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Source: Berlin Attacker may still be on the Loose; Russian Ambassador to Turkey Assassinated; NYPD Steps Up Security After Berlin Market Attack; Russia Announces Plan to Address Syrian Crisis. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 20, 2016 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:16]

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me. Violent attacks around the world, in Berlin, a truck plows through a crowd of shoppers at a busy Christmas market killing 12 people and injuring dozens more. Now, a German official tells CNN there's fear the attacker could still be on the loose armed and dangerous. In Turkey, killed on camera, the Russian ambassador to Turkey gunned down, his assassin shouting don't forget Aleppo. Also, over the past two days, attacks in Switzerland and in Yemen, world leaders now calling for action. We are covering these stories with our team of reporters around the world. Let's begin though in Germany with CNN's senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen. Hi, Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Carol. Yes, the German authorities of course earlier today, came out and said that they had someone in custody but since then has said they're not sure or they believe that that person might actually not be the one who was at the wheel of that truck when it plowed through this Christmas market. Of course killing so many people and injuring so many others.

Now, they say that all of this is very alarming because they believe that if someone is still at large, they think that person could be armed and is most certainly very dangerous. The reason why they say that is after the truck came to a standstill here just a couple yards from where I'm standing now, Carol, they found a body. On the passenger seat of that truck and that body was riddled with gunshot wounds.

Now, there was never a weapon discovered anywhere here close to where all this happened. And so therefore, they believe that if the person they now have in custody is not the one who's behind this, then the person who's still at large could very well still be armed. And so, they've called on the people here in Berlin to be very vigilant and also if they see anything suspicious to not act on their own but instead call in the police instead.

Aside from that of course, the people here right now, very worried, very concerned about the situation. Not just about someone possibly still being at large but generally about their safety at gatherings like these Christmas markets which are very, very popular. People here feel very vulnerable now. Carol, certainly having seen this, having seen some of the videos that come out of this and heard some of the eyewitness accounts of those terrible seconds as that truck plowed through here. We also want to hear from the federal prosecutor of Germany who talked about their suspicions and why they believe they might not have the right person in custody. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLGER MUNCH, PRESIDENT GERMAN FEDERAL CRIMINAL OFFICE (through translator): We possibly need to assume that we have not arrested the right one but we have not fully clarified this and we still need to investigate aspects. We may look rather towards Islamist background but this is not fixed yet. We need to investigate in all different ways. As regards terrorism, we often have copycats and those people want to carry out something in the same ways.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: So Carol, one of the other things that they're saying is that they want to check out, and they're not sure at this point whether this person acted alone or whether there was a larger group aiding this person who is behind this. Also, how many people were actually in the cab of that truck as it plowed here into this market? But again, until they find out more, they're telling people to be very, very vigilant and also telling people to keep sending in videos and photos. They said everything could help find the people who are behind this. Carol?

COSTELLO: All right, Frederik Pleitgen reporting live from Berlin, Germany this morning.

Here at home, police in New York City are stepping up security. The department now moving highly trained teams to a number of high-profile locations around the city. CNN's Brynn Gingras has more on that. Hi, Brynn.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Carol. Yes, this is the sort of the response we have gotten used to seeing in response to these attacks that happened just like the one we saw in Germany. As you can see behind me, you have these heavily armed, highly trained officers standing post here at this particular Christmas market in Columbus Circle, but they are really located at Christmas markets all across the city, about a half a dozen of them. And they're part of that unit that was developed more than a year ago by the NYPD in response to terrorist attacks. And 500 members of these highly trained units are deployed every day. But when things happen like we just saw in Germany, they sort of get repositioned to areas that could be of threat. Again, Christmas markets here in the city, also the German consulate.

And really, just in talking to you, there's about four of them located in our immediate area and we saw probably about two to four more officers suiting up, getting their gear on, ready to stand post, again, sort of at the front of this market. But they're really keeping a watchful eye all around here as they have shoppers going in and out of this market today. And again, the position of these guys is important. They're at the very front of this market. That might be somewhat telling in response to exactly what we saw in Germany. We also know from the NYPD that authorities back at 1 PP, they are talking to intelligence officials in Germany.

[10:05:16] Continuing to just get information exactly what happened in Germany, so that they can take immediate response here in New York City. Carol?

COSTELLO: All right, Brynn Gingras reporting live for us this morning, thank you.

Also, this morning, a team of Russians now in Turkey to investigate the assassination of their ambassador, this as Russian ministers sit down with their counterparts in both Turkey and Syria to hash out a plan for ending the Syrian crisis. Clarissa Ward is following these developments from Moscow. Hi, Clarissa.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Carol. Well, that's right, as you said a team of Russian investigators has touched down in Ankara. They will be working closely with Turkish authorities to try to determine who exactly ordered this attack, if it was ordered by someone, if it was possibly simply a lone wolf attack, whether this man who we now know was a police officer had any connections to militant groups. Essentially trying to drill down on what the possible motivation was for the attack.

