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THE SITUATION ROOM

Kurds Battle ISIS; U.K. to Join Air Campaign in Iraq; Source: Al Qaeda Plotters May Have Survived Strike; Travel Chaos after Fire & Attempted Suicide; Ferguson Police Chief's Apology Scorned; Man Handling Ferguson Police PR Fired

Aired September 26, 2014 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Jake.

Happening now, breaking news, battle with ISIS. CNN is there as fierce fighting erupts between militants and Kurdish forces just miles from the Syrian/Turkish border while concern grows about another terror group that one expert calls al Qaeda all-stars.

Airline chaos, a fire and an attempted suicide lead to almost 2,000 flights canceled at one of the busiest airports in the U.S.

And rage boils over in Ferguson, Missouri, where the police chief's apology for the shooting death of Michael Brown is met with outrage and calls for his resignation.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. A U.S. government source telling CNN that officials now believe some senior members of a specialized terror cell survived an air strike this week in Syria. The U.S. abruptly attacked this group, an al Qaeda branch that's called Khorasan, in an effort to disrupt a terror plot the U.S. described as imminent.

We're also following an extraordinary battle that unfolded live here on CNN between ISIS militants and Kurdish forces trying to keep the terrorists from seizing a town near the Syrian/Turkish border.

We are covering all angles of the breaking news with our correspondents and our guests this hour. And we begin with the latest, with CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

What are you hearing at the White House, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you that the White House is seeing some positive signs in the fight against ISIS. But top administration officials remain deeply worried about the threat posed by another terror group, Khorasan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice-over): After assessing this week's air strikes in

Syria, U.S. officials tell CNN's Evan Perez they believe some of the senior leaders of the al Qaeda-related group Khorasan managed to survive and could still be plotting attacks. Top administration officials say Khorasan may present a greater threat than ISIS.

JOHN PISTOLE, TLA ADMINISTRATOR: We have seen Khorasan group as a determined, capable adversary who presented a clear and present danger. And there has been talk this week about the reason for the air strikes was to disrupt a, some described it as an imminent attack.

ACOSTA: Unlike the battle against ISIS, the U.S. mission against Khorasan has been cloaked in secrecy, an approach the White House defended.

(on camera): Should this administration have been warning the public?

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: In order to do that effectively, it does require us to be less than transparent, in terms of the activities that we are engaged in to mitigate the threat that they pose.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The White House is confident there is nothing to the threat raised by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who said he knew of an ISIS plot to attack U.S. and French subways, a claim Iraq's president is now not backing up.

FUAD MASUM, IRAQI PRESIDENT: Personally, I don't have any information about this.

ACOSTA: By contrast, the Obama administration is trying to portray an image of clarity on ISIS. Still, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey is standing by his recent statement that he will recommend U.S. ground troops in Iraq if necessary, something the president has flatly ruled out.

MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I just stand by the statement. I will make a recommendation -- I have -- the president gave me a mission: destroy ISIL. And I will recommend to him what it takes to destroy ISIL.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now White House officials maintain that core al Qaeda leaders have been decimated. But they do acknowledge that remnants and offshoots of the group remain, like Khorasan. But aides to the president insist that he is as determined as ever to hunt all of them down -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Jim, thank you so much. Let's get more now on that extraordinary battle between ISIS and Kurdish forces that CNN captured live. CNN's Phil Black is along the Syrian/Turkish border.

Phil, you saw it all unfold. Night has now fallen where you are. What's the latest? PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, here since the darkness

has fallen, it has become progressively more quiet. The odd burst of gunfire, but the pitched battle that we saw being played out just across the Syrian border from where we're standing, it was -- that was very different during the afternoon here.

What we witnessed was really an extraordinary scene. We saw a group of ISIS fighters attempting to advance through this northern region of Syria, this region that is very much under the control and largely populated by ethnic Kurdish people. And it was ethnic Kurdish fighters that were putting up a very strong, very effective defense against these ISIS fighters.

