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Flash Flooding, Powerful Storms Pound South; Southern California Fire Forces Road Closures; Powerful Syrian Rebel Leader Killed in Airstrike; Planned Parenthood Shooting Suspect's Mental Competency Questioned; Christmas Miracle: Family Says Daughter Nearly Died from Flu. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired December 26, 2015 - 08:00   ET


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Take a look at some of the pictures we're getting in here.

[08:00:02] This region that was hit by a tornado outbreak earlier this week is getting drenched now with double-digit rain totals.

Horrible flooding in some spots. And today, 14 million of us are facing new severe weather threats, and more than 22 million will face it tomorrow.

Overnight, the death toll from this week's tornado disaster went up, by the way. At least 15 people are now confirmed dead. Dozens more are injured across Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee.

And CNN's Nick Valencia is following the latest weather system and really the damage it's already done, right, Nick?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has just been devastating. You mentioned the southern portion of the United States, states like Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, all affected, those waking up Christmas morning had this deal with this terrible weather out there.

This type of damage you're seeing is more typical for springtime. But right now, at least 15 people have lost their lives. And that death toll could rise.


VALENCIA (voice-over): Severe weather batters several southern states. Heavy rains hammer parts of Alabama. At least 20 inches fell in less than 24 hours at the airport in Gadsden. The water made some roads impassable. Rescue crews helping residents trapped in their homes.

The National Weather Service said a potential tornado touched down in Birmingham, causing damage to several blocks.

CHIEF CHARLES GORDON, BIRMINGHAM FIRE DEPARTMENT: The damage was done. It was confined to approximately one square mile. We have three structures, three houses that collapsed.

We transported one person from the scene. There were two others that were removed from the structures. We reported no injuries.

VALENCIA: Alabama's governor declared a state of emergency because of widespread flooding. At least 117 homes overcome by water.

In Georgia, the rain damaged roads and made driving treacherous.

And in Mississippi, flood warnings and relentless rain add more misery to areas already devastated by tornadoes that killed at least eight people in the state. Many roads are flooded and some people are dealing with rising waters in their homes.

In Wren, Mississippi, Victor and Tamika Hale (ph) watched as their home of ten years was overtaken by water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The lawn mower, the trailer, it just floated away, garbage cans, everything gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It happened so fast, that it get up and get out, (INAUDIBLE) went away way too fast.

VALENCIA: The couple is now homeless, staying with relatives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's discouraging. We lost everything. My child, he didn't get any Christmas items.


VALENCIA: Our thoughts and prayers especially with that family right there. And everyone affected, really, in the southern United States. The good news here, the Storm Prediction Center has said that the risk for violent weather has dropped dramatically, but the threat is not over, especially for potential for flash flooding.

If you want to help, if you feel compelled and feeling extra generous this holiday season, you can go to to help victims of the deadly holiday storms. They sure could use the help, Christi.

PAUL: No doubt about it. Nick Valencia, thank you so much.

And we want to get more on the situation in Mississippi specifically. On the phone with us now, Monroe County Sheriff Cecil Cantrell.

Sheriff, thank you so much for being with us. I know that your county is dealing with so much flooding and rising waters. First of all, are people still in danger there?

SHERIFF CECIL CANTRELL, MONROE COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI (via telephone): Well, I would say about 99 percent or a little better, they're in a safe condition at this time. We do have one person lives in the area that is going to be going in this morning around daylight and get this person.

But everything's pretty good here. It's been a rough 24 hours. A lot of people lost their homes. By floodwaters. A lot of cars off the roads where the water swept them off the roads. Of course, we'll be getting those cars -- try to get those cars recovered today. It's just been a rough 24 hours. We're just not equipped for this

kind of weather in our part of the country. It's really, really tough.

PAUL: I'm so sorry for what you all are going through there. You said that you're going to try to recover some of those cars. So, has the water receded in many of the areas?

CANTRELL: Well, you know in some areas, yes, and some, you know, of course, it will be days before it goes completely away and down. In some areas where there was flash flooding were swept off the roads, some of those will be probably, it looks like maybe we'll recover some today, we think.

PAUL: OK. What is your most urgent feed right now, Sheriff?

CANTRELL: Well, you know, we're just asking for, you know, for our folks here just be -- just to be -- use some patience because it's just going to take some time to get these problems solved, and we will get them solved.

[08:05:13] It's just going to take some time.

PAUL: We've been hearing that the storm system could get worse again tonight into tomorrow. How prepared are you, or what does your community need to handle or manage more rain if it is on the way?

