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Interview With Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser; Terror in Denmark; Egypt Attacks ISIS; Killer Freeze; Explosion & Oil Spill After Train Derails; Fed Set New Rules to Control Drone Danger

Aired February 16, 2015 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: icy blast. Fifty million Americans are in the path of a brutal winter storm. It's hitting parts of the East Coast right now with up to a foot of snow and killer cold.

Firing back -- anti-ISIS forces launch a second wave of airstrikes in retaliation for a mass beheading, the terrorists now extending their reach in the Middle East and making more enemies.

And drone danger. The feds take a big step toward allowing thousands more remotely controlled aircraft in the skies, potentially raising the risk of deadly crashes with passenger planes.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, a massive new storm is hammering millions of Americans, reaching into areas that have gotten off relatively easily so far this winter. Snow, freezing, rain, ice and bitter cold, they're stretching from Oklahoma to South Carolina and up to New Jersey. We're getting hit here in the Washington, D.C., area this hour.

Also breaking, a second round of punishing airstrikes against ISIS, striking ISIS training camps, weapons and other targets in Libya. Egypt, meanwhile, is escalating its role in the war against the terrorists after the slaughter of 21 Egyptian Christians by ISIS.

Our correspondents and analysts are all covering the battle against ISIS and this new weather emergency as well.

First, let's go to our senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns. He's where the crews are working to keep roads and highways open.

Joe, it's coming down where you are.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Wolf. You look behind me, this is the mega-salt facility in Alexandria, Virginia. The trucks are just queuing up to take the salt out on the roads.

But the big story is all the traffic on a federal holiday in a snowstorm. People are still driving. The truck drivers are begging them to get off the road. This is a very serious situation. In many parts of the South and the East, it's just getting started.


JOHNS (voice-over): Freezing cold temperatures mixed with heavy snow and ice taking aim mostly at the South, more than 50 million people under winter storm warnings, stretching from Missouri through South Carolina, making driving conditions treacherous.

In Kentucky, a tow truck driver gets stuck as others try to make it home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's all right if you just maintain. But if you speed, you know, you can't get nowhere fast but prayers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now I'm trying to get home. I just had a blowout on the freeway. But I was able to pull in here.

JOHNS: Richmond, Virginia, bracing for more than a foot of snow. From Little Rock, Arkansas, to Memphis, cars covered in ice. Charlotte, North Carolina, was expecting see snow first, then up to half-an-inch of ice on the roadways, both the city and county government closing early to get people home before the worst of it hit the area.

GOV. PAT MCCRORY (R), NORTH CAROLINA: We have been meeting and talking on the phone since yesterday to ensure that we have a good coordinated rollout and strategy to deal with very, very unique cold situations across our state. It's kind of ironic. This is about the same time we had the major storm last year. But it's a different type of storm.

JOHNS: On the end of a long weekend that coincided with both Valentine's Day and President's Day, air travelers trying to get home were also being affected. Charlotte's busy airport put its snow and ice control plan into affect. And in Nashville, Southwest Airlines canceled all arrivals and departures.

Three to seven inch of snow are forecast there in the next 24 hours.


JOHNS: A state of emergency declared here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the same at 7:00 tomorrow Eastern time in the District of Columbia.

The biggest problem of all for the people trying to treat these roads is the temperature. They use magnesium, as well as salt. But it doesn't work as well until you get above 20 degrees. And we are far from that right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Joe Johns outside of Washington, D.C., in Alexandria, Virginia.

I want to go to this video. Take a look at this, live pictures from Interstate 81. It's not far from Roanoke, Virginia. Look at that. It's basically whiteout conditions over there not from Roanoke, Virginia. And it's getting worse. It's getting even worse by the half-hour, shall we say, in Richmond, Virginia.

Let me go up to Richmond, Virginia. It's going to be part of this bullseye.

CNN's Ana Cabrera is south of the city.

Ana, it's awful down there near Roanoke. What's going on where you are?

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are working our way north. You can see the snow is really starting to come down here, Wolf.

