Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Troops Arrive in Iraq's Anbar Province; Iraq: ISIS Leader Injured in Airstrike Interview with Sen. Angus King of Maine; Nuke Deal Imperiled as Iran Threatens Israel; 2 More Israelis Dead in Stabbing Attacks

Aired November 10, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, on the front lines -- American troops return to Iraq's bloody Anbar Province. Their job is not to fight against ISIS, but can they avoid it?

And the fate of the top ISIS leader reportedly wounded in a U.S.-led airstrike. We're going to have new details.

"Eliminate Israel" -- that chilling declaration from Iran's top leader, as a new wave of attacks takes the lives of two more Israelis.

Behind the hostage release -- stunning new information on North Korea's freeing of two more Americans and new insight on the brutal regime that let them go.

Plus, the suspect in the UVA abduction case will be back in court.

But why will he face a new judge?

And what's the DNA evidence that could link him to yet another crime?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And let's get right to the breaking news. The first U.S. troops arrive in Iraq's al-Anbar Province, a bloody battleground for Americans during the Iraqi insurgency, now at the center of a relentless ISIS onslaught. We have new details on the fate of the top ISIS leader. Iraqi officials say Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was wounded this weekend in a coalition airstrike.

If he's out of action, how big of a blow would that be to ISIS?

And Iran is claiming credit for blocking ISIS attempts to besiege Baghdad. The Iranians say a top Revolutionary Guard commander has led forces against the terror group in Iraq. We're going live this hour to Tehran.

And Senator Angus King is standing by, along with our correspondents, our analysts, our newsmakers. As the United States moves to double its strength in Iraq, the first American troops have now arrived in the very dangerous Anbar Province. U.S. forces faced years of bloody combat there during the Iraqi insurgency and Anbar is now on the front line of the brutal ISIS assault.

Let's go live to our Pentagon correspondent.

She has the very latest -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, U.S. boots back on the ground in Anbar Province. I don't think most military personnel thought that would ever happen, but here we are.

About 50 troops landed at Al-Assad Air Base in Anbar, one of the sites, as you say, of some of the bloodiest fighting for U.S. troops during the Iraq War.

Why are the 50 troops there?

Basically, they're doing something very technical, a site survey. But a site survey so more U.S. troops, more U.S. advisers can go in and start training the Iraqi forces to go on the offense.

This is the goal now, get Iraqi forces back out in the field on the offense in key areas, especially Anbar Province. This is an ISIS stronghold. It is the Western approach to Baghdad. It is becoming a matter of some urgency to push ISIS back, further back toward Syria. And President Obama making very clear this is the strategy now, get the Iraqis to go on the offense, get them to push ISIS away from the key crucial areas, the capital and other areas in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, why is it so tough to pin down the fate of the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi?

Iraqi officials say he was at least wounded in the weekend coalition airstrike.

STARR: Well, there have been a number of different rumors coming out of Iraq, one that he was wounded in a coalition airstrike in Mosul. That appears to be much less likely now. It appears now that the Iraqis had intelligence he was 250 miles away to the southwest, near Al-Qa'im, a border town with Syria. The Iraqis acted on that intelligence and conducted an airstrike there. The Iraqis believe that he was possibly wounded based on the intelligence they had. The U.S. says it's not really sure what Iraq's intelligence was in that airstrike. And as for their own airstrike back up in Mosul, they struck a convoy of 10 vehicles not really knowing who was inside, but they had reason to believe a bunch of ISIS leaders were there.

So it's been a bit confusing to sort out. But it's beginning to look more likely that these rumors emanate from Iraqi intelligence on a border town with Syria over the weekend, where the Iraqis conducted an airstrike -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much. So if Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was, indeed, a casualty of their airstrike -- that airstrike, how big of a blow would that be to ISIS?

Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is joining us.

She's near the Turkish/Syrian border.

What are you hearing -- Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if, in fact, he has been injured or even killed, one has to take this into consideration. Yes, it would be something of a victory for the coalition, for all those who want to see the ISIS leaders' demise. But when it comes to the demise of the organization in and of itself, well, that's not likely to actually be impacted.