CANTRELL: Well, you know, what we're trying to do is ask the general public just to be patient with everybody. We've had our fire departments all out helping. Of course, we've had Mississippi highway patrol, they've helped us. Of course, all our deputies.

We've got surrounding towns, Emery, Nettleton and Aberdeen police departments that will help also. The north part of our county was hit a lot harder than the south part. So --


CANTRELL: You know, we've got a lot of people on our road crews. We've got a great road crew here. And our supervisors have been real -- you though, real good to let all those folks come out and help.

So, it's been a team effort. It's not been one person. It's just been a team effort to try to get this thing resolved, and we just thank the Good Lord that nobody has, as far as I know, has lost their life in this. And I don't see how that's possible.

PAUL: In your area. Wow. That's something else.

Well, thank you so much for getting us updated on what's happening there, and we're certainly wishing you the best of luck. The only way communities can get through it is with the help of everybody in it. So, you're obviously doing something right there, sheriff, and we appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. We know you're busy. Take good care.

CANTRELL: Yes, have a nice one. Bye-bye.

PAUL: You, too. Thank you, Sheriff.

ERROL BARNETT, CNN ANCHOR: And, Christi, Sheriff Cantrell also saying people should be patient and really hit the nail on the head because this weekend we've got millions of holiday travelers who now can expect everything from near blizzard conditions to more powerful rainstorms.

Our CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar joins us with more on that.

Allison, just how much will all this extreme weather ruin people trying to get home from the holidays right now, their plans?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: More so if you're driving than if you're flying. If you're driving, you're going to encounter a lot more problems. And that's unfortunate because so many people were on the roads this year for a lot of the holiday travel.

Here's the forecast of the amount of rain we expect going through Monday. Again, look at some of these numbers. Ten-plus inches just north of Oklahoma City. In the city proper, probably four to six inches.

But also look at the Southeast -- we're talking Mississippi, Alabama and Northern Georgia. We could be seeing an additional four to six inches. Keep in mind, a lot of these areas have picked up about eight to ten in the last 48 hours. They don't need another four to six on top of what they've already had.

And not just the flooding but severe weather, including isolated tornadoes, damaging wind is going to be a possibility from Cincinnati down towards San Antonio today. That system pushes a little farther east on Sunday. So, now, we have cities like Houston, Memphis, also into New Orleans that could be dealing with tornadoes, damaging wind and also the potential for flooding.

So, three different threats that we have going on. Here is a look at the flood threat. These are current flood watches, current flood warnings and flash flood warnings as well just to show you the scope.

Behind this system that could be bringing us flooding and severe weather is also winter weather. We're pulling down that cold air from Canada. So, we have winter storm watches and warnings for parts of Minnesota, South Dakota, also into Nebraska. And farther south, we're talking blizzard watches and blizzard warnings for states like Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and also into Texas.

We have all that moisture coming up from the gulf. But look at this low as it begins to push a little bit farther north and east, it brings a lot of that rain to the south where we don't need to see it and a lot of winter weather out behind it. So if you have travel plans especially tomorrow, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Chicago, Des Moines, you could be dealing with massive delays because of the snow and ice that will be coming down. And we know especially ice is impossible to travel on. So, Errol,

Christi, that is not good news certainly for anybody traveling in the next 48 hours.

BARNETT: Can't take enough patience with you. Allison Chinchar, thanks a lot.

PAUL: All right. We want to get you some breaking news we've been looking at this morning. And I want to show you these latest pictures we're getting in of wildfires in southern California.

Right now, it has forced officials to close two major roadways and issue mandatory evacuations. Ventura County fire officials say the 101 provide and the PCH, the Pacific Coast Highway near the city of Ventura, both shut down. Firefighters there working to battle an uncontained 900-acre fire that is north of the city, but this thing is growing rapidly.

[08:10:01] The Solimar Beach community under mandatory evacuation right now. The Faria Beach community under voluntary evacuation.

A short time ago, I spoke to Captain Lindbery with the Ventura County Fire Department, and he talked about the biggest challenges they're having right now fighting this fire.


CAPT. MIKE LINDBERY, VENTURA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA FIRE DEPARTMENT (via telephone): There are multiple forces coming together here. And as you know, we've had a very exceptional drought here in California. So, these fields are very, very dry. We haven't had any rain, significant rain, to speak of so far this year.

And this area is now under a wind advisory, and we've had gusts up to 47 to 50 miles an hour in the area. So we have been challenged in every area on this incident. The fields are very fine. They're burning very rapidly.

