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QUEST MEANS BUSINESS
Terror In Germany: Truck Plows Through Christmas Market In Berlin; Gunman Assassinates Russian Ambassador To Turkey. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired December 19, 2016 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[16:00:53] RICHARD QUEST, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Richard Quest, in New York.
And I need to update you now on the breaking news that you're following around the world. There are two pieces of news. But we start of course
with Germany, were at least nine people are dead and 50 more injured after a truck plowed through a busy Christmas market in the very center of the
Germany capital in Berlin.
This is some of the video and they are immediate aftermath. It happened in the main square near the Berlin Zoo, the police say, it's been investigated
as terrorism. And they'd say, the suspected driver has been arrested. The co-driver of the truck died at the scene in circumstances that all by all
CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Berlin and on the scene. Julian Reichelt is the editor-in-chief of Germany -- German newspaper "Bild". He is live for us
in Berlin as well.
Let's go to Fred first. Fred, give me an idea of the current situation on the square with the truck?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good evening Richard, yes. Right at the scene as you say let me just get on your way
for a second. And we'll have a look. You can see that there are still a lot of police officers going around here. You can see that there's still a
massive ambulances and actually there's still a lot better going in and out of this area as well.
Obviously, this is something where this is still a fairly fresh crime scene. And you can tell that the German authorities are very much treating
this as a mass casualty event.
Now, we're getting from eyewitnesses here on the ground as they say that all of this unfolded or began to unfold at around 8:00 p.m. local time when
of course this Christmas market which as you noted is one of the most iconic and one of the biggest here in the city. When it was jam packed
with people. They say that this truck came most probably down this road and plowed over a sidewalk, went right through the Christmas market, hit
several stalls and a Christmas tree on that market. Obviously also, hit a lot of people as well.
There's eyewitnesses who described that they were apparently people trapped underneath the truck, as it continue to move forward at around 40 miles an
hour, making absolutely no effort to hit the breaks or to go slower. And then at some point it came to stand still. But of course as we noted nine
people killed at least 50 injured. Richard?
QUEST: Julian, at "Bild", a accident or terrorism? And what's the thinking, what's the current thinking from what you're hearing?
JULIAN REICHELT, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, BILD: Well several things on that, Richard. First of all obviously this all reminds us of the layout of the
Nice attack. And it's very, very unlikely that this was not a deliberate act. It would be a major coincidence if we see the same scenario, the same
layout in a Christmas market which has been considered a number one target for terrorist and for years now by coincidence. So that just seems very
Second point here, I drive by that place every morning, very hard to access by car, very hard to get in there by accident. And you will need a clear
effort to basically breach that square and get in there. So it looks like a deliberate act to me. It's very hard to say what the motives are right
now. This was nothing we can confirm any motives so far. But it definitely looks like a deliberate act.
QUEST: Fred, at the scene, is there a feeling of panic?
PLEITGEN: I would -- I wouldn't say there's a feeling of panic, you know, people here in Berlin are very stoic. But of course people are also quite
concerned, you know, because one of the things that that the security agencies here have been saying over the past year really the and in the
run-up to Christmas as well is that there were fears of an attack here in Germany during the Christmas time and specifically there were fears of an
attack on Christmas market. And that seems to be for my fair will be exactly what happened here.
So, certainly people who were at the scene, people around the scene here they are very concerned -- I wouldn't say they're panic. In fact we can
pan over a little bit. You can see there is sort of a crowd gathering. There are sort of people now also starting to move across the sidewalks.
It really isn't the feeling of panic. But it is certainly one of concern. And we can also pan up a little bit, you can see that this is really one of
the most iconic places in Berlin, that building that you see back there is the Church of Remembrance which was --
[16:05:19] QUEST: Right.
PLEITGEN: -- a church that was bombed during World War II. And then was sort of put back together as a memorial. It wasn't really rebuilt. But it
was kept here as a memorial in that state.
PLEITGEN: And this is really -- this used to be when Berlin was still divided the center of West Berlin and still remains very, very iconic and
thus also obviously a magnet for people coming here.
QUEST: Julian, and -- if this transpires as you suggest that this is a deliberate terrorist activity bearing in mind and Christmas markets as,
Fred, was saying had been recognized as a potential threat or a potential attack target. But this could have quite a devastating effect on the
psyche in Germany, on the way people are regarding their own personal safety.
