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ISIS Commander Killed In U.S. Raid; How Will Abu Sayyaf's Death Impact ISIS?; FBI Probing Reports Objects Hit Three Trains; Feds Order Amtrak To Ramp Up Safety Measures; Twenty Six Tornadoes Reported Across Plains. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired May 17, 2015 - 06:00   ET



CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Developing this morning, new details on the raid in Syria by U.S. Special Forces that took on out a major ISIS commander. How they pulled off that secret mission, the intel they obtained, and what this means for the overall battle against ISIS.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Plus the federal government is ordering Amtrak to improve safety. Now this order comes as the company is scrambling to restore service this week to the northeast.

PAUL: Also new this morning, Pope Francis gives controversial praise to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas calling him an angel of peace, this as the pope makes two Catholic nuns from the Middle East saints.

You've made it to Sunday! I hope it is a little bit R&R for you today. We're so grateful for your company as always. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

This morning, we begin with the new information on this daring U.S. mission to capture ISIS Commander Abu Sayyaf. The U.S. now has computers seized in the raid, loaded with data on how ISIS operates, communicates, and earns its money. Over the next few days officials will be analyzing all of that data.

PAUL: Also an FBI led high value interrogation group is going to be interrogating his wife, Um Sayyaf, to find out more about ISIS' hostage taking operations. CNN's senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, has details on that right now. Good morning, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Abu Sayyaf is not particularly well known in terms of ISIS leadership circles. A name who the United States say was behind the money, was behind the oil, which used to make ISIS so much of its money, and increasingly involved in the military operations.

We don't know his real name. Abu Sayyaf just means the father of Sayyaf and his wife, who was captured. He was killed in this raid. Um Sayyaf means the mother of Sayyaf.

So more details I think. People will be looking for the U.S. to provide as to exactly why this man was so important because they endured an enormous risk in going to get to him.

We are told this was a capture mission, not a kill mission. Had it been a kill mission they could have simply have used a drone. They were after intelligence. They were after the things that he knew and the things that his computers and phones perhaps had on them as well.

So it's very complex indeed that they decided to take this risk because they flew into one of the most dangerous parts of ISIS territory deep inside of Syria.

The oil field is known to be an ISIS military base with 3 to 5 kilometers security perimeter around it. Air strikes, witnesses speaking to us and we've spoken to, softening there before hand then Delta Forces came on in.

Hand-to-hand fighting, bloody knuckles amongst those soldiers and an extraordinary vicious fight for this man, Abu Sayyaf, who they hoped they could capture alive despite the lengthy history of ISIS leadership, worshipping death in their Jihad.

So a complex task certainly for U.S. commandos here and one that leaves them with, they say, substantial intelligence about how ISIS works and this detainee, Um Sayyaf.

But 19 ISIS fighters killed in this and some said to be foreign and questions, of course, being asked as to why the U.S. is now willing to endure this substantial risk.

A difficult operation to explain to the American public had it tragically gone wrong given the promises Barack Obama has made that he wouldn't put U.S. boots on the ground in the Middle East during his tenure.

And perhaps we are seeing maybe a higher risk tolerance from the White House and what they are willing to do when going off to ISIS leadership. But a spark intervention here, one in which the White House said it was successful in killing a man they hoped to capture.

But still many questions as to exactly what was entirely in the U.S. cross-hairs during this raid. Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Beirut.

BLACKWELL: All right, our thanks to Nick. As he said, not much known about Abu Sayyaf's real identity, but here is what we do know about him so far. He is an ISIS commander who also goes by the name, Abu Muhammad Al-Iraqi and Ab Algani.

He is Tunisian, overseeing ISIS oil and gas operations. He was also involved with the terror group's military operations and hostage taking operations.

Let's bring in a CNN correspondent, Jomana Karasheh, and we have Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. Good to have both of you. Jomana, I want to start with you.

Of course, we are hearing from the National Security Council and from the Pentagon that this was a key figure. If we turn this around and look at it from ISIS perspective, was he really indeed a key figure? Is this a big blow to the organization?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, victor, that is the big question here for many observers, experts, ISIS experts who have really monitored this group for the past couple of years. He was really unheard of until we heard the announcement about this raid yesterday.

