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Russia Terror Strikes; Formula 1 Champ in Critical Condition; Russian Ship Still Trapped in Antarctic Ice; Wintry Weather Blast for End of Year

Aired December 30, 2013 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: A second terrorist attack in Russia in just two days, coming just weeks before the Olympic games. Well, that is where we begin this hour. At least 14 people were killed in today's suicide attack on a packed trolley. Another 17 were killed in yesterday's blast at a train station. Now, both bombings happened in the city of Volgograd. Our Diana Magnay is in Russia with the latest.


DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two deadly terror attacks in the southern Russian city of Volgograd in less than 24 hours. This morning's attack, on a crowded trolley bus in morning rush hour. More than a dozen killed. Authorities say the blast, the work of a suicide bomber, possibly detonating his device towards the back end of the bus where the damage seems worse. Many on board were students. This is exam time in Russia. Among the injured, a baby in serious condition.

This follows another attack at noon on Sunday in Volgograd's main railway station. The moment of the explosion caught on surveillance video. Seventeen people were killed in that blast. Authorities saying that was also the work of a suicide bomber.

These attacks come less than six weeks before of the start of the winter games in Sochi, which is around 400 miles southwest of Volgograd. Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, has vowed the highest possible security around the games themselves and the town of Sochi, but it is clearly hard to police the whole of southern Russia to the same level.

Russia is fighting an Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus, not far from Sochi. In July, Russia's most wanted man, Doku Umarov, a Chechen extremist, and leader of an Islamism faction in the North Caucasus threatened to unleash, quote, "maximum force" to prevent the games from happening. The U.S. State Department has a $5 million reward out for Umarov. Former intelligence officials believe further attacks are entirely possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think if we don't see one, an attempt on the Olympics, I'd be very surprised.

MAGNAY: Even if the high security around Sochi means terrorists may not be able to strike there, they're proving themselves more than capable of spreading maximum fear ahead of the games themselves, targeting other cities in the region with deadly results.


MALVEAUX: Diana Magnay joins us live from Moscow.

And, Diana, we know that, first of all, these twin attacks come several months after a leader of a Chechen separatist group pledged violence to disrupt the Olympics. That was actually the claim. Has anybody taken responsibility for the attacks? Do we know if they're linked?

MAGNAY: There has been no claim of responsibility but authorities are saying that they do believe that they are linked, and that's because they've studied the explosives used and they said that in both devices there was a shrapnel involved which was identical in both cases. So it would appear as though these are linked.

Also in October, two months ago, in the same city, there was another female suicide bomber who detonated a device on a bus killing six people. She came from Dagestan in the troubled North Caucusus region that I was just talking about there. It's, of course, highly likely that these two did also. We don't know whether they're affiliated with the group of Daku Umarov, or whether they are simply autonomous working in a sort of smaller militant factions.

We were told yesterday by authorities they believe that that bombing was carried out by a female suicide bomber also. Now, these are hallmarks of the fighting that goes on in that region. But they've later sort of sought clarification on that and we're still trying to work out from authorities who they believe was involved in that attack.

But, of course, they're looking at DNA evidence to try and find out the identities of these people and they do have databases, the intelligence services here, of people they suspect may be capable or preparing for terrorist attacks from that region. So you can expect that these people will probably be I.D. quite soon, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Diana, we'll get back to you as soon as you have more information on that.

We want to actually examine as well the question of safety in the upcoming Olympic games. Want to bring our national security analyst Fran Townsend to talk about this via Skype in New York.

And, Fran, let's talk first about Volgograd. It's about, what, 620 miles from Sochi where the Olympics are going to be held. That's a distance of -- from say Atlanta to Miami basically. But it is a major rail hub and a lot of people are going to be traveling from all parts of Russia to get to the Olympics. They're going to have to go through that city. So how do they even manage? Where do they begin to try to protect people in the Olympics?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, what you do is, you start with the event sites and the Olympic village and you work your way out. You look at critical nodes. And, look, what we know about these groups is that they target transportation nodes. You saw the trolley this morning, the subway station the day before.


