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Major Battles Put ISIS on the Defensive; Protest Against Police Shooting of Tony Robinson; Family Calls for Peaceful Protests after Teens Killing; GOP Senators to Iran's Leaders: Nuke Deal Won't Last; Policewoman Among 4 Arrested in Paris Terror Case; 'Sunday Times': 'Jihadi John' Apologizes to His Family

Aired March 9, 2015 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, terrorist policewoman -- four people are arrested in Paris tied to the gunman in the bloody Paris kosher supermarket attack. One of those in custody, a female police officer, reportedly worked at an intelligence center.

Shooting protests -- thousands marching through the streets and packing Wisconsin's state capitol, voicing outrage against the police killing of an unarmed teenager.

Model in hiding -- after witnessing his murder, the girlfriend of a top Putin arrival stays out of sight, as a suspect is said to blow himself up.

And dead battery -- a report of the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 raising troubling new questions -- was the search doomed from the start because there was never any pow tore a crucial signal beacon?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


We're following two major stories right now.

Thousands of protesters taking to the streets in Madison, Wisconsin, packing the state capital, voicing outrage after the fatal police shooting of an unarmed teenager.

We're following the latest developments.

And has ISIS been knocked back on its heels?

Major battles are underway right now on two fronts in Iraq. In the north, Kurdish forces, backed by U.S. air strikes, are advancing against ISIS fighters around Kirkuk. Further south, Iraqi troops and Shiite militias backed by Iran's military and Iran's heavy weapons are gaining ground against ISIS near Tikrit, as America's top general arrives in Iraq to assess the situation.

We'll talk with Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. Our correspondents, our analysts and guests, they're also standing by. Let's begin with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

She has the latest -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, landed in Baghdad today for consultations. Now, Iraq has been relying on Iran for help in many of its recent gains. General Dempsey perhaps reminding the Iraqis that the U.S. is putting a lot of muscle power of its own into this fight.


STARR (voice-over): Iraqi troops and Shia militia near Tikrit taking down ISIS flags, inching closer to liberating the city from ISIS control. The optics -- an Iraqi victory against ISIS backed up by help from Iran.

Senior U.S. officials watching across Iraq and Syria, as indications sporadically grow that ISIS could be in trouble. After nearly 3,000 coalition airstrikes, the days of freely moving around in large formations, flying black flags and taking territory may be over for the group.

GEN. LLOYD AUSTIN, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: They can no longer do that. And it's principally because of the effects that we've had. It's not about just kinetic effects alone.

STARR: Signs that ISIS may be fracturing in some local areas over the strain of attempting to function as a state.

JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We are seeing anecdotal evidence of resentment and even resistance in those areas that are controlled by ISIL.

STARR: ISIS having trouble providing basic municipal services.

CLAPPER: Electricity outages, shortages of food and commodities, airstrikes against their -- the refining capability has forced them to go to a lot of individual mom and pop refining stills.

STARR: But don't count ISIS out yet. The group has resorted to some conscription, but fresh recruits, including some from the West, are still flocking by the hundreds to Syria and Iraq, even though their losses are mounting and some even being killed if they try to leave.

SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: I don't see evidence right now that ISIS is falling apart. I do see evidence that ISIS is having some trouble in governing some territory, that there is internal squabbling among some of the foreign fighters and some of the local Iraqi and Syrian fighters. That's pretty standard from the range of these groups.


BLITZER: We're going to get AMB. Barbara in a few moments, because there's some breaking news happening out of Wisconsin.

This is the uncle of the teenager, Tony Robinson, who was 19 years old. He was unarmed. He was shot and killed by a police officer Friday night in Madison, Wisconsin.

The mother of Tony Robinson, Andrea Irwin, is expected to speak shortly, as well.

I want to listen in and hear what they're saying.

TURIN CARTUR, UNCLE OF TEEN SHOT BY POLICE: -- America's racial lines are completely and 100 percent blurred. My sister is a white mother of a black child -- black children, who have white and black relatives. We are all multiple races and we each have our own complex heritage. There's no way you can look at me, there's no way you can look at Tony or any of any nephews and to be able to determine 100 percent what we are in terms of our heritage and our ethnicity.

This is a bigger issue than Tony. This highlights a universal problem with law enforcement and how its procedures have been carried out, especially in light of what's happened over the summertime and many of the events that we've witnessed circulating around the news and specifically as it pertains to the systemic targeting of young black males.

