finds itself in a box after supporting President Pervez Musharraf at all costs, despite questions about whether Pakistan has misused billions of dollars in U.S. aid intended to fight terror.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He had been an absolute reliable partner in dealing with extremists and radicals.

HENRY: But with Musharraf's grip on his government slipping, the U.S. had recently turned to plan "B," a potential power-sharing pact between Bhutto and Musharraf.

In the wake of Bhutto's assassination, the Bush policy is now in disarray, the White House searching for what you might call plan "C," finding someone who can unite a country teetering on the brink.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's the key dynamic to watch right now. And that will determine whether Musharraf and others within the country can move ahead.

HENRY: One option is former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. The U.S. had kept its distance because of his connections to Islamism parties, but is now taking another look. Another option could be for the U.S. to scrap the goal of democracy and let Musharraf focus on cracking down on extremists, though U.S. officials insist they're committed to free and fair elections as early as next month.

The least bad option may be the winner of those elections forming a partnership with Musharraf, since the U.S. has little choice, but to stick with him at this point.

KARL INDERFURTH, FMR. ASST. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think that we ought to look at Musharraf as a continued presence there and hopefully he will reach out to other democratic leaders in Pakistan and they can form some form of coalition of moderation, because that's the only way to deal with the extremists that are gaining strength in Pakistan, today.


HENRY: Now, those Pakistani elections are scheduled to take place on January 8, which is just coincidentally the same day that President Bush is planning to head to Israel for a Mideast peace mission. That mission was supposed to focus, of course, on Israeli- Palestinians peace efforts, but now given what's happened in Pakistan, certainly that trip is taking on more significance in terms of trying to achieve broader stability in the Mideast -- Isha. SESAY: One other thing, Ed, the Pakistani government is pinning this assassination on Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban leader with links to al Qaeda, they say. What's the Bush administration's view of this claim? And is this something that had been on the U.S. radar before now?

HENRY: He's certainly someone who has been on the U.S. radar. The White House doesn't want to comment on what is obviously an ongoing investigation, but other current and former U.S. intelligence officials do say this is someone who's been on the radar, has ties to al Qaeda, certainly U.S. officials have been paying attention to him and he's somebody who is on the list of suspects, if you will.

But U.S. officials also caution that there are others on that list and so nobody should jump to any conclusions about exactly who did this until the investigation moves forward -- Isha.

SESAY: All right then, Ed Henry, there in, Crawford, Texas, many thanks.

HENRY: Thank you.

SESAY: So, wow will the assassination of Benazir Bhutto affect next month's parliamentary elections? We'll discuss that with Islamabad bureau chief of the "Washington Post" at the bottom of the hour.

And tonight, CNN's Nic Robertson goes beyond the headlines of Benazir Bhutto's assassination to find out if Pakistan has become "Terror Central," that airs tonight at 8:00 Eastern only on CNN.

Now, countdown to the caucuses. Presidential candidates crisscrossing Iowa, hoping to make a lasting impression, we're live on the campaign trail.

And just days after a deadly tiger attack, why the zoo will not reopen today as planned.


SESAY: Let's talk politics, now. And the pressure is on in Iowa and that's an understatement. This is the last weekend before Iowa voters gather for their caucuses. That means, as you'd expect, the candidates are out in force. We heard from Rudy Giuliani last hour. John Edwards is speaking right now, you see him on your screen and we'll hear from Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney a little later in the hour.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley joins us now from Des Moines.

And Candy, big question, what's the state of play there, right now?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The truth is nobody really knows what the state of play is here because polls are notoriously unreliable in Iowa for a couple of reasons. The first is that no one really knows who's going to show up at these caucuses. A couple of the campaigns, in particular Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, are counting on new voters to come to the caucuses and stand up for them. So, you know, one never knows whether they're actually going to show up.

The other thing is that so many of these voters are undecided, the last we check, that they're all scrambling, they're all out there. All of the polls tell us that they're even. But again, those polls have to be said with the caveats I mentioned.