TOWNSEND: The bus in October. And so you understand that transportation is a real vulnerability. Not only certainly athletes are most vulnerable when they're moving about, but also those who are going to be observers, who want to go to the events. And so they'll - you -- I would expect increased security presence at major airports, including in Volgograd, especially now. And people who are traveling will want to be very aware of their surroundings if they're using public transportation.

You know, the key here is, when you're in a place like an airport, we remember the bombing in Moscow in Moscow's airport was in an unsecured area.


TOWNSEND: And so you don't want to linger. Hotel lobbies, baggage claim areas, areas in which someone can come in without being screened are particularly vulnerable.

MALVEAUX: And, Fran, what were some of the lessons that we learned from the bombing of the Olympics in Atlanta? Are there things where people actually said, OK, we can protect people based on what we've actually seen, some of the weaknesses in the security system?

TOWNSEND: You know, it goes back to the perimeter. Where are you going to put the perimeter and what level of security and screening are you going to have when you manage. If you're in a public park where people can gather sort of without tickets, without screening, it's very vulnerable.

And so, you know, over the years, I've been responsible -- the first overseas Olympics was Athens and working with Greek officials to work through, in a post 9/11 world an environment where people will use this as a target of opportunity to get publicity because the media is all there. You really have to understand, what are you trying to protect, how far can you push the perimeter out, and how extensive can you make the screening and still allow the event to have the sort of feeling that you want it to have.

MALVEAUX: And, Fran, we've been talking to a lot of folks and it really is surprising that some people say they would be surprised if there was not at attack on the Olympics itself, the Olympic games. What's your feeling about this, the fact that we've seen these two attacks within 24 hours? We are so close to the Olympic games. Do you think that we're likely to see something?

TOWNSEND: Well, I think, look, we now know for sure these Islamic extremist groups in the North Caucasus have the capability. They've demonstrated it. It's a particular thumb in the eye of the Russian security officials that they could pull off a second one within 24 hours in Volgograd, where it was no doubt teeming with security officials. So they've got the capability, they've got the intent. The question is, how close to the actual Olympic venues can they get, which is where the security screening will be most intense. I think we have to expect you're going to continue to see attacks on this scale around the -- around Sochi. And the question really -- the real - the real problem here is, can Russian officials keep them away from the actual Olympic sites.

MALVEAUX: Yes. Fran, are you confident enough that, would you go to the games this go around?

TOWNSEND: You know, I'd be very reluctant to travel, frankly, myself. And that's difficult today because I will tell you, you know, you always see threats in the run-up to the games, including in Athens, and we sent the first family there. And I was very nervous about that. But -- so you're - you are inclined to see these sorts of security threats and run-ups. This is a - this has a qualitative difference. This is the first time this close to an Olympic event that we've seen these sorts of attacks with people being killed.

MALVEAUX: Yes. Yes. Yes, it is - it is very worrisome. Fran Townsend, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

The most successful race car driver in the history of Formula 1 remains now in critical condition. This was after a skiing accident in the French Alps. Michael Schumacher had to have brain surgery after falling and hitting his head on a rock on Sunday. Well, he is now being kept in a coma so he can heal. Doctors say if he hadn't been wearing that helmet, he wouldn't even have made it to the hospital.


DR. JEAN FRANCOIS PAYEN, CHIEF ANESTHESIOLOGIST (through translator): I think that given the violence of the shock, his helmet did partly protect him certainly. Someone who had this kind of accident would without a helmet, would not have reached this stage.


MALVEAUX: Thank God for the helmet. Jim Boulden is joining us from outside the hospital in Grenoble, France.

And, Jim, we've been following this story all day and we've heard the doctors. They've been very, very careful in terms of what to say, what kind of prognosis they would make. Do we have any sense of a timetable and an update on how he's doing?

JIM BOULDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what they've been saying really is that they are taking this hour by hour. That's how serious the situation is for Michael Schumacher. They're not making any prognosis, as you said. They have tried to put him in this medically induced coma to try to bring the swelling down from his brain. He fell on his right side of his head.

