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Feds Say, Man Attempted to Stab Flight Attendant, Tried to Open Plane's Door; U.S Official Says, Americans Kidnapped in Case of Mistaken Identity; 23 Face Domestic Terror Charges Amid Atlanta's Cop City Clashes. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 07, 2023 - 07:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: You never know until you're in the moment.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: You never know what they're -- what they may be armed with or just anything, I mean.

Good morning, everyone. It's a bizarre and frightening attack on a United flight. A passenger allegedly tried to stab a flight attendant after trying to open the emergency exit door. We're going to show you the chilling video of the attack and what led up to it.

HARLOW: Also, four Americans kidnapped at gunpoint in Mexico, what we're hearing from their family. Also authorities say they believe this is a case of mistaken identity.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: In addition to that, nearly two dozen suspects are now facing domestic terrorism charges after a violent mob of protesters attacked the future site of a police training facility in Atlanta. CNN's Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John Miller is going to join us here on set to break down the charges and the strategy that police are using to prevent more violence.

LEMON: But here is where we begin with yet another terrifying incident on a flight.

Federal investigators say this passenger they tried to open the emergency exit door and then tried to stab a flight attendant in the neck with a broken metal spoon. It happened during United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Boston. And CNN obtained this video of the attack.

Straight now to CNN's Pete Muntean with us. Pete, good morning to you. This is frightening and this is just one, though, of several very scary incidents in the sky recently.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Don. This is now under investigation by the Department of Justice, just a second high-profile incident of an unruly passenger on broad a commercial airliner in as many weeks. The good news here is the numbers dropped in half between 2021 and 2022. But this has to be one of the most dramatic. In fact, the Department of Justice says the flight crew first became alert when a door alarm went off in the cockpit when this passenger allegedly tried to open the emergency exit.


MUNTEAN (voice over): The United Airlines Flight 2609 from Los Angeles to Boston, it was a smooth flight for the first five hours on Sunday until --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, where's the homeland security with the gun, because I'm waiting for them to point the gun at them, so I could show everybody that I will died when I take every bullet in that clip to wherever in my body they shoot it and then I will kill every man on this plane.

MUNTEAN: The agitated passenger is identified as Francisco Severo Torres of Massachusetts. The video obtained by CNN was recorded by a passenger. It shows Torres having violent outbursts towards other passengers and flight attendants.

Four minutes, nervous passengers sat down and listened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody cares. Nobody cares. Where's homeland security? There should be homeland security.

Where are you diverting us? Because wherever it is, it's going to be a bloodbath everywhere.

MUNTEAN: 15 seconds later, Torres walks out of his seat, pulls what appears to be a makeshift weapon out of his jacket pocket and said what no airline passenger wants to hear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm taking over this plane.

MUNTEAN: While United Airlines say there were no reported injuries, the Justice Department says Torres rushed towards one of the flight attendants in a stabbing motion with a broken metal spoon, hitting the flight attendant on the neck area three times. Torres also told law enforcement that he tried to open the emergency door to jump out of the plane. Torres also claimed he was defending himself because he believed the flight crew was trying to kill him.

Video shows passengers and crew members tackling and restraining Torres. The passenger told CNN Torres remained restrained for another 30 minutes before the flight landed safely at Boston Logan International Airport where torres was arrested.


MUNTEAN (on camera): United Airlines says that Torres has been banned from future flights on the carrier. Torres will appear before a judge on Thursday. Don?

LEMON: And, Pete, there's also this, we're learning of a new runway incursion that's under investigation this morning, the sixth recorded this year. What do you know?

MUNTEAN: Yes, the sixth recorded this year, Don. This was what happened at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport on February 16th. But we are just learning about it now. The National Transportation Board says it's investigating when an Air Canada Rouge Flight was on the runway as an American Airlines flight was coming into land on the same runway.

The NTSB says that American Airlines flight went around, but, again, just another string of incidents here that will no doubt come up on Capitol Hill tomorrow when FAA Acting Administrator Bill Nolen is appearing before the Senate committee, Don.

LEMON: Pete Muntean, thank you very much, at Reagan National Airport.

And in our next hour, we're going to speak to a woman who was on that United flight and recorded the video of the attack. You don't want to miss that.

HARLOW: Also this morning, an update on those four kidnapped Americans, still no word from their families.


