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Nine Killed in Belgrade School Attack; Russia Claims Drone Attack on Kremlin, Ukraine Denies; Iranian and Syrian Presidents Meet for Talks. Aired 10:17-11a ET

Aired May 03, 2023 - 10:15   ET




ELENI GIOKOS, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hello to our viewers around the world, I'm Eleni Giokos in Abu Dhabi. And you have been

watching coverage from our colleagues in the United States on the alleged drone attack on the Kremlin. We will have much more on that throughout


Up next, the aftermath of a school shooting in Serbia that is being described as tragic and a shocking nine people killed. Police say the

shooter was a 14-year-old boy who then called the authorities on himself.

We will be right back.





GIOKOS: Welcome back, I'm Eleni Giokos in Abu Dhabi. You are watching CONNECT THE WORLD.

"He started shooting randomly."

Those are the chilling words of one of the fathers from the school shooting in Serbia's capital that left eight children and a security guard dead.

Right now you're looking at the video of the moment earlier, when police took the suspected shooter from a Belgrade elementary school in handcuffs.

Officials say he's a 14-year-old student. Serbia has some of the highest levels of gun ownership in the world but mass shootings are rare. I want to

bring in CNN's Salma Abdelaziz to get some of the details on what we understand.

Look, the authorities say the shooter had a list of targets.

What do we know about the motive at this stage?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot still to figure out here. Police say they are at the scene, trying to ascertain the facts, the

circumstances, as you mentioned, the motivation behind the shooting.

But what a harrowing attack, perhaps made even more tragic by who the attacker was. The suspected attacker, a 14-year-old boy, believed to be a

student in the school.

And the police's description of how he carried out this attack is just chilling, Eleni. I want you to take a listen to what the Belgrade police

chief described as taking place in the moments after he entered the school.


CHIEF VESELIN MILIC, BELGRADE POLICE (through translator): Upon arriving at school, he immediately pulled a pistol out of his bag and shot D.V., the

security guard. He then went past the on duty staff member and sat down at his desk, like he did nothing wrong. There was one girl at her desk,

another at the piano. He took their lives.


ABDELAZIZ: The rampage then continued after that, Eleni. We understand, according to Belgrade's police chief that 14-year-old suspect identified

only as K.K. by the police then entered the history classroom.

He immediately fired on the teacher and on students, killing and wounding several people inside the classroom, before leaving the classroom, going

into the schoolyard, sitting down, calling the police himself and waiting to be arrested.

Of course, that's when those images played out, like you showed us, with that boy with his head covered, the jacket over his head, wearing jeans, be

taken, escorted out of the school.

You later see in that footage as well, Eleni, students coming out. You can see the pain and anguish on their faces, as you can imagine. This sent

shock waves through this neighborhood in Belgrade. Parents immediately rushed to the school, desperate to find out information about their


You can see some of those reunifications in the video. Some of them speaking to our affiliates, those parents telling our affiliates that their

children were absolutely hysterical. They could not calm them down. It's an absolutely harrowing attack.

Yes, it's a place where gun ownership is high but these attacks are rare. There will be a great deal of questions and pressure on the police.

GIOKOS: Absolutely, a hair-raising tragic story today, Salma Abdelaziz, thank. You

Tina Bilankov, a journalist at Radio Television of Serbia, lives in the Belgrade neighborhood where the shooting happened. She joins us now live.

Tina, thank you very much for taking the time. You are a mother of twin boys, same age as the victims.


GIOKOS: -- is that this is a school in your neighborhood. I can only imagine how you and your children are feeling right now.

Could you take me through what is going on right now in your neighborhood, specifically, within your household?

TINA BILANKOV, JOURNALIST, RADIO TELEVISION OF SERBIA: Apart from being a journalist, right now, I'm speaking to you just as a mother, a mother of

twin boys, who are exactly the same age as the victims and as the perpetrator.

So my boys could have been there as well, because this is the school in our neighborhood. My boys go to another school. So it's exactly the same age,

seventh grade. And people are devastated, all the parents, all the people in Serbia, because of this terrible, violent act, because of this terrible,

violent crime.


BILANKOV: As you have heard from your reporter (INAUDIBLE) the members (INAUDIBLE) they described in detail how he did it.

But on the other hand, as far as the motive is concerned, there are many speculations. Even the minister of education has confirmed that this boy,

this 13 (sic) year old boy has also been a victim of violence at school, at his drama school.

There have been speculations in the media that he was a good boy, a diligent student, an excellent student. He even had some competition

rewards from history classes and that he received a bad mark in history recently, that he was also a victim of some kind of violence.

But nevertheless, for the time being, there have been 10 victims, so eight school children aged 12 to 14, one security guard, (INAUDIBLE) he entered

the school, he started shooting. And he had a specific list of people, of children who he wanted to kill.


