Return to Transcripts main page


ISIS Demands $200 Million for Japanese Hostages; Interview with Josh Earnest; U.S. Embassy Vehicle Shot at in Yemen; Suspect in Kosher Market Attack at Large; State of the Union Preview; Group Works to Counter Radicalization

Aired January 20, 2015 - 07:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Let's begin with Will Ripley live from Beijing -- Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, we need to keep in mind here that Japan is a pacifist country, its military only engages in self- defense. So, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe two days ago pledged $200 million to support the effort against ISIS, this was not money ever intended to pay for bombs or to kill women and children, as so-called Jihadi John alleged in this latest video.

This was money supposed to help the refugees, the people who is has left behind repressed. The people whose lives are in turmoil because of ISIS. But nonetheless, because Japan made the promise of $200 million to help innocent people, ISIS is now intent on punishing Japan with the message to the prime minister, putting two Japanese citizens, a journalist, a freelance journalist and the owner of a private military company on their knees and saying that if in three days this ransom is not paid, these men will meet the same fate presumably on video that we saw two Americans and two British citizens endure.

The outrage of that being felt not only in Japan, in the hometowns of these men, but around the world. Yet again another example, Chris, of ISIS's brutality. That they are -- they will punish citizens of any country, no matter what their intentions, if they feel that it will serve their needs.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And as you've reported, Will, Japan has never paid ransom before. So we'll see what happens here. Thank you, Will Ripley.

We have learned someone fired on a U.S. embassy vehicle in Yemen. So let's get right to CNN international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh. Remember, the situation there so dicey, Nick's actually the only western TV journalist in Yemen.

Nick, what do we know?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In a statement from the U.S. embassy here, they say that last night near a checkpoint near the U.S. embassy, one of their embassy vehicles was shot at. They say they don't know who was behind the shooting. But they say that they began shooting in the air, but then turned the guns on the vehicle itself.

And I quote here, these were not warning shots. There was intent there. Now these vehicles, you see them in the city themselves. They were pretty recognizable, armored. So in this case, that vehicle, no injuries inside it. There were U.S. citizens, U.S. diplomatic personnel inside that vehicle. They often travel in more than one vehicle in a convoy. We don't know exactly what reaction the U.S. citizens there took, the U.S. diplomats took. I understand they may have simply driven on into the embassy.

But clearly, someone shot at them with intent to cause injury, death, potentially. Close to the embassy itself. Obviously, we know that the embassy has been on a heightened state of alert, always has been. It's, you know, part, linked to a key drone program here in Yemen. Always a target.

But in this sensitive time right now, in the city, it is remarkable to see that a U.S. diplomatic vehicle would be directly subject to fire like this. We heard yesterday, preparations potentially evacuate staff here.

I should stress, speaking to the embassy, they are not planning on pulling people out. They're continuing their normal functions. They say their consular services for U.S. citizens here are still open.

But this is, of course, a deeply troubling incident. They don't know if anyone returned fire against those who attacked this U.S. embassy vehicle. But still troubling all the same that they would turn their guns directly at the vehicle itself -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Nick, thank you very much -- Michaela.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, officials in Paris have confirmed four suspects grabbed in the terror sweep last week are being held under formal investigation. And they are expected to appear in court today. All of this as investigators scramble to find the man whose DNA was found on the magazine of a gun used by one of the terrorists in Paris.

Let's get straight to senior international correspondent Nic Robertson on the ground in Paris with the very latest -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We should get more details on that when these men appear. The four men appeared before French magistrates today. This is part of the legal proceedings to continue to hold them, to continue to question them.

We are told that all these men are in their 20s. And that when they have been charged by the magistrate or when we hear what the magistrate has to say today, we should get a stronger insight into precisely why the police are interested in them. Precisely what they're connected to.

The other five of the nine people being detained by the French authorities here were released last night, they have course have been questioned over the past week or so. Past over the weekend. Not clear what the police learned from them. But it does seem to show that the police are refining their search. And of course, all of this focused around the killings of two weeks ago.

Back to you.

PEREIRA: All right. Nic, thanks so much.