This is an area that's not used to the amount of snow that is expected. We are talking about a historic storm. You can see it's already piling up on the ground here. If you pan down with me, Phil, you can see probably about an inch, maybe two inches already on the ground here. That could make for really treacherous road conditions.

By the time this is all over, in about 12 to 14 hours from now, Wolf, we're talking about up to 14 inches of snow on the ground. That would put this in the top 10 of all-time snowfalls. We're talking records that go back to 1897. That's how big of a deal this is. We're already seeing cars going off the roads.

We saw I-85 shut down in one direction because of what appeared to be an accident involving a semi. People around here tell us they are not used to driving in these conditions. So hazardous road conditions are one thing. We know there are about 12,000 pieces of equipment ready and mobilized.

Joe Johns mentioned the state of emergency, which puts National Guard on standby ready to respond. And there's also concern about potential power outages under the weight of what's expected in this storm, the snowfall. And that could be a big problem with the very cold temperatures.

We're talking temps below -- about 30 degrees below normal for this time of the year, in the 20-degree range, maybe into the teens overnight. And it's not expected to be above freezing until possibly Saturday, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ana Cabrera, be careful over there.

She's not far from Richmond, the capital of Virginia.


BLITZER: Joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM is the mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser.

Mayor, thanks very much for joining us.

MURIEL BOWSER (D), MAYOR OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: My pleasure, Wolf. Thanks for having me. BLITZER: Congratulations.

Your first major crisis since you have become mayor, right?

BOWSER: Well, we have had a few snow events.

BLITZER: But nothing like this.


BOWSER: Nothing like this.

And we have been out since 3:00 p.m. with over 200 pieces of equipment on the ground getting ready for the snow.

BLITZER: What are you bracing for in the District of Columbia? Forget about Montgomery County and the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. What about D.C.?

BOWSER: Well, what the forecasts say is we could get up to eight inches and it can snow -- it started a little after 4:00. And we expect it to snow through the night.

We have had crews out treating the roads. We are going to put plows down when we get some accumulation and try to get ahead of this for tomorrow.

BLITZER: Take a look at a video. This is live pictures there. This is I-81 south of Roanoke, Virginia, not all that far away from where we are here in the nation's capital.

I don't know if you are bracing for this. But if it's going to be this, have you already closed schools, for example? Or you haven't made that decision yet?

BOWSER: Well, we are going to go on a call at 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. with the region to see what the conditions are. And we expect to be able to make some decisions, either before bedtime, the 10:00 or 11:00 news.


BLITZER: Because you have got to let the parents, the families know.

BOWSER: We want to let know just as soon as possible.


BLITZER: Because Prince George's County, outside of Washington, they have already closed schools tomorrow.

BOWSER: Well, you know, we want to be able to open if we can. But we have to have the roads, the sidewalk conditions safe for the children...

BLITZER: Who makes that decision in D.C.?

BOWSER: ... and for our personnel. I do.

BLITZER: That's your decision. That's a lot of responsibility you have.

BOWSER: Yes, absolutely. It's a huge responsibility. And more than that, we want to also make some decisions around whether we're going to be able to provide the direct services of our government.

BLITZER: The federal government, they have to decide also if they're going to have liberal leave policy, as they say. Shut down big chunks of the D.C. -- of the federal government in the D.C. area.

BOWSER: We have been very cooperative with the region. The Office of Personnel Management gets on the call with us at 7:00 and at 9:00 p.m.

What's important also, in addition to the snow, is it's dangerously cold, as you know. We're asking all of our residents to look out for each other and call our 211 if they see people that need help and be safe.

BLITZER: Because there are homeless people in the streets, and some them don't want to go to shelters.

BOWSER: Yes. And so we have all of our partner providers out making sure that people have access to our warming centers and shelter if they need it, but, also, elderly neighbors or people who might be living without adequate heat. That's important.

BLITZER: Are you concerned about losing power? Because obviously that would be a huge disaster.

BOWSER: We're always concerned about power in a winter storm. It looks like the snow we have coming our way is the light snow. We're not expecting a mix. But should conditions change and we get a heavier, icier snow, that's when we become even more concerned about power.