REICHELT: Absolutely, I mean the message of this is act certainly is no matter what the motives are, that, you know, you can get hit by such a
scenario in any place, in the place that is most secure, most serene almost holy to Germans as a traditional at any given moment.
And there have has been a lot of talk in the past about how safe are we how, you know, how our German security measures are working. Are they
working? What we can say right now, you know, again no matter what the motives were and after looking at Nice, after knowing that this scenario is
out there, there was just nothing in place like for example, concrete barriers that would have prevented --
QUEST: All right.
REICHELT: -- the car or any vehicle from entering this square. And I predict this will be a major debate in the days to come.
QUEST: Good to see Julian, thank you. We should talk and have your circumstances. And Fred Pleitgen, Fred, come back just a moment, there's
more to report from what the authorities are saying.
As we put this into perspective, a short time ago, my colleague Zain Asher, spoke to an eyewitness. Emma Rushton described the chaotic scenes that
EMMA RUSHTON, EYEWITNESS: So we were wondering, it's the first day in Berlin for me not happening before. We went down to the Christmas market.
We're enjoying the Christmas lights and some old wine. And we was there, and I break my leg a few years ago. So I have to sit for a little bit
longer than we were normally. And as we were sat, we were ready to get up, when we heard a loud bang.
And we started to face in my left that Christmas lights were being torn down. And I'm started to say, the top of them and articulate the truck to
Lowry and just crashing trees there at stove and three people.
QUEST: Michael Weiss, with me. He is CNN contributor, senior editor at the "Daily Beast" and co-author of, "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror". I
mean Nice redux, do you think?
MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Could well be. ISIS has been putting a premium on his low grade crude terror attacks because they realize -- look
as they run of personnel in their so-called caliphate trained up operatives who can be dispatched back into Europe. They're going to rely increasingly
on which you might called the ISIS inspired, or the ISIS radicalized agent who simply stays in Europe and decides to take upon himself to commit these
acts of violence and murder.
QUEST: The moment as we saw with Nice, and the moment we see something as everyday as a truck.
QUEST: Being a Lowry, being used in this fashion. The low-tech nature is makes it more horrifying because it is so everyday.
WEISS: Yes, I mean in Europe it's not as easy to get your hands on an AR15 like it is in the United States. Anybody can rent a car or a truck. I'm
hearing reports that this particular vehicle came from Poland which would indicate maybe that if this wasn't even a terrorist attack --
QUEST: What --
WEISS: -- assailant had the wherewithal to go a different country get the car and then drive it into Germany.
QUEST: Come on, I won't hold you to this, but what you're feeling on this one?
WEISS: My feeling is it's probably Jihad. My gut, now there's no -- I can't prove it.
WEISS: But I always have a sort of spidey sense about these things and this one -- look the Germans were straight out the bat, straight out the
gate to say we're investigating like a terror attack. The way the car is said to have kind of careened into as many people as possible to crowded
mart, you know, look there's always a chance this could be a drunk driver, this could be just another on, you know, who happened to have taken up, you
know, one of the most ISIS promulgated methods of committing mass murder.
But again ISIS has been really --
QUEST: And even if it is sort of the natter, this lone wolf --
QUEST: -- it doesn't necessarily have to have had the hounds of the ISIS - -
QUEST: -- regained.
WEISS: That is the --
QUEST: That's the dangerous part.
WEISS: Yes, ISIS --
QUEST: Well told it --
WEISS: -- it's what I've called the invisible armies of Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi, people who are -- even unknown to ISIS, who are just imbibing their ideology, and their propaganda and then going off and doing these
things of their own militia.
[16:10:01] QUEST: We need to also talk about the assassination and murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey --
QUEST: -- in Ankara today. Now, this is a God is greatest don't forget Aleppo. And when the Russian ambassador was shot in the back between two
countries that are already the relationship is fragile at best.
QUEST: How does this play out?
WEISS: Fragile at best although on the mend and getting better all the time.
QUEST: Until this?
WEISS: Until this, although I have to say -- the messaging coming out of both Ankara and Moscow is one of patience and calm and kind of
deescalation. This is not -- these are the two countries spooling to go to war with each other. But even Putin came out and said that this has all
the hallmarks of the provocation designed to disrupt Turkish-Russian rapprochement.
You remember a year ago, where were we, in November 2015 the Turks had shutdown a Russian fighter jet that he briefly entered into Turkish
airspace. The pilot who ejected was killed shot at by Turkish back rebels on the ground in Syria as he was parachuting down. Russia suspended all --
WEISS: -- relations with Turkey. There was a trade embargo, you name it. And it really did feel like we were the precipice of a major war cataclysm.