So lots of questions about who he really is. Did he maintain a low profile? Is that why not many people know much about him? But he really doesn't come across as one of the top names when it comes to the leadership of ISIS that we know of.

[06:05:07] Not wanted and not heard much about before. So there has been a lot of speculation among some experts saying potentially maybe there was a possibility he heard that U.S. forces were going after a different target, not necessarily him, a higher profile one.

This, of course, is not yet confirmed, just some speculation about that. So lots of questions we are going to wait and hear. We will have to hear more from the U.S. administration and from the Pentagon here about this raid whether it was really a major blow.

We haven't heard from ISIS. The group has in the past really admits it when it has lost members of the group, high ranking members. So we still have to wait and hear from ISIS.

But as we know, Victor, from the past experience, whether it's prior to ISIS, al Qaeda, when it comes to these extremist groups, these terrorist organizations, it's pretty much like dealing with a Medusa.

You take one head out, it will grow another hundred. So this is a very adaptable organization and highly sophisticated, and people are replaceable within that organization. Of course, the key here is what intelligence may have been gathered from this operation -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Good analogy there with taking one hat off, a Medusa. Let's go to General Hertling here. You know, I want to raise a question that Nick raised, this high risk operation. Do you see that this is a turn that likely will happen, regardless of the value of this commander, that the special operations forces would go so deep into ISIS territory to get him and to get this information?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This has always been a mission of special operations forces, special operations command, Victor, to go after critical targets. It was certainly a risky operation. But those risks are by the command in terms how they allocate fire power and allocate forces to any kind of mission like this.

But, at the same time, where it might be high risk and high mitigated risk, it also is extremely high payoff. Now look. Victor, when I retired, I lost my security clearance as all generals do, but I will tell you I've seen many of these kinds of targeting packages and what is inside of them.

There was likely an extremely long list of why you would get a case, special operations command forces to go after a target. This was not an arbitrary decision let's get this guy on a Thursday. This was a long list of intelligence and what they expected to gain from it and how many forces to apply against it and what would be the results.

Now, truthfully, there may have been other targets at the scene. I don't know. Abu Sayyaf may have been one of several that they expected to capture in this capture/kill mission. But I think the criticality of knowing exactly who was there and announcing it rapidly afterwards tells me that this guy was very important.

There is a long list of things that they can gain against him. As related to Jomana's characterization of a hydra, I think that sometimes that's correct, but there are other times when there are HVTs, high value targets that can't be replaced as rapidly.

And the fact that ISIS is not saying anything about this just yet, tells me they are in damage control mode. How has this affected the organization? What phone numbers is going on? What did he have on his computer and what kind of intelligence was at the scene and how is it going to affect the organization.

They are adaptable, but they are going through that process right now as well -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Jomana, quickly, I want to go to Ramadi because late in the week there seemed to be a swing in the direction of ISIS that they had the momentum. That they took the Ramadi great mosque and they raised the flag over a building there. Then it seemed, according to sources there, that ISIS pulled back. What do we know about that?

KARADSHEH: Well, there are conflicting reports coming out of Ramadi, Victor, about the situation right now. It pretty much is still a very fluid situation. It does seem that they withdrew from the headquarters of the provincial government complex in the center of Ramadi that they took over on Friday and raised the flag there.

But it's unclear whether they did so because of the resistance from the Iraqi security forces. We know from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense that they did send in some elite troops to try to push back ISIS or whether it is because the intensified air campaign that may have taken place over the past couple of days that made them withdraw from such obvious landmarks in the city.

As we have seen over the past few months, there is a serious termination from this group to gain ground in Anbar and to take over Ramadi so the fight is far from over at this point.

BLACKWELL: All right, Jomana Karadsheh joining us from Amman, and Retired General Mark Hertling, thank you so much.

HERTLING: Thank you, Victor.