Let's just look at ISIS's evolution. It came out of the ashes of the Iraqi state of Iraq, i.e. Al Qaeda in Iraq, that the U.S. believed it had largely defeated. Yet it was able to reemerge and became an even more powerful entity than it has been in the past.

Then let's also look at the way that Al-Baghdadi has structured ISIS. Yes, he has himself at the top, but he has a number of deputies. He has a cabinet. He has a war office. In some areas, like in the stronghold of Raqqah, ISIS's governance is very prominent. They have ministries.

So the organization's structure is not heavily reliant on its leadership, but rather, it is established as an organization that could continue to function even if its top tier leadership has been removed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon on the scene for us.

Arwa, thanks very much.

Be careful over there.

If the senior leader of ISIS was killed or incapacitated, who would replace him?

Our Brian Todd is joining us now.

He's looking into this part of the story.

What are you learning -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the top contenders to replace Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi have carved their own reputations for brutality in Saddam Hussein's military. They'd have the challenge of following a mythical figure who's led ISIS like a corporate chieftain with a $10 million bounty on his head.


TODD (voice-over): He runs the terror group like a CEO, with spreadsheets on missions, assassinations and captured assets. He's cultivated a reputation for viciousness, shrouded in secrecy, except for one occasion -- a sermon in Mosul, where he emerged from the shadows, and, flashing an expensive watch, exhorted his followers.

ABU BAKR AL-BAGHDADI, ISIS LEADER (through translator): You should take up jihad to please God and fight in his name.

TODD: Tonight, U.S. officials cannot confirm whether ISIS leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was killed or wounded in coalition airstrikes over the weekend.

(on camera): How much trouble would they be in without him?

LAUREN SQUIRES, INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR: ISIS likely has a clear line of succession. This is a bureaucratic organization with a deep bench. And either they have -- either Baghdadi has signed off on a line of succession himself or the shura council has agreed to a line of succession.

TODD (voice-over): According to terrorism researchers, Baghdadi has two principal deputies, Abu Muslim Al-Turkmani and Abu Ali Al-Anbari. Turkmani oversees ISIS operations in Iraq. Anbari fills that role in Syria.

PETER NEUMANN, KING'S COLLEGE: These people who had previously served in Saddam Hussein's army were extremely brutal because Saddam Hussein's regime was very brutal. But they also inherited the disciplines and the military skills that are now benefiting ISIS in its campaign against its enemies.

TODD: Analysts say Turkmani could make a strong case to take the reins of ISIS if Baghdadi is taken out.

SQUIRES: He also would have had to have a lot of outstanding qualities, either in the military field or in the political field. And that certainly makes him a potential contender.

TODD: There's also 37-year-old Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, a Syrian, chief spokesman for ISIS, who, in September, issued a call for ISIS supporters to launch lone wolf attacks.

Analysts say some of Baghdadi's top deputies were imprisoned with him at Camp Bucca, a U.S.-run detention center in Iraq, where Baghdadi was held for at least four years.

SQUIRES: He was able to trust these individuals as sharing his ideology, sharing his hatred for the West.


TODD: Analyst Lauren Squires says if or when Baghdadi is killed, look for some kind of retaliatory strike against U.S. interests. She says they would do that to memorialize their martyred leader and to show the coalition they're still a major threat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: , and, Brian, if Baghdadi was in that convoy struck over the weekend, that would be a departure from how he normally operates, right?

TODD: From all indications, absolutely, Wolf. Analysts say he is obsessed with secrecy, obsessed with his own security. He is said to have covered his own face when meeting with members of his own inner circle. If he's taking a risk like he might have taken over the weekend, that really is a departure.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks for that information.

Let's go in depth now on all of this. Joining us is Senator Angus King of Maine. He's the independent senator who serves on both the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees.

Thanks very much, Senator King, for joining us.


BLITZER: What -- have you heard anything?

Do you know if they at least wounded this guy?

Is he alive?

Is he dead?

KING: I've checked what intelligence sources I have and I hate to tell you, no confirmation either way. I think it's very unclear. I think most of the intelligence that we have now is coming from Iraqi sources. And there's no confirmation from our side as to what the impact of the strikes were.

