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Tower Cladding Seen As Possible Accelerant; DUP Source: No Government Deal Before Thursday At Earliest; U.S. Shoots Down Pro-Regime Drone In Syria; Ballots Cast In Most Expensive U.S. House Race; Brussels Police Confirm Incident at Train Station. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired June 20, 2017 - 15:00   ET




HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody. I'm Hala Gorani.


GORANI: Hello, everybody. We are live in London. I'm Hala Gorani. Thanks for joining us. This is THE WORLD RIGHT NOW.

We are live this hour outside London's Houses of Parliament. This is the place where tomorrow the government will layout its plans and the queen's

speech. Small problem, Prime Minister Theresa May doesn't seem to have a government yet and that is not all, obviously this country faces daunting

challenges from Brexit talks to terror attacks to the tragic Grenfell Tower fire.

And we begin in fact with the latest on that terrible fire. Did developers knowingly use dangerous materials when they remodeled it? Fred Pleitgen

joins me now with more on what he uncovered on the investigations.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and there's two questions that have come up. One, was the law not followed and

the other one is, is the law itself inadequate? And we've heard Philip Hammond, (inaudible) come out and he said that he believed that the

cladding that was used on the building is not legal under the standards of this country.

Well, it turns out it's a lot more complicated than that. We found out that there's actually a lot of possible loopholes in the fire safety rules

and regulations of this country, and my experts think it's really dangerous.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): It was one of the worst fires in Britain's history. Dozens confirmed killed or missing and presumed dead. Loved ones demanding

answers. Experts quickly pointed to the cladding on the tower as a possible accelerant of the blaze. Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer

saying the specific cladding is banned in the U.K.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My understanding is that the cladding in question, this flammable kind, which is banned in Europe and the U.S. is also banned here.

PLEITGEN: But multiple experts CNN has spoken to say it's more complicated than that. Britain's regulations state that in buildings taller than 18

meters, any material used in the, quote, "external wall construction should be of limited combustibility."

But another document called a technical guidance note obtained by CNN says materials can be used if a client wanting to use them submits, quote, "a

desktop study from a suitably qualified fire specialist, which does not require any additional testing of the material."

It's not clear whether such a desktop study was commissioned for the Grenfell Tower renovation, but experts we met at Britain's largest fire

safety fair say they believe both the law and the guidance are too weak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our secretary has been worried for a while that the pace of change within construction materials and construction methods is

moving so fast that the regulations are not really keeping up with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of new building materials are coming onto the market. A lot of new techniques to build property and high-rise buildings

and as an industry we've really felt that the building regulations have not kept pace with these changes.

PLEITGEN: Members of an all-party fire safety group in the British parliament say they've been lobbying for years to tighten country's law and

make the legal language more accurate to no avail. Britain's government in a written response to CNN stated, quote, "Fire safety requirements are

complex issues and our priority has been that we have high standards."

A great of work has been completed including commissioning and undertaking research to support the planned consultation. But while the tower's

cladding may have accelerated the fire, the experts we spoke to say they believe other factors also contributed to making the blaze so deadly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe the sprinklers where in the place where the fire started, they would have had a good chance controlling it.

PLEITGEN: British authorities have launched an investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire, which will do little to comfort those who lost loved

one, but at least will try to offer them an explanation.


PLEITGEN: You know, Hala, fire regulation is one of those really fundamental things sort of like airline safety where I would have thought,

many other people would have thought that it's pretty clear cut, and they wouldn't be any cutting of corners.

[15:05:00]But it was really interesting today to speak to some of the really premier experts for fire prevention here in this country and they

said it's really not that.

They said the last simple law was updated here in this country is ten years ago, but the problem is that obviously construction itself, the materials

used, the methods of construction that are used have changed so much.

A lot of it also for environmental reasons, by the way, it's really difficult to keep up and they say they simply haven't been the way they

want to.

GORANI: And we'll see if anyone is held accountable. In fact even if there are criminal charges brought forward. Thanks very much, Fred

Pleitgen for that new element in the investigation.

Now it's been almost two weeks since that surprising election result that created a whole new level of disarray here in the United Kingdom. Since

then, Theresa May's conservatives have been locked in talks with a small Northern Ireland party you probably hadn't heard of just a few weeks ago.

But a source says that any deal between the DUP and Theresa May's conservatives will not happen until Thursday at the earliest. So she may

have jumped the gun after the election when she announced or assumed, I should say, that the DUP would rally behind her.

That means something very significant. That Mrs. May goes into Wednesday's queen's speech where her government's policy is usually laid out without a

majority in parliament. Can that even work?

Nic Robertson is here with me. Hi, Nic. So is this unprecedented? A queen speech laying out the policy and proposals of a government that

doesn't even have a majority in parliament?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, parliament has long history and it's certainly unexpected. It can work technically

because really there won't be vote on the terms of the queen's speech while the queen lays out Theresa May's agenda for the next couple of years until

next week.

There's a bit of time, but it's not how anyone expected it to be. I think the Democratic Unionist Party have said that this isn't how. They were

expected it to go and they all --

GORANI: They said she's taken us for granted.

ROBERTSON: Well, they've said quite a few things and the fact that they've said them today that we don't think there could be a deal before Thursday.

That this is being held up with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That this is a waiting game. I think tells you that they are also going public with

their concerns at the moment.

And part of it appears that they are saying that the chancellor is part of the problem here. That money must be part of the issue that's what they

are implying that they are not getting that part of whatever it is they are negotiating for behind the scenes.

GORANI: Right. But so Theresa May, I mean, if she does not get the support of the DUP her government can't last, can it?