GIOKOS: And that was shocking, Tina. That is what was shocking about the story in particular, a 14 year old boy, having a specific target list,

walking into classrooms and taking aim at the people that he had been targeting.

So we are still trying to understand the motive (INAUDIBLE) and as you say, if you look at his background, it is difficult to rationalize what is going


But here are some stats. Serbia does have, I think, the highest gun ownership rates in the world. But these kinds of shootings are rare. You

don't see school shootings in Serbia. So what do you believe authorities will be doing?

How does this impact the immediate conversations about potential intervention on access to guns?

BILANKOV: First of all, in Serbia, does have some tough legislation concerning gun ownership. But still there are many unregistered weapons

that are even from the wars of the '90s.

And as they said, this crime was committed with the arm (sic) of his father. He had several guns that he kept in a safe in his house. But

obviously, the boy had the code (ph).

So apart from dealing with the legislation and the access to guns, this boy also, as a member of the police at the press conference said, he rehearsed

shooting with his father at some hitting (ph) facilities in Belgrade.

But what has to be addressed is the whole atmosphere of violence in the society. So there are violence --


BILANKOV: -- reality shows that are on the TV stations with national coverage. There is violence everywhere --


GIOKOS: What are the authorities saying right now in terms of what happens next, right?

So as they are working on motive, they clearly have to think about how to support the neighborhood, how to support school children, how to support

the victims.

And obviously, you know, putting more safeguards in place. I know the security guard was killed, which shows there is usually security at


Could you take us through the process of what messaging there is to give confidence to kids going to school tomorrow?

BILANKOV: I don't think, for the time being, the government has any particular and solid plan to deal with this. You see, at the press

conference, there were, let's say, not of senior members of the government. It's usually it's at the press conferences that the president is showing


But here, there was the minister of police, minister of education, minister of health. The minister of health was very moved, very touched. She said

she is a doctor herself and she said, in her 40 years long career, that even included even the wars from the '90s, this is the toughest moment, the

hardest moment in her career.

But still, nobody has taken responsibility for what has happened so far. And I don't think nobody (sic) offered any kind of resignation. And I think

they still do not know what to do in the future from the -- because, we, the parents, we have social media, we have groups. And I know tomorrow

there will be a big protest at 2 pm --


BILANKOV: -- in Belgrade in front of the school, of all the parents from Belgrade, who will protest against (INAUDIBLE), against violence, against

the general atmosphere in society that led to this.

GIOKOS: Tina Bilankov, thank you very much. We wish you all the best. Tragic story there in Serbia, thank you.

A desperate manhunt has ended in the state of Texas with an uneventful arrest. Francisco Oropesa was discovered Tuesday night hiding in a closet

after authorities had been searching for him since last week.

He's charged with killing five of his neighbors, one of them a 9 year old boy. He is being held on $5 million bond. He is set to appear before a

judge in the coming hours. Several others have been arrested, including his longtime partner.

Still to come, a live report from CNN's Matthew Chance, with incoming developments on Russia's claim of a drone attack on the Kremlin. That is

coming up, stay with us.




GIOKOS (voice-over): Welcome back, I'm Eleni Giokos in Abu Dhabi. You are watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Here are your headlines this hour.

A teenage suspect is being held by police after a school shooting in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, killed nine people, eight of them children.

Officials from across Europe are offering their condolences after Wednesday's mass shooting.

Russia says two Ukrainian drones were flown toward the Kremlin last night in an attempt on president Vladimir Putin's life. They report no injuries

and they say Putin was not there at the time.

Ukraine denies any involvement, saying it does not attack other countries. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has arrived in Helsinki, meeting

with Finland's president and his other Nordic counterparts, laying the case for Ukraine to join NATO. Finland became the alliance's newest member last


GIOKOS: U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken has just commented on the Kremlin's claims. Let's listen in.

All right, we are going to bring you those comments in just a moment. We've got Matthew Chance, standing by for us, to give us a rundown of the

situation and, of course, Russia's claim that the Kremlin was attacked. He has spent years covering Moscow and Vladimir Putin. Today, he joins us from


I want to initially talk about Russia's accusation and, of course, how it opens the door, what Russia says, for retaliation and what that could mean.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Obviously, it is very worrying. What the Russians say, first of all, is that there were two

drones, that last night attacked the Kremlin and exploded near it.

But you can see from the video that has been making its way onto social media over the past few minutes or so, that drone is slamming -- if that

indeed is a drone -- right into the center of the grand Kremlin palace, hitting the Russian flag, virtually, as it flies above the historic,

symbolic, political center of the Russian state.

So obviously, that sends a very potent message of vulnerability on the part of the Kremlin, not just to Ukraine but the millions of Russians who will

be watching this play out on their screens as well.

As to what the consequences could, be well there have already been calls inside the Russian parliament for weapons to be used which can, quote,

"destroy the Ukrainian state."

