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Blast Kills Former Ambassador; Blizzard Stalls Icebreaker; NSA Phone Surveillance Legal; Weather Outlook; Egypt Rounds Up Muslim Brotherhood; Egypt Declares Muslim Brotherhood a Terrorist Organization; Delta Computer Glitch Sells Ultra-Cheap Tickets; Target Says PIN Numbers Were Hacked

Aired December 27, 2013 - 12:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Former government official. Six people died in this explosion, including the likely target of the attack, Mohamad Chatah. He is a one-time finance minister in Lebanon and former ambassador to the United States. He was also no friend of the militant group Hezbollah, which he often criticized in public. More than 70 people were hurt in today's car bombing.

Let's go to Beirut right now and talk to journalist Mitchell Prothero.

So, Mitchell, who set off this bomb? At least -- who is it believed to be responsible? And why would Mohamad Chatah be the target?

MITCHELL PROTHERO, JOURNALIST: Well, as a target, he's somewhat questionable. I mean he was a high profile figure in the Future Movement party and a close ally of former Prime Ministers Rafik and Saad Hariri. So he was an outspoken critic of the Syrian regime and of Hezbollah. But he was hardly the most partisan or bitter member of that party. Not the first person you'd think of. There's been speculation that perhaps he was chosen as a widely popular person to target in order to send a message that maybe no politician in Lebanon is saying.

As for who did it, at this stage, it's purely speculation but people do think that it's obviously tied to the ongoing civil war in Syria, which we've seen spilling over here, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And what's your understanding as to how this blast was carried out?

PROTHERO: Well, it's clearly set up as an ambush. There was a meeting of the Future Movement party in a nearby home owned actually by the Hariri family. And there's a number of check -- sort of choke points where, if you were to leave that house, you'd have to pass through some of these areas. And this was one of those choke points. So if they weren't absolutely targeting Mohamad Chatah himself, they were targeting somebody from that meeting and they would have only had a handful of ways to leave the area, you know, and pass by, obviously would have been set up as an ambush that had been planned for some time I think.

WHITFIELD: And was Mohamad Chatah doing business in that area, does he live in that area? PROTHERO: Well, I'm told that he did have an apartment in that area, but I wasn't able to confirm that. I do know that he was at a meeting of the most ferociously anti-Syrian regime and anti-Hezbollah party of which he was a member there just close by. So it was believed that he'd attended that meeting and on his way out was hit in his convoy by either a roadside bomb or by a car bomb. At this point I think investigators haven't determined exactly what it was yet.

WHITFIELD: Mitchell Prothero, thanks so much for that update from Beirut.

All right, more deadly violence in that part of the world today. Three NATO troops were killed when a suicide bomber hit their convoy in Afghanistan. We don't know the nationalities of the military members. NATO isn't releasing that just yet. But it happened in Kabul and it's not clear which group carried out the attack. Twelve NATO troops have died in Afghanistan this month alone.

And then there's some good news and some bad news for 74 people on and expedition ship that has been stuck in ice off Antarctica. A Chinese ice breaker called the Snow Dragon is within miles of the ship, hoping to free it today, but they may be waiting a little bit longer. We got word that the ice breaker is barely inching forward because of a blizzard. An engineer said the ice was worse than anticipated and our Diana Magnay has more.


DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's painfully slow progress but rescue is on hand and within eyesight for the crew stranded for all of Christmas week in the frozen seas of the Antarctic.

MAGNAY (voice-over): Just hours ago, joy on board the ship. Passengers pointing out into the distance as a Chinese ice breaker set to rescue them slowly makes its way towards them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's that on the horizon, Chris (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the ice breaker coming to rescue us, Ala (ph).


MAGNAY: This Russian flagged ship, the Akademik Shokalskiy, stuck in the ice for four days now after weather conditions turned bad. But help is on its way. And behind it, two more ice breakers, one French and one Australian, if the Snow Dragon gets stuck, too. On board are 74 researchers, a mix of professional and amateur scientists, who decided to spend their Christmas check out the effects of climate change in the frozen Antarctic. They'd sailed around 100 nautical miles east of their starting point, the French Antarctic base of Dumont D'Urville, when they got stuck. Despite blizzards with wind speeds of nearly 45 miles per hour, we've heard the morale remains high. And while they wait, they've had a few friendly visitors checking in to say hello. But this morning's visitors are far more welcome. MAGNAY (on camera): Everyone on board the ship is safe and well. They had a great Christmas, as Chris Turney, who's the expedition leader who we heard from at the top of that report. And as you can see, people are still in very high spirits. They're still able to make jokes.