The ISIS fighters were effectively pinned down on the top of a hill, a ridgeline that we could see clearly from our position just here across on the other side of the border here in Turkey. And what we witnessed through the afternoon was really both sides exchanging repeated small arms fire and heavier indirect fire, as well, mortar rounds, we believe.

And it was the ISIS group that was -- that tried to advance but was really forced back over the course of the afternoon, pinned down, effectively, on a ridgeline. And from there, our cameras saw them come under repeated fire, even saw them take hits, casualties. Saw some of those people being taken away.

And eventually, as darkness began to fall, it seemed they decided to fall back behind the hill they were trying to advance beyond.

Now why this matters, why this is more than just some skirmish, extraordinary as it is to see live as we did, it is because these forces, these ISIS forces are trying to advance through this region from various directions towards a major town here, Kobani.

And as they have advanced over the course of the week, they have really triggered a major humanitarian exodus from this region. Refugees, hundreds of thousands, it is estimated, have made for the Turkish border and crossed over. Firstly, just because of the fear that the ISIS reputation brings with it. That reputation for brutality.

But as they have moved forward, claiming more villages and towns along the way, well, those that did wait, those that did hold out just that little bit longer, just decided to flee at the last moment. And some of them have been crossing in the last 24 hours. We've been meeting them as they have done so. And they've told extraordinary stories.

They've seen the ISIS fighters, are experiencing the gunfire, artillery and, in many cases, losing loved ones because of it.

The fear is that these ISIS forces will continue to advance through this region. And if they do so, that humanitarian crisis is expected to deteriorate.

Now what the fighters, the local fighters on the ground and the refugees are telling us, what they're asking us, really, is where is the international coalition that is striking ISIS from the air in other parts of Syria. What they would like to see is that sort of action here in this region of northern Syria as these forces bear down on this Kurdish town -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Amazing pictures, Phil Black. You stay safe while you are there covering this story.

The White House now is picking up some critical new support for the war against ISIS. CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott covering this part of the story for us. What's the latest, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, today, Britain said it would join the air campaign in Iraq along with several European nations. But when it comes to Syria, for now the U.S. and their Arab partners are on their own.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): The British prime minister was blunt, warning Parliament the threat by ISIS was, quote, "no fantasy" and there was no walk-on-by alternative to joining the U.S.-led military campaign.

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: This is not a threat on the far side of the world. Left unchecked, we will face a terrorist caliphate on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member with a declared and proven determination to attack our country and our people.

LABOTT: For seven hours, David Cameron fielded tough questions on the goals of air strikes in Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a civil war, a quagmire into which Britain should tread with dire peril.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you assure us that all the parties within Iraq also support us intervention. In particular, the Kurdish political leadership?

CAMERON: What I can be clear about is, having spoken to the Kurdish leaders in Iraq and having spoken to the Iraqi prime minister, they've both been frank that they want our help.

LABOTT: In the end, lawmakers approved a limited deployment but only in Iraq. Syria, it turns out, wasn't even on the table, designed to prevent the same embarrassing defeat the British prime minister suffered last year, when Parliament rejected his call to join U.S. air strikes against Syria, which casts doubt on Britain's reputation as America's closest ally during times of crisis.

And other European nations are joining Arab states in the global coalition against ISIS. French planes are already bombing ISIS targets in Iraq. The Netherlands says six F-16 fighter jets will carry out airstrikes, and 250 troops will train Iraq and Kurdish forces. And Denmark and Belgium also announced plans to send fighter jets for the next phase of the air campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: And the big question is where is Turkey now that the 49 Turkish diplomats being held by ISIS have been freed? Will they take part in the military campaign?

The State Department says military action is not a litmus test for cooperation. They say Turkey has done a lot to crack down on foreign fighters and will do more of that.

