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CNN International: Investigation and Recovery Efforts to Resume in Coming Houser in Baltimore; Russian Court Remand 8th Suspect on Terror Charges; Milei Says Fiscal Stability is a Beacon of His Government; Kenya Begins Releasing Cult Victims' Bodies to Families. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 27, 2024 - 04:30   ET



ELENI GIOKOS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Eleni Giokos. And if you're just joining us, here are some of your today's top stories.

Another Israeli hostage in Gaza has been confirmed dead by the hostage and missing families forum. Thirty-five-year-old Uriel Baruch, a father of two, who was kidnapped from the Nova music festival on October 7th. They say his body is being held by Hamas. Israeli officials believe 96 hostages are still alive.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has replaced the country's top security official. Zelenskyy says he was grateful to Oleksiy Danilov for his service but gave no other details of his dismissal. Danilov will be reassigned to another role.

Russia has extended Evan Gershkovich's detention again. "The Wall Street Journal" reporter has been ordered to stay in prison until June 30 by a Moscow court. This Friday marks the one-year anniversary of his detainment in Russia.

In the coming hours, authorities in the U.S. state of Maryland will resume their recovery efforts after the bridge collapse in Baltimore. The massive cargo ship, which struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge early Tuesday, was leaving port when it lost power and careened into one of the bridge's support columns, sending people and vehicles into the frigid water below.

Two people were rescued. Six others, believed to be from a construction crew, are presumed dead. The recovery operations were suspended overnight. Officials say they're concerned about the structural integrity of what's left of the bridge, the hazards posed by the debris, as well as poor visibility in the water.


CHIEF JAMES WALLACE, BALTIMORE CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT: Visibility in the harbor decreases significantly as you increase depth. So the deeper you go, the less you're able to see. Water depths in and around or under that bridge vary from 40 feet in some places to in excess of 60 feet. So as you go deeper, the divers are exposed to, you know, colder temperatures. They have zero vis.

And as you look at a lot of the photographs, especially what you have on scene, imagine what you're seeing there also being the case underwater. So there's a lot of -- there's a lot steel underwater. There's bridge deck underwater. There are a lot of hazards down there. And we'll reach depths where the divers are literally feeling their way around. So that has a lot to do with why the operation has ceased for the night. That, of course, compounded by darkness.

We know that we have steel sections of the bridge that are hanging on other pieces of debris, unsupported. We know that we have a lot of the steel superstructure that is actually laying across the bow of the ship itself and is very unstable.

We know that we have sea containers that are on board the vessel that are hanging off. They're also unstable. And then the final piece that we're very concerned about is the remaining bridge structure.

That bridge has suffered catastrophic impact and catastrophic failure. So although there are pieces of the bridge that remain, structural stability of what remains there is also a major concern as well.


GIOKOS: The ship's voyage data recorder will be critical for investigators. CNN's Tom Foreman looks at the chain of events which led up to the crash.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One of the questions being asked right now is, was there something that could have been done to avert this accident? For example, could the tugboats that brought this ship into play here, could they have stuck with it?

When we look at the tracking of it, we can see that the tugboats represented here are the blue lines. The red one is the ship. You see that after they do the turn initially, the tugboats split off, but that's normal.


Tugboats are there to guide a big ship like this when it has no momentum, so its own steering mechanism doesn't really work. It's got to get a little speed going. By here, it was up to about 8 miles an hour, approaching 9 miles an hour down here, so the tugboats split off.

Indeed, when it got into trouble down here, you see one of the tugboats came racing back to try to help when that call went out to say that it was in distress, so that's one thing. Could that have helped? Yes, it would have been nice if it had, but it wasn't able to.

Could it have stayed in the proper lane? Possibly, the idea being that when it came through here, the truth is it would have kept going straight on this line instead of veering off the way it did and getting into trouble here.

The problem is we now know from video that there was some kind of a power issue or seemed to be. Watch the lights go out on the ship. That could be the reason that it was unable to control itself. That's what we're hearing from witnesses to this, saying, yes, this was having a problem with basic control of the ship, so that was an issue.

We also know that there is this plume of smoke. We don't really know why it came out of here or whether that was related to it, and we know that ultimately they couldn't do anything except go right into the bridge here.