And this fire was probably up to 100 acres within minutes of being reported, if that can give you an idea how fast it's spreading.

PAUL: Any indication what started it?

LINDBERY: No indication at this point. There is a lot of infrastructure up in the hillsides -- or up in the hills above where this fire is burning now. That's a possibility, but we're going to have to get in there and take a look at it soon.


PAUL: We're going to continue following this story, obviously, and have more for you through the morning as it develops.

BARNETT: Also new this morning, a federal investigation in Texas. This after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is called in to investigate a suspicious mosque fire. Now, the blaze broke out yesterday afternoon after Friday prayers. And it took some 80 firefighters to get those flames under control. No one was injured, but the members of the mosque's congregation were shaken.


ACHREF BAVAL, MOSQUE ATTENDEE: A burned mosque, burned church, or a burned synagogue or a burned temple, it's not good to see it like that. The mosque is doing a great job to educate the community, not to hurt people, and to educate people to do the good and forbid the evil.


BARNETT: Investigators say it's the, quote, "multiple points of entry" for the fire that led them to call this blaze suspicious.

Now, when we come back to NEW DAY, a new report says that the Department of Homeland Security is actually planning raids that would force undocumented immigrants out of the country. Donald Trump now taking credit for this move, but is it legal? We'll have an immigration lawyer weigh in.

PAUL: Also ahead on NEW DAY, our senior international correspondents talk about the threat ISIS poses in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

BARNETT: And later this hour, a Christmas miracle. Why this Florida family is thankful their daughter's alive after a close brush with death and the important message they have for other parents giving their kids flu shots.


[08:15:45] PAUL: Fifteen minutes past the hour this morning. So glad to have you with us.

Donald Trump taking credit for plans of a mass deportation of some Central American immigrants. News of these upcoming raids were first reported by "The Wall Street Journal," and the front-runner has been quick to take credit, tweeting, quote, "Does everyone see that the Democrats and President Obama are now, because of me, starting to deport people who are here illegally? Politics!"

But politics aside, this is a very real situation for those who are in this country illegally. Let's talk about it with Craig Shagin. He is an immigration attorney.

And we're so grateful to have you here. Thank you so much, Attorney Shagin.

I'm wondering, have you had any families contact you who may be at risk of deportation?

CRAIG SHAGIN, IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY: Well, the news is out, and the various list serves are circulating memos on it. But because the story just came out a couple of days ago, I haven't -- and I haven't seen anybody actually affected by this yet, no.

PAUL: I'm wondering, what makes a family particularly vulnerable to deportation in this particular program?

SHAGIN: OK. So there's a couple of things that I think I should clarify here.

First of all, the news accounts that I read said that the people who were targeted were those who had a final order of deportation. There's nothing -- a final order of deportation means that they've been to court. They have presented their case, and they lost.

I don't see anything controversial about the deportation of people who have a deportation order. You need that for the proper operation of a justice system of any kind. And I have been bitterly, bitterly disappointed with some of the orders that I've received, and I sometimes think they are quite unfair.

And the remedy for that is to take an appeal. Sometimes you feel that your disposition on appeal is also quite unfair. But the remedy for that is to take legal action. You have to --

PAUL: What is unfair? You said that you've seen some things that have been quite unfair. What have you seen that has disturbed you?

SHAGIN: OK. So, most of the people who you're now speaking of are people who are coming here or claiming asylum from Central America. And the core of the problem is looking at what's forcing them to leave. If, in fact, they are meeting the definition of a refugee under the convention, they should be granted asylum within the United States, and many are.

On the other hand, if you look at the definition of the legal statute, there's often a dispute as to whether those affected by the violence in Honduras and El Salvador and elsewhere are true refugees or whether they're victims of widespread crime within their country. There's an active debate about this, and it's worth taking a look at.

But I just want to clarify something. There's nothing shocking happening here in the sense that people get deported every day who have orders of deportation. It's not like the political campaign of any candidate has had anything to do with this.

It's heart-wrenching. It's terrible to see. This deportation of a human being is a terribly traumatic event, and the arrest of them and picking up of them and the taking of families, particularly children, is something that is extremely painful.

And we shouldn't be looking at that and be smiling about it. There's nothing happy about what is about to happen here. On the other hand --

PAUL: Go ahead. I didn't want to cut you off. Go ahead.

SHAGIN: On the other hand, there's nothing shocking, per se, about court orders being enforced. That's what happens -- PAUL: Sure.

