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Saudi Embassy in Iran Ransacked; Illinois Levee Failed Overnight; Trump Will "Unsign" Any Executive Order on Guns. Aired 6- 6:30a ET

Aired January 3, 2016 - 06:00   ET


[06:00:20] (HEADLINES)


ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Alison Kosik in for Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you this Sunday morning.

KOSIK: New this morning the execution of a Shiite Cleric in Saudi Arabia has ignited a firestorm of protests...

In Iran dozen of demonstrators attack the Saudi embassy in Tehran throwing firebomb, and smashing windows and furniture. Riot police where called in and 40 people have been rested.

BLACKWELL: Well, there's more because hundreds of people, some of the women turned out to protest of Nimr death in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, all the way to India.

Let's bring in CNN correspondent Becky Anderson. Becky, tell us more first about al-Nimr and why this execution is causing among the 47 people who were executed, so much backlash.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Victor, this is a disturbing development that could have wide ranging ramification for this region and beyond, in fact.

Let start with New Years then. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was an outspoken critic of the ruling Sunni monarchy with a seizable support base in the kingdoms Shia dominated eastern region.

Now, while he was known for fiery sermons, we have video to show that. There is little evidence to suggest he was actually active in taking out arms against the Saudi States. So by grouping him with convicted terrorists, the other 46, belonging to groups like al Qaeda, the Saudi Arabia, it seems, is sending a message that it will not tolerate any form of dissent to be their radical city jihadist of the al Qaeda type is it were or Shia activist.

And we are already seeing evidence of inflamed relations between Riyadh and Tehran. Iran Supreme Leader saying Saudi's leaders will face and "Divine Justice" as protesters in Tehran ransacked the Saudi embassy as you are showing on Saturday. There are more protests expected today. And in turn, back to Riyadh has asked the Iran ambassador to leave the country. So you can see already between the two tensions rising.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about the response from the U.S. The state department released this statement. Let's put it up to the screen. We reaffirm our calls on the government of Saudi Arabia to respect and protect human rights. We are particularly concerned that the execution of prominent Shiite cleric and political activist Nimr al-Nimr risks exacerbating sectarian tensions.

So, I mean, this statement did not come from the White House did even come from the Secretary himself, it came a spokesperson that John Kirby at the State of Department and there is not kind of nation simply just that a particularly concerned that gives us I'm sure some context of the difficult line the U.S. has to walk between ally Saudi Arabia and Iran which has had this improving relationship over the past couple of years.

ANDERSON: Yeah. And this is where we really need to talk about the ramifications here, don't we? Of this sort of rising Shia/Sunni divine. This already being seen with reaction in this region. The governments here in the UAE for example, in Bahrain coming out in support of the Saudi monarchy, mostly Sunni populations in those two countries, while Shia leaders in Lebanon and in Iraq for example, already denouncing the move and saying it will worsen sectarian tensions.

Let's remember this. This is massively important, especially when you consider the potential impact for Syria. Iran and Saudi had just agreed to sit at the same table in upcoming talks so the question is will this affect those plans? Those talks are schedule (ph) at least the start towards the end of January and Yemen, Victor, a war that the U.N. has called a human catastrophe. And another regional proxy conflict between Saudi and Iran perhaps coincidentally also this weekend.

[06:05:08] We're announcing the end to a recent cease-fire there between the Saudi coalition and Houthi rebels. So I think you can see that there has already been reaction both in Saudi and Iran you're seeing reaction across the region between Shia-dominated governments and Sunni-dominated leaderships and you're seeing the impact on these regional battles that are Syria and Yemen. This is a store that isn't going to go away. We'll be watching very, very closely but at present certainly inflamed relations between two real fauxes, Saudi and Iran.

BLACKWELL: All right Becky Anderson with us from Abu Dhabi. Thank you so very much. And welcome to you for the latest as this continues to develop very quickly this morning. Thank you so much.

KOSIK: Some of the sharpest reaction to Nimr al-Nimr's execution had actually from Iran.

The population there is heavily Shia. Let's go to CNN producer Shirzad Bozorgmehr, he's in Tehran. Joining us on the phone. Good morning to you.

