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United States Drone Takes Out Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan; Officials: Pelosi Expected To Visit Taiwan During Asia Trip; Extreme Weather in the U.S.; Political Crisis in Iraq; 37 Dead in Kentucky Floods; 2 Found Dead in California Fire; January 6 Investigation. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired August 02, 2022 - 02:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (on camera): Hello, and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM, and I'm Rosemary Church.

CHURCH (voice-over): Just ahead, The FBI is most wanted al-Qaeda leader, the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks killed by an American drone strike in Afghanistan. How the US tracked him down and pulled off the targeted hit?

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi now expected to travel to Taiwan, riling up the already choppy geopolitical waters in Asia.

And the first ship to leave Ukraine after a month-long blockade, providing grains of Hope amid a global food shortage.


CHURCH (on camera): Thanks for being with us.

Well, U.S. President Joe Biden is claiming a major win in the war on terror after a drone strike killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. It happens Sunday morning, local time in Kabul, Afghanistan, after months of surveillance and planning.

A U.S. drone fired two Hellfire missiles hitting the balcony of al- Zawahiri's safe house.

A U.S. officials says senior Taliban leaders knew al-Zawahiri was sheltering at that safe house, and even tried to conceal his presence after the strike.

Al-Zawahiri took over as leader of al Qaeda after U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. He was heavily involved in planning the 9/11 terror attacks as well as the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. President Biden was first briefed on al-Zawahiri's location in April, and spent months with Cabinet members and advisors planning the strike.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You make it clear again tonight that no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out.


CHURCH: Now, from CNN, Nick Paton Walsh reporting from New York.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: A startling development, frankly, both for the Taliban presence in Afghanistan and for the Biden administration, after the abject humiliation of last year's departure from Kabul, after America's longest war.

WALSH (voice-over): Startling, frankly, that he could be found on a balcony, in a safe house, targeted quite so precisely despite all the fears resonating about how limited America's intelligence gathering capabilities could be without boots on the ground.

Still, they found frankly, the world's most wanted man, and took them out with two Hellfire missiles, many urgent questions for the Taliban here.

Senior counterterrorism analysts, senior administration officials saying frankly that you don't get some leads al-Zawahiri hiding. In that part of Kabul, a very nice area without some acquiescence from the Taliban.

Fingers pointed towards the Haqqani Network, branch of the Taliban government, they've long been accused of in association with al-Qaeda. But this particular strike suggests the planning behind it.

WALSH (on camera): That's Zawahiri may have been there for a number of months as family also present in that house.

And the urgent question it faces for the Taliban clearly is they have promised that no foreign fighters or al-Qaeda would be in Afghanistan. Here, we have the most senior member there.

Of how did he get caught?

WALSH (voice-over): Well, there are suggestions by an analyst I spoke to that this may be on the path of complacency, perhaps by his hosts, certainly, by Zawahiri himself.

His more recent messages, this analyst told me suggested a man perhaps more relaxed, he talks about more recent events. He perhaps maybe had dropped his guard a little and that may have enabled the U.S. to find him there. WALSH (on camera): And there are, of course questions too about the future of al-Qaeda. There were fears that it would be beginning to rebuild using perhaps Afghanistan as a haven again. Remember, that's why the U.S. went in after 9/11. And there were fears that al-Qaeda will be able to reconstitute in that same way.

Who may take Zawahiri's place? He was thought to be involved in operations still of al-Qaeda and there's a man called Saif al-Adel, the number two, currently, who the U.N. has said is, in fact in Iran.


A question urgently for Iran too, do they continue? If they accept, this is the case, to harbor the man who is now effectively the leader of al-Qaeda, or does Saif al-Adel have to cross the border into Afghanistan?

These are all urgent questions for the future of al Qaeda, a group which had sort of slightly slipped from the headlines after ISIS took more attention in the last decade or so. But are clearly an urgent concern.

But it's important to remember that despite the departure in the chaos of August last year, the United States intelligence agencies were still able to find this man without necessarily a large presence on the ground and take out a pinpointed airstrike like this, killing him. Quite a remarkable feat, frankly.

Important not to lose sight of that and all the questions that elsewhere surround this particular killing.

Nick Payton Walsh, CNN, New York.

CHURCH: Joining me now from Los Angeles, CNN, law enforcement contributor and retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent Steve Moore. Thank you so much for joining us.

STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST (on camera): Thank you, Rosemary.

CHURCH: So, Steve, you headed up al-Qaeda investigations for the L.A. FBI in 2002, and led the FBI scored responsible for terrorism investigations the following year in 2003.