BLITZER: Those Iraqi sources sometimes can be good. But very often, they can be pretty bad.

KING: Sometimes they have their own motives and motivations...


KING: -- so you can't -- you can't always tell. You certainly can't take it to the bank.

BLITZER: If, in fact, he were at least injured, how big of a deal would that be, because you heard Brian Todd report there are a whole bunch of others waiting in the wings that could step up?

KING: Well, you've got to remember that the president's strategy here started out degrade and destroy. Degrade -- part of degrade is weapons, tanks, trucks, all of those kinds of things. But it's also leadership. I think it would be a blow.

Baghdadi traces his lineage back to the Prophet. He is not only a military leader, but he is a symbolic religious leader. And I think whenever you degrade the leadership of any organization, it's going to have an impact.

Now, as your correspondent said, there's a bench and there will be changes. But I think it could be an important step.

BLITZER: Because ISIS, you know, you've got to remember, is not just a bunch of, you know, terrorists. Many of the top leaders are military guys. They were generals, majors, colonels in Saddam Hussein's military. For whatever reason, they bolted and now joined ISIS, so they're pretty disciplined, pretty experienced.

KING: That's right. This is not a ragtag group. This is a serious, disciplined military operation. No other way they could have had the success that they've had.

But I think it's significant they really have stalled. Now, you know, this business in Anbar, as you mentioned, is critically important, because that's the approach to Baghdad.

We've stalled them. We and the coalition have stalled them throughout Iraq.

But whether they're able to mount an offensive toward Baghdad is really the great unanswered question.

BLITZER: And 80 percent of the Anbar Province -- and it's not far from Baghdad, the capital -- is now controlled by ISIS. And all of a sudden, the Pentagon today, as you heard Barbara Starr report, 50 U.S. troops, they are now there at an air base in the Anbar Province. This is a dangerous area.

KING: It's a very dangerous area. And that's why the crucial -- there are two crucial pieces of this, other than our air power. And that is whether this is a real coalition and whether we have the support of Arab states in the region. I think we do. That's an important step.

But secondly, whether the new government in Baghdad is inclusive and can reach out to the Sunni majority in those regions in Northern and Western Iraq. If they can't, this is a fool's errand, Wolf. It's not going to happen, because it's going to take retaking those Sunni areas and that's only going to happen if the indigenous population changes their loyalty.

BLITZER: The U.S. taxpayers, from 2003 until the U.S. pulled out of Iraq at the end of 2011, spent tens of billions of dollars arming, training, equipping the Iraqi military.

ISIS comes in. They leave those weapons.

KING: Yes.

BLITZER: They run away.

What makes the U.S. believe that the training, equipping and arming of the Iraqi military now, and the deployment of all these U.S. military, quote, "advisers," starting with 200, then 500, then 1,500, now 3,000, not just in Baghdad, not just in Mosul, but now, in Anbar, what makes the U.S. believe the outcome is going to be any different this time? KING: I think the only basis for it is that we have no other options, that we've got to work with this army and that they have to step forward. And there are units -- remember when the president sent about 1,000 troops over there four or five months ago, that was essentially an intelligence operation to determine the capacity of what was left of the Iraqi Army.

The other piece of this is the Peshmerga, the Kurds' Army, which is holding its own and which is a powerful force. This war cannot be won by airpower. No war ever is. It's got to be won on the ground.

But I think I speak for the Congress and many people in America, they're not going to be American boots on the ground. These have to be Iraqi boots.

BLITZER: Well, when Americans hear that -- and you know this, Senator, there are now going to be 3,000 American troops in Iraq.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: They'll -- these are all going to be on the ground and they're all going to be wearing boots. And this is a pretty dangerous area. They're going to be -- they're going to need protection.

KING: Sure.

BLITZER: They're going to go out there and they're going to be fully armed. And you know what, and I hate to think about this, but there are going to be casualties, probably sooner rather than later.

Is the American public ready for that?