Back here at home, part of a Cincinnati interstate has been shut down after a construction worker was killed when an overpass collapsed last night. The tractor-trailer driver also was injured. That bridge was said to be undergoing demolition. Police chief tells us something went terribly wrong. He said the tractor-trailer driver is lucky to have survived. The rig slammed into the collapsed section just as that bridge was coming down.

CAMEROTA: And a scare at New York's JFK Airport. Passengers were forced off a pair of Delta planes following a bomb threat. Authorities say Delta headquarters received an anonymous phone call Monday evening, suggesting a pipe bomb was on Flight 468. It turns out there were two Delta flights with that same number at the airport. Both planes were searched, and fortunately, nothing was found.

CUOMO: Pope Francis is expanding the itinerary for his trip to the U.S. The pope now scheduled to make stops in New York and Washington, in addition to his planned stop in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. The also pope gave us another quotable quote. While clarifying the church position against artificial contraception, he pointed out, Catholics don't have to breed, quote, "like rabbits," either and should practice responsible parenting instead. There you have it.

CAMEROTA: OK. Meanwhile, we want to find out what to expect in the State of the Union address tonight. Let's bring in press secretary Josh Earnest.

Good morning, Josh.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good morning, Alisyn. How are you?

CAMEROTA: I'm doing well.


CAMEROTA: Before we get to the State of the Union, can we talk about the breaking news that we've been reporting on CNN this morning? And that is that ISIS has put out another video. They are demanding $200 million for these Japanese hostages. We know that the U.S. has a policy not to ever pay ransom. Is the White House working with other countries to make sure that they follow that same principle?

EARNEST: Well, Alisyn, let me start by saying that this is just further evidence of the deplorable tactics of this terrible extremist group. And the United States is certainly working to build a coalition of more than 60 countries that is actually taking the fight to ISIL in Iraq and in Syria. So you can certainly anticipate that the United States will be working with other countries to try to secure the release of these hostages.

But, at the same time, it is the policy of the United States that paying ransoms to ISIS to try to secure the release of hostages only puts Americans in more danger. It only actually provides the funding mechanism that allows ISIL to continue to carry out these terrible acts like this.


CAMEROTA: Absolutely. So I mean, if other countries do it, it really -- it sort of defeats the whole purpose.

EARNEST: Well, we certainly -- that's why we work closely with other countries to try to secure the release of these hostages without paying ransom. And that's what we'll do in this case, too.

CAMEROTA: And we know that the White House was undergoing a review of the policy of paying ransom. What's the status of that review?

EARNEST: No, that's not true, Alisyn. What we're doing is we're actually undergoing a review to discuss how we can better integrate the elements of the federal government to try to secure the release of hostages when they are taken. And that means working with the intelligence community, with the military, with law enforcement and here at the White House and the State Department; because we use every lever of government to try to secure the release of hostages.

But we're not reviewing our policies about not paying ransoms. That's not something that we believe is in the best interests of the United States. It's certainly not in the best interests of citizens who are traveling abroad. And, again it's certainly not going to further our effort to defeat, degrade, and destroy ISIL.

CAMEROTA: OK, thanks so much for that clarification.

Let's talk about the State of the Union and what to expect from the president tonight. Here's what we understand he'll be talking about. Let me put it up on the screen for everyone.

We believe that he will be suggesting an increase on taxes for couples who earn $500,000 or more a year. There will be new fees on large financial institutions as part of his plan. A 500 -- a $500 tax credit for married couples. A childcare credit increase to $3,000. And two free years of community college.

What have we missed, Josh?

EARNEST: Those are the highlights, Alisyn. The president tonight's going to be focusing on middle-class economics. And what the president believes that we should do is we can actually ask those at top of the income scale -- and when I'm talking about the top, I'm talking about the very top. We're talking about large Wall Street firms that are highly leveraged and those essentially who benefit from trust funds. We want to close the trust fund loophole and use that revenue to do the kind of things that are going to benefit middle- class families. We want to do this because the president believes that our economy is

best when it's growing from the middle out. And by focusing on middle-class economics, what we can do is we offer a $500 tax credit to working families where you have both Mom and Dad who are working a job. Well, we can offer a tax credit, because we know if both parents are working, there are going to be some extra costs associated with child care or with commuting.

