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Scare on Flight 253; Unrests in Iran

Aired December 28, 2009 - 10:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: At least 25 people dead in a suicide blast in Karachi, Pakistan. It came during the Shiite Muslim observance of Ashura. The attack hit a long procession of people walking along a road.

Yesterday, another suicide attack at a mosque in Pakistan killed seven people.

In South Carolina, four men are charged with first-degree lynching after a 42-year-old man was beaten to death. Officials say the suspects struck him in the head on Christmas night with a two by four. All four men are being held without bond. First-degree lynching in South Carolina is defined as an attack by a mob which results in death.

Another great weekend for James Cameron's movie "Avatar." The 3- D film made more than $75 million over the Christmas weekend. It is the most popular movie in America for the second straight weekend.

Holiday travel and travails: U.S. airports are ramping up security just days after an apparent terror attack fizzled on a Detroit-bound airliner. Passengers face new precautions. Terror officials face tough questions.


JANET NAPOLITANO, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Security is something that we all have a part in. We are looking at the technology. We have deployed new technology in some airports. The question is, would it have detected this material in the way he had hidden it on his person? We're ascertaining that.

We're ascertaining why it was that he was not flagged in a more specific way when he purchased his ticket, given the information that we think was available, allegedly was available. And that's moving forward. We need to go backwards and say what happened here? What do we need to change? What do we need to do to make sure that passengers are safe moving forward?


COLLINS: Certainly a lot of questions this morning. Terror aboard flight 253. Who is the suspect and why did he allegedly try to kill 300 people on Christmas day? This morning, we have new details and new reasons for concern. Want to get the very latest now from CNN's Homeland Security correspondent Jeanne Meserve, joining us from Washington. Jeanne, the suspect's family just issued a statement a few minutes ago. What does it say?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Right. I have it here in front of me. Let me read part of it to you. It says that prior to this incident, his father having become concerned with his disappearance and stoppage of communication while schooling abroad reported the matter to the Nigerian security agencies about two months ago and to some foreign security agencies about a month and a half ago.

Seeking their assistance in getting him returned home and goes on to say we provided them with all the information required of us to enable them to do this. We were hopeful that they would find and return him home and it was while we were waiting for the outcome of their investigation that we got the shocking news about what happened on Christmas day.

The statement goes on to say that the family will continue to cooperate. It says that "we along with the whole world thankful to almighty god that there were no lives lost in this incident." Of course, we've been trying to find out even more specifics about what the family told the security agencies. We wanted to know whether they told the agencies that he was going to Yemen.

If they had any specifics of what he was up to. The statement doesn't fill in all the blanks but it does give us a good timeframe. Back to you.

COLLINS: Yes, understood. Jeanne, what's the very latest now on the investigation? What will be happening in the days to come?

MESERVE: Well, a source familiar with the investigation tells CNN the device carried by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was powerful enough to blow a hole in the aircraft and take it down but the device did not work properly and passengers and crew reacted quickly, averting a catastrophe.

Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano now says systems for keeping dangerous people and material off airplanes did not work as they were supposed to. This after saying Sunday that the system did work. On "AMERICAN MORNING," she tried to clarify her remarks.


NAPOLITANO: What I said is, moving forward, meaning once the incident happened, we were able to immediately notify the 128 flights in the air, as well as airports on the ground, domestically, internationally, our law enforcement partners, our other allies instituted an immediate safety procedures to make sure that this could not happen on other flights.

MESERVE: President Obama has ordered a sweeping review of airport screening procedures and watch lists protocols. We expect to hear from him later today and also today there is going to be a court hearing in Detroit. The government is trying to get a DNA sample from the suspect. Obviously, they want to try and connect him to some specific evidence that they are after all trying to build a legal case here. He is not expected to be in the courtroom for that, Heidi.

COLLINS: OK, Jeanne. We'll be watching. Thank you.

We are also learning the suspect was on a U.K. watch list. The British Home Office says they placed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on the list after they refused him a student visa. He applied to reenter Britain to continue his education but British authorities suspected the school he listed was not genuine. The British Home Secretary is also looking to see if Umar was radicalized in Britain.

This morning, airline passengers in the U.S. are facing tough, new rules and probably higher stress levels. In fact, signs of strained nerves became all too apparent on the same route yesterday. At Detroit Metro Airport, luggage was removed from yesterday's flight 253 and inspected by bomb-sniffing dogs.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were kept on the airplane for a while and then boarded - guards would not let the plane - let the passengers off the plane. And when we got to the customs control, we entered the country normally and then waited for about an hour for luggage. That's all we know.