KING: Well, I think it's going to be a problem, because I think there has been representations that this was going to be sort of clean and people hear what they want to hear, as airpower is going to take care of it. It's not going to take care of it. And the real question, as you say, is how much in harm's way are these troops in and what is going to be their mission?

If it is, in fact, train and do intelligence, then it's -- the brunt of the fighting, the door-to-door work is going to have to be done by the Iraqi Army.

BLITZER: And so when the critics say this is mission creep and they draw parallels to what the U.S. went through in the '60s in Vietnam, you say?

KING: I say that's a valid question. That's why Congress has to debate this and talk about what the authorization is that the president has to wage this war.

BLITZER: Well, Congress has been on vacation for the last two weeks.

KING: Yes, and you're right. And we should have done it in September. I'm hoping we're going to do it in the next two months. I heard today that they said, well, maybe it will happen in January. That's too late.

My view is, along with a lot of other members of Congress of both parties, is that is a responsibility that Congress has to define what our mission is, to define what our exit strategy is and to limit what the president is authorized to do. Otherwise, we've simply turned over that power to the president. And I think that's wrong.

BLITZER: And the fact that the Republicans will be in the majority in the next U.S. Senate, John McCain, presumably, will be chairman of the Armed Services Committee. He's a hawk. There's a whole bunch of other hawks.

What impact will that have on the overall war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria?

KING: Well, that's the question, because we can have broad agreement that there should be a new authorization that defines the mission. The question, though, is, you're going to have some people -- McCain, probably, and Lindsey Graham and others, who are going to say say it should be broadly defined with a lot of authority. Tim Kaine of Virginia and others are going to say, no, it should be more narrowly limited in time and scope.

So it's one thing to say we're going to have an authorization.

The next hard question is going to be, what does it consist of?

I think it's up to the president to step forward and say this is the authorization that I think I need. And then we will do our constitutional duty to analyze that...

BLITZER: You know, Senator...

KING: And come up with an answer.

BLITZER: -- the president says he doesn't need any more authorization. He says he has it.

KING: He changed that over the weekend. It was very interesting. Over the weekend, he made a statement. He's been saying, I don't need it, but I would welcome it. Over the weekend, he said, I want it and I need it.

And so I think there's a slight difference in the White House position.

We're going to end up, hopefully, with a serious debate about this. That's what we ought to be doing.

BLITZER: All right, I want you to stand by.

We have more questions, Senator King, including Iran -- Iran's role in what's going on in Iraq and Syria.

Is this new Iraqi government a wholly owned subsidiary of the Iranian regime? Stand by.

Much more coming up right after this.


BLITZER: We're continuing to follow the breaking news. Iraqi state television is now reporting an aide to the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi, has been killed in that air strike near the city of Fallujah. That's in the Anbar province. Iraq also says an air strike wounded al-Baghdadi. U.S. officials say they have no confirmation of that. They're continuing to investigate.

We're back with Senator Angus King, the independent senator from the state of Maine, who serves on both the intelligence and armed service committee.

This whole Iranian connection to this government in Baghdad, it worries a lot of U.S. officials, because they think this new government in Baghdad is so closely aligned with Iran, it doesn't make any difference how much the U.S. gets involved. In the end, the Shiite-led government in Baghdad will be partners with the Shiite-led regime in Iran.

KING: If it turns out to be a purely Shiite government and a dominant Shiite government, and they're not inclusive of the Sunnis, it's lost. Because that's one of the preconditions for anything working over there.

The -- one of the -- the seeds of this problem were sown by Maliki, who excluded the Sunnis, discriminated against the Sunnis. And so when ISIS came to town, they said, "OK, we'll throw in our lot with these guys. At least they're Sunnis." And if it's going to turn around, that government has to be inclusive. And it's not in their nature. They -- you know, they're having -- this is a 600-, 800-year- old fight going on. But they're going to have to open up. They're going to have to channel their inner Mandela here to make this thing work.

BLITZER: And you think this new government in Baghdad is ready to end what you point out, 600 or 800 years of hatred between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, that they're going to be able to deal with them?