They were kidnapped in Mexico. And investigators believe potentially a Mexican drug cartel abducted them what looks like a case of mistaken identity. Take a look. This video is frightening. It shows people being loaded into a truck one by one in broad daylight by armed men. CNN has confirmed that video matches the incident of the kidnapping. They have not, though -- we haven't yet independently confirmed if that's the four Americans in the video.

This morning, the family members are waiting, hoping for some good news.


ZALAYNA GRANT, SISTER OF AMERICAN MISSING IN MEXICO: I felt a little uneasy, because I told him I had a dream. I said, so I'm just checking on you. That's what I told him Thursday. Then, like I said Friday morning, I texted him and I didn't get anything.

CHRISTINA HICKSON, MOTHER OF AMERICAN MISSING IN MEXICO: The waiting is the worst part. It has its advantages and disadvantages. But, however, no news is good news. That's the way I'm staying with it. No news is good news.


HARLOW: They're certainly holding out hope. Let's go to our colleague, Rosa Flores, she joins us live in Houston. Rosa, what's the update this morning?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Poppy, as you mentioned, we're still trying to confirm that video to see if it actually shows the Americans but we're learning this morning from the aunt of one of the Americans that they recognized one of their loved ones in that video. Now, as you mentioned, this video is very graphic, so just a warning before we show that video, but according to the aunt of one of the individuals, Latavia Washington McGee, she says that she recognizes her loved one's blonde hair, the clothing that she was wearing on that very day.

Now, according to the FBI, the four Americans crossed into Matamoros, Mexico, on Friday in a white minivan with North Carolina plates. You see that white minivan in that video. The president of Mexico saying that these Americans were caught in a confrontation between two groups, and you see armed men in that video as well, and we also have photos of this.

Now, a U.S. official with knowledge of the investigation says that, indeed, this is a case of mistaken identity and that the cartels likely mistook these Americans for Haitian smugglers.

Now, both law enforcement on the U.S. side and on the Mexican, they're trying to figure out exactly where these Americans are. They're trying to find them, bring them back. The U.S. State Department keeping a close eye on all the developments. Take a listen. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NED PRICE, SPOKESPERSON, STATE DEPARTMENT: We're standing ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. We do also remind Americans about the existing travel guidance when it comes to this particular part of Mexico. The travel advisory for Tamaulipas State remains at level 4, do not travel. We encourage Americans to heed that advice.


FLORES: And, Poppy, as you heard there, Matamoros is in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. And this area has been on the new do not travel list for a while because Americans can and have been victims of crime and kidnapping, I should mention that the FBI has a $50,000 reward out there for information that gets these Americans home.

HARLOW: And we can we talk about those Americans you mentioned, one of the victims in all of this? But tell us what we know about all four of them.

FLORES: What we know from their loved ones is that they're very tight friends. They grew up together in South Carolina. And one of the individuals, Latavia Washington McGee, is a mother of six. And her children are between the ages of 6 and 18. And according to their loved ones, she was the one that was headed to Mexico for this medical procedure, that she never arrived for that appointment.

I should mention the names of her friends. They are Shaheed Woodward, Zintel Brown and also their friend, Eric (ph).

Now, family members said this would have been the second procedure, Poppy, that Washington McGee received in Mexico. So, that tells maybe some of the familiarity, unclear what part of Mexico she had her first procedure. But, again, these are very close friends, they were together and they were really just hoping to go to Mexico for a quick medical procedure and come back to the United States.

HARLOW: Terrifying and those children waiting, wondering where their mother is. Thank you, Rosa Flores, for the reporting from Houston.

Next hour, we're going to take you to the hometown of the abducted Americans. We'll give you more of an update then as well. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Also this morning, we're tracking in Georgia where at least 23 people are now facing domestic terrorism charges after being arrested amid violent clashes with police officers at the construction site for a proposed new police training center in Atlanta. Opponents have derisively called the facility Cop City. They say it would increase militarization, militarized policing and harm the environment. Those are climate protesters as well. Atlanta police say that they are not protesting but instead engaging in criminal activity.


