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Berlin Truck Attack Suspect Released; Manhunt for Berlin Attacker; Propaganda Found in Home of Assassin in Turkey; Aired 1:15- 1:30p ET

Aired December 20, 2016 - 13:15   ET

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


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: -- security out of Moscow. It is a reaction to the very public assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, who was gunned down at a gallery opening in the Turkish capital.

Also, ISIS is now claiming responsibility for a terror attack in Jordan that killed 10 people in a popular tourist spot.

We do begin in Berlin. This is where police are planning to increase security around the city. This could include putting up barriers in and around popular tourist destinations.

CNN's Senior International Correspondent Frederik Pleitgen is live in Berlin right now. And it sounds, Fred, like police thought they their guy but now they don't seem so sure?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're absolutely right, Brianna. That's exactly what the police are saying.

You know, it was shortly after 8:00 p.m. that this incident took place here in Berlin. It was really only shortly after that the police announced that they did have a person in custody.

Now, as they were interrogating this person, it became clear that this was apparently someone who had come here seeking asylum at some point late last year. And that he was from Pakistan, apparently.

However, as the police kept interrogating this individual, it increasingly became clear that they, potentially, had the wrong person in custody.

Now, they're saying that they acknowledged that. They're also saying that people here need to be on the lookout, because they believe somebody might still be at large after plowing through that Christmas market with that truck, be at large and also be carrying a gun as well.

Because one of the things that was found was another body on the passenger seat of that truck with bullet wounds and there was no gun ever recovered at the scene of the crime or at the scene where they apprehended that one person they were interrogating.

So, at this point in time, they believe there could still be someone out there who is armed and, obviously, potentially very dangerous when you look at the carnage left behind when that truck plowed through this Christmas market late yesterday.

You know, some of the accounts that we got of people of that incident really absolutely harrowing. Them saying, you know, people were dragged along by the truck. People couldn't get out of the way because the Christmas market was so packed and that truck moving so fast -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Right. It's significant that there was major concern, initially when Germany thought it had its suspect, that it could be a refugee. This is so important. Tell us why.

PLEITGEN: Yes. Well, it certainly is because, you know, one of the things that's obviously been happening in Germany over the past one and a half years is that they have this open-door policy where of a lot of people came here from places like Syria, from places like Iraq and Afghanistan as well.

And, of course, we know that that has led to some discontent. There's been a big upsurge in right wing parties here in the country. A lot of regional elections where right wing parties have got substantial part of the vote.

And, certainly, there are people who believe that if, indeed, it did turn out, that someone who had sought asylum here in Germany was behind this attack that it could lead to a lot of discontent.

There was a lot of criticism already of Angela Merkel. She say -- then came forward today and gave a speech and gave a statement and said, look, she understands all that. She understands the need for the public to feel that they're secure.

And she also said that she's going to be meeting with her ministers, and other people in the cabinet, to make sure that people can feel safe at venues like this one.

But, yes, it is something that could potentially hurt her very badly, politically. Also, in light of the fact that she has an election year coming up in 2017 -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Frederik Pleitgen in Berlin. Thank you so much.

And in Turkey, state-run media claims police found terrorism propaganda inside of the home of a gunman who assassinated a Russian ambassador. Police also say they've detained seven people now in connection with this attack.

I'm joined now by CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson. He's in Ankara for us. As well as CNN Correspondent Muhammad Lila in Hatay (ph).

Nic, what more do we know about the shooter, his motive and then, also, these several people who are currently in custody?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sure. The police describe him as being 22 years old. A young police officer that had been with and doing riot training for the last two and a half years.

The seven people detained, they're his mother, his father, sister, a couple of uncles and a couple friends. These people may not necessarily be actually connected with his attack.

It's not unusual in Turkey for the government to arrest close family members, close -- or detain close family members, close family and friends.

What has happened, though, here today. The Russian investigators that arrived here went just over the road here into the building where that murder took place.

They had on their forensic overalls, their protective covers on their shoes as if they were going into the crime scene. They didn't stay too long there. They went in with their Turkish counterparts.

