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Possible Terror Attack in Germany; Russian Ambassador to Turkey Assassinated. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 19, 2016 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:01:17]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We have a number of breaking stories here that we want to get to.

First up, the votes are coming in to finalize Donald Trump's win in the Electoral College. We're watching those vote tallies. There should be no surprise. He should reach that 270 mark and become the next president of the United States.

Also, in Turkey today, this assassination at a museum, the Russian ambassador to Turkey killed while he was giving a speech at an art exhibit. The killer was heard shouting in Turkish, "Do not forget Aleppo, do not forget Syria."

And the third breaking story. Moments ago, we have just learned that, in Berlin, a truck has just plowed through this busy Christmas market in the western part of the city.

So let's begin there.

Fred Pleitgen is on the phone with me. Fred Pleitgen knows Berlin better than anyone I know.

And, Fred Pleitgen, first, just tell me first what happened.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke.

Well, this happened about an hour ago, in fact, exactly one hour ago at 8:00 p.m. local time. And you're absolutely right. This Christmas market is one of the main ones in the west of Berlin. It's actually only five miles away from my house. I'm heading there right now.

And the latest that we have is that apparently this truck came from one of the streets close to the Christmas market. The market itself is in a very busy pedestrian zone. And from what we hear, the truck just simply plowed into the market and hit several market stalls.

There was an eyewitness that said that it was going about 40 miles per hour and showed absolutely no signs of slowing down as it went into the Christmas market. It's unclear at this point, the police tell us, whether or not it's terror-related. There are some sources that say early indications are that it is. And the latest that we got from the police literally a couple of

minutes ago was that they say they can now confirm there are multiple dead and at least 50 people injured. So it is a major incident that happened here in Berlin tonight, Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK. Let's back up a couple of steps. Just to set the scene here, I think you all are six hours ahead from East Coast time, so what is it, about 9:00 at night, hustling and bustling, couple days before Christmas, people are out, families are out.

How many people would you guess if this is so close to your home, would have been in that square at any given evening?

PLEITGEN: Well, you know, I would say it's thousands. We have to keep in mind, these Christmas markets are extremely popular in Berlin and indeed everywhere in Germany.

BALDWIN: Wow.

PLEITGEN: And this is really -- I can't stress enough, this is the biggest one in the western part of Berlin. It's right one of the big pedestrian zones, one of the biggest landmarks in western Berlin called the Church of Remembrance.

What you would have there is you would have many people shopping anyway, but then on top of that, Brooke, it's also around the time that people would get off work. You get off work, you do some Christmas shopping before you go home. That market would have been absolutely packed and that certainly seems to be the indications we're getting from looking at the first videos, at the first photos, that it was indeed a very packed market, also, of course, in light of the fact it's only a couple of days before Christmas.

And a lot of people right after getting off work will have wanted to squeeze in some Christmas shopping.

BALDWIN: This is an entire pedestrian area, is that right, Fred, or would this be adjacent to a thoroughfare where you would have cars?

PLEITGEN: Yes, no, there are two thoroughfares that sort of line the square from both sides.

But the square itself is a pedestrian zone. It also has a fountain in the middle. However, yes, there are streets leading up to it. The truck probably would have been able to get pretty close without anyone noticing. There's been a lot of construction going on there. I'm not sure whether or not there would have been any sort of barriers to hold this up.

[15:05:01]

Certainly, after the incident we had earlier this year in Nice where a truck of course plowed into a crowd, there will have been some additional security measures put in place. I know that, here in Germany, there's been a huge discussion about the safety and security at Christmas markets because it was seen as something that could be vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

But, nevertheless, it seems as though that truck literally just crashed right into that place going extremely fast, from what we're hearing, 40 miles an hour, of course. There will have been a lot of people on the ground there that just would have had absolutely no chance to get out of the way because it is so packed and because there's market stalls also on either side.

There's really not many places for a lot of people to try to run to try and get to safety to.

BALDWIN: OK. If you are just joining us, we're covering breaking news out of Berlin. I have got Fred Pleitgen on the phone with me. He's on our correspondent there who lives miles away. He knows this area very, very well.

It's evening time, we're days before Christmas, this is an extremely busy, popular Christmas market. So, just think, at this time of night, you have family and children and out and about buying those gifts. Fred was estimating 1,000-plus people out shopping when apparently this truck driver came careening off the sidewalk and into this area full of people.

According to Berlin police, multiple people have been killed, and at least 50 have been injured.

Fred, you brought up Nice, and I was in Nice this summer. And that's instantly where my mind went. We don't know. That's the thing. The notion of using a car as a weapon is something that ISIS has called upon followers to do, but it's way too early to jump to that.