Could there have been more protection for the bridge? There are systems that might protect a bridge like this in some circumstances, but you have to bear in mind this is a tremendous amount of power.

This ship, end-to-end, is almost as tall as the Chrysler building and carrying many, many tons of weight. That's not to say these are definitive answers to any of this, but these are some of the questions that are being raised right now and that it could take a long time to sort out before authorities are satisfied with the answers.


GIOKOS: A Russian court has charged an eighth suspect with terrorism for his alleged role in the deadly attack on a concert hall near Moscow.

Officials have ordered the suspect to be held in custody before his trial. Russian state media says the suspect gave the attackers a place to stay and, quote, supposedly knew about the attack ahead of time.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins us now from Berlin. Fred, great to see you. What more do we know about the investigation?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Eleni. The investigation is certainly moving forward on the Russian side.

And as you just mentioned, an eighth suspect apparently now ordered to be remanded in custody. So he's obviously still awaiting trial. And apparently this is the person where some of the attackers stayed.

It's an area outside of Moscow in the Moscow region. And so the Russian authorities say that they believe that this person may have had prior knowledge of the attack before it took place. And then obviously they believe would have been implicated in all of this.

At the same time, Eleni, we also have some mixed messaging coming from some of the allies of Vladimir Putin. Yesterday, Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, of course, he came forward and he sort of poured cold water on the narrative that Vladimir Putin has been spreading that apparently he believes that Ukraine might be involved in all of this. He said that the attackers were trying to flee towards Belarus and couldn't do so because the border was sealed. Saying that immediately after the attack, he ordered his armed forces on heightened alert and that they then sealed the border and that the attackers couldn't get through.

There are, however, some key other Putin allies, like, for instance, the head of the Federal Security Service, the FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, who is a real hardliner as well. He came out and he said he does believe that there is a link to Ukraine. He also tried to implicate Western intelligence service, specifically the United States, but also said that he believes that Ukraine also had a hand in all this as well.

Of course, ISIS has claimed responsibility now on various occasions in all of this. And the Ukrainians continue to vehemently deny that they had anything to do with this attack.

And I do have one more piece of information that we just got, actually, as we were going to air right here. And that is that the authorities on the ground, the Russian authorities, have now heightened the toll of the people who were injured in the attack to 360. So a lot of people who were injured and wounded in that attack, the death toll continues to stand at 139 -- Eleni.

GIOKOS: Fred Pleitgen, great to have you on the story. Thank you so much.

An Israeli woman who spent 55 days as a hostage in Gaza is the first to say publicly that she was sexually abused by Hamas captors. Amit Soussana spoke to "The New York Times" about her ordeal on October 7th.

She says she was beaten and dragged into Gaza. She says she was chained by her ankle in a child's bedroom where she was forced to commit a sexual act at gunpoint. Soussana says later she was reunited with other hostages and was severely beaten and several militants and spent time in endless tunnels.


She was freed in November during a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas. Earlier this month, the United Nations released a report saying there is clear and convincing evidence that Hamas militants have raped hostages in Gaza.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog is praising Soussana's courage, saying she speaks for all those who cannot speak.

Argentina's new leader is defending Israel, saying the country is justified in its response to Hamas' October attack. Those comments by Javier Milei coming in a wide-ranging interview with CNN Espanol. For more now, we go to Stefano Pozzebon in Buenos Aires.


STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST: The Argentinian president Javier Milei has been a staunch supporter of Israel since before taking office in December. And in a wide-ranging sit-down interview with CNN Espanol on Tuesday, he reiterated his opinion. JAVIER MILEI, ARGENTINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Israel was

the target of a brutal attack, and this type of crime requires a response that sets the example.

In fact, everything Israel is doing is within the rule of law. I mean, Israel has not been excessive at all.

POZZEBON: In the interview, Milei did not refer to the resolution by the United Nations Security Council voted on Monday that calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

But he repeated his interest to converting to Judaism. And he described the meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as one of the warmest he's had since taking office in December.

Milei also told CNN Espanol that he believed Argentina is on track to defeat hyperinflation once and for all. And he repeated his intention to shut down the country's central bank. Currently, the Argentinian inflation rate is one of the highest in the world at over 270 percent year on year. But Milei claimed it was a success that the latest data in March showed that price rises stalling in the South American country.