[06:10:03] PAUL: Still ahead this morning, we are taking an inside look at Delta Force, the Army's elite commandos chosen to hunt down ISIS Commander Abu Sayyaf. What do we know about this unit? How are they selected? How can they get in and get out of some of the world's most dangerous areas some what we have learned.

Also when we come back, Amtrak is now being forced to install safety improvements on the track near the side of that deadly train derailment. How pivotal could this be to stopping another incident?


BLACKWELL: Federal regulators are ordering Amtrak to immediately install speed control devices on the northeast corridor where an Amtrak train went off the tracks on Tuesday killing eight people and injuring more than 200.

PAUL: Amtrak says that it hopes to resume service in the area by tomorrow or by Tuesday. The FBI and the NTSB are looking into reports that some sort of object hit that Amtrak train and two other trains as well. We want to get more on this from CNN's Rene Marsh. Good morning, Rene.

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

If we reset we know that a Septa train was reportedly struck by some sort of objects. That happened just minutes before Amtrak 188 derailed and we now have audio what 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 injury because they are making communication with the engineer while he is still on a rail.

[06:15:05] But it is a train that has had a foreign object made contact, shattering the windshield.


MARSH: Now remember that happened just minutes before Amtrak 188 derailed. Now this assistant conductor who was on 188 told investigators not only did she hear the Septa engineer report that his train had been struck, she believes she heard the Amtrak engineer saying his train had been struck as well.

So now the FBI is taking a very close look at the windshield of Train 188. They are going to be doing lab tests 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 some safety measures immediately. Specifically they are ordering Amtrak to one, install technology on tracks that would essentially control a train's speed. They are 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 limits signage along the tracks.

Now, we are told that if Amtrak refuses this, they could face civil penalties. However, Amtrak has come out. They say that they will be implementing this as soon as possible -- Christi, Victor.

PAUL: Thank you, Rene.

I want to bring Fritz Edlard. He is a veteran locomotive engineer, joining us now. Fritz, thank you so much for being with us. Federal regulators, who we just talking about ordering Amtrak to install speed controls for trains like this. And I'm wondering, why wasn't the technology in place before now, and do engineers push for it?

FRITZ EDLER, VETERAN LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEER: Well, one of the problems that you have with a lot of these stories is they get reported in the media as the technical detail is complicated for people who don't do the work.

For example, ATC stands for automatic train control. Automatic train control has existed for almost a hundred years and is implemented on almost every locomotive that operates in the northeast corridor.

When they use this terminology in this situation, they are talking about a very specific implementation of that similar to what exists in that same location for a westbound movement.

And I could just say this. I want to make it clear right now that I did not speak for the brotherhood of locomotive engineers and trainmen, but only for my own decades of experience and expertise work of trains in this exact place.

I can tell you that, you know, we all -- all engineers are interested in increased measures that will reduce risk like positive train control and that sort of technology.

PAUL: You're confident in this technology?

EDLER: Well, let me put it to you this way. That technology is already an implementation in other locations and it has its applications.

PAUL: It works? Are you saying it works in those places?

EDLER: Well, I'll say that the implication of it in this particular location, I would reserve judgment on whether or not it would actually prevent a situation like that there.

PAUL: Why?

EDLER: Like the one that took place. There are some technical questions and, as I said before, that is my own understanding of that implementation. I think what I've seen in the course of my career is a rush to come up with some kind of technological fix in many cases in these things.

PAUL: Fritz, let me ask you this because you're talking about how you have some concerns about this particular route. Are there other routes on your radar that raise red flags to you that might also -- because there are a lot of people that are watching this this morning and they are going to go get on a train.

EDLER: It's a second-by-second business, the kind of work that my -- the men and women that I work with who are, in my opinion, the safest and the most professional that there are in the industry.

It's a second-by-second operation and there's a great difficulty with technology that exists today to be able to have something that will not actually artificially decrease the speed and artificially increase the length of a trip from Washington to New York, while, at the same time, providing the kind of guarantees that we need.

PAUL: That we need, all right.

EDLER: I'll tell you this. It's been 70 years since there was any kind of an incident at that location and the last incident that did happen to that location had nothing to do with the circumstances, the kind of thing that happened on Tuesday.

