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Delta Force Commandos Kill ISIS Commander; FBI Probing Reports Objects Hit Three Trains; Tornadoes Roar Across Plains. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 17, 2015 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: What are lawmakers in Washington saying about that and the mission itself?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christi, the administration is characterizing this mission as one that is a significant blow to ISIS. But there are, as you know, a lot of questions that still remain about the mission, including at the most basic, what was Abu Sayyaf's real name actually is.

So, lawmakers on Capitol Hill, they seem to be throwing a little cold water on the significance of the mission. A top Democrat on the House Intel Committee, Adam Schiff, he is saying that we should be under no illusion the extent of what impact of what one particular mission can do when we're talking about ISIS writ large.

And a Republican, Ed Royce, on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he says what will be key is how the U.S. uses the reams and reams of data, potentially important intelligence recovered from the mission site.


REP. ED ROYCE (R), CALIFORNIA: As I understand it, quite a treasure trove of information there with the laptops, the communications equipment, the cellphones, that might allow us to find out who offshore is also funding ISIS when you hear about money coming in from other countries into ISIS.


SERFATY: And some congressional leadership was notified ahead of time of this raid on Friday, and were told that there will be additional congressional briefings this week in Congress -- Christi.

PAUL: Of course, Sunlen, this all comes as the White House, I understand, lawmakers very concerned about what is happening in Ramadi and Iraq, and enough so they are expediting some weapons -- some weapon shipments over there. Just one, any news on whether they're going to continue to send weapons there, or was this a one-time thing?

SERFATY: Well, we know Vice President Biden communicated to the Iraqi prime minister of the expedited weapon shipment on Friday, a telephone call that is in addition to the coalition air strikes, and the news of the mission comes at a time as many lawmakers noted when ISIS is making some advances in Ramadi, and while Iraqi forces are desperately trying to hold on to that city.

And that's something Speaker of the House John Boehner noted, and he said this mission was a good one, and he also noted, quote, "I remain gravely concerned by ISIL's assault on Ramadi that threatens the stability and sovereignty of Iraq, which is vital to America's interests" -- Christi.

PAUL: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, appreciate it this morning. Thank you.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Of course, as Sunlen had mentioned, there are so many questions about Abu Sayyaf, including his real identity. But U.S. officials say that he is an ISIS commander who also goes by the name Abu Muhammad al Iraqi and Abd al Ghani. He is a Tunisian citizen overseeing ISIS's oil and gas operations. He was also involved with the terror group's military operations and hostage-taking operations.

Let's talk more about him and the operation at large and bring in Lieutenant Colonel James Reese, a former U.S. Delta Force commander, and Sajjan Gohel, international security director of the Asia-Pacific Foundation.

And, Colonel Reese, I want to begin with you. With your knowledge of Delta Force, are you surprised that the details of this operation had been released by the Pentagon?

LT. COL. JAMES REESE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, Victor, I am initially, but I think we are seeing a big change especially since the bin Laden raid when the announcement of SEAL Team Six conducted that raid, and I think this shows a policy change for us that we are going to start using these elements of, you know, PR, of propaganda to get those things out to let people know that, you know, the first team is coming after you and you always better be looking over your shoulder, because the first team doesn't miss.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk, Sajjan, about what was collected here. We know that Abu Sayyaf was killed, Umm Sayyaf is being interrogated in Iraq. But there were documents collected, the computers that were collected. What can we learn from those?

SAJJAN GOHEL, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY DIRECTOR, ASIA PACIFIC FOUNDATION: Hopefully, Victor, they will provide further insight into ISIS' operations in terms of how they procure the money for the illicit oil proceeds that they utilized to fund their activities, where that money is potentially based.

Also, the group is very heavily involved in human trafficking. That is another angle that tends to get overlooked, but it will be important to see what they do with those individuals, which criminal enterprises they are connected with. We talk about is as a terrorists group, but they are also a criminal entity as well, and those angles are important.