KING: They've got to find some way to make it work. They've got to find -- I don't think they're going to be able to settle the dispute by any manner of means. But I think they've got to find some way to live together. And it may be some kind of federal system, where the areas of the country that -- where the Kurds are, where the Sunnis are, have more rights, more autonomy. And then you don't have this kind of creation of an artificial country. That's one of the problems.

As you know, Iraq was created at the end of World War I, but a British diplomat drawing a line on a map. It doesn't represent a natural kind of inclusion of peoples. And I think some kind of federal system is what is going to end up as the result. BLITZER: Joe Biden, when he was a U.S. senator, he supported that a

while ago. But obviously, it's come back right now, given the problems going on. Senator King, thanks very much for joining us.

KING: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Angus King is the independent senator from the state of Maine.

We're going to get back to the conflicting and confusing reports coming out of Iraq that the top ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may -- repeat may -- have been killed or at least wounded in a coalition air strike.

The Pentagon -- Pentagon officials say only that the U.S.-led air strikes this weekend targeted what was assessed to be a gathering of ISIS leaders. Reuters now reporting that the top aide to al-Baghdadi was, in fact, killed. We're working that story.

But let's get some more now on what's going on. Joining us, our national security analyst, Peter Bergen, and Oubai Shahbandar. He's a senior adviser to the Syrian Opposition Coalition. That's the moderate coalition that is working with the U.S.

Thanks, guys, very much for joining us. Is that a big deal if the U.S. or some other coalition aircraft or the Iraqis, for that matter, manage to injure, wound or even kill al-Baghdadi?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think that's -- I've been debating this question. You know, there have been other leaders of this group that have been killed in the past. When we saw Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who founded the group under a different name, he was killed. In fact, that didn't end the group. The group has gotten stronger since then.

But there is a kind of caveat, which is this guy presents himself as a major religious figure. He claims to have his jurisprudential degree from college in Iraq. So I think it will be hard for them to find somebody who could actually claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad and be a major religious figure. The people who are deputies are all basically hard military guys who fought under Saddam Hussein. They're not going to be able to say, "Hey, I'm a major religious figure" like this guy.

BLITZER: Oubai, is he a big deal, this al-Baghdadi?

OUBAI SHAHBANDAR, SENIOR ADVISOR, SYRIAN OPPOSITION COALITION: It's a big deal, but it's one step. It's part of a much longer fight. You need a network-centric strategy to dismantle ISIS. Picking apart leaders one by one will help in the short run.

But in the long run, you need local community support. You need a bottom-up strategy. We need to replicate what worked before when the Islamic state of Iran, the predecessor of ISIS, or Dashaswi (ph), as we call it in Arabic, grew out from. You need Sunni communities to support the United States and modern Arab allies in this fight and to not just take out Baghdadi but to take out the whole network that he represents.

BLITZER: By and large, I don't know if you agree, Sunnis -- Iraqi Sunnis, they don't trust the government in Baghdad.

BERGEN: Not at all. That's why the Iraqi army -- I mean, they don't trust the government at all. But I'm going to agree with Oubai. I mean, if you look back at what the U.S. military did in the '07-'08 period, they more or less destroyed al Qaeda. Not only did they ally with the Sunni communities, but they also had joint special operations command which took a networked approach and said, "We're going to take out all the middle managers." It's not just -- to actually destroy this, you have to take out -- you know, it's a bureaucratic network, and we've got to take out a lot of people, a lot of nodes.

BLITZER: Oubai, you're an adviser to the Syrian opposition, moderate Syrian opposition. Your main goal is not necessarily ISIS. Your main goal is to get rid of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, right?

SHAHBANDAR: They're not necessarily mutually exclusive, because from the perspective of the Syrian opposition, Bashar -- the regime of Bashar al-Assad is really part of the same problem as ISIS. If you remember...

BLITZER: But ISIS is fighting Bashar al-Assad?

SHAHBANDAR: They only recently started fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. In fact, for months up until the summer, ISIS was given free reign by the Assad regime to focus -- prioritize the fight against the moderates. Assad stood back as ISIS advanced in the areas that were liberated by the opposition. In fact, it was the opposition forces that took the burden upon themselves to launch this campaign against ISIS, which began in January of this year.