Diana Magnay, CNN, Moscow.


WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much, Diana.

So, this just in now to CNN. This involving the bulk collection of data by the NSA. A U.S. district court judge has ruled that that collection is legal. This goes against a ruling a few weeks ago in which a D.C. judge ruled that it is not legal. Our CNN justice reporter Evan Perez joining us live now from D.C. to explain yet more conflict over this issue. So which ruling I guess supersedes the other?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Fredricka, both rulings are equal. They're both federal circuit court judges. So what this all means is that the NSA will probably still get to continue the program for the time being. And then we will probably see a Supreme Court have to rule on whether or not this is legal sometime. And it will probably happen sooner rather than later.

Now, this ruling today from a court in a -- from a judge in New York, basically he said that these are blunt tools, that they collect everything. And he said that there is potential for abuse, but he finds that the program that the NSA is running, which is collecting data on nearly every phone call that is made in the United States, he finds that that program is legal.

Now this, as you said, is in contrast to a ruling last week from a judge in D.C. who found that the program -- he called it almost Orwellian and likely unconstitutional. So both judges are looking at the same program and coming to very different opinions on it, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. And we'll see how and when it may march its way to the U.S. Supreme Court not far behind you there. All right, Evan Perez, thank you so much.

All right, a deadly fire broke out at a shopping mall in southwest China last night killing four people. Dozens of others were injured. The fire was caused by a natural gas explosion, which also caused a nearby bus station to collapse.

And investigators are trying to figure out what caused this devastating bus crash in Thailand. At least 29 people were killed. The bus skidded off a bridge and then plunged to the ground. Police think the driver was not familiar with the route and may have been going simply too fast.

All right, this week's winter blast in the states, well, it's left at least 20 people dead in the northern U.S. and even further north in Canada. Officials say most of the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. That's often the tragic result when people without power use generators to heat their homes. Ice-related outages have left more than 100,000 homes and businesses without electricity. And some may not see service restored for days and another arctic chill is on the way. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford spoke to reporters just moments ago about the storm.


MAYOR ROB FORD, TORONTO: On day six of this terrible ice storm, we have 32,000 residents without power. The number is declining as fast as possible. Toronto community housing has 76 units still without power. Our biggest concern is tonight we might have wind gusts over 40 kilometers an hour. Approximately there are 30, but if they get higher to 40 and 50, that's going to cause problems.


WHITFIELD: Oh, boy. And more bad weather on the way. Let's check in with meteorologist Jennifer Grey.

So, oh, the big chill is on, and it's going to get even more brutal.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, we're going to have a brief warm-up before we get cold again. So that's going to be the good news. And I think folks in the north will be able to thaw out for just a couple of days. But you are right, we are going to see another chill by the end of the weekend.

It's developing in the Gulf of Mexico. And you can see, early in the weekend, we're going to see a lot of rain for New Orleans. Look at Atlanta, Saturday, around lunch time, we're going to have rain all across Georgia, Alabama, on into Tennessee. That's going to crawl up the mid-Atlantic. D.C., you'll see rain by Saturday evening into Sunday morning.

And then this is when it reaches the northeast and it's basically on Sunday. We're going to see rain anywhere from New York City to Boston. It looks like this storm is mainly going to be a rain event. We could see a little bit of an icy mix. We could see a little bit of snow. But I think the snow is going to be concentrated in areas like Vermont, New Hampshire and even northern Maine. And snow totals are going to top out possibly at 10 inches. And this is for extreme portions of northern Maine. Areas like Vermont, upstate New York, New Hampshire, most likely will see anywhere from two to five inches of snow. So it looks like this is going to be concentrated to the East Coast and it's mainly going to be a rain event.

We are going to see a little bit of lake effect snow still today in upstate New York. And temperatures are still very cold. It's 31 in Syracuse. Look at this, though, Detroit, you're at 36. So temperatures are getting above freezing in the north. And it looks like, over the next couple of days, we will stay above freezing, Fred. But then you can see, by Sunday into Monday, those temperatures do plummet back down into the 20s. WHITFIELD: All right, looks like chilly celebrations into the new year for most folks.

GRAY: Yes, indeed.

WHITFIELD: OK. Thanks so much, Jennifer.

GRAY: All right.

