Return to Transcripts main page


Suspected Terror Mastermind Killed; U.S. Warships in Position; Tweeters Doubt Sochi Readiness; Storms Leave Resident without Power; Mexican Civilians Take Law Into Their Own Hands to Fight Back Against Drug Cartels

Aired February 5, 2014 - 12:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you, everyone, for watching as well.

AROUND THE WORLD starts right now.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company today.

Just two days to go before the Olympic games. The Winter Olympics begin and a suspected terror mastermind killed by Russian police.

MALVEAUX: U.S. warships taking up positions now in the Black Sea just in case evacuations are necessary. You also have hotels that are built for the Olympics that are now open but unfinished.

HOLMES: Yes, unbelievable, isn't it? We're bringing you new developments on all fronts today as the Olympic torch arrives in Sochi. It arrives amid those concerns about Russia's readiness to host 6,000 athletes, not to mention the tens of thousands of spectators around the world.

MALVEAUX: Our Phil Black, he is in Moscow covering the shootout with terror suspects. Barbara Starr, she's at the Pentagon with details on the military operations, and Ivan Watson is in Sochi with Olympic preparations.

So we want to start, of course, to Phil. One of these men killed in a shootout in Dagestan said to have been the mastermind of the suicide bombings that killed those in Volgograd in December. What do we know about him?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. So we understand there was a police operation today, according to Russia-state media, which surrounded a home in Dagestan. One person inside the building gave themselves up, the rest did not. There was a shootout. And in that shootout, authorities say everyone inside the building was killed, including this man who is the suspected leader of the terrorist group believed to be behind those bombings in Volgograd at the end of last year. Those bombings killed 34 people, suicide attacks on a train station, and on a trolley bus there, as well. There have been a number of developments in this case over the last week or so. Russian authorities clearly working hard to get to the bottom of it. They've identified officially the two suicide attackers and arrested two other people who they accuse of helping those suicide bombers travel from Dagestan to Volgograd. So a lot of attention on this group because it has shown that it is capable of carrying out large-scale attacks. It has promised that there will be more to come, especially during the Olympics. That's what it said in a jihadi video claiming credit for those Volgograd attacks.

And, indeed, despite all the security around Sochi, the so-called ring of steel, perhaps most disturbingly, what this group has shown is that terrorists do not need to hit Sochi itself during the Olympics to make its point, to make their point and embarrass the Russian government, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, very good point. Thank you, Phil.

HOLMES: All right, let's go to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Barbara, you know, two days to go before the Olympics. As Phil was saying there, you know, the fear is not that they would hit inside Sochi, but the U.S. taking no chances. Warships in position in the Black Sea. What are the plans?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, you know, I want to underscore what Phil just said. U.S. officials believe that the Russians are doing everything they can to keep the venue safe. Heavy, heavy security at those sites. The big terrorist concern, the U.S. says, is outside of those sites. The so-called south target, restaurants, hotels, transportation hubs, railroads. Very difficult, if not impossible, to protect. Everyone hopes the games will be safe, but if there is an attack, if Americans were to be hurt, what you have now are two Navy warships in the Black Sea, well off of Sochi but in the region. You have U.S. transport aircraft on standby. You have the State Department in charge, and they also have aircraft under contract all to put a capability together to evacuate wounded or injured Americans if -- if it were to come to that.

But there's another big caveat, of course. The Russians are in charge of security, and they would have to request U.S. help before the U.S. could go in. So a lot of work being done behind the scenes with the Russians to be ready for every eventuality. President Obama says the U.S. has seen a good deal of the Russian security plan, and they feel pretty good about it. But it's those soft targets that are the big worry.


HOLMES: All right, Barbara, appreciate that. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

MALVEAUX: Let's bring in our Ivan Watson live from Sochi.

And, Ivan, the torch arrived just six hours ago. Here's what we know. President Vladimir Putin is there in Sochi, met with Russian athletes at their welcome ceremony and flag-raising. But at the same time, you've got journalists in the city, they're tweeting about their experiences with the hotels here, some frustration. "Chicago Tribune" Stacy St. Clair tweeting, "water restored, sort of. On the bright side, now I know what very dangerous face water looks like." That's after the hotel where she's staying warned that the water was too dangerous to wash your face.

HOLMES: Extraordinary stuff, isn't it? Yahoo! Sports blogger Greg Wyshynski tweeted this, "people have asked me what surprised me the most here in Sochi. It is this. Without question, it is this." The sign reads, "please do not flush toilet paper down the toilet but put it in the bin provided." That is not uncommon in some parts of the world, of course.


But there are just some examples of the tweets we're seeing for visitors from the United States that would be an unusual thing.