We also want to offer free community college to hard-working students who are getting good grades. We know that never before has a college education been more important to making a -- to getting a middle-class job and leading a middle-class life.

So these are the kinds of policies that the president believes should be a priority and we're hopeful that Democrats and Republicans will work together to advance this agenda.

CAMEROTA: Well, Josh, as you know, Republicans say that any sort of tax increase on the wealthy is a nonstarter. Here is what Congressman Jason Chaffetz and Senator Marco Rubio had to say about that.


REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: We're not just one good tax increase away from prosperity in this nation.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Raising taxes on people that are successful is not going to make people that are struggling more successful. The good news about free enterprise is that everyone can succeed without punishing anyone.


CAMEROTA: So, Josh, I mean, the Republican-led Congress is never going to vote for that.

EARNEST: Well, Alisyn, I do think the Republican-led Congress will have to make a decision about what they think is more important. Do they think that the trust-fund loophole is more important and that we should be ensuring that millionaires and billionaires are getting tax -- special preferential tax benefits that middle-class families don't get?

Or do they think that more middle-class families should have the opportunity to go to college? That's really the question before them.

And if they have a fundamental disagreement with the president, they're welcome to articulate that view. I just don't happen to think that the vast majority of the American people are going to agree with them.

CAMEROTA: I mean, so basically the president is sort of calling out Republicans tonight, making them stand on their principle. Obviously, the Republicans believe in relief for the middle class, but they just don't want it attached to any sort of tax increase. EARNEST: Well, we haven't really seen specific proposals from

Republicans about what they can do to help the middle class. We hear them use the middle class as a talking point a lot, but we don't actually see Republicans fighting for the middle class. That's exactly what the president's been doing for the last six years.

Look, when this president took office, we were on the precipice of a second Great Depression, but because this president worked, scratched, and clawed, essentially had to fight Republicans to put in place policies that are focused on the middle class, we actually have been able to dig out of this terrible economic downturn. And actually, our economy is starting to show the kind of resilience that indicates that we're ready to turn the page.

We're ready now to focus on what we can do to start building the economy of the future, and doing it in a way that's going to benefit middle-class families. We don't want just those at the top to benefit from this economic resurgence; we actually want middle-class families to benefit from it, too.

CAMEROTA: What will we hear tonight that surprises us?

EARNEST: Tune in, 9 p.m. Eastern Time. I'm sure your viewers here on CNN can tune in for some surprises tonight.

CAMEROTA: Oh, you're clever. You're not going to reveal any surprises.

EARNEST: I'm just trying to help CNN boost those ratings even more.

CAMEROTA: Impossible. We're on such a good upward turn is what I mean.

But in any event, I do want to ask you about the Republican rebuttal tonight. It's Senator Joni Ernst. She's of course, the newly-minted senator from Iowa; she's seen as a rising star. Do you believe there will be any hog references in the GOP rebuttal tonight?

EARNEST: Well, it certainly advanced her career pretty tremendously for her to include some colorful farm references throughout her campaign. We'll see if she's willing to do that on the national stage.

CAMEROTA: How about castration references? Anything?

EARNEST: I hope not. I think I speak for most of America when I say I hope not, actually.

CAMEROTA: Yes, you're probably right. All right, Josh Earnest, thanks so much for joining us on NEW DAY. We'll be tuning in tonight.

EARNEST: All right, Alisyn. Have a good one.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

CUOMO: I do not know that you two are right about what Americans will appreciate in the GOP response tonight. They picked Iowa freshman Senator Joni Ernst for a reason. She's going to -- she's going to deliver the response, as you just heard Alisyn and Josh Earnest, the White House spokesperson, talking about.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says Ernst is the perfect messenger for the party. That's hearty praise.

Let's bring in chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash, live from Washington.

Dana, great to have you. You tell us...


CUOMO: ... why does he think she's the perfect messenger? And what do you think the message will be?

BASH: Well, you know what's so funny, is that Alisyn was joking about castrating hogs. That is what made her a political superstar over the last election, because of the ad that she -- that she had out about castrating hogs.

But her bio is much more interesting. And really irresistible politically. Beyond that, she is -- saw combat in Iraq. She is the first female elected to Congress from the state of Iowa.

