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New President of Afghanistan Sworn In; Pro-Democracy Protests Continue in Hong Kong; China Censors Hong Kong Coverage; Terror Suspect Arrested in Spanish Enclave; Terror Trial Begins in Belgium; Parting Shots: Aircraft Carrier in Action

Aired September 29, 2014 - 11:00   ET


MAX FOSTER, HOST: The protesters are still out in numbers, but the riot police are nowhere to be seen, a peaceful turn to Hong Kong's pro-

democracy demonstration. We'll analyze what this means for the territory's rocky relations with Beijing.

Also ahead, Barack Obama admits America underestimated the militant threat. We're live on the Turkey-Syria border as the U.S. and its allies

target ISIS.

And a new dawn in Afghanistan, high hopes for a power-sharing process in a nation crippled by conflict.

ANNOUNCER: This is the hour we Connect the World.

FOSTER: We're keeping a close eye on the United Nations for you as well, the General Assembly there. That the representative of the Holy See

is speaking right now. Syria's deputy prime minister is up next. We'll bring that to you live.

One of the most crowded places on earth is now looking particularly crowded.

Hong Kong remains in the grips of pro-democracy protests on an unprecedented scale.

The territory in Mainland China are supposed to represent one country and two political systems, but demonstrators say the two have become

dangerously intertwined with Beijing smothering a move towards a free and fair election.

We're crossing over now to the United Nations General Assembly for you where Syria's deputy prime minister is speaking. Let's listen in.


FOSTER: The deputy Syrian prime minister speaking there at the United Nations General Assembly. And talking about pooling efforts to fight

terrorism, also talking about a political solution in Syria over an opposition that doesn't support terrorism.

Let's go to Arwa Damon. She's been listening to that from the Turkey- Syria border.

A lot of the language we recognize from western leaders there as well, but was he throwing his support behind the coalition which is fighting ISIS

in his country?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, not in the least. And one also needs to recognize that the Syrian government since the onset

of the Syrian revolution now, the civil war now, this massive battlefield that we have going on against ISIS, most certainly has morphed and changed

over the years, but this rhetoric about combating terrorism and the need for a political solution, this is something that we have been hearing from

the Syrian authorities for quite some time now, ever since this all began.

And drawing Turkey further into the conflict is yet another mortar round that we are just hearing landing inside Turkish territory. Right

across the border from where we are is the town of Kobani in northern Syria. It is a town under siege. ISIS, despite these coalition

airstrikes, moving slowly towards it.

Turkey finding itself now struggling not only to house over 1.5 million refugees, the 200,000 plus that have come through its borders from

Syrian, most of them Syrian Kurds, but now also over the last two days we have seen increasing mortar rounds landing inside Turkish territory, the

military beefing up its presence along this border. There is a massive plume of smoke that we can't really turn the camera around to show you at

this stage, but it is around the corner further down.

Turkey, we have been seeing over the last two days, responding when mortars are landing inside its territory. It changed its policy, it

changed the way that it was operating along this border around two-and-a- half years ago when five civilians were killed by a mortar round that was fired or landed accidentally inside Turkish territory. They now do say

that they do respond in kind.

We've been seeing a little bit of that over the last few days as well.

But this most certainly a very complex, complicated battlefield. That rhetoric we were hearing there at the United Nations, nothing necessarily

different what we've been hearing from the Syrian government in the past, but the Syrian regime right now does get to stand up and say, I told you we

were fighting terrorism all along.

While that might not necessarily be the entire reality as it is, given that an organization like ISIS and the other more extreme Islamist

organizations are much more a byproduct of the revolutions -- evolution than they are of something that existed when the Syrian uprising first

began three-and-a-half years ago.

But again we're seeing this battlefield -- Syria, Iraq -- growing even more global, growing even more complicated and intricate as it draws in not

only Syria's neighbors, but other key players in the region and around the world, Max.

FOSTER: Arwa, thank you very much indeed.

And on that note, still to come tonight members of a suspected Islamic militant cell accused of recruiting for ISIS are picked up in Spain and

Morocco. A live report on that coming up.

Also, thousands remain on Hong Kong's streets, but will it also be a sleepless night for lawmakers in Beijing? We'll speak to a well known

China watcher in just a moment for you.


