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New U.S. Terror Alert After Strikes In Syria; Airstrikes Disrupt "Imminent" Plot Targeting Planes; Terror Group: "Leader" Killed in Airstrike; Ebola Cases Could Reach 1.4 Million by January

Aired September 23, 2014 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, breaking news, the Department of Homeland Security telling Americans to be on heightened alert for lone wolf attacks after airstrikes on Syria.

Plus an American intelligence official says the airstrikes disrupted a, quote, "imminent massive terror attack" from a group ready to blow up commercial flights with explosive clothing and toothpaste tubes.

And an American journalist kidnapped in Syria, who is holding him and what do they want? His parents pleading for help tonight. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. And welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. We begin with the breaking news. The United States on heightened alert tonight. The Department of Homeland Security warning of lone wolf attacks in response to airstrikes in Syria.

Now, this is as the Pentagon says that the airstrikes last night did not just target ISIS. They say they targeted perhaps an even more immediate threat.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Last night, we also took strikes to disrupt plotting against the United States and our allies by seasoned al Qaeda operatives in Syria, who are known as the Khorasan Group.


BURNETT: The Khorasan Group. The Pentagon says that group is an al Qaeda-linked organization. They say it was ready to execute attacks on commercial flights. Blowing them up using cell phones, clothes and toiletries that would fit in the carry-on size loaded with explosives. We'll have much more on that group in just a moment.

Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, begins our coverage tonight following the story about potential lone wolf attacks. Pam, what are you hearing about this warning, which obviously is coming right after those first airstrikes in Syria?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This warning is in response to that, Erin. This is a joint bulletin sent out by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to law enforcement agencies across the country, telling them to stay on heightened alert for lone wolf attacks in the wake of the strikes against Khorasan and ISIS in Syria.

The concern among law enforcement officials I've been speaking with, Erin, is that the strikes could perhaps incite violence from ISIS sympathizers, from al Qaeda sympathizers. This could, as one source put it, move up scheduling of a home grown violent extremist to launch an attack here in the U.S.

So the concern is that people living in the U.S. who sympathize with these terrorist groups may want to launch an attack as a response to the strikes in Syria. They may want to exploit that.

So we're learning though that the bulletin is not necessarily in response to specific intelligence, it's more as a precaution -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Pamela Brown, thank you very much with that breaking news tonight. And now our other breaking story. Officials say the U.S. airstrikes in Syria hit an al Qaeda group planning an imminent attack on Americans. The terrorists reportedly ready to blow up commercial flights, according to U.S. officials.

Deborah Feyerick is OUTFRONT with details of the threat.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What makes the Khorasan terror cell in Syria so dangerous to the United States is that they have one objective, carry out a major terror attack in Europe or America. Multiple sources tell CNN the group had the materials and was operational.

LT. GENERAL WILLIAM MAYVILLE JR., PENTAGON DIRECTOR FOR OPERATIONS: Intelligence reports indicated that the Khorasan Group was in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks against western targets and potentially the U.S. homeland.

FEYERICK: An intelligence source says Khorasan's potential plots include clothing dipped in explosive material or explosives contained in non-metallic devices like toothpaste tubes.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: You could possibly get some of these types of devices, bombs through airport security and they could be quite catastrophic on an airliner.

FEYERICK: A U.S. official told CNN the plot could involve a concealed bomb on a plane. If there's no information terrorists had chosen a target prior to U.S. strikes on their compound.

CRUICKSHANK: It's far from clear whether the plot has been neutralized. They may have been able to take out training facilities, but if they have not taken out the key leaders and bomb makers that they were trying to recruit, it's possible they could even accelerate the plot. FEYERICK: Terror experts describe Khorasan as the new al Qaeda central, a small hard-core group of veteran operatives, many who fought in Afghanistan or Chechnya. Their leader was part of the 9/11 planning and knew of the hijackers and the plot to fly planes into buildings.

His bodyguard in Syria was recently captured and interrogated by the Assad regime. A source saying the Khorasan cell was focused on external operations.

MAYVILLE: We did not target individual leaders. We did target command and control.

FEYERICK: Experts say Khorasan bombmakers may have been trained by the al Qaeda master bomb builder, responsible for both the underwear bomb and the explosive printer cartridge. The group also has a delivery system in the form of western recruits with European and American passports.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.