BLITZER: I have lived in this area for a long time. And D.C. has a problem in that, at least my experience over the years -- and you are the new mayor, so you're not responsible. They can clear the big streets, Massachusetts Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue, Northwest, Washington, those streets get pretty clear.

But the small streets, they suffer tremendously if there's eight inches of snow. It takes a long time to clear those side streets. Right?

BOWSER: Well, we expect it's going to take a couple of days to dig out, especially since the temperatures are going to be -- remain cold all week. So we're asking our residents to be patient.

But I have talked to our entire snow team. My expectation is, of course, we're going to get to the major commute routes. But we are going to get in residential neighborhoods and so that people can have expectation of getting out of their residential neighborhoods as well.

BLITZER: Mayor, this is your first big snow crisis since becoming mayor.

BOWSER: This is a big one.

BLITZER: Good luck to you.

BOWSER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, appreciate it very much.

Muriel Bowser is the new mayor of Washington, D.C.,

Let's check in one of the other cities that is bearing the brunt of the storm right now.

Doug Hamilton. He's the chief of public services in Louisville, Kentucky.

What's it like there, Mr. Hamilton.

DOUG HAMILTON, CHIEF OF PUBLIC SERVICES, LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY: Well, depending on where you live in our county, you get between six and 11 inches, which is very unusual for our city. It's a top five record snow for us.

BLITZER: So you don't remember a time when you are going to hit like this, is that what I'm hearing?

HAMILTON: It's been about 10 years since we had something this significant. We only get less than two feet a year for the entire season.

Are you ready for this?

HAMILTON: Absolutely.

We have about 2,700 miles that we're responsible for plowing. And we're on our third pass of those.

BLITZER: What about power shortages? We heard from the mayor of Washington, D.C., she's not all that concerned because this is a light snow. How is the snow in Louisville?

HAMILTON: To give her some idea of what we got, we also got that light powdery snow. It was a big break, none of the ice that some other cities are getting. And we have had about 100 homes affected so far today by power outages.

BLITZER: What do you need most right now in order to get through this crisis?

HAMILTON: Well, our main thoroughfares to be clear, people not parking along our main thoroughfares so that we can plow them, because as the mayor of Washington indicated, we have bitter cold coming. What we can't get plowed off today is going to sit up like rocks in the next couple of days, especially Thursday.

BLITZER: Have you shut down schools there in Louisville?

HAMILTON: Schools were shut down today. They will also be shut down tomorrow.

BLITZER: Doug Hamilton, chief of public services in Louisville, good luck to you and good luck to all the folks there. Appreciate it very much.

HAMILTON: Thank you.

BLITZER: We will stay on top of the story for our viewers.

But there's other news we're following, including a new air assault against ISIS, while anti-terror forces are collapsing on another important battleground.

New information about the suspect in the Copenhagen terror attack and his possible connection to ISIS.


BLITZER: Tonight, new firepower in the war against ISIS, Egypt launching a second round of airstrikes to make the terrorists pay for the mass beheading of Egyptian Christians.

It's more horrific proof that ISIS is deepening its reach beyond its strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She has got the very latest -- Barbara.


Tonight, the U.S. intelligence community looking at every frame of this horrific video to see if there are any clues they can learn about who exactly the killers were.


STARR (voice-over): Some of the ISIS hostages cry out, "Oh, God, oh, Jesus," as they are pushed to their knees -- a five-minute ISIS execution video with slick production, multiple camera angles and utter brutality on a beach in Libya, 21 men, Egyptian Christians who came to Libya looking for work, killed. The video shows at least a dozen beheaded.

One masked jihadi in well-spoken English:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Recently, you have seen us on the hills of as-Sham.

STARR: His English raising questions about who he is and where he's from. In Egypt, Christians in mourning. Egyptian's President Al-Sisi

responding with airstrikes inside Libya against what Egypt says are ISIS training camps. ISIS, however, achieving one of its goals, using violence to get attention.

AKI PERITZ, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Terrorism is political theater and they know how to sort of create spectacle to get into the media. And that's why we're really talking about it today.

STARR: The video raising concern that ISIS capabilities are now spreading across the region.