BOZORGMEHR: Good morning. Despite the fact that governor general's office have said that should be not protest in front of the Saudi embassy in Tehran. People are gathering around and they're already chanting best to America that the Israel that the Saudi Arabia and riot police on motorcycle until year just arrived> it looks like the beginning of a bigger demonstration. So far there are only about two or three dozen people. And about maybe 50-60 police officers.

KOSIK: So we're talking about what happening at -- you're talking about what's happening at the Saudi embassy in Tehran, right at the moment?

BOZORGMEHR: Right now, yes, yes, yes. This is following last night's event that the embassy was set of fire by some demonstrators who've got out of hand, police say that detained 40 of them. They have not given any idea to their identity but they said that they would be prosecuted.

KOSIC: Now the video we're looking at it's from last night. We don't have video from today. Are there are still fires coming from the embassy at the moment?

BOZORGMEHR: No. No, fire still to (inaudible) it was probably out about 3:00 a.m. last night was I was here they put it out, but there were some smoke coming out still even that is being put down. It's the building is safe of course there's damage from the outside. We can see the windows are broken. But the official of Saudi's are OK. They are chanting it started, Alison.

KOSIK: Right so the protests, obviously continuing today. Are you feeling just in the air, are you feeling maybe the tension ramping up or is it calming any?

BOZORGMEHR: No. I think it's going to rise. Because, last night, when I was talking to people who were here, they seemed very angry about Saudi policies towards the Shias particularly the execution of Shiite al-Nimr and the Saudi policies in Yemen as well as their policies in (inaudible) Syria.

So, the Iranian people and the officials are extremely concerned about the situation and the ambassador of Saudi Arabia has been called to the Iranian foreign minister with a stern warning. And I just heard that the Saudis are (inaudible) the Iranian ambassador in Riyadh.

KOSIK: OK, clearly a developing situation. We will come back to you as needed Shirzad Bozorgmehr. Thanks so much.

Once again we will continue checking with you for updates.

And leaders around the world have been quick to condemn the execution of Shiite Cleric Nimr al-Nimr. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling for calm and restraint in reaction to the execution Sheikh nimr. And urges all regional leaders to work to avoid the exacerbation of sectarian tensions. BLACKWELL: Iran Supreme Leader Ayatillah Aki Khomeini said on Twitter "Doubtlessly unfairly-spilled blood of oppressed martyr Sheikh Nimr will affect rapidly and divine revenge will seize Saudi politicians."

And the Iraqi Prime Minister said "The expression of opinion and the peaceful opposition are fundamental human right guaranteed by divine laws of international laws and violating those leads to repercussions on security, stability and the social fabric of the peoples in the region."

Now earlier this morning the brother of Shaike al-Nimr are called for restraint following the cleric death. But rhetoric has become increasingly heated. You heard the chanting in the background there from Tehran.

Ayatollah Khomeini posted this photo on his website and you see at the spit screen here on the right using the picture of ISIS's jihadi John.

[06:10:03] On the left a representation of Saudi calling this white ISIS and black ISIS as spit down the center comparing the two.

To discuss we joined by Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, CNN military Analyst and former commanding general of Europe in the Seventh Army and CNN Law Enforcement Analyst and former FBI Assistant Director Tom Fuentes.

General, I want to start with you. With rhetoric like this, is this going to move beyond what we are seeing this morning, the protests across that region of the world and these really strong words?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think it will, Victor. This is a very difficult situation. First of all, Sheikh al- Nimr was a peaceful protester. He used words. In fact, he once said, words are much stronger than bullets. He was attempting to represent the 10 percent to 15 percent Shia that live in Saudi Arabia. And by the way, he is a Saudi Arabian. He is not an Iranian in Saudi Arabia.

So he was attempting to approach King Abdullah and the rest of the Saudi government and princes and say we need more inclusion of Shia in our population. It was the opposite side of many of the extreme why he have as in Saudi Arabia who would the king sees as extremist and terrorists. So, in Saudi Arabia, if you look at it from there to standpoint, they are trying to tamp down insurgencies and anyone that speaks against the kingdom or the king. They do not have freedom of speech like we do here in the United States. Anything that is done in that way is considered a crime against the society.