Tell us about whether the feeling is that Russia is ready or is some of this criticism a little over blown?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Russians insist they're ready. The International Olympic Committee is standing by the Russians, Suzanne and Michael. But it's clear that there are still some kinks to be worked out. As we've seen, as the legions of journalists have descended on this place, much of which did not exist, I might add, seven years ago, and was built within the last seven years to the rather hefty price tag of about $50 billion. So these kind of glitches are leaving people to start asking, are the Russians going to be ready in time for the opening of the Winter Olympics in about 48 hours' time?


WATSON (voice-over): The Olympic torch has arrived in the city of Sochi, after a journey across the biggest country in the world. The opening of the winter games is just two days away.

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA: Ladies and gentlemen, let me declare the 126th session of the International Olympic Committee open. Thank you.

WATSON: But it seems like there's a lot more last-minute work to be done. As hoards of journalists arrive to cover the games, many discover their accommodations are not yet ready. That includes members of our own CNN sports team, who also found unfinished construction in Sochi's Olympic Park.

Russia's organizing committee insists everything will be completed in time.

ALEKSANDRA KOSTERINA, RUSSIAN ORGANIZING COMMITTEE: We're dealing with it. We're on it. So we apologize again for any inconvenience. Thank you.

WATSON: Mother nature may be harder to deal with. After several days of cold weather, there's a warm front on the way. But a Sochi snow specialist says he's got enough snow machines to compensate for warm weather.

MIKKO MARTIKAINEN, SNOW CONSULTANT: First of all, don't worry about the snow. Snow will be guaranteed.

WATSON (on camera): Guaranteed?


WATSON (voice-over): Some of the Olympic athletes are impressed.

LAURA FORTINO, CANADA HOCKEY TEAM MEMBER: (INAUDIBLE) this is my first Olympics. So for me this is absolutely incredible. Went above and beyond my expectations of what an Olympic village would be.

WATSON: As for the lingering question of security, there's a reason why they call it "the ring of steel." Tens of thousands of Russian security forces have been deployed to protect these Olympic games.


WATSON: Now, Suzanne and Michael, this isn't just a couple of journalists who have a tendency to complain and whine. We do, as a profession, if I can speak as a journalist.

MALVEAUX: Well, yes.

WATSON: There are bigger concerns here when it comes to lack of preparedness.


WATSON: The -- there are five-star hotels, international hotels, that are not open, that are not ready. They're behind schedule. And the bigger question is, what's going to start happening when families of athletes start showing up? When some of the tourists who have paid big bucks to come out here, when they start showing up. If they start experiencing similar problems simply checking into their hotels, as we've heard from journalists who had to wait hours and then find out that their rooms aren't even furnished. If that continues, it's going to be a much bigger problem and not nearly as funny as some of these amusing tweets.

Michael and Suzanne.


MALVEAUX: All right, that's so true, Ivan. Appreciate that. Yes.


There was one journalist who was led into their hotel room. They opened the door and a stray dog just walked out who had been apparently living in there. Not fun.

MALVEAUX: I have a feeling we're going to get a lot of tweets.

HOLMES: Yes, no fun of that's your room, exactly.

MALVEAUX: Ivan Watson, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

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

A massive snowstorm hitting the United States, impacting 120 million people. Record-shattering snow totals ahead.

HOLMES: Unbelievable.

Also, they were Pope John Paul II's most private notes. He wanted them burned after his death, but his former secretary didn't listen and is publishing them instead.

MALVEAUX: And, we'll take you inside a drug lord's mansion. One that was taken by a group of vigilantes who are trying to get the drug cartel out of their town.



MALVEAUX: There is a winter storm dumping as much as a foot of snow. This is in the Northeast. As if you didn't have enough already, right?

HOLMES: Unbelievable.

MALVEAUX: I mean leaving, at least, there's 869,000 power customers without service. Big increase in the number expected later today. You've got New Jersey, New York issuing states of emergency, advising folks, drive carefully or just stay home.

HOLMES: No kidding. Nearly a million people without power. That would ruin your day when the snow is come down. Freezing rain, too. Warnings issued for large parts Virginia, also D.C. The storm already leaving a mess across the plains and the Midwest. Don Lemon joins us now from Boston.

You pulled the short straw, didn't you, Don? The city cancelled school. How are things looking?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't know if I pulled the short straw, but maybe I pulled a little one.

It's looking -- I've got a little helper here, by the way. Decklynn (ph) is going to help me through - get through this weather forecast. He's going to help me be a weather man.

Are you doing all right?


LEMON: Don't get shy. He's going to get shy on me now. Listen, I'm told by Decklynn and his mom and everyone here that this was not here. There was zero snow here. So they've gotten to about six to eight inches of snow just in the short amount of time. Decklynn, come on, you can hang out with me right here. I'll sit down in the snow with you.