My family grew up here in Madison. I grew up down the street on Ingersoll, on North Ingersoll Street. I lived on Dayton Street. I lived on Willy Street at different points in my life. My mom has been a resident of the East Side virtually ever since I can remember being in Madison.

And honestly, it's so hard to come to grips with the fact that my nephew was killed in an area that we have been such a big part of and that means so much to us, Wisconsin in general, but particularly the East Side. Everybody from here, we knows what Willy Street is -- we know what Willy Street is and what it means to us. And this is supposed to be a very liberal area, if not the most liberal area, of Madison, Wisconsin.

So fellow Madisonians, our hands are stained with the blood of my nephew and we are all -- we are all left to deal with the aftermath. He belongs now to everyone. And that's something that we've had to accept. He is now a champion of progress.

Law enforcement -- I want to make this clear. Law enforcement is necessary. In most cases, their efforts are very heroic. And we don't doubt that at all.

I implore you all to support as much as possible, but my family asks for privacy, privacy especially from the media. There will be a time -- there will be a time to address all the questions that need answers, that need and demand answers.

But for now, we ask the privacy needed to grieve the loss of a true staple of our family. There's one issue that my sister wants to be put to rest. Tony

Robinson, Jr.. is not a father of any child nor has he ever been involved in any paternity suit. I emphasize the word junior. The circulation of false information is hurtful. And I ask that we all just hesitate to speak on anything until the facts have been made clear.

This needs to be heard. I need everybody to hash tag Tony Robinson. Spread the word. Let's get justice for everyone who fell through the cracks of the justice system, because something needs to change.

And at this point, it's obvious -- like I said, it's so hard for us to let go of Tony, because he meant so much to us. And even now, I almost feel stoic in my demeanor here, being in the same spot that my nephew was murdered.

I'm five years older than him. He's more like a little brother. I had to learn how to be a nephew. So with that being said, I just encourage everybody to support as much as possible #TonyRobinson, #JusticeForTony, F-O-R for Tony. There's a Facebook page. I know there's a lot of independent organizations doing a lot to bring awareness and support and we want to know that we appreciate you. We truly, truly, truly appreciate you. Anything that we can do to bring awareness, because we are completely unbiased in this.

Yes, Tony was a loved one of ours and we will miss him and there's nothing that we can do to bring him back. But we want to know the facts of the matter and nothing else.

So with that idea in mind, I will be taking a couple of questions.


CARTUR: Please understand that I will be screening anything specific to the details of the investigation. It may as well not be asked, because I cannot and am not in a position to answer them. I will do the best to answer the questions that I can answer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Turin, how do you describe, since Friday, what your family has gone through?

How has time gone by?

Is it any easier to deal with now than it was Friday?

CARTUR: No. No. And that's something that I spoke to a lot to my father and a lot of people that I look up to and go to advice at. This is something we're going to deal with for the rest of our lives. So I can speak for myself in terms of me. I know my family has had a lot of -- a very hard time dealing with this. And in terms of me, it's pretty much surreal, you know. One second you look at the hashtags and you realize that's my nephew. And, you know, they speak about Tony's grandmother. And I'm like, yes, that's my mom.

So it's very surreal. I really haven't come to grips with it. I haven't -- I just haven't, because there's just so much that still needs to be done.

So -- and that's why the privacy is that much more important.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was about 2,000 people in the rotunda today.

What would you say to the people that want to get involved and want to make change on behalf of Tony?

CARTUR: Yes. Please, please, please, support, support, support, as much as possible. We need to bring awareness to everybody. That's the most important thing about everything, people knowing what's going on, not -- and having all the facts of the matter.

Now, what I do ask, we are not -- we are not proponents of anti- police in terms of the chants that I hear going on, in terms -- in regards to -- in regards to not trusting police, we don't condone that, because we understand that this was an individual act that obviously the entire -- an individual act that the entire police department has to take the responsibility for.

But we understand that cops are necessary, I shouldn't call them cops. Police officers, law enforcement is necessary and mandatory. And it's something -- and we need to change our mind set about the police. And that starts with procedural action as opposed to just singling out all the police officials that's negative, because they're a necessary entity in our society.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would you characterize the way your family has been treated by the department of criminal investigations?

CARTUR: There's very little I want to say about that. But I will say I'm very upset with the way they've been treated. My sister has still has not been able to see my son -- my nephew, her son. And in some regards -- in some regards, I just feel like it could have been handled a lot better and a lot more respect afforded to us.