FOSTER: This is CONNECT THE WORLD, the top stories this hour. It's late in the night in Hong Kong, but thousands of protesters are refusing to

budge from the city's streets. They're making a stand against what they see as Beijing's growing influence. Protests were peaceful on Monday

following Sunday night clashes with riot police.

The militant group ISIS is advancing closer to the Kurdish town of Kobani, Syria, near the border with Turkey. An ISIS fighter says the group

was prepared for coalition airstrikes.

Meanwhile, US President Obama said the US government underestimated what was taking place in Syria during the civil war, allowing jihadists

from around the world to gain a foothold there.

Nearly four dozen suspects are on trial for alleged terrorist activities in Belgium. Many of them are accused of belonging to a radical

group called Sharia4Belgium. The man who's said to be the leader of the group, not shown here, is accused of recruiting people to go to fight for

extremists in Syria.

Ashraf Ghani has been sworn in as Afghanistan's new president. Rival candidate Abdullah Abdullah was sworn in as chief executive as part of a

unity agreement reached after months'-long disputes over the vote. This marks the first peaceful democratic transition of power in Afghanistan.

Let's take a closer look at some of the challenges facing this new unity government. Joining me now from Kabul is Fawzia Koofi, a member of

Afghanistan's parliament and the chairperson of the Women's Civil Society Human Rights Commission. Thank you so much, indeed, for joining us for

this. Is this an historic moment for Afghanistan?

FAWZIA KOOFI, MEMBER OF AFGHANISTAN PARLIAMENT: It is, because Afghanistan was almost at the corner of another conflict, but with the

formation of the national unity government and the political agreement to form this government, I think many of us now believe that at least for some

years ahead, the political crisis and disputes over the election will end.

FOSTER: It's one thing, the symbolicness of this moment, which obviously has been welcomed within Afghanistan. But in terms of what he

was saying, a promise to end corruption, crucial, I know, to you and to many other people working in politics in Kabul. But do you feel that he's

going to the mandate and the power to see that through? Do you think it's going to lead to real change?

KOOFI: The challenge is always with unity governments and governments of coalition is it's very difficult to pursue reforms and changes. We hope

that there will be positive changes, especially in the area as the previous government was not able to pursue, like strengthened rule of law,


We do think the gap and disparity between life in the cities and like in the villages mean reducing poverty, creating jobs and changing the daily

life of people. Increasing the income of people in urban but also in the rural areas.

These were, of course, the protection go women's rights, which was one of the failures of the previous government, at least when it comes to the

violence against women. And also our relationship with foreign countries and particularly with our strategy partners are sill the major challenges

ahead of the next government.

And usually, with governments that a lot of actors are involved. It's always difficult to pursue such reforms. And particularly when you have

people who less believe in the reforms and this government.

Yes, there are individuals who come with an agenda of reforms and changes, but there are others who have been dueling Afghanistan for years

and years, and traditionally they have been dueling Afghanistan.

So, I hope that the government, the future -- this government, the future activities will be able to bring those reforms. But in the

meantime, I'm concerned that with involving so many actors, there might be personal agendas that will be pursued under the name of reforms.

So, we need to be careful when it comes to reforms. Yes, we want reforms, positive reforms. But in the meantime, we need to make sure that

there is no individual's influence, because there are different actors with different backgrounds, with different political agendas in this government

of unity.

FOSTER: And through that process, all of these conflicts and these -- all the corruption I've mentioned already, you've lost so much faith,

haven't you, within Afghanistan and the political system?

People just don't feel engaged and they don't feel that there's a stake in there for them, because so many people have taken some personal

gain, haven't they, out of the political system? Do you think that's changing now? Do you think you can get Afghans involved in politics again?

KOOFI: Well, I hope that both the president and the CEO will make sure that people who surround them and people who advise them will not be

the same faces repeated that we have seen in the past 13 years.

Because unfortunately, these were the people who gathered around Karzai and surrounded Karzai, President Karzai, ex-president of

Afghanistan, and didn't let him be close to people and let -- and be aware of the people's needs.

So, I was -- I saw today that some of these repeated faces tried to make themselves connected with the two figures that are involved in this

national unity government, president and the CEO. I hope that both of them -- I'm sure they're clever enough to ensure that they have the right

advisors, that they -- make sure that the right people are in the right place.

Because if they are surrounded again with the same repeated faces, I'm not really hopeful that actually the issues we mentioned, in terms of the

gap and disparities that so many people -- or some people have become so rich, and a lot of people still are very poor. The gap between that

disparity still need to be filled out.