Privately, Brianna, U.S. officials expect that Turkey will play a military role and that officials are having discussions with the Turkish government about just that -- what that role will be, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, but they are very much at odds. We will see how that progresses. Elise Labott, thank you so much for that report.

Let's get more on this now with the Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby.

You just saw this dramatic report and these pictures that are coming from where the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are really begging for help. That's the question here, I think they're wondering. And I know that the chairman and the joint chiefs of staff got at this a little bit. But he also seemed to describe a situation where, if the forces are separate, which they appear to be in this case, that this would be an ideal situation, perhaps, for conducting airstrikes. So where are they?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Well, look, we're putting pressure on ISIL from the air inside Syria. We've done that all week. Most of the targets that we've been going after have been strategic, trying to get at their ability to sustain themselves. I'm not going to telegraph future operations or future potential operations.

What I can tell you is the mandate to the U.S. military is made clear. We're going to keep pressure on them in Iraq and in Syria, and that's going to persist for quite some time.

KEILAR: It seems like one of the issues, Admiral Kirby, has to do with spotters, really. There is not -- there aren't really eyes on the ground in many of these situations. And we've heard officials talking about this. Is that the issue here? And if that's the case, you know, public opinion aside, should there be some U.S. boots and eyes on the ground?

KIRBY: The commander in chief has been very clear, Brianna. There's not going to be U.S. personnel, our military personnel on the ground in a combat role, either in Iraq or in Syria. And you don't need spotters to conduct airstrikes everywhere and in every circumstance. Sometimes it's helpful. But you don't absolutely have to have them in every case. And we've done some very effective strikes in Syria without spotters, quote unquote, on the ground. But we've also said is you do need ground forces; you need

competent willing partners on the ground. But they should be indigenous partners, people that know the ground, that know the culture, that know the terrain, that are already there. That's why we want to train a moderate opposition. That's why we're working so closely to support the Iraqi security forces inside Iraq.

That video you showed in the report that you just showed demonstrates that very much. That local fighters are probably the best able to know the ground and to know how to defend their communities. And again, I won't get ahead of strikes that may or may not occur. But I can tell you that from the air, we're going to continue to do what we need to do to put pressure on these guys.

KEILAR: And obviously, one of the issues is sort of vetting some of those certainly Syrian rebels to see if they are good partners in all of this for the U.S.

Admiral Kirby, stick with us. We're going to have more. We have more to talk about, especially on this issue of the Khorasan group, what one expert refers to as al Qaeda all-stars, after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We are following this breaking news this hour: growing concern among U.S. officials that senior leaders of an al Qaeda cell plotting an imminent attack may have survived an airstrike in Syria this week.

The Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, is back with us to talk about this.

And we have Evan Perez, one of our reporters here at CNN. He is reporting here that U.S. officials believe that at least some of these senior Khorasan group members -- these are the folks who one of our experts has referred to as al Qaeda all-stars -- that they survived this attack. Can you -- can you give us any more information about this?

KIRBY: I'm sorry. I thought you were going to him. No. We're still assessing the results of this strike. And we know that we hit the targets we were aiming at. We know that we -- that we hit some of the capabilities that they had on those sites.

Certainly, we had reason to believe that some of the leadership was present at those sites when the strikes occurred. But again, we're still assessing and it's difficult to do. It's going to take a little time to know what, if any, in terms of individuals were hit as a result of it.

KEILAR: OK. And so can you sort of explain something to me? We just heard from Jim Acosta at the White House. He was reporting that White House officials are still saying that core al Qaeda has been decimated.

And yet Khorasan is this al Qaeda group. It is very much in line with al Qaeda. It's sort of an al Qaeda offshoot. I mean, it is al Qaeda, right? So is it true that you have core al Qaeda having been decimated?

KIRBY: We do believe we've decimated core al Qaeda over the past you know, 10, 12, 13 years; of course we have. And we've had a tremendous effect on them. That doesn't mean that there aren't, as you described it, offshoots and splinter organizations that are affiliated, sometimes loosely, sometimes more tightly, with al Qaeda. They're still out there and still wish us harm.