Of course we all know that in his speech or I should say diatribe just after killing the ambassador, the young police officer who was in his early 20s said repeatedly this is for Aleppo, we must remember Aleppo, we must not forget Syria. And he said, he vowed essentially to continue to lash out at Russians and oppressors as he called them wherever they may be.

Carol, it's no secret that a lot of Muslims across the world and in fact a lot of people have been desperately moved by the endless barrage of images we have seen coming out of eastern Aleppo as regime forces backed by Russian forces have continued to crack down on the rebel-held opposition there. But I do think the real question now is how this man gained access to this event. Was he part of the ambassador's security detail, as some Russian media has suggested. Russia's Foreign Ministry has said absolutely he was not. But certainly, there are a lot of questions as to how he was able to get in there, carrying a weapon and whether he is connected to any other larger jihadist militant group.

Now, the Russians and the Turkish officially both presenting very much a coordinated response here, saying that this was a deliberate provocation, an attempt to sabotage the warming of the relationship between Russia and Turkey. And both sides seem committed to making sure that that does not happen. As you mentioned, today, here in Moscow, both of them, along with the Iranian foreign minister, attending talks, the end goal of those talks is to find some resolution to the Syrian crisis. Carol?

COSTELLO: So the president-elect, President-elect Trump, calls the attack on that Russian ambassador an act of Islamic terrorism. Are those words being used by either Russian officials or Turkish officials at this point?

WARD: Russian officials absolutely have -- they came out very shortly after the attack and categorized it as an act of terrorism and they said that they will bring the heat to the criminals who perpetrated this act of terrorism. And actually, there was a response to President-elect Trump's tweet from the Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov earlier today. He said, "Trump's statement echoes what Putin has been saying for the past 16 or 17 years, about the need for a joint fight against this common threat, not a single country can fight it on their own." The Russian take here is really that the U.S. and Russia should be working together to eliminate this common threat. Carol?

COSTELLO: All right, Clarissa Ward, reporting live from Moscow.

Those attacks coming on the day that the Electoral College officially declared Donald Trump the winner of the election. Trump who's holding meetings this week in his Florida estate, weighed in on the events via Twitter saying, "Today there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany and it is only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking!" CNN's Sara Murray, live in Florida to tell us more. Hi, Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Good morning, Carol. The latest events, a good reminder that as president-elect and as president, you may be on vacation, you may have another agenda, but the world certainly intervenes, now Donald Trump amidst his transition meetings yesterday put out a flurry of statements. Both on what was going on in Turkey as well as what was happening in Germany. He tied both of those instances to radical Islamic terrorism, even though investigations are still ongoing.

I want to start with his statement on Russia about the assassination of the ambassador. He said - Donald Trump, "Today we offer our condolences to the family and loved ones of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov, who was assassinated by a radical Islamic terrorist." And he continued in his Berlin statement along those same lines, talking about the attack on the Christmas market there as an attack on Christianity. Saying, "ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad. These terrorists and their regional and worldwide

[10:10:16] networks must be eradicated from the face of the earth."

Now of course, Carol, Donald Trump as a candidate and even now as president-elect, has given us little indication of how he would combat these terror cells as president. We're waiting to see if we hear more from him on that today, back to you.

COSTELLO: All right, Sara Murray, reporting live from Florida, thank you so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, the biggest question right now, do Berlin police have the right suspect in custody? We'll talk about that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:14:00] COSTELLO: Right now, German officials are working to pin down whether they have the right person in custody after a holiday market attack in Berlin, left 12 people dead. One source telling CNN the fear now, the attacker still on the loose, they're armed and dangerous and there could be more than one suspect. With me now to talk about this and more is Paul Cruickshank, CNN's terrorism analyst. Sajjan Gohel, he's a terrorism expert and an international security director at the Asia Pacific Foundation. And Soner Cagaptay, he's the director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Welcome to all of you. So Paul, German officials now believe they have the wrong person in custody. How difficult will it be for them now to track down a suspect?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, they have to start from scratch again if they indeed have the wrong person in custody, that they don't have the perpetrator of this attack in custody. They are going to have to follow a lot of leads. They are furiously examining CCTV. They want the public to send in any kind of video that they might have filmed during the period of the attack for any clues for who perpetrated this. But clearly this would return them back to square one. There are two German intelligence officials telling CNN that they

[10:15:16] now think it's unlikely they have the perpetrator of this attack in custody. The German federal prosecutor on the record and in the presser, just a little while ago saying, that we possibly need to assume that we arrested the wrong one. That perhaps is code for not a lot of confidence that they've got the right individual. And that may mean there's no link at all to an individual from Pakistan or this sort of refugee nexus. That may be incorrect in terms of the sort of the people - the person behind this attack. Carol?