But I do remember you and I being on TV together some months ago as, listen, other European cities have been worrying about being potentially a target. And was there not -- it was an issue -- was a McDonald's some months ago?

PLEITGEN: Yes. Sure. You're absolutely right.

There was an issue in the McDonald's which that turned out to be a rampage, but there was a series of incidents in Germany that happened. There was the one in the McDonald's. And then there was actually a terror attack at a concert that happened only a few days later where a guy came up to a security gate at a concert in the southwest of Germany and blew himself up.

Now, luckily, the bomb he built was apparently quite faulty and therefore only blew him up and nobody else. But it is something that of course has shaken the German public, after the incidents in France and the incidents in Belgium and then of course in light of the fact that Germany took in about 1.1 million refugees in 2015.

It is a situation here where people are concerned that things might happen. And we learned that, for instance, some of the attackers that conducted the Paris attacks in November 2014, that they also went through -- went through Germany, that they went through some asylum seeker homes in Germany. Certainly here people have been very concerned and we need to stress

again very concerned about the situation and the security on Christmas market because it is really the main place that people go to. If you do your Christmas shopping in Germany and then you head to the Christmas market, you look at some of the stalls there, maybe drink some wine, and it's just something that is so part of the German culture and that would have been so full at that point in time.

BALDWIN: Fred, I want you to stay on the phone with me, please, sir, as you are heading towards this square.

Let me just also be clear to all of you, police have no information on this truck driver. You see all of the ambulances at the scene. Again, according to Berlin police, there are at least 50 people who are hurt and multiple people have been killed.

They also -- police cannot confirm whether or not this is a terror attack. This just happened.

Max Foster is also another voice in this conversation as we work to try to understand what happened, how this could have happened on a Monday evening, less than a week before Christmas at this incredibly busy and popular Christmas market.

Max, what more can you share?

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are saying they can't say it's terror-related, but that's interesting itself because they also are considering that as part of the investigation.

It does remind me of when you and I, Brooke, were in Nice in France earlier this year and that horrific scene that unfolded there. There's no doubt what people are considering right now and police haven't confirmed it as a terror incident, but certainly they are going to be considering that as a result of this and clearing the area. And it will be a very similar reflection to what we saw when we flew into Nice earlier this year, Brooke.

BALDWIN: How familiar are you with Christmas markets, Max? I know there are Christmas markets where you're from in London. But I'm just trying to understand, when Fred said at least 1,000 or thousands of people would have been out on an evening. This is a massive group of people who would have been gathered.

FOSTER: People fly to Germany for the Christmas markets. It's absolutely one of the traditions. And if it was some sort of attack on that, it's an attack on German culture, absolutely, because they really represent one of the key attractions really, certainly to Berlin at this time of year.

[15:10:10]

It's a great, exciting time. And it's very cold and people go into the markets. They drink warm red wine. It's mulled wine and that all the way. Gluhwein, they call it, of course. And the idea that any sort of incident would happen there would be frightening to many Germans and it would really be something they could relate to.

We also have to wait to see what caused this. You will remember, Brooke, when we first started reporting on the Nice attack, everyone there assumed that this was an out-of-control truck going through the promenade there. And that could still be the case there. We have an incident here in the U.K. earlier this year where a bus drove into a crowd and the driver had a heart attack. We need to consider that might be a possibility here.

BALDWIN: Absolutely. Max Foster, thank you so much.

We won't get too far from what is happening here in Berlin. Again, this truck driver plowed into this crowd into this Christmas market. According to police there, at least 50 have been injured, multiple people have been killed. We will stay on that story.

We're also staying on the story here out of Turkey, this breaking story, this assassination. This is the man with the gun here and this happened at this art show. The Russian ambassador to Turkey was shot and killed while he was standing at a podium. What this gunman yelled as he opened fire. And Russia is already responding. Thy calling it a terror attack. How exactly might they respond further? We will have a live report.

Also ahead, back here at home, the Electoral College meeting in state capitals across the country to officially elect Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. So far, there are have been no so-called faithless electors switching allegiances, but the voting is not over.

Mr. Trump is getting closer, though. These are live pictures from Texas. Thank you. Trump is getting even closer to the number, 270. We will watch for that.

You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:15:18]

BALDWIN: All right, breaking news here out of Berlin, as we're looking at some of these initial pictures.

The ambulances have arrived on the scene at this massively popular Christmas market, as we're now hearing from Berlin police as a result of this driver in a truck going off the sidewalk and slamming into a number of innocent civilians, nine people have been killed and at least 50 have been injured.