But we've also been learning from this -- from a state news agency what is happening in other elements of the investigation. Not just that they say that Al Qaeda books have been found in his apartment, but also books relating to the group the government blames for the coup last summer.

[13:05:10] Again, the government has rounded up 10s of thousands of people over recent months connected to that coup. That's quite a large brush, if you will. They target any of their enemies here.

No evidence made public. But, also, the investigation, we're told, going to his hometown, talking to his old high school friends, talking to his college friends.

Details of the -- that government media here are reporting include that his family wasn't particularly well off. That he didn't pass his exams to get to the university. Only managed to get into police school. That his mother had been divorced. That he had a half sister.

So, the picture that's being painted, if you will, by the government media is someone who wasn't a high achiever, a bit alone. You know, something wrong with this guy. That's the image in state media.

Again, Brianna, we don't have that evidence, hard evidence, made public.

KEILAR: And, Mohammed, we heard the gunman. He was yelling in Turkish. He said, do not forget Aleppo. Do not forget Syria. Right after this attack.

The foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, met with Turkish and Iranian counterparts today to discuss this attack and also the deteriorating situation in Syria. Tell us about that meeting.

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, it was actually a very important meeting and a very big development today. Russia now says it has a plan to solve the Syrian crisis. And it looks like, for the first time, Russia has buy-in from both Turkey and Iran. And this is why it's important, Brianna. Turkey, Iran and Russia are the key players right now in Syria. Iran has its proxies and militias fighting on the ground. Turkey has its rebel groups that it's supporting and fighting on the ground, including the free Syrian army which, at one point, was being backed by the United States.

Now, as part of Russia's plan, Russia says all three countries will provide guarantees to rein in their different groups on the ground so that they don't violate a cease-fire. And that's key because if anyone has control over these groups, it's those three countries. So, this could be the building block for something bigger.

But in that joint declaration that came out of this meeting today, there was a perceived slight or a perceived jab at the United States, if you will.

That declaration actually came out and made reference to failed U.S. plans to provide any kind of cease-fire in Syria, saying that the United States plans were, quote, "a non-starter," because the United States simply doesn't have any influence in the region.

And, of course, we know that the United States has been slightly hands-off in Syria over the last couple of years. And what happens when they're hands off? Well, that vacuum has begun fill by Turkey, Iran and Russia.

KEILAR: It has been. Muhammad Lila and Nic Robertson, thanks to both of you.

And President Obama has called German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to offer his condolences in the aftermath of this attack in Berlin. He pledged the country's support to her.

Joining me now is Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson. He is the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

And I'm wondering, Senator, if there's anything you can tell us about what you're being told about these attacks?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I don't know anything further than what's being reported, but it's getting pretty depressing, the frequency of these attacks.

I mean, we'll delve in. We'll find out more about these terrorists. We'll find out about their motives. And then, we'll move on and we'll report the next terrorist attack.

So, the bottom line is we've got to get serious about this. This administration hasn't been.

The policy, the strategy of a peaceful withdrawal has been a miserable failure. It's allowed Iran and Russia to be an influence in the Middle East.

So, as your last reporters talked about, we're not even in the discussions of what we need to do moving forward with Syria. This is going to be controlled by Iran and Russia and Turkey right now.

KEILAR: But how do you think Donald Trump is going to change that, when he seems to have a certain appetite for some actions but also a limited appetite for some intervention?

JOHNSON: Well, first of all, he's going to be inheriting a mess. Let's face it. In 2011, Iraq was stabilized. ISIS hadn't risen from the ashes from a fairly defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq.

And we've seen now the slaughter of probably about half a million Syrians.

And now, Russia has really accomplished its goal. Aleppo has been conquered. They have their Mediterranean ports.

So, Russia has, you know, achieved its objective, and so maybe we can find shared goals of next defeating ISIS which would only be the first step. Because it's ISIS that is inspiring the lone wolves here in America. Potentially, what we just saw in Germany.

But we also have to be concerned about the fact that they've been in operation now for a couple years in caliphate. They've been training their children to behead -- their seven-year-old children to behead their enemies.