So, how significant is this moment, the targeted killing of al Qaeda leader, Ayman al Zawahiri in a drone strike on the balcony of a Kabul safe house?

MOORE: Well, it has -- it has different values along a different -- along a continuum. As far as public relations, it's huge. As far as a message to al-Qaeda, it's immense.

I mean, 2001, when we lost the World trade -- World trade towers, they were telling us that they could hit us wherever we were. Well, now, we're telling them that there's no place safe for you. And so, that's very important to --- a message to give. But, as far as well -- where it's going to affect al-Qaeda, whether it's going to destabilize them. It's hard to tell. And even if -- even when you kill al-Zawahiri, somebody is going to come in and take his place, hopefully, somebody who is less, less powerful, less connected, and will garner less respect from the people they have to work with.

CHURCH: So, Steve, how was the U.S. able to target al-Zawahiri for so many months, and then kill him when the U.S. had no clear military presence in Afghanistan on the ground?

MOORE: Yes, I'm, impressed with this. These kinds of -- these kinds of operations are immensely difficult if you don't have a presence there. I think what this says is that the CIA's intelligence capabilities in that area of the world have not diminished significantly.

I think what surprises me about this, besides the strength of the intelligence there was that we knew where he was for months. That's scary for me as an FBI guy, because I want to go in and do what we're going to do immediately. But I understand their position. You don't want to kill family, you want to decide, do we want to go in and get him possibly capture him? Or do you want the drone strike? And so all of these things take a lot of time to decide.

CHURCH: So, fairly confident that he was going to stay there for a number of months, so they could take their time over there.

So, President Biden said in his address Monday night that we're all safer as a result of the killing of al-Zawahiri. But what about the possibility of retaliation for the killing? How big a threat could that pose?

MOORE: Well, it could pose somewhat of a threat, but I think it's regional. I think it's not going to pose an existential threat to anybody here in the United States. But Americans overseas, as always, you are possibly a target over there.

So, yes, they could retaliate. I think what happens though, is after they've lost their leader for a while, they're just -- they're confused. They don't know what to do, because Zawahiri would be the guy saying, this is how we're going to retaliate.

Now, a new guy has to come in, al-Adel. And we don't know if he is a powerful leader, a strong leader, or if the al Qaeda various factions will follow him.

So, it's possible that this could have been a good destabilization mood -- move to where they really don't have the organization to come up with an attack.


CHURCH: And Steve, why do you think that al-Zawahiri let his guard down to this extent, standing unprotected on the balcony of this so- called safe house in Kabul?

MOORE: I think he felt that he was being protected by the Taliban. That's my -- that's my belief. And he felt like we -- some of us might have felt that the Americans don't have a strong intelligence network left in Afghanistan.

Maybe he was listening to people who were not telling him the truth. I mean, we see that in Russia right now. The president is acting on people who won't tell him the hard news.

And maybe, Zawahiri had, yes, men around him saying, yes, you're very, very safe.

CHURCH: Yes, that can prove deadly in the end (INAUDIBLE) as we just saw.

Steve Moore, thank you so much for your analysis. We appreciate it.

MOORE: Thank you.

CHURCH: Well, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now in Malaysia, marking the second stop on her trip to Asia. Her arrival there comes as tensions flare over another possible visit. U.S. and Taiwanese officials say Pelosi is expected to travel to Taiwan, a stop that's already sparking strong rhetoric from China.

CNN's Will Ripley has more.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The latest fiery threats from Beijing reaching a fever pitch. Chinese military showing off its tactical might.

In a video posted online Monday, with text reading, it "will bury incoming enemies."

It comes as a high level potential visit from the U.S. defies warnings from Chinese officials. Sources telling CNN, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to stop in Taiwan, which China regards as a breakaway province.

Chinese ministry of foreign affairs spokesman warning Monday that Pelosi's visit would seriously undermine China's sovereignty and lead to grave consequences.

Threats by China, not to play with fire. In a stop, one White House official tells CNN is consistent with America's stance on Taiwan.


REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: it is very much in keeping with our policy and in consistent with our support to Taiwan, under the Taiwan Relations Act.

We're not -- we shouldn't be as a country, we shouldn't be intimidated by that rhetoric, or those potential actions. This is an important trip for the Speaker to be on and we're going to do whatever we can to support her.

A senior Taiwanese government official and a U.S. official tells CNN that Pelosi's stop is expected to come as part of her tour of Asia, where she's leading a congressional delegation to the Indo-Pacific region. With visits to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan.