And the Khorasan group is one of those groups. Small, very potent with lethal capabilities that they were trying to develop. And again, we felt this was a solid case to be made to hit these guys before they got into an execution phase of what could be a very dangerous attack on a western target.

But, yes, of course there's still offshoots that can be very, very dangerous. Just because -- and I think this gets lost a little bit. Just because it may be a, quote, unquote, offshoot of al Qaeda, maybe there's this popular notion that they are less capable or less dangerous or less important. I can tell you here in the Pentagon, we don't look at it that way.

KEILAR: Certainly not. I mean, the abilities of this group are very clear, that they are pretty advanced. All-star al Qaeda, as one of our experts put it.

We heard from Secretary Hagel today. We heard from the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Secretary Hagel saying airstrikes are just the beginning. Martin Dempsey saying there will need to be, obviously, ground troops. It doesn't have to be Americans, he said; other folks in the region. Who else is going to send in ground troops?

KIRBY: We believe that the most important ground forces, particularly in this part of the world, are indigenous ground forces, the people that live there, the people that have to defend their own citizens and their own communities.

So in Iraq, it's Iraqi security forces. Up in the north, of course, we're working closely with the Peshmerga as well. And in Syria, it will be the Syrian moderate opposition. And that's why we're looking forward to getting started on this train-and-equip program that we now have the authorities to do.

But you want people that are competent there in the region on the ground, people that know the ground and the territory and the politics and the culture.

KEILAR: And you need that, certainly, to really capitalize on the airstrikes to have these ground forces. How long is that vetting process going to take so that the Pentagon is comfortable knowing who the Syrian opposition members are that they can rely on?

KIRBY: I think that's a great question, and I'm glad for it. It's going to take some time. We think the recruiting and vetting process will take about three to five months. And then from there, eight to 12 months -- and there's some over there, but eight to 12 months before trainees can go back into Syria, trained, capable, ready to go with leadership in place. It's going to take some time. And I think we need to set all those expectations for folks.

We want to do this right. More than we want to do it fast.

KEILAR: Yes.

KIRBY: Now that we have the authorities, we're going to get started. As Secretary Hagel said today, you know, we've got a team in Saudi Arabia now starting to do the assessments to get ready for the first step in this process.

KEILAR: Have you identified the leaders?

KIRBY: The leaders of the moderate opposition? There are no recognized military leaders of the moderate opposition. And that, frankly, the leadership issue is one of the ones we -- one of the issues we want to try to tackle through this program. We want to help them not only develop basic military skills and organizational competencies but also good leadership skills. That's going to have to be part and parcel of this whole effort.

KEILAR: Dempsey saying today there needs to be a political structure that these soldiers can hook into. Rear Admiral Kirby, thanks so much for being with us.

KIRBY: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

KEILAR: Now coming up, airline chaos. Almost 2,000 flights canceled because of one man's desperate act. Tens of thousands of passengers still feeling the impact right now.

And outrage boiling over in Ferguson, Missouri, with growing calls for the police chief to resign, despite his apology for the shooting death of Michael Brown.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: A fire and an apparent suicide attempt at an air traffic control center have unleashed travel chaos. And right now, the shock waves are still being felt across the U.S. and beyond. CNN's Ted Rowlands is at Chicago's O'Hare Airport for us.

Ted, what happened?

TED ROWLAND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, basically an individual who was working at an off-site air traffic control center in Aurora, Illinois, which is about 40 miles away from Chicago here. This morning at about 6 a.m., he started cutting wires and set a fire in the communications area of the basement of this building, and then he attempted, apparently, to take his own life, stabbing himself several times, according to authorities.

He ended up living, and he's being questioned by authorities that are investigating this. That investigation is being led by the FBI.

The bottom line is, though, he and his actions absolutely shut down traffic to O'Hare, Midway and Milwaukee airports. And you can see the remnants of what he did, still this many hours later. People have been in this airport all day long, trying to get to their destinations.