CARTUR: Well, he's known as Tony to most of his friends. But to the family, he's known as Tirrell, because we have a Tony, Sr. over here.

Tirrell, a lot of his identity was formed because of his racial ambiguity, OK. He grew up -- we lived in Stoughton for a while, which isn't as diverse as Madison, let's put it. And I remember frequently Tirrell not being able to hang out with a lot of the kids, because they didn't -- their mothers came and talked to us and said that they were -- they didn't want him hanging out with a black kid. So Tirrell fought -- felt a misfit most of his life. And that's

why we became so close. I noticed that from a young on. And Tirrell just wanted to be loved, honestly. He -- and for that reason, he kind of got love from bad people -- not bad people, but people making poor decisions, and as a result, made some poor decisions. And I think that's something we all can relate to. We don't think Tony is a saint. We don't think Tirrell is a saint. We paint him as a human being, a 19-year-old, who made a terrible mistake at one point, which is completely, completely disassociated from this act, is what I want to make clear.

And that's what's very upsetting, that they try to associate his past with this act to paint a picture about the type of kid he was. And I think we can all look back on things we did when we were 19 and thank God that we weren't caught for some of the things that we did. I know personally I can say that.

So I just want you guys to know that tony -- Tirrell, he was a good, kindhearted kid who was very happy and just wanted to be accepted and wanted to be loved. And that -- that desire for love led him to bad places.

But he was somebody who paid his debt to society, according to society, and was actively trying to better himself.

And there's nothing else that question can ask of people.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The chief of police apparently came to your grandmother's house (INAUDIBLE). You've expressed understanding for police (INAUDIBLE) and the chief of police have been apologetic.

Do you accept his apology?

CARTUR: We're not going to comment on that at the matter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have funeral arrangements been made at this point?

CARTUR: Funeral arrangements have not been cemented yet. We're in the process of that. And as we know more information, we will absolutely let the people know, because I know a lot of people want to come and want to support. And we will give that opportunity 100 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) protests have been peaceful so far and would you want that to continue?

CARTUR: Yes. We want absolutely peaceful protests. We want no tension -- more further tension with police officers, because, like I said, this is an individual act that the enforcement agency is now responsible to in terms of PR. So we understand this is not how everything goes. And how -- if I'm aware, I was made clear -- I was made aware that earlier, there was an incident where there was a man shooting live rounds and he left the scene without -- without being shot or injured, really.

So to make it clear, we appreciate the police and we understand the necessity for them.

But does it -- but once again, that does not excuse what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you coping with (INAUDIBLE)?

CARTUR: That's a good question. Obviously, none of us have experienced loss on this level. So there's no real blueprint on how to cope. So I can speak for myself. I haven't coped with it as of yet. I understand, but I haven't really dealt with the reality of the situation. That's something I'm prepared to do later when there's not as much business to handle, so to speak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what you been doing together in the past 48 hours?


CARTUR: Everything. You know, we move as a unit. We move as a unit. We try not to isolate anybody for too long. We just all want to be around and make it clear that, you know, it's OK to cry. It's OK to express your feelings. That's what makes us human. And every day you're human, it's a good day to be alive.



CARTUR: Yes, absolutely.


CARTUR: One hundred percent. I won't comment further, but absolutely 100 percent.

I'll take three or four more questions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- other cases around the nation.

How does that impact you individually as a family?

CARTER: It's surreal. It's surreal. Because I absolutely remember hashtagging Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Eric Garner. I'm personally from New York. I live in New York. I was born in Madison, Wisconsin. I moved up to New York when I was young. I immediately came through, obviously, once I found out what was happening.

But it's surreal to realize my nephew is now a hashtag. Not to say that's all he is. But you know, to know that his physical presence will never be felt by me is something that I'm definitely, you know -- I'm never going to forget that. Never going to forget that, for sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you see that as -- this as similar to those events or different from those events?

CARTER: Similar but different. Similar but different. We don't want to stop at just black lives matter, because all lives matter. To call -- to look at Tony and say he's black just off of his appearance is something that we're basing off of legislation that was -- that was almost 150 years old, less than that.

I'm referring to Plessy versus Ferguson. OK? Terrell is a mixture of everything. You can't look at him and say he's black. He's black, white. He's a mixture of everything, because we all have our own complex heritages.