But it comes through the rule of law to deliver, of course, discrimination to people who are not close to power and people who were

close to power. When it comes to fight against corruption, we know many famous cases, but there were less actions taken.

So, I hope there is no exceptions when it comes to good governance in the future government. And in particular, I would like to stress out that

both figures need to make sure that they have the right people in the right places and get rid of those individuals who actually were the reason that

President Karzai couldn't connect with people.

FOSTER: OK, Fawzia Koofi, thank you very much, indeed. A lot of work ahead in Afghan politics. Appreciate your time.

We're going to return, now, to another of our top stories, though, because the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have been watched by our

senior international correspondent Ivan Watson. He spent the past couple of days there in the thick of the demonstrations. Here's his view from the

streets of downtown Hong Kong today.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is a sea of humanity occupying downtown Hong Kong on Monday night. You can see

thousands and thousands of people who have taken over the main highway that runs through this financial hub, and listen to them chanting.


WATSON: They're often chanting the word "hah toih," which means "resign." They're referring to the highest official here in Hong Kong, the

chief executive, C.Y. Leung. And he has been a particular target of derision by these protesters, who've hung up signs here that say the words

in English, "Do you hear the people sing?"

Also demanding universal suffrage. That's the chief demand here, for free and fair elections in 2017. To not, as the current rules indicate,

allow the central government in Beijing, the ruling Communist Party, to appoint nominees for election, but instead to let citizens of this city get

a chance to select who they will vote for if these elections do, in fact, take place.

This is a test of wills that has brought an entire city, its downtown, to a halt. It is likely to cost the Hong Kong economy millions of dollars.

But the very young people who make up the bulk of these demonstrators, they insist that they will not go anywhere until their democratic demands are


Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


FOSTER: Well, the sheer scale of the protest is really impressive, and they're being seen around the world, of course. But the picture is

very different for the 1.3 billion people in Hong Kong's neighbor, mainland China.

Take a look at this, for example. The English language home page of China's news agency, Xinhua, there's no mention of Hong Kong at all. And

that's something Beijing wants with news articles and social media being heavily censored there. So, just what is China so afraid of?

Frank Ching is a veteran journalist and a political commentator on China. He joins us from Hong Kong right now. First of all, I just want to

mention the difference between Sunday and Monday. We had those very violent scenes, which played into the hands of the protesters, didn't they,

in large part? And today, the police are there --


FOSTER: -- but they don't have all of the riot gear. Is there a message within that from China?

CHING: Well, no, I don't know that it's from China. I think it's the Hong Kong government realizing that they went overboard last night, Sunday

night, when the riot police were called in and teargas was used very liberally.

And I think people watching this at home on television sympathized with the protesters. And they felt that the protesters had not done

anything to deserve that kind of treatment. That is, they had set no fires, no cars were overturned, no windows are broken. In fact, there was

no violence until the police used teargas.

So, I think this is really a struggle for the hearts and minds of the people of Hong Kong, who are watching these things develop on television.

And I must say, Sunday night, I think most people sympathized with the protesters because the police used so much violence.

Today, I think the police have learned their lesson and the riot police are gone, and now it's just ordinary policemen without the riot

gear. And I think that the atmosphere is much more relaxed. And people, I think, are much more relaxed as a result.

FOSTER: But what is going to be the response here from Beijing. You say the Hong Kong government, but obviously they're independent to a

certain extent, but they're led by what the thinking is in Beijing. And Beijing just isn't going to move on this election that's coming up. It's

not going to make changes, is it, in response to this?

CHING: No. Beijing doesn't respond very well to threats and pressure. So, I think the protesters are asking for Beijing to withdraw

its decision. And I don't think anything is going to cause Beijing to withdraw its position.

Then the protesters are asking for the Hong Kong chief executive, C.Y. Leung, to step down, to resign. And I think if Beijing brought about his

resignation, it would be tantamount to saying that they had made a mistake in appointing him in the first place and making the decision that they did.

Now, I think 11 years ago in 2003, there was this huge protest by half a million people, and they called for the resignation of the then-chief

executive, Mr. Tung. And eventually, he did resign. But it took two years for him to resign. And two years later, Beijing found him another job, and

he resigned, and he was replaced.

But if Beijing were to get the current chief executive to resign now, I think it would be tantamount to admitting that they were wrong, they had

made a mistake. And they would never admit that.