FEYERICK: A U.S. official telling CNN the planned attack was, quote, "much further along than anyone was comfortable with."


BURNETT: Much further along than anyone was comfortable with. They're using the word "imminent," Deb. Do they know if they have killed the people who were going to do this attack?

FEYERICK: They don't. You have to remember that just a couple of days ago, the head of the DNI basically came out and mentioned this particular group, so they knew there was discussion about them. Also don't forget the air regulations that were put into place were a direct result of things that this group may have been working on.

Therefore, they're very smart. These guys are the smartest of the smart. They are hard core. They have survived multiple battles all over, you know, wherever al Qaeda is fighting. So these guys know how to get around and they know how to survive and that's what makes them so dangerous.

BURNETT: All right, Deb Feyerick, thank you very much.

OUTFRONT tonight, White House deputy national security adviser, Tony Blinken. Great to have you with us, Tony, thank you. As you just heard our Deb Feyerick reporting, this al Qaeda offshoot, the Khorasan Group was apparently in the final stages of planning attacks on the United States.

Now, apparently as you heard her reporting talking about a bomb of non-metallic device, toothpaste container, clothes dipped in explosive material. How close were they to pulling this off?

TONY BLINKEN, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Erin, let me say this. First, we've been tracking them for some time. This is a group of battle hardened al Qaeda veterans some of them came from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and others from North Africa.

They have taken safe haven in Syria, taking advantage of the chaos there and they've been using it as a base from which to plot attacks not in Syria or Iraq, but actually outside the region including in Europe and the United States.

We had intelligence that they were very far along in plotting just such an attack. One of the things they had been experimenting with are explosives. So having this intelligence, being able to figure out where they were, we were able to take action.

BURNETT: Last week the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, mentioned the Khorasan Group and said they may pose as much of a danger to the United States homeland as ISIS. It was a significant statement. That was the first time pretty much anyone in the American public had heard the name Khorasan Group.

You say they were very far along in their planning. What changed between last week when James Clapper mentioned that group for the first time and last night when you did the strikes?

BLINKEN: Well, what we've been doing and working on very hard is to make sure that we could get a good fix on where they were, develop targets and act on them. That's took some time. But last night we were able to take action having developed that intelligence.

BURNETT: So you've said you've known about them for quite some time and you've been working on this targeting for months. So when did you find out about this group?

BLINKEN: Well, let me just say, it goes back many months. But of course, we didn't want them to know that we were on to them. We have not talked about it. We've been working to develop as much information as possible, pinpoint them and then last night be able to take action.

BURNETT: In January, President Obama referred to ISIS, of course, as a JV team and now obviously they're considered a significant threat to the country. Khorasan is a group Americans didn't hear about, but now they are hearing about. How many more groups are there like that you are watching or are you worried that there are some you do not know about?

BLINKEN: Look, we've said and seen all along that from core al Qaeda, which is what attacked us on 9/11, the threat has metastasized. We've done a very effective job in dealing with core al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but we've seen offshoots rise up and develop, including now in Iraq and in Syria.

So these are the primary groups that we're focused on. Obviously we're also looking at groups in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa and we're acting on all of them.

But the key thing is that there are some groups that are focused primarily in the first instance on establishing themselves in the region and others that may be further along like Khorasan and actually plotting attacks on the homeland. We're focused on all of that. As you saw yesterday, we're acting on it.

BURNETT: We just have heard from our reporter who's dealing right now on the Syrian border with Turkey talking about some of the collateral damage that happened from those airstrikes last night, civilians died.

She is talking about a change of sentiment, a rising tide of fear and anger that she is hearing from Syrian civilians against the United States. Did you expect this?

BLINKEN: Well, first of all, I haven't seen those reports. We take extraordinary care in making sure to the best of our ability that innocents do not die or become injured in these strikes. Indeed one of the reasons we take so much time and were so deliberate about it is to ensure to the greatest extent possible that there is no so-called collateral damage.

The initial reports that I've had suggest that we were very successful in keeping the strikes very tightly focused on exactly what we're aiming at and that was ISIL or the Khorasan Group. I haven't seen those reports, but obviously we do an assessment to make sure we were able to hit exactly what we were aiming at.

BURNETT: Tony Blinken, thank you so much.