COLLINS: Well, as it turned out the reason for the precaution, a sick passenger had spent an unusually long amount of time in the plane's bathroom. So that incident turned out to be a false alarm. But airport security personnel are not taking any chances. They've beefed up security at airports across the country.

Our Cheryl Jackson is taking a look at how flying fears as well as airport security have been increasing since the terror attack.


CHERYL JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Umar Abdulmutallab seen here in school photos is in federal prison and the federal government is under scrutiny, many wondering how Abdulmutallab was able to fly. He was on a watch list after his own father reported him as a possible threat to the U.S.. Authorities are now searching Abdulmutallab's last known residence in London.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: How does a person on a terrorism watch list get a U.S. visa? I think there's much to investigate.

JACKSON: On the defensive, Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano says the suspect was on the general watch list, not on the no-fly list but she says President Obama has ordered a full review.

NAPOLITANO: How do this individual get on the plane? What didn't work in the screening procedure to pick him up? And why was the material he was carrying not picked up in the screening procedure, as well?

JACKSON: Though Napolitano insists American travelers are safe, many are on heightened alert. The number of air marshals on flight has been increased. Travelers have also noticed ramped up security on both international and domestic flights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last hour we came in, we had to make sure we were seated, nothing on the lap.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coming into the plane in Mexico City, they search all of our bags individually.

JACKSON: And Sunday, police converged on another Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. A Nigerian man was taken into custody after the crew reported the man was verbally disruptive and spent an extended amount of time in the plane's bathroom. The man was released after it was determined that he was sick.


COLLINS: Cheryl Jackson joining us now from Detroit Metropolitan Airport, just outside the city. So Cheryl, you were there as the incident actually unfolded yesterday. What did the reaction look like from the passengers who were on the plane?

JACKSON: Well, Heidi, we talked to the passengers as they came off of the plane and surprisingly they didn't know anything had even happened until the plane had landed and one of the flight crew told them that they had a security problem.

Later, they did see a man taken away in handcuffs but no one really knew while they were in the air that there was a problem. They said that the man was very cooperative and went willingly with police and that's what we were able to determine from most of the people that we talked to, Heidi.

COLLINS: So specifically then, how has the Detroit airport responded to all this? Have you seen with your own eyes a big change in security?

JACKSON: Yes. You know, we are staying in a hotel here at the airport and now we're being frisked leave the airport, to go into the airport. Yesterday, my shoes were checked for chemicals. Today we were told that there is actually behavior specialists in the airport right now, studying the passengers in order to be able to further secure the area.

COLLINS: All right. We'll be following it closely.

Cheryl, thank you.

And in fact, we are actually talking about this story of airline security on my blog this morning. I wanted to know what you think about it. Just tell us how you feel these days about flying. Do you feel safe? You can go to You will find a little bit more about the story in specific that we are talking about today and let us know what you feel about. Do you feel safe when you fly these days?

People in parts of the country still dealing with that. Snow. Our Reynolds Wolf keeping a close eye on what's going on from the Weather Center. That's a lot. Hey there, Reynolds.

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Heidi. It looks like a giant snow globe out there, doesn't? Well, we're going to see some of those conditions spill over in parts of Michigan, and back in upstate New York and coming up, an idea of how much snow they may get and where the system is headed next. That's moments away. Sit tight.


COLLINS: Well, the graphic is correct. The little snowflakes there running across the severe weather banner. Reynolds Wolf is standing in for Rob this morning to talk a little bit more about got a nor'easter. Is that right? Sort of?

WOLF: Well, not necessarily yet.

COLLINS: Lake effect.

WOLF: But it may come in a couple of days. Right now, it's a big snowmaker. It certainly was over this weekend. We're going to show you proof of some great video that we have out of Gray, Iowa. Again, the town is called Gray, Iowa. I don't see gray here. I see white and plenty of it. This video compliments of KCCI. Icing power line, causing all kinds of problems with trees and what happens when you get ice on the power lines and on the trees, the trees become very heavy and with that things begin to fall apart.

You power outages are still across the region. You still have plenty of snow that's coming down, leaving Iowa but now moving towards the Great Lakes. Before we get to that. Let's switch in other pictures around the nation. Let's go to the nation's capital where we have a shot for you. And the shot that we have there is pretty self explanatory. Not a bad day there.

