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Iran: 5 Killed In Damascus Attack, Including A Top Iranian Commander; Destruction At Al-Shifa Hospital After Israel's Two-Week Siege; SUV Rams Gate At FBI Office In Atlanta. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 01, 2024 - 15:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: At least five people are dead, including a top Iranian commander, after state media says an airstrike hit that country's consulate building in Syria. Iran's ambassador in Damascus is blaming Israel for the attack, saying their response will be decisive.

Plus, Gaza's largest medical facility completely destroyed. This as the U.S. and Israel hold crucial talks about an offensive plan for Rafah. U.S. officials say their goal is to convince Israel to forego that attack.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And sensitive personal information, a more than 73 million current and former AT&T customers stolen and then leaked on the dark web. What the company is doing to find out what happened and to keep its customers safe.

We're following these major developing stories and many more, all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SANCHEZ: We start with that breaking news out of Syria, where at least five people were killed in an Israeli airstrike on the Iranian consulate building in Damascus. That is according to Iran's ambassador to Syria. Among those reportedly killed, a senior

commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. The Israeli military right now is not commenting, but Iran's foreign minister is warning that his country preserves the right to take what he described as reciprocal measures.

Let's bring in CNN International Diplomatic Editor, Nic Robertson.

Nic, we're hearing condemnation from neighboring countries, including the United Arab Emirates. What else are you learning about the attack and now the reaction to it? Yes, we know that the death toll has now climbed to seven. We understand that two Syrian policemen who were positioned outside the consulate were also killed in the attack. This is a very significant attack because it hits a diplomatic building that is completely out of the range of the ordinary for Israel.

And I say that under advisement because Israel does have and has targeted Iranian targets inside - and IRGC targets inside Syria and inside Damascus in the past. They

took out a senior IRGC, Iranian senior advisor to the IRGC on Christmas day. Although again, they never accepted responsibility for it, but over time it became more clear that all fingers pointed to them. And that appears to be the case and why we're hearing the condemnation coming so quickly from countries like the UAE.

The Iranian ambassador who was in the building next door, who was unharmed by the way, his family was unharmed, said that he saw Israeli jets, F-35 fighter planes fire six missiles at the consulate. And the other thing that really takes up the tensions here is that the senior IRGC commander who was killed here, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zaidi is a very experienced veteran of the IRGC. He's very senior. He was a former commander of the land forces, former commander of the air force. He is the most senior IRGC figure who has been killed since the United States killed Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Iraq.

He was a Quds Force commander, a very senior. Again, the most senior commander at the time in Iran who was killed in the beginning of 2020, January the 2nd, I think. So back then, Iran responded on U.S. targets in Iraq.

How will they respond this time? It was a very strong response with cruise missiles last time. And how will they respond this time? It isn't clear, but they're saying it will be decisive.

SANCHEZ: Yes. We'll have to watch for what Iran might have in store now.

Nic Robertson from London, thank you so much. Brianna?

KEILAR: Let's bring in CNN Senior White House Correspondent, Kayla Tausche.

Kayla, what is the administration saying about this attack in Syria?


KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far, Brianna, both the White House and the State Department were asked

about that attack in oncamera briefings that were held earlier today. Both Karine Jean-Pierre, the spokesperson here at the White House, and Matt Miller, the spokesperson at the State Department, declining to engage on the topic, saying they were aware of reports but could not comment on the target or the responsible party behind the attack.

But, of course, we know the administration has been working for months to try to keep this conflict from escalating, from widening in the region. And as Nic just pointed out, this would be a significant departure from that if that were to play out that way.

KEILAR: And Kayla, the White House goal all along has really been to contain this conflict to prevent escalation to that end. Today, top Biden officials tried to talk Israel out of invading Rafah. What can you tell us?

TAUSCHE: Well, we know that that meeting lasted for several hours. It was held virtually with a delegation that was supposed to come to Washington last week, choosing instead to do this meeting virtually. But a U.S. official tells me that it was really seen as a continuation of conversations that have taken place on this topic over the course of several weeks. And that the fact that top Israeli officials were willing to continue to engage on this topic and on the U.S.'s expressed desire for any military operation on or near Rafah to be conducted in what this official tells me is a targeted manner, that they see that as a positive development, even though no breakthrough is expected today.

That being said, these meetings are expected to continue for coming days and weeks. And this official tells me that it's still not yet clear what top Israeli officials have decided on how they will proceed here.

KEILAR: All right. Kayla Tausche, live at the White House. Thank you for that report. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Also today in the Middle East, a two-week Israeli raid of al- Shifa hospital in Gaza has come to a close and we're learning about a steep death toll. Officials in Gaza have confirmed that some 300 bodies were left behind from the facility as Israeli troops withdrew. The Israeli military says they killed more than 200 militants at that site, though CNN cannot independently confirm those figures.

CNN's Melissa Bell is live for us in Jerusalem. Melissa, this was not the first Israeli operation inside al-Shifa hospital. Obviously, we're learning more about the results of this latest one. Tell us about it.