I would say it's the same, but it's different. We plan to engulf that into a larger movement that's universal, which is the problem that the way the police policies are being carried out specifically, as it pertains to young black men because the numbers don't lie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are some of the changes that you would like to see as a result?

CARTER: I'll speak very, very briefly on that. Something -- I'll speak about universal issues such as body cameras.

Now if the body cameras are around, we don't have this conversation, because we all know exactly what happened. Tasers also. And the use of the procedural force, the force of continuum, you know, not escalating the violence too far as it's brought to you. It's only -- I'll leave it at that.

And let's be very clear; very, very clear. It takes one bullet from trained, from a trained gunman to end a life. It takes one bullet. And we know how many were fired.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Based on what you know, should Officer Kenny face charges?

CARTER: I'm not ready to comment on that. I trust Wisconsin and the way they're handling the investigation. We spoke to investigators from DCI. We trust them. And we trust them to handle this with integrity and to treat it as it comes.

We don't want our biases involved. We don't want anybody else's. We want them to act strictly as fact finders, and that's what they've assured us. And we believe in and we have confidence in that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Confidence even after you said that you haven't been pleased with the way that investigators have worked with your family? Or is that separate between DCI and Madison police?

CARTER: Those are two separate people. Like I said, you know, just because people trip doesn't mean they're lost. People make mistakes. And we understand this is a very tense situation. There's no real blueprint on how to proceed. So we keep that in mind with everything that goes on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because this is an independent investigation. Have you been able to get the answers that you guys are looking for?

CARTER: No, we have not. We have not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- interacting with the public?

CARTER: I'm not prepared to comment on that. I'll take one more question and after that we're done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What makes Madison different from Ferguson?

CARTER: What makes Madison different from Ferguson is that it's the fact of liberalism. In the sense that it's on the surface, but underneath -- and this is someone that grew up here. I went to east high in my 10th grade year. I remember the segregation. Me and all my friends, we sat by the steps, you know. And not to distinguish us, we're all the same. Kids that are different, they would hang out by the wall. I don't really remember it too well, but I just remember a massive segregation being around.

And it's an air of liberalism that's perceived mostly because of U.W., and it's being progressive in its history. But when you look at the capitol, things are a little different in terms of who's actually running the government. So I would say, like I said, it's different, but it's very similar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what would you hope that the conversation around the kitchen table would be tonight after people hear you speak.

CARTER: All right, last -- this is the last comment. I want the conversation to be about Tony Robinson. I want people to find out facts for yourself. You don't need to hear from me. There's plenty of information. He has a Facebook that has been scrutinized already.

But the point is people have been picking and choosing what they see. They're not using this in the lens of a 19-year-old kid with access to social media who, at any moment, who knows what you might say?

So you can look for yourself. You can see what type of kid Tony -- you can see the differences in people that support him. Of all creeds people support him, crying their eyes out. And that's want I want, the main point of this statement was to make it clear that -- that it's the support from people that makes this easier and makes it easier to cope with, to know that people truly care about Tony and truly care about the type of person he was and not the type of person that he's being perceived as.

So with that being said, I appreciate you all coming out. We will not be taking any further questions. Thank you so much for supporting Tony. And I encourage you, encourage you to... BLITZER: All right. So there you have it. Turen -- Turin

Carter, he's the uncle of Tony Robinson, the 19-year-old unarmed man who was shot and killed by a police officer Friday night in Madison, Wisconsin. You saw the huge demonstrations on the streets there, as well as in the state capital in Madison.

We're going to have much more on this story coming up. So stand by for that. Lots of reaction coming in.

But there's another important story we're following right now involving U.S. national security. First how Republicans invited Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to warn Congress about the proposed nuclear deal with Iran.

Now Senate Republicans, 47 of them, have sent an open letter to Iran's leaders, warning that any agreement not endorsed by the U.S. Congress won't hold up. Democrats are calling it a political stunt. They're raising serious issues now that could propel another U.S. war.

Joining us now, a key member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

The White House is furious that your Republican colleagues, 47 of them, have signed this letter, an open letter to Iran saying don't get excited about any deal the Obama administration may negotiate with you. It's up to Congress to approve it, and Congress doesn't want to do that. Your reaction?

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Well, Wolf, it's highly disrespectful. There were elements of the way that the speech was handled last week by Congress that were also disrespectful.

