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Horrific Attacks On People Of Faith; Cancer Diagnosis For Rep. John Lewis; Canes For Veterans; 2020 Presidential Race; Severe Weather; U.S. Strikes Iranian-Backed Militias; Firefighter Killed Battling Raging Fire In Australia; Londoners Will Ring In 2020 With Iconic Sound; Stellar Year For Stocks; No Vaccinations, No School; Death Toll Rises In Somalia Suicide Bombing; Four Plane Crashes Across U.S.; Texas Veteran Turns Christmas Tree Into Canes. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 30, 2019 - 04:00   ET



LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN ANCHOR: Horrific attacks on people of faith. Two people shot to death at a Texas church. Jews targeted against stabbed at a Hanukkah Party. Larger massacres narrowly averted in both cases.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A civil rights icon faces the battle of a lifetime. Congressman John Lewis has pancreatic cancer.

SANTIAGO: Before you set away those Christmas trees. We're going to tell you what one Texas man is doing with leftover trees to help needy veterans. Welcome to our viewers in United States and around the world. This is early Start. I'm Leyla Santiago.

ROMANS: Nice to see you here this holiday week. I'm Christine Romans. It is Monday, December 30th. It is 4:00 a.m. in New York. And we are now just folks, five weeks to the Iowa caucuses. But we begin here with a vitriolic rise in Anti-Semitism coming to a violent climax during Hanukkah. Five members of the Jewish communities stabbed in a holiday celebration in New York suburb of Muncie. Witnesses say the attacker struck at the rabbi's home.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw him walking in by the door. I asked who is coming in in the middle of the night with an umbrella. While I was saying that, he pulled it out from the thing. And he started to run into the big room, which is on the left side. And I throw him tables and chairs that he should get out of here. I ran into the other room because I tried to save my life. I saw him running down this way. So, I ran out. And two came along with me. They're still hysterical.


ROMANS: The stabbings capped off weeks of recent violence against Jews in and around New York City, including an attack at a Jersey City kosher market earlier this month. New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo says there had been 13 anti-Semitic attacks in New York this month alone.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We have to change the laws to call this what it is. This is terrorism. It is domestic terrorism.

There is an American cancer, it's a spreading of hate, but what is terrorism? It is a hate-motivated act to instill fear, based on race, color, creed, with the intent to murder. And that's what this was.


SANTIAGO: now, pay attention to your top of your screen there, the suspect seen running away after the attack was found in New York City. Grafton Thomas, he's car tag was captured by a license plate reader on the George Washington Bridge about an hour after that attack. It was two officers who blocked the car and arrested Thomas. He's pleaded not guilty. He did that yesterday. His attorney and his pastor say that he has a long history of mental illness.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Grafton is not a terrorist. He is a man who has mental illness in America. And the systems that be, have not serve him well.


ROMANS: Less than 24 hours after the stabbings, Hanukkah celebrations were under way where it took place. The Consul General of Israel in New York, made a worrisome observation during the eight-day holiday.


DANI DAYAN, CONSUL GENERAL OF ISRAEL: In this Hanukkah, we suffered more anti-Semitic incidents in the countries that we live, and that it's impossible to bear. What we saw now, has to be the last time.


SANTIAGO: So, how do make it the last time that he's talking about? New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined new steps to protect New York City's Jewish community. They include a greater police presence in heavily Jewish areas of Brooklyn and new education programs in schools.


BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK CITY MAYOR, 2020 U.S. DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to reach our young people more effectively. This is the crux of some of what we're seeing right now. Young people, who somehow, have come to assume that bias is acceptable. We will not let that happen in New York City.


SANTIAGO: Two of the victims stabbed in Muncie have now been released from the hospital. The anti-defamation league reports that anti- Semitic incidents nearly doubled between 2015 and 2018.

ROMANS: A man shot and killed two worshipers in a church service in a Fort Worth suburb, Sunday, before two members of the church security team shot and killed the gunman. The FBI describes the shooter as relatively transient with roots in the area. Says, he had been arrested multiple times but was not in a kind of -- on any kind of watch list.


The attack was caught on the west freeway church of Christ live stream. You know, we've blurred some parts, we want to warn you, this video you are about to see the live stream from inside the church is quite disturbing. And as you see, near the top of the screen, the whole attack unfolded in six seconds.