And the third factor is that Abu Sayyaf is a Tunisian. We know a lot of Tunisian nationals have been recruited by the group. And is there a network inside Tunisia? (INAUDIBLE) just recently there was an attack in Tunisia linked to ISIS Itself.

So, all these different facets could provide more insight into the group, and potentially give intelligence that could be used against them from planning operations not just in Iraq and Syria, but potentially internationally as well.

BLACKWELL: You know, it was highlighted after the attack in Tunis that per capita, the number of foreign fighters, the largest number coming from Tunisia fighting with ISIS.

[08:05:05] You know, in addition to the documents in the computers, Colonel Reese, I read from one of our sources that ancient artifacts, including coins were collected. There was an interpreter taken. I mean, how large is the entourage that goes with the commandoes? And in case, can you imagine if there is the firefight, there's the collection of all these information and the coins, how long are they on the ground?

REESE: Well, they can be on the ground for as long as they need to be on the ground. That's the bottom line. As long as they can sustain themselves and they can secure themselves.

Typically, we want to get in and we want to get out as fast as we can. But I think over the next coming days, we're going to see that this target was just not a point target, and as more information comes out, there were other additional targets around that other forces went in with Delta being the main effort to go after Abu Sayyaf.

And we do. We have learned through the years, we literally bring in a cross spectrum of expertise on the ground, because what we want to be able to do is exploit anything we can find quickly on the ground so if need be, that can drive us to another target if need be.

Yes, there's a lot of information being brought back to the joint exploitation unit, and work through all the intelligence analysts and technicians will go through this. But in the years before, we used to grab it and go and never hear anything. Now, we want to exploit that information on the target as much as we can before we move it.

So, again, it's tough to say, but the right answer is, as long as they need and as long as they can be secure.

BLACKWELL: Sajjan, the interrogation continues of Umm Sayyaf, and reportedly, she had knowledge or was influential in human trafficking, which has been suggested we don't talk about enough. But is there any indication that the wife of this commander would have that much information about the organizational part and intricacies of ISIS?

GOHEL: This is something that will need to be investigated. But we shouldn't rule out the fact that the wives of the ISIS commanders do not know what's going on in terms of the group's infrastructure. This is a very different entity, ISIS, compared to say, al Qaeda. ISIS has no problem in recruiting women. In fact, they encourage it. They use the oxygen of publicity through new media platforms in terms of getting their message out, recruiting more and more women.

We had this problem in the U.K., and so many young and impressionable women had been recruited by the group, and a lot of them play the role in propaganda. And also, they will be in the knowledge of some of the activities that take place, and the human trafficking angle is something that needs to be looked even further, because Abu Sayyaf had a slave, the Yazidi woman as a slave, and she was actually rescued by the Delta Force. That's another angle that again that needs to be explored, as to what is the networks that are developing and how much is the family connection involved in terms of assisting ISIS?

BLACKWELL: Indeed. Sajjan Gohel, Lieutenant Colonel James Reese, former Delta Force

commander, thank you both for the insight.

REESE: Thanks, Victor.

BLACKWELL: And tonight, CNN takes a look at ISIS going inside, and talking with the experts who know the group and what do they want? Who are they? Fareed Zakaria hosts "Blindsided: How ISIS Shock the World," tonight at 7:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

PAUL: Meanwhile, Amtrak is now being forced to beef up rail safety near that derailment site. What's going to change and how pivotal could it be to stopping another incident?

BLACKWELL: Then, dozens of tornadoes, dozens of them reported across America's midsection overnight, and the threat of dangerous weather is not over.


[08:12:35] PAUL: Twelve minutes past the hour right now. And Amtrak is hoping to be running again at full capacity in the northeast corridor by tomorrow or Tuesday at the latest.

BLACKWELL: Yes, but first, it has to beef up key safety measures along the stretch of track where Amtrak passenger train 188 derailed on Tuesday, killing eight people. The FBI and NTSB meanwhile are trying to determine if an object smashed into the train's windshield before it crashed.