ROBERT GRENIER, FORMER CIA OFFICIAL: ISIS is clearly in communication with others who have taken on the ISIS name and the ISIS brand, not just in Libya, but elsewhere in the Islamic world as well.

STARR: Not just in Libya, but also in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, far from strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

But for the U.S., Iraq remains the top priority right now, where still fragile Iraqi security forces are struggling to hold on. One Iraqi tribal leader telling CNN that ISIS is gaining ground in Anbar province west of Baghdad and predicting a collapse there of Iraqi army units if tribal forces withdraw, exactly what the White House doesn't want just as it's asking Congress for new authority to fight the militants.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our coalition is on the offensive. ISIL is on the defensive and ISIL is going to lose.

STARR: But even if the U.S. can push ISIS back out of Iraq...

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: The big question mark in my mind is Syria and just exactly how long is it going to take us to be able to confront ISIS in Syria? Because, if they have a safe haven there, they may continue to be trouble for a long time.


STARR: Now, U.S. officials believe this video may be different than some of the other execution videos ISIS has put out on social media, this time, mass murder aimed really at Christianity.

There's a lot of concern about what this all means. The unanswered questions are, when did the executions actually take place? It's believed that ISIS has had these hostages for some time. When did it take place? And why did ISIS decide now to release this video, Wolf?

BLITZER: Important questions. Barbara, thank you.

Also breaking right now, an ISIS connection to the newest acts of terror in Europe. We're learning that the alleged gunman in the deadly attacks in Denmark actually pledged support to that terrorist group. Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is in Copenhagen. She's

joining us live.

Pamela, you are hearing an alarming story, a post on a social media Web site. What are you hearing?


Police had been saying they knew about this suspect, Omar El- Hussein, because of his gang ties. But we're learning about his extremist ties as well. In fact, right before the shooting, he apparently pledged allegiance to ISIS on his social media page.


BROWN (voice-over): For the first time tonight, the sound of apparent gunfire at a free speech event in Copenhagen, a hail of bullets that left one dead and three policemen injured, more than 20 shots in this audio obtained by BBC, though CNN cannot authenticate the tape.

With the suspected shooter now dead, Danish police are focusing on two men they arrested who allegedly helped the suspect. Danish authorities tell CNN that man seen here in surveillance video is 22- year-old Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein. Tonight, he is also under investigation, including any ties he may have had to extremism.

In what appears to be a Facebook posting by El-Hussein just before the shootings, he declares an allegiance to Abu Bakr, a possible reference to the ISIS leader.

HELLE THORNING-SCHMIDT, PRIME MINISTER OF DENMARK: He was known for several criminal acts, including severe violence. And he was also known to be linked to a criminal gang in Copenhagen.

BROWN: Investigators believe El-Hussein, seen here in boxing video from 2013, was targeting Lars Vilks, a Danish artist put on the most wanted list by al Qaeda after he drew a satirical cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

The 22-year-old alleged shooter did not kill Vilks Saturday and fled the scene. Hours later, police say he opened fire at a Jewish synagogue, killing a 37-year-old security guard and wounding two more officers before again evading police. Mette Bentow was inside the synagogue celebrating her daughter Hannah's bat mitzvah.

METTE BENTOW, SURVIVOR: I went into the other room and said everyone to the basement. We all ran to the basement.

BROWN: She says the security guard Dan Uzan saved their lives.

BENTOW: Once I had learned what had happened -- I'm sorry -- all I could think about was, of course, Dan and his family and how are we going to show our gratitude? BROWN: Tonight, police are still trying to figure out what

exactly motivated El-Hussein, although one former schoolmate says it's clear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it didn't come as a surprise for us, really. You know, he expressed his radical views in the classroom. But to take action from saying them inside the classroom, that's the surprising element of it, I think.


BROWN: El-Hussein apparently got out of jail just a couple of weeks ago, according to national radio. There are indications he was radicalized in jail.

Wolf, people we have been speaking to on the ground here in Copenhagen say there is a growing trend of criminals involved with gangs spilling over into jihadism -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly a disturbing trend. All right, thank you, Pamela Brown in Copenhagen for us.