So, they are all out there, assuming that every caucus-goer counts. They are talking to the undecideds and talking to those who have said they will caucus for a particular candidate, because they need to remind them how important this is, that regardless of the weather in Iowa, which at the moment looks like it will be pretty good -- that regardless how snowy or cold, it's really important they show up at those caucuses.

So, right now everyone is assuming the lay of the land is dead even on the Republican side with Huckabee, perhaps having an advantage and dead even on the Democratic side with Obama, Edwards, Clinton.

SESAY: And candy, we were seeing pictures of John Edwards stumping, last minute stumping as the clock ticks down. I mean, what's your sense in terms of the Democratic candidates going after base voters?

CROWLEY: You know, it's very interesting because they're going for different bases. Hillary Clinton has really focused in on women 45 and older, so a lot of those women, including blue collar women, which are the base of her vote, not just here in Iowa, but across the nation -- have not been to caucuses before.

So, they have a huge challenge in getting those women out. But they feel the sort of history-making that her campaign might be will entice those women to come out. So, she's really focused on those over 45 women.

John Edwards has used his base that he obviously got together here in 2004 when he made a surprising second showing. He is counting on those voters who have been very loyal to him to come out. As a matter of fact, John Edwards has the most proven caucus-goers supporting him than any of the other candidates.

Barack Obama is relying heavily on younger voters who have not voted -- who have not caucused in great numbers before. But, again, they're counting on history, the excitement of Barack Obama himself, to get some of the younger voters out and to caucus for him.

SESAY: And what are we hearing about second choices? On both sides, what do we hear in terms of who's undecided, who voters are leaning towards because it's not just about who wins but who comes second as well.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. Absolutely. And this is where the Iowa caucus on the Democratic side, it's a straight caucus on the Republican side, sort of a, you know, a vote inside the caucus and they send in those numbers.

On the Democratic side, you have to have 15 percent of the caucus-goers in your caucus standing in your corner. So, for instance, if Hillary Clinton in one district doesn't have 15 percent of the voters in that caucus, she's considered not viable. And those caucus-goers have to decide whether to go to another candidate or to become undecided.

So, that's when it becomes really interesting. And here's how they parse it in the Clinton camp. They believe that those who might vote for, say, a Joe Biden or a Chris Dodd or a Bill Richardson, who they believe might have viability problems in some of these districts, they believe that those voters going for those three candidates are going for the experience.

So, they think that the second choice of a lot of those voters -- of a lot of those caucus-goers for those three men will naturally go to Clinton because she, of course, is selling herself as the most experienced.

On the other hand, the Obama campaign is looking at that same set of candidates and whether or not they'll get viability in some of these caucuses and saying, listen, they will not go for Hillary Clinton. She is the most known name in this state, if they were going to go for her, they already would have. They're looking for something different and they'll go to Obama. So, something that we'll only know on caucus night.

SESAY: All right, our very own Candy Crowley there, joining us from Des Moines, Iowa. Many thanks.

Well, while the rest of the candidates hit Iowa, Republican John McCain interestingly enough has New Hampshire all to himself this weekend. The New Hampshire newspaper that last weekend urged voters to reject Mitt Romney is endorsing McCain. The "Concord Monitor" praised McCain for having, "firm principles and profound sense of honor." New Hampshire's primary is January 8.

Well, New Year's Day catch the game that really matters, the battle of the presidential candidates. It's all the contenders talking about the most important issues: the economy, the war, immigration -- in their own words. CNN's "Ballot Bowl" beginning 9:00 a.m. Eastern New Year's Day. You won't want to miss it.

Now, a family gunned down on Christmas Eve. Today horrifying new details released. Plus, a message from the man police say killed two small children in cold blood.


SESAY: So, So. Cal may be short for Southern California, but today Northern California could be called Snow Cal. Get it? Snow in the Sierra Nevada's isn't unusual, what rare, though, is a snow that falling at lower elevations in the foothills. All right, then the well, San Francisco -- Jacqui Jeras is there at, the weather board, as you see there, and she's keeping an eye on all the weather conditions as people try to make their way up and down the country, trying to get somewhere before New Year's Eve.