ROBERTSON: If she didn't, then it would be very, very weak. One couldn't see how it could last, but this is politics, as they say, a week is a long

time in politics.

GORANI: She made a bet. She made a gamble and backfired, she lost her majority. Why is she staying?

ROBERTSON: She is staying because she probably will get it and Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP has said, you know, they expect to support

the queen's speech. They expect to support the government in this position right now.

GORANI: But why isn't it her party being more forceful and sort of pushing her out? Her party is the one suffering from the decision she made to hold

the snap election?

ROBERTSON: Let me throw this at you for example. We don't know what's going on behind the scenes. We don't really know what's holding things up

with the DUP. They are saying (inaudible) they are implying publically --

GORANI: It's money, isn't it? It's money.

ROBERTSON: They are implying publically it's money and that can be (inaudible). They are skilled in negotiating. They do this for their

living in Northern Ireland. It's a power sharing government. So look, it could be other things. We don't know what's going on behind the scenes

with the Conservative Party.

And they may feel that by holding out on Theresa May weakens her position, they may have an idea of another candidate that they would better prefer to

lead the Conservative Party who they feel may be more beneficial towards them.

Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London contracted a major bus production agreement with a company in one of Arlene Foster's constituencies. You

know, one has to I think look at the big picture here. But the reality is -- from what we're hearing, both sides --

GORANI: They are in disarray is the reality. They didn't want this. They got it. They look weak now. They have to talk Brexit with 27 E.U.

countries. This is just not a good situation.

ROBERTSON: One of the major issues is in Northern Ireland with the E.U. The E.U. laid that better on one of their three red lines on Brexit not to

put up more border controls and the DUP as a party would want to make that, yes, there is a soft border, but yes, having a soft border doesn't bring

(inaudible) closer to uniting with the Republic of Ireland.

You know, there is a -- the DUP, there is a huge amount of stake here as well. If they gave away some of the show, they'll be out of power.

GORANI: We know more about the DUP than we ever thought we would --

ROBERTSON: There is more to learn, more to come.

GORANI: A lot of people were introduced to them just a few weeks ago. Thanks, Nic Robertson.

Now let's talk about the Middle East in a very significant event. Another shoot down in the skies over Syria. The U.S.-led coalition says an

American fighter jet downed a regime drone today after it displayed, quote, "hostile intent." It happened in Southern Syria near the borders of Jordan

and Iraq.

[15:10:06] American officials tell CNN the drone was Iranian made and it was in the firing range of American troops so it protected its troops by

downing it. But is this truly an escalation because it comes just a few days after the U.S. shot down a Syrian jet out of sky, which triggered a

stern warning from Russia.

The Pentagon is downplaying the tensions today, but a Russian official told Interfax Agency that the strike on the pro-Syrian drone is complicit with

terrorism, very strong words.

Let's bring in Diana Magnay live in Moscow. We are also joined by CNN military and diplomatic analyst, John Kirby in Washington.

John Kirby, to you first. What is the U.S. doing here because Russia is very angry about the downing of that Syrian war plane? They said they

would suspend deconfliction channels. That they are warning that any plane that flies over a certain line in Syria is a legitimate target. How

dangerous is this escalation?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, I actually don't think that this is necessarily escalatory or that it has to be escalatory.

So your first question, what are they doing? They are defending themselves and they are defending the partners on the ground.

And we said long ago, even before the Trump presidency, when we were talking about putting coalition-backed forces on the ground in Syria, using

Syrian indigenous forces to fight ISIS that we would have an obligation to protect them most likely from the air. That's what we're doing.

We made this very public. We made it very transparent. So there should have been no surprise that air power from the coalition is going to be used

if those partner forces or our forces came under any threat.

GORANI: It's unprecedented, John, for the U.S. to down a Syrian war plane like that knowing that it would anger Russia and also prompting Russians to

act in a seemingly decisive way by saying we've suspended cooperation and don't come near areas of Syrian airspace we operate in.

KIRBY: It would have been worse I think had they not taken the action that they've done in just the last few day to protect their own forces and to

protect the partner forces. What's escalatory here, Hala, is the actions by the regime and pro-regime forces in particular.

And these are Iranian-backed forces near (inaudible) and of course, it was, you know -- Syrian -- actually Syrian nation state aircraft that we shot

down. Those are the escalatory actions because they've -- again the coalition has been nothing but clear and transparent about what our

intentions are, where we are operating and what we're doing here.

I think it also speaks to the level of influence that Russia doesn't have. Now we know they have influence over the regime, but it's limited and I

think they are frustrated by that. And they don't have I don't think they don't have much if any influence over Iran.

GORANI: Right. We know, Diana Magnay, that the U.S. initially contacted through its channels Russia saying tell this warplane to get out of this

zone otherwise we are taking it down. Either the Russians did not contact the Syrians about it or they did and had no impact. But either way, what

is the -- over the next -- I mean, how is this going to impact potentially the conflict in Syria and whether or not the tension with the U.S. could be

quite dangerous in that conflict zone?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think John puts his finger on it by saying the question is how much control does the kremlin really have

over Syrian Assad's forces, who were moving towards Raqqa, at a time when the coalition is actually making quite a lot of head way in managing to

push ISIS out of Raqqa?

And you do get a sense that everybody is now converging into that (inaudible) in Eastern Syria. Assad's forces, anti-ISIS forces backed by

the U.S. and it's the first time really that the U.S. and Russia are, therefore, coming head-to-head.

That is why this deconfliction line has been so important to date. I think it is also true that Russia doesn't want to see some kind of escalation

here, whereby it would come into conflict with -- direct conflict with the United States.