Now, Putin was the first foreign leader to call Erdogan in July during the -- right after the abortive coup to topple his government and offer his
unwavering support. Erdogan then asked Putin for a favor, will you allow Turkey to deploy its military to northern Syria as part of operation
Euphrates Shield, putatively to clear out ISIS from the borderlands but also really to block Kurdish expansionism in northern Syria.
Putin was also happy to agree to that. So I don't think this is actually going to derail this burgeoning new relationship between the two countries.
Now that may change if for instance this coup, this assailant, the gunmen is found to have had some tied to a Turkish back insurgency fighting in
Syria or something of that nature. The Turkish press is already spitting this Aziza Glennis. I find that hard to believe, because he was not one of
the purged police officers after the coup.
QUEST: Its extraordinary driven events --
QUEST: -- even some in the same day with no direct connection but common over terms.
WEISS: Exactly. And also by the way there was a shooting in Switzerland at an Islamic Center today, the first terror attack of today which we're
not even paying too much attention to it.
QUEST: Thank you very much.
QUEST: Just need to bring to your attention that the French president Francois Hollande has already sent a message to Angela Merkel expressing
solidarity and compassion of course. Francois Hollande there's exactly the situation having of course suffered similar tragedy to the horrific attacks
We'll talk more about the attack in Ankara, with the murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey. And as Michael Weiss was trying to -- we're saying,
the nations putting fragile pieces of their relationship back together again. Well, we're live in Turkey and in Moscow to consider exactly how
that plays out.
[16:15:10] QUEST: I was talking to Michael Weiss about the attack on the Russian ambassador, the murder of the ambassador who assassinated in the
Turkish capital. Mevlut Mert Altintas, a Turkish police officer has been identified as the gunmen who open fired an art exhibition in Ankara, whilst
the ambassador was speaking.
He shouted "Allahu Akbar", "God is greatest. Do not forget Aleppo. Do not forget Syria", after shooting Andrei Karlov Russia's Ambassador to Turkey.
He shot him several times in the back. Ambassador Karlov was declared dead a short while later.
The assassination comes in the time of warming relations between the two countries of Turkey and Russia, moving towards like what they're being a
potential or at least skirmish of war in November of last year after Turkish forces shot the Russian plane out of the sky near its border with
The video that has surface of the shooting is a flurry of gunfire and as the ambassador lies motionless on the floor, the man you seen brandishing
the gunshot and get back, everyone who's taking part in the suppression will one day pay for it.
Now please, this is disturbing, it's important to show you it, but if you are nervous disposition or you do find this sort of things disturbing you
may choose to just glance away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEVLUT MERT ALTINTAS, GUNMAN: Allahu Akbar --
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUEST: Now Muhammad Lila is our reporter in Turkey. Clarissa Ward is in Moscow.
And I want to start with you Clarissa if I may, because really what this hindered the next stage in all of this hinges on how President Putin and
the Russians are likely to treat this assassination.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Richard. And we have in the last couple of hours now heard a speech from
President Putin and his response does appear to be somewhat measured. He essentially said that this killing is a provocation in response to the
warming of the relationship as you mentioned between Russia and Turkey in response also to efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian
conflict. And he went on to say that, "The only response we should offer to this murder is stepping up our fight against terror".
Now they have called this --
WARD: -- a terrorist attack, an act of terror. They have also that echoed as well by the Turkish President Erdogan, he is saying the same thing. And
Turks have really vowed to carry out a serious investigation into who exactly was responsible. We know the man, he has been named --
WARD: -- was there a broader organization behind it. How did he get into that that gathering at that photo exhibition? Still a lot of questions.
What's interesting I think, Richard, is the kind of off the record reaction that that we're seeing. So the Kremlin line is, you know, we're working
closely with the Turks. And there's an investigation ongoing and cooler heads should prevail.
But the -- what we're seeing on Twitter from people who support President Putin and especially a couple of lawmakers, is something very different,
Aleksey Pushkov who's quite a well-known ally of Putin, and a lawmaker here. He was saying that the western media plays a role in this, that the
coverage of Aleppo and the endless propaganda has essentially incited this kind of hatred.