A little mix of sun and clouds. You see the top of the flagpole right there at the White House. Again, the breeze is pretty strong. Pretty nice there. But Heidi, check out this shot. We're going to take you to Atlanta, Georgia, where we have again, mostly sunny skies. Beautiful, cobalt blue skies. Nice day at Centennial Park.

Now, those are some of the nicer places. The first image that we showed you, of course, the video was from the heavy snow that we had in parts of the midwest. That area of low pressure is now moving into the Great Lakes and whether we can expect some heavy snowfall in places. Lake-effect snowfall and that lake effect snowfall before all is said and done, by tomorrow afternoon, could spell out to a foot of snow, north of Syracuse and back over towards (INAUDIBLE), awful for drivers out there along parts of 81. Please be careful.

And then if we were to pull back a little towards Michigan. We've been showing you live shots this morning out in the airport in Detroit. Again, the snow's going to continue to come down. The wind is whipping and that wind when it comes in into the northwest, what that's going to do is pick up all that moisture from Lake Michigan, and even Lake Superior, and that's where your snow is going to stack up, especially in high elevations near i-75. So rough times there is to say the very least.

In the southeast, things are going to be just fine for you in terms of the sky but still a bit chilly out there. 41 degrees, the expected high in Atlanta. 48 in Dallas, 51 in Las Vegas. 53 in San Francisco. And back over to Minneapolis and Chicago, mainly 20s and 30s. New York and Boston, mainly into the 30s and 40s.

But your delays today, here's how they are going to stack up. We do anticipate due to the wind in New York, you're going to have some issues there at the major airports. Chicago and Detroit, same deal. Some wind but also the light snow and the low clouds. Minneapolis, a combination of light snow and wind is going to really test your patience and patience is a virtue, especially on a day like today with increased security. So be careful out there. Let's send it back to you, Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. Reynolds, thank you.

WOLF: You bet.

COLLINS: Last hour, Wall Street opened its final week of trading for 2009. It is not just the end of the year, but also, the end of the decade. With a look back and forward, Stephanie Elam joining us now from New York. Now, that is like a huge lead-in to you. Big task.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's a big task indeed. I'm actually having problems with the fact that the decade is over.


ELAM: That's the biggest part of that. But that was kind of quick. But let's take a look at it first by looking at this week. I can tell you the volume is going to be light. There may be a lot of people who are getting their positioning together before the year ends. And I should also remind anyone who wants to do that, Thursday's your last day because the markets will be closed on Friday for New Year's day and I'm sure a lot of people won't be up during trading hours anyway because they would have been out reveling the night before.

Now, if you take a look as for this year, we are on track to see double-digit gains for all three of the major indices. You see there, that graph there shows you the Dow on point right now to be up 20 percent. The S&P 500 up 25 percent. Nasdaq up 45 percent. All very good numbers, obviously. Of course, you think back to the March low where we hit our low of this recession which started in December 2007, Heidi.

And you can see that there was a lot of ground to gain back. However, if you compare that to the decade, the S&P 500 index is actually on track to drop about 25 percent for the decade. So it shows you there that this is just a really rough period. In fact, this is the first time ever that we will have a decade where an indice would actually drop. Ever, first time.

So, that just shows you how rough this has been even after the Great Depression, that whole decade actually ended a bit more positive. Not huge but it still was on the positive side. But think about all the things that happened in the decade. We had the burst of the tech bubble in 2000. We also had the recession in 2001 which was eight months and then 9/11, you've got all of those factors that happened in this decade that really hurt the overall market.

So if you think about it, the fact that we come out and still be able to see the sun on the horizon says something about the American spirit there. Now, as far as the end of the year goes, January - which sounds crazy to talk about again, but it is true. The January effect usually we see stocks take off during the month and it could be stronger than ever this year coming up simply because of the comparisons to '09 were just so rough because it was just such a rough period last year.

COLLINS: Yes. I guess -

ELAM: So more gains, hopefully.

COLLINS: Yes. Hopefully. I guess when you compare it to something really bad, you can always look better and that's the way we'll do it.

ELAM: That's true, yes.

COLLINS: Stephanie, thank you.

ELAM: Thanks.

COLLINS: He was known as a political power broker and s key figure in Harlem. Remembering civil rights attorney Percy Sutton and the legacy he leaves behind.