SHAGIN: -- regularly. And that's why I say these cases are so important.

PAUL: Well, speaking of court orders being enforced, I understand there are some churches who have vowed to offer refuge to people who are facing deportation. How might that play into this?

SHAGIN: Well, I would say two things. One, if it's preordered, that is before they have a final order of deportation, there are people who need places to stay. They need a certain level of comfort so they can properly present their case.

[08:20:03] They need legal representation. There's a lot of needs they have. And that's a very worthy thing, I believe, to provide help for those who are truly facing deportation in deportation proceedings.

After the deportation proceedings, after a final order, I would say you're left with two choices, or two things that you can do that would be helpful. One would be to encourage them to comply with the law so that they don't have to be arrested by ICE, and that doesn't necessarily mean going back to their country of origin. Perhaps they have other options which should also be explored.

Very often, there are very few options here, and it is very painful. And especially when you look at people who truly do -- truly are afraid of going home for very good reasons. You have to look at the bind that they're in to see what would motivate, you know, an orderly process of resettlement.

PAUL: Sure.

SHAGIN: And there are other countries also who could be extremely helpful here, as well as us taking a broader look at what our policies are in Central America to help people resettle without being victimized --

PAUL: Penalized or victimized, right. I understand.

Craig Shagin, we so appreciate your insight on this. Thank you for being with us this morning.

SHAGIN: All right. Thank you for having me.

PAUL: Of course.

SHAGIN: OK, have a good day.

PAUL: You, too.

BARNETT: Thanks, Christi. Still to come on your NEW DAY, Israeli police foil another attack on an officer in Jerusalem this Saturday.

Also, our senior international correspondents discuss the threat that ISIS poses after the Paris attacks. Stay with us.


PAUL: Israeli police shot and killed a Palestinian man this morning in Jerusalem, a man they say who tried to stab an officer there. In fact, on Christmas day, Israeli police say they killed a Palestinian woman who had attempted to ram officers with her car in a West Bank village.

BARNETT: A fire at former President Clinton's childhood home in Hope, Arkansas, is now being investigated as arson. Police say the fire began in the back of the home early on Friday morning. And in addition to damage from the flames, the home's walkway and door, they were vandalized with graffiti. The home is a national historic site. Clinton lived there for the first four years of his life.

[08:25:00] PAUL: A U.S. air base in Japan has issued an all-clear and lifted a shelter in place order after a security incident. Now, according to the Yokota Air Base Facebook page, a suspect entered the base with a suspicious package but was caught on the scene. An investigation into that incident obviously is ongoing.

BARNETT: Pope Francis called for peace in the Holy Land and throughout the world in his Christmas day message. The pope also called for Israeli/Palestinian talks and appeared close to endorsing a two-state solution. He also prayed that the U.N. agreement on Syria would succeed in halting that country's devastating civil war.

PAUL: Well, ahead, a top commander of one of the most powerful Syrian rebel groups is killed in an airstrike. We're talking about who he was and how big, how significant is this to Syria's armed opposition.

Also, a wildfire in southern California forcing road closures, mandatory evacuations. Take a look here. These are live pictures for you, what's happening there. We've been following this story for a couple hours. The flames keep getting bigger and bigger.

We'll have more for you in just a moment. Stay close.


PAUL: Twenty-eight minutes past the hour. And take a look at the pictures we're getting in from southern California and the wildfire there that has forced evacuations and highway closures already this morning. Ventura County fire officials say the blaze near Solimar Beach is uncontained, has burned 1,000 acres already.

A fire official says more than 500 firefighters are battling these flames here. And helicopters are being used to drop water.

We've been following this story for a couple hours, and earlier we talked to an official on the phone who said the closing of these two major roadways, the 101 and the PCH, Pacific Coast Highway, are creating a holiday traffic nightmare. We'll continue, obviously, to follow what's happening there. You can

see it's still dark out there, but daylight should be breaking soon. We'll have a live report for you at the top of the hour.

BARNETT: Also new this morning, the ATF have been called in to investigate after a suspicious fire nearly destroyed a mosque. This is in Texas. This all happened yesterday evening after Friday prayers at the Savoy (ph) mosque. No one was injured, but the flames were so intense, firefighters were scared the ceiling would cave in.

PAUL: Let's talk about Syria now. A powerful rebel commander has been killed in an airstrike in a Damascus suburb.

[08:30:03] The group Jaysh al-Islam confirmed Zahran Alloush did indeed die and they've already appointed a new leader.