Jacqui, how's it looking?


SESAY: And if you're going to be at those airports with children, please take something to occupy them because they get mighty bored with those delays.

OK, the San Francisco Zoo remains closed this weekend, officials telling us now that the zoo won't reopen until Thursday. Officials are investigating the Christmas Day tiger attack that killed a teenager and injured two friends. A 350-pound Siberian tiger escaped its enclosure by scaling a wall that is four feet below the recommended minimum set for the U.S. Zoos.

Well, you can find much more information on the deadly tiger attack at, including the path the tiger actually took through the zoo. Plus, we'll bring you a look at Siberian tigers, all that available for you right at

Now, two people have been charged in the Christmas Eve shooting deaths near Carnation, Washington. Michele Anderson and her boyfriend Joseph McEnroe both face first degree murder charges in the deaths of six members of Anderson's family. That's them you see there talking with police. Two children were among those victims. And prosecutors say McEnroe was the one who killed them.


DAN SATTERBURG, KING COUNTY PROSECUTOR: We allege that McEnroe spoke to each child and apologized for what he was about to do. The evidence will show that McEnroe then shot each child in the head from very close range.


SESAY: Well, prosecutors haven't decided whether to push for the death penalty. McEnroe meanwhile spoke from prison shortly after he was charged. He told the "Seattle Times," "I'm sorry that they're gone. They're my family, too, you know? I hope wherever they're at, they're at peace. That's all I'm going to say about them."

Just how did Benazir Bhutto die? Lots of anger and accusations, but one name is at the top of the list.

Also ahead, chaos in Kenya, violence erupts as a final vote count continues, but will election results make a difference.

But first, making the fast food experience even faster. Gerri Willis takes a look at today's "Modern Living" report.


GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR (voice over): A fast food assistant on this week's "Modern Living." Tired of waiting in long lines at the drive through? Now, there's a new technology that's making fast food faster. Meet "Hyperactive Bob," a computer system that uses rooftop cameras to monitor cars entering a restaurant's parking lot.

The system takes that information along with how much food is already prepared and issues cooking orders to the kitchen. It even sizes up a vehicle. And SUVs could mean more orders while a standard car could mean less.

With this week's "Modern Living," I'm Gerri Willis.



SESAY: Hey, everyone. It's 12:30 here. Here are some of the stories we're working on this hour.

Grief and rage in Pakistan. At least 38 people have died in riots following the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Well, one big question is being asked in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Where was the security? CNN's David Mattingly has been looking into that.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In her last moments of life, the images we see are of a classic Benazir Bhutto, standing in an open sunroof, smiling, waving. Her legendary charisma delighting, supporters crowding around her car. And then, chaos.

This video released by the Pakistani Interior Ministry captures only glimpses of the fatal attack. But CNN Security Expert Mike Brooks tells me there's a lot here for the trained eye to see.

MIKE BROOKS, CNN SECURITY EXPERT: With all the threat she's had and the tips against her life, she should not have been out of that vehicle at all.

MATTINGLY: At normal speed, a gun appears above the crowd for less than two seconds. You can hear three shots fired. But when we slow the video down ...

BROOKS: Let's watch for it, there's the gun right there.

MATTINGLY (on camera): There's the gun right there.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): ...we see how unprotected Bhutto truly was.

(on camera): Watching that, what does that tell you?

BROOKS: I tell you, it's very, very close. Someone should not have even been able to get that close to her theoretically.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): When the shots were fired, men who appeared to be working for Bhutto were just a few feet from the gunman.

BROOKS: You see the two security guys on the back, when the shots go off, you see them duck down. I mean, if they're security guys, they're supposed to be going toward the threat.

MATTINGLY: And watching how the gunman lifted his handgun above the crowd and fired tells us something about him as well.

BROOKS: You know, it's hard to say what kind of training this person has had, but they definitely knew where their target was and how to use that weapon.

MATTINGLY (on camera): That close to the vehicle, what is the likelihood that he would be hitting his target?