As the war against terror spreads to new fronts, our new CNN poll shows Americans are increasingly unhappy with President Obama's response to ISIS as well as the war on terror.

Our White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski has the poll numbers for us.

Michelle, tell our viewers what you know.


You look at these numbers and you see a country pretty much divided down the middle or whether or not people trust President Obama as commander in chief. Also, this growing disapproval over how he is handling the issues. I mean, 58 percent of these respondents now say they feel the war against ISIS is going badly.

That's up from 49 percent just in October. Even among Democrats, about half now are not happy with it. Also, a majority disapprove of how President Obama is handling foreign affairs in general, terrorism and even cyber-security -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about ground troops, the possible deployment of U.S. combat ground troops? How does the American public feel about that?

KOSINSKI: I think that's one of the most interesting things in this poll, because as you see this growing disapproval, you also see among the respondents more Americans open to using ground troops if they had that choice. I mean, 47 percent agree with that idea. And 50 percent approve, and that's up from 43 percent in favor of ground troops just a couple of months ago.

President Obama, of course, staunchly opposes the use of ground troops. But when he submitted just the other week this request for the authorization of the use of military force against ISIS to Congress, he ruled out long-term use of ground troops in combat, but didn't rule them out altogether. That's going to be up for debate once Congress takes this on, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Michelle Kosinski at the White House where the snow is coming down.

Let's get some more now with our experts.

Joining us, our CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd. He's a former CIA official. Our CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer, he's a former CIA operative. Our global affairs analyst, retired Lieutenant Colonel James Reese, he's a former Delta Force commander. And our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, a former assistant director of the FBI.

The suspect in this Denmark shooting is dead. But two accomplices, potential accomplices, alleged accomplices, are being held right now. Where does this investigation move, especially now that apparently he posted before this incident his loyalty to ISIS?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, the first place it moves is to the two additional people that they are investigating as to whether they provided support to him, knew of the plot in advance and helped him carry it out or at least provided a safe haven for him, and whether others are involved and whether it's connected to the other attacks directly or indirectly in Paris and the groups in Belgium and even back in the United States. They are trying to look at who all is involved.

BLITZER: Would the FBI normally help the Danish in a situation like this?

FUENTES: Absolutely. Absolutely.


FUENTES: Yes. The FBI has been helping Denmark. The office there opened in 1999. Going back, the plot to go after the "Jyllands- Posten" newspaper in Copenhagen was being planned for by David Coleman Headley, who later coordinated the Mumbai attack.

He was supposed to finish Mumbai and then move to attack that newspaper in Copenhagen. He had already made trips to the newspaper, surveilled it, sketched out how they would do the attack. So that goes back to 2008 and '09 back in that time frame.

BLITZER: Philip Mudd, the gunman in Denmark who is now dead may have been inspired by what happened in Paris a few weeks ago, the Kouachi brothers going on the attack against the "Charlie Hebdo" magazine offices and then Amedy Coulibaly going a few hours later on the attack at the kosher supermarket in Paris. This looks ominously similar to what happened in Copenhagen.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That's right. I don't think we should say may have been inspired. I would be really surprised if he wasn't inspired.

And here's why. When I watch cases like this at the agency overseas and then at the FBI, domestic cases across America, there's not only an operational bridge for a suspect to cross between thinking about an act of violence and conducting it, there's an emotional bridge. It takes a great deal of energy for someone to finally decide that murder is appropriate.

I think what might have happened in this case is what I witness in other cases. This individual in Denmark watches the French case and looks in the mirror and says to himself, "If I don't act now, if I don't act on my idea that what happens in Paris is appropriate, am a coward? Am I not willing to accept I have a role in purifying Islam and in attacking the west?" I think what might have happened in Paris is sort of the switch that encouraged this individual to cross that emotional bridge from considering an attack to actually conducting an attack.

BLITZER: So what about that, Bob Baer? Could this attack -- now we have the attack in Paris, now the attack in Copenhagen -- inspire other would-be terrorists, maybe even here in the United States?

BAER: Well, Phil is absolutely right. I think this is a copycat attack. But what struck me is that he didn't swear allegiance on Facebook until he was ready to pull the trigger. So these people know that the FBI and intelligence are looking in general at Facebook all the time, Twitter, trying to run these contexts down. They're getting more cautious.