We are talking about directed wolf packs. We saw that in Brussels, Istanbul airports.

We had FBI director Comey in our threat hearing a couple weeks ago. He said that we are going to witness a diaspora of terrorists.

Once we finally defeat ISIS, unlike the world's ever seen. Because they've been trained. They've been hardened or they've been battle tested.

[13:10:02] And so, the situation is evolving. It's metastasizing. It's growing.

KEILAR: And I do want to tell our viewers that we have just gotten word that the suspect in Berlin, or who was a suspect, has been released.

So, at this point, it appears whoever is responsible for that attack on the Christmas market is very much at large, which, of course, is very alarming.

JOHNSON: And, of course, ISIS has been encouraging their adherence to attack with --

KEILAR: With anything you have. Whether that is a knife, whether that is a vehicle. We saw that at Ohio State University. We saw that in the bastille day attack in France last year.

Are you worried about that, especially when you have so many gatherings of people here in the U.S.? Are you worried about that here? JOHNSON: Yes. What's unique about ISIS, unlike any other terrorist

group, is they're using social media. And so, their jihad is spread globally and instantaneously. They have a new concept, a new idea, they can spread it and they're here and start carrying it out.

KEILAR: And they're doing things that take a little less planning or that have a smaller footprint, that aren't as easy to trace. Right?

JOHNSON: Precisely and not very easy to stop either which is why you've got to start taking this one step at a time. We should have defeated ISIS literally two years ago. We better defeat it very quickly in the first administration.

But, again, that's just a first step because I was just in Israel. I was down in the Sinai. Now they're called global jihad. That's the ISIS affiliate in Egypt in the Sinai.

They're growing in strength, potentially, in Libya. They are spreading. Iran, its influence is spreading. They're setting up satellites in the western hemisphere.

And, of course, we entered this horrible deal that is funneling 10s of billions of dollars into the economy, military of Iran, a self- proclaimed enemy that is the largest state-sponsored terrorist. So, if we take care of ISIS, it's only just the beginning.

KEILAR: There are very few foreign governments, when it comes to this attack on the Russian ambassador who was killed by a gunman in Turkey, who have said this is someone who is radicalized. But we do now know that state-run media in Turkey is saying that police found terrorism propaganda inside of his house.

My question for you is yesterday, we saw Donald Trump tweet something that went further than the White House had. In addition to condemning the attack, as the White House did, Donald Trump attributed it to radicalized Islamic terror.

My question is, is that him knowing something that, at that point, we didn't know? Or is that him jumping the gun? And if so, is that a concern?

JOHNSON: Well, I'm just responsible for my own actions. I try and confine my comments to what I currently know and I would advise anybody to basically take that approach.

KEILAR: If he's not doing that, is that -- is that cause for concern to you?

JOHNSON: Well, again, what we know is that, you know, ISIS is inspiring lone wolves and these terrorist attacks around the world. And we know they are occurring in just depressing frequency.

And we have to address it. We have to get serious about it. This administration has not been. The next administration has to be.

And, by the way, I'm very impressed with the people that President- elect Trump is starting to appoint. General Kelly from the Department of Homeland Security, a serious individual.

KEILAR: Rex Tillerson, secretary of state. You just met with him.

JOHNSON: I did. I did.

KEILAR: So, tell us about that.

JOHNSON: An incredibly intelligent, accomplished, knowledgeable individual. Done business globally. Knows world leaders. Understands the reality of the situation. I think we'll --

KEILAR: The concern some people have is he's too cozy with Vladimir Putin. What do you say to that? What do -- did you talk to him about that?

JOHNSON: Absolutely.

KEILAR: So, what did he say that could allay some of those concerns?

JOHNSON: He was -- he was chairman of America's largest corporation, oil company that has to go and basically extract oil where it is. And so, he has to deal with governments and with leaders, pretty unsavory characters.

KEILAR: But he didn't support sanctions against Russia.

JOHNSON: Well, again, he had a different role, at that point in time.

KEILAR: You think he can just take that hat off.