FOSTER: And whilst the world knows what's going on in Hong Kong, as we've mentioned, the people in mainland China don't know what's going on.

And that is obviously the Chinese authorities saying don't look at this, don't get any ideas about what's happening in Hong Kong. We're in control.

We're going to regard that as separate. Their main constituency in China is actually unaffected by this. So, the power base of Beijing isn't

affected at all?

CHING: Yes. Well, by and large, I think the Chinese government doesn't really want its people to know what's going on in Hong Kong.

Partly it's because they don't want people to realize what a big problem there is now in Hong Kong as a result of the decision they made at the end

of August.

Also, they do not want people in the mainland to get the idea that it's OK to have these big protests and to call for the resignation of the

head of the government. They certainly don't want to plant these ideas in the minds of the people on the mainland.

FOSTER: OK, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us. Frank Ching from Hong Kong. We're going to keep across that story and see how things

develop tonight as well.

Live from Abu Dhabi, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Spain and Morocco say they've arrested terror suspects of a militant cell, including

its leader. A live report on that is coming up for you.

And a former jihadist recruit becomes the star witness against a Belgian terrorist organization. Find out how he was convinced to testify,

just ahead.


FOSTER: Authorities in Spain and Belgium are dealing with two cases of homegrown terrorism. The alleged leader of a militant cell with ties to

ISIS is in custody. Mohamed Said Mohamed in the Spanish territory of Melilla in northern Morocco. Nima Elbagir joins us from the Spanish

enclave with more details on this. Do we know about this problem in that area?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Spanish authorities say, Max, that 51 Spaniards, many from here in Melilla, have

made their way to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside ISIS.

In fact, the Spanish judge, when he read out his five-page ruling regarding the continued remanding in custody of Mohamed Said, said that he

believed that two of the alleged cell members from here in Melilla are already on their way to Syria and Iraq, had actually escaped capture.

The concern, of course, is that Melilla is where Europe meets Africa. This is a huge point of vulnerability in so-called fortress Europe. It's

best known, of course, for those famous pictures of sub-Saharan migrants storming that perimeter fence that separates Melilla from the rest of

northern Morocco.

It really gives you a sense of how much worry is building up, not just in Spain, but across Europe. We spoke with some of those refugees detained

here at the center here in Melilla about how they came up into Melilla from Algiers, from Morocco, and they all tell a very similar tale.

They say that they were able to obtain falsified Moroccan passports. They got through the legitimate crossing point, and then they claimed

asylum here in Melilla. And that's got to be very, very worrying for the authorities in Europe, and very, very worrying given that the Moroccan

authorities, the Interior Ministry, have said that they believe 1500 to 2,000 Moroccans have made their way to fight alongside ISIS, Max.

FOSTER: And an indication of how closely authorities in multiple countries, multiple agencies are actually working together right now on

this threat.

ELBAGIR: This was a joint Spanish-Moroccan operation. So, the alleged cell leader, Mohamed Said, was picked up here in Melilla, and then

eight more were picked up across the border in Morocco, in Nador.

And this isn't the first one. There have been four separate operations and 24 arrests. This isn't even the first time Mohamed Said was

picked up. There have been allegations for a while that he's been involved in other criminal activities.

But everyone we speak to, whether on the Moroccan side or here on the Spanish side, they're saying the same thing, Max. It's not enough. We are

not able to do enough. There needs to be a greater cooperation and a greater recognizability of the -- recognition of the fact that Melilla is

such a point of vulnerability.

And just going back to that point of what we've been hearing from the refugees, that route that they described to us, coming up from Algeria,

through Morocco, and then here to Melilla. That's the same route that many of these alleged ISIS militants are believed to be taking in the opposite

direction to Syria and Iraq.

And it's also the route that Jund al-Khilafah, the Algerian militant group that's allied itself with ISIS, that's the route they're threatening

to take up here towards Europe. So, this really is increasingly becoming a bigger focal point for the fight against militancy, Max.

FOSTER: Nima, thank you very much, indeed. And on that note, it's being called one of the biggest terror trials that Belgium has ever seen.

Nearly four dozen people are facing charges for terrorism-related activity there. Many are accused of belonging to an extremist group called

Sharia4Belgium. Atika Shubert has the details of the trial.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, this is one of the first major trials to actually target those fighters traveling

from Europe into Syria and Iraq. There are 46 defendants in all, so it's a big case. But only 10 showed up in court today, and that's because the

rest of them are either still fighting out there or are believed to have been killed in the conflict.