So the issue is how do we keep our eye on the policy rather than all of the politics? And I think the way we do that is let the president and the negotiating team finish the negotiation. Let them do their best job to weigh in and say it's a bad deal before there's a deal, to try to write a letter to the Iranian leaders and undercut the president and the P5+1 negotiating ability is foolish.

Congress will have an opportunity to look at this deal. I'm a cosponsor of a bill that is equally sponsored by Democrats and Republicans to set up what is the appropriate procedure for review of a deal if one is reached. But we ought to wait and see if there's a deal, and then we can review it, rather than going off with political stunts.

BLITZER: If there is a deal, do you think Congress should have that role, specifically, to authorize, to approve of a deal?

KAINE: Wolf, in this sense, yes, not only should there be; there really needs to be congressional review.

To the extent that the deal is about unwinding and repealing congressional sanctions, sanctions that were imposed by statute, then yes, Congress has to be involved. If the president wants to give sanctions relief under executive

sanctions that were not part of statute, under international sanctions that were not part of statute, the president has the ability to do that without Congress.

But what Iran wants is the unwinding of the congressional sanctions regime. And that will require a congressional review. And there's ample time to do it after a deal framework is announced. But we shouldn't be getting in and trying to pour cold water on the negotiation to say it's a bad deal before there's any deal that is announced at all.

BLITZER: Basically, these members, these 47 Republicans led by Senator Cotton of Arkansas, they're basically saying the same thing that the visiting Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said last week when he addressed Congress. And I know you decided not to attend that speech by the prime minister. You were upset about various aspects of that speech.

But they're basically saying the same thing. After there's a deal that's signed with the other members of the Security Council and Germany, it's too late then. They have to speak up now. Your reaction to that?

KAINE: Wolf, that's completely false. The contemplation of this is that the Security Council, if they reach a deal, would announce a framework. Then it would take them three months to actually convert that framework into a deal, with many technical details that could be signed.

Congress is going to have ample time to review this. I support the notion of congressional review, because I don't think the president can unilaterally bargain away congressional sanctions without Congress being involved.

But again what you heard the prime minister say last week is it's a bad deal. No, there's no deal yet. Why pour cold water on it before it's done? You lead the folks to believe that you would be against not this deal but you would be against any deal. We need to undertake diplomatic steps to see if we can end the Iranian nuclear program. If we can't, the world needs to know it's not because of a negotiating tactic; it's because Iranian -- Iran would not give up their nuclear weapons ambitions.

BLITZER: Any second thoughts about your decision last week to boycott that speech by the prime minister?

KAINE: The speech was very unfortunate, Wolf. I went to visit Prime Minister Netanyahu in his office six weeks ago to talk to him and other Israeli leaders and others in the region about Iran. I'm deeply interested in what they have to say.

But this was a speech that was fundamentally timed to try to influence the Israeli elections. Congress should never be used to try to put their thumb on the scale in a foreign election. And that was the reason I didn't attend. BLITZER: All right. Tim Kaine, the Democrat senator from

Virginia. I know you've got to run. Thanks so much. And thanks for being patient with us while we had that breaking news out of Madison, Wisconsin. Appreciate it very much.

Coming up, an apology from Jihadi John, the ISIS killer apparently feeling a little bit of remorse, but not necessarily for what you might think.

And a fashion model is hiding after witnessing the murder of a top rival to Russia's Vladimir Putin. Now a very strange twist to the investigation as the suspect allegedly blows himself up.

Lots of news happening. Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A stunning new twist in the investigation into the Paris terrorist attacks. Four more people have now been arrested, including a policeman who worked at an intelligence center in Paris. All are being tied to the gunman who murdered four people in that kosher supermarket siege.

Let's go in depth right now for some analysis. Joining us, our terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank; our national security analyst, Fran Townsend, former homeland security advisor to President Bush; and joining us from Baghdad, our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman.

Now Paul, what can you tell us about these four individuals who have been detained? I don't think they've formally been arrested yet. But they've been taken into custody for six days.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. Four arrests, one of whom was a French policeman. Now, according to French media reports, she was romantically involved with a very close associate of Amedy Coulibaly, who carried out that attack on the kosher market in January. This associate that she was romantically involved with was trying to help Coulibaly get weapons and was arrested a couple of weeks after the 9 January attacks.

Not clear exactly why she was arrested, but some French media reports saying that she tried to look up information about her former lover, this close associate of Coulibaly, on French police computers.