BLINKEN: Thanks a lot, Erin.

BURNETT: Tomorrow, I'm going to be interviewing former President Bill Clinton and we'll ask him about the air strikes in Syria and the threat from ISIS. You'll see her conversation here at 7:00 tomorrow night. And "President Bill Clinton, A CNN Special Town Hall" will air at 9:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

OUTFRONT next, the U.S. says airstrikes over Syria were a big success. Can the president make that case to the world tomorrow at the U.N.?

Plus in Syria, cheers turning to uncertainty after reports of civilian deaths. And the head of a group fighting ISIS was killed in the American-led airstrikes. Is America losing the battle for hearts and minds?

And a journalist kidnapped in Syria, two years later no word on who has him, whether he's alive. Tonight his parents OUTFRONT.


BURNETT: Breaking news. Tonight the United States makes its case that the Syrian airstrikes are justified. In a letter to the United Nations, ambassador Samantha Powers writes the military action was needed in order to eliminate a threat to the United States and its allies. Tomahawk missiles and warplanes targeting a country that until now has not received any attacks by the U.S. military. And as the U.S. and its allies gear up for new and continued strikes, President Obama is working to gain additional international support. CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is OUTFRONT

from the U.N. where obviously this is the most important story of the entire session. Jim, what are you learning as to who else might join the offensive and in what way? Is this just assisting in airstrikes, is this boots on the ground? What are they going to be able to get?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, more than one way. We know that the president is going to ask for a binding resolution at the U.N. security council calling on a number of countries to stop the flow of foreign fighters and money in to Syria. That's an important step.

As far as the military campaign is concerned, the British foreign minister, Alan Hammond, telling CNN a short time ago that there is a debate under way inside the British government as to how far Britain will go in terms of offering more military support. A debate underway. They're already helping to arm Kurdish fighters, but will they come on board for airstrikes, that's still subject to debate inside that country.

And then the Turkish president speaking here earlier today to reporters saying that he supports the airstrikes and that Turkey looking to see what it will do but as of yet no public promises.

I'm told by senior administration officials that from this point of view that this coalition is developing over time and they're going to allow countries to acknowledge their support as they want to in public.

BURNETT: Interesting. Of course, when you look at countries like the UK, that have received such draconian budget defense cuts in their defense budget, what they're going to be able to do. I mean, you're also talking about five Arab nations in the coalition. The president has touted that. Obviously, it's very significant. But when it comes to who is carrying the burden of the strikes, who is carrying them out, who is paying for that, the answer is?

SCIUTTO: Largely the U.S., frankly. And you did see that last night. But I will tell you that the support from those five Arab partners is substantial. Because I'm told now that all five of them, remember, this is Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar, that all of them were flying strike aircraft last night, Erin. Meaning that all of them could have dropped bombs on ISIS targets.

I'm told that four of them did drop bombs, Qatar did not, but that doesn't mean they won't in the future. Last night they were flying combat air patrols. So that's serious commitment, serious buy-in from Arab partners in the region, many of them Syria's neighbors and many of them facing a very direct threat from ISIS as well.

BURNETT: Obviously a significant, significant development. Thank you very much, Jim Sciutto.

The goal of the airstrikes is to take out ISIS' ability to command, train and resupply. That's the stated mission. But the United States and the coalition did not just strike ISIS. They also bombarded an al-Qaeda-linked group. Now, this could be perhaps a broadening in mission. Barbara Starr is OUTFRONT with more on the mission.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The U.S. warned these airstrikes may be just the beginning. There will be more to come.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: There may be some tactics, techniques and procedures that we just won't be able to address here today to preserve option that we may want available to us in the future.

STARR: The attack was not shock and awe, but from the outset, a surprise. The initial target was not ISIS, but the Khorasan group of al-Qaeda operatives the U.S. says was planning an attack against the U.S. or western interests.

A senior U.S. administration official says if the strikes prove as effective as the U.S. hopes, they stopped Khorasan's ability to attack the U.S., but it may take a few days to figure out exactly how much damage was inflicted. The U.S. fired tomahawk cruise missiles against eight Khorasan targets in western Syria, highly precise, thousands of pounds of explosives. On the strikes against ISIS, U.S. military commanders watching closely now for a reaction.