Why this has happened, still way too early to know. We're watching that for you.

Also, we're watching a number of electors of the Electoral College meeting and voting at state capitals across the country here. This is the official process. This is what happens every four years. We're talking about it because of this historic election and obviously Russia's meddling in the presidential election. So it's in the spotlight. Trump is getting close to the magic number of 270.

Also, we're watching the gunman who assassinated the Russian ambassador to Turkey today has been identified as an off-duty police officer. We want to warn you that we're going to show some video in a couple of moments that is graphic.

You will see Ambassador Andrey Karlov. He was speaking. He's the man on the right side of the screen speaking at this art gallery in Ankara. This is the Turkish capital, when this assailant barged in and pulled his gun out started shooting and shouting. The whole thing was caught on camera. Again, it is graphic.

The gunman was shouting, speaking in Turkish and he was shouting: "God is great. Do not forget Aleppo. Do not forget Syria."

Let me bring in Soner Cagaptay. He's the director of a Turkish research program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. And on the phone with me, photojournalist Diego Cupolo, who was at the scene of today's shooting.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining me.

Diego, just because you're there, I want to begin with you. What did you see and what more do you know about this gunman?

(CROSSTALK)

DIEGO CUPOLO, PHOTOJOURNALIST: I'm sorry?

BALDWIN: Diego, it's Brooke. You're live on CNN. Can you hear me?

OK, let's scratch Diego. You guys get in my ear and tell me when I have him.

Soner, let me ask you, I don't know how much you know about the details of this assassination, but I think it's important to explore the relationship, right, this complex relationship between Turkey and Russia and Russia already responding saying this was a terror attack.

SONER CAGAPTAY, DIRECTOR, TURKISH RESEARCH PROGRAM, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: Incredibly so. Turkey and Russia had significant disagreements in the past years over Syria.

But in the last few months, we saw the two countries reach a convergence of interests. They have, for example, negotiated for an end to the conflict in Aleppo. They were evacuating civilians from areas controlled by Russia and its allies in Aleppo to areas of Syria controlled by Turkey and its allies.

So, in a way, Turkey and Russia were taking matters into their own hands and trying to settle the conflict in Northern Syria. This is an attack on the solution, but it's also an attack on rapprochement between Turkey and Russia.

So, it's really refreshing that leaders of both countries, Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan, have come out very strongly both condemning the attack, as well as recognizing this is a provocation between the relations between their two countries.

Let's see what will happen, because the Turkish foreign minister was on a flight down to Moscow as the attack took place. He just landed. And it of course means that the attack was timed to undermine his visit to Moscow.

BALDWIN: This is the day before in Moscow where you have the foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia and Iran all getting together to discuss what's happened in Aleppo. You explain it perfectly, you have Turkey and Russia who both feel very differently about the president of Syria, have though helped broker this tenuous cease-fire in Aleppo.

My question is how will this affect the innocent men, women and children who have been trying to get out?

CAGAPTAY: It would affect them negatively if the cease-fire broke down.

Luckily, many people have been already evacuated from Aleppo, but not the entire civilian population of Eastern rebel-held Aleppo is safe. So if the evacuations broke down now, of course, they would be in harm's way and I think this is definitely terrible, terrible news.

[15:20:01]

It seems to me that there was sort of a power-sharing agreement in Northern Syria with Russia and Turkey taking matters into their hands. The question is who's behind this attack and who will be benefiting from the end of the power share in Turkey and Russia?

Early indicators of Turkish analysts and counterterrorism experts point at al Qaeda connections, but we will just have to wait and see whether they're indeed this attack. They would rather see Turkey and Russia fight so, sick as it sounds, Muslims are killed, because al Qaeda presents itself as the avenger of Sunni Muslims.

They actually would like to see suffering continue so they can help to recruit. That's a very sick ideology, but I think it would not be surprising if they came out to be behind this attack.

BALDWIN: It is a very sick ideology.

Given what you know between just quickly Turkey and Russia, we know Russia has said this was a terrorist act. How else might they respond?

CAGAPTAY: I think Russia will is going to for Turkey's response. Obviously, the attacker was an off-duty, but nevertheless Turkish police officer. He's a government employee.

So, the government is going to come under serious questioning whether this was an inside job by some people inside the security establishment and how they could do this. I think Russia will want a thorough investigation of the attack.

And if Turkey can come up with that, my guess is Russia will not overreact because it would lose from overreacting. It has captured Aleppo. Aleppo is in the hands of Russia and its allies. Russia actually benefits from continuation of convergence of interests and good ties with Turkey. I think Putin will be trying to his best to not overreact this assassination in Turkey.