COLLINS: Checking top stories, prosecutors will try to get DNA samples from the man accused of plotting to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas day. The FBI says 23-year-old Umar Fahrouk Abdulmutallab was carrying a small bag of liquid and powder explosives. Prosecutors hope to tie him to the evidence found on the plane. A hearing in the case happens in this afternoon in Detroit. Abdumutallab is not expected to be there.

Pioneering civil rights attorney Percy Sutton has died. He represented Malcolm X and his wife before launching a career as an influential New York politician and radio mogul. The cause of Sutton's death has not been released. Sutton was credited with leading the revitalizization of Harlem, including the restoration of the famous Apollo Theater. He also mentored Jesse Jackson during two presidential races. Percy Sutton was 89 years old. At least eight people are dead in clashes in the streets of Iran. The government cracking down on protests that boiled over on Ashura, a Shia Muslim observance. Police took hundreds into custody and more arrests could be made. Among those reported dead is the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. Iran has not seen this level of violence since Mousavi lost the disputed presidential election back in June.

Here's a question you probably haven't thought much of before. What did heavy metal bands and Nascar drivers have in common? A constant ringing in the ears. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Metallica Drummer Lars Ulrich didn't know he was abusing his ears until it was too late.

LARS ULRICH, METALLICA DRUMMER: It is sort of like a constant ringing in the ears basically.

GUPTA: He has been playing the drums for 30 years now and suffers from tinnitus. That is ringing in the ears. It's a constant noise that sounds something like this.

ULRICH: It never sort of goes away. It never just stops.

GUPTA: Exposure to loud noises is the most common known cause and you don't have to be a rock and roller. Any loud noises, from machinery to the roar of a motor speedway. How do you know when something's too loud?

DR. NORMA MIRAZ, AUDIOLOGIST: If you are in an environment where you're about three feet away from an individual and you have to literally raise your voice for that person to hear you, that is already becoming a very loud environment.

GUPTA: Audiologist Norma Miraz says ear plugs and ear molds like Ulrich now wears, they can help.

ULRICH: I will never sit down behind a drum kit without protection.

GUPTA: He hopes others will start sooner than he did and protect their ears now. Whether at work or at play.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


COLLINS: U.S. airports ratchet up their security in the wake of the botched terror attack on Christmas day. We'll tell you what travelers can expect.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COLLINS: Time now for the CNN security watch. We have new details on the man accused of targeting a U.S. airliner on Christmas day. This afternoon, prosecutors in Detroit will ask a judge for DNA samples from the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Their goal, conclusively tie the 23f-year-old Nigerian to the evidence found on Northwest Airlines flight 254.

Investigators say below his waist he had tucked away a small bag of liquid and powder explosives. A source tells CNN the package would have been powerful enough to blow a hole in the side of the plane and possibly bring it down.

And we have guidance this morning coming to us from Hawaii where President Obama is vacationing with his family. The president is expected to make comments later on today. We, of course, will bring those to you just as soon as they become available.

This morning, airline passengers are facing new rules, longer lines and more stress, of course. This is the scene this morning from Los Angeles International Airport. So what are the new security precautions?

CNN's Allan Chernoff is joining us with a closer look from Detroit's Metropolitan Airport. Yes, a lot of things passengers will be going through today, right, Allan?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Security certainly very tight here, Heidi. But first let me divert because we have an update about that scheduled DNA hearing.


CHERNOFF: It now actually has been canceled according to an e- mail that we have just received from the public relations representative for the U.S. attorney's office here. Now saying that that hearing that had been scheduled for 2:00 local time has been canceled and not rescheduled for any time.

That was going to be an effort by the prosecutors here to request that a swab be taken of the suspect to have his DNA and presumably to be able to match that DNA to evidence found on the aircraft where he allegedly tried to blow the aircraft up. Heidi.

COLLINS: So, Allan, any idea, probably not at this point but why they would cancel something like that?

CHERNOFF: I'm sorry? Pardon me?

COLLINS: Any idea why they would cancel something like that, trying to get the DNA from the suspect?

CHERNOFF: This just may be a legal complication. Frankly, it would appear to be a fairly straightforward request by the prosecution.

COLLINS: Yes. CHERNOFF: You wouldn't think they would have much trouble gaining permission from the judge but we don't have any further detail on that right now.