BLITZER: The other new information coming out of France right now, Paul, is that local media there reporting that a travel companion of one of the Kouachi brothers -- those are the brothers that went into the magazine, the "Charlie Hebdo" magazine -- may have had aspirations to target Americans. What are you learning about that?

CRUICKSHANK: That's right, Wolf. This is a report in the "Paris Now" (ph) newspaper in France. And the report is that a French extremist accompanied one of the Kouachi brothers to Yemen in 2011. And when this extremist, this French extremist was in Yemen, he was tasked by al Qaeda in Yemen to launch attacks against American interests in France.

And of course, we know that Anwar Awlaki, the American terrorist mastermind suspected to be behind the "Charlie Hebdo" attacks wanted to attack the United States' interests. That was his big priority, his big focus.

So it's possible that originally this conspiracy was larger than just going after Charlie Hebdo. It perhaps also involved going after Americans and American targets in France.

BLITZER: That's a worrisome development.

Fran, Jihadi John, otherwise known as -- he's really Mohammed Emwazi, isn't apologizing for his actions, including beheading those individuals who -- that ISIS had taken hostage. Instead, according to "The Sunday Times" of London, quoting an informed source, saying that he's apologized to his family, his parents for the problems, the troubles that his revelation of his identity have caused them. Does -- what does that say to you?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, not much, Wolf. Look, I assume these guys love their mothers. But this is not -- it doesn't humanize him; it doesn't make him any less barbaric.

Look, he's responsible for the torture and the brutal execution and beheading of Americans and humanitarian workers. I don't think it tells us much. You know, his parents are paying some price in terms of the publicity.

But let's remember: he wasn't the only one who's left from Great Britain. He's one of three from the same school who left. And so the British are having to contend with this problem. I think this is very little about Jihadi John.

BLITZER: Absolutely you're right about that.

Ben, you're there in Iraq. I know you've spent a lot of time in recent days watching this battle unfolding in Tikrit. There are now these suggestions that we're getting that ISIS seems to be in somewhat of a disarray. They're losing; they're becoming disillusioned, some foreign fighters. What are you seeing on the ground there? Is ISIS weakening right now?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly when you look around the various fronts here in Iraq, they're definitely taking a beating. We know, for instance, that south of Kirkuk, Peshmerga forces retook about 12 villages from ISIS in the last 24 hours, killing about 100 ISIS fighters, gaining about 100 square kilometers of territory from the group.

In Tikrit, what we saw is that, in the last three days, Iraqi forces, and this includes militias as well as the Iraqi army, progressed 50 miles down one road toward Tikrit. They're now just about a mile from the center of the town.

And what you see there on the front lines is overwhelming Iraqi force being focused on the remaining ISIS fighters in the city. And what we're hearing from the Iraqi forces on the edges of the city is, indeed, this moral is dropping, that many of the Iraqi ISIS fighters are leaving the city, because they realize that the battle is lost. And that the only people staying behind, apparently, are the foreign fighters who really have nothing to lose here, except their lives, of course.

But so definitely, if you look around Iraq at the moment -- and even into Syria where Kurdish forces have expanded the area they control around the city of Kobani, definitely ISIS is losing ground in ways we haven't seen before -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. I want all of you to stand by, because we're going to get back to this. There are other developments breaking right now. There's another stories, including a fashion model who's in hiding after witnessing the murder of a top rival to Russia's Vladimir Putin. Now a very strange twist in the investigation as a suspect allegedly blows himself up.

And a report on the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 raising troubling new questions. Was the search doomed from the start, because there was never any power to a crucial signal device?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Tonight, several suspects are under arrest in connection with the murder of a prominent critic of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Boris Nemtsov was shot to death while walking with his girlfriend. She was questioned, then went into hiding in her home country of Ukraine. But the suspects come from another region that's been a serious thorn in Putin's side. CNN's Brian Todd is following the latest developments.

Brian, what have you learned?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, those suspects are all Chechen, and that shows even a more bizarre twist into this investigation and promotes more questions about Vladimir Putin's role in it.

Tonight serious requests are being asked about whether those are legitimate suspects or straw men.