BLITZER: Is the Syrian opposition, the military that will now be trained, the moderate opposition -- they're going to go to Saudi Arabia, spend several months there, the U.S. is going to finance this operation -- is it realistic to really assume that Oubai and his friends over there can really destroy ISIS and the -- on the ground, the ground troops -- they presumably would be the ground troops the U.S. is looking for and the Bashar al-Assad military?

BERGEN: Oubai and I have been friends for many years. But I'm not going to -- what I will say is this. The numbers that we're talking about are 5,000 people being trained. The estimates of the size of ISIS is 30,000 right today.

BLITZER: And the estimate of the Syrian military is hundreds of thousands.

BERGEN: Right. So do the math. I mean, it certainly will be helpful. You know, will it be something that will change the situation in a very dramatic way? The numbers suggest no.

BLITZER: You agree? SHAHBANDAR: Well, here's what you need, Wolf. You need the United

States to go all-in in the fight against ISIS in Syria. Right now, the overwhelming concentration of forces and American resources is in Iraq. But look at where al-Baghdadi's convoy was struck in al Qa'im, the sister city of the Syrian city of Al-Bukamal, where ISIS has its command and control.

ISIS does not recognize the borders between Syria and Iraq. Difficult is not impossible. The Syrian opposition forces are there. They are still on their back heels in the fight against Assad and against ISIS. But they can win if the U.S. invests the necessary resources in Syria.

BLITZER: Oubai Shahbandar, thanks very much for joining us. Peter, thanks to you, as well.

Coming up, more breaking news. We're following the talks to end Iran's quest for some sort of nuclear weapon just as Iran's top ayatollah is now threatening to annihilate Israel.

Also ahead, North Korea's military elite go through rigorous training, preparing for the chance that someday they will come face to face with Americans. And guess what? It just happened.


BLITZER: Following breaking news in the latest U.S. effort to head off a major crisis in the Middle East, yet another one. The secretary of state, John Kerry, is negotiating in person on a deal to stop Iran from producing nuclear weapons. And now just as a deal may be within reach, Iran's top ayatollah unleashed a stream of new threats to annihilate Israel. Let's get the very latest from our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Elise.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Secretary Kerry just wrapped up ten hours of talks with the Iranian foreign minister. You have that November 24 deadline looming.

Officials say there's still time for progress. But the signals coming from Iran, at least publicly, on whether a nuclear deal could present an opening for the U.S. and Iran to work together in the region are not encouraging.


LABOTT (voice-over): With the deadline just two weeks away, Secretary of State John Kerry headed to Amman to kick nuclear negotiations into overdrive with Iran's foreign minister, deciding to add a second day of talks Monday. Back home, Vice President Joe Biden, speaking to Jewish leaders, laid out the U.S. red line.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In Bidenesque way, we will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon, period! Period! Period! And I would not put my 42-year reputation on the line, were I not certain when I say it we mean it. LABOTT: In between tweets on Iran's nuclear diplomacy, the country's

supreme leader took aim at Israel tweeting, quote, "This barbaric, wolf-like and infanticidal regime of Israel, which spares no crime, has no cure" but to be annihilated."

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We strongly condemn the hateful remarks made about Israel on Twitter. The remarks are offensive and reprehensible.

LABOTT: Vitriolic comments about Israel by Iran's leaders are nothing new. But coming on the heels of news President Obama sent a letter to the supreme leader, its fourth since taking office, it dashes administration hopes a nuclear deal could pave the way for greater cooperation against ISIS and ending Syria's civil war.

KARIM SADJADOOUR (PH), CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: The supreme leader's been in power since 1989. He's expressed this hostility and vitriol towards the United States, towards Israel and he's made it fairly clear that he's not interested in a rapprochement or detente with the United States. But if you're President Obama, you're also not interested in conflict with Iran.

LABOTT: After being kept in the dark about the president's letter, diplomats say the overture only deepens Israel's fears President Obama is naive on Iran and will soften the U.S. stance on its nuclear program in exchange for a grander regional bargain with Tehran.

he vice president tried to smooth over tensions aggravated over a recent magazine article in which an unnamed Obama administration official called Prime Minister Netanyahu a chicken (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

BIDEN: The security of Israel and the United States is inextricably tied, and we will never, ever, ever abandon Israel out of our own self-interest.