LT. GEN. WILLIAM MAYVILLE JR., OPERATIONS DIRECTOR, JOINT CHIEFS: They will adapt to what we've done and seek to address their shortfalls and gaps against our air campaign in the coming weeks.

STARR: The U.S. and Arab allies are relying on precision bombs from fighter and bomber aircraft to stop the group. In the first round, firing against a training area and other targets specifically aimed at stopping ISIS' ability to command its army of fighters.

Like the bombing of this ISIS finance center near Raqqa. The target, a communications array on the roof, hoping to stop its flow of money and communications.

MAYVILLE: On the right-hand side in the picture, the after picture, the rooftop communications is heavily damaged. While the surrounding structure remains largely intact.

STARR: And here, only a portion of a suspected ISIS command center destroyed. Another specific target selected to stop ISIS leaders from talking to their troops.


STARR: Now, the U.S. is assessing the impact of all of these airstrikes, but especially keeping a watch on ISIS fighters right now to see how and where they are moving around, to see how they might be trying to avoid future airstrikes. The U.S. openly says there is more to come -- Erin.

BURNETT: Barbara, thank you very much.

And I want to bring in our terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank along with retired colonel Peter Mansoor.

Colonel, let me start with you at those pictures we were just looking at. That they are talking about the specificity with which they were able to target, right? Leave a building intact, take out just a communications tower. Leave a building intact, tack out just where they have been communicating in two separate instances. This would seems to indicate there was very specific intelligence about what's going on on the ground. What's changed? Because a few weeks ago we were told there's no intelligence on the ground in Syria.

COL. PETER MANSOOR (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, in the interim, we have collected a great deal of intelligence from our aircraft overhead that have penetrated into Syrian airspace along with satellites. And then we do have CIA operatives on the ground as well. So this has all been collected and analyzed. And they were able to determine the precise hit points for the tomahawk missiles and other bombs dropped from the air.

BURNETT: Paul, what's your understanding now in terms of the intelligence? Has the situation shifted dramatically? Because that seems to be the big fear was that you wouldn't know who was there, you wouldn't know where they were, you wouldn't know what they were planning because there wasn't a lot of CIA presence on the ground.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM, ANALYST: Well, they're trying to get better intelligence. I don't think they have much CIA intelligence on the ground nor are they getting much intelligence, obviously, from the Syrian regime, the regime of Assad. So I think there's still limited intelligence capability. From the air you can see training camps, other facilities. Things like that. But in terms of knowing where the leadership are, that's something completely different.

BURNETT: All right, so let's talk about this Khorasan group because obviously the mission was to degrade and destroy ISIS and all of a sudden you had several of these strikes not targeting ISIS at all but another group, Khorasan. Khorasan basically means al-Qaeda.

CRUICKSHANK: Khorasan means al-Qaeda, not just al-Qaeda but al- Qaeda's "A" team. These are veteran al-Qaeda operatives. The leader of this group, a Kuwaiti, was part of the inner circle with bin Laden in the weeks leading up to 9/11. So these are very, very capable operatives. They have been building up their presence in Syria and Italy province over the last year trying to recruit Europeans and other westerners into their ranks so they could launch attacks back in the west.

BURNETT: So, Colonel Mansoor, when I hear what Paul says, I'm sort of hearing this is al-Qaeda core, which we've been told was decimated.

MANSOOR: Well, it certainly has been decimated in the sense that we've reduced the numbers.


MANSOOR: But it still exists. And it's morphed out of western Pakistan into the safe havens. They like areas like this where there's no government authority and they can set up shop and plan attacks against the west. So al-Qaeda has morphed and perhaps become a more dangerous threat because we don't have as good of information on it. It was almost easier to target when it was centralized just in Pakistan.

BURNETT: But Paul, do they know at this point, I mean, as Deb was reporting, they don't really know who they got, who they killed.

CRUICKSHANK: They don't know if they killed the leader. They don't know if they killed the bomb makers. They don't know if they killed the western terrorist operatives that they were trying to recruit.

BURNETT: And they don't know if a lot of those people fled, right? I mean, they don't know?

CRUICKSHANK: So they could have fled and it could still be in operation. It could even be accelerated. So they'll be looking very, very closely. They will be very worried about this. So this is a plot which seems to be targeting western aviation, U.S. passenger jets.