BROOKS: Well, from the way the angle of the gun toward -- towards where Ms. Bhutto was, you know, that's -- it looked like this person knew what they were doing, had a mission and was carrying out that mission with that handgun.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But strangely, Pakistani officials contradicted their own earlier reports that said Bhutto's fatal injury was caused by either bullets or shrapnel from the suicide bomb that followed. Instead, they now say her skull was fractured when it struck a lever for the sunroof as she ducked or fell during the attack.

BRIG. GEN. JAVED IQBAL CHEEMA, PAKISTAN INTERIOR MINISTRY: This is the lever which is open, which is blood-stained. So, there is every possibility that this is the lever, unfortunately, which caused, you know, the fracture in her skull and became the cause of her main death.

MATTINGLY: But when you search for confirmation of a cause of death on the video, there is none to be found. At the critical moment, the photographer seems to reel from the bomb blast and the camera turns away. Bhutto's fate goes unrecorded.

BROOKS: There's nothing in this video that will conclusively say she was hit with shrapnel, she was shot in the neck or she was -- her death was caused by her head hitting the lever to the sunroof as she either was going back down in or fell against that lever.

MATTINGLY (on camera): And there are other theories as well. Some Bhutto supporters say there was a sniper firing from above on a rooftop, but it's just one more thing the video cannot confirm, one more question in this tragedy that may go unanswered. David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.


SESAY: Well, Pakistan is linking an al Qaeda leader to the Bhutto assassination. It released a transcript of what it called a conversation between Baitullah Mehsud and another Islamic militant. Mehsud is quoted as calling the assassination "a spectacular job."

A spokesman for Mehsud dismissed that transcript, though, as government propaganda and Bhutto's political party also voiced skepticism. A party spokesman accused the government of trying to frame Mehsud in order to divert attention.

Well, Pakistan's Parliamentary elections are set for January 8th, but now there's word Pakistan's Election Commission will meet Monday to discuss the impact of current violence on the elections.

Let's go right now to Griff Witte, he's the Islamabad Bureau Chief for the "Washington Post," and he joins us by phone from Karachi.

Griff, good to have you with us. The government of Pakistan at this point seems committed to carrying on with this elections on January 8th. But how likely is it that this vote will even be seen as credible with the likes of Nawaz Sharif already saying his party will boycott?

VOICE OF GRIFF WITTE, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think that's a major concern. There's obviously a lot of turmoil in Pakistan today. I was out on the streets of the nation's largest city, Karachi today. And it was really like a ghost town in many areas.

The country -- there are people who are very much afraid of going out. They did not want to be in the streets as the army is patrolling and there are also mobs of Benazir Bhutto supporters who are going at night torching buildings, torching buses. So, I think there's going to be a lot of concern over security if these elections go ahead.

SESAY: And, Griff, what do you make of what certainly from the outside appears to be the Pakistani government's attempts to recast the version of what happened to Benazir Bhutto during that rally? Now they're saying she hit her head on a lever as she ducked from the shots. What are your thoughts?

WITTE: Well, obviously, there are two very much conflicting versions of what happened to her even though this was something that happened in the light of day with thousands of people looking on. There's a lot of controversy and it's because, frankly, the -- there was not an autopsy done and there was not any kind of formal investigation done at the scene of the attack in the immediate aftermath.

And so those two things, I'm afraid, are going to continue to cast a great deal of suspicion over this incident. People, rightly or wrongly, are going to come up with their own theories about exactly what has happened to Benazir Bhutto and what caused her death.

SESAY: And do you get a sense that there might be concern on the part of the government's -- concern that what has taken place will have -- will lead to people saying that she's been martyred?

WITTE: Well, people are obviously already saying that. The -- her supporters very much believe that ...

SESAY: And is that what they're fighting against by trying to recast these versions of what happened?

WITTE: That's right. The government is essentially trying to push the blame away from itself and to point to other factors such as, you know, perhaps her own actions and also, obviously, they're pointing the finger of blame at Baitullah Mehsud, who is a Taliban leader in northwestern Pakistan.