COLLINS: All right. Understood. From this point then, Allan, we'll keep our eye on that and continue to follow that part of the story. If you would, let's run through now some of these security precautions that people are going to be seeing, at least in the recent few days. I'm not sure all of these new security measures will stay in place but tell us what you know at this point.

CHERNOFF: Well, I was in the terminal only a few moments ago, and they're playing a recording through the day that basically says that security has been tightened. Reminding passengers to make sure that their bags are not unattended at any time.

And also, saying that the bags can be checked and rechecked, as well. Passengers are taking this quite seriously. Many people arriving well, well in advance of their domestic flights. I spoke with a number of passengers who were here three hours in advance and were waiting on very, very long lines this morning.

But the fact is, all of them said to me, you know what? We're OK with that because we understand this is an environment where security simply has to be tight.

COLLINS: Yes. No question about it. All right. Well, Allan Chernoff, we sure do appreciate the update and again, we will continue to follow a little bit more on why that DNA collection has been canceled and the hearing a little bit later on today for the suspect in all of this. Allan Chernoff, thank you.

I want to give you a specific look at some of the rules that you will notice when you're flying now. Airlines are implementing slight variations on those domestic and international flights but generally, the new security rules require this. More physical pat downs at the gate.

More frequent checks of carry-on bags and then during the last hour of flight, you must stay seated. Can't have blankets or personal items on the lap and cannot touch the carry-on baggage. You can also not use the restroom unless you are escorted by a crew member. Again, all of those the regulations in the last hour of flight.

And that brings us to today's blog question. We just wanted to know - because of these stories that are out there now, beginning on Christmas day, how safe do you feel these days when you fly? What are some of the concerns that you have?

Just go to and you can share some of your comments there. In fact, take a look at a few of them already this morning. Andrew says this, "I fly 150,000 miles per year and feel completely safe. I think the government's recent security enhancements are an overreaction."

And then from Tom, "The odds of an adverse incident affecting my flight are still much more remote than something happening while I'm driving a car. Given that, I feel very safe flying."

From Michael, "Up until now, I felt very safe. This latest terrorist attempt further exposes an already known weakness and I fear that even though this latest attack failed, it may embolden others to try again."

And from Adelene, "Well, I was feeling safe up until this last incident. I just hope security is beefed up for good. I lost my brother on September 11th and I don't wish for any other families to go through what we went through."

And remember, we always want to hear from you. Your feedback on all of these stories are important to us here at CNN so please log on to and give us your thoughts on how safe you feel flying these days.

Here's a closer look now at the terrorist suspect. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. In November, he was placed on a U.S. database of people suspected of having ties to terrorism. The reason? His father was worried about his son's deepening religious extremism and shared those concerns with Embassy officials in Nigeria.

They've also learned the 23-year-old was placed on a British watch list after he was refused a student visa. The U.S. should have been notified of the British concerns. Abdulmutallab comes from a wealthy family and is well educated. He received a degree in engineering and business finance from University College in London.

This incident now putting the tiny country of Yemen back in the spotlight. Is it the newest breeding ground for terrorists? Paul Cruickshank is a fellow at the NYU Center on Law and Security and author of "Al Qaeda: The Current Threat." He is joining me now from London.

Paul, thanks for being with us. Let's start for a moment with the suspect himself, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

What did you learn specifically about him?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, we know something of his upbringing at the moment. From a very rich Nigerian family. A very educated guy. He was in school at Southern Point. He expressed in classroom debate some support for the Taliban. It's not clear whether he was playing the devil's advocate in those debates.

I just spoke to the teacher in question or whether he was actually very radical at the time. He then came here to the United Kingdom to go to UCL to study engineering, a very, very prestigious university here in the United Kingdom. He studied here for a while and it's possible that he continued on some sort of a radical trajectory here in the U.K. then he went back to the Middle East and eventually went to Yemen.

Where he appears potentially to have hooked up with an al Qaeda affiliated group in Yemen. He says that that was the group that gave him this bomb-making kit that he used on this flight coming into Detroit. The explosives, PETN in this incident were very similar to an attack that al Qaeda in Yemen had against the Saudi prince several months ago, Heidi.

COLLINS: In fact, I want you to talk a little bit more if you would about this group. That AQAP, and apparently a new group, if you will at least? A new generation of people in Yemen. Tell us a little bit more about what you know.