BURNETT: And do they have much -- I mean, obviously, it was very specific what they have. They talked about toothpaste, they talked about toiletry, the carry-on toiletry size, they talked about clothes with explosive devices on them. That sounded like they know a lot. But it seems like there were still key gaps.

CRUICKSHANK: There were still key gaps, often it's very fragment free, the intelligence from these base kind of thing. But this group was experimenting with all sorts of ways to get bombs onto planes, concerned that Ibrahim al-Asiri, the master bomb maker in Yemen was training apprentices and some of these apprentices have joined this group in Syria.

BURNETT: And, Colonel Mansoor, what about the issues? As our Arwa Damon, she is going to be talking about in a moment that there was possibly civilians killed, collateral damage that, this could turn the hearts and minds. How big of a risk is this?

MANSOOR: Well, certainly we try to avoid collateral damage and civilian casualties, but the Syrian people don't like the United States all that much in the first place. We haven't really helped them a great deal against the Assad regime.


MANSOOR: So this will be an issue going forward as we try to foment a tribal rebellion and build up the free Syrian army. We've got to keep the Syrians on our side and in the war against ISIS.

Let me make one point that in 1998 when the embassies were bombed in Africa, we responded with a cruise missile attack in Afghanistan and three years later al-Qaeda launched 9/11. So I'm not sure that cruise missiles alone are going to get the job done in this case.

BURNETT: Obviously, the crucial point back again to who will put that fight to the ground. Thanks to both of you.

And next, breaking news. A Syrian terror group says its leader was killed by an airstrike. There's a live report coming up.

Plus an American reporter is missing in Syria tonight. His parents are OUTFRONT.


BURNETT: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

The breaking news, the Syrian terror group al-Nusra front says that its leader has been killed by a U.S. airstrike. A statement from the group says Abu Yousef al-Turki was killed overnight in American-led airstrikes in Syria.

Now, CNN cannot independently verify al-Nusra's claims, but the monitoring group, the Syrian observatory for human rights says the group was amongst those targeted during the airstrike.

Arwa Damon joins me live from the Syrian-Turkish border. And Arwa, obviously, this would be very significant if this happened by U.S. airstrike and perhaps not in the way that many viewers might have sound.


And the local coordination committees are also reporting an air strike against the Nusra Front, that they're saying it killed 40 individuals part of that fighting force, calling them martyrs. Now, the Nusra Front has been designated by the United States as a terrorist organization. A lot of its key leadership have or had former ties to al Qaeda or even fighting U.S. forces back in the days when America was occupying Iraq.

But when it comes to the Syrian civil war, the Nusra front is viewed especially in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo as being the only force that had been able to protect the population to a certain degree against regime air strikes, was viewed as a force that was providing for the population when the international community had effectively abandoned the Syrian opposition with the emergence of ISIS, was also being viewed as a force that was standing up and protecting the areas that it controlled against ISIS.

With this attack, this strike on the Nusra Front, we're hearing this change in sentiment from Syrian activists who live in non-ISIS controlled opposition areas, saying this is causing them to doubt what the U.S.' intentions truly are, wondering what it is that America and this coalition that it has put together are in fact trying to achieve, if they are taking out one of the strongest fighting forces that the rebels have when it comes to standing up against the regime and against ISIS.

That being said, though, Erin, when it comes to people living under ISIS control, ISIS-dominated areas, they do want to see these strikes continue and a lot of the Kurdish -- the Syrian Kurdish refugees we've been speaking to at the border crossing fleeing the northern part of Syria because of the onslaught of ISIS taking over the various dozens of villages that they did take over since Friday. They were saying that they want intensification of strikes as well, but they these strikes to be against ISIS.

So, we're seeing a slight turn of sentiments and this growing concern about what it is that America is trying to achieve, especially at this stage with more and more reports of civilian casualties, although we have not been able to independently verify those at this stage, Erin.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thank you very much to Arwa Damon. Obviously, that reporting from the ground so crucial here.

Let's bring in former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Mark Wallace. Wallace has just launched the Counter-Extremism Project, a not-for-profit group working to expose and disrupt sources of funding for extremist groups. Obviously, that is front and center in this entire situation because the reason ISIS is such a threat is because it is well-funded as well as so many extremist groups in Syria.

You just heard Arwa's report talking about yet unconfirmed civilian casualties and how that could contribute to turning this sentiment against the coalition and the air strikes. How big of a risk is that?