And Turkish leaders will do whatever they can to make sure that Russian concerns are satisfied.

TAPPER: It's all of the ripple effects of this assassination today in Ankara.

Soner Cagaptay, thank you very much.

CAGAPTAY: It's a pleasure.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Coming up, we're staying on our breaking news out of Berlin, at least nine people, this is according to Berlin police, nine people have been killed and at least 50 injured after this truck driver plowed into this hustling and bustling Christmas market.

We have an update for you on that.

Also ahead, the president-elect, Donald Trump, he is closing in on the number he needs, 270, the electors from the Electoral College meeting all across the country in state capitals to official cast their votes. We're watching that for you. Lots happening on this Monday. You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:25:50]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: Breaking news out of Berlin, Germany. It is nighttime there, Monday evening, thriving hustling, bustling Christmas market and you now have reports of an individual, we don't know who he is, who plowed his truck into this Christmas market full of people on this Monday evening.

According to Berlin police, now they are saying at least nine people have been killed, at least 50 people have been injured.

We have Fred Pleitgen. We also have Bob Baer.

Guys, do we have Fred? OK, that was a yes. And actually we also have Buck Sexton, who is former CIA counterterrorism.

But, Fred Pleitgen, to you since you live all of a couple of miles away. Have you arrived on the scene yet? Tell me what's happened.

PLEITGEN: Yes. Hey, Brooke.

I just arrived on the scene a couple of minutes ago. And the whole place is jampacked with ambulances and fire trucks and police vehicles. I have counted at least 20 ambulances on the scene here. I have dealt with the German fire department and the German police in the past, and by the signals they have given, they determined this is a mass casualty event.

You can see that by the different agencies that are coming in here as well. There's also a lot of bystanders, obviously very worried bystanders who are now...

(SIREN BLARING)

PLEITGEN: An ambulance going past here right now. There's a whole lot of bystanders who have been pushed back behind the police line.

And, yes, it's just a gigantic operation that police have put in place here. And from what eyewitnesses have been telling us, they say that this happened around 8:00 p.m. local time, so about 1.5 hours ago, and that this truck just simply plowed into the Christmas market.

In fact, I'm right now standing on the street that they believe that the truck was coming from as it plowed into that market around 40 miles an hour, eyewitnesses saying it did not make any sort of effort to slow down or to brake and just went through several of those market stalls, and obviously hit a bunch of people as it went in that now the police saying nine killed, 50 wounded.

And judging by this response, I can believe that that would certainly be the case.

BALDWIN: Here's my question, Fred. Is the truck still sitting there or did he just plow through these people and leave? Do we know anything about the driver?

PLEITGEN: Yes, I'm not seeing the truck from my vantage point. I believe that it stopped. I'm not sure whether the driver is in custody or not. I will try to get an update from the police in a couple of minutes.

They have set sort of up a press point here because obviously a lot of officers that are here are very busy at this point in time. There's another four or five police vehicles now moving into the zone. That's really unclear whether the driver has been apprehended.

However, judging by the fact that the German authorities now believe this is a terror-related incident, I would assume they have the man in custody and he's being questioned, but I can't confirm that. I will try to do that as soon as possible.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Hang on. Did you just say Berlin authorities do believe this is a terror-related incident?

(CROSSTALK)

PLEITGEN: From what I'm hearing, they believe that it is. BALDWIN: OK.

PLEITGEN: And that would lead me to believe that they would have someone in custody, but it's unclear whether that's the case.

I would have to confirm that. But judging from what I have been hearing, they do believe this is most likely terror-related.

BALDWIN: OK, Fred. Thank you, Fred Pleitgen there on the scene in Berlin.

Again, Bob Baer, CNN intelligence security analyst, former CIA operative, Buck Sexton here, former CIA counterterrorism analyst.

I just want to be crystal clear, because I'm not seeing anything in my e-mail saying CNN has confirmed -- guys, let me know -- whether or not this is indeed being called a terror attack.

But, Bob Baer, what are the questions you would be asking about what's happening, what we're watching?

BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I would think this would be a copy of the Nice attack.

There's been an emotional jolt through the Sunni Muslim community throughout Europe because of the fall of Aleppo. A lot of people, a lot of Muslims sympathize with the carnage that has gone on there.

And I think you look -- you can connect, at least I can, the murder of the Russian ambassador in Ankara.

And I would also like to say this has been long anticipated, another attack like this, a Nice-like attack, first time in Germany mass casualties. But, if indeed this is terrorism, I think