But it's quite interesting to listen to the rhetoric that's coming out of Russia, which is constantly trying to suggest that, oh, we're the ones

fighting ISIS not you. Trying to turn this sort of narrative on its head when in fact to date Russia has been occupied in an entirely different

parts of Syria to the coalition.

It hasn't been engaged in the fight against ISIS and this effectively acts as a sort of cover for the regime forces to go towards Raqqa and see if

they can't get a slice of the post-ISIS pie.

GORANI: Right. And John, in that part of Syria, there are of course U.S. advisers with those SDF forces and obviously for the United States, it is

crucial to protect them whenever they are targeted by regime forces.

KIRBY: Absolutely. That's part of the calculus for why the United States and the coalition forces are doing what they're doing for self-defense.

Certainly we have our own troops and personnel that could be put in harm's way. So it's definitely a calculation here.

[15:15:06]I would also say that the U.S. military, General Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, you heard him say this yesterday, it

is trying to make sure that we don't lose the communications with the Russian military.

Now I know the deconfliction zone now has been sort of nulled by the Defense Ministry there in Moscow, but we have an understanding that some of

this communication is still going on and I think that's critical. That's important.

GORANI: And when -- I mean, I guess, Diana, the question is, it's happened once before that the Russians were unhappy and there was a brief suspension

there of this deconfliction -- the channel between the two. Going forward, I mean, are we going to see that kind of back up because it's really -- I

mean, in this particular case, it's been everyone's interest that there be no incidents in the skies over Syria.

MAGNAY: It is in everyone's interest. This is simply not in Russia's strategic interest to see this escalate and as you say last time, there

were still behind-the-scene contacts for the three weeks that that deconfliction line was shot, suspended after the U.S. cruise missile strike

on that Syrian military base.

So you can expect that to happen now. What Russia is saying about at that other key point around (inaudible), which is on the border crossing between

Iraq and Syria where there are U.S.-backed forces being trained by American troops on the ground and Russia is raising the flag about that and saying

these American troops are here illegally.

They shouldn't have a presence on the ground. We are there because we have been invited by sovereign government and they shouldn't be allowed to be

there. But this does feel more like bluster and an angry rhetoric because both sides know that they do need to fundamentally talk to each other

rather than threaten each other.

And I think in that sense it's interesting to look ahead to this possible meeting in July between President Trump and President Putin at the G20

Summit where neither side has still not confirmed whether that will actually happen yet.

GORANI: Diana Magnay in Moscow, John Kirby, thanks very much to you as well for joining us from Washington.

A lot more to come this evening, a big race in a small district. Why a congressional runoff election in Georgia is grabbing so much worldwide


And President Trump says an American student who died after he's released from North Korea would have survived if he'd been released sooner. We'll

be right back.


GORANI: In less than four hours, polls close in an American congressional election and that we normally wouldn't be covering on a worldwide

broadcast, but it is important in America and has become the most expensive in history and may have consequences that match the price tag.

More than $50 million have been pumped into the race between a Democrat, Jon Ossoff, and a Republican, Karen Handel. They're vying for small

affluent district outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

[15:20:09]It's been held by Republicans for nearly 40 years, but the impact of the results could be anything but small especially if the man on the

left, Ossoff, wins. It is being seen as a litmus test for Donald Trump's policies and next year's midterm elections.

The president is weighing in on his favorite medium, Twitter, throwing support behind Karen Handel. He is also attacking Ossoff, a fresh face 30-

year-old who has never held office. Handel and her supporters are using that as ammunition.


KAREN HANDEL, U.S. HOUSE REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE: My husband and I have lived here for almost 25 years. That's longer than my opponent pretty much has

been alive and he still doesn't live in the district. So that really matters to the people here. They want someone they know, someone who has a

track record.

JON OSSOFF, U.S. HOUSE DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE: The contrast in this district is between a career politician, my opponent, Karen Handel, who is notorious

for cutting off funding for life-saving breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood or a fresh voice who wants to work across the aisle to get

things done, grow our local economy, work to make health care more accessible and affordable for women and folks with pre-existing conditions.


GORANI: Jon Ossoff there and Karen Handel. The congressional seat became available when Republican Tom Price stepped down to serve as the

president's health secretary and to call it a special election is an understatement.

Kaylee Hartung joins me now from Marietta, Georgia. So talk to us a little bit about this race that's gotten so much attention, not just nationally,

but internationally and what voters are saying about it there.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Hala, that national spotlight is on this race for the reasons you outlined. It's a litmus on President

Trump and also a bit of a Canarian, the coal mine for the 2018 midterm elections. We've heard about President Trump tweeting about this election.

More chatter out of the White House this afternoon as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer addressed the congressional race going on in suburban

Atlanta as he actually downplayed -- seem to downplay the expectations that Republicans have here as he reminded folks that Donald Trump only won this

district by about a point last November.

Interesting that he chooses to remind people of that because this is a district that's been represented by a Republican in Congress for more than

40 years. Now Donald Trump may have only won this district by one percentage point, but Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president

four years prior, he won this district by more than 20 points.

So it really encompasses why this election has so many people interested in it. The changing dynamics in this landscape, this is a very wealthy and

very well educated corner of society with a lot of moderate Republicans in it who just aren't buying into Donald Trump's brand of their party.

Now Sean Spicer also downplayed the thought that this election could be a bell weather for what we'll see in the midterms. Hala, a lot of talk about

this election on a lot of different levels.

But when you talk to the voters, they do recognize the national implications here. They feel the responsibility and the opportunity to

have their voice heard. And as we talk about this being the most expensive race of its kind in the history of the House of Representative that money

has translated into ads.

It's translated into flyers showing up on people's doorsteps. One thing all of the voters in this district can agree on, they will be glad when the

polls close at 7:00 Eastern tonight, Hala, because that means all these ads will be off the airwaves and their front doors.