So they got about six to eight inches of snow. They closed all the schools. They've closed every single bit of government, business, everything. Nothing is going on in Boston. They're telling people to stay off the roads. And right now I've been watching the weather forecast. They've been calling this changeover because it was really fluffy as we got in here. I got on - I took the 5:00 train and got in and I saw rush hour and all that. So they're calling this changeover.

There was big, fluffy flakes earlier and now not so much. They're saying it's going to change over mostly to ice and then maybe it will get back to some snow. But they think all the accumulation pretty much is on the ground right now.

So, Decklynn, you promised you were going to do something for me. Can you make a snow angel for me? All right, you ready?


LEMON: Let's go. Let's do it. Snow angel! Come on, Decklynn. All right, let's see, how did he do?

MALVEAUX: He did that pretty good.

LEMON: I think you did a good job. Hold this for me. Can you hold that for me? I'm going to try one. I'm going to do one right next to yours. Are you ready? Hold on.


MALVEAUX: Hey, Decklynn. How you doing?

LEMON: I think I messed -- come on, Decklynn, let's go over here. Let's go real quick - I promised I'd put him on TV because he's been out here talking to me all morning.


LEMON: So this is Declan (ph), that's his mom, Gina (ph), and there is Lachlan (ph), and they're out of school right now, right?


So, you said -- Mom, you said no snow earlier.

GINA (PH): No snow.

LEMON: None at all?

GINA (PH): Nothing.

LEMON: Are you happy to be out of school with these guys?

GINA (PH): Well, I'm home with them, so, yes.

LEMON: Well, good.

GINA (PH): Happy to be outside.

LEMON: Stay dry.

He's a good little helper. See you, Lachlan (ph). How are you doing? Ah! He's shy.

So, listen, it's -- you know, it's pretty good here.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CO-ANCHOR: I take it back. You didn't draw the short straw. You just brought in a whole bunch of cute into the show.

LEMON: I have fun whenever I can. I always look at the bright side.

These guys are that guys that drew the short end of the straw. These guys have been out here all morning on the bobcat and with the plows, and they're making it passable for everybody so --

HOLMES: And make yourself popular and say also the crew out there, the shooter, the engineer. Yeah, they are working hard, as well.

LEMON: Oh, they're awesome, so I'm not blue when I'm TV, right?

HOLMES: Exactly.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Declan (ph) has got the right idea, the snow angels. He's got the right idea.

He'll be out there for a while playing in the snow, huh, Don?

LEMON: Yeah, I'm going to have some fun. I'm going to enjoy it while I can.

HOLMES: Good to see you. That's great.

Made the most out of it, didn't he?

MALVEAUX: Of course. I used to cover snow for years in Boston. They just have fun. They know how to enjoy it.

HOLMES: You didn't do a snow angel.

MALVEAUX: I can make a mean snow angel.

The weather, of course, cold and nasty outside the New York Stock Exchange, as well, going to see what's happening inside, the Big Board, the Dow, down 14 points now.

HOLMES: Just a smidge, yeah.

MALVEAUX: A little more than two-and-a-half hours into trading. Stocks took a slide at the Opening Bell, have been fighting their way back.

CNN Money's Fear and Greed Index -- isn't that an interesting index there? -- showing extreme fear in the market.

HOLMES: It's all about the sentiment, or largely about the sentiment, when it comes to the stock market.

But there are some analysts saying that all this selling just creates an opportunity to buy low.

MALVEAUX: Buy low.


MALVEAUX: Well, a lovely pool, nice wide terrace, perfect for entertaining, it used to belong to a Mexican drug lord until the town's vigilantes ran him out of the house, took it over.

We've got the story and the details behind that, up next.



MALVEAUX: Mexican troops are getting some help as they're trying to combat the country's powerful and violent drug cartels.

That help is actually coming from civilians who are just fed up. They're not even taking it anymore. They don't want to deal with this.

HOLMES: Yeah, they don't think they're getting the help -- or they're not waiting, anyway, for the military to step in, taking the law into their own hands.

And at least in one case, they've actually taken a drug lord's mansion into their own hands. They managed to chase him off and, in many ways, liberate their own town.

Rafael Romo with the story.


"JUAN", VIGILANTE GROUP MEMBER: If it the government can't help you, you have to help yourself.


Showing his face would mean certain death for himself and his family, he says.

"JUAN": All we want to do is just pick up the arms so we can drive them away. After that, we're going to put them down again.

ROMO: Juan attributes his English fluency to his time as a teenager in the United States.

He is an unlikely warrior, a member of a group of vigilantes who drove away a drug cartel from the small town of La Huerta in the southwestern Mexican state of Michoacan.

They're not the only ones who decided to fight back against the Knights Templar, a criminal organization that terrorized Michoacan with kidnappings, murder and extortion.