In the last few hours, there are some planes leaving and coming finally to O'Hare and to Midway airports. However, they're at about one-tenth of what they would normally be operating at in terms of frequency. In all, more than 1,800 flights have been canceled.

A lot of people have not been able to get out. In fact, their flights have been pushed back to either Saturday, Sunday or in some cases, even Monday morning. You can imagine the people that missed weddings, meetings, family events that were very frustrated. Literally tens of thousands of passengers affected by this outage.

KEILAR: Wow. One-tenth what it normally is, that is tremendous, affecting so many people. Ted Rowlands, thank you so much.

Let's bring in now CNN's Tom Foreman. He is looking at how this is being felt across the country.

And you saw it right there, Tom. This is really a travel nightmare.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it really is. At this moment, Brianna, there are still people trapped in Chicago's airports, even though the FAA has now been trying to sort this thing out for hours.

And this is how it all started. If you look at the images from Flight Aware, right after the incident, look at this. This tremendous hole in the sky over the Chicago area. That opened up after all these flights were shut down. Normally with a weekend looming, this would be solidly filled in. But not today.

And then the ripple started, causing cancellations and delays in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas, Missouri and on and on. And because this radar center handles jets at high altitude, even cross-country flights that had nothing to do with this area were affected.

The FAA called in extra help down here in Indianapolis at a center there. But they had trouble transmitting information between computers, and some flight info had to be entered manually. So as of this hour, just as Ted suggested there, as of this hour, about 1,800 flights have been canceled at O'Hare and Midway and big delays for all the folks who are still trying to fly -- Brianna.

KEILAR: 1800 flights because of one person. Amazing.

Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

And next, new anger in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, where the police chief's apology doesn't appear to be helping at all, maybe even hurting.

And in our next hour, a suspect begins his journey back to Virginia but there's still no trace of the college woman who disappeared two weeks ago tonight after being seen with him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We have much more ahead on both major stories that we're following, the airstrikes on ISIS and the threat of terror attacks in retaliation. But tension is near the boiling point again in Ferguson, Missouri.

In the wake of the police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, a new public relations offensive by the town's police chief is generating scorn and resentment.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is in Ferguson.

And many people there, Stephanie, very unhappy yet again with the chief.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's true, Brianna. It was a PR campaign that did not go quite exactly the way the police department wanted it to go.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHIEF THOMAS JACKSON, FERGUSON POLICE: What do you want me --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you mean? What I want --

JACKSON: I'm asking you. This is a serious question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want you --

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON: Talk to me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I have.

(CROSSTALK)

ELAM (voice-over): It was supposed to be the Ferguson Police chief's so-called apology tour.

JACKSON: I've been wanting to apologize.

ELAM: A time to say sorry to the community for how his department handled the shooting death of Mike Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in early August. But instead, Chief Thomas Jackson was outside of police headquarters defending himself against calls for his resignation.

JACKSON: All I've got to say is this is a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) tragedy. We all know that. And I'm sorry and I said it from my heart. You don't -- you don't have to accept that. You don't have to accept that. That came from my heart. I had to get that off my chest. That's been sitting there for two months.

Why can't I talk? Do we have a lynch mob? We've got to increase -- increase training and awareness. We've got to get out into the community, we've got to change our court system and our ticketing system. We've got to change our fine system. No. Seriously. This is where the mistrust is coming from, right? Isn't that right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mistrust is coming from your department.

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON: And all those things that are causing the mistrust have been evaluated and we're going to make changes.

ELAM: Then as the chief attempted to walk with the protesters, a scuffle broke out behind him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please stop it, I was walking next to the chief.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's not the problem, you guys.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He knocked me down. I was not doing anything.