So, yes, this will inflame more Shia in the region, as you've seen it already has, and it will be another match being held very close to a gallon of gasoline in the region.

BLACKWELL: Tom, is there a strategic balance that must be struck here? We know about these 40 arrests after the fire bombing and the ransacking of the Saudi embassy there. With Iran trying to show the world the outrage that is in that country and across the world but also keep, you know, a rule of law in their own capital? TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Oh, Victor, I don't know what, you know, what kind of rule of law we are talking about there in terms of a comparison to our rule of law. As General Hertling mentioned, they don't have freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia. You do not criticize the regime. On the other hand, Iran doesn't either. So interesting that these two countries would go at on those type of grounds when neither country tolerates any decent, any public statements against the ruling bodies of their countries and deal with that harshly.

And I think that anybody that thinks that in Saudi Arabia you can criticize the kingdom and get away with it. At we have seen already that that's not going to happen. Now maybe Nimr thought that, you know, being a cleric he would be immune or somehow they'd never carry it out. But I think Saudi Arabia is sending a message to the residents of their country and the world that they are not just going to tolerate it.

BLACKWELL: General, put into context the statement we have from the U.S. State Department. I mean as we went around the globe receiving statements, we got statements mostly from the top, the Ayatollah in Iran. We got it from the prime minister in Iraq. We received it from the secretary-general from the U.N.

This statement from the U.S. does not come from the President. It doesn't come from Secretary Kerry. It comes from the spokesman and he just says that they are particularly concerned about the execution. Is there some hedging here? Put into context why the statement comes from Kirby, not from someone higher up and the words that were chosen.

HERTLING: Yeah well that certainly has to do with the friendship we have with Saudi Arabia and the deal we are attempting to make with Iran, and add to that, Victor, the attempts to bring people to the table regarding a Syrian solution. All as Becky reported earlier. We are in a very critical time for the Syrian crisis but we also had just signed a nuclear deal with the Iranian leaders and we have a long going alliance with Saudi Arabia. So we really have to walk a very fine line in this crisis. If you're a Shia leader like in Iraq or in Iran, you're certainly going to condemn this. If you're the head of the U.N., you are certainly going to condemn this because this is - it shows the potential for a great conflict.

But when you're the United States trying to pull folks together, poor John Kirby as the guy that has to issue the statement and it has to do with no kidding freedom of speech and allowing people to protest, more than anything else. We do not want to get involved in a religious dispute between the two major powers representing Sunni and Shia sects in the Middle East.

BLACKWELL: All right General Mark Hertling and Tom Fuentes. Thank you both.

FUENTES: Thank you.

KOSIK: Ahead. Another big story here in the U.S. Five levee breached along the Mississippi River in Illinois. The latest happening overnight, the state governor is particularly concern about people in the flood zone and it's not just because of the rising water.

[06:15:11] BLACKWELL: Plus, we now know the name of that suspected gunman who opened fire on a pub in Tel Aviv. A police have now raided that man's home and today, the suspect's family is talking.

KOSIK: Also ahead, Donald Trump had based much of his campaign criticizing President Obama. Well, now he vows to undo a key executive order Obama has yet to sign.


BLACKWELL: This is a nightmare scenario in southern Illinois. We're talking just west of Miller City. The Mississippi River has now broken through the lens small Levees. According to CNN affiliate KFVS, that water is flowing for six miles from the river into the state, completely surrounding two small towns. Here is the Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner.


BRUCE RAUNER, ILLINOIS GOVERNOR: And here in Alexander County it's the worst that we've seen. The levee has been breached in at least five locations, the water is coming over in a pretty high pace. Hundreds of families have been requested to evacuate.

Unfortunately the majority of families that we've contacted so far had said, they don't want to evacuate, they want to stay with their homes. Having a flood in the winter when it's 30 degrees is very different than when it's 80 degrees in June. And big risk of hypothermia and we are asking and we watcher viewers, please, if you are requested to evacuate, please honor the request and evacuate. Stay safe.


BLACKWELL: Let's take you to Missouri now. The cleanup happening there after days of flooding would help from an emergency declaration signed yesterday by the President. Cape Girardeau you're looking at right here. The treat continues with the water line now over the town's ground level, Mississippi river at record breaking level running 15 to 20 feet above normal.