Also, they've lowered his body temperature, which is also supposed to help with the swelling. And the doctors are saying that they simply cannot know yet how badly damaged his brain is, but they are looking at things like, you know, how can he recover, what kind of things that might be little things to look for that might tell them whether he is able to recover.

But at the moment, of course, his family is here. They say they know the doctors are doing all they can. The doctors say they will make no more statements tonight. We may get an update tomorrow, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And tell us a little bit more about him. I mean he really was considered one of the best when it came to the racing world. He retired back in 2006, but then he jumped back in and he retired again. Give us a little flavor, a sense of what he means to the athletic world.

BOULDEN: This guy is just a machine. He loved Formula 1. He did bikes, too. He did motor bikes. He loved sailing. He loved parachuting. And, of course, we know he loved skiing, as well. And he did horseback riding.

When he retired, he obviously is - he reminds me a lot of American baseball players, they step away and they just can't stay away. So, he had done it all in Formula 1 and he came back again for three more seasons with Mercedes. And he didn't do very much at all. So when he retired at the end of 2012, he said that was it. He was going to have to find something else to do.

It's his 45th birthday in a few days. He was here skiing with his family. You know, so he's still a young man but he just loves the adventure. He was one of the best Formula 1 drivers. It's a very scary thing to do. So you can see why he'd be somebody who would be, as they said here, off piece. He was skiing off the main courses because that's what he does.

MALVEAUX: Yes. And, Jim, I mean, a lot of people love this guy. It was just three years ago he gave an interview to CNN about taking the kinds of risks that he does. I mean he just loves this stuff. Listen to what he said.


MICHAEL SCHUMACHER, FORMER FORMULA 1 DRIVER: The word "if" and the possibilities of things that could happen to you, they can happen anywhere.


MALVEAUX: Yes, they can happen anywhere. Jim, I guess he's a little bit of an adrenaline junkie, I think, but we certainly wish him the very best. And if you've got any updates from the doctor, please let us know.

And here's more of what we're working on for AROUND THE WORLD.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The weather's a bit (INAUDIBLE). It's minus one and blowing snow.


MALVEAUX: Stuck on a ship in the freezing cold. That is right. Now rescuers are going to have to airlift the people on board that ship. You see it there.

Plus, thousands of people, they've had to leave their homes. This is after a volcano erupts in El Salvador, impacting a lot of folks getting around in their travel.

And, he is the man of the year. But this one really unsuspected. We're talking about Pope Francis being named the best dressed man by 2013 by "Esquire" magazine.


MALVEAUX: Here's some of the stories making news around the world right now.

For the first time since the start of the Syrian conflict, Lebanon's military fired on Syrian warplanes. A security official tells CNN that the shots were intended as a warning to the Syrian air force for violating Lebanese air space.

Meanwhile, Syrian government helicopters continue to drop barrel bombs on Aleppo, Syria. Hundreds have been killed in the city this month alone.

Take a look at this, a volcano in El Salvador shooting ash into the sky, incredible pictures. This actually started to erupt on Sunday. Thousands of people who live near it, they've had to evacuate their homes, as you can imagine. Airlines have had to change their routes to avoid what is a huge ash cloud. This is the first time the volcano has erupted in 37 years. Authorities say it might not yet be finished.

And Mexican authorities trying to figure out why a coastal highway south of Tijuana collapsed. A cement truck driver got just out in the nick of time. He's OK, but this truck ended up in the Pacific Ocean. That's right.

Nobody was hurt. The highway is about 60 miles from the U.S. border. It's a popular drive for tourists as you can imagine. Officials say it could take a year to fix the damage.

We also want to talk about this ship that's stuck in the Antarctic ice, has not moved in almost a week. Ice breaking ships, they haven't been able to reach this thing. An Australian ship got close today, had to turn back because of bad weather. Now the plan is to send a Chinese helicopter to air lift, try to get those passengers out.

Now, earlier, the lead scientist on that stuck ship told CNN how are things going onboard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS TURNEY, EXPEDITION LEADER: (Inaudible) sounds good. We've got about 10 days worth of food. We just did a stock-take of fresh food. We've got several weeks of delicious, dehydrated food in packets afterwards, which I don't think will go down too well. But (inaudible) can air lift food to us as well. We've got plenty of fuel. And, yeah, no, we're just keeping ourselves busy.