TODD (voice-over): Five suspects in the assassination of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov are led into jail with their heads bowed. But a sixth suspect never made it into custody. As police closed in, Russian officials say, he blew himself up. All the men are Chechen. One of them confessed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I love the Prophet Mohammed. TODD: That could be a reference to one of the leads being

pursued by Vladimir Putin's investigators. That Islamist extremists could have killed Nemtsov, because he spoke out about the "Charlie Hebdo" attacks.

MASHA GESSEN, AUTHOR, "THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE": Confessions in Russian law enforcement are usually coerced. Confessions are not to be trusted.

TODD: Investigative journalist Masha Gesson left Russia because of the threats she received. On Putin's denial of involvement in the Nemtsov killing and his promise of a no-holes-barred investigation...

GESSEN: I mean, what else was he going to say? Was he going to say, "I killed him"? Was he going to say, "I'm going to step aside and let an independent investigation explore the possibility that I was actually the murderer or that I gave formal or informal orders to have Nemtsov killed"?

TODD: Despite the fact that Nemtsov was gunned down close to the Kremlin, there are conflicting reports on whether the attack was captured on security cameras. The only witness, Anna Duntskaya, Nemtsov's girlfriend, who was with him at the time. She was interviewed by investigators, then quickly fled to her native Ukraine. Nemtsov was supposedly just days away from issuing a report exposing Russia's involvement in the fighting in Ukraine.

Now Putin himself is revealing what he said the moment he decided to annex Crimea. In a forthcoming documentary on Rossiya-1, Putin describes a late-night meeting with his inner circle in February of last year.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I said to all colleagues, "We have to start working on the return of Crimea to Russia."

TODD: Just a few days later, unidentified gunmen took over Crimea's parliament.

From the proxy fighting in Ukraine to the Nemtsov investigation, analysts are now worrying about what an unchecked Vladimir Putin might do next.

JOHN HERBST, THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL: If he were to decide, for example, to challenge the Baltic states, to conduct provocations there, the United States would be forced under Article V of the NATO alliance to stop Russian aggression in the Baltic states. So that's a very clear danger.


TODD: Tonight as U.S. officials watch every move from Vladimir Putin very closely, they're also pressing for transparency in the Nemtsov case, a State Department official telling us tonight they're hoping for a thorough investigation, not, quote, "another whitewash of justice." Wolf, the State Department coming out very strong tonight on that.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens. Brian, thank you.

Just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, we have some really incredible video of an Amtrak train colliding with a truck just a few hours ago in North Carolina. We're going to share that video with you. We've got more details in just a moment.


BLITZER: Following the breaking news involving that Amtrak passenger train that derailed today after hitting a truck in North Carolina. We're just getting in this video. I want you to watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, Jesus. Oh my god.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he hurt? Oh, Jesus.


BLITZER: Here's what it looks like now. You can see this awful situation.

We're going to have more on what exactly happened in North Carolina, get a complete update -- on the story. But you can see the aftermath. They're trying to figure out themselves how this could happen.

There's another major story we're following. New questions now are being asked after the release of an exhaustive report on Malaysian Flight 370. The airliner with 239 people on board disappeared exactly a year ago. Among the new revelations, the search for the jet's flight data recorder may have been a wild goose chase because its battery actually expired more than a year before the flight.

Let's bring in our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh. She's been going through this information.

What else are we learning tonight?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the facts presented in the nearly 600-page report exposes errors and a disturbing delay in reaction time. But tonight two critical questions remained unanswered. Where is the plane and what caused it to vanish?


MARSH (voice-over): A new official report on the disappearance of Flight 370 reveals the pinger batteries on one of the two black boxes had expired long before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The family members of --

MARSH: Lawyers representing 27 of the victims' families say that may have compromised the search.

DAN ROSA, ATTORNEY: The battery pinger had expired through the fault of the airline is incredibly disheartening and it's really like another dagger in the heart of the families.

MARSH: The airline admits the maintenance oversight but denies it hampered the search because batteries on the other black box worked.

The revelation is just one detail in a newly released report which shows there was chaos and confusion in the hours after the pilot uttered his last words.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good night, Malaysian 370.

MARSH: Controllers waited 20 minutes, 15 minutes longer than protocol, to alert others after the flight failed to check in with the Ho Chi Minh tower. Then the airline told controllers they could see the flight over Cambodia but after an hour and a half, they realized it was the projected path, not the actual flight. It took another two hours to activate the search coordination center and still another hour before distress signal went out.

It was 10 hours after the pilot's last words that the first search flights finally took off.