JOHNSON: Sure.

KEILAR: Put on this -- you think he can do that and that people shouldn't worry?

JOHNSON: Absolutely. You know, an example would be individuals when you -- when you are working for a company and you decide to get a better offer at their competitor. Your allegiance, your loyalty, immediately goes that -- in your new assignment. Yes, people do that all the time. I have no doubt.

And, again, his background, his experience. I think he brings a unique set of experiences that very few secretary of states have ever brought.

Yes, they may have had policy or, you know, policy experience in government, but he also brings that private sector.

And it's a vast -- as well as just an accomplished individual. How many people do you know that rose from 1975 from being an engineer to the CEO, a successful CEO, of America's largest corporation? That's somebody that's got something on the ball.

KEILAR: He's had a long career, certainly at Exxon. And certainly did climb the ladder there, as you mentioned.

All right, Senator Johnson, thank you so much. Really appreciate you being with us.

And coming up, President-elect Trump has tweeted about these attacks, but how is he going to deal with global terrorism once he's in office? We are going to discuss with a former CIA director backing Donald Trump.

And the president is on vacation in Hawaii, but he just made big decisions that could impact his legacy in Washington. We'll have details, coming up.

[13:15:07]

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KEILAR: Welcome back. We have breaking news on the Berlin terror attack.

Police have now released their original suspect, a Pakistani man who had applied for asylum. They now believe the drive of the truck that killed 12 people is on the loose and they also believe he is armed and dangerous.

Joining me now is CNN's senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, and Paul Cruickshank, CNN terrorism analyst and editor in chief for CTC Sentinel.

Paul, no claims at this point in the Berlin attack, but tell us what officials are doing right now to try to track down this person. And also, having thought it was some other suspect, has that cost them a lot of time that could have cost them leads?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, they've just released the suspect that they had detained overnight. I'm told by a German intelligence official that the reason they released this suspect is because they just didn't have any evidence linking him to this crime. They didn't specifically have forensic evidence linking him to the truck. So in a sense, they were able, obviously, to -- from their point of view, rule him out to a certain degree as a possible perpetrator and that's why they've let him go.

But that really returns the investigation back to square one. It's not clear at the moment whether they've got any good leads whatsoever. They're asking the public to send in video from the scene of the attack. So perhaps if they're lucky they might be able to spot something from one of those videos that the general public may have shot of the before, the during and the after.

[13:20:04] But we really don't know who carried this out and it's not clear the Germans have any better idea at this point. And what I'm told by German intelligence officials is they're really concerned now there is an armed gunman on the loose who could strike again. Because, after all, this is somebody who killed, the Germans believe, the truck driver by hijacking this lorry in Berlin.

KEILAR: Yes, and the concern is that he could do that again. We've heard people saying that as well. Clarissa, this is an attack that is getting so much attention. That's

part of the point, obviously. That's part of the motive here. Is this something that serves as a recruiting tool, also maybe serves as an instruction tool for other would-be terrorists?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what we have to take into account, Brianna, at this stage, is that we genuinely have no idea who was responsible for this attack. And it could well have been some kind of ISIS-inspired lone wolf. It could have been an ISIS operative even. Or it could have been some type of copycat, not to get into the realm of conspiracy theories, but deliberately designed to look like an ISIS inspired attack. So I'm a little reluctant to, you know, speculate as to what the specific purpose of this attack was.

More broadly speaking, though, there is no question that these type of spectacular attacks on soft western targets, often gratuitously violent, targeting civilians, specifically in this case a Christmas market. It's impossible to miss the symbolism there, they do play well on jihadi recruitment forums and chats online. But, again, we haven't seen ISIS, which would typically claim responsibility for this type of attack on its Amack (ph) news channel on Telegram (ph), or any of its other outlets, we haven't seen them claim any responsibility.

Now, previously, ISIS, if they haven't directly orchestrated an attack, if it's just an ISIS-inspired attack, they will wait until the attacker has been named and then try to sort of piggyback on to it. So it is possible that ISIS is waiting to do that. But as I said, at this stage, we simply don't know who exactly did this, which is astonishing with all of the cameras there, with all the police, who must have been there in some capacity guarding that Christmas market, it is astonishing to image that this gunman, or attacker, we don't even know if he was armed, is now possibly on the loose and dangerous.