MARK WALLACE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N., MANAGEMENT AND REFORM: Well, I think it's a huge risk. I think that the problem we have here is it just shows the complexity of the landscape in Syria. It's unavoidable that we'll hit other groups.

Now, one al Qaeda group or another al Qaeda group, these are still -- it's not the enemy of my enemy is my friend here. It could be another enemy, right?

So, killing this al Qaeda sponsored group leader is probably a victory for the United States, but we have a real risk of alienating the complexity of forces that are on the ground here, and that's one of the reasons why people call for boots on the ground. It's very hard to do this purely from the air.

BURNETT: Right, as Colonel Mansoor was just point out, the attacks on the embassies in Africa were met by tomahawks in Afghanistan. Three years later, 9/11 happened.

The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations today spoke to CNN and he talked about the Arab countries that are now joining with the United States in this coalition, in the air strikes and here's what he had to say.


BASHAR JA'AFARI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The former minister of information of Bahrain said a couple of months ago, she said -- that was a woman, she said that ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra are not terrorists, and that we should encourage them. So those who are sponsoring terrorism in Syria have joined incidentally speaking, sarcastically speaking, this so-called coalition to strike against ISIL -- ISIS.


BURNETT: He particularly, Mark, pointed out countries in the coalition, right? He named them by name. He said Saudi Arabia. He said Bahrain. He said Qatar. He said those countries are funding the terrorists.

WALLACE: He sounds like one of the critics from the United States because there's been some real skepticism about the role of some of these countries in supporting the groups in Syria. Now, I think it's a very positive step that our Saudi allies are training moderate Syrian forces inside Saudi Arabia.

The Qataris are obviously been really questioned extensively and there were concerns raised. I think that's a real jab at the coalition, that the United States and these countries that are funding these disparate groups.

BURNETT: And the bottom line, is the funding slowing down that was coming from these countries?

WALLACE: I hope that it is. This is a historic moment. We do have a coalition and we have to step back for a second. We do have five moderate Arab states and the Qataris perhaps that are participating in this coalition. It has to send a signal and hopefully this is the first day we see a lessening of some of that funding, financial architecture and other support going into these groups. I hope that's the case. This certainly is a historic time right now, though.

BURNETT: Right. It certainly is when you think about it, that Arab states are flying flights alongside the United States. Thanks so much to you, Mark Wallace. You can see more of our reporting on terror funding on our blog,, with our reporting from the Gulf.

OUTFRONT next, a reporter kidnapped in Syria two years ago, never a word from his captors. His desperate parents demanding answers tonight as strikes rain down on Syria.

And breaking news in the case of the missing University of Virginia student. Police charge a man with her abduction. We have a live report coming up.

And startling new numbers in the Ebola crisis. Could 1.4 million people be infected in the next few months? We're live.


BURNETT: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

The United States and its Arab allies are preparing for a second round of airstrikes against ISIS and other extremists in Syria, terrorists that according to the United States administration are holding between three and four American hostages.

Tonight, in an exclusive interview, our Ed Lavandera speaks to one family whose son, Austin Tice, has been missing in Syria more than two years. Ed is OUTFRONT live in Houston, Texas, tonight.

And, Ed, you've spoken to the family. Obviously with these images we have seen with other hostages, it must be agonizing for them. They are also worried about these airstrikes tonight. What are they telling you?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it has been a long two years for the parents of Austin Tice and the rest of his family here in the Houston area. And tonight they speak out about their frustrations with the process and trying to get their son back.


LAVANDERA: What's the hardest part of all of this?

DEBRA TICE, PARENT OF MISSING JOURNALIST: Our son is missing. We can't talk to him.

MARC TICE, PARENT OF MISSING JOURNALIST: He's not here. It's a gap that everybody feels.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Marc and Debra Tice are desperate to bring their son home. More than two years ago, Austin Tice started making his way through Syria to tell the stories of a country descending into chaos.

M. TICE: We know he made his way south essentially on this path.

LAVANDERA: Tice was last seen August 14th, 2012, getting into a car near Syria's capital city of Damascus. His parents have never received a ransom request and the only video of him as a hostage was released a few weeks after he disappeared. It's a shaky, 47-second video. Tice is blindfolded and surrounded by men with weapons, clearly under duress.