I'd just like to say to any family and friends out there listening or watching that everyone's keeping really well. The ship's in no immediate danger. All the icebergs are way off at the moment and no one's -- nothing's making any obvious sign of moving towards our way.


MALVEAUX: He's pretty optimistic there. OK.

The airlift is really at the mercy of weather, however. It is not clear just how much longer the people onboard are going to have to wait.

Our Matthew Chance, he's got more.


TERRY GOSTLOW, EXPEDITION MEMBER: The weather's a bit (inaudible) today. It's minus-one and blowing snow.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Overnight, another setback for the latest rescue mission, the Australian ice breaker ship, Aurora Australis, forced to turn backing to open water after worsening blizzard conditions made it too dangerous for the ship to continue.

It came close, within 10 nautical miles of the stranded research ship before having to retreat back to 18 miles. Research expedition leader Chris Turney had expressed concerns about harsh weather working against them.

TURNEY: Unfortunately, the weather forecast is for these sort of conditions to continue for the next few days.

CHANCE: All rescue efforts, including airlifting out passengers by helicopter, on hold until visibility improves.

The research team set out to the study climate change in Antarctica and retrace the steps of explorer Douglas Mawson who studied life on the frozen continent a century ago.

But on Christmas Eve, just a hundred miles from where they started, their ship came to a halt, stuck in 10-foot high ice and they haven't budged since.

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

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

CHANCE: The crew spotted the first rescue ship from China known as the Snow Dragon in the distance, but their hopes were quickly dashed. The ice breaker, which was only about six nautical miles away from the trapped vessel, couldn't get any closer due to the unusually thick ice.

A French ice breaker also en route to assist, but the mission was called off after it became clear the ship wouldn't get farther than the Chinese boat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're in the ice, but all are well. Happy Christmas from the AAE.

CHANCE: Still spirits on the boat remain high, crew members and passengers channeling their energies in posts on social media, creating video diaries for family members and telling everyone that they're having a great time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's my birthday today. It couldn't be a better day to have a birthday with my 80-something new friends.

NICOLE DE LOSA, EXPEDITION MEMBER: We're going to have singing on the ice which should be fantastic, as well. But it's absolutely spectacular here. It's like this magical winter wonderland.

TURNEY: The team spirit has been fantastic. It really has. We carefully chose the people we had together. We thought we'd get on well.

We weren't expecting such a severe test of the community spirit, but everyone's kept really good morale.


MALVEAUX: Matthew Chance is joining us, live from London.

Matthew, I don't know about you, but it strikes me. I mean, everybody is so cheery. They're so optimistic. Stuck on this ship, I might start to get a little worried here.

What do we know? What's behind all this?

CHANCE: They're really putting a brave face on what must be quite an ordeal out there in the Antarctic, the frozen continent.

But, yes, what we know now is that the Russian foreign ministry of all people, it's a Russian registered ship, remember, has announced in the course of the past few hours that a decision has been taken and that decision is to airlift as many of the passengers as they can and a number of crew members, as well, from the Russian research vessel onto a nearby Chinese ice breaker, the Snow Dragon.

The Snow Dragon was unable to reach them, but that will only be done, Suzanne, once the weather clears up. There's very gusty winds down there at the moment, too gusty for helicopters to fly in. So, they have to wait for the winds to drop before they can take anybody off at all.

MALVEAUX: So, how long do they have to wait before the winds die down?

CHANCE: It's anybody's guess. We spoke to the engineer on the Chinese ice breaker earlier today, and he said it'd be two or three days before the weather conditions are ripe for a further rescue attempt.

But that might mean the ice breaking up a little bit. It might mean the wind dying down. But they'll be looking at this very carefully and taking the first opportunity now, I imagine, to get these people off.

MALVEAUX: Well, it's nice that they have communication. I can imagine that that makes them feel a little bit better. They're creating these video journals, if you will.

And now you've got a lot of folks that are now involved in this, many different countries. How do they actually coordinate all this?