Benazir Bhutto's supporters are having none of it. They are saying very, very clearly that they hold Pervez Musharraf responsible for this attack and that they believe that perhaps elements of his government were directly responsible for helping to plot it.

SESAY: Griff, as you said there, the government looking to pin this on Baitullah Mehsud. I mean, what do you know of this guy? I mean, from everything the government's saying, they knew that this was -- this is a guy who trained suicide bombers. They seem to be clear on where he's based. I mean, what can you tell us about efforts to maybe take him in, take him into custody?

WITTE: Well, Baitullah Mehsud is someone who has been for several years now considered a major figure in the Taliban. He's not considered an al Qaeda leader, which was how the Pakistani government identified him yesterday. He's considered a tribal militant leader allied with Taliban forces that are waging insurgencies in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

And he's someone who is a formidable force. He has -- he's believed to have an army of thousands of followers. And he just earlier this year, actually, was able to execute an operation in which he kidnapped over 100 Pakistani soldiers and held them hostage for over a month, so he is someone who wields a great deal of influence.

But it's unclear exactly whether he would have been able to carry out this attack on his own. The attack took place a long way away from his home turf.

SESAY: All right, Griff Witte there, we must leave it. Griff Witte, the Islamabad Bureau Chief of the "Washington Post." Many thanks.

Well, tonight, CNN's Nic Robertson goes beyond the headlines of Benazir Bhutto's assassination to find out if Pakistan really has become "Terror Central." That airs tonight at 8:00 Eastern only here on CNN.

Well, voter unrest in Kenya. These pictures coming to us from Kenya's capital, Nairobi. Riots broke out across Kenya after election officials announced a delay in tallying returns in the tight presidential election. Unofficial tally from Thursday's vote shows opposition candidate Raila Odinga leading President Mwai Kibaki by some 300,000 votes out of more than seven million cast. Both sides are now claiming victory. Results are expected to be released tomorrow.

Moving on, six charity workers convicted in Chad of trying to kidnap 103 children are now back in France. A French court will now decide their fate. In Chad, the six were sentenced to eight years of hard labor. Because France doesn't have forced labor, though, the French justice system will adapt their sentences.

Well, when I'm not sitting here in the studio surrounded by these fancy lights and lots of cameras, I'm on location bringing you stories from right around the world.

I was in Saudi Arabia just last week attending one of the largest religious gatherings on earth. It's called the Hajj. It brings millions of Muslims together into one flowing crowd. You see them there going around the Grand Mosque in Mecca there.

If you've heard of the Hajj at all, it's probably because you've heard about the stampedes that have taken place during the Stoning of the Devil ritual. Over the years, hundreds have been crushed to death.

Well, during the ritual, the pilgrims stoned three pillars and as the crowds surged towards these spots, crowd control is difficult. The point of this ritual is to resist temptation. It's a symbolic act of stoning the devil. And Muslims -- many Muslims risk their own safety to take part.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm not afraid. This year, it's very safe.

SESAY: With people stoning all around us, you feel a little bit like you're under siege. These are the size of the pebbles that they're using to throw at the Jamarat Pillars. And we've already been struck by a couple. My cameraman has been hit. I've been hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had no problem at all. Excellent arrangements.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a very nice feeling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like I just -- people are in their other world.


SESAY: See, that was an interesting thing there as we spoke to people about their experiences of being inside the Jamarat where they actually perform that ritual. While the crew felt absolutely petrified, a lot of people we spoke to felt very serene, very calm. It certainly didn't seem to unnerve them.

But it was a very, very powerful place to be. You could feel the intensity. You could feel the passion as people performed this ritual. And one of the things we were particularly struck by was the fact that in that crowd -- and bearing in mind, there are nearly three million people there -- there were children as well. It was quite an assignment.

Going it alone. While other presidential candidates continue campaigning in Iowa, Republican Senator John McCain has decided to move on. We're live from his latest campaign stop.

But first, it's certainly been another year of ups and downs in the travel industry. What can you expect in 2008? This week's On the Go looks ahead at travel in the new year.


MARK ORWOLL, SR. CONSULTING EDITOR, TRAVEL + LEISURE: The latest forecast for business travel is in and the news is not good.