Syria's state-run news agency aired aerial footage. Apparently, what you see here is from the strike, but it's not clear whether Syrian or Russian planes carried out that strike.

CNN's Robyn Kriel has been following this, too.

So, Robyn, this group, just to clarify, Jaysh al-Islam, they were fighting ISIS, yes?

ROBYN KRIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. In addition to fighting the Syrian government led by Bashar al Assad, Christi, they were also part of rebel factions who were battling ISIS. More moderate group was Jaysh al-Islam, Around 15,000 to 20,000 fighters, and they were considered one of the most effective rebel groups battling Bashar al Assad's regime.

PAUL: So help us understand who Jaysh al-Islam is because I know that they are considered a terror group by the Assad regime.

KRIEL: Yes. And thus, they would also likely be considered one by Russia who is interested in keeping the Assad regime in place. However, the United States has also committed to reform in Syria, so it's difficult to see exactly who is supporting who on the ground, different actors, different players in the region.

But we do know, as I said, that they are a more moderate group. They were not in favor of the sort of hard-line ideologies of al Qaeda and ISIS. So, they were sort of part of countering, really, ISIS's growth by taking key neighborhoods and key suburbs in eastern Damascus.

And this was really -- this is really why people are asking if this is sort of a blow to the fight against ISIS, although it would be seen as a gain in the eyes of the Assad regime and those countries who support the Assad regime.

PAUL: But how significant is the death specifically of this leader?

KRIEL: It's significant. He was 44 years old. He was part of sort of spearheading this group. He was one of those who was part of one of their biggest operations back in 2012 when they bombed the ministry of national security. He was also spearheading the group being part of peace talks which are taking place which are due to take place in Geneva. They had a conference leading up to the peace talks that were held in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.

And so, this was sort of leading towards a peace process eventually. So this could have quite a big impact on the group.

PAUL: OK. Robyn Kriel, thank you so much for all the information. Appreciate it.

ERROL BARNETT, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to talk about this more now with CNN military analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. Jaysh al-Islam was one of the main rebel groups expected to hold talks with Assad's government come next year.

In your view, could the killing of its leader be an effort by the Syrian regime and its allies to essentially eliminate groups that occupy the middle ground between Assad and ISIS? Why target this one now?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I believe -- yes, I believe that to be the case, Errol. And let's talk a little bit, first of all, about Alloush. He was a charismatic figure. He was a guy who brought together disparate factions of various rebel forces that had been fighting against Assad for several years. This guy was wounded in battle in 2013.

About 50 different factions came together under his leadership. And he was very charismatic. His organization, Jaysh al Islam, along with the national coalition that's somewhat supported by Turkey, were the two main rebel forces that have been fighting Assad for the last several years. His particular organization and him, Jaysh al-Islam has been supported by the Saudi Arabians. Alloush's father was a religious figure in Riyadh.

So, yes, it will certainly affect the peace talks. And I think this was certainly an attempt by Syria and Russia to make those peace talks a little bit more one-sided by further affecting these various rebel groups that have come together.

BARNETT: That would suggest that they want continued instability in the country, then, because although a Sunni Muslim himself, he had, over time, denounced partisan rule of Syria. He said he believed the country should be governed by a technocratic body.

Do you think that his death now will result in sectarian bickering?

HERTLING: Well, I certainly think it will cause disruption within the rebel groups. That's already been a problem, as you've seen Russia step up its indiscriminate bombing of the Syrian free forces, areas of operation. Yes, it's certainly going to cause some challenges to bring more people to the table. And I think it supports the Russian and the Assad regime's attempt at disrespecting all of any government approach to try and bring a diplomatic solution to this problem.

[08:35:00] Remember, they just want to win. They don't want any more rebels. They see all rebels as terrorists, and even the fact that Syria has agreed potentially to this peace talk in Saudi Arabia in January as anticipated and has been driven by the U.N. is going to be problematic if they keep killing the rebel leaders on the other side. It's for the going to provide a whole lot of support for a shared government approach.

BARNETT: And time is of the essence. So much can happen in just the next few weeks. You know, this group, the leader of which was taken out, apparently he was successful in keeping ISIS away from Damascus. Might that change? Is there an opening for ISIS here?

HERTLING: Well, in Robyn's report that they have encountered ISIS is technically correct, but they have also done some things -- again, Jaysh al Islam has been primarily focused on abandoning and replacing the Assad regime. They have fought ISIS primarily in a way to defend themselves. They have used some of the same techniques ISIS has used on ISIS prisoners they have captured. They have also -- Jaysh al Islam has used human shields on several incidents as well, using ISIS detainees as their human shields, and some of the Assad regime members as well.