AUSTIN TICE: Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus.

LAVANDERA: That's all Marc and Debra Tice have seen, but not for lack of trying. The family sat down with CNN because after two years of fighting for their son's release, they are frustrated with the United States government. The Tices say the U.S. State Department and law enforcement officials won't share vital information with them.

D. TICE: Absolutely, we've been told that. We can't share this information with you because you do not have clearance.

M. TICE: We don't know what the information is. But, you know, we don't want to be treated or feel like we're being treated as a security risk.

D. TICE: To our own child.

LAVANDERA: Debra Tice says she's repeatedly asked for the background checks to get the necessary security clearance.

(on camera): You have been told that they couldn't trust you with the information because you hadn't been vetted?

D. TICE: I haven't been vetted. Yes, I haven't been vetted. And so -- I think God vetted me when I gave birth to this man.

M. TICE: I mean who else has more motivation than we do to be careful with information about our son?

D. TICE: This is my son and my personality says the mother bear will find the cub. And I'm looking for my cub.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Marc and Debra have made three trips to the Middle East on their own, developing sources and information about where their son is held hostage. They don't know who has him. The U.S. State Department has said Austin is being held by the Syrian government, but the Syrian government has told the Tice family Austin is not in its detention facilities.

(on camera): Do you worry that whoever is holding him might trade him to ISIS?

D. TICE: Thinking about things like that, the pit of despair has no depth. It's an abyss.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): On those trips to the Middle East, Marc and Debra have received cryptic clues about their son from sources they say they have developed on their own. They didn't want to identify these contacts, but do say some are Middle East government officials.

M. TICE: We will hear, don't worry, be patient. Austin is alive. Austin is, you know, reasonably well-treated. He's OK, be patient. Don't worry. He's going to come back to you.

LAVANDERA: For the first year, Austin Tice was gone, Debra called her son's cell phone all the time. It would ring endlessly.

D. TICE: Even while it was ringing, I would still be waiting until I would have the realization, you know, he's not going to answer.

LAVANDERA: But Debra and Marc Tice are still confident that one day soon, Austin's voice will answer the call.

D. TICE: There has never been a moment of despair, there's never been a moment of questioning that he's coming home.


LAVANDERA: Erin, we reached out to the Obama administration today and the State Department, we have not heard back from them. Secretary John Kerry has said in recent days that they want to improve this process for families of hostages, but the Tice family here in Houston says that they don't want to feel better about the process, they want to fix a process that they believe is broken -- Erin.

BURNETT: Ed Lavandera, thank you very much.

Of course, U.S. secretary of state has said three to four Americans they believe are currently held hostage in Syria and Iraq.

OUTFRONT next: breaking news in the case of missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham. Police now say they know who abducted her.

And the spread of Ebola. Experts now warning up to 1.4 million possible cases in the next couple of months. We're going to have a report on the brave young men who are burying the dead.


BURNETT: Breaking news, police in Charlottesville have now issued an arrest warrant for Jesse Matthew in the case of a missing student from University of Virginia. Her name is Hannah Graham.


CHIEF TIM LONGO, CHARLOTTESVILLE POLICE: This afternoon, we reached that point where the commonwealth felt we had sufficient probable cause to seek an arrest warrant. So we appeared before a magistrate, Detective Sergeant Mooney did late this afternoon, very late this afternoon, and obtained an arrest warrant for Jesse Leroy Matthew, Jr. of Charlottesville, charging him with a class two felony of abduction with the intent to defile.


BURNETT: Police believe Matthew was the last person to see Graham before her disappearance. She was last seen in the early morning hours of September 13th.

Jean Casarez is in Charlottesville.

And, Jean, when I hear this, I mean, to me, this sort of -- it's complicated. It's a unique charge, right? I mean, does it mean anything specific?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is very unique, it is so unique. I mean, you don't hear this charge. But let's break it down, all right?

Abduction means kidnapping. And even under Virginia law abduction means kidnapping, so they believe there was a kidnapping here. All right?

"With intent to defile" can have different reasons, but first of all there is nothing in this charge that talks about somebody is dead, that this is a homicide.