CRUICKSHANK: Well, al Qaeda does have a presence in Yemen. A growing presence in Yemen. This is an al Qaeda affiliate. There's some indication that it's moving some of the operations away from Pakistan because of all the predator strikes that are into Yemen.

Also, after there was a crackdown in Saudi Arabia after 2003, more and more people, militants, went from Saudi Arabia to Yemen. So there's an increasing presence of al Qaeda in this country, Yemen, Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes and so then what happens? I mean, if everybody knows this and there have been many articles written and I've read several of them this morning. What happens in Yemen?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, that's a great question. The Yemeni government knows this very well that they have a real problem over here. I'm talking to Yemeni officials about this. The trouble they have is that a lot of the country real is a no-go area for them.

It's controlled by local tribes and they're worried about launching too many operations in these areas because it may alienate the tribes and you might have something like the Pakistani Taliban emerging actually in Yemen. So there's real concern about what they should do.

Yemen is a very poor country. They don't really have the resources they need or the intelligence to monitor some of these people. There's an American cleric, for example, Heidi, (inaudible) who's believed still to be in Yemen at the moment and to have connections to many plots. They would seemingly not have yet managed to apprehend this man even though he is in their country, Heidi.

COLLINS: It just seems like there's so much more to be discussed here as far as moving forward in this country and some sort of crackdown and how that can be done. I'm also curious to know, Paul, about his father, the suspect's father, actually contacting all of these agencies, authorities, including U.S. Embassy in Nigeria about what his son was doing. And being increasingly concerned about his activities.

CRUICKSHANK: Well, it's remarkable that the father was contacting various security officials from various countries to help the family track him down so there were real red flags here. And but this guy seems to have managed to get on a plane all the way to Detroit.

He apparently has told FBI officials that there are more people like him who have been training in Yemen, willing to go across and that's very disturbing because airlines have a real vulnerabilities against this sort of powdery explosive that metal detectors cannot pick up, Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes, and you hit the nail on the head because all I keep thinking about with everything I've been reading is this is one guy. This is just one guy. So what happens from here is obviously the big question even though it seems like we've been working on this all the since September 11th with regard to security on airlines in specifics.

So Paul, we sure appreciate the discussion this morning. We'll continue to talk with you. Paul Cruickshank, thanks again coming to us from London this morning.


COLLINS: A lot of bottled up anger following this summer's election in Iran. Want to talk about that now. It's the exploding violence in the streets now during a holy observance that we're talking about and the government is cracking down hard on protesters.


COLLINS: A fire chief in Massachusetts says two people are dead after a series of fires in a small college town. The D.A. calls the fires suspicious. At least nine of them, some at buildings, some at cars, broke out in a neighborhood in North Hampton early yesterday morning. Federal, state and local fire and police officials are investigating, but they do believe they were intentionally set.

In South Carolina, four men are charged with first-degree lynching after a 42-year-old man was beaten to death. Officials say the suspect's hit him in the head on Christmas night with a two by four. All four men are being held without bond. First-degree lynching in North Carolina is defined as an attack by a mob, which results in death.

Another great weekend for James Cameron's movie "Avatar." The 3D film made more than $75 million over the Christmas weekend. It's the most popular movie in America for the second straight week.

In Iran, anger at the government is spilling into the streets now and protests during a holy observance there have turned deadly. Reza Sayah is monitoring all of these at Iran Desk this morning.

Hi there, Reza.


What we saw in Iran over the couple of days was the biggest outburst of violence since the disputed elections on June 12th. Let's go to new video coming into CNN this morning that shows the aftermath of protests and clashes.

This is video of streets of Teheran the morning after, Monday morning. Parts of the city looking like a war zone. The streets filled with debris, several vehicles belonging to security officials, they're charred remains after weekend of intense protests and clashes. Based on the dramatic and graphic amateur video that we saw over the past couple of days.

We saw security forces come out in force, out on a mission to deliver a harsh and violent crackdown on protesters and that's the end result. A lot of protesters with bloodied faces. Witnesses telling us, security forces going after and smashing protesters in the head with their batons. That, perhaps, explains why we saw so many head injuries.

We also saw a number of deaths according to state-run news agencies in Iran. There were at least eight deaths. Among the victims, and this could be perhaps the biggest development over the weekend, is the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and there you see a picture of the two, the opposition leader, former candidate on the left. To his right is the nephew who according to state-run news agency and opposition web sites was killed on Sunday.