It's not clear when Pelosi will arrive in Taiwan. As of now, it's not on her public itinerary.

For Taiwan, the timing is sensitive. As the Chinese president prepares to seek an unprecedented third term at his upcoming party Congress, where he aims to promote China's lack of strength and stability.

Now caught between two superpowers, the world's only Chinese speaking democracy prepares to defend itself from China's massive military.

Something it's been doing for decades, Taiwanese troops training to defend this island in the event of a David and Goliath scenario of fear stoked by Russia's war on Ukraine.

But Taiwan has also been writing this rhetorical rollercoaster for decades. As the latest, U.S.-China threats dominated global headlines. They were barely mentioned by the media in Taiwan. The island with the most to lose has lost interest.

TSAI HUAI-CHUN, TAIWAN SHOP OWNER (through translator): I don't think they will retaliate. I don't worry about it. Mainland China is just threatening us. If they really decide to invade Taiwan, they can kill it within two to three days. They don't need to talk much.

MAGGIE LIN, TAIWAN AFTER-SCHOOL CLUB DIRECTOR (through translator): I'm not concerned. China has done the same thing many times. But exchanges between Taiwan and the U.S. shouldn't be stopped because of this.

RIPLEY: Many Taiwanese people perceive war with Beijing as a distant threat, a threat some observers warn could draw closer with each escalation.

Xi Jinping is China's most powerful leader since Mao.


RIPLEY: His vow, to bring Taiwan back to the mainland by force, if necessary, is backed by a massive military and growing nuclear arsenal.

Will Ripley, CNN, Taipei, Taiwan.


CHURCH: And CNN's. Blake Essig joins me now live from Tokyo with the latest.

Blake, Speaker Pelosi now expected to visit Taiwan during her trip. But what more are you learning?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, rosemary, the Speaker of the House arrived in Malaysia earlier today. The big question, could Taiwan be her next stop?

Well, we don't yet know that answer. We do know that Pelosi is expected to visit the democratic self-governing island during her tour of Asia, that's according to officials in both the Taiwanese and U.S. governments.

Now, as you might expect, news of Pelosi is potential visit to Taiwan hasn't exactly been received well in Beijing.


Earlier this morning, China's ambassador to the United Nations called the speaker's apparent visit dangerous and provocative. And on Monday, a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry said this about her plan visit.


ZAO LIJIAN, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON (through translator): We would like to sternly warn the U.S. once again that China is standing by and the People's Liberation Army will never sit idly by. China will take resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity. As for what measures if she dares to go then let's wait and see.


ESSIG: As for the U.S. response, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it's on Beijing if they -- if Beijing tries to create a crisis around the speaker's visit -- possible visit to Taiwan. And here's National Security Council strategic coordinator for -- coordinator for communications, John Kirby.


KIRBY: There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long standing U.S. policy into some sort of crisis or conflict or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait. We will not take the bait or engage in saber rattling. At the same time, we will not be intimidated.


ESSIG: Multiple sources say President Biden has also made it known that he doesn't think that it's a good time for the speaker to visit Taiwan, but also doesn't believe that it's his place to tell her that she shouldn't go, Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right. Blake Essig. Many thanks. Joining us live from Tokyo.

Josh Rogin is a CNN political analyst and Washington Post columnist and he joins me now from Washington, D.C. Always good to have you with us.


CHURCH: So Josh, it is looking very likely now that the U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will decide to visit Taiwan despite the tension that's causing with China, Beijing threatening countermeasures and announcing military exercises. Just how risky could a visit like this proved to be at this time could it trigger unwanted conflict between the U.S. and China?

ROGIN: Right. Well, yes, it's true that the Pelosi delegation is scheduled to land in Taipei Tuesday night, local time, and stay until Wednesday. Will -- they'll have a series of high-level meetings. The U.S. military has developed a plan to protect her delegation and its travel. But the U.S. government is expecting the Chinese government to exert retaliation in two different phases.

First, they'll do something while she's on the trip not necessarily to confront her plane but on their side of the Taiwan Strait. This could involve exercises, firing missiles, flying planes there in Taiwan. So they don't expect a real crisis or a confrontation while she's on the ground. But they do expect some saber rattling from the Chinese side. The second phase is when the policy delegation leaves Taiwan, then the Chinese government is expected to exert punishment on the island of Taiwan.

And that can come in a range of measures, including cyber, economic and military maneuvers. And the expectation is that the crisis won't just be for the day and a half that Nancy Pelosi and her fellow congressmen are in Taiwan, but could extend for weeks and months ahead.