CHACE: Well, it's been quite a feat of international cooperation, hasn't it?

I mean, remember there have been three attempts using three separate ice breakers from three different countries, China, France and Australia, to reach this ship over the course of the past six days. All of them have failed.

But they're all in the region trying to work out with each other who can find the best route towards the ship. None of them have managed it yet.

The Chinese one, it seems, is the only one with the helicopters, and that's why the Russians have gone with that one as the ship to airlift the passengers off. But, yes, they're all coordinating very closely in this moment.

MALVEAUX: Yeah, it makes you feel better about humanity, in general, everybody coming together trying to figure out how to get these guys off this ship. And they all seem very comfortable, you know, very confident right now, so I hope it all goes well.

Matthew, keep us posted. Appreciate it.

And you've got bitter -- we're talking about bitter cold until the bitter end. Yes, we're talking about an intense blast of arctic air that is hitting part of the U.S. in the final days of the year.

High temperature in the some places is actually going to be below zero.


MALVEAUX: The United States is not the only country struggling with icy weather. We're talking about freezing rain and snow have been making travel a hazard on a major highway in southwest China, for the last couple of weeks actually. Most of the road is now 7,000-feet above sea level or higher, so it can get icy pretty quickly up there.

Authorities have been closing down parts of it for several hours a day to try to clear the ice and salt that pavement.

Back here at home, the United States, high temperatures not even going to make above zero, above zero in some places. 2013 getting blown out with a blast of arctic air.

I want to bring in Alexandra Steele following up for us. Wow. Get ready.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is so cold. We have had wind chills all weekend long between 40- and 50-degrees-below zero, wind chills.

And in big places, Fargo, Minneapolis, and (inaudible), Minnesota, these iceboxes of the world are incredibly cold, coldest air of the year.

MALVEAUX: Just put on your jacket, layers.

STEELE: You can't even layer. There aren't enough layers. You'd be like this, you know?

Come over with me. Let's like dance this move.

All right, let's show you the frigid end of the year, highs below zero, absolutely. We've seen it all weekend here. The Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, kind of ensconced in the worst of it. Here around the Great Lakes, highs below freezing.

So here's a look at really how cold it is and, more importantly, how cold it feels. And it's really the winds. We've had wind-chill warnings. We've had blizzard warnings all weekend, right here in the upper Midwest, northern plains, but not because the snow was coming down. Snow was near negligible, just a couple of inches, but it was the winds that were so intense.

So, current temperatures, straight air temperature, 10-below, four- below in Minneapolis, but, again, it's really the winds. Wind chills right now almost 30-degrees-below zero in Duluth, 16-below in Minneapolis, Fargo, same deal.

Hour by hour, tomorrow morning, International Falls, 42-below zero is what it will feel like as you walk out, so I mean really very dangerous.

So all this cold air, the coldest of the year, drops south and drops east. By Wednesday, it modifies some. So certainly portions and the essence of the cold air is there, but certainly not to the degree without the winds as well.

So Boston, New York, Washington, Wednesday will be the coldest for you, but certainly it'll be in the teens and 20s.

So New year's Eve, of course, is coming. Here's the forecast. If you're in Times Square it will be cold, temperatures in the 30s, midnight 29. Wind chills will feel like the 20s across the board all night.

In Atlanta, standing outside in the 40s, so certainly colder than average there, but that almost feels palatable, right, compared to all these other cold numbers.

Chicago, it'll be snowing for you. We'll pick up a few inches, temperatures around 12 at midnight, wind chills in the single digits.

We head west. In Denver, temperatures will be in the 30s. And Los Angeles, that's the place to be. We're going to see temperatures pretty mild there, Suzanne, so certainly much nicer.

MALVEAUX: I'm staying indoors, Alexandra. I'm staying inside.

STEELE: In your fanciest pajamas.

MALVEAUX: Many layers.

All right, thank you, Alexandra. Appreciate it.

Bad news, two terror attacks within 24 hours in Russia, dozens of people killed and injured.

Is that country safe enough to host the Winter Olympic Games less than six weeks from now? That straight ahead.