GORANI: Kaylee Hartung, thanks very much in Marietta, Georgia there with the small race that will have big implications. The race has blown up so

much. Kaylee was mentioning this, so much money also pumped into it. That signs for the candidates are even in yards well outside of Georgia's sixth


Let's dig in to why this election is so important. Our political analyst, Josh Rogin, joins me now from Washington. So is this sort of a referendum

on Trump, a litmus test for Democrats going forward before the 2018 midterm elections? Is it that important?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: In a way, yes. I believe the race is significant for a few different reasons. You know, out of the three

special elections that have been held since the presidential election, this is the only one in a district where as you noted the presidential results

where near even.

And the other two in Montana and Kansas, Trump took those races by double- digit points. So this is sort of a true test. It's also not affected by money. There is so much money that it sort of cancels itself out. It's


And lastly, Jon Ossoff has run on an anti-Trump platform. He's made that the issue so this is ultimately a test of whether or not that strategy will

work. You know, we say all politics are local, in making this all about Trump, the Democrats are taking a risk.

[15:25:07]And if their gamble doesn't pay off and if they can't win actual races by focusing on people's unhappiness with the Trump agenda, they are

going to have to come up with another plan and perhaps even put forth a more pro-active agenda of their own.

GORANI: And our reporter, Kaylee, mentioned that this is a district in particular where the gap has narrowed tremendously between 2012 and 2016

between the Republicans and the Democrats. It was something more than 20- point I think lead for the Republicans in 2012. It's narrowed down to a point or two.

There are 70 other districts, 70-plus districts in the United States that are even closer than this. But for the Democrats, what is the strategy

here apart from pumping money into these races?

ROGIN: You know, the strategy is to show a win. You know, one win will show their base, their voters that they have momentum and that their

rhetoric about unpopularity with the Trump administration, which is backed up by polls, can actually be translated into victories.

That's the most important thing. They have to get one win on the board. And as you noted, there are a lot of districts which are traditionally

Republicans, but are not very supportive of President Trump and his agenda.

You know, those are the key districts that are available to be flipped and without flipping several of those districts, in fact, dozens of those

districts, Democrats simply have no chance of taking over the House of Representatives in 2018 and may know it.

GORANI: But what has been the Trump effect here? I mean, how is Trump affecting local races?

ROGIN: Well --

GORANI: Before you answer that, sorry, we have his approval rating according to a CBS poll at 36 percent down from 41 percent. So, I mean,

it's not like his national approval rating is sky high. Far from it, it's actually going down into historically low.

ROGIN: Right. Well, the problem here and the disconnect is that President Trump can claim with some validity that polls have been wrong. That

despite what we've reported in the polls that he's continued to win. The first two special elections that we've seen since the presidential election

have bolstered that claim.

So what the Trump effect has been in these districts is that its increased enthusiasm and activism and civic participation and public participation.

What we haven't seen is that actually affects votes.

And until they are -- the Democrats sort of able to establish that they can translate that feeling, that sort of sense that enthusiasm into actual wins

then they can't mount --

GORANI: But Josh, is it also the message? Because if your message is, I'm not Trump. We are not Trump. Trump is dangerous. Trump is leading the

country down the wrong path. If that's just the only message from the Democrats, isn't that problematic in some ways?

ROGIN: It's a huge gamble, as you point out, right, that's what they are going with. After today, we'll know whether or not they stick with it. If

Jon Ossoff loses this election, you can be sure that the Democratic strategy will shift for one of being against Trump's agenda to more pro-

active, positive agenda that they have yet to come up with.

GORANI: Thank you, Josh Rogin, as always. We've been talking to Josh Rogin joining us from Washington.

A lot more to come, Brexit talks have started, adding to Theresa May's considerable challenges. We'll hear from a senior Tory member of


Also, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, holds his first on- camera briefing in eight days as speculation grows about a shakeup inside the president's team. We'll be right back.


[15:31:10] GORANI: Welcome back, everybody. An update on a breaking news situation.

We're following an incident at the Brussels' central train station. It took place just minutes ago. We're working to get more information on

this. We'll bring it to you when we have details.

But according to Belgian police, a situation is under control with an individual at the station, but to please follow instructions, they are

telling people who might be in the vicinity.

And there was an eyewitness account, as well, given to CNN. An individual who says that he or she -- I don't know who it was -- was waiting at the

Central Station and that there was a loud bang followed by several rapid bangs, which this person believes were gunshots, but this individual did

not see anything.

You see there a bird's eye view of the Brussels central train station. We'll keep our eye, of course, on this developing story. But it appears as

though, at least according to Belgian police at this hour, that this situation is under control. We'll bring you more when we have it.

We are live at the Houses of Parliament where, on Wednesday, the Queen will lay out the government's legislative agenda for the next year. The thing

is, it looks like there won't be even be a functioning majority government by then for Theresa May.

The DUP -- that small Northern Ireland party you probably hadn't heard of just a few weeks ago -- well, a source there says there won't be a deal

until Thursday, at the earliest, because Theresa May needs the DUP to achieve a majority.

Adding to the enormous pressure on Theresa May, Brexit negotiations have now kicked off and those talks were on the mind of the British Chancellor,

Philip Hammond, earlier. Listen.


PHILIP HAMMOND, CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM: Our departure from the E.U. is underway. But ensuring that it happens via a

smooth pathway to a deep and special future partnership with our E.U. neighbors, one that protects jobs, prosperity, and living standards in

Britain, will require every ounce of skill and diplomacy that we can muster.

Yesterday was a positive start. It will get tougher, but we are ready for the challenge and confident that we can deliver for British jobs, British

business, and British prosperity.