COSTELLO: So [], there's a lot of right wing populous politicians across the globe saying that a refugee from the Middle East was responsible for this. Is it a rush to judgment?

SAJJAN GOHEL, TERRORISM EXPERT AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY DIRECTOR ASIA PACIFIC FOUNDATION: Well, certainly, if we look at the incidents that have taken place in Germany this year, there have been a number of plots. Some small-scale attacks involving refugees, failed asylum seekers that were accepted into Germany. Some actually used fraudulent identity cards to get in and then carried out attacks on behalf of ISIS. They were not necessarily directed by the group but they were inspired by them.

So, Germany has this track record and there are already a lot of social tensions in the country. It's being exasperated by a nationalist extremist sentiment inside Germany itself. And it's important to be cautious about what has transpired in the Berlin attack. Certainly if we look at the recent events, there are connections, perhaps similarities to events with - ISIS, only last week. A 12-year-old boy was arrested in Ludwigshafen in Germany, and he was groomed online by ISIS and his intention was to attack a marketplace. So there are connects in that sense but there's no direct link just yet and we need to wait and see for the German authorities to fully establish a picture.

COSTELLO: In speaking about direct link, there are some linking, these terror attacks in Turkey and in Switzerland and in Berlin, Germany. But in Switzerland, a mosque was attacked. And of course, in Turkey, a Russian ambassador was attacked. Maybe you can help us out with this, Soner, because we're confused about what the motive was, because the perpetrator yelled out Allahu Akbar but he also says this is from Aleppo. So what do you make of that?

SONER CAGAPTAY, DIRECTOR TURKISH RESEARCH PROGRAM AT WASHINGTON INSTITUTE: Clearly, this is more of a Syrian Civil War related attack. I think that Turkey is now, unfortunately, seeing the fallout of the war in Syria which is next door and its involvement in that war. We saw in the past week, attacks by a Kurdish group PKK in Turkey including twin suicide bomb attacks in front of a soccer stadium that killed dozens of people. This was by a Turkish Kurdish group. But the way I see it, it was retaliatory against Turkey's recent gains against Syrian Kurds which are allied with the PKK.

And now we're seeing one more fallout effect of the Syrian war, the assassination -- unfortunate assassination of the Russian ambassador was of course a politically charged murder. The assassin said that this was in protest of Russia's involvement in Syria which is against Turkey's policy there. The two countries are actually in a proxy war.

So this is to me, a sign that countries when they get involved in Civil Wars next door, ultimately that war comes to bite the hand that feeds it and Turkey is now unfortunately going through that crisis.

COSTELLO: So, Paul, President-elect Trump said that Islamic jihadist terrorism was to blame on the attack of this Russian ambassador. So in light of what Soner just told us, is that fair to say?

CRUICKSHANK: There's no evidence so far. There's no claim of responsibility from any Islamist terrorist group like ISIS or al Qaeda or other jihadi groups. It could well be that they shouted Allahu Akbar just because they were a little bit religious. That's a phrase which is sort of often used as an exclamation in somewhere like Turkey. We just really don't yet have reliable information, credible information on what the motivation was behind this attack beyond the fact that there was a clear grievance against the Russians for the brutal campaign that's going on in Aleppo.

That much was clear, that this was retribution for that, coming at a time when there is really growing concern that Russia is stoking the fires of global jihad through this, this sort of brutal air operation over Aleppo in cohorts with the Syrian regime. That this is really playing to al Qaeda, to ISIS and their recruiting efforts and their messaging to try to depict this is a struggle between a global conspiracy against Islam and the people fighting back.

[10:20:16] COSTELLO: So Sajjan, Clarissa Ward just reported though that Vladimir Putin -- no the Foreign Minister, I'm sorry - the Foreign Minister sort of embraced Trump's comments and is looking forward to working with the United States on a solution in Syria. But Iran is also involved with Russia when it comes to Syria. So how would that work?

GOHEL: Well, that complicated, significantly keep in mind that the way Assad was able to take control of Aleppo was with the assistance of Shia militia groups like Hezbollah, other entities from Iraq, from Iran and even as far as Afghanistan. And we know that the future Trump administration has shown some caution and skepticism about the nuclear deal with the Obama administration. So Iran, in turn, has also developed close relations with Russia.