In the nearby town of Antunez, another group of vigilantes not only made the criminals flee, they also confiscated the mansion of their leader, a drug lord who fled so fast he left some of his weapons behind.

The two-story residence with a pool and a white terrace for parties stands in stark contrast with the humble adobe houses next door.

The vigilantes also confiscated armored trucks.

This is a vehicle that belongs to the vigilant group in power here in the town of Antunez. As you can see, it has been reinforced with half- inch steel plates in the front and also in the back to protect its occupants.

It's been riddled with bullet holes on the side. It also shows signs of combat right here on the hood and through the windshield.

Hipolito Mora is the leader of yet another vigilante group that is currently recovering properties the drug cartel took from the rightful owners.

We're keeping this movement alive with the same resources the Knights Templar used in the past to attack us, he says.

When asked if he's afraid to die, I'm not afraid, he says. We're all going to die anyway.

The same morning he spoke with us, a town resident came to personally say thanks to Mora.

GRACE VILLA, LIME ORCHARD OWNER: I think they're doing the right thing. I think it was a very brave thing to do, because they stood up for everybody.

ROMO: Grace Villa says Mora and his people recovered the lime orchards that the drug cartel had taken from her family.

VILLA: They wanted to charge people that picked lemons, and they wanted to charge people that own houses, and the drug cartels were just -- they were just sucking the money out of everybody. And it was just -- it was going too far.

ROMO: Back at the barricades, "Juan" continues to stand guard.

"JUAN": And this is not going to go away. We're going to stay here, and we're always going to be here. ROMO: The Mexican government has sent in thousands of soldiers and federal police to Michoacan, but even though it is illegal to take justice into one's hands, the security forces haven't moved against the vigilantes.

Some are accused of excesses in their pursuit of justice, but these unlikely warriors say they had no option but to protect their lands and their families.


MALVEAUX: And Rafael joins us.

So just give us a sense of just how big this movement want is, and is there -- is the government actually working with these folks to take on the cartels?

ROMO: It's a very interesting situation. It is very big.

We went to the state of Michoacan, but according to one recent report, there's vigilante activity in as many as 11 states in southern Mexico.

The government, interestingly enough, is taking the position of we're not going to work against you.

As a matter of fact, we're going to try to integrate you into what is called in Mexico, the Rural Defense Corps, essentially similar to what the National Guard would be here, although it remains to be seen if these people who have ranches and properties in that area are actually going to work as parts of the Mexican security forces.

HOLMES: And then arm them and give them some measure of training.

As you know only too well, these guys, these drug guys, they don't mess around down there. Massacres, they've carried out.

Have there been any reprisals against the vigilantes?

ROMO: Not only reprisals, but full counterattacks.

On January 5th, there was a big attack in one of the towns in that region that we went to.

But by then, they had the support of the Mexican army, and they were able to repel the group.

But it was a very violent combat there in one of those communities.

MALVEAUX: How did you feel on the ground there? Did you feel safe? Did you -- how did you manage?

ROMO: There's a bit of tension.

What made us feel safer than otherwise was the fact that the Mexican government has saturated the roads leading to those parts of Mexico with the Mexican army and federal police, as many as 10,000 soldiers and federal police there, who, of course, is not in their best interest to attack the media or to let us -- anything happen to us.

So there was -- like I say, a degree of tension, but in the end, we felt like it was somewhat safe to go there.

HOLMES: A real war going on south of the border, isn't there?

Rafael, yeah, thank you, Rafael Romo.

MALVEAUX: Elsewhere overseas today, somebody threw a hand grenade at a school in Libya.

This happened in Benghazi and witnesses say that the grenade came from outside the school walls, exploded, wounding at least six students.

Attacks and explosions in Ghazi fairly common, but schools are very rarely targeted.

HOLMES: Now, the governments of North and South Korea have agreed again to hold reunions for some families separated since the Korean War.

Now, we say again because there have been similar reunions before and there were some scheduled for a few months ago, but then North Korea suddenly canceled them.

Now, if they do happen this time, it will be later this month on the North Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone.

Tens of thousands of family members still haven't seen one another 60 years later after the end of the conflict that divided the Korean Peninsula.

MALVEAUX: And want you to take a look at this picture, something unusual, doesn't belong here.

Of course, what we're talking about is the U.N. Children's aid group, UNICEF. They're furious over the photos.

This is South Sudan and they show soldiers wearing the bright blue UNICEF backpacks that are donated, supposed to be going to the school children in the poor and war-ravaged countries.

So the U.N. is now demanding South Sudan troops stop using the donated aid supplies that are intended for the civilians, especially the kids.

It's amazing.

HOLMES: Unbelievable.

The United States, meanwhile, cutting back on drone strikes in Pakistan, some conflicting information, though, on why Washington is putting away those aerial weapons.

We're going to take a look at that story, coming up.