So this is still a very tough regime. It is certainly more moderate than ISIS. They will fight ISIS in order to protect themselves. But make no mistake about it, their primary target is Mr. Assad and his regime.

BARNETT: All right, we're discussing there how the death of Zahran Alloush will impact the war, the ongoing war, in Syria. General Hertling, thanks for your time today. Appreciate it.

HERTLING: Thank you, Errol.

PAUL: Well, the man accused of gunning down three people at a Planned Parenthood facility could hinge on whether he's found mentally competent. Is he, then, capable of defending himself, as he would like to do? We're talking about that with our defense expert.

BARNETT: And a bit later this hour, a Christmas miracle? Well, possibly. A young girl dying from the flu and what her parents think saved her life.


PAUL: Well, President Obama took a break from his family vacation in Hawaii, making his annual visit to thank the troops at the Marine Corps base there. President Obama calls the event one of his, quote, "favorite things" to do and promised the men and women in uniform that their service is never taken for granted.


[08:40:06] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As we know, you know, when you're deployed overseas, it's tough. And even though we've been able to reduce the number of folks who are deployed in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, there's still folks over there every single day, and it's still dangerous, as we saw this past week. We had some outstanding brave men and women who were killed.

And so, we never take for granted what all of you do for the American people. You help keep us free. You help keep us strong. And whatever service you're in, whatever branch, we are extraordinarily grateful for everything that you do every single day.


PAUL: And you heard the president there refer to the six Americans who were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Bagram, Afghanistan, earlier this week. The president calling them outstanding and brave, and we certainly thank all of those folks there, too, for their service.

BARNETT: Christi, you know full well the war on ISIS has dominated international stories this year. The rapid spread of the jihadist group and the attacks in Paris are really changing the way the U.S. and other nations are fighting ISIS.

Well, some of CNN's top foreign correspondents gathered for a look at the war on ISIS and what we can expect in the year ahead.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Paris has been such a game changer, because as closely as I've been following the sort of reach of militant groups of ISIS in Europe and the U.S., I had never expected them for them to pull off this organized.



ELBAGIR: No, I don't think so.



WARD: The main thing that didn't go as well as they were hoping were the vests, the suicide vests.



ELBAGIR: They accomplished their goal.


ELBAGIR: There's a difference between extraordinary complex that need an infrastructure and eight guys with a vest --

(CROSSTALK) WARD: I think they had an infrastructure.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What surprises me a little bit about this is I think the lack of the short-term memory. It was a decade ago that we were looking at al Qaeda carrying out massive attacks which killed scores of people and we kind of forget the fear and panic of those days.

WARD: Also, the whole nature of recruitment was different. Like, al Qaeda was recruiting in the mosques.

WATSON: In the mosques.

WARD: And it was an entirely different prospect. Jihad was very abstract.

WATSON: Now these Facebook jihadists --


WARD: These are like your own friends.

WATSON: Who are doing it in their bedroom, yes.

WARD: In their bedrooms. So it's a completely -- I think for intelligence authorities, it's a frightening prospect.

ELBAGIR: But this kind of, I know he grew a beard, he started going to mosques, these are the telltale signs of radicalism that entire landscape --


ELBAGIR: -- has changed now.

DAMON: But that also the greater underlying issues that we have in society, and what ISIS has now done for people that are slightly so inclined is give them that sense of purpose.


DAMON: The next question is, it's not in terms of intelligence, how do we fight this, but how do you actually fight that ideology. How do you revamp society where these kids have a different sense of purpose?

WATSON: All of these kids, their parents came to Europe for a better life. The sign of irony, their offspring grow up to be people that attack Europe.

WARD: We have this misconception that ISIS is about radical Islam. ISIS is a product of like a bunch of very complex geo-political historical trends that have been brewing for years.



terrifying that some guys who clearly aren't particularly mentally well configured in San Bernardino can go and shoot coworkers and put something on Facebook and that somehow joins global movement.

ELBAGIR: It's like a wave of hysteria that's building on each other. You saw Paris and then you saw San Bernardino crest off of it. It's like a contagion in a way.

DAMON: I think there needs to be not hysteria, but, I mean, let's not underestimate the threat either.

WARD: Yes.

DAMON: I mean, it is huge.


PAUL: We'll continue to bring you more of that conversation. Obviously, really important and interesting to hear it from their perspective because they've been in that region.