GORANI: All right. We have more now on that incident at the Brussels train station. Erin McLaughlin is on the air. Let's go to her.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome back. You're watching CNN with some breaking news coming out of Brussels, Belgium where there are

reports of explosions and gunfire. CNN's Erin McLaughlin is there.

Erin, tell me just what you know.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke. Well, I am standing not far from what the scene of this activity, the incident that unfolded.

Police just confirming on Twitter that there has been some sort of incident at Brussels Grand Central Train Station.

You can see it in the distance there. They have set up a security parameter around the station. You can see very large police presence.

There's also a military presence out on the streets. The military presence there largely because Brussels is on a continued heightened state of alert

due to the terror threat.

No suggestion so far that this incident at the moment is a result of terrorism. What we do know from police tweeting out that there has been an

incident at the train station, one of the main train stations here at Brussels.

The police also tweeting that the situation is under control, asking that individuals follow instructions. We know from Belgium media that the

police have confirmed, according to Belgium media, that there has been some sort of explosion inside the station and that soldiers opened up on a

private individual.

[15:35:05] That is what we know so far. We are working to get more information, Brooke.

BALDWIN: All right. We'll let you do that. Erin, thank you so much, outside the train station.

I have Remy Bonnaffe, also a witness on the phone. Remy, are you in or near this train station? What are you seeing?

REMY BONNAFFE, EYEWITNESS (via phone): I was near the train station. My employer is driving me back home.

BALDWIN: Did you hear the bang or reports of some sort of explosion inside the train station?

BONNAFFE (via phone): Yes. I was actually facing in the main hall when, all of a sudden, there was a very loud explosion. And then, in front of

me, I could see a burning object.

People were looking around. But then after a second, there was a second explosion, and then people started to run out of the station. And then I

could hear very loud bangs, although I could not see any people injured at all. And then I ran into the Hilton Hotel.

BALDWIN: Remy, where exactly were these explosions? Where they in the middle of the train station or just on the outside?

BONNAFFE: Inside, in the middle of the train station.

BALDWIN: Near --

BONNAFFE: Where most people are waiting.

BALDWIN: Where people are waiting.


BALDWIN: And when you say you saw one burning and then you heard that second explosion, how large was that fire? How large was where your --

BONNAFFE: The fire, and that was actually very surprising because the bang was very loud. It was like a very big firework that just went off in front

of my nose.

But then the fire -- I have a picture. The fire is quite small, so it was a very small explosion but with a very loud bang. Yes.

BALDWIN: OK. Stay with me. I've got one more person I want to bring on. Arash Aazami, also on the phone with me.

ARASH AAZAMI, EYEWITNESS (via phone): Yes. Hi there.

BALDWIN: Arash, it's Brooke. You're live on CNN. Tell me, I understand you tried to walk into the train station moments ago. Were you being held

back because of the police?

AAZAMI (via phone): Yes. We left our taxi. We were late for our train. We walked into the train station, and right at that moment, we were loudly

evacuated by security personnel.

So, at first, we didn't understand them. We saw people running out of the station, and then we figured something must be wrong here.

And then we were let in by a personnel of a restaurant next to the train station. And that's where I am right now.

BALDWIN: So I was just talking to our last guest who actually saw and then heard a second explosion. Did you hear two explosions?

AAZAMI: No, we didn't hear any explosions. We just witnessed the evacuation. And right at that moment, all kinds of police cars and then

security were rushing around to secure the building, so.

BALDWIN: All right. I'm just getting information as I'm talking to you, Arash. A bomb unit has just arrived there on the scene.

If you're just joining us, we're watching these pictures out of Brussels, Belgium. You see a lot of flashing blue lights, huge police presence

because there's been reports of explosions inside one of their central train stations in the Belgian capital.

Belgian police referring to it as an incident with an individual at the station. They're saying that this situation is under control, but please

follow the instructions.

We're talking to two different eyewitnesses here. So, Arash, it's just about a quarter until 10:00 your time in Belgium. How busy is the train

station right about now?

AAZAMI: Well, right now, of course, I can't tell. I guess it's evacuated. But usually, this is a very busy time at this kind of train station.

And I can confirm it right now, I'm looking at an explosive -- what is it? One of these tanks, you know, with a unit to dismantle explosives and a

command core of the police.

And there's a lot of military here, but the situation seems to be contained. There's no sign of panic on the station's part.

BALDWIN: That is a good sign. That is a really good sign. Arash, thank you.

Michael Weiss just got seated, you know, terror expert here.

Listen, no one's calling this terrorism, Michael, but, you know, especially in the wake of what's happened in Paris and in London, you know, when

you're hearing eyewitnesses describing these loud bangs and fiery explosions inside a central train station --


BALDWIN: -- you know, a lot of people's minds go there.

WEISS: And also, it's Brussels, which is the headquarters of the ISIS francophone network. I mean, we saw with Mullenbeck, all of the Paris

attackers had essentially plotted their attacks from Brussels. And then, of course, there's the famous attack at a Brussels airport.

Major transport hub, an explosion, a bomb. This doesn't seem to have done much damage, thank God, but thoughts immediately go toward a case of jihad,

right? Just given the venue and the city involved.

[15:40:03] BALDWIN: It seems like, you know, Belgian police were on it very quickly. It sounds like they've cordoned off the area. We just

talked to an eyewitness who, obviously, couldn't go any further inside the train station, was told to leave.

You know, the original witness didn't describe the explosion -- it sounds like that the sound really reverberated and was quite loud. But the way he

described it, the fire was quite small. We just don't know a lot really at this point in time.