So it's a very complicated situation. I guess that's a microcosm of the mess that is Syria and the ramifications that it has regally and the knock-down effects that it has globally. This is something that will need to be clarified. Because the longer the mess exists in Syria, the longer the tensions, the fallout, the violence exists, we will have these shards shooting off in different locations and it results in terrorism and unfortunately impacts on us directly in the west as well.

COSTELLO: So Soner, just continuing on with this Iran conundrum, right? So why would Turkey be on Iran's side and Russia's side when it comes to Syria?

CAGAPTAY: Turkey is naturally on Iran's side but I would say that Turkey and Russia have recently reached a convergence. Not including Iran and perhaps Iran is one country that wants to undermine this convergence. And the convergence is that in the absence of U.S. to provide leadership to the rebels, Turkey has now stepped in. In my view, it has become the voice of reason in northern Syria. It has negotiated with the Russians for the evacuation of the civilians, tens of thousands of people from eastern Aleppo. That process was going on.

And in my theory, the attack may be aims to undermine Turkish/Russian convergence because Turkish/Russian relations now collapsed, the deal would fall apart and there would be no evacuation of civilians. And what would happen, you would see even more killing of the city's civilians, as well as its Sunni Muslim inhabitants.

What does that suggest for the jihadists? Sick as it sounds, I think that the jihadists actually like to see suffering and killing of Sunni Muslims continue. Because al Qaeda and other groups in ISIS, they see themselves as avengers of Sunni Islam and they're there to defend them and they need to see suffering so they can go and recruit. So perhaps they are the groups that want to undermine Turkish/Russian relationship. But I think that Russia will probably not overreact. It has a lot of what it wants from Syria from Turkey, including Turkish green light for the fall Aleppo.

So my sense is that the Russian leadership will not overreact to the assassination if Turkey runs a thorough investigation of the assassination and that also seems to be happening. Typically countries don't invite foreign intelligence agencies for investigations as such. Turkey has just invited Russian security officials so they can do a joint Turkish/Russian investigation of the assassination which shows that Ankara is signaling to Moscow that it is taking this very seriously.

COSTELLO: I think what this conversation has demonstrated is incredibly complicated. Thanks to all of you for making it clear though, Paul Cruickshank, Sajjan Gohel and Soner Cagaptay.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, a day after Moscow's ambassador is gunned down in Turkey, Russia and Turkey come face-to-face and they say they finally have a plan to bring an end to the crisis in Aleppo.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:27:28] COSTELLO: And good morning, I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me. Russia says it has helped form a plan to confront the crisis in Syria. The details hammered out earlier today in Moscow. Russia hosted a meeting with ministers from Turkey and from Iran. We're also learning more than 37,000 civilians have already been evacuated from the war zone in eastern Aleppo. And the Turkish Foreign Minister says all evacuations are expected to be finished by tomorrow. CNN's Muhammad Lila, live on the Turkish/Syrian border with more. Hi, Muhammad.

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. In fact, that time line might be moved up a little bit. According to rebel activists on the ground in eastern Aleppo, as well as Syrian state media, the last buses, those infamous green buses that are shuttling people to safety. They have now arrived at their pickup locations to pick up the last few remaining people that have been trapped inside eastern Aleppo and opposition sources say that those evacuations could be done by the end of the night. Now what that means is that tomorrow morning we could be waking up to a very new reality in Syria and that reality is that President Bashar al-Assad's forces will have retaken the entire city of Aleppo for the first time in more than four years.

And of course, that is taking place at the same time as Moscow has put out a plan to establish some sort of nationwide cease-fire. They say that between Russia, Turkey and Iran. Those three countries have it within their influence to control all of the different fighting groups on the ground so that they observe the cease-fire. In other words, they can rein in all of their proxies to make sure that some sort of peace takes hold and that peace could lay the foundation for a long- term peaceful settlement and what Russia says is a political settlement, the only way out of this Syrian conflict. Carol?

COSTELLO: Muhammad Lila, reporting live for us. Thank you so much.

That 7-year-old Syrian girl who captured the world's attention by sending tweets from inside her war-torn home in Aleppo is now tweeting out from Turkey. Bana Alabed is tweeting - actually she tweeted less than 24 hours ago saying, "I escaped from East Aleppo." Turkey agreed to take in Bana and her family not long after Bana's mother, Fatemah, sent a tweet urging the Turkish president to help evacuate them. Fatemah now calling for peace across all of Syria and tweeting this earlier today, "We can't all be happy until all the remaining people who want to leave are evacuated from East Aleppo." That 7-year-old Bana and her family were airlifted to Turkey to safety but for millions of other refugees fleeing war-torn Aleppo, there will be no happy ending. Much of the world is squeamish about taking in immigrants from war-torn countries. The concerns heightened by early reports that the suspect in the Berlin attack -- was a refugee. Officials still aren't sure they have the attacker.