The question is, where did he get the weapon? It sounds like it was a pistol. But there's so many weapons in Europe missing from the military. They cross over to something bigger.

But again, this is law enforcement's worst nightmare is a lone wolf inspired, knows how to use guns, knows what the targets are, finds his guidance off the Internet and doesn't show his hand. These guys are really hard to catch.

BLITZER: So what do you do, Colonel Reese, about these kinds of individuals? No known formal ties to ISIS or al Qaeda or any other terrorist group. But they get inspired and they go out there and do what they've done. How do you deal with this?

REESE: Well, Wolf, one place we have to find is where is the origin of these aspects coming to a place where they're getting inspired? Right now, we've seen several places where it happened to the Coulibalys, this gentleman out here. It happens when they're in jail. And this is probably one of the places we're going to have to take a look at, get ourselves some scientists in there, figure out what is going on. But this is nothing -- nothing new.

We've seen this inspiration comes from all different sides of radicalism, whether Islam or others, that we see here in the states at times.

BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, I've heard this a lot that sometimes a gang member goes to jail -- in this particular case, this individual, this suspect was in jail for stabbing someone, serving time and then becomes radicalized while in prison. You've heard that?

FUENTES: Yes. It's very common here in the United States. We've had people get radicalized in U.S. prisons, federal, state and local. It's happened a lot. Not only that, but they either join a gang -- they get brought into some organization, in some cases another gang. In some cases it's a religious organization, some cases Christian, some cases extreme Islam. So we have seen that.

BLITZER: All right. I want everybody to stand by, because we have much more to go through.

We're also getting new video of a train derailment right now. Take a look at this. A state of emergency now in two counties. We're going to tell you what we know. Look at these pictures that are coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Wow. We'll have more on this when we come back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you get a picture of that?




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you get a picture of that? Man.


BLITZER: Take a look at that. Look at that fire. Look at that plume of smoke. These images just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. A CXS train hauling crude oil derailed and exploded this afternoon in Fayette County, West Virginia. Look at that. This happened about 1:30 p.m. Eastern as CNN affiliate WSAZ was recording an interview. This is video as it happened. Look at that plume of smoke.

Tonight, people are being kept out of their homes in the area. And least one home is reported destroyed. So far, no one is dead. Let's hope it stays that way.

At least a dozen of the train's 109 cars came off the track, some of them spilling oil into a river used for drinking water in West Virginia counties.

We don't know why that train derailed, but take a look at this video. It's really, really disturbing. There's a state of emergency, we're told, in two West Virginia counties right now because of this train derailment with that explosion and all of that oil spilling.

We'll get more information and get you updated on that.

Let's get back to our terrorism analysts right now. Philip Mudd, this video that was released by ISIS over the weekend, depicting the murder -- the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians, what possibly could motivate ISIS to not only go ahead and execuse [SIC] these -- execute these Egyptian Christians who simply went to Libya to look for work, but then to promote it on their websites and do a fancy video about it?

MUDD: Boy, there are a couple of things you need to think about, Wolf. One is these folks think they are representatives of the true faith who are defending the faith from threat. If you look across the Middle East, in Yemen, it's defending against the Shia Houthis. In Iraq, it's defending against the Shia government in Baghdad. In Syria, it's defending against the Iranian-backed Bashar al-Assad. And now in Libya, it's defending against people they will portray as Christians coming in, for example, to proselytize. So they're trying to persuade people to join them, because they are the defenders from their own perspective of the true faith.

One other -- one other quick point. And that is, we think of these as religious radicals. When I watch cells in the United States and overseas, you should also think of this as a cult culture. That it's a very tight-knit group of leaders who persuade each other that these acts of -- acts of violence are not only appropriate; they are required by the faith.

So this combination of religious motivation with this tight-knit almost cult-like group of leaders leads to this group conducting acts of violence like the murder of those 21 Coptic Christians.

BLITZER: Now Egypt, the Egyptian government, the Egyptian military openly saying they will get revenge for the beheading of these Egyptian Christians.