WEISS: Yes. Well, I mean, it wouldn't be the first time that a bomb turned out to be a dud --


WEISS: -- where they're semi-successful in detonating but not having the maximum impact that had been intended. But, again, completely unaware as

to what the situation is at this point, so.

BALDWIN: You know, our reporter at the train station -- if you know Belgium, here's sort of an overlook of the city -- she had mentioned that

there has been a heightened state of alert in Belgium. Was that because of what's just happened elsewhere in Europe?

WEISS: Yes, and also, again, this is the sort of central hub for ISIS' European network. The Brussels or Belgian police authorities and law

enforcement intelligence have had a really rough time rounding up everybody that they suspect might be at large.

I mean, remember, ISIS started sending operatives into Europe even before they lost Khan Bhani (ph) in 2014. This was always part of their main

strategy. First, we build our caliphate. We do our nation-building in Syria and Iraq. And then we bring the jihad to the West.

And they were relying on native sons and daughters from Europe who had either gone off and gotten training in Raqqa or, more often than not,

didn't even set foot in the Middle East but were radicalized and remotely controlled by ISIS command whilst they walk the streets of Europe,

particularly the French-speaking streets of Europe.

BALDWIN: You know, you and I were sitting right here 24 hours ago. We were talking about --

WEISS: The Champs-Elysees, yes.

BALDWIN: -- the Champs. We were talking about the individual who tried to ram a car or a van into, you know, security, police --


BALDWIN: -- along the Champs-Elysees and also the man who was, in London, outside of that mosque in that community, Finsbury Park in London. And,

you know, a White man in that case. We don't know if he was specifically targeting, you know, Muslims, but it was just after Ramadan, after


Just, people are on edge right now, especially in Europe.

WEISS: Sure. I mean, well, the London and the Champs-Elysees attack, these were both rudimentary in the sense that this was getting your car and

just mow people over.

A bomb though, I mean, that's a treadle in the Manchester, but more importantly, again, it comes back to the Paris and Brussels attacks. The

bomb maker for that ISIS network lived in Brussels.

So when you hear bomb and you see a major transport hub in a European capital city, the headquarters of NATO, the headquarters of European Union,

you know, I'm not trying to jump to conclusions here, but I am thinking --

BALDWIN: Sure, but that's important to point out, the significance --

WEISS: Exactly.

BALDWIN: -- of Brussels.

WEISS: Right.

BALDWIN: Seeing all those leaders just -- what, was that a couple of weeks ago? Looking at some new pictures here.

So on the right side of the screen, I presume that this is tape that's just come back in from us, perhaps after the explosion? Guys, just get in my

ear and let me know if you know anything. Yes, I am correct.

So, everyone, obviously, just standing around, wondering what the heck is going on. You know, at least, talking to the last eyewitness saying that

there doesn't appear to be a tremendous amount of panic, that the police seem to have this under control.

And perhaps that is in part because, hopefully, it was a dud, you know, and that it didn't reek the damage that this individual was hoping. But still,

you know, my goodness! Just in Europe right now.

WEISS: Well, remember -- what was it -- a little over a year ago, the bombing here in New York in Chelsea.

BALDWIN: Oh, yes.

WEISS: Which was essentially -- fortunately turned out to be nothing more really than a dumpster fire, but that could have been very significant in a

downtown crowded area full of bars, restaurants, people, you know, enjoying the night life. And it was a bit of a dump squib.

If this is a similar situation, then, yes, that's just the reason why people aren't running in terror for the last --

BALDWIN: That was still plenty scary for a lot of people --

WEISS: Absolutely, yes.

BALDWIN: -- on a Saturday night in Manhattan. Michael, stay with me.

I've got Erin McLaughlin. She is our reporter there on the ground, outside of this train station in Brussels.

Erin, I understand you just spoke with the police. What did you learn?

MCLAUGHLIN: Hi, Brooke. Well, we're still waiting for more information. Police at this point being tightlipped with the details. They have

confirmed that there has been an incident at the central train station here in Brussels just behind me.

You can see that they've cordoned off the road leading to the station. You can see very heavy police as well as military presence. Our producer here

on the ground, a short while ago, saw a bomb disposal truck drive by.

But in terms of what exactly unfolded here, the sequence of events, authorities at the moment, again, not saying. At present, we do know,

though, from police that the situation is under control here in Brussels as they continue to work on what now, obviously, an ongoing investigation into

what exactly happened. But, again, the situation is under control.

[15:45:01] According to eyewitnesses, there were blasts, some pops heard inside the situation itself. Unclear how many individuals were injured in

the incident, if there are any injuries at all. Also unclear how the authorities managed to get the situation under control.

BALDWIN: Erin, thank you very much, in Brussels for us. We'll come back to you when you get more information, but let's bring in Anthony May. He's

a retired ATF explosives investigator.

You know, Anthony, we just heard Erin say that the bomb disposal truck is there. Tell me what they're doing.


probably going to try to clear the area, ensure that there are no secondary devices. I'm not really familiar with what's going on there. It kind of

caught me off guard on this one.

But I'm sure there's backpacks and luggage laying around maybe that they've got to go through just to make sure that no other hazards, no secondary

devices to clear the scene so they can get the injured out and then start the criminal investigation.

BALDWIN: Anthony, are you near a T.V. right now?

MAY (via phone): No, I'm not.


MAY (via phone): Actually, I'm on my way to an airport.

BALDWIN: Well, let me just describe to you because we're getting our first images of what appears to be the mini explosion, this sort of a fiery

tower, maybe, I guess, five to six feet in height, just based upon the height of the structure next to it that would be in any train station.

And you can see the fiery glow. People running from it. You know, beyond that, the fact that you're not looking at it, tell me what, you know, the

units will do once they come upon that explosion, their readiness.