And you know, I spent some time with her in Iowa a couple of times during the campaign, and she comes across as Iowa nice, which you know -- listen I'm from New Jersey, you're from New York. It's very different from New York and New Jersey nice. So that is sort of the key in terms of her profile.

I'm told that she's not going to be rebutting the president so much as going to be trying to deliver what Republicans want to achieve as a governing body in Congress; talking about everything from foreign policy to domestic policy, so that's what we're going to see.

And it is going to be interesting, because you are going to see a tale of two philosophical points of view. You just heard Josh Earnest, Chris, talk about all of the things that the president will lay out in terms of his tax agenda. There's such a gulf between what he is going to lay out and what the Republicans are going to want to do, simply because they come from different perspectives.

Republicans are going to say this is DOA as a package, because as Alisyn was saying, they do not believe that it is right thing to do to raise taxes on anybody, particularly the wealthy.

And the president is appealing to Democrats who feel that he let them down, frankly, by not pushing these kinds of policies, these kinds of philosophical perspectives when it comes to economic policy.

CUOMO: Too much gulf, not enough bridge. That's the problem right now.

Although I must correct you. I do think that the senator's reference to what you do to something when you want to make a final move, a decisive move, when she was talking about hogs, sounds very New Jersey to me. Very -- very New Jersey.

Dana Bash, thank you very much. Look forward to your coverage tonight.

BASH: You, too.

PEREIRA: I have a lot to learn, between New Jersey nice and New York nice. Are you ready for Canada nice? I don't know about that.

CUOMO: We do that to people. We don't do it to hogs.

PEREIRA: All right. Fighting the power of extremism. Ahead, we're going to talk with two men working to counter the terror message and prevent people from becoming radicalized. That's coming up.


CUOMO: Breaking this morning: ISIS has posted a new video threatening to kill two Japanese hostages.

This is sad, but true. This evil form of video propaganda is enticing to a rare few around the world. But it's a growing problem, as well, even here in the U.S. as we have seen radicalization affect families.

So how do we stop it? Who needs to get involved? And of course, we need some answers. And we have some people who can give them to us.

Mohamed Ahmed, founder of Average Mohamed. And Erroll Southers, director of transition and research deployment at the DHS National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events at USC.

Gentlemen, thank you.

Mohamed, I want to start with you. You have deployed a strategy of going video for video. You have come up with a cartoonish play on what ISIS does. And you're not depicting Mohamed. This is not meant to be offensive to Muslims. But you are playing on the idea of what Mohamed instructs. I want to play a little bit of the video. Can we?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your job description is to commit genocide against Muslims, Christians, Yazidi and Jews. Terrorize innocent women, men and children like your family into blind obedience. Empower unelected, self-nominated, murderous, blood-thirsty individuals as leaders.


CUOMO: So Mohamed, tell us, the thinking, the risk to you, and what's been the reaction?

MOHAMED AHMED, FOUNDER, AVERAGE MOHAMED: The thinking is, basically we're going within the culture, within the religion, and we're saying look we can compete. It takes an idea to defeat an idea. And we're creating one idea at a time for one concept at a time. For every concept extremist has, we have a counter-narrative that basically says the opposite of what they're teaching.

In other words, we expose their falsehood; and we use everything within our disposal. The religion is an important part of this process; so as politics, family, culture, and a lot of other things.

In terms of risk, there's no more risk than going to work on September 11 or watching a Boston Marathon or even going to work at "Charlie Hebdo." There is a risk, but it just -- it's all of us who are in the risk.

CUOMO: The impact so far?

AHMED: The impact has gone across the board. Within the community here in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I've been doing outreach for a long time. So people call me Average Mohamed now. The kids know about me, and they know about the messaging. And I'm actually -- kids know about the message, and if they didn't know about the message, they're actually liking it. Because they're saying, "Finally, someone is talking to us, not at us."

CUOMO: Right. That's an important distinction, and you may be called or referred to as the Average Mohamed. But what you're trying to do makes you very above average.