Now, we had a chance to speak with the father of one of those fighters who has returned and is now testifying in court. Take a listen.


SHUBERT (voice-over): Islamist fighters in Syria, but speaking Flemish, easily identifying them as Belgian. The government estimates that

more than 300 Belgian fighters like these have traveled to Syria to join the ranks of militant groups like ISIS.

Nearly a quarter of those are believed to have links to this man, Fouad Belkacem, the head of Sharia4Belgium, a banned Islamic extremist

group based in Antwerp. Now, Belkacem is the main suspect in the country's biggest terror trial, accused of leading a terrorist organization and

recruiting young Muslims to its cause. The father of one recruit says Belkacem brainwashed his son into joining a cult.

DIMITRI BONTNICK, FATHER OF JIHADIST RECRUIT: He prepared them to make the jihad in conflict areas like Syria. It's like a kind of drug,

like an injection in your arm.

SHUBERT: Dimitri Bontnick's anger is understandable. His son, Jejoen, was recruited by Sharia4Belgium at just 16 years old. In their

videos, he is seated next to Belkacem and is featured as one of their most popular street preachers in Antwerp.

But Jejoen was no ordinary recruit. He eventually traveled to Syria, joining Majilis as-Shura al-Mujahidin, a group of foreign fighters

ultimately absorbed by ISIS.

After nearly a year inside, his father tracked him down in Syria and convinced him to come home and, incredibly, to tell Belgian police

everything he knew about jihadist recruitment to Syria, despite death threats from former Sharia4Belgium members.

BONTNICK: My son gave very good cooperation. He told the truth, how he was influenced by this sect. Because he's the golden crown witness.

Without my son, they have nothing today.

SHUBERT: Now Jejoen is a key witness against Belkacem, even as he faces charges himself of being a member of a terrorist organization. But

Dimitri Bontnick insists Belkacem is not the only one to blame.

SHUBERT (on camera): So, do you blame Belkacem?

BONTNICK: I don't blame only Belkacem. I blame the Western governments also, because they have blood on their hands also.

SHUBERT: Because they didn't arrest him?

BONTNICK: They didn't arrest Belkacem. They know that the Belkacem was recruiting and selecting Western children. If there was no

Sharia4Belgium, my son would never have been -- gone to Syria. There is no doubt about this. Let us be clear about this.

SHUBERT (voice-over): CNN has attempted to contact Sharia4Belgium and Belkacem's lawyer. We have not received a response. But over the next few

days and weeks, his story will unfold in court.


SHUBERT: Now, Fouad Belkacem faces up to 15 years maximum, and Jejoen Bontnick could get 5 years. But we don't expect a verdict for about

another month yet. Max?

FOSTER: Atika Shubert, there. Now, live from Abu Dhabi, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Do stay with us. Your Parting Shots are next.


FOSTER: The battle against ISIS is taking place on the ground and in the air. A crucial aspect of the fight is centered not far from here, in

fact, on the waters of the Gulf. US aircraft carriers play a key role in the airstrikes against militants in Syria and Iraq. And in tonight's

Parting Shots, here's a flavor of life on board as seen through the eyes of the crew on the flight deck.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, a normal day, when we come up, when we're about to load aircraft, what we do is we come over to the bomb form over

here and we check out ordnance. It's always very fast-paced, with never a slow moment for us. We're constantly coming here, grab it, go, load it,

come back, grab it, load it. Aircraft come back, unload it, get more and load it.

Right there, that's what they're doing right now, they're checking out the ordnance to go load it on their aircraft right there.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You get off working 12 hours, we need to get some downtime. What I do is, I go to the gym. I like to work out. I've got to

stay fit to Navy standard. That and my job requires us to be fit.

And then also sometimes it's nice just to go sit down in some AC, down in the galley area. It's nice and cool down there, so, that's another

thing I like to do.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, they'll be ready to go take off on flight schedule. It'll be the next event. What we do before it takes off,

we make sure it's safe for flight. We just walk it over, make sure your weapons are good. Make sure that they're going to do what they were put on

here to do.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Protect the country.



FOSTER: I'm Max Foster, that was CONNECT THE WORLD. Thank you very much, indeed, for watching.