CHURCH: And, Josh, as you point out, the Biden administration says, if Speaker Pelosi decides to go to Taiwan in the end, and it seems to me that she will do that, then her safety and security will be assured. But with the war raging in Ukraine, and this possible visit, causing so much tension, why didn't or doesn't the president just say to her that now is not the time?

ROGIN: Well, essentially, that's exactly what the White House said to her. Although the president may have not said that to her directly. The National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan certainly did and she didn't care. So, in her opinion, this -- there is no better time and there is no future time for one thing, she's not going to be Speaker next year. So this might be her last time to go.

And for another thing, she believes in the principle that when the Chinese government tries to threaten Americans right to travel, the right thing to do is to respond by asserting the Americans right to travel. So essentially, the White House didn't have any power to stop her. So now they're pivoting. They're changing their messaging, and they're changing their strategy to assert her right to go to Taiwan and then to protect her and to ask the Chinese government not to escalate although that ask will go unanswered.

CHURCH: So, what are the benefits of Speaker Pelosi visiting Taiwan at this time for her and of course, for Taiwan does any code come of it really? ROGIN: For her the benefits are clear, it's a legacy item. It's a capstone in her decades-long career to be active on U.S.-China relations. And the ancillary benefit is that it reasserts the rights of U.S. lawmakers, any Americans really to visit Taiwan whenever they want. The benefits for Taiwan actually are less clear.


ROGIN: It's always good to have U.S. lawmakers to show up and show their support for Taiwan but right now I think the feeling on the island from what I understand is that the risks outweigh those benefits. But it's really tough for the Taiwanese government to speak up and say that, of course, because they need support from people like Nancy Pelosi. At the same time, it's always the weaker party that gets punished by the Chinese government.

And I think actually, in the end, the Taiwanese will be the one who will suffer the most, and Nancy Pelosi will get her photo op, and then she'll be off to her next appointment.

CHURCH: So your sense is that some in Taiwan might want to say to her, please don't come at this time. Is that your sense?

ROGIN: Yes. So, I think they're actually the majority of officials that I've talked to in Taiwan would rather she just stay away but they can't say that out loud and it's too late anyway. So now they're going to try to make the best of the situation. That's not to say they don't appreciate her visiting, they do. At the same time, when she leaves, there'll be left with the consequences.

And again, those could be long-range consequences, changes in the status quo, changes in the way that Taiwan can operate in its waters and the air around its island, and changes in the economic relationship between China and Taiwan. That will not be good for Taiwan. So yes, I think there's a lot of fear and a lot of concern that Nancy Pelosi is putting Taiwan in a situation that they didn't choose to be in but that doesn't really seem to matter now because she's on her way and she'll be there tomorrow.

CHURCH: Yes. Josh Rogin, always great to get your analysis. Many thanks.

ROGIN: Anytime.

CHURCH: And still to come. Ukraine is ramping up counter attacks in the south forcing Russia to shift focus and spread its troops even thin up. Those details after the break.

Plus, a glimmer of hope on the high seas. The first grain ship leaves port in Ukraine. An ordeal brokered to ease the world's food crisis. We'll take a closer look.


CHURCH: Well, now to Ukraine and the brutal fight for that country's south and east. In the east, Ukraine says its troops are still fending off Russian advances in the Donetsk region. A key target in Moscow's push to seize the wider Donbas. But despite heavy shelling along much of the frontlines, Russian troops don't appear to be making much headway. At the same time Ukrainian counter attacks in the south are forcing Russia to spread its troops even thinner.

There are reports that some Russian forces are now being moved away from the eastern front lines so they can protect Russian positions in the south. As the fighting grinds on, there is new hope for easing the Global Food Crisis sparked by Russia's war. For the first time since the invasion, a ship carrying Ukrainian grain left the port of Odesa on the Black Sea.


Part of a deal to unblock millions of tons of food supplies that have been stuck at Ukrainian ports. In the hours ahead, the ship is expected to anchor near Istanbul for inspection before heading to its final destination in Lebanon. And for more we want to bring in CNN's Clare Sebastian who joins us live from London. Good morning to you, Clare. So what is the latest on where that first green shipment is located right now as it heads to Istanbul and then of course on to Lebanon? And when might the next green shipment leave poor to help ease this global food crisis?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Rosemary. This ship the Razoni. It's called a Sierra Leone-flagged vessel carrying about 26,000 tons of Ukrainian corn destined for Lebanon. You can see it on publicly available marine tracking maps. It looks like it's about halfway along its journey through to Istanbul, the first leg of its journey just off the Romanian coast in the Black Sea.