WHITFIELD: Very typical this time of year, right?

All right, so here's more of what we're working on this hour AROUND THE WORLD.

Protesters in Egypt met with gunfire and tear gas as police clash with supporters of ousted President Morsi. We'll take you live to Cairo.

Plus, gay and afraid in Uganda.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was (INAUDIBLE). I've been beaten on so many occasions I can't count.


WHITFIELD: Meet one woman who refuses to leave her home afraid that she'll be sentenced to life in prison for her sexuality.

And this, 70 people, count them 70 injured in Argentina after being attacked by a swarm of carnivorous fish.


WHITFIELD: All right. So here are some other stories we're following around the world this hour.

The Pentagon is praising what it calls a significant milestone in the long-planned transfer of a U.S. Military base in Japan. The base in Okinawa is deeply unpopular with residents there due to crimes including rape that have been committed by United States military personnel. Okinawa's governor has approved a proposal that will allow construction of a new base on a less populated part of the island.

And demonstrators marched through the streets in cities across Turkey protesting alleged government corruption. The protests came as a fired prosecutor accused police and the judiciary of refusing to pursue corruption allegations. His accusation followed the resignation of three cabinet ministers after their sons were arrested or detained in an anti-graft sting.

And Egypt's government now officially considers the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization and more than 250 people have been locked up for their connection to the group. This is the group that supported Mohammed Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt. Morsi has since been forced out of office and the new military leaders say anyone who claims to be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood will go to prison. Matt Bradley covers the Middle East for "The Wall Street Journal." He's in Cairo right now.

So, Matt, what prompted the Egyptian government to take this very strong step labeling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group?

MATT BRADLEY, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, the actual event that prompted this was a bombing in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura which killed 16 people very early on Tuesday morning.

Now, what's interesting about this is that a group called Ansar (inaudible), which is based in the Sinai Peninsula claimed responsibility for this bombing.

But the government has still decided to levy most of the blame on the Muslim Brotherhood, even though they've denied any connection with it, and right after, in the hours after the bombing decided to designate the group as a terrorist organization, which means that anybody who's participating in a protest that's sponsored by the Muslim Brotherhood can get up to five years in jail and anyone found who's leading a protest for the Muslim Brotherhood can get life in jail.

WHITFIELD: So, Matt, this would seem like a major setback for Egypt, not just the Muslim Brotherhood, because after all, the first democratically elected president was from that very group.

And now for the country to label it a terrorist organization seems very hypocritical and seems like a major setback.

Is it? And if so, to what degree in your opinion?

BRADLEY: Let's remember here that the Muslim Brotherhood has been around for 84 years, since 1928 when it was founded in the Nile Delta north of Cairo, so they've had long experience with being essentially illegal for most of that time.

Now, Gamal Abdel Nasser who is the president that a lot of -- from the 1950s and 1960s and he's the president that a lot of people are drawing comparisons to with this current regime, he really put his foot down on the Muslim Brotherhood.

He arrested thousands of members, and he was constantly at odds with the group. They attempted -- they were accused of attempting to assassinate him.

So, it's not really clear if this will actually end the Muslim Brotherhood and their involvement in politics or whether it's just going to do like Nasser did and just sort of put a damper on them for a couple of years till they resurface.

WHITFIELD: In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood says it continues to carry on with its protesting, will really reject the label as a terrorist organization.

So how might that impact the constitution referendum that is upcoming? BRADLEY: Well, that's the other thing. A lot of the analysts and a lot of Brotherhood people are saying that, in fact, the reason why this designation was made yesterday was that the Muslim -- the government wants to see a lot of people turning out for this constitutional referendum, which is happening on January 14th and 15th.

Now, this is the constitution that's going to replace the one that was drafted mostly by loyalists of Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood late last year.

So what's happening now is that they want to clear the streets. They want to clear all chances of protest ahead of this major referendum that's really shaping up to be a vote on the legitimacy of the government that pushed aside Morsi in July.

WHITFIELD: And this really has to put the White House in a real pickle because this administration did support this democratically elected president.

At this point, do we know what kind of response is coming from the administration, and what will be the relationship between the U.S. and Egypt from this point forward?

BRADLEY: The response from the administration has been somewhat wavering since the beginning, but it's been very consistent over the last couple months, which is expressions of concern about these major outbreaks of violence in downtown Cairo that have killed more than 1,000 protesters since July 3rd, but yet an unwillingness to break with the Egyptian military.