And I believe we have video of what's purported to be Mir Hossein Mousavi's nephew moments after he was killed. A new information coming into CNN. A web site saying Mousavi's nephew's body is missing so look for that to add fuel to the fire.

Iran state-run news agencies painting an entirely different picture. They're saying all these deaths were staged. They're saying not a single gunshot was fired by security forces but, Heidi, if you look at this video, certainly paints a different picture.

COLLINS: Yes, certainly. All right, Reza Sayah, we know you're following that for us. Let us know if we need to come back to you. Thanks, Reza Sayah.

Reynolds Wolf joining us now to give us a picture of the weather scene outside and it's kind of a mixed bag, isn't it.


COLLINS: Well, the stockings are empty and at least most of the boxes are opened so has this been a happy holiday for retailers? We've got some new sales numbers for you coming in.


COLLINS: In your quest for holiday gifts you may have noticed the stores felt more crowded this year than last. And that's present enough for retailers. Alison Kosik joining us now from New York with more on that.

So Alison, are we finally seeing a turnaround maybe in the retail sector?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Heidi, I don't know if we can really call it a turnaround yet, but it's definitely an improvement. There's new data out from MasterCard's spending pulse and it shows that holiday spending rose more than 3.5 percent from a year ago. Of course, that's to be compared to a horrible 2008 when sales tumbled by almost 2.5 percent.

We can't forget that. Still, the bounce in spending is great news for the retail sector, which managed to avoid repeating last year's disaster despite tight credit and double digit unemployment. MasterCard says online sales were particular hot spots, surging more than 15 percent between November 1st and December 24th, consumer electronics, footwear and jewelry.

Those were the hottest sellers online and in stores while apparel sales, they struggled. Fortunately, though, that major winter storm, that wallop on the east coast this Saturday before Christmas didn't take much of a toll with shoppers making up for the lost days hitting the stores in advance of the storm and immediately after. So those shoppers were determined, Heidi.

COLLINS: Well, the big question then becomes how hard will it be for retailers to keep the shoppers coming now, you know, that we're into January.

KOSIK: Sure and that's really the big question. It definitely going to be a big hurdle for retailers, partly because many of them had kept their inventories so lean so there's not as much merchandise to put on sale. Another negative is that gift card sales don't appear to have been very strong this year and that's a big worry since many experts consider gift card redemption the life blood of the post Christmas season since shoppers typically spend more than the value card.

You know, we'll have to wait and see what happens at the moment, retail stocks are broadly higher with J.C. Penny's and Sears up more than 1.5 percent each. As for the major averages, we're seeing modest increase there too. The DOW up about nine points. The NASDAQ better by four.

I quickly want to mention one more thing about airline stocks, they're taking a dip today after those two weekend security incidents in Detroit. Carriers are hoping that despite the jitter, travelers may have, investors can look past the incidents and focus more on the bigger picture of improving demand and prices. Heidi, back to you.

COLLINS: Yes, we shall see. Alison, thank you. In fact, with anxiety over airlines high and economic worries keeping travel plans at minimum. Anyway, it may come as a surprise to learn that the travel industry staged a comeback in 2009.'s Poppy Harlow is in New York this morning with more on that. So, yes, Poppy, this is kind of a shocker.

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM: It's a total shocker. I mean, when you look at the stock market, we have had a huge run-up this year, Heidi, but it's been travel that 's been one of the best performing sectors. A lot of these has to do with their major deals and deep discounting we can't forget that.

But when you look at the stocks, look at, say, Priceline or, their stocks have absolutely soared as have surprisingly rental car companies. Dollar Thrifty, their stock back in May, Heidi, had an all-time low of 60 cents. Today, it is over $25.

So an amazing increase there. What we're seeing looking at the numbers is Americans are not only driving more, they're also flying more. When you look at individual miles driven that was up about 16 percent in the latest reading from the February lows we saw. And then air travel, that's sort of slowly staging a turnaround.

When you look at the data from September, that was the first month when airline passengers increased and this follows 17 months of declines for the industry. But, Heidi, I talked to a lot of travel analysts this morning. One of them told me, quote, "Anyone who tells you the airlines are poised for a rebound are living a fantasy."

The reason they're apparently doing better is you've a lot of capacity cuts, fewer flights, fewer seats and record low airfares this year, Heidi and that's helped people out all, of course, this comes before the most recent terrorist scare that we have to obviously keep that in mind, as well, looking forward for air travel.