LABOTT: Well, State Department officials say they understand that comments like that to annihilate Israel are very concerning, and that's why, Wolf, they say the best thing that they can do is make sure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon. And that's what they're trying to do in these negotiations.

BLITZER: They've got a few days left. The deadline is November 24. I think they could extend the deadline if they want to.

LABOTT: Right.

BLITZER: All right, Elise. Thanks very much.

We're also learning new details about a shadowy commander who seems to have engineered several recent victories over ISIS inside Iraq. It turns out that commander is from Iran and is an old foe of the United States.

Let's go to Tehran. CNN's Reza Sayah is on the scene for us in the Iranian capital. What are you hearing over there, Reza?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, when's the last time an Iranian military leader gave a boost to U.S. military strategy in the Middle East? It's been a while.

But the turmoil of this weekend is so entangled sometimes, so confusing and chaotic, that it's happening. Two enemies, the U.S. and Iran, seemingly fighting for the same cause, and an Iranian general playing a critical role over the past several weeks.

The Iraqi military troops have managed to push back Islamic state forces in key areas in Iraq. And much of the credit has gone to the Quds Force leader, Qassem Suleimani. A couple of weeks ago, when ISIS troops were opposing a key city in northern Iraq, it was Suleimani who was credited with devising strategy to pushing these groups back. Also, he's credited with pushing back Islamic state troops from villages surrounding Baghdad.

CNN has not verified these claims. And he continues to deny they have boots on the ground. But these reports continue to show the increasing role Iran is playing in Iraq. And the acts that alleged of Suleimani, it's a glimpse at what the U.S. can do if it improves relations with Iran. Because Iran has sway in Iraq and Syria. Obviously, Wolf, these two countries have not come out and said, :We're working together." But an Iranian general seemingly helping the U.S. cause in Iraq.

BLITZER: It's a strange, strange group of folks out there, this coalition that's being put together against ISIS. Thanks very much, Reza Sayah. One of the few western reporters, certainly the only TV reporter, American TV reporter on the scene in the Iranian capital of Tehran. Reza, thank you.

Up next, vehicle attacks, now multiple stabbings, so what's behind the series of assaults that are taking the lives of more Israelis?

And behind the secret mission to North Korea, we have some stunning new information.


BLITZER: Breaking news out of the Middle East right now. Some very disturbing images as two more Israelis are dead in new stabbing attacks, the latest in a spiraling upsurge of violence.

Let's go live to our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson. He's joining us from Jerusalem. What is the latest, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the very latest is that two people involved in these attacks today have been killed. The first attack happening to -- happening in Tel Aviv around the middle of the day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ROBERTSON (voice-over): A young Israeli soldier is lifted aboard a stretcher. It is noon in downtown Tel Aviv. He was waiting for a bus when he was stabbed. This paramedic, one of the first responders.

(on camera): One stab wound or multiple stab wounds?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had few in the legs and in the upper part of the body.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Not long after, this video appears on YouTube. The attacker, an Arab, still holding a knife, appears to cut his own wrist. The security services move to arrest him.

(On camera): What has security services here concerned is the question, is this stabbing an isolated incident or is it part of a growing trend of attacks that transport hubs over the past few weeks?

(Voice-over): Within hours, this in the West Bank at sunset, a van driver deliberately drives into someone at a bus stop, knocks them down, all caught on security camera video. Seconds later, the van driver comes back, finds the person he knocked down, starts stabbing them. Then he crosses the road, chases then attacks another victim before he is interrupted. A third man appears to spray something on the attacker. He crosses the road again and returns to his first victim.

Police say three people were injured in this stabbing attack. One of them a 24-year-old woman, dying at the scene. The attacker, whom police describe as a terrorist, shot at the scene by a guard. Hours later, the radical Islamist group, Islamic Jihad, praises both the West Bank and Tel Aviv attackers.

Tensions and concerns here are rising.