BARNETT: And been up close to it covering it. An interesting conversation.

PAUL: The man accused of gunning down three people at a Planned Parenthood facility could hinge on whether he's found mentally competent. Is he then capable of defending himself, which he wants to do? We'll talk about it.

BARNETT: Also coming up, a Christmas miracle. Why a Florida family is thankful their daughter's alive. This is after a close brush with death. And they have an important message for other parents giving their kids flu shots.

[08:45:01] Stay tuned for this.


PAUL: Well, the case against the man accused of killing three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic last month in Colorado Springs could hinge on whether he is found mentally competent. Robert Dear appeared in court earlier this week and interrupted his public defender, telling the judge that he wants to represent himself. The judge ordered Dear to undergo a mental evaluation. However, in a previous court appearance earlier this month, Dear had indicated he wouldn't cooperate with that.


ROBERT DEAR, ACCUSED PLANNED PARNENTHOOD CLINIC SHOOTER: And I'm not going to agree to their mental health evaluations where they want to take me and put me under psychotropic drugs so that he can't talk like the Batman guy.


PAUL: Dear faces 179 felony counts including murder and attempted murder.

Let's talk to defense attorney and former sex crimes prosecutor A. Scott Bolden.

Scott, thank you so much for being with us.

First of all, I think a lot of people are looking at this and saying what happened if Dear refuses to cooperate and he won't have that mental evaluation? What then?

A. SCOTT BOLDEN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, Christi, thank you for having me. If he won't agree to have the mental evaluation, then he can't be mentally competent to stand trial.

But I think here, what the defendant is actually saying is he doesn't want to take drugs. That doesn't mean they can't do the mental evaluation. And they'll do the mental evaluation.

And if he comes back and he's competent to stand trial, that is this. Can he assist in his defense? That's one thing. And two, does he appreciate and does he understand the murder charges that are being brought against him in this criminal proceeding?

And that's how you proceed. If he's competent, he will go forward with the charges of the prosecution. And if he isn't, then he will be committed back to the state institution until he can be what we call restorative competence. That is until he's brought into the snapshot of his mental state whereby he can stand trial.

PAUL: So he's facing, as I said, 179 felony counts including murder and attempted murder. Have you ever seen a defendant with that many charges against them and that serious -- those serious charges against them able to defend themselves and be successful?

[08:50:04] BOLDEN: Well, he's got a constitutional right to do that.

PAUL: Right.

BOLDEN: Now, this may, in and of itself, mean that there's some mental competence issues there because of so many charges. Now, many times when there is a mental issue or a cause celebre or some type of philosophical ideological reason why this individual has done this, then sure, we get that all the time across the country. Defense attorneys, prosecutors and courts have to deal with it.

But the judge did the right thing here. He doesn't want to be reversed by the court of appeals here. And so, it's pretty standard and fundamental. Can he stand trial? Is he mentally competent to stand trial? They'll do the evaluation and then figure out what to do with him.

Now, remember, if he's not -- if he's found incompetent to stand trial, and let's say he cannot be restored to competence, right?

PAUL: Right.

BOLDEN: Well, the Colorado law, then he is -- he's assigned or ordered to this mental institution for as long as the amount of time he could have gotten if he were convicted of these murder charges. And in this case, it would be three life sentences.

So, it's not like Robert Dear is going anywhere any time fast, let alone whether it's bail or whether he's incompetent to stand trial. He's going to go away for a long, long time, especially if he's found incompetent.

PAUL: All right. So let's say that this does go to trial, whether he is representing himself or not. Do you see the death penalty coming into play here?

BOLDEN: Well, that's completely within the discretion of the prosecution. The real issue or the big issue is whether his defense is going to be that he was insane at the time that he committed this heinous act.

PAUL: But, Scott, you can't --

BOLDEN: It's a little different.

PAUL: You can't get up there -- can you -- I mean, it seems unfathomable that you would say -- you would be competent to defend yourself, but then you'd be saying that you were insane.

BOLDEN: Well, these are --

PAUL: At the time.

BOLDEN: -- mutually exclusive issues, though.

PAUL: Right.

BOLDEN: The snapshot of whether you're competent is his current state of mind. In connection to his insanity defense is that what was on his mind and was he mentally stable to commit the act when he killed those individuals?

PAUL: But has anybody done that?

BOLDEN: You're talking about snapshots in time.

PAUL: Has anybody done that they have represented themselves and claimed themselves to have been insane?