SANTIAGO: That is tough to watch. The gunman and one of the victims died on the way to the hospital. The second victim flat lined was revive but then later died. Despite the loss of life, officials praised heroic church members.


JEOFF WILLIAMS, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: It cannot be overstated how important it is that everyone recognized what took place here today. The citizens who are inside that church, undoubtedly, saved 242 other parishioners.

BRITT FARMER, SENIOR MINISTER, WEST FREEWAY CHURCH OF CHRIST: We lost two great men today. But it could have been a lot worse.


ROMANS: The senior minister says the church will meet tonight to continue the service that was interrupted by the shooting. Texas recently changed its gun laws in response to the 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting, there were 26 people dead. The state now permits licensed handgun owners to legally carry weapons into places of worship.

SANTIAGO: Civil rights icon and Georgia Congressman John Lewis has been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. The 79-year-old Democrats said in a statement that the cancer was found during a routine medical visit. And he writes this -- he says, I have been in some kind of fight for freedom, equality, basic human rights, for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now. He says, he's clear-eyed about the prognosis but that recent advances have made this thank you of cancer treatable. Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. The 17- term Congressman vows to continue his work while undergoing treatment in Washington.

ROMANS: All right. We're inching closer to the Iowa caucuses, now, only 35 days away. Joe Biden's focus is split between the campaign and President Trump's impeachment. He was forced to clarify a remark saying he would not testify in a Senate impeachment trial. Now he says, while there's no legal basis for him to be subpoenaed, he would comply.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, 2020 U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would, in fact, abide by whatever was legally required of me. I always have. This is a trial that relates to Donald Trump's behavior. Did he violate the constitution? Pure and simple. And I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that stays the focus. Not any else.


SANTIAGO: Let's go to Bernie Sanders, now. The Senator has been quietly climbing in the polls. He was confronted twice this weekend by people in the health care industry. And they are worried. They are worried about losing their job under Medicare for all, which would eliminate private insurance.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I work for an insurance company. I have in my whole life. That's what I know. I'm 58 years-old. Help me. You're going to take away my job. I believe in you. I think this is --

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I-VT), U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to take away your job.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need a new job.

SANDERS: Yes. And we will get you.


ROMANS: Mayor Pete Buttigieg knocked Joe Biden for voting in favor of the Iraq war in 2002. Biden later became a local critic of the conflict and admits his vote was bad judgment. But Buttigieg, who was also a veteran, remains troubled.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-SOUTH BEND-IN) 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I certainly respect the vice president. But this is an example of why years in Washington is not always the same thing as judgment. He supported the worst foreign policy decision made by the United States in my lifetime, which was the decision to invade Iraq.


SANTIAGO: Now, to Senator Warren. Where in an e-mail to supporters, the campaign said it only raised $17 million so far in the fourth quarter. That's down 30 percent from the big haul Warren brought in last quarter.

In an ugly end in store for the weather in 2019. More than 25 million people under winter weather alerts across the northern plains, Midwest and northeast. The weather service, warning of severe travel disruptions. That's not nice to hear. Foul weather causing major problems over the weekend. Man, every time I see that video. Dense fog leading to a multivehicle pileup in Texas, including the dramatic video that you just saw of an 18-wheeler smashing right through that scene.

ROMANS: Wow. Then, there was this school bus sliding down an icy road in Minnesota. Looks like slow-motion. It is not. Chaos on the roads in North Dakota, with Interstate 29 closed from the South Dakota state line all the way up to Canada. And I-94 shut down from Fargo to Bismarck. Parts of the Midwest and northeast, especially near the Great Lakes, could see up to a foot of additional snow. The northeast could also see more freezing rain, ice and sleet. Meteorologist, Ivan Cabrera has the latest for us.



IVAN CABRERA, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. We have a mess on our hands. We have the ice storm across the northeast that is developing into a huge event. And then we have a blizzard warning for parts of Dakota. There, along with the winter storm warnings it's all snow because it's all cold, right. It will be accumulating snowfall. But that we can handle.