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: It was clear that the air traffic controllers had no procedures to follow up, that Malaysian Airways itself was giving out bad information to the air traffic controllers.

MARSH: After checking psychological and financial backgrounds, even examining body language on airport closed circuit television, investigators found no motivation for the captain or crew to cause harm. No sign of severe weather or problems with the plane's engines either.

GOELZ: What we have now at the end of this first, you know, almost 600-page report is a deepening mystery. What happened to this plane? And we don't know.

MARSH: Search crews are currently focused on an area about the size of West Virginia. Ships mapping the floor of the Indian Ocean have scoured 40 percent of the area. But this may not continue indefinitely.

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: It can't go on forever. As long as there are reasonable leads, the search will go on. We've got 60,000 square kilometers that is the subject of this search. If that's unsuccessful, there's another 60,000 square kilometers that we intend to search. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Well, finding the plane is critical to the aviation industry. The 777 is popular, it's widely used. So it's critical that we learn why it disappeared to prevent it from happening again, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. It's critical. But we still don't know a year later. Thanks very much for that, Rene.

Joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, our aviation analyst Miles O'Brien and our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, a former assistant director of the FBI.

Miles, the expired battery, I mean, people were going on a wild goose chase, they thought they heard pings. They really didn't hear any pings?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, you've got to remember that we weren't looking in the right place anyway. Where they were listening for the pings, there is no wreckage. And we know that now. There are also two boxes, remember. So there's two sets of pingers so another one presumably was going. And it could have been just paperwork.

think it's a bit of an academic discussion. But to the extent that it may reflect on how the airline runs its maintenance program, it's something to consider. I still think we would be right in the position we are today pings or no pings.

BLITZER: You accept this notion that they found nothing disturbing in the psychological profile of the pilot, the co-pilot, the other crew members that they could have caused this kind of mysterious disappearance?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I don't know about the other crew members, Wolf, but certainly the pilot and the co-pilot were extensively investigated by the Royal Malaysian Police with assistance from the FBI. They sent the captain and the co- pilot's computers, the flight simulator to Quantico for examination. Nothing bad was found there.

They did the voice analysis of the cockpit voice controllers conversation. That was sent to Quantico for analysis of who was speaking and whether there was stress. That came back negative. So they worked very hard on looking at the captain and the co-pilot.

Now you find out they were looking at past films of them coming through the airport, walking in the airport. Nothing that indicated any kind of mental disturbance with either one.

BLITZER: Has there ever been anything like this, Miles, that comes to your mind, a year later there's not even a tiny little piece of wreckage that was found? There are no clues. The 600-page report basically says, well, I don't know. You know, are they still up in the air. What's going on. O'BRIEN: Yes.

BLITZER: Have you ever heard of anything like this before?

O'BRIEN: No. This is unprecedented. We know more about where Amelia Earhart's plane might be than we do about this. There's reported wreckage that we've recovered from her aircraft.

The fact that a seat cushion, a flight magazine, anything hasn't washed up on a beach by now. When you look at drift models, over the course of a year, is astounding. This clearly -- it leads us down the road where it's almost inescapable to say this is some sort of deliberate act. Who and why and what happened or did it go awry are questions we don't know.

BLITZER: Very quickly, they are now suggesting that maybe that Delta flight that flew from Atlanta and LaGuardia skidded during the ice, that there may have been a problem with the plane's -- the MD- 88's brakes. Have you heard that?

O'BRIEN: Well, there's a report that they are looking into the brakes just as they're probably looking into the contaminated runway and some other factors but the point is if you're landing and your anti-skid braking system isn't operative the wheels could lock up. And on a slick runway, you wouldn't want to try that.

So maybe the pilots have reported to the NTSB that there was some sort of brake failure. And maybe that's what they're looking into. But to say they're looking into the brakes on an incident like is kind of in the category of, of course they're looking into the brakes.

BLITZER: They're looking into everything. As they should.

All right, guys. Thanks very much.

Coming up, thousands occupy Wisconsin's state capital to protest the police killing of an unarmed teenager.


BLITZER: Happening now, ISIS suspects speaks. A chilling jailhouse interview with the American man accused of plotting to assassinate the president and bomb Congress. He says there are terrorists standing by to carry out his plan.

Falling apart? New signs ISIS may be crumbling from within. Deteriorating on the battlefield, facing growing defections. Are the terrorist forces on the verge of a major military defeat.