So, it is still on its way. It seems to be moving. A critical moment will be when it arrives and puts down anchor of Istanbul. It then needs to be inspected by the Joint Coordination Center. This sort of center staffed by U.N. and Turkish officials that was set up as part of the Green Deal that the sides reached to get this grain moving on to international markets. Until that inspection happens no further ceilings can be scheduled we've heard.

So that is a really critical moment. As for the reactions to this first ship leaving Odesa, positive note pretty much from all sides cautious optimism, including from Ukraine's President Zelenskyy who called this a positive sign but he also cautioned that trust is low on both sides. Take a listen.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We cannot have the illusions that Russia will simply refrain from trying to disrupt Ukrainian exports. Russia consistently provoked famine and the countries of Africa and Asia which traditionally imported large volumes of Ukrainian food. And now in conditions of extreme heat as this year in Europe, the threat of a price crisis and a certain food shortage is also possible for some European countries.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SEBASTIAN: The crisis not averted yet. This is still early days. Zelenskyy also pointed out that there are 16 ships that are waiting their turn to leave these ports on Ukraine's Black Sea coast. And that again, Rosemary, just the tip of the iceberg because what the hope is that this will give the commercial shipping industry confidence to send more ships just from the port of Odesa alone before the war.

There were at least 100 ships arriving and departing each month. So you can see that 16 ships waiting their turn is not a lot when it comes to what Ukraine is used to in terms of exports from the seaports.

CHURCH: Yes. We'll continue to watch that glimmer of hope at least. And Clare, you have been following the detention in Russia of American basketball star Brittney Griner. And she will be back in court for her hearing next hour. What's expected to come out of that appearance?

SEBASTIAN: Yes, Rosemary. This will be the seventh hearing where we've seen her appear in court as part of this trial on drug charges. She's accused of bringing a small amount of hashish oil and cartridges in her luggage into Russia. She was arrested in February. In terms of this hearing, we're not expecting a verdict, we're expecting her legal team to question more witnesses.

Two key areas that we're seeing them argue. One that because there was no intent she says that she didn't intend to bring this substance into Russia. She was just sort of packing in a hurry. So they're going to continue to argue that. We could -- we could also see some discussion of the way she was arrested. Her lawyers are arguing that this was improper. She wasn't sort of given her rights in time, given access to lawyers fast enough as she's entitled to under Russian law.

But this is also, Rosemary, the first hearing since we've seen that news come out of Russia's offer for a prisoner swap. Potentially to release convicted Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout in exchange for both Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, another American who is in jail in Russia convicted of espionage charges. Russia has now countered that through unofficial channels. The U.S. is not considering the counter offer.

They want to add a convicted murderer to that exchange. So this is now openly political and a really heightened test case for U.S. hostage diplomacy as we watch this trial unfold.

CHURCH: All right. Clare Sebastian joining us live from London. Many Thanks as always. All right. Time for a short break now. When we come back, the U.S. takes out the world's top terrorists at a safe house in Afghanistan. We will hear from U.S. President Joe Biden, that's next.



CHURCH: The world's most wanted terrorist is dead. Ayman al-Zawahiri killed in a U.S. drone strike at a safe house in Kabul, Afghanistan. Top U.S. officials the Taliban knew al-Zawahiri was in the city, and even tried to conceal evidence of his presence after the strike. The White House says, no civilians or members of al-Zawahiri's family were killed in Sunday's strike. The Al-Qaeda leader was heavily involved in the planning -- in planning the 9/11 terror attacks, as well as the 1998 bombings at the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

U.S. President Joe Biden was first briefed on intelligence that al- Zawahiri was in Kabul back in April. A U.S. official says he studied a scale model of the safe house and insisted the military avoid any civilian casualties.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: One week ago, after being advised that the conditions were optimal, I gave the final approval to go get him. And the mission was a success. None of his family members were hurt, and there were no civilian casualties. I'm sharing this news with the American people now after confirming the mission's total success through the painstaking work of our counterterrorism community and key allies and partners.


CHURCH: Al-Zawahiri became the face and de facto leader of Al-Qaeda after the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden 11 years ago. But, before he was bin Laden's deputy, he had already made a name for himself as a Jihadist in Egypt. CNN's Michael Holmes has more on al-Zawahiri's rise to becoming the world's most wanted terrorist.


AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI, AL-QAEDA LEADER: We want to speak to the whole world. Who are we? Who are we?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL NEWS ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): By the time Ayman al-Zawahiri burst on the world scene after the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, he was already a terrorist. Committed to turning Egypt into a fundamentalist Islamic state. The young doctor came from one of Egypt's leading families. There was even an al-Zawahiri Street in Cairo named after his grandfather. His uncle described him as pious.

MAHFOUZ AZZAM, AYMA AL-ZAWAHIRI'S UNCLE: He was known as -- he is a good Muslim who is -- keen to pray at time in the mosque and so, and to read, and to sing, and to have his own decisions.

HOLMES (voiceover): Al-Zawahiri spent three years in prison after Sadat's assassination. After he got out, he made his way to Pakistan where he used his medical skills to treat those fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. That's where he met Osama bin Laden, and they found a common cause. He talked about it a decade later.


AL-ZAWAHIRI: We are working with brother bin Laden. We know since -- more than 10 years. We have brought him here in Afghanistan. We have brought him in Sudan and many other places. HOLMES (voiceover): Al-Zawahiri was many places in the early 1990s. Even, it's believed, visiting California on a false passport. His group attacked Egyptian embassies and tried to kill Egyptian politicians. Eventually, al-Zawahiri folded his group into Al-Qaeda.

SAJJAN GOHEL, ASIA-PACIFIC FOUNDATION: Al-Zawahiri pretty much led the group. He did the strategic policy of what Al-Qaeda's agenda was. Suddenly bin Laden gave his authority and blessings to it, but al- Zawahiri called the shots.

HOLMES (voiceover): Al-Zawahiri was at bin Laden's side when he declared war on America in May 1998. Weeks later, they launched an attack on U.S. embassies in Africa, and then gloated after they escaped the U.S. cruise missile attack launched in retaliation. After the 9/11 attacks, al-Zawahiri began to become the voice of Al-Qaeda, taunting the U.S.

AL-ZAWAHIRI (through translator): American people, you must ask yourselves, why all this hate against America?

HOLMES (voiceover): After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, bin Laden and al-Zawahiri were on the run. Sometimes together, more often apart. His wife and daughters were killed in a U.S. airstrike aimed at him. But he continued to issue messages on subjects ranging from the war in Iraq to the London subway attacks in 2005. And while he was always the likely choice to succeed Osama bin Laden, it took the organization several weeks to announce his promotion.

JOHN BRENNAN, THEN-U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Al-Zawahiri is not charismatic. He has not been -- was not involved in the fight earlier on in Afghanistan. So -- and I think he has a lot of detractors within the organization. And I think you're going to see them start eating themselves from within more and more.

HOLMES (voiceover): Without bin Laden, Al-Qaeda can never be the same.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: An idea personified by Osama bin Laden. He was this charismatic figure to join Al-Qaeda, you saw, you pledge a personal oath to him. People went and died, not for Ayman al-Zawahiri or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but for Osama bin Laden.

HOLMES (voiceover): Terror experts say that to jihadists worldwide, Al-Qaeda still has great appeal as an inspiration. And while al- Zawahiri was an obvious successor to bin Laden, it's not at all clear who would succeed al-Zawahiri.


CHURCH: Well, the successful elimination of al-Zawahiri in a precision drone strike with no civilians harmed, involved months of planning. Former U.S. defense and military officials tell CNN this is a pivotal and symbolic operation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: They gathered the right intelligence. They were able to target Zawahiri without any kind of collateral damage. It was a well-planned and well-executed targeting of a terrorist. And, you know, just as I said when we got bin Laden, it sends a message to the world that nobody attacks the United States and gets away with it.

LT. GEN MARK HERLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The average American doesn't understand the detail. The level of effectiveness and efficiencies that go into this kind of targeting of individuals that, you know, the president can stand up on the balcony and talk about the operation. But there have been months, and maybe even years, going into the targeting of Zawahiri. I first heard about this guy 1998 when I was at the war pallet. We had been wanting to get him for a very long time. He is a leader within this organization. And the strike that was conducted was effective and efficient.

GEN. DAVID PETRAUES (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: This is a very, very symbolic success to bring one of the last of the original Al-Qaeda leaders, who did so much damage around the world, again East Africa bombings, a number of the other bombings in North Africa, other exhortations of bombings elsewhere. Not to mention, of course, being a core part of Al-Qaeda when the 9/11 attacks were planned.


CHURCH: And to our viewers, lawmakers are welcoming the drone strike killing Ayman al-Zawahiri. Democrat and Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, says this was a major accomplishment by President Biden to bring to justice one of the world's most wanted terrorists who helped orchestrate the cold-blooded murder of thousands of my fellow New Yorkers on 9/11.