Let's get the latest now from CNN's Rene Marsh.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVT. REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christi, Victor, new information from the assistant conductor is really deepening the mystery about what caused the deadly derailment.

If we reset, we know that a SEPTA train was reportedly struck by some sort of object. That happened minutes before Amtrak 188 derailed, and we now have audio when police responded to that SEPTA train after it reported being struck by a projectile. Take a listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An unknown object made contact with that train shattering the windshield. We do not have an update on any injuries before they are prohibited from making communication with the engineer while he's still on the rail. But tit is a train that has had a foreign or unknown object made contact, shattering the windshield. The train is going to be on the hill (INAUDIBLE) copy.

MARSH: Now, remember, that happened just minutes before Amtrak 188 derailed. Now, this assistant conductor who is on 188 told investigator not only did she hear the SEPTA engineer report that his train had been truck, she believe she heard the Amtrak engineer say his train has been struck as well.

Now, the FBI is taking a very close look at the windshields of train 188. They're going to be doing lab test to determine was it indeed struck by a projectile and what angle it came from.

Also, we know the Federal Railroad Administration, they ordered Amtrak take safety measures immediately -- specifically, they're ordering Amtrak to, one, install technology on tracks that would essentially control a train's speed. They're also asking Amtrak to do a risk assessment on all of the curves along the Northeast corridor.

And lastly, they are ordering Amtrak to increase speed limit signage along the tracks.

Now, we are told that if Amtrak refuses this they could face civil penalties.

[08:15:03] However, Amtrak has come out. They say they will be implementing this as soon as possible -- Christi, Victor.


PAUL: All righty. Rene Marsh, thank you so much.

Now earlier, I spoke with former NTSB board member and transportation safety expert John Goglia and asked him why speed controls had not been on the northbound tracks until now, while there were already on the Northeast corridor's southbound tracks.

Here's what he said.


JOHN GOGLIA, FORMER NTSB BOARD MEMBER: Well, the risk assessment for the northbound section of track just assumed the risk was low because he was coming out of a station going slow and that he wouldn't have the same risk that is associated with the southbound track, because the southbound track has a long straightaway coming into it with a very high speed limit on it.

So, when they were putting these intra-measures in, it was deemed that the risk was lower on the northbound side of the track. Maybe that risk assessment wasn't proper or the factors weren't considered, but that's what they did.

PAUL: OK. So knowing this, are there routes on your radar that raise red flags elsewhere about the safety of Amtrak?

GOGLIA: Oh, I think Amtrak's safety record has been improving. In my days at the NTSB, we had lots of accidents with Amtrak and lots of fatalities. So, it has been improving. Because it's high-speed rail and we are trying to run it on rail lines that were designed a hundred years ago, there are turns in there that wouldn't exist, say, in Europe. If you've ridden the TGV in France, you notice no sharp turns in that track at all, but they had benefit of laying out their tracks after the World War II where we had more knowledge about high speed travel and that they took the land before the land was developed.

In the Northeast Corridor, it's very, very difficult to find another way around Philadelphia or in New York, we go underground. We are going to have to reassess on how we put our train stops in and around high density metropolitan areas.


PAUL: He also said that funding has always been an issue for Amtrak and he said he rides the train every day and he is confident that they are safe.

BLACKWELL: All right. Nearly a dozen Republican presidential hopefuls are courting voters in Iowa, in New Hampshire and South Carolina. So, who is former vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan keeping his eye on? His predictions for 2016.


[08:21:22] PAUL: Twenty-one minutes past the hour right now. And this morning on "STATE OF THE UNION," one congressman gives his take on Jeb Bush's rough week. This, of course, after the former Florida governor stumbles over questions about the war in Iraq.

Also, a 2016 presidential candidate is dropping by. CNN's Brianna Keilar is, too. She's joining us now with more.