Now, the United States and the Egyptian military have a really long, very close history dating back to the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

And the United States gives the Egyptian military $1.3 billion every year, mostly in armaments.

So, it's going to take a really quite a lot more for the an Obama administration or anyone in the administration to really break cleanly with the Egyptian government, which is dominated right now by the Egyptian military as it has been most of the last 60 years.

WHITFIELD: All right, a very tenuous situation.

Thanks so much, Matt Bradley. I appreciate your time from Cairo.

BRADLEY: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Still to come, al Qaeda and its mission to kill Americans, Barbara Starr shows us how the terrorist group has reshaped and rebounded.

Plus, thousands of flyers got one last Christmas present, bargain- basement prices on Delta flights. You're not going to believe how low the prices went.

The airline, in fact, says it's going to honor those prices.

All that, straight ahead, after this.


WHITFIELD: All right. Imagine paying just 40 bucks to fly across the country or Boston to Honolulu for just 68 bucks, round trip.

Those are some of the amazing deals that people got on, not because of a sale but because of an online glitch.

Richard Quest has more on this amazing error.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a travel opportunity of which we all dream, tickets from New York to L.A. for 40 bucks, first-class tickets to Hawaii for a fraction of their proper cost.

Delta admits that it was a computer glitch that caused the problem. They won't say how or where or what was responsible for that glitch.

Was it somebody fumbling the program or did the computer itself go wrong? We'll never really know.

Whatever it was, hundreds of people took advantage of it. Again, Delta won't say exactly how many of these ultra-cheap tickets were sold. They have said, however, the airline will stand by those fares and honor the deal.

So there are lucky people who made off like bandits and weren't shy about tweeting and putting on their Facebook page that they had the deal of the year.

It's not the first time this has happened. United Airlines, earlier this year, had a similar sort of mistake on computers. Then it was giving away fares for free. You only paid the taxes.

All it shows is that computer systems for airlines are extremely complicated as they do battle with each other, trying to outdo each other on price.

So, it is a case of a ticket where the price was simply too good to be true, that is, unless you got in there fast.


WHITFIELD: OK. Well, one company's loss, a lot of people's gains.

Let's talk about some other losses in a very big way. Remember just a couple weeks back, starting right after Thanksgiving, Target, a number of ATM and credit card information to the tune of 40 million hacked, stolen, taken.

And we understand that Target says no PIN numbers were taken. Guess what? There's an update on that. Zain Asher with us now. So, now, come to find out, we need to be a little bit more nervous if we were among it the 40 million. PIN numbers were breached?

ZAIN ASHER: Hi, Fredricka. Yes and no.

So, Target, just coming out now saying that PIN data was, in fact, stolen, but here's what you have to remember.

They're saying even though PIN data was stolen, they believe it is still safe and secure because they don't believe the hackers were able to decrypt that data. They're saying that they don't store the encryption key anywhere.

So, I guess, imagine it like this. Imagine that hackers were actually able to steal PIN data, but not actually able to encrypt the pins.

So what that means is, an analogy that I'm going to use is, if you have -- if thieves steal a safe with bunch of money in it, but they don't have the combination code, then they don't get access to the money in that safe.

So, the hackers did steal the PINs, 40 million PINs, I guess, but they're not actually able to decrypt those PINs.

So, it is looking a little bit better for Target, a little bit better consumers. The PINs were stolen, but it's unlikely that the thieves will be able to unscramble those PINs. That's what we're hearing from Target, right now.

WHITFIELD: I don't know if I'm feeling that comforted if I'm one of the 40 million, because if they were brilliant enough to grab it, acquiesce it, then that means they might it be able to figure out how to encrypt those codes.

That's just me. That's what I'm thinking

ASHER: It's interesting, but Target is saying they don't actually store the encryption key anywhere.

So, it is highly unlikely, they're saying, that these hackers will actually be able to unscramble those PINs, so --

WHITFIELD: All right, well, hopefully many will be comforted by that.

All right, good news, bad news, how's that?

All right, thanks so much, Zain Asher. Appreciate that.

ASHER: Of course.

WHITFIELD: Meantime, the U.S. has intercepted messages from senior al Qaeda operatives, detailing plans for new attacks. Their findings right after this.


The United Nations is sending more soldiers and police officers to South Sudan in an effort to keep the African nation from spiraling into civil war.

Gun battles between government forces and those loyal to the former vice president have left the streets littered with bodies.