And on the Republican side, Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, tweeted this. The world is a better, safer place without the Al-Qaeda terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri. I am profoundly grateful to the intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who spent decades hunting this terrorist killer.

Well, still to come, the toll from extreme weather in the United States. We will have the latest on the wildfires in the West, and the search for flood survivors in Kentucky. We'll be back, in just a moment.



ASHLIE BRYANT, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, 3STRANDS GLOBAL FOUNDATION: 3Strands Global Foundation is a nonprofit that has been combatting human trafficking for the last 12 years. Focused on three areas, prevention education, prevention through employment, and prevention through engagement. So, we have initiatives that directly look at the root causes. One is prevention education so that teachers can identify exploitation and trafficking as well as be trauma-informed. And students, in kindergarten all the way through 12th grade can be educated.

When the pandemic hit, a prevention education program PROTECT -- we had to do a pivot. The kids no longer were in classrooms. Teachers were no longer in classrooms teaching. They had to make adjustments to actually be able to actually reach the kids online, which meant that they were looking in a different way with different eyes at their students as their students were learning this curriculum. We had to make sure that teachers could still identify any exploitation abuse that was happening.

Our second program is called the employment present power program. And this is our prevention through employment. We want to make sure that survivors aren't to be exploited. And that they have a sustainable job, that they are financially secure, and that they can thrive. Survivor voices are incredibly important in this movement. And I believe strongly that when we listen to survivors, we actually will create prevention programs and initiatives that do exactly what we need to do to prevent this crime.

CHURCH: A rift tearing apart, Iraq Shia Muslims was on full display in Baghdad on Monday. Protesters backed by pro-Iran factions rallied against the occupation of parliament by clearing Muqtada al-Sadr supporters. This, as the outgoing prime minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, calls for dialogue to settle the deadlock between the rival groups. He warns there could be dire consequences for Iraq if a political solution is not reached. These protests follow months of political deadlock, bickering, and accusations that have hindered the formation of a new Iraqi government.

Well, at least 37 people have now died from flash floods in the U.S. State of Kentucky. Floodwaters have been rising since late last week, and are expected to keep rising overnight. Kentucky's governor has urged all displaced residents to seek shelter on higher ground as rescue teams continue to search for the missing.

In California, the McKinney fire is now the State's biggest wildfire of the year. It has burned more than 55,000 acres, and it's turned deadly with two bodies found inside a burned vehicle on a residential driveway. Thunderstorms and lightning have complicated efforts to contain the blaze.

Well, thank you so much for joining us. I'm Rosemary Church. World Sports is up next. Then I'll be back with more news from all around the world in about 15 minutes from now. You're watching, CNN. Do stay with us.


LEMON: What did you -- what did -- what was conveyed to you? How insistent -- just how insistent was he about going?

ROBINSON: I mean, we've heard it several times while he was on the motorcade, I think, during the speech, shortly thereafter he finished the speech, that the president was getting to the motorcade and he was upset. And he, you know, adamantly wanted to go to the Capitol. And even when we departed from their ellipse, it was repeated again that the president -- it was a heated argument in the limo. And he wanted to definitely go to the Capitol. So, when we arrived at the White House, the motorcade was placed on standby.

LEMON: So, how did that -- as we say in the vernacular now, how did that hit with you guys on that day?

ROBINSON: I mean, for me, I really didn't know which was, you know, which was actually happening outside the ellipse. I could hear in transmissions from the radio that, you know, large crawling were going up to the Capitol but I don't know exactly what was happening.

So, for me, you know, to either know that there are armed subjects outside, to know that there are large crowds responding, that was alarming because, one, we weren't prepared to do that. Normally, when you move a presidential motorcade, you have a secure route. So, we have sufficient personnel to do that. So, we weren't comfortable with that move.

LEMON: Yes, were you saying, what on earth does he want to go back to the Capitol? Is that what you guys were thinking?

ROBINSON: I mean, absolutely. I mean, now, knowing what actually happened, that would have been horrible. You know, had -- you know, the motorcade responded, you know, to the Capitol, I think it would've been just far worse.

LEMON: It's pretty bad. Far worse, how so? You mean, lives possibly?

ROBINSON: Mainly that -- I mean, I think it -- I would've, you know, probably encouraged the more rioting, you know. And I felt supported, you know if the presidential motorcade came and supported them. So, I think the insurrectionists probably would have felt as though they had the support of the president.