KOSIK: And in Illinois, emergency workers are scrambling to make sure everyone is safe. Joining me now on the phone is Tim Schleper, he's the emergency management director in Clinton County, Illinois. Good morning, Tim.


KOSIK: Tell me what you're seeing where you are. Are you seeing the water recede?

SCHLEPER: Yeah, that is correct. Once we kind of hit the crest, probably Wednesday or Thursday of last week, all the water has receded and a lot of the areas especially in diligence like German town or some of the pictures that I have sent to you kind of went up to the sand bags about two to three feet.

[06:20:04] But all those after review with them on Friday and Saturday, the water has receded in those areas.

KOSIK: And now that it's receded, you are able to get a better look at, what that water did to homes, to streets, to buildings, can you describe what you see?

SCHLEPER: Well, it's unprecedented for most of the residents that we seen. I mean, these people have been in their houses for 50, 60 years and some even longer. And like Governor Rauner said about the evacuations, these people really had no idea that one of the rivers, the creeks that run on the through Clinton County can do this much damage because it just never been seen before.

Homes and subdivisions just north of (inaudible) to the water gone area have seen 57 inches of water come through there and just devastated about 12 residences in there, where people just lost everything they had.

KOSIK: And our hearts go out to them, such devastating pictures.

Thank so much for joining us Tim Schleper.

BLACKWELL: You've heard now about the water receding in parts of the Missouri and Illinois but now it's on its way south.

CNN Allison Chinchar, live with us now.

The flooding still could be several days away but Arkansas and Tennessee, I know, are concerned.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, they are because they are a little bit farther downstream and they are trying to carefully watch what happened around St. Louis and Cape Girardeau because again, this is what happens, all of that water has to flow down into the Mississippi at some point is would ends up in cities like Memphis, down your Greenville and eventually in New Orleans.

Right now, we still have 15 states with flood warning in a fact for us and again we have over 250 locations that are either at or above their flood stage spread out across the Midwest and also into parts of the southeast.

Again, here's a look at the different areas, the Missouri River, the Arkansas River and the Ohio River all end up flowing back into the Mississippi at just various different locations. So next on the list, we know about Cape Girardeau. They have already crested and we have that levee breach that just to the Southeast of them. But Cairo is next expected to crest today.

Then we move a little bit further down toward Memphis and also in the Pine Bluff, those are extended. Memphis is expected to crest not until January 7th, when it does its likely going to be the fourth highest on record but that also depends on exactly when that water makes it down there. If it's delayed, if it's earlier again that could play a huge factor and exactly whether or not they hit that crest mark. So Victor again, the big concern even farther south is also rain.

If we have any rain in the forecast starting 7 to the next 14 days that would be a big factor and whether or not they end up getting bad flooding or if they can control it.

BLACKWELL: Some though days ahead Allison Chinchar, thanks so much.

KOSIK: Chris Brown is back in hot water with the law this morning. Ahead, what Las Vegas police say he did to a woman that now has the singer under investigation.

BLACKWELL: And later this morning, the fight against the ISIS, new images of Iraqi forces going at the jihadists.


[06:25:01] BLACKWELL: Time now, its 6:25 here on the East Coast, and it's day three of the manhunt for the gunman who killed two people and wounded eight others in a New Year's Day attack. Police have named a suspect that was 31-year old Nasha'at Melhem from Northern Israel.

But right now, specialized police units are searching a house -- several houses in Tel Aviv to find him. Melhem's uncle told CNN that he's suffering from psychological disorders.

KOSIK: In San Bernardino, California, hundreds of employees at the Inland Regional Center will return to work tomorrow with tighter security in place including a new fence around the property. It's been posed since the mass shooting one month ago killed 14 people. The facility provides services for disabled people. Employees have been working from home using iPads.

BLACKWELL: Las Vegas now where police were investigating report of an altercation in a hotel between singer Chris Brown and unidentified woman. The woman was allegedly struck and had a phone taken away when she took Brown's picture in a hotel room. The victim apparently had a few injuries -- minor injuries. And police say they tried to contact Brown but he'd already left the hotel.