CNN's Nick Valencia is live. Nick, you're actually at the facility. I can see the debris behind you. Tell us what you're seeing there on the ground.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Kaitlan. We're on the edge of this forest, where countless numbers of activists have made their home. They're camping out here in opposition to this proposed police fire and training facility. You could see behind me some of the items left behind. They didn't got port-o-johns here, left behind tent. It's become a camp site and a sort of staging area where we're at. They even have a free store with clothes where they exchange goods here.

And earlier this morning, I spoke to two of the activists who say that they're living inside this forest right now because they don't want what they call Cop City built. They see it as a paramilitary facility, a step towards further militarizing the police in this country.

And it is a robust coalition of activists that are here, not just those that are against this facility but also those that don't want the environmental harm by this facility. But it's become much bigger than this so-called Cop City. It has become, in a sense ground zero for activists to come in from across the country to confront police or at the very least air their grievances against police, and what's we saw here happened on Sunday, 35 people taken into custody.

Of those, 23 have been charged with domestic terrorism and it's similar to the other charges that we've seen from individuals who have confronted police at this site. Things have only gotten more tense since a climate activist was shot and killed by police (INAUDIBLE). Georgia state police said the man opened fire first and they returned fire killing.

What is clear and the bottom line here is that things have only gotten more tense. This week has been promoted by protesters. It's being a week of action and protests with the fate of this proposed police and fire training facility dubbed Cop City by its opponents hanging in the balance. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Yes, absolutely. I mean, the question, of course, nick, is how long that these are going go on, what these protests could look like, given how violent we've seen them get.

LEMON: Nick, stand by. We're going to keep Nick. I just want to bring in now CNN's Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John Miller. John, good morning to you and thank you so much.

So, why don't we pick up where the last thing that Nick talked, 35 people taken into custody, at least 23 people facing domestic terrorism charges. How serious is this?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, this has, as Nick said, been going on for a while. It involves a shooting between police and a protester who opened fire on a state police officer who was seriously wounded. The protester was killed. We saw a second wave of that in downtown Atlanta, not at the construction site, where they burned police cars, broke bank windows, attacked businesses.

So, you've got a couple of interesting dynamics here, which is you've got groups of local protesters who have a position on this training ground and whether it's going to infect the environment and destroy a wooded area, but then you have the out of town group that's come in. And out of the 23 people charged yesterday, two are from the state of Georgia. The rest of what police referred to as professional out of town agitators who have inserted themselves into this to create a flashpoint or what the protesters would say are supporters from out of town who are experienced in taking on authority and dealing with the police.

However you want to look at that, you see it starts with a protest march, which is legal and, you know, under police escort and going by the site, and it turns into the launching of fireworks at the police, shooting of fireworks at police, Molotov cocktails, burning of a police ATV. And that is that group of out of towners who -- they call this black block tactics, where you change out of whatever you're wearing into your all black clothes, makes it harder for police to describe who did what based on the clothing description. You move out of the crowd. You do what they call your direct action and then disappear back into the crowd. So, it's been very dicey.

HARLOW: Can we turn to what we just talked about with Rosa, these four Americans, one going for a medical procedure right over the border in Mexico. The authorities think this is a case of mistaken identity and they got caught in the crosshairs of these drug cartels. How do you get them back?

MILLERS: Well that's a complicated situation. Because in the normal situation, you get them back through -- and I used to run kidnap investigations for the LAPD -- there are a set of procedures there. When you're operating in an impermissive environment in Matamoros, where there is this much or more control of the streets and what happens by a drug cartel, the Gulf Cartel, then there is by authorities, it gets very complicated because you don't really own the grounds.

So, the FBI, the DEA, the U.S. Marshals, they all work in Mexico with the U.S. embassy.


They have deep relationships, trusted relationships with Mexican partners, and their job since the American authorities have no legal authority on the ground, is to help develop intelligence, informants, information that can result in one of two things, either adding communications or pressure that causes the cartel to turn these people over, leave them somewhere safe. Some of them appear to be wounded, or to develop information on a location, and then you have to do a dynamic rescue operation, which is inherently dangerous.

COLLINS: I was talking to someone yesterday about this. And they said, well, the State Department says don't travel there, it's a level 4, do not travel, it's incredibly dangerous. It's on a level of Syria, basically. But a lot of people do do this because medical treatments are a lot less expensive there than they in the United States, and they can pay $5,000 there as opposed to $10,000, for example. It's not all that uncommon, is it?