According to a just released report from American Express, the average cost of a two-and-a-half day domestic business trip including hotel, air travel and car rental, will rise in 2008 by six percent. International business travelers will see an increase of almost seven percent.

What's causing the increase? Higher oil prices, increased airfares to pay for perks like flatbeds and seats with more leg room and the demand for hotel rooms that exceeds the supply. More and more companies are now doing business with discount airlines and restricting employees' first class and business class air travel.

American Express said companies can also help manage costs by purchasing tickets in advance, not buying expensive refundable airfares and encouraging employees to take advantage of negotiated discounts from preferred suppliers, especially hotels where the rate hike globally is expected to be in the double digits.



SESAY: Hi, everyone.

It's the final weekend before the Iowa Caucus. We should be seeing and hearing from Hillary Clinton in Eldridge, Iowa, and Mitt Romney in Pella, Iowa shortly. We're going to keep an eye on both of those events for you. So stay with us for that.

John McCain is looking ahead to New Hampshire. He's the only Republican stumping the state today. The primary is just five days after Iowa. Our Jim Acosta is there covering the McCain campaign.

And what exactly is the McCain campaign saying about their decision to move him to New Hampshire when everyone else is in Iowa? JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a very good question. And the John McCain campaign is basically saying at this point that they feel like they're doing fairly well, better than expected in Iowa at this stage and what they would like to do is focus their energies on New Hampshire. This is a state that John McCain won in 2000.

And you can see the Straight Talk express, that bus behind me. This is the same -- it's probably not the same bus, but it is the same approach that he took in 2000. And voters seem to like it here in New Hampshire. And the thinking is on the McCain campaign is that if they can get a decent showing in Iowa and actually surprise the political establishment and win New Hampshire, then he could take on the air of almost a frontrunner heading into these later primaries.

And he is finding himself in almost a statistical dead heat with Mitt Romney. Some polls showing that those two candidates are pulling even with one another, other polls showing McCain in a strong second.

But this is a world of a difference from where McCain was over the summer. He was political dead meat at that point. Now, these two men are going mano-y-mano. And the ad wars are heating up in this state.

Earlier this week, Romney released the first attack ad accusing Romney -- excuse me, accusing McCain of being soft on immigration and taxes. Then McCain fired back with an ad of his own, pointing out that anti-endorsement in the "Concord Monitor," which essentially called Mitt Romney a phony.

Then earlier this morning at a campaign stop in Dover, New Hampshire, John McCain essentially took a swipe at Mitt Romney, pointing out that his rival has deep pockets but that those deep pockets won't work in New Hampshire.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The process which is the best in America and the best in the world. It is unique. The people of New Hampshire, obviously, because you came out here on a Saturday morning, take their responsibilities with the utmost seriousness. And this is a great thing about America, my friends. You can't buy an election in the state of New Hampshire. You've got to go to the people, and the people will go to you.


ACOSTA: Now, in speaking of the "Concord Monitor" newspaper, that paper which featured that anti-endorsement calling Mitt Romney a phony, has actually come out with its endorsement today of John McCain. So, that is yet another endorsement. That is another part of this campaign for John McCain, sort of flexing these endorsements that he's been picking up in Iowa and New Hampshire.

And, again, if John McCain can pull off an upset victory here, that will really shake up this race. And as we've been describing it, every time you look at this race, it's almost like looking at one of those magic 8 balls. Every time you look in the window, there's a different result. And if that's the case for John McCain, then he's doing quite well and much better than expected at this point -- Isha.

SESAY: And Jim, you know, conventional wisdom, everyone's talking about John McCain and Mitt Romney. Where does Rudy Giuliani fit into all of this?

ACOSTA: Well, Rudy Giuliani essentially steps into what has become a firefight between Mitt Romney and John McCain, which could benefit him. It's unclear if that will happen. Polls show that Giuliani is sliding in this state, which may explain why he is coming here.

He's in Iowa today but is coming to New Hampshire tomorrow with his own town hall meeting. And the pollsters are saying if Giuliani does not win here and if he is banking on these later contests, some in early February, that that just may be too late for him.