[06:20:11] PAUL: OK, all right. Well, Fritz Edler, we appreciate your insight into this. Thank you for being with us.

EDLER: Thank you.

PAUL: Sure -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, take a look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. I think that is close enough.


BLACKWELL: A monster tornado touches down in Oklahoma. Storm chasers come dangerously close. You'll see the damage it caused.

Plus, the pope calls a president an angel of peace, the president on your screen and why it's outraging some.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. I think that is close enough.


PAUL: How about that? Storm chasers in Oklahoma capturing a churning wedge tornado on the ground. This is near Elmer which is close to the Texas border. It was just one of dozens of twisters, though, that were reported as this large band of severe weather moved across the plain states overnight.

BLACKWELL: You can't get this thing in the frame here.

PAUL: I know.

BLACKWELL: Look at the pictures of the aftermath. You got the cars crunched under the wood there and metal twisted and in all of this, thankfully, no one seriously hurt.

PAUL: People there know what to do.


PAUL: Let's just make it very clear. People there are very adroit at what happens and taking care of themselves. Fortunately, we are grateful for that. But there is more severe weather on the way most likely in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam is tracking all of that for us. Good morning.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Victor and Christie. Seeing that footage is amazing that no one was hurt, no injuries or fatalities coming out of that situation.

PAUL: Especially when it happens overnight.

[06:25:11] VAN DAM: Yes, that's right. It becomes more dangerous then. Because obviously the tornadoes are dark, you can't see it and a lot of times in the severe storms they are rain-wrapped and often hidden behind a shaft of rain that often disguises the tornado as well.

The footage that you saw a moment ago was called a wedge tornado and those tornadoes are classified by being wider than they are tall.

PAUL: There it is and there it is again, yes.

VAN DAM: That's why we couldn't get fit in the entire shot there, amazing stuff. But also severe winds with this obviously, but these can be some of the most destructive storms because of the width of these. They could be a half a mile wide for instance.

In total on Saturday, we had roughly 28 tornadoes across eight different states in the U.S. guess what, guys? We have another round of severe weather today. Not as widespread as what we experienced on Saturday, but this time we are looking for the upper mid-Mississippi valley all the way to the Ozark Mountains for the possibility of this severe weather.

You can see the setup here. We have our cold front, very traditional severe weather setup. Remember, May is the peak severe weather season across the U.S., cold dry air interacting with our warm, humid Gulf of Mexico air streaming into parts of the states and creates hail, damaging winds and isolated tornadoes.

We have a rough 30 million Americans under the threat of severe weather, specifically across the eastern sections of Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. We are looking out for Madison to Minneapolis and, by the way, Chicago also under an enhanced severe weather risk today.

We are going to be keeping an eye to the sky and also the possibility of heavy rainfall that could lead to localized flooding. Here are some of the local radars.

Large storm system moving through and Minneapolis waking up to rainfall this morning and severe thunderstorm watch box for portions of Arkansas and northward. These storms will move eastward.

Little Rock you're next within the next two hours or so. We also have a line of storms this morning that is knocking on the doorstep of Austin.

I wouldn't be surprised if we experienced winds in excess of 40 miles per hour with these bands of storms moving through, lots of lightning at the moment near Dallas so a very, very -- well, stormy start to your Sunday morning.

I mentioned the possibility of flooding. Victor and Christie, remember that it only takes one foot of water to float a vehicle 2 feet of rushing water to actually raise and float an entire SUV.

So you want to listen to that very prominent National Weather Service slogan that is turn around, don't drown. If you see a flooded roadway, don't go across it. If you don't see the white lines or the yellow lines in the middle, don't try to navigate over that water.

PAUL: It's too deep. All right, Derek, thank you. Appreciate it very much.

You know, it was the Army's Delta Force chosen to go into Syria on the mission to get the ISIS Commander Abu Sayyaf.

BLACKWELL: Yes, after the break, we are going to look deeper into this elite military unit, who are they? Talk about their training and their secret missions scattered around the world.