The Milei government has operated a rigid austerity program since taking office that led to the first fiscal surplus in Argentinian history in recent years at least. Poverty, however, has also been on the rise. And the latest figure from the Catholic University of Buenos Aires showed that more than half of Argentinians are currently living below the poverty rate.

For CNN, this is Stefano Pozzebon, Buenos Aires.


GIOKOS: A new report showing home prices in the U.S. are rising at the fastest pace in months. The index that tracks the price of homes was up 6 percent in January versus the same time last year.

And it's the highest annual increase since 2022. It's highlighting how a housing shortage combined with high mortgage rates continues to limit home affordability in the U.S.

And if you're feeling the pain in your wallet, renting may actually be the best deal depending on where you live. says it's cheaper to rent in many major U.S. cities, including Seattle, Phoenix and even Los Angeles.

Trader Joe's customers looking for bananas may experience a bit of a sticker shock. The grocery store chain told CNN on Monday it had recently increased the price of its bananas by more than, get this, 20 percent from 19 cents to 23 cents. The low priced item is a well-known deal at Trader Joe's and so much that it's ranked as the favorite piece of produce by customers.

Demand in recent years for bananas in the U.S. has been driven primarily by the fruit's affordability, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Colombian authorities have seized a staggering amount of cocaine, more than five tons, in a pair of drug busts. On Monday, armed forces uncovered more than three tons of the drug hidden on a boat after a high speed chase at sea. It was part of an operation between the Colombian army and the U.S. And the next day, police discovered nearly two tons of cocaine that was hidden inside a shipment of avocados.

Well, coming up, unending grief in Kenya as families wait for the bodies of their loved ones to be returned to them. The latest on the starvation cult's killings ahead.



GIOKOS: Welcome back. Kenyan authorities have begun to return the bodies of Salvation Cult victims back to their families. Those bodies were recovered from mass graves in the Shakahola Forest. They were victims of a deadly Christian cult led by a pastor who convinced many of them to starve themselves to reach salvation. Others were bludgeoned to death.

Forensic experts and volunteers have been exhuming bodies and they're not done yet. And they warn there are likely more horrors to come.


IRUNGU HOUGHTON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL KENYA: 429 bodies have been identified so far. With the phase 5 exhumation that's about to happen, we suspect that that number may go up by several hundreds. If we put those figures together, this single massacre, this mass crime, probably has combined more deaths than several terrorist attacks that we've seen.


GIOKOS: David McKenzie is following the story from Johannesburg for us. David, it has been a year since the discovery of these mass graves. I mean, forensic teams have been working relentlessly. But finally, some family members are able to get some kind of closure.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Eleni. You see these awful images of at least one family getting the bodies of the victims of this cult back after many, many months. This is a traumatic day for many of them.

And though some are feeling some kind of closure, we spoke to Francis Wanje, who we met last year when we were on the ground there near Malindi in Kenya. His has been a harrowing story like all of the rest. He was able to rescue one young grandchild.

But they believe they have at least eight members of the extended family that were pulled into this cult and died a horrible death. Here's Francis Wanje.


FRANCIS WANJE, FAMILY MEMBER OF VICTIMS: It has been a very tough journey from last year to now. A very tough one. Fortunately, I'm saying I'm happy that I've got the loved ones. Now we are preparing to go and bury so that now we can start another journey of forgetting about this.


MCKENZIE: Eleni, there has been a scathing report just released by the Kenya National Human Rights Commission saying that the delays in action and the failure to react to actionable intelligence, as they call it, contributed to potentially the high death toll in this cult. Pastor Mackenzie had, in fact, been arrested several times as early as 2017, but released on lack of evidence. He now faces murder charges, finally, after many months of being held in detention, as several of his closest advisors and, of course, the pastor himself have been charged with the murder of 191 children because of that cult.

He promised the end of the world. He said people had to starve themselves to reach salvation. This was all unfolding during the pandemic. And as we reported on last year, many people believed, because of the nature of the COVID pandemic, that his prophecies may be coming true.

Those who didn't starve themselves or try to run away, in some cases, authorities say, were bludgeoned to death.


It's one of the worst cult deaths of its kind in decades, Eleni. And the horror is still being understood in Kenya. And the recriminations for the lack of action still being understood as well -- Eleni.