MAY (via phone): So they're going to try to establish where the blast was once they start the investigation, but I think it's probably too soon into

this event to start looking into that. Like I said, their major concern right now is to secure the scene and make the scene safe to evacuate the

injured as well as the follow on investigators.

BALDWIN: What about the person who put it there? How are they looking for him or her?

MAY (via phone): I'm sorry. I'm in a very noisy background in here. Did you say why are they --

BALDWIN: No, no, no. I said, what about the person who left the explosion? How are they looking for him or her?

MAY (via phone): Look, typically, they're going to start canvassing the area for any CCTV cameras, footages that may have picked up the individual.

All the teams, investigators, pulling those camera footages, reviewing those to see what they can glean from that as far as identifying who the

individual was and what direction he might have headed in and then continue trying to follow him with CCTV cameras.

BALDWIN: Stay with me, Anthony. Erin, just back to you, you know, outside of this train station. It's just about 10:00 at night where you are.

Describe to me just what's normal this time of evening in terms of crowds around the train station.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I mean, this incident did happen later in the evening, not as congested as that train station as it could be during, say, a rush

hour where they're making their way homes from work.

As you can see, the scene before you now, the street is empty except for emergency services, which are responding to this incident. There's also a

military presence out.

Traffic though is moving sort of around this area. There is a small group of bystanders that has gathered, mainly curious to see what is going on.

Other than that, the area surrounding the station itself appears to have been completely evacuated -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Erin, the first eyewitness who I spoke with who, it looks like, is actually the one who provided the image of the explosion, was saying

that it appeared to be -- or he heard two explosions, and that the explosion was sort of deeper within the train station. Have you heard

anything on that from police?

MCLAUGHLIN: No. I mean, at the moment, police are being very tight-lipped in terms of details. The first account that we heard of this incident were

accounts from eyewitnesses on Twitter.

I called authorities immediately when those accounts first crossed, and they were still trying to put the pieces together as to what exactly

transpired here. You know, what happened now, of course, is the subject of an ongoing investigation.

Again, it does appear, though, that this incident has been dealt with. The situation, the police are saying, is under control, though they are not

giving much detail in terms of these explosions that had been heard by eyewitnesses or how they brought this incident under control, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So, Erin, let me just ask you. When you have police saying the situation is under control, that makes me wonder about the individual who

placed these bombs or explosives. Do we know anything about the person who placed them or is that person in custody or neutralized? Have they said?

[15:50:06] MCLAUGHLIN: You know, not at the moment, Brooke. We simply do not know. There were early reports at Twitter of shots fired as well. We

don't know if that was from the police or not. We simply do not know how they resolved the situation at present.

BALDWIN: OK. Erin, thank you. I'm just looking down Belgium Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tweeting, "Incident at Brussels Central Station.

Emergency Services are on sight, and please follow handle for more information."

Michael Weiss, if I can just continue picking your brain here as we've been, you know, covering different instances. Looking at what's happening

here in Brussels, what is protocol, you know, when people are responding to this kind of thing?

WEISS: Well, clear the area, first of all. There'll be a manhunt underway, scanning CCTV footage. I mean, if the guy detonated some kind of

device in the station, presumably, he was picked up. They'll get a physical description of him.

As you mentioned, there are all these unconfirmed reports and rumors floating around social media, some of them attributed to Belgian news

outlets, that they might have been shots fired.

None of that can be confirmed at the moment, but, you know, if there is an active situation, it appears that it has been neutralized because the

Belgian are not in high panic mode.

BALDWIN: They're saying the situation, under control, right.

WEISS: Right. So it could well be the case that --

BALDWIN: Oh, actually, let me -- my executive producer just jump in my ear and saying, here we have. Belgian media is saying that the individual has

been neutralized --

WEISS: There you go.

BALDWIN: -- at the Brussels train station. There you have.

WEISS: Now, we don't know if that means he was shot and killed or he was wrestled to the ground and arrested.

BALDWIN: Situation under control is basically the bottom line.

WEISS: Right.

BALDWIN: We don't know.

WEISS: And if he's been neutralized and the situation is under control, then presumably Belgian authorities do not suspect that this was a, you

know, many-men endeavor. This was a one-man operation.

BALDWIN: Just, again, in the wake of Paris and London and then as you went back to Paris and Brussels, you know, you talked about the significance of

ISIS and the role in Belgium. But also potential for copycats?

WEISS: Potential for copycats, potential for just crazy people who want to saw chaos and harm. And you'll remember, after 9/11, all the people

calling in bomb scares and anthrax scares. Nothing to do with jihad, they thrived on the anarchy of the situation.

And, again, we saw yesterday in the U.K., an instance that, at first blush, might have seemed like an ISIS inspired attack, again, a vehicular

manslaughter plowing into a crowd. Except that, by all accounts, it appears to have been perpetrated by an anti-Muslim bigot who shouted,

according to "The Guardian" newspaper, "I want to kill all the Muslims" and may have been radicalized in a different way, i.e., turned into an

ultranationalist and a xenophobe.

And I know people give the media a lot of grief when they say, well, why don't you come right out and say, this is terrorism, and more specifically,

this is Islamic terrorism? Because the data doesn't always allow us to say that. You know, who wants to be reckless and stupid and get ahead of our

skis and claim something that, in 24 hours' time, might not be the case?

But, again, if you're asking my gut, in this instance, because it's Brussels, because it's a transportation hub, and because this is ground

zero for ISIS' most significant and well, you know, sort of stocked network of European jihadists, I'd be lying to you if I told you my spidey sense

didn't suggest --

BALDWIN: That's where it goes.