BOLDEN: Oh, that's an interesting concept, interesting issue. The fact of the matter is, that has happened before across the country. Not successfully, though, quite frankly because it seems to be inconsistent with one another. But we'll have to see. The court and the judge will either allow or disallow those types of

defenses. But here, remember, Robert Dear is a, quote, "warrior for the babies" and an anti-abortion activist. And so, a lot of this is about his ideas and about him getting them on the front page, as well as before the court and the public.

PAUL: Yes, you wonder --

BOLDEN: So, we'll just have to say.

PAUL: Yes, you wonder if he wants to represent himself just to try to forward his own personal cause.

A. Scott Bolden --

BOLDEN: He would be his worst client for sure.

PAUL: All right. We so appreciate you being here and walking us through it. Scott, thank you.

BOLDEN: Thank you.

PAUL: Sure.

And stick around for the top of the hour, too. We're working on two develops stories we want to share with you. First of all, severe weather hitting several states today and tomorrow, which could impact more than 22 million of us here.

And we're going to tell you who can expect what and when.

BARNETT: And we're also following a huge wildfire in southern California. It is really just exploded in some ways. Over 1,000 acres burned. It's grown rapidly in the last few hours. We'll bring you a live report at the top of the hour.

And a Florida family grateful to what they're calling a Christmas miracle that saved their daughter's life. Hear what they credit for this miracle next.


[08:56:37] PAUL: I want to tell you about this Florida family who is so grateful for what they say is a Christmas miracle that saved their daughter's life.

BARNETT: That's right. They have a message for parents about one of the best holiday gifts can you give your child.

Here's CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen with their story.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Errol, Christi, the flu season is upon us. And a Florida family spent Christmas Day here at the intensive care unit at this hospital. Their daughter was perfectly healthy until the flu attacked her heart.

(voice-over): Gemma Vitello (ph) was a completely healthy 4-year-old little girl. And now, she's fighting for her life in this intensive care unit because of the flu.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really thought it was the end.

COHEN (on camera): You thought she was not going to make it?



COHEN (voice-over): On Sunday, December 13th, Gemma had a slight fever.

SZABO: She wasn't extremely sick at all.

COHEN: On Monday, Gemma felt better. She even danced in her school's Christmas play. But then three days later --

SZABO: She was pale. She had cold hands, cold feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The way she spoke to us. How she was trying to say "something's wrong." She never spoke with me with that tone before. It was like asking for help.

COHEN: Her parents, Lejla Szabo and Alex Vitello (ph) took Gemma to the emergency room just in the nick of time. She arrived and went into cardiac arrest.

SZABO: The feeling of losing your child right in front of you --

COHEN (on camera): You thought you were going to lose her?



COHEN: Her heart wasn't doing anything?



COHEN (voice-over): Doctors performed CPR on Gemma for 45 minutes.

SZABO: He told me that, you know, we just have to look back and appreciate this 4 1/2 years that we had with her.

COHEN: Doctors couldn't get Gemma's heart working again. They put her on life support and sent her in a helicopter to a transplant center, thinking she'd need a new heart.

SZABO: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, her heart wasn't doing anything.

COHEN (on camera): No activity?

SZABO: Nothing, absolutely, no activity, no pulse.

COHEN (voice-over): The Sunday before Christmas, her parents asked friends around the world to say prayers for their daughter at mass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One in Argentina, in Brazil, in Italy, and one in Miami, 11:00.

COHEN (on camera): Everyone did a mass at the same time?


COHEN (voice-over): And that's when they say they got their Christmas miracle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She started to bounce back on Sunday.

COHEN (on camera): All of a sudden on Sunday, Gemma's heart started to beat again. Can you explain it?

DR. JEFFREY JACOBS, ALL CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: Sometimes we don't understand everything that happens in medicine.

COHEN: What's Gemma's prognosis? How is she going to do?

JACOBS: I think she's going to make a great recovery. A month from now, this is going to be just a little bump in the road for her life, and she should be back to doing the things she's always done.

COHEN (voice-over): No one can explain why some healthy children like Gemma get so desperately ill from the flu.

(on camera): Did Gemma ever get a flu shot?

SZABO: Never.


COHEN: Because?

SZABO: I -- I didn't think of the flu as a serious illness.

COHEN (voice-over): But now they do. And the parents of this little girl who dreams of being a doctor when she grows up have a message to other parents. Get your child vaccinated for the flu.

(on camera): Gemma is doing better, but she's still not out of the woods yet. Now every year children do die of the flu, and it's not too late to get a flu shot this season -- Errol, Christi.