So, when you look at what they are charging him with now, they may believe she is alive. And this kidnapping with intent to defile can be simply for immoral purposes or it can be to extort money or pecuniary interests, or even prostitution so within the statute. So defile has many different meanings, but prosecutors believe she has been kidnapped by the person they're interested in, Jesse Matthew.

BURNETT: I mean, pretty incredible, though, Jean, that you're saying she could be alive. I think many people thought the hope would be over in the coming days, but that would truly be a miracle.

All right. Jean Casarez, thank you very much, Jean.

And now to the Ebola crisis, the CDC now estimates that as many as 1.4 million people in the hot zone of Liberia and Sierra Leone could become infected with the Ebola in the next few months.

This as the World Health Organization says the fatality rate of this outbreak of Ebola is 71 percent. That's why one of the most dangerous jobs in the hot zone is transporting the dead.

Elizabeth Cohen is OUTFRONT from Monrovia, Liberia.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the morning list of Monrovia's dead.

(on camera): This must be very difficult work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very difficult work, very difficult work.

COHEN (voice-over): The Liberian Red Cross dead body management team, getting ready to retrieve dead bodies, bodies that could still be carrying the Ebola virus.

GURU DEV SINGH, INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS: They are quite aware that it takes only one mistake to be contaminated.

COHEN: Today, they're retrieving 10 bodies, first suiting up from foot to head, a supervisor making sure that every inch of skin is covered. This worker is strapping on a chlorine sprayer to disinfect victims before they're handled.

But even the best safety equipment can't protect their hearts from what they see on the job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I took the key. I opened the door. I went in. I saw the 6-month-old child licking on the mother the mother because the mother died. She was lying on her stomach, and the baby was licking on the mother's skin. So, right away, I started shedding tears.

COHEN: Before collecting today's victims, a prayer for God's guidance, then winding through Monrovia's poorest slum, west point, they took the nearest victim. Her name was Lisa Koni (ph), she was 62. Her family and neighbors distraught as they remove her from her home. Koni's family is lucky, they know someone at the ministry of health, so she will be buried. That can be time consuming. So, most victims are simply cremated.

We followed the DBM team on a 45-minute drive through rough roads to where Koni is being buried. Her relatives say a final prayer. After this, nine more bodies to retrieve before their day is done.


BURNETT: It is incredible, those moments of courage you must be seeing. And I know, Elizabeth, you have to be seeing people who are desperately driving to get help and then dying at the entrance to hospitals because they couldn't get the help.

CDC now saying 1.5 million possible new cases by January?

COHEN: That's right. That's what the CDC is saying there, I want to make it clear, that is if things don't get better, if we don't do more here to make sure this doesn't happen, if the attitudes don't change.

So, hopefully, there will be more places to isolate the Ebola cases because right now more are just going right back into the neighborhoods. And hopefully, attitudes will change here. I was in a town called Tubbensburg (ph) today, yesterday, two people died there, and eight people cleansed their bodies, which they're not supposed to do. But it is a part of the custom, so they did it. And then people were kicked out of the building, and now they're now, as we speak, in an ambulance as authorities are trying to figure out where to put them.

But those attitudes have to change for this outbreak to get better.

BURNETT: What an incredible story, Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much for excellent reporting there out of Liberia.

Well, they say you can apparently never be too thin. But apparently the iPhone 6, can be, is -- that's tonight's big number. It's next.


BURNETT: The iPhone 6-plus, you know, you have seen the lines everywhere. Everybody wants to get it, right? Apple says it's bigger and bigger. Is it bender than bendy, too?

So, some iPhone 6-plus customers are complaining that they can't put the phone in their pocket without it bending. They're taking pictures of their newly curved phones. I mean, that's a really nice print, and posting them online.

Talk of a bending, though, made one guy wondered if he could do it with his bare hands. Wow, made us wonder why you would do that on purpose especially since you waited in line forever to get that thing, right? Especially when there is no word whether or not it goes back to flat without a performance issue.

So, that brings us back to tonight's number, 7.1 -- the iPhone 6-Plus is 7.1 millimeters thin. That is the equivalent of about nine credit cards stacked on top of each other, which for the record when they are stuck on top do bend. Maybe a curve in the pluses is a plus, is it too thin?

We by the way have reached out to Apple for comment and have not yet heard back.

Tomorrow night, my interview with President Clinton on a threat from ISIS. We'll see you then.

Anderson starts now.