In fact, this was the IDF needing to go back to the al-Shifa hospital complex, which was the biggest before the war began, to take on the Hamas terrorists that they believed had regrouped there after they believed that operations in northern Gaza had been drawn to a close.

Of course, the pictures that we're getting there are pretty devastating. What is left of the al-Shifa hospital complex is where Palestinian rescue services have been trying to get back to try and see what bodies they can recover and what civilians they can still help. But then, of course, those images come also nearly six months into this war and have been at the heart of a lot of these protests, a lot of this anger that we've seen here on the streets of Jerusalem today, which I'm just going to show you what's left of the protests day two that we saw earlier today.

These tents that have been parked outside the Knesset, you can see there the faces and the names of some of the more than 130 hostages still in the hands of Hamas. They are very much at the heart of the anger that's been expressed here outside the Knesset, but also the fate we've been hearing from many people here of the Palestinian civilians.

In fact, one of the things that was interesting today on day two of these protests was the political variety of the people who came here to protest. There were people from the left, there were people who were very supportive of this war when it began and who simply feel that nearly six months on, not only has it failed in its stated objective of bringing the hostages back, but it has cost Israel too much. Have a listen to what former - a former deputy head of the IDF had to tell us a while ago here at this protest.


YAIR GOLAN, FORMER DEPUTY HEAD OF IDF: The IDF fight well, very well, but no true goals, not true alternative, no political initiative that will

take the military achievements and make something positive out of it, and no regional thinking and no international thinking concerning the destiny of Israel and how to secure Israel even better due to the achievements of the military.


BELL: What we heard today from a variety of protesters who spoke to us was a great deal of frustration at the government, at the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu and these growing calls that we've had for elections to be held in order that he go, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Melissa Bell live for us in Jerusalem, thank you so much.


KEILAR: We're following some breaking news out of Atlanta right now where an SUV is rammed into the front gate of the FBI offices there.

Let's get straight to CNN's Ryan Young for the very latest. Ryan?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: (Inaudible) the story that we're still following right now ...

KEILAR: All right. Actually, we're going to get the very ...

YOUNG: ... from the FBI officials on the ground.

KEILAR: Actually, Ryan, go ahead with your report. Can you tell us what you know?

YOUNG: Yes, I can. I've talked to FBI officials on the ground. They tell me that a car - that SUV tried to ram the gate several times to gain entry to the FBI office. There's an active gate system there. It popped up. It stopped that car from being able to get in.

Other FBI agents were able to respond and grab the man and take him into custody. We're now told he's being taken to a hospital for evaluation, but this is a very active and ongoing situation. No agents were hurt at this time.

KEILAR: All right. No agents hurt at this time, but we're going to continue to follow this story. Obviously, very important.

Ryan Young, thank you.

SANCHEZ: We're going to take a quick break, gather ourselves - gather the latest information on the ground in Atlanta as we've just learned that a man has been taken into custody following the ramming of an entry point at the FBI headquarters there. We'll be right back in just moments.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.

SANCHEZ: We're tracking breaking news into CNN NEWS CENTRAL this afternoon. A man has been arrested after attempting to ram his vehicle into a gate

at the FBI headquarters in Atlanta. We've learned that that individual has been taken into custody. The vehicle is currently being cleared by a bomb squad as we take a look at pictures moments ago from CNN affiliate WXIA.

CNN's Evan Perez is joining us now with some new details about exactly what happened.

Evan, walk us through what you've learned.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, what we know is that the - this person rammed that car into that gate, sort of the

entryway to the FBI field office there in Atlanta. And he got out, tried to enter the - again, the complex, and was arrested immediately by the FBI security people who screen anybody who tries to go into that area.

Now, what we're told is that he didn't make any statements or any threats or anything like that, appeared to be - just trying to get into the facility and it's not clear exactly why, what prompted this action. But obviously, as you pointed out, when something like this happens, they want to make sure what threat remains from this. They're checking the vehicle to make sure that there are no additional threats. They don't believe that there's anything else related to this.

But obviously, that's one of the big concerns, obviously, when something like this happens, what exactly drove this person to do this. And so that's now under investigation. He's now in the custody of the local authorities there. The FBI says that there's no additional threats that they believe that this event poses. Boris?

KEILAR: And Evan, the FBI has been concerned about a rise in threats. What can you tell us?

PEREZ: Right. I mean, look, there's been an increase in threats against public officials across this country, just some of it related to the political environment that we're in. But you remember in 2022, there was a man who went to the field office - the FBI field office in Cincinnati and opened fire. He ended up getting shot and killed later on by police some hours later outside of Cincinnati near Columbus.

And so that's the kind of environment that we are in. And we've seen in the wake of the search of Mar-a-Lago, again, the FBI came under tremendous amount of threats around the country. We've seen them remove the names of FBI agents, field agents who are connected to specific cases in part because these people then get threats to their homes, to their families and so on.

So this is an extraordinary period that we're all living through and you see it manifesting itself in the sort of overall threat that we have. And so the FBI at this point, though, we don't know that this event that happened today in Atlanta has anything to do with any of the larger threats that we see going on at public officials around the country, but that's the sort of the overall environment that we are now living with Brianna and Boris.