ELAM: In the end, several people were arrested. But there's one man who wasn't there -- Devin James. He's the man behind the Ferguson Police Department's recent public relation outreach, up until he was fired Thursday afternoon by the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership. This after a local newspaper reported that James was convicted of reckless homicide in 2006. James acknowledges this saying he acted in self-defense and served a three-month sentence.

DEVIN JAMES, THE DEVIN JAMES GROUP: Being a government contractor, there's a high level of scrutiny. I mean, they typically do background checks but we always disclose this on the front end because the risk is that you're going to get fired if you don't disclose it. So we had those conversations initially and that's one of the things that they thought was beneficial.

ELAM: In fact Ferguson Mayor James Knowles is standing by James saying he knew about his past and thinks what James has done with his life is amazing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM: And it's also interesting to note that while the partnership, a St. Louis partnership, has fired James, he is going to continue to work with the city of Ferguson, according to the mayor. And it's also interesting to note that when I did talk to Devin James today, he says that he doesn't think that the police chief is a bad man. He thinks that it's a tough situation that he's in but he doesn't believe that he's a racist.

So lots of interesting people here backing each other in ways even as these other little scandals keep popping up, Brianna.

KEILAR: Definitely very interesting. And we're going to break this all down.

Stephanie Elam in Ferguson, thank you so much.

Joining me now to talk about this here in THE SITUATION ROOM, CNN law enforcement analyst and former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes, we have CNN anchor Don Lemon who covered the violence in Ferguson.

We're also joined by NAACP Board Member John Gaskin who is on the ground in Ferguson as well.

To you, first, John, what is your reaction to what the police chief said?

JOHN GASKIN, NAACP BOARD MEMBER: Well, it appears that basic mistakes continue to be made. As I said yesterday, the apology, I think it's good that he did apologize. But it's been over a month ago. And it's almost -- it seems almost as though it's too late. And what people -- many people on the ground are feeling that same thing. But to be out there with protesters at 11:00 at night, I don't really see the benefit of what going out there would have done.

You've got people that are very upset. I know that I've talked to some people there that, you know, have contact with him saying that he was trying to march with the protesters or protest with them. You know, it's very concerning these blunders that continue to be made almost on a daily basis.

KEILAR: And yes. And speaking of that, Don, he -- I mean, he said lynch mob, just in terms of mistakes, his word choice is unbelievable.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, listen, I don't want to -- honestly, I don't want to beat up on the police chief. And I think --

KEILAR: And you've said that you feel like he's a good guy, he's trying.

LEMON: He is a nice guy.

KEILAR: But?

LEMON: But he doesn't understand the situation. And he is -- you know, he needed a PR person. But he needed a PR person right after the shooting to come out. He needed authenticity then and transparency then. And so it's taken too long for him to get here.

John is being very nice and he's choosing his words. The question that I asked to Stephanie Elam earlier, I wanted to

say, what the hell was he thinking? That's what I would say to him. If had an interview with him, I would say what the hell were you thinking? That's not going to work. Anybody would know that. But I think he is -- just being honest, he's such a -- he's like your uncle at the Thanksgiving who says inappropriate things and he's funny and you love it when he comes over. But that doesn't necessarily mean you want them representing you or speaking for you.

KEILAR: Yes.

LEMON: So I think that it was a blunder. He continues to make them. And sometimes you must know when to exit the stage.

KEILAR: Tom, you make a really interesting point about that. And that is that he is apologizing but he's apologizing for the wrong thing.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right. And the one thing he could have done from the beginning was the afternoon of the shooting while the body laid there, that wasn't his fault. That's Missouri law. The medical examiner has charge of the body. The body is not allowed to be moved until the forensic evidence technicians do their job. And in this case, that's St. Louis County. He doesn't have that skill set on his police department. And the county technicians were an hour and a half away at another critical incident.

So the shooting happened shortly after noon. They don't even arrive, the first of the evidence technicians don't arrive at the scene for an hour and a half. And then they have to do their job. So -- and you can't cover the body and do other things with the body because it will disturb hairs, fibers, evidence.