COLLINS: Yes. So then what's the outlook for next year? Is it a further recovery possibly?

HARLOW: Yes, they think so. The U.S. Travel Association is saying that we're going to see a 2 percent increase in leisure travels so individuals spending more next year and this industry really needs it.

When you look at the data, a combined 400,000 jobs were lost in the travel industry in 2008 and this year all in, and this industry believe it or not supports one out of every eight non-farm jobs. Think of people who work at hotels, at the airlines, at rental car companies. That's a total of 8 million U.S. jobs.

And the Travel Association is saying next year's increase could bring us, Heidi, 90,000 new American jobs, that would be very welcome. But here's the sticker, business travel, that is going to remain very, very weak according to most analysts. One told me, 2009 was probably the low. 2010 won't be much better when it comes to business travel and here's something to keep in mind, hotels.

You might be seeing really low hotel prices right now that is because these hotel owners have just been hammered. The commercial real estate crunch really sort of taking effect now, Heidi. They're seeing these unbelievable bargains, but that's because they have too many hotel rooms in cities like Chicago, Orlando, Las Vegas. That's exactly what we're seeing, Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes, all right, Poppy. Thank you.

HARLOW: You got it.

COLLINS: And on our blog this morning, we are talking about how safe you feel flying. Obviously, in light of the potential attack that could have happened, it was foiled on Christmas day, Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. We're wondering just how you're feeling about things. We are getting an enormous amount of blogs and e-mails in today. So I want to read a few of them to you now.

This one from Dale, I believe it says, "Considering the number of flights in the air during the day, I feel pretty safe. The one incident that has occurred should not be causing all of these new restrictions. Locking the door after the horse is crazy."

And from Don, "What puzzles me is why the increase security for domestic flights or flights leaving the U.S. Is the government worried about travelers from the terrorists (inaudible) of North Dakota? I 'm constantly puzzled by the government's ignoring the pink elephant in a room terror threats coming from other parts of the world to the United States."

Remember, we always like to hear from you. Just go ahead and log on to and you can post your thought there. We'll share even more of them throughout the program today.

Moms in the U.S. making a difference by helping babies a world away by giving a simple gift that has a profound impact.


In today's "Giving in Focus" story, milk. It's the basic need for every infant, but for some orphaned babies in Africa, it is not so easy to come by. CNN photojournalist, Scott shows us what some others right here in the U.S. are doing to help.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name's Nicole and I have a 16-month-old daughter, Ella.

I'm very passionate about breast feeding and I knew that I wanted to nurse her exclusively. So I started pumping and very quickly my freezer filled up with a lot of frozen milk.

I realized, I don't know what we're going do with this milk. I'm producing it faster than she can drink it.

My freezer was just filled, top to bottom, with frozen milk bags.

First thing I did is Google donate breast milk and the first thing that popped up was

I looked over their web site and knew that once I was reading about how they were sending the milk to South Africa and helping these malnourished infants, I knew that it was something that I wanted to do.

They send somebody, a nurse, to draw blood. Make sure that you qualify and you're healthy enough to donate and they ship you a cooler. I've probably shipped about four or five coolers full of frozen breast milk or 300 or 400 ounces worth.

I would guesstimate that I've donated about a thousand, maybe a little bit over 1,000 ounces of breast milk.

Breast milk is that healthiest for babies. It has the mother's natural anti-bodies and you pass along your immunities to the babies. So especially to the babies that are born in these critical situations.

As I'm pumping, everyday, I'm picturing, you know, these little children, these little infants in South Africa receiving this breast milk and thriving on it. It is so satisfying to give this milk knowing that I will probably never meet the people, the babies that are benefitting from it.

This has probably been the most rewarding and gratifying volunteerism I've ever done. You're not writing a check. You're not, you know, buying books for little kids or giving money to a homeless man on the street. It is very personal and I've spent a lot of time thinking about that. It's been very rewarding.


COLLINS: Well, some of the milk is donated to needy mothers and children. There's also a commercial aspect to this project. The California-based company processes and ships to Africa at least a quarter of the milk at no charge to the project or the donor. The company pays the charity for the remaining three quarters of the milk then processes and fortifies it before selling it to the neonatal intensive care units across the U.S.

And for more information on how you can help, just go to I'm Heidi Collins. CNN NEWSROOM continues with Tony Harris.