And certainly I can tell you on Twitter and on Facebook, we've seen a lot of reports from pro-Kremlin, pro-Russian website, saying the same thing
essentially that that western media coverage of Aleppo is propaganda that it's inciting hatred --
QUEST: All right.
WARD: -- against Russia. So you have a sort of official line if you will and --
QUEST: All right.
WARD: -- unofficial line, Richard.
QUEST: Muhammad Lila in Turkey. You've heard the view from Moscow, now as Ankara will see it. The difficulty of course is how to keep any form of
coalition together, at the same time as tried and find a modus operandi to work with Russia when it comes to Northern Syria.
MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well absolutely, you know, it's important to note that this comes at a time when Russia and Turkey have
really been repairing their relationship. Turkish officials came out today and said this whole attack was designed to sabotage the ongoing
relationship with Turkey and Russia.
But as far as this gunman goes, Turkish officials of now come out and said they're investigating them for links to this Fethullah Gulen Movement.
And, you know, they blamed the Gulen Movement for being behind the failed coup earlier this year. Gulen, of course is a religious cleric who is
living in the United States. And Turkey has been demanding his extradition ever since that failed coup.
[16:20:06] Now, if those links are confirmed and Turkish investigators do determine very solid proof that he was part of the Gulen Movement, you're
going to start to see an increased demand from Turkey and likely from Russia as well that the United States extradite Gulen to face justice here
QUEST: Muhammad Lila in Turkey and Clarissa in Moscow, thank you. We'll continue to talk more about this between the two of you.
Now, in Syria civilians are find the streaming out of eastern Aleppo, the green buses were on the move again after a deal between the government and
QUEST: Now, joining me now from Chapel Hill, North Carolina is Robert Pearson, served as the American ambassador to Turkey from 2000 to 2003.
Ambassador, thank you.
The question of course is how these two countries that have had fragile relations don't allow this incident to deteriorate further, in what is
already an extremely fractious part of the world. What happens for the Erdogan government here?
ROBERT PEARSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO TURKEY: Well, I share your concern. I have a slightly different perspective from some of your earlier
First of all, this is a terrorist act. And it plays directly into the narrative that the Russians have put forward and the Syrians that the war
in Syria is really a war against terrorism so that puts Turkey on the defensive over that fact.
Secondly, there is a risk that the Russians will take some kind of revenge in Aleppo where the withdrawal of refugees and some fighters, women and
children is still very much at risk. I think we all have to watch that.
Thirdly, it puts the Turks under pressure blaming this attack on a Gulen as their favorite villain without any hesitation is a sign that they don't
really know what happened. And so, it will be important that the facts of this assassination regrettable assassination will be established very
And then there's the peace conference that scheduled for tomorrow, I think. And so that again will put Turkey on the defensive. So it's a -- it's
going to be a difficult time for them. And it's not simply going to be a matter of rhetoric about good intentions and good measures. The Russians
know to play very well and the Turks are going to be under pressure because of this.
QUEST: Right. But in that sense was, I can certainly see how the Russians would take it out on Aleppo what will they extract as a price from Turkey?
PEARSON: Well, one good example would be the presence of Turkish -- of Turkish back fighter in the area of northeast of Aleppo, those groups still
contain people that the Russians considered to be terrorists, people that Turkey has supported in the past.
[16:25:03] And so that space is a space that Turkey wants to keep as a buffer between the Kurds to the west and the Kurds to the east. So there's
a good example of something the Russians could do that would put additional pressure on Turkey to make further concessions.
QUEST: And briefly finally Ambassador, is it you're feeling that both countries was they may take a certain political advantage from the
atrocity, do not want to worsen their bilateral relationship as a result.
PEARSON: I think the Russians feel that the turf -- they have the Turks in the right position. And I feel the Turks don't really have the leverage to
do much about that, so there's no --
PEARSON: -- incentive on either side to worsen it. But it's not because they're cooperating on a agenda of mutual agreement.
QUEST: Ambassador, grateful that you came in and talked to us. I do appreciate it. Thank you, sir.
PEARSON: Thank you very much.
QUEST: Allow me to refresh the menus of the evening of course, is the attack or at least the accident -- incident whatever we're calling it that
took place in Berlin, nine people are dead after a truck plowed into a Christmas market in the very center of Berlin. The death toll may rise.
And certainly, the number of injuries are extremely serious.
We'll obviously continue to watch that, and the ramifications from the assassination of the Russian ambassador, which took place today in Ankara
in Turkey, because the news never stops neither to wait. This is CNN.