LEMON: What did you say? You said that you had been in over 100 motorcades with Trump before but never heard anything like that ever.

ROBINSON: Well, it's not necessarily 100 motorcades with President Trump. So, I've been in the motorcade since 2011. So, I mean several.

LEMON: You just mean general.

ROBINSON: In general --

LEMON: Right, right.

ROBINSON: -- over 100. So -- I'm sorry, what was your question, Don?

LEMON: Yes, I said, you had been in -- OK --

ROBINSON: Oh, yes.

LEMON: -- over 100 motorcades and nothing like that had ever happened?

ROBINSON: Right. So, I mean, when a president is moving, you know, in my experience, if the president is going to a destination, we go. And there are some moves that just pop up along the way, and it's always communicated, it's always worked out. And we go. I've never experienced, you know, when the president wants to go somewhere, and there is a heated argument, a dispute, and a debate on whether or not the president can go somewhere, and then he actually doesn't go. I've never had that experience before.

LEMON: There has been this, sort of, whole false narrative out there about, no one was armed. There were no firearms in the crowd of people who were out there. You mentioned that you heard over the radio that people in that crowd had weapons. Wouldn't a president be removed immediately from any situation where there are individuals with weapons nearby?

ROBINSON: I believe the secret service were comfortable, meaning that they, you know, they had their security and they had the protection. They have, you know, party routes and they have security measures in place to keep the president safe. I can hear, you know, over the police radio that armed -- subjects are armed. I can hear officers responding, you know, to that. And there's video footage to support that, which was played, you know, during the testimony as well.

LEMON: What do you -- I guess, you know I'm asking you to -- let's put it this way. With the experience that you have, why do you think someone would want to go into whatever appeared to be danger on that day?

ROBINSON: I can't imagine anyone, especially in that position, wanting to go to the Capitol. You're talking about the president, right?


ROBINSON: I just couldn't imagine someone wanting to go to the Capitol under those conditions.

LEMON: So, despite all of that, him wanting to go to the Capitol, the motorcade, take us inside. The motorcade wanted to go back to the White House. How was that decision made, Sergeant?

ROBINSON: It's always made through the secret service. And so, through that, you know, there are managers and there are supervisors. And so, they're -- they are formed, you know, the lead agent they'll inform the TS agent who will inform the lead car, that would be myself, you know. And so, we'd informed the motorcade, you know, whether or not, because we have to be prepared, whether or not a movement is going to be made. So, we have to be prepared for that, you know, to secure a route. To actually get there and to get back, and to keep the -- protect the safe.

LEMON: And in the stand-by, were you like, wait. What? Now, we're on standby to possibly go back into danger?

ROBINSON: I mean, you know, we were -- I'm just so thankful that it did not happen. And so, I didn't, you know, had we made that move, I thought it would've been an insane movement. [02:50:00]

And I think the Senate even with the secret service, they weren't prepared for that. And so, I'm just glad that it did not occur.

LEMON: Did you feel pressure over coming forward? Were you worried about the threats for sharing what actually happened, the truth about what happened on that day?

ROBINSON: No. I mean, the truth is the truth, you know. So, I don't have any pressure about it. Whether I was still an employee, while I was still working. I mean, we are called upon sometimes to give testimony. And so, my experience is to, you know, to tell the truth, to tell what actually happened. So, I'm not ashamed of that.

LEMON: Sergeant Mark Robinson, I'm grateful that you are here. I'm grateful that you are safe. And thank you for protecting American democracy and for speaking out, speaking the truth. I really appreciate it.

ROBINSON: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: You be well and be safe.

ROBINSON: You be well. Thanks for having me.

LEMON: At least 37 people are dead in catastrophic flooding in Kentucky. And heavy rains are expected tonight, which could make things much, much worse for people already in desperate straits. The latest details, next.



LEMON: We are going to get now to the deadly weather slamming the U.S. California's largest wildfire of 2022 has now burned more than 55,000 acres, ripping through homes and forcing nearly 2,000 people to evacuate. At least two people have already died.

And in Kentucky, the death toll from the catastrophic flooding, rising to at least 37 people, tonight. Look at the pictures on your screen, unbelievable. Over 100 or so unaccounted for. Officials fear that number will rise. And the threat is far from over. A flood watch is in effect for the eastern part of the State. Thunderstorms could dump inches of rain an hour, making already difficult search and rescue efforts even more challenging. We'll continue to follow that for you.

Osama bin Laden's right-hand man is dead. Tonight, after President Biden approved a drone strike to take him out. More on that, next.