GIOKOS: Yes, David, it's really a shocking story. A story, frankly, that not only shocked Kenya, but the whole of the continent and spreading far and wide around the world.

In terms of the forensic teams, you know, and the troubles they have faced, I mean, it's firstly, you know, understanding how these people died. You know, some, as we say, were bludgeoned to death, others starvation. But also identifying them, right? Identification. And many people are still missing at this point.

MCKENZIE: Yes, there are still people missing, as you saw from the Amnesty International head in Kenya there. They are still yet to resume the final phase of exhumations in that forest.

There are more than 600 people missing at the start of this tragedy. And they only recovered scores of people, survivors, many of them who refused even to eat after they were released from this cult's clutches.

The difficulty in identifying bodies is both because of the nature of the remains. It's been difficult for the pathologists and the forensic teams to extract DNA. And also just because many family members don't want anything to do with the aftermath of this. They are ashamed, say witnesses and people we've spoken to on the ground.

They are also discouraged because of stigma to come forward to authorities so they can claim their bodies or their loved ones' remains and give them a proper burial.

There's also a bigger question here, which is these charismatic pastors in Kenya that have huge power over their flock. Of course, you know, it doesn't lead to this kind of tragedy in the vast majority of cases. But certainly questions are being asked about the regulation of churches of this nature in Kenya. And why this primarily wasn't picked up sooner to avoid this huge death toll that is still being understood -- Eleni.

GIOKOS: Horrific story there. David McKenzie, great to see you. Thank you so much.

Firefighters in Peru are trying to extinguish a wildfire that has been endangering a wetland in the country's western region. The blaze began on Saturday and authorities say the area's difficult terrain is causing serious challenges to extinguish the flames.

Wildfires are also impacting Mexico. Flames have been spreading through the eastern state of Veracruz. But officials say population centers are currently not at risk and there's no need for residents to evacuate.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a new law restricting social media access for children 16 and under. The new law bans children under the age of 14 from having their own social media accounts. 14 and 15 year olds can have accounts, but only with parental consent. Sexually explicit websites will be required to have an age verification. Parents can sue companies that don't comply with the law. And this takes effect on January 1st of next year.

A rare moment of joy for a country in dire need of a win. Ukraine punches its ticket to the European Football Championships.



GIOKOS: Baltimore's sports team are showing their community spirits in the wake of Tuesday's bridge accidents. The NFL's Ravens issued a statement saying: Our hearts go out to those who've been affected by the horrific Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse. And we know that the Baltimore community will stand together in the aftermath of this tragic event.

A statement from baseball's Ariel says: We are devastated by the news of the bridge collapse and send our thoughts and prayers to those impacted by this strategy. We thank the brave first responders and the men and the women actively working on rescue efforts. We are a tight- knit and resilient city.

The team has also cancelled a players' workout and rally for fans scheduled for Tuesday. More than two years into the Russian invasion, Ukraine has booked its

spot in the European football championships. The Ukrainian president thanks the team for what he called a crucial victory, saying it proves once again that Ukrainians don't give up.

The team was down a goal to Iceland but came back to win 2-1. The match was held in Warsaw, Poland, where tens of thousands of Ukrainian fans packed the stadium, many of them refugees. Ukraine will face Belgium, Slovakia and Romania in Group E of the Euros. Russia will not compete after being banned by European football's governing body, UEFA.

Saudi Arabia is building a new theme park based on the popular Japanese manga series Dragon Ball. The park near Riyadh will span more than 500,000 square meters, with 30 rides, themed hotels and landmarks from the animated series, including a roller coaster 70 meters high which resembles a magical dragon.

This is part of the kingdom's push to create more tourist destinations south of the capital.

A little bit of Madonna there for you. The pop star has announced the final stop on her current celebration tour. It will be a free show in Rio de Janeiro. Fans will be allowed into the May 4th concert on the famous Copacabana beach on a first-come-first-served basis. The historic show will also be broadcast on TV.

And finally, an endangered baby gorilla is captivating visitors at a London Zoo. The baby is one of two baby Western lowland gorillas born at the zoo this winter. We leave you with these fantastic images.

And thank you so much for joining us on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Eleni Giokos. CNN "THIS MORNING" is up next after a quick break.