Brianna.

KEILAR: And also there's a worry, if he is on the loose, he is armed, as authorities believe, Paul, that something -- that he could do something else. And we're seeing this attack nearing the attack in Nice in July that killed more than 80 people. These are pretty low- tech attacks that do a lot of damage. Is this -- is this the new normal when you're talking about these terror attacks?

CRUICKSHANK: It's one of the aspects of the new normal, the low- attacks against soft targets. But for the other part of the new normal is, it is much more sophisticated plots like we saw in Paris, like we saw in Brussels. And, in fact, just a few weeks ago, German authorities back in October arrested somebody in -- in Germany who was constructing a device out of TATP, a similar explosive used in the Paris and Brussels attack. Somebody with connections to ISIS.

So really Germans are dealing with all -- the full spectrum of the ISIS threat from ISIS directed people trained and sent back, to ISIS instigated, where they're actually reaching out over encrypted apps and actually holding their hand every step of the way in terms of grooming them for attacks, and then these ISIS-inspired attacks, where there's no real connection back to the terrorist group, but they're inspired by all these ISIS calls.

It's certainly out of the M.O. of ISIS , this attack in terms of that spectrum, in terms of the fact that they've been calling for these attacks and the fact that the Nice attacker did exactly this in the summer, killing 86 people.

But I think Clarissa is absolutely right to say we should not rule out something completely different here. Some kind of provocative attack which has nothing to do with the -- the jihadi cause to make it look like the jihadi cause. And that's just to say, we really don't know at this point who was responsible and I think we need to wait for more from investigators before just assuming that this was an act of Islamist terrorism.

I recall that back a few years ago there was an attack in Norway where there was many of the hallmarks, a gun and bomb attack of Islamist terrorism. It turned out it was Anders Brevik (ph), who was an ultra- right wing naturalist, who was an anti-Muslim campaigner.

KEILAR: Yes, that's right.

[13:25:01] CRUICKSHANK: So we've got to keep an open mind here. We just don't know who carried this out yet.

KEILAR: Clarissa, this assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, so brazen, caught on camera. We're now hearing from state-run media that some jihadi propaganda was found in his home. Maybe you can tell us how much stock we should put in that, and then also just -- this is an attack that seemed so different than other ones that we've seen.

WARD: It is different, I think, Brianna, because you have two levels. You have the stated motive of the attacker, which was his own sort of fiery diatribe delivered in the moments after he chillingly shot the Russian ambassador in cold blood in which he expresses outrage over the situation in Syria, the situation in Aleppo, Russia's support of the, you know, the sort of cracking down and the bombardment of the opposition. So you have that component to it.

And then beyond that, you also have this secondary idea that potentially he was connected to a larger ring. As you said, state-run media saying that there was some literature relating to al Qaeda that was found in the home of this man. Different to know what to make of that. Does that mean that he's connected to a larger network? Does that mean that he's part of the cell, that he's operating in the name of a specific militant jihadist group or could it just be another case of him being inspired by some of the rhetoric that he's seen on these jihadi types of websites, some of the literature that he may have come across?

I think initially there was speculation that perhaps he was just a lone wolf who was genuinely horrified by what he saw in Syria and somehow cracked, but with the revelation that there may have been some jihadist propaganda literature found in this home, that certainly does open up the possibility that there is a jihadist component to this. And, of course, that will be of major interest, not only to the Turkish investigators, but to Russian investigators who just arrived in Ankara to help facilitate this investigation. Obviously Russian officials want to make sure this does not happen again. Not just in Turkey, but to any Russian diplomatic official around the world, Brianna.

KEILAR: Certainly right.

Clarissa Ward, Paul Cruickshank, thank you both.

Coming up, President Obama has made a series of decisions during his final days here in office and incoming president, Donald Trump, may not like all of them. We'll have the details after this.

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