MILLER: No. And, I mean, you know, people make this calculated risk, which is, well, they mean don't travel deep into the state. I'm just going across the border from Brownsville into Matamoros. I've seen the doctor on Facebook. My friends have been down and they've had successful procedures.

HARLOW: Well, I've been there before like this woman.

MILLER: This would have been her second trip to this medical facility. And she's got her friends. Safety in numbers, I've got three guys with me. But this is a really bad example of how really dangerous it is. And this is what she was involved in probably an $8,000 procedure in the United States, which is a $6,000 or $5,000 procedure there. That's a lot of risk for not that much money.

LEMON: John Miller, thank you.

HARLOW: So, people in parts of hard-hit Southern California have been rushing, trying to dig out as yet another round of snow is on the way. The total snowfall for the season there stands at more than 48 feet. This is in California, all right? That is Central Sierra Snow Lab says that is the total amount. And snowed residents are growing more worried about having enough food and supplies.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm feeling frustrated and I feel like I'm prison.

It's scary, it's frustrating and it's frightening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's hard to make stuff. I'm just eating what there is. So, it's getting uncomfortable. And then they say like go get supplies, it's not an easy thing to do. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Our Stephanie Elam is live in Crestline, California, with more. I mean, they're just talking about how hard it is to get on and off the mountain.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And the good news here, Poppy, is that at least the roads are open. This is the news that I'm standing here in the middle of road here on Crestline, but they've now opened it up just to residents so that they can come and go, because that's been part of the difficulty. Some people were afraid that if they left the mountain, they wouldn't be able to get back up here. You see how high that snow is here behind me.

Well, the other good news is -- well, it wasn't good for them yesterday -- there was a rainstorm that came through and it melted some of the snow that is out here. So, the snow banks on the side are lower but there's still a ton of snow. And there's still a lot of the fact that they had so much snow on top of some these building here that you had the roofs collapsing. People are concerned about making sure that their homes are going to be okay. We see people with snow blowers on top of their roofs of some of these businesses, trying to make that sure that they get the snow off, to make sure that no more of these roofs collapse.

People are hiking in from the other regions. While the county says that 60 percent of the roads are open now, a lot of those side roads aren't open. And so because of that, people are trying to make their way down here and sometimes by foot to get down to the middle of town where they can go and pick up food later in the day.

We've seen some snow plows already out here and operating. But, overall, we're looking at still some difficult times but at least they can get in and out of here now.

And in Northern California, we know that another storm system is heading that way as well. We know in Madera County, there have been homes that had roofs collapsed because of snow, Placer County also calling for a state of emergency because of more snow coming into the area. So, all in all, it's still very much the heart of winter here even though we're now into March, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, it certainly is. I mean, I remember when we were literally uncovering that car in the snow bank for us last week that was totally hidden. Stephanie Elam, thank you.

COLLINS: It's just remarkable to watch.

Also this morning, we are tracking in Washington where a revised crime bill for Washington, D.C., has split Democrats. Which side President Biden is siding with, how members of his party are reacting to how the White House has handled this?


[07:20:00] COLLINS: See a picture of Washington there, this comes as there's some drama under way in the nation's capital as the D.C. Council is now withdrawing a sweeping rewrite of the capital's criminal code from consideration. That comes just before the Senate was scheduled to vote on it on Wednesday to overturn the measure. That move is still going to happen. You are still going to see the Senate vote on that. That comes after the White House announced that President Biden would not veto the Republican-led measure. This is something that took years that D.C. Council City members worked on to revise the criminal code there.

But now, they're going to move ahead with this. This has upset some Democrats in the House after they voted on it and voted against overturning it. And now with the White House saying they will not veto it, some Democrats say it has put them in a difficult position, because, of course, now they're the ones who voted against it with the White House now changing it.

A D.C. City Council member was critical of this effort, saying that she doesn't even think Republicans who served their criticisms about it even read the bill.

JANEESE LEWIS GEORGE, D.C. COUNCIL MEMBER: They're just using this bill to spread misleading and disingenuous soft on crime talking points. House Speaker McCarthy was on CNN this morning saying that the council wants to decriminalize carjacking. That's completely false. Under bill, carjacking in D.C. carries a census of up to 24 years, and that doesn't include the enhancements that can come with it. And the speaker's home state of California, carjacking is only punishable by nine years.