ROBERTSON: And what we're hearing now from the prime minister's office, Prime Minister Netanyahu, is that there will be an increase in security. And there's also call for an acceleration in the destruction of the homes, the houses of people who perpetrate these terrorists, who perpetrate these attacks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Jerusalem, clearly an escalating situation over there.

Thanks very much.

Up next, we have new details on some DNA evidence that could link the University of Virginia kidnapping suspect to yet another crime.

Also ahead, high stakes diplomacy grounded. We have new information about the jet breakdown that delayed a secret U.S. mission to North Korea.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The suspect in the kidnapping of the University of Virginia student Hannah Graham is due before a judge this week, but a different judge may be getting involved.

Also new DNA evidence could link the suspect Jesse Matthew to yet another case.

Let's get the latest from investigative journalist Coy Barefoot and CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, a former assistant director of the FBI.

Coy, we're going to see Jesse Matthew in court once again by video, I take it, this Friday, a second court appearance on charges that he's facing relating to a 2005 case in Fairfax, Virginia, where he's accused of raping a woman.

What can we expect at this hearing, the status of this hearing?

COY BAREFOOT, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Wolf, that would be a status hearing this coming Friday morning. And we can expect a number of motions on both sides, the prosecution and defense. We also believe that a new judge might be named for the trial. Judge Dennis Smith, Circuit Court judge in Fairfax, has been presiding over this case thus far. But he may not in fact be the judge that will hear the case. And that could come -- word about a new judge could come as early as Friday.

I do want to let you know just moments ago on my way to the studio, I got word that two members of the defender's office from Fairfax County were in Charlottesville today at the jail where 32-year-old Jesse Matthew is being held. They met with him for several hours and Jim Camblos, his Charlottesville attorney, was not present until after they left.

So I believe that that's the first time Jesse Matthew has met privately with his defenders, his lead counsel in the Fairfax case, which that's very interesting. First time he meets with a lawyer that's not Jim Camblos.

BLITZER: These are public defenders assigned by the court, is that right?

BAREFOOT: That is correct. Yes.

BLITZER: All right. So, Tom, there's -- that new DNA fingernail evidence that allegedly links Matthew to the victim in 2005, that's pretty strong evidence, right?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It's extremely strong, Wolf, because it comes from under the fingernails of the victim and, you know, in a situation like that, how would that DNA get there other than if the victim was clawing in self-defense at her attacker?

So this is not just DNA that fell on the body or a piece of hair on the clothing. This is significant when you have defensively obtained DNA such as that. BLITZER: And Coy, I know you've been doing a lot of reporting on this

investigating. Tell us the latest on the cases involving Jesse Matthew where you are, you're in Charlottesville and Central Virginia. Where are the investigations concerning Morgan Harrington and Hannah Graham stand?

BAREFOOT: It's a great question. Of course, Morgan Harrington, 20- year-old Virginia Tech student, went missing October 17th, 2009. Her remains were found about 100 days later in the same area where we found Hannah Graham's remains just a few weeks ago.

It is likely, Wolf, that Jesse Matthew will be charged in both cases. We have his DNA on Morgan's shirt that she was wearing that night. But the Fairfax case moving forward at this point buys the Commonwealth's attorney, the prosecutor here in Albemarle County, in the Charlottesville's area, buys them a lot of time. And the sources who are close to that tell me that time is on their side.

We can expect charges. Exactly when that will happen we're not quite sure. But we can expect more charges and more trials for Jesse Matthew here in central Virginia.

BLITZER: And we'll see what happens later this week in that video appearance by him in court in northern Virginia just outside of Washington.

Coy, thanks very much. Tom, thanks to you, as well.

Coming up, stunning new information on North Korea's freeing of two more Americans. We have new insight on the brutal regime that let them go.

Also, Ferguson, Missouri, once again on edge right now. There are fears of violence as that violence-torn community awaits a grand jury decision in the Michael Brown shooting.


BLITZER: Happening now. Flight to freedom. New details are emerging right now about the behind the scenes drama that led to North Korea's freeing two American captives. I'll talk to a key figure who was in North Korea just a few weeks ago appealing for their release.