KOSIK: President Obama and his family returned from their Hawaiian vacation today. One of his first pieces of business back at the White House reviewing possible actions to reduce gun violence in the U.S. He also has to prepare for the annual state of the union speech that will happen on January 12th.

BLACKWELL: All right ahead in politics, Donald Trump is responding now to President Obama's potential gun control executive order promising to undo every order if he becomes president. You'll hear it play out. And there is more.

KOSIK: And more coverage of the violent protests in Iran over the execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia. We've got live report straight ahead.


[06:30:27] KOSIK: Mortgage rate remain the same this week have a look.

Including dozens of people firebombs and ransack. The Saudi and that the in Iran after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite cleric. Nimr al-Nimr with convicted of tradition and inciting sectarian strike. Leaders around the world are concerned this may lead to sectarian violence in the region.

BLACKWELL: 7 million people in 15 states now under flood warnings in the Midwest. The Mississippi River set to quest in Arkansas in Tennessee over their coming days.

Now Missouri with the first day of hit, the river their running 15 to 20 feet above average that are cleaning out as the water recedes.

State of emergency has been declared to allow federal help to move forward. It was signed by the President yesterday.

KOSIK: Donald Trump not happy that President Obama's plan to tighten gun control laws.

BLACKWELL: The Republican presidential frontrunner promised to patch crowds Saturday that he'd veto any executive action Obama takes.

The CNN's Phil Mattingly has the latest from Mississippi for us.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right Victor and Alison. Donald Trump is pledging to undo President Obama's executive actions on guns before they are even released in front of the capacity crowd Saturday night in Biloxi. Donald Trump said, the President is leading an assault on the second amendment. And he also said this.


DONAL TRUMP, (R) PRESEDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So he's going to sign another executive order, having to do with the second amendment having to do with guns. I will veto that I will unsign that so fast. So fast.


MATTINGLY: Donald Trump not mentioning any words on his plans for President Obama's executive actions even before their release of the Obama Administration is expected to release those plans in the coming days. Trump also targeted his usual list of suspects, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton. Criticizing all of them and making sure everybody knew how good his poll numbers actually were.

One interesting element guys, he noted that Democrats had "Structural advantage" when it comes to the electorate on national elections saying that maybe he is the one. The Republican Party needs to expand the states that they can actually win when it comes to a presidential race.

Alison and Victor, back to you.

BLACKWELL: All right Phil thanks so much. CNN Political Commentator Errol Louis joins us now. Errol, Trump's regularly oppose stricter gun laws and the wake of several mass shootings. But here he says he will undo, he used the word unsign the executive order with the President will actually sign soon. And he surprise there or will he find a difficult to navigate the majority of Republican voters who would support stronger backgrounds checks for people who buy guns online or gun shows.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh no, no surprise their at all Victor. What happens is despite the polls which can be a little bit I think misleading on this point. Lots of people say that they want background checks but when you actually get to a real proposal and a real politician who suppose to push for it. Whether is the President or senator or member of congress, it all starts to change and that really just reflects the issue of gun control as one that is largely emotional kind of disconnected from the particular facts of the actual proposal.

So Trump can with a great deal of approval from his Republican base, said that he is going to "Unsign" this proposal nobody ever seen. You know it's - You know everybody likes the idea and theory but the minute you try and do something whether it's an executive action, whether its legislation and goes before the Congress, it all starts to change.

BLACKWELL: And we know that the President Obama will meet tomorrow with Attorney General Loretta Lynch to go over options for that potential executive order, but let's talk about this video from Al Shabaab that was released which included Donald Trump. Al Shabaab being the Samarian arm of al-Qaeda and they use that segment and which he called for a complete and total shutdown of not American-Muslims coming into the country. He did not mention that at this rally in Biloxi. I wonder from your prospective, why?

LOUIS: Well, that this is not something he can possibly be proud of agreed and first of all, it confirms something that Hillary Clinton had said.

[06:35:03] I don't know if his was produced before or after he made those controversial comments about a week and a half ago. Saying that you have radicals who are using Donald Trump's words and proposals in order to recruit terrorists.