Good morning, Brianna.


We'll be talking to Bernie Sanders. He is the independent senator from Vermont who is taking on Hillary Clinton in her race for the Democratic presidential nomination. So, we're going to ask him about what kind of role he wants to play in this election. He is by far the underdog, and he admits that, but the question really is that as he is doing somewhat better in the polls and gaining some traction with more liberal Democrats, is he going to really take on Hillary Clinton, maybe have sharp elbows? We are trying to get to the bottom of that.

And also, we will be talking to Paul Ryan, someone who really knows what it's like to be under this political spotlight in an election year. He was, of course, the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2012. So, we'll talk to him about this week that Jeb Bush has had and if he should have been prepared for the question that he really fumbled on.

But we're also going to talk to him about a weird position that he is in at this point, big Republican name, right? But he finds himself actually in a fight on the same side as President Obama over this trade authority that President Obama wants to be able to negotiate a trade pact with a number of Asian nations. So, strange bedfellows there. And we'll be checking in with him about the possibility of the trade deal moving forward -- Christi.

PAUL: All righty. And you are all things politics. And there are politics that are seeming to resonate in the Amtrak crash. You are talking about that as well, yes?

KEILAR: That's right. Big questions over Amtrak funding. We will be talking to our guests about that. But we are also going to talk to a board member of the National Transportation Safety Board, get the latest on that investigation.

Remember, at this point there are questions about a projectile that may have hit the locomotive on the Amtrak train that crashed. So, we are going to be asking this board member about that, because you have a secondary conductor on the train saying there was a regional line conductor that said he had been hit by a projectile, and this secondary conductor on Amtrak 188 said she heard the main engineer on Amtrak 188 say that his locomotive had been hit as well.

But here's the thing, we know now at this point that inspectors have gone back and looked at the tapes to see if that corroborates with what the secondary conductor reported and what they found may surprise our viewers, so we will talk about that.

PAUL: All right. Looking forward to it.

Brianna Keilar, always good to see you. Thank you.

KEILAR: You bet.

PAUL: Sure.

"STATE OF THE UNION" starts at the top of the hour, 9:00 a.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

BLACKWELL: American Pharaoh goes two for two battling through mud. Look at this -- to take the Preakness. Can he take the Triple Crown?


[08:28:27] BLACKWELL: All right. Here's a look at other stories developing now.

PAUL: Police in Washington are looking for this man. Please take a look at your screen here. This is in connection with a house fire that killed four people and he may have stolen the family's Porsche. There are lots of twists and turns on this story.

But officers believe the four bodies found in the house, were a husband, wife, son, and a housekeeper, and all of them suffered very traumatic injuries as well.

BLACKWELL: Look at this tornado. It's wrecking across Elmer, Oklahoma. It happened overnight, and this is a wedge tornado because of the shape, and this is just one of 28 reported twisters throughout the country's midsection. The storms damaged buildings and yanked up trees and crumbled cars. Fortunately here, no serious injuries reported.

However, much of the region is bracing for more severe weather today.

PAUL: And a close encounter with wildlife at Yellowstone National Park is dangerous for one teenagers. A 16-year-old exchange student from Taiwan was gorged by a bison while she was pushing for a photo. This happened when she turned her back on the animals on a path near Old Faithful. Her injures are serious, we're told, but they are not life threatening, thankfully.

BLACKWELL: American Pharoah, you have to say it that way.

PAUL: You do.

BLACKWELL: Taking the shot now at the Triple Crown because the Kentucky Derby winner left the rest of the pack in the dust, or rather the mud, you see it there, taking first place at the Preakness Stakes by seven leaks. Up next, the Belmont Stakes in New York on June 6th.

PAUL: I can't watch those. They just make me nervous.

Thank you so much for starting your morning with us. We hope you make great memories.

BLACKWELL: "INSIDE POLITICS" starts right now. John Berman sitting in today.