This is a whole different problem. See the purple in eastern New York and parts of central and western Massachusetts, northwestern Connecticut, all under an ice storm warning, for the potential, half an inch, three-quarters of an inch of ice. That is the kind of weight that you are going to be bring down power lines all over the place here. And any untreated surfaces are going to be a mess and basically impossible to travel through, as we head through the next several hours and really through the remainder of today.

Further north, it is snow. But we do have this color you see here, that purple, the radar picking up on, well, it's falling as rain. The surface temperatures are below freezing. And so everything that falls is going to be caking on, on contact here. There's a storm that continues moving east. And even by early Tuesday morning, we still deal with snow, heavy rain and also gusty winds, as well. Guys?


ROMANS: All right. Ivan, thanks for that.

SANTIAGO: Iraq's Prime Minister, condemning the U.S. for a violation of sovereignty, after air strikes targeted Iranian-backed militias. Why the U.S. says that was necessary.


SANTIAGO: U.S. Forces conduct air strikes in Iraq and Syria, targeting five facilities, the Pentagon says, are tied to an Iranian- backed militia, that group is blame for a series of attacks on military facilities, housing American forces. Top National Security officials briefed President Trump yesterday. Defense Secretary, Mark Esper says more action is possible. And then there's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who says Iran forced the U.S. military's hand. CNN's Arwa Damon is --



MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: This has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks. This wasn't the first set of attacks against this particular Iraqi facility and others. Put American lives at risk. And today, what we did is take a decisive response. We will not stand for the Islamic republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy.


SANTIAGO: All right. So, let's bring in CNN's Arwa Damon, she is live in Istanbul. Arwa, I know a lot of the talk now is concern over potential escalation here.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of concern over that, Leyla. And if history is anything to look at, very valid concerns, as well. Now the Pentagon has said, that it was targeting command and control centers and weapons depots, belonging to the Iranian-backed Shia militia known as Qata Hezbollah.

Now, the U.S. in the past has been pushed very close to retaliating against Iran, especially after, as you'll remember, those attacks against oil tankers that took place in the Persian Gulf over the summer. And then, the Iranians shooting down a U.S. drone that they said violated their airspace. But this particular strike in Iraq is raising a lot of concern and generating a lot of anger.

The militia itself has said that its forces need to begin to ready themselves for a new operation to push out America, the enemy, from Iraq. And the Iraqi government itself is quite incensed. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper had called Iraq's caretaker Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi about half an hour before the strikes were due to take place.

The Prime Minister asked the U.S. not to go ahead. Of course, as we know, they did. And now, the Prime Minister is saying that this was a serious violation of Iraq sovereignty and could risk further escalation.

SANTIAGO: Arwa Damon, live in Syria. Thanks so much, Arwa.

ROMANS: To Australia now, fire conditions are deteriorating in the state of New South Wales. A volunteer firefighter died overnight and two others were burned, battling raging fires. New South Wales includes Sydney, the area around the city there has been hit very hard. And now, Australian officials are pushing ahead with Sydney's New Year's Eve fireworks display, that's despite a petition calling for the event to be scrapped. The quarter million people who signed that petition want the money instead put towards firefighting efforts. Australia's capital Canberra, has canceled it's fireworks over fire fears.

SANTIAGO: In London, they will ring in the New Year literally with this iconic sound. Listen.




SANTIAGO: So, it will be the first time that Big Ben has chimed to usher in the New Year, since restorations began a few years ago, 2017. Its new face was revealed earlier this year. It last tolled on Remembrance Day, November 11th. And it's now being tested in the run- up to New Year's Eve. Restoration expected to be completely finished in 2021.

ROMANS: All right. It has been a remarkable year on Wall Street. Stocks hit record highs again, Friday. All three major averages are on track to end the year with gains of more than 20 percent. Quite a difference from a year ago. Remember 2018, when it ended with the worst December since the great recession? Great depression, rather.

Stocks have rebounded nicely, but not without volatility and uncertainty. The trade war with China has been the biggest driver for investors. Stocks moved on every trade headline. But relief came with news of a symbolic phase one deal. Analysts say if the deal isn't signed next month, optimism could fade. Three (inaudible) cuts from the Federal Reserve also helps stocks this year. But the manufacturing sector was hit hard by all that trade uncertainty.