KEILAR: Yes.

FUENTES: So that part of it -- what he should have been doing or a high-ranking officer from Ferguson should have been out in front of that crowd as they were gathering at the scene and explain to them. It's not disrespect, it's not anything like that. We're not allowed --

KEILAR: This is what's happening. And to that point --

FUENTES: This is what's happening. Give information to alleviate the crowd thinking it's disrespect, starting to think bad thoughts about the police department in the very first beginning of this whole situation.

KEILAR: Which --

LEMON: And the people on the street -- the people out on the street weren't the only people who were upset by his presence and by the apology. You know, I spoke with Ron Johnson today, who's head of the Missouri Highway Patrol who's been put in charge of security. And he thought it was ill-timed as well. He said he spoke with the chief and he thinks the chief is a nice guy and his intentions were good. But the timing is wrong. And the process -- it's really all

about the process and how you handle it. And he's handling it the wrong way.

KEILAR: John, can he rebuild trust? Is there a chance to do that or has that ship sailed?

GASKIN: You know, at some point when cancer takes the body and which it has doing in Ferguson, it is often -- and I think Mr. Lemon can speak on that. He's been in Ferguson. He knows what's going on.

There is almost a zero level of credibility for the elected officials there and for law enforcement there. It is probably best that they start from scratch and simply start over, to begin the process of healing and establishing transparency and credibility. That's the only way it's going to be done.

KEILAR: If the grand jury indicts the officer, do you think that has an effect here?

GASKIN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

KEILAR: In terms of -- do you think that has an effect in terms of the police department should still start from scratch?

GASKIN: Absolutely. Absolutely. For this event to have occurred with Michael Brown, there's obviously a much bigger problem here. It's unfortunate that Michael Brown had to have been killed. It's very unfortunate. But I believe this shooting has sparked a bigger movement, taking a look into what is really happening in the city of Ferguson. And so these changes are going to have to take place or what we saw last night is going to continue to happen. And this is going to be a nightly, nightly event.

KEILAR: All right, John, Don, Tom, stick around with me. We're going to talk a little bit more about this. I want to ask you about yet another bizarre twist there in Ferguson, the man handling the police chief's PR offensive has been fired because of his connection to a fatal shooting.

We'll talk about that next.

And at the top of the hour, we have breaking news, sources say terrorists targeted by U.S. airstrikes in Syria may have gotten away.

Plus, new developments in the case of the missing University of Virginia student.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Stay with us for more on the breaking news about the U.S. airstrikes on al Qaeda linked terrorists and the latest developments in the search for a missing college student in Virginia.

Right now, though, our panel is back to discuss yet another bizarre twist of events in Ferguson, Missouri. Check this out. The man handling the police chief's public

relations offensive has lost his job. A newspaper revealed that Devin James' connection -- they revealed his connection to a decade-old shooting for which he was convicted of reckless homicide in 2006.

James tells CNN's Stephanie Elam the shooting was in self-defense and that he's always been up front about it with people who hire him.

John Gaskin, with the NAACP, first question to you on this. What is your reaction to the fact that, one, there was this PR offensive, and that two, this was the man in charge of it?

GASKIN: Well, that's concerning. And it is concerning -- you know, it makes me wonder who is making these types of decisions. As I just mentioned before the last break, these blunders that are occurring day after day in terms of government leadership, there is really a question in terms of who has hired this young man to do this job and the fact that someone with that type of obstacle on his record rather has been put in charge at advising the Ferguson police chief and the mayor of the city of Ferguson during such a terrible time when they're supposed to be creating transparency and bridging a divide that seems to be widening by the day.

That really concerns me, and I think the citizens -- but I'm sure you guys have heard about the amount of money that's also being charged here. I think the citizens of Ferguson and of St. Louis County need to really be bringing these people to task on what is being done here.