KEILAR: Yes. We don't know. We have to be very clear about that, Evan. We do know this is happening as the FBI has become increasingly politicized though, right?

PEREZ: Right. They've been under political attacks and that's - the accusation is that the FBI is politicized. If you talk to Chris Wray, the FBI director, you talk to agents, they say they're going around, they're going about doing their work. They don't really pay attention to politics. And so the attacks that they get from politicians and from some figures in the media, it doesn't have to do anything with their work. But obviously that's the political environment that I talked about.

And while you saw that event that happened in 2022, it really, I think, it rose - it really garnered a lot of concern for FBI people around the country if that's the kind of thing that they have to deal with.

Now, we've also, to be clear, you've also seen IRS offices get attacked around the country.


You've seen this around the country in various places. So it's not just the FBI, it's just the larger political environment, I guess, that we're in.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Evan, please stand by. We understand the FBI Atlanta spokeswoman, Jenna Sellitto, put out a statement essentially saying that the suspect has not been named, confirming those details that he ran out of the vehicle after it rammed into that gate.

We did get an aerial view moments ago of what appears to be investigators combing through the car. And what you're looking at now are live images from the scene. It appears to be a rustcolored Buick of some kind, a mid-sized SUV.

And as we were looking at the aerial footage, Ryan Young, if you're still with us, Ryan, we saw a number of items that had been scattered on the floor. And from what it looks like in the back of the car, there appears to be a box. There was a cardboard box in the ground near the car as well, what appeared to be a briefcase and a cooler as well.

Now, it's unclear, specifically, if those items were in the car or not, but what can you tell us about the work that's being done right now by investigators on this vehicle?

YOUNG: Well, Boris, what we were told is they were definitely taking that posture by using the bomb team to see if there were any threats inside that vehicle. They wanted to make sure they took that defensive posture first so they could go through that car to make sure everyone in that area is safe. You see, it's an office park area.

From what we're told, the suspect who has been arrested and taken to a local area hospital we're told to be evaluated in some sense. We're not sure if they suffered any injuries or anything like that. But what we're told is that person did not have any weapons on them. After they got out of the car, obviously, they tried to make entry into that office park area.

You can see just from the video here how the ram system deployed itself, stopping that car from being able to make it through that barrier. Not sure if the suspect tried to back it up and ram it in again, but that system is there to deploy itself to make sure no car can follow another car coming into that secure area.

Some other FBI agents who were in the area were able to stop the man. From sources on the ground, they did say they heard some people yelling in the background. So not sure if that was the command to the suspect to get down before he was taken under arrest.

From there, we're told after he's at the hospital, he will be transferred over to the DeKalb County Police Department. That's where he will be then booked, probably at the DeKalb Sheriff's Department, and then the mugshot would come from there.

Now, anybody who knows anything about evaluations knows it takes some time at the hospital before that person can be booked and turned over. The good news here is we know that no one was injured. Who was an FBI agent or anyone working at an office park during all this?

They then took that bomb squad. You see the heavy armored vehicles that were moved into place. You can see their bracket both in. So obviously they could pin that car in if they had to. And they didn't find anything weapons-wise because you can see now everyone getting closer and closer to that car. So it seems like the threat level is obviously at a lot lower pace as you can see the pictures being taken and the agents going through that car piece by piece.

But obviously this is a shock. This is in an office park. It's near the highway. People know this area pretty well here in Atlanta, Georgia. But this came right after noontime when this car tried to accelerate, get through that gate barrier, and was stopped by that RAM system. And then the suspect was taken into custody.

So obviously we're paying attention to all the details here. And hopefully we've asked to see if they - they clearly know who the suspect is at this point, but we want to know if they've had any interactions with police or the FBI in the last few months or have there been any online warnings to something like this happening that happened today, guys?

SANCHEZ: One of many important unanswered questions.

Ryan, please stand by.

Really fascinating that there were apparently no weapons on this person. They made no statements or threats as they were being arrested.

Please stay with CNN. We're going to take a quick break and come back with the very latest out of Atlanta where an SUV has rammed the gate at the FBI office there. We'll be right back.



KEILAR: All right. We're following breaking news out of Atlanta, where an individual had rammed a vehicle into the gate of the field office of the FBI there in an attempt to gain entry this afternoon. We know at this point that bomb technicians have cleared the vehicle that rammed that gate, and the suspect is in police custody with the DeKalb County Police.

Let's get now to Evan Perez for the very latest on what we know, we can see in these pictures coming to us. We see a vehicle that has gone through the gate, stopped, obviously, by that sort of security plate for the gate that comes down. But tell us what you know, Evan.

PEREZ: Well, Brianna, at this point, this person is now in custody of the police, but he's also being evaluated at the hospital, at the hospital there. I think Ryan Young said it's - in DeKalb County. And so that's the expectation now there. That evaluation is going to take some time. It will include a mental health evaluation.

Again, there's a lot that is unexplained about this incident at this point. This person drove up to that - what is an employee entrance for that complex where the FBI building is or where the FBI field office is located, and tried to gain entry.


They came out of the vehicle and tried to walk in to the complex.