The consumers, the backbone of the economy, they remain strong. For 2020, there are more potential trade war fronts. President Trump has threatened French wine and cheese and European cars. But certainly at least for now, the big trade battle with China, de-escalation there. And that's really sort of the important note we're ending this year on.

SANTIAGO: You always have a way of breaking things down so well. I can understand. Thank you so much, Christine.

A major American school district, drawing the line on kids who aren't vaccinated. We'll tell you where.



ROMANS: In Somalia, at least 80 people were killed when a suicide car bomb detonated at a busy intersection outside of Mogadishu. More than 150 other people were injured in that attack. Somalia's president calls the bombing a heinous act of terror. The country is now taking retaliatory action. CNN Faria Sevenzo, live from Nairobi, Kenya with more. This was a busy rush hour happening there.

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Christine. It happened in a busy checkpoint coming out from the south of the country. And of course, as you just mentioned, 80 people have lost their lives. Now, Somali government spokesperson, Mr. Ismael Mukhtar Omar told CNN on Sunday, that in conjunction with the U.S./Africa command, they had carried out air strikes on this militants. Remember, there's only one terror group operating in this region, and they are called al Shabaab. They are affiliated to Al Qaeda.

Now, with these strikes, we gather as well from the derogative operations of U.S./Africa command, U.S. Army major General, William Gaylor, he say that they initial assessments concluded that two terrorists were killed and two vehicles destroyed in (inaudible), as well as one air strike that killed two terrorists in Khalil.

Now, of course, the scourge of al Shabaab's terrorism, even though they haven't claim responsibility, has been all through this region. Remember, Christine, January 15th of 2019, they attacked a hotel here. Remember, too, the main people were suffering from the scourge of al Shabaab terrorism, are Somalis themselves. Saturday's car or truck bomb went off at a checkpoint very near (inaudible) University.

So, young kids, students, are the ones that are being targeted. But of course, this retaliatory air strikes means at least for now, the Somalis can breathe a little easier. But of course, the scourge al Shabaab hasn't quite gone away, Christine.

ROMANS: Just awful, Faria. Thank you so much for that for us from Nairobi.

SANTIAGO: Four plane crashes across the U.S. this weekend, killed six people and hurt at least eight others.


In Louisiana, a plane headed to Atlanta for a college football play- off game crashed near Lafayette regional airport. The NTSB says no distress call was made. Five people there lost their lives, including this woman, 30-year-old Carley Ann McCord. She was a sports reporter with WDSU television, that's in New Orleans. And she's also the daughter-in-law of LSU offensive coordinator, Steve Ensminger. Ensminger signed towards Sports illustrated that he had been planning to drive his wife to Atlanta but he couldn't get off work.


ED ORGERON, LSU HEAD COACH: Me and my wife and a couple, and we were friends with them. So, we've seen her around all the time. Outstanding young lady with a bright future. It's a shame that happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: In Maryland, one person died Sunday after a small plane hit a

House and damaged the one next to it. No one was inside at the time. In North Carolina, four people were hurt when a small plane crashed in a parking lot across from the Ashland regional airport. In Long Island, only the pilot was onboard, when he's aircraft crash into a wooded area as he made his final approach to republic airport. All four crashes are being investigated.

SANTIAGO: Seattle public schools will be sending students home if they have not been vaccinated by January 8th. The district says more than 2,000 students do not have up-to-date proof of vaccination. And any absences by unvaccinated students will be recorded as unexcused. The system is offering free immunization clinics today and Friday. Washington State lawmakers recently ended exceptions for families with personal or philosophical objections to vaccinations.

ROMANS: A Texas man is turning hundreds of Christmas tree into canes for fellow disabled veterans. Jamie Lewis started the Central Texas branch of the group Canes for veterans in 2016. He says, it keeps him from sitting home all day feeling sorry for himself.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole process, it's just done off donations. I make the canes myself. Everything is done out of pocket.


ROMANS: Willis has made and shipped about 200 canes so far. He's asking for community donations of Christmas trees stripped of their limbs. He says he also needs sandpaper and woodworking tools.

SANTIAGO: He says it takes him one day to make one, package it and ship it out. So, he's moving. He's getting it done there.

ROMANS: That's something.

SANTIAGO: Well, Jews in New York, Christians in Texas. Both targeted this weekend in violent attacks, part of a rising tide of hate in America.