KEILAR: Tom, our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes. When you look at this, is this bizarre to you, that this is something that would be put in place for a PR offensive with the police department? I mean, no one is going to argue that this police department doesn't need some better PR, but this is a very sort of formal and odd situation, isn't it?

FUENTES: What's interesting is it gives the appearance of insincerity, as John mentioned. And it shows that Ferguson PD seems unable to do practically anything on its own in terms of they can't do the evidence processing the investigation. The crowd control. That was all handled by other police departments. And in this situation, why don't they have a public information officer.

Why don't they have people trained in dealing with the media and controlling information during a critical incident? As I mentioned, the flow of information to the public should have started on the afternoon of the shooting, the evening of the shooting, the day after the shooting. You don't hear anything for days. And then, of course, really everything from the time of the shooting, from the time Officer Wilson fires his gun, from that point on, everything is being handled by the county.

From the medical examiner to the evidence technicians to the crowd control in that first couple of days that looked so, you know, militaristic, as everybody said, then turned over to the state police. So really from the time of the shooting onward, Ferguson PD really had no management of the situation and nobody else really stepped in.

Where was the sheriff of St. Louis County to say here's how we're going to process the crime scene, here's how long it's going to take? And when the crowd control situation became so much of a focus of attention, where was he to describe here's what we're doing and why? You don't really see anybody speak to that until later in the week.

KEILAR: Yes.

FUENTES: You see the governor, and then Captain Johnson from the state police.

KEILAR: It speaks, certainly, Don, I think to a lack of someone being a liaison between the police department and the people of Ferguson. You almost saw that as Tom was pointing out from the get- go, from the fact that there was no one there explaining to the people at the crime scene what was going on, this sort of lack of outreach. And it makes you wonder sort of -- maybe why they thought something like this, a formal PR situation in choosing this guy to do it, why that would work?

LEMON: Well, Tom is right. He hit the nail on the head when he said listen, there is no public information officer. Every single police department that I've ever been in contact with has a public information officer, where you call -- usually.

KEILAR: Yes.

LEMON: Where you call and you say, listen, I need to talk to this person when you're talking about --

KEILAR: Even if they're small.

LEMON: Right. Even if they're small.

KEILAR: Someone who normally wears two hats, right?

LEMON: Right. They don't have that.

Listen, I think that this has been a comedy of errors. It's sad that obviously that a life has been lost here. But the handling of the situation is a comedy of errors. And I would say that the Ferguson Police Department needs Olivia Pope, but I don't think Olivia Pope could even fix what's happening in the Ferguson Police Department. It is just that bad. Every day it seems to be something else.

Listen, this -- this country is all about restitution. All about second chances. I understand that, giving people -- allowing people to move on, speaking about Devin James here. He should be able to move on and live his life. If he's paid for whatever it is that he's done or if he was found not guilty.

But when you're in a situation like this, you must dot your I's and cross your T's and you have to look at everything, including people's backgrounds. KEILAR: Yes.

LEMON: If you're going to have someone who has killed someone be your fixer, that does not look good.

KEILAR: No, it's key.

LEMON: That doesn't look good.

KEILAR: It's amazing that they did not pick up on that.

LEMON: And they need a fixer and they need a public information officer. And the Ferguson police chief needs to have a handler, a good handler, so that he doesn't go out into crowds, hostile crowds at night.

KEILAR: And really -- yes.

LEMON: When there's been unrest.

KEILAR: And make things perhaps worse.

LEMON: Yes.

KEILAR: Don Lemon, thank you so much. John Gaskin, thanks for joining us. Tom Fuentes, thanks to you for your law enforcement expertise.

And coming up, we have exclusive video. It's really unbelievable. It's a battle with ISIS, and CNN was there as this fighting erupted between terrorists and Kurdish forces. Those figures, those are ISIS fighters that you are looking at.

Plus, we also have new developments in the disappearance of a Virginia college student. A suspect is now being sent back to that state from Texas. Will he help lead investigators to this missing woman?