Erroll, let me bring you into the conversation. There you are out in Minnesota. People say Minnesota, there's no problems with any kind of -- we don't understand that there's a burgeoning Muslim population there, largely from North Africa, but spreading all the time. And what have you seen out in the field, with what the risk is of who can be radicalized and how?

ERROLL SOUTHERS, DIRECTOR, TRANSITION AND RESEARCH DEPLOYMENT AT CREATE.USC: Well good morning, Chris, thank you. What we've seen in the field is that the radicalization process, is more face to face; and literally anyone can be radicalized.

The young men who left Minneapolis in 2008-2009, I've talked to some of their friends. I'm talking about the young men who went and joined el-Shabaab and actually were suicide bombers there. They were good students; they were well-liked. They had incredible social skills.

And then they changed. And they became these young people said to me were very religious. They started to criticize their own colleagues about the way they dressed and spoke and socialized. So what they said to me was, these are not poor, despondent, homeless desperate young men sometimes. It's a total across-the-board attempt to recruit people, and anyone can be susceptible when the messaging such as Average Mohamed is not there.

CUOMO: But what is the hook? Because I can become devoutly Muslim and not want to kill non-Muslims, right? That's anathema to the faith. So what is that linking mechanism of not only are you going to be become more Muslim, but you're going to become more in this perverse way?

SOUTHERS: Well, Chris, we found three things so far to be the hook. First is the victim mentality. The fact that concentrated poverty and limited opportunities for education and employment that they see as based on race, ethnicity and most importantly religion.

The second item is the glory factor. The coolness factor, as was described to me by the YouTube videos of these foreign fighters that are across the board shoot -- firing AK-47s and what they are saying is having fun.

And then the third factor is misinformation. Where the United States is the scapegoat for their condition here in the United States. And their condition back in their homeland.

Mohamed, have you tried and if so, have you found any effectiveness, in mocking what is seen as brave in these videos? The idea of beheading someone whose hands are tied behind their back is anything but warrior-like behavior. Have you thought about going down that road? And if so, does it bear any fruit?

AHMED: Well, the thing is, we're looking at glory. Basically, these are the glory-seekers. And if you look at what they're doing, it is based on reality TV. They're actually posing for us. This is made for us, and they're targeting us. And the whole goal and agenda is to make it seem as if this is normal. And this is part of what good Muslim is and our goal and objective is to go ahead and counter that with a narrative. And completely take it down. Take one idea at a time, one concept at a time and say these look they values exist within our religion and they're not independent of our religion and this falsehood, this idea of ideology. And that is the impact we're trying to have is promoting peace, which is a two-finger sign up, and extremist thinking out, with a two thumbs down.

CUOMO: Good. The message is obvious and clear and needed. So thank you for that.

Erroll, what else is needed? In what you've learned with those who have become radicalized and came to their senses, what brought them back?

SOUTHERS: One of the things that I've been hearing is they need a safe space to talk about this. Parents have told me, "If we talk about terrorism in the home, the kids may go to school and mention that we talked about terrorism in the home. And the next day, the authorities will visit our house." So they need a safe space to talk about this.

The other thing that they said is, "We can't marginalize the community. You can't profile this community. We've got to partner with them if something's going to happen here."

Mohamed Ahmed is a tipping point in the Minneapolis community. People believe him; they listen to him. So that partnership is critical.

And then lastly, we've got to support the correct programs. We're hearing that these programs are popping up all over, alleging to be CVE or countering violent extremism programs. And they're not perhaps properly vetted with business plans that suggest what they're going to, how they're going to do it, how they're going to measure success and can we replicate some of the things THAT they're offering.

CUOMO: Unfortunately, you're going to see people find opportunity in any way they can, and often it will be exploiting even something like this.

Mr. Southers, thank you very much.

The Average Mohamed, again, I find you anything but average. Thank you for coming on, and let us know how you go -- how it goes for you, spreading the message. Appreciate it.

Mick, over to you.

PEREIRA: Great conversation there, Chris.

She is the most wanted woman in the world. We are on the trail of Hayat Boumeddiene's escape to Syria. We have a CNN exclusive ahead.

CAMEROTA: And when it comes to the 2016 presidential race, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush got all the attention last week; and that did not sit so well with Senator Ted Cruz. That's coming up on "Inside Politics" with John King.