And, frankly, the speaker's ignorance on this issue is exactly why Congress shouldn't be making decisions for the District of Columbia.


COLLINS: CNN's M.J. Lee is joining us live from the White House. M.J., it's kind of hard to understate the frustration that we've seen from a lot of House Democrats, leading House Democrats over the way that the White House has handled this.

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kaitlan. We have really seen a falling of political dominos ever since last week when the president said that he wouldn't veto this bill if Congress were to pass it. As you said, House Democrats were blindsided and felt really furious at the White House for not making it clear sooner that this is what the president's position would be. There were, of course, Democratic progressives who said his position just simply does not line up with his stated support for D.C. statehood.

And then as you said yesterday, we saw this whole debacle with the D.C. Council trying to take this out of congressional review because they knew that the U.S. Senate was about to kill this bill. Look, I think in the big picture, we're seeing very much a big reminder of how big of an issue and a vulnerability Democrats see as crime being -- Republicans have consistently tried to go after Democrats as being soft on crime in the same way that they have said Democrats are soft on the border.

And this D.C. crime bill saga has really sort of captured how politically fraught this issue is going to be and how Democrats sort of find themselves in a bind in some ways, including President Biden. He wants to make sure that he's presenting himself as a leader of the party on not being soft on crime but on this issue. It was kind of a difficult balancing act. And in the end, even though the White House didn't end up giving a full explanation or a clear explanation, they clearly felt like this was a route that he had to take. But no question about it, heading into 2024, this is going to be a huge political issue that Republicans continue to attack Democrats on.

COLLINS: Yes. Democrats just seemed to wish they knew about it beforehand.

Also, M.J., and we know that the president is going to release his budget blueprint on Thursday. He has now penned an op-ed this morning talking about Medicare, which obviously has been one of their main contention points with Republicans. What's he saying in this op-ed?

LEE: Yes, Kaitlan. There is just so much leading up to Thursday when President Biden is going to be releasing his own budget. This is sort of going to be seen as the opening salvo of his negotiations with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as they try to figure out how to raise the debt ceiling later this year. For the president, he has made clear that a big part of his messaging is going to be about strengthening Medicare.

And this is a part of what he said in this new New York Times op-ed this morning. He said, if the MAGA Republicans get their way, seniors will pay higher out of pocket costs on prescription drugs and insulin, the deficit will be bigger and Medicare will be weaker. The only winner under their plan will be big pharma.

Now, I should note, of course, Kevin McCarthy has said that social security and Medicare, those are two things that Republicans do not plan on touching. We'll see the details of this budget come Thursday, but it is already pretty clear what the White House's messaging is going to be and what the Democrats' messaging is going to be, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. We'll see what House Republicans say. M.J. Lee, thank you.

LEMON: This morning, China's new foreign minister issuing a stern rebuke of U.S. policies as tensions between the world's two largest economies continue to soar. He says, conflict and confrontation are inevitable if Washington does not change course and warned there could be catastrophic consequences. He defended Beijing's close partnership with Moscow.

Let's bring in now CNN's Selina Wang live for us in Beijing. Good morning to you. So, what else are you hearing from the new foreign minister? SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Don. Well, actually, this was Qin Gang's his first press conference as China's foreign minister. Up until recently, he was China's ambassador to the U.S. and he's got this reputation for being a careful and accomplished diplomat. So, it's significant that he struck this more combative tone in his first appearance in this rule.

As you said, he warned of catastrophic consequences and inevitable conflict if the U.S. doesn't change its approach to China. We also heard him emphasize this argument that Beijing has been making for a long time, this argument that the U.S. is trying to contain and suppress its rise.

He lashed out at the U.S.'s Indo-Pacific strategy, accusing the U.S. of plotting an Asia-Pacific version of NATO. He also defended China's partnership with Russia as imperative and said China hasn't supplied weapons to Russia or Ukraine. He also accused the U.S. of creating a crisis over Taiwan.

This was clearly a fiery press conference and it really sets the tone for China's foreign policy for not just coming year but potentially years to come. It shows that there really isn't going to be an off- ramp to U.S.-China tensions any time soon.

And I want to point out, Don, that this press conference happened during China's biggest annual legislative session.


This is a rare opportunity for media to actually attend. I just came back from a session myself.