BALDWIN: If you are just joining us, we are getting news from the Belgian media. These are pictures out of Brussels, Belgium, just outside of the

one the big train stations in town.

That were, at least, reports of an explosion, having talked to eyewitnesses. He described hearing multiple explosions. We've seen the

fiery photo. And now, from the media there, that the individual, perhaps, responsible for this has been neutralized at this train station.

Anthony May is still with us -- oh, Erin McLaughlin is still with us.

And so, individual neutralized, Erin. Do we know what that means?

MCLAUGHLIN: Not at present, Brooke. Belgium Crisis Center just tweeting out that soldiers inside the station neutralized this individual and not

giving much more information as to why they neutralized him. We do know from eyewitnesses, though, that this incident was preceded by two small


So, again, that being tweeted by the Belgium Crisis Center. In terms of what they mean by "neutralized," unclear.

We also know from early eyewitness reports on Twitter that shots were fired. Not sure if they neutralized this individual by shooting. That,

again, is unclear, unconfirmed by authorities. But the situation does seem to be under control at the train station.

BALDWIN: Great. Erin, thank you.

Anthony May, same question for you, just from a retired ATF perspective, working scenes like this. When you hear "neutralized," what do you think?

MAY (via phone): They've taken the perpetrator out, either, well, in a gun battle. And that gunshot might go to suicide vest involved, so he didn't

take his own out.

[15:55:05] Typically, when we use that term, neutralized, it means that law enforcement has done their job and has taken the individual out.

BALDWIN: And just on the police response, I mean, it seemed to be incredibly quick. And just given the climate in Europe right now, do you,

you know, just have thoughts on that?

MAY (via phone): Well, I'm sure that what's happening all over Europe -- and this is not Belgium's first rodeo on this -- I'm sure they've gotten to

where their rapid response teams are ready to go at a moment's notice. And it sounds like that's happened here, to where they can gain control of what

is typically an uncontrollable event.

BALDWIN: OK. Again, according to Belgium media, the individual responsible for these explosions at this train station in Brussels has been

neutralized, reporting that the situation is under control. But still, obviously, for anyone trying to hop on a train at, you know, just about

10:00 at night in Brussels, in relatively the city center.

I'm talking to eyewitnesses reporting hearing one, perhaps two. We saw that fiery picture of the explosion, mid-explosion. Obviously, police have

the whole area cordoned off. No one's coming or going out of that train station for the foreseeable future.

I'm talking to Michael Weiss just about the climate in Europe.

You know, just with a couple of minutes to go here, here's the picture for you if you haven't seen it yet. On the right side of your screen, this is

from one of the eyewitnesses, the fire there. And, again, the individual neutralized.

WEISS: So, I mean, if it's one guy and you're looking at this explosion, which does not look all that forbidding. Although scary as it may be, it

didn't really succeed in killing people. And also, 10:00 at night, ISIS chooses targets when they know they're going to be packed.

BALDWIN: Maximized casualty.

WEISS: Right, middle of the day, rush hour. If I had to guess at this point, I might say this could be an amateur who was, you know -- the cliche

"lone wolf" needs to be retired, but let us just say, a single individual who might not quite have known what he was doing.

Possibly connected to a European network, possibly not. Possibly just wanting to write his name in the stars, as they say, and impress upon

whatever jihadi outfit he's pledging allegiance to.

But there's a few things that are off about this. Why aren't there other people involved? Why wasn't this a multi-man team?

You know, if it was a suicide bomber, why did the explosion happen inside the train station and then he was neutralized somewhere else? So did he

chicken out? Did he not detonate the vest or did he detonate it inside the train and then ran away?

These are the questions I'm asking, looking at this evidence.

BALDWIN: Paul Cruickshank, I understand you're joining us now, our CNN terror analyst. You know, your read on all of this in Brussels.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST (via phone): Hey, Brooke. Yes, I'm actually here in Brussels right now. Belgian authorities now saying

that, following some kind of explosion at the Central Station, that they had to neutralize one suspect.

The fire service here in Belgium also saying that the explosion did not create any victims. So some good news at this early stage in terms of the

idea that nobody seems to have been killed or injured in whatever this incident was at the Central Station, the Gare Centrale, in Brussels tonight

But I can tell you that there is significant concern about this, given the uptick in attacks throughout Europe in recent days during the Ramadan

period. But no word yet on motivation here, who could be behind this. Details are still coming in about what exactly happened just a little while

ago in one of Brussels main train stations.

BALDWIN: You are there in Brussels. I mean, you're feeling it in Europe. We talked a lot about what's happened in Paris and London. The climate is,

people are on edge.

CRUICKSHANK (via phone): They are on edge. And the public is on edge. And I can tell you that the security services and the police here in

Brussels are on edge as well.

In March of last year, there was a major ISIS terrorist attack in the city, the same cell that was responsible also for the Paris terrorist attacks.

Now, there has not been a major terrorist attack in Belgium since then. Part of that is down to a lot of hard work by the security services here in

the wake of that attack. They really went after the cell responsible for the attack, managed to arrest a lot of the people involved in that.

But there has been significant concern for some time that more might be coming, that there might be other terrorist cells here at present in the

capital as people start to come back from ISIS territory in Syria and Iraq.

Now, all that being said, this is very, very early stages. We don't yet have full details about what happened at the Central Station.


[15:59:58] CRUICKSHANK (via phone): We don't yet have full details in terms of it being an actual attack. They're still describing it --

BALDWIN: Right, we're working on getting them --

CRUICKSHANK (via phone): -- as an incident.

BALDWIN: I'm up against the wall, Paul. Thank you so much for calling in from Brussels. We're going to let Jake Tapper take over. The special live

coverage continues right now.