Bob Baer, our latest CNN/ORC poll show the president getting poor marks on his handling of the war against ISIS, the war on terror. And I spoke to the top Democrat of the House Armed Services Committee earlier, Congressman Adam Smith of Washington state. Listen to what he said to me.


BLITZER: The latest poll numbers show 57 percent of Americans disapprove of the president's handling of foreign affairs, 54 percent disapprove of his handling of terrorism, 57 percent disapprove of the way he's handling ISIS. What does he need to do to get a majority of the Americans to think he's doing the right thing?

REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON: Well, I think, first of all, to clearly and comprehensively explain his strategy.


BLITZER: All right. So Bob, what do you think about that advice: the president has got to do a better job explaining his strategy?

BAER: Well, Wolf, let's don't forget that last year he called ISIS the JV team of terrorism. He's completely miscalculated this thread. He's miscalculated it in Iraq, in Libya. He thought if we could keep hands off that this would all go away. And at times I did, too. I thought it would collapse under its own weight. I was wrong. The president was wrong.

He has to get a better intelligence team in there, at the State Department and the rest of the government to tell him what's going on. We have to deal with the reality of this, which we all haven't quite grasped, and get a new game plan.

BLITZER: Does he need to do a better job, Colonel Reese, in getting that strategy, making it clear to the American public?

REESE: Yes, Wolf, we've talked about it for months. You know, I truly believe -- again I say the center of gravity on this whole piece that the president is not speaking about is Syria. That's the main stronghold for ISIS right now. I believe it's where their senior leaders are sitting. And it's a safe haven. And we just skirt around the issues of Syria. And until we figure that out, it's not going to help his numbers.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by, because we have much more on the war on terror coming up.

Also, we have new details of the powerful explosion this afternoon with that train derailed in West Virginia. Stand by for that, as well.


BLITZER: A state of emergency has now been declared in two West Virginia counties after a train hauling crude oil derailed and exploded this afternoon in Fayette County, West Virginia.

Our CNN affiliate WSAZ was recording an interview and caught the explosion as it happened. I want you to watch this.


BLITZER: So far, no one is dead, fortunately. Let's hope it stays that way.

But some of the derailed tank cars are spilling oil into a river used for drinking water in several West Virginia counties. The intakes for the public water supplies in the towns of Montgomery, Cedar Grove have been closed. Tonight, people near the derailment are being kept out of their homes. At least one home is reported destroyed. We're going to stay on top of this story for our viewers. A pretty awful situation there in West Virginia.

We are also following new developments as the federal government tries to cope with the danger posed by rapidly increasing use of drones.

Our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. She's got new information. Rene, what are you learning?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, U.S. airspace is about to look like it's never looked before. The FAA just got one step closer to opening the skies for thousands of drones to share the skies with passenger planes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can do this very safely.

MARSH (voice-over): The FAA is making way for thousands more drones to take to the skies. The agency's new proposed rules would allow businesses like Hazon Solutions to fly unmanned aircraft.

DAVID CULLER, JR., CEO, HAZON SOLUTIONS: A lot of companies want to utilize them for the dull, dangerous and dirty jobs. And so, there's a lot of jobs done with human beings that are extremely dangerous.

MARSH: Right now, the U.S. bans almost out outdoor flights for commercial purposes, but filing this camera-equipped drone inside our studio, no problem.

The head of the FAA told CNN he predicts a booming industry with thousands of drones in the sky within years.

MICHAEL HUERTA, FAA ADMINISTER: This technology holds great promise and great potential. And that's something that's only going to continue to grow. I don't think we fully know what the full scope of the use for unmanned aircraft is even at this point in time.

MARSH: The new proposal would allow companies to fly unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds up to 500 feet during the day. Operators would have to get a license and keep the aircraft within sight. The line of sight requirement would prevent Amazon's plans to deliver packages.

But the proposal is perfect for other companies. Hazon would use drones for task like inspecting electrical towers. Realtors, farmers and even TV producers could send drones up.

But safety is still a concern. Just last month, a drone crashed on the White House lawn. And in 2014, there were more than 190 drones sighted near planes and at least two dozen caused near collisions, including this one spotted by a pilot landing at JFK.