So, he is coming back to New Hampshire to shore up his position here, try to get back into second place and see if he can knock John McCain back down.

And, you know, a lot of times these races, it can seem like we're covering horse races out here, but essentially that is what we're looking at this point. It is a horse race and any man can win at this point. And Giuliani knows it. That's why he's getting back here as fast as he can.

SESAY: All right, Jim Acosta giving his horse race update. Many thanks.

Well, after the last minute campaigning, it will be the people's turn. CNN's special coverage of the Iowa Caucuses begins at 8:00 Eastern on Thursday night. It's an unpredictable election year, so you won't want to miss a minute of this coverage from the CNN Election Center. The Iowa Caucuses Thursday night beginning at 8:00 Eastern.

And we're back in just a moment.


SESAY: Wounded soldiers will soon cozy up to some special hand- made quilts. Jordan Burgess with our high (ph) affiliate WDTN explains the blankets are held together with more than just stitches.


JORDAN BURGESS, WDTN REPORTER (voice-over): Any blanket can warm your body, but these blankets warm your soul.

TOMMY BAUDENDISTEL, GERMANTOWN UNITED METHODIST: They're wrapped up in these prayers. And you can literally feel something.

BURGESS: They're called prayer quilts and the Germantown United Methodist Church plans to deliver some this Sunday to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. BAUDENDISTEL: Everybody supports our troops. We all understand what they went through and we all wish for their health.

BURGESS: But the church says these quilts carry more than just wishes. Each one has strings on it. And when you tie a string, you say a prayer. So the quilts have people covered in more ways than one.

BAUDENDISTEL: And some of our parishioners even -- won't even go to an X-ray or any testing at all without their prayer quilts. They know it's that special.

BURGESS: And churches all over the Dayton area are making the quilts to send out.

BAUDENDISTEL: This one here is from St. Albert's. It's a shawl that they knitted by hand.

BURGESS: But even if you can't thread a needle, you can still sew these blankets with your prayers. One group of kids made theirs with no sew fleece blankets and a lot of heart-felt Amens.

BAUDENDISTEL: And it's very emotional to see these kids praying over -- laying their hands over and praying on these blankets.

BURGESS: So far, the church has 14 blankets, half of which it plans to take to the Dayton, VA but it expects to get more and it hopes the soldiers who get them realize what's stitched into each one.

BAUDENDISTEL: And that they understand that even in a small town in Dayton, Ohio, in Germantown, Ohio, that we are still praying for them and we understand what they're doing and they're not forgotten in the least.

BURGESS: Because when it comes to a gift like these, it really is the thought that counts.


SESAY: Well, the final weekend before the Iowa Caucus, we should be seeing and hearing from Hillary Clinton, who's in Eldridge, Iowa, shortly. And Mitt Romney in Pella, Iowa. You see him there. We're going to keep an eye on both of these events. In Eldridge, Iowa, on the left of your screen, that's the Governor Ted Strickland who is addressing the crowds there. But we're monitoring this last minute campaigning and we'll bring you all the developments.

Let's take a short break.

Christmas cruise, bah humbug?


SESAY: Well, it's the final weekend before the Iowa Caucus. And as you can see there, Hillary Clinton is on stage addressing the voters there. She's in Eldridge, Iowa. To the right, you see Mitt Romney. He's in Pella, Iowa.

Let's listen in to Senator Clinton.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ...heroic women like Pat, who are fighting breast cancer and winning. And it's wonderful to have you on my team because we're going to do it together, Pat. Thank you so much.


CLINTON: I want to ask some of my county coordinators and precinct captains to raise their hands. I want to start with state representative Cindy Winkler (ph), who's doing such a great job for me. Thank you so much, Cindy.


CLINTON: I want to thank Faye Harvey (ph), who is your MC and is also one of my precinct captains. Thank you so much, Faye.


CLINTON: I want all of my precinct captains to raise your hands, all of you people who are working hard to make sure everybody turns out on Thursday night. Thank you so much.