PILOT: I don't know if it's a drone or a balloon. It just came real quick.

HUERTA: This rule lays out the framework of what's allowed and what isn't. It doesn't in any way change that any use needs to operate safely within the national air space system.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MARSH: Well, the proposed rules are a huge step because it gets

the ball rolling. But some businesses say it is still too restrictive. The specifically with the rules that say drones cannot be flown near crowds of people, can only be flown during daylight and up to 500 feet. They say that simply limits what they can do with the technology.

But just be mindful, we won't see these flying in the air next week. It could take about two or three years before this is all hashed out.

BLITZER: Yes, but the head of the FAA says thousands could be flying around, before you know it. Obviously, they're going to have to deal with that.

Thanks, Rene, very much.

Just ahead, we're going to have more on that awful train derailment and that huge explosion in West Virginia.


BLITZER: So what happens when six CNN anchors compete against each other all in the sake of charity? Tune in later tonight to find out when they test their knowledge of presidential history on CNN's quiz show, the presidents' edition.

Here's a behind-the-scenes look at the anchors sizing up their competition?


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's rare we're all together in one place. So, it's an interesting dynamic.

Jake Tapper takes this game really seriously.


COOPER: That is correct.

TAPPER: Erin Burnett, John Quincy Berman, you guys are going down like the dude President Andrew Jackson shot in that duel.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Deadweight is how I described -- deadweight Jake.


COOPER: Anything can happen.

BURNETT: And then there's Don and Cuomo. There's the testosterone overload.

TAPPER: Look at for Cuomo, that fancy boy from the governor's mansion. COOPER: Just nice to see these anchors sweat.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: What competition?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I mean, the premise of the question is (INAUDIBLE). There is no competition.


BLITZER: And joining us now, the host of the "CNN Quiz Show: Presidents Edition", our own Anderson Cooper.

Anderson, how much fun was this for you?

COOPER: You know, it actually was a lot of fun. I was able to have fun. They were all nervous, understandably, because their reputations are on the line. I was in the enviable position of just asking the questions, so I could sort of -- and I could poke fun of them at the same time.

BLITZER: And I'm sure you did. What surprised you the most?

COOPER: You know, there's a lot of tough questions. I was surprised by how much presidential knowledge they actually had. I don't know to what level they studied, I don't know how they couldn't study, I've been on "Jeopardy" a couple of times and it's not something that you could study for. Since they knew this was going to be presidential trivia, I'm sure they knew they were studying the presidential trivia books. But I was surprised at how much they knew and sort of the vastness and the variety of questions.

BLITZER: How hard were the questions you think?

COOPER: I mean, there were some really easy ones, no doubt it. I mean, this is the equivalent of like the dumbed down celebrity edition of "Jeopardy," which is the one that I was on several times. So, tut there were some tough ones, you know? And I felt bad for a couple of anchors because sometimes one group seemed to get really easy questions and the next group got walloped with really tough ones.

So, it's fun to watch. The money goes to charity. So, it's all good for cause. And, you know, I can't tell you who won. But it's got pretty cutthroat.

BLITZER: Did you get the impression that these anchor teams did prepare, they did their homework?

COOPER: Oh, yeah. There's no doubt about it. I know, I'm not sure all of them prepared but I think some of them prepared. But also, look, you know, Jake Tapper is an American history major. John Berman may have studied American history but he certainly knows an awful lot of presidential trivia. So, those were -- I'd say the two pillars in terms of the competition but there's a lot of studying, I think, going on.

BLITZER: All right. We're looking forward to seeing it later on tonight. Anderson, you had fun. We'll see what unfolds.

COOPER: I enjoyed it actually, yes.

BLITZER: All right. Excellent. Let's see what happens later tonight.

By the way, Anderson will be back in one hour at 8:00 p.m. Eastern for his program, "AC360". "The CNN Quiz Show: Presidents Edition" airs later tonight, right after "AC360", 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Check it out.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Go ahead, tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNSitroom.

Please be sure to join us again tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can watch us live or DVR the show so you won't miss a moment.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT starts right now.