That's obviously an oblique reference to nuclear weapons. But I think we have to take a step back a little bit and kind of remember the use of

nuclear weapons is not necessarily a proportionate response to this drone attack, if it is indeed a drone attack.

And if a nuclear device were used inside Ukraine, even a small one, the calculus would be the same. It would secure very little in terms of

military advantage and potentially turn what is left of Russia's alliance in China, for instance, against Russia for its use of that kind of device.

So that kind of calculus remains the same. Nevertheless, we could well see an upsurge in the level of attacks that the Kremlin is prepared to use

against Ukraine in the days and weeks ahead.

I have to say, it is hard to imagine how the fighting, how the devastation can get worse when you see a situation in Ukraine, where entire cities have

been already laid to waste. So it's not clear what else the Russians could bring to bear in terms of destructive ability, if we don't talk about

nuclear weapons, to the nation of Ukraine.

We also have to think about all the stuff that has been taking place in Russia over the past several days. There's been an upsurge in attacks on

infrastructure targets inside the Russian Federation itself, usually in border areas, close to the border with Ukraine.

Some of that has been blamed on the Ukrainian military. They always deny any attacks which take place inside the territory of the Russian


There's also another factor as well, which is the possibility that these attacks could have been undertaken by partisans, Russian partisans, sort of

acting from inside Russia, who are opposed to what Russia is doing in Crimea, opposed to the Kremlin, opposed to the Russian state.

There are a number of groups that have emerged over the past year or so, claiming to carry out these kinds of attacks. And there is a possibility,

although it's not been confirmed yet, a possibility that this drone attack could also have been the work of a partisan group of Russians operating,

perhaps supported by Ukrainian secret services, but operating by Russians inside the territory of the Russian Federation.

The details are sketchy right now, as you can see; the secretary of state in the United States, Antony Blinken, says that the U.S. is trying to get

to the bottom of this, trying to work out exactly what has happened. But hopefully there will be more clarity in the hours ahead.

GIOKOS: Look, multiple scenarios that you are looking at there. We do now have a sound bite from U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken. Let's listen

in on that.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Second, I would take anything coming out of the Kremlin with a very large shaker of salt. So let's see.

We will see what the facts are.

And it is really hard to comment or speculate on this without really knowing what the facts are. More generally, as I said and as we said, when

it comes to Ukraine, which is under daily assault, not just its incredibly courageous military forces but its citizens, its men, women and children,

being assaulted on a daily basis by this Russian aggression, being bombed out of their homes, their apartments, their streets.

Children killed, families torn apart. Well, we leave it to Ukraine to decide how they will defend themselves and how it will try to get back the

territory that has been seized from it illegally by Russia over the past 14 months.


BLINKEN: And going back to 2014, back to that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So to clarify, if Ukraine decided on its own to strike back in Russian territory, the United States would not criticize them?

BLINKEN: Again, these are decisions for Ukraine to make about how they will defend themselves, how it will get its territory back, how it will

restore its territorial integrity and sovereignty.


GIOKOS: We've got Nic Robertson standing by. He will analyze some of what we heard from Antony Blinken.

The messaging is, a question whether we can trust the information coming through from the Kremlin. But you know, if Ukraine had to decide to take a

different route in terms of how they would fight this war, we would not criticize them.

Nic, your reaction to that?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: There is another piece of information we learned as well, coming from a Russian state broadcaster,

that now says -- and it gives more detail on the claims about these two drone strikes.

They are saying the two drone incidents over the Kremlin happened 16 minutes apart.

That's a lot more detail than perhaps secretary of state Antony Blinken, where it had the information, when he said we can't -- he would take

whatever Russia says with a large grain of salt, frankly, because their credibility is shot through with their own previous lies or false flag

operations, whatever it will be called.

So what he is saying in terms of leaving it up to Ukraine how to defend their nation, certainly it sounds more ambiguous than these alleged leaks

that appeared to have come out, appeared to leak from U.S. intelligence earlier this year, that had appeared to indicate that the United States had

asked Ukraine not to target Russian targets on Russian soil, as according to this leaked intelligence.

They believe Ukraine wanted to do this at the time of the first anniversary of the war, the 24th of February.

So were these leaks accurate?

The Ukrainian side has said repeatedly -- and I heard it directly from officials as well -- that these leaks were not true, that this is not what


But has Secretary Blinken and the White House now decided to take a slightly different view, a more ambiguous view?

I think it perhaps speaks to what we have seen over the past week or past couple of weeks, that there have been an increased number of attacks on

Russia's resupply routes, to resupply its fight in the war in Ukraine.

But actually on Russian territory, two on a Russian train line north of Ukraine, on Monday and Tuesday at the beginning of this week. That has been

a significant increase; 20 carriages of a train were destroyed or derailed during that strike.

This morning in the south of Russia around Krasnodar, there was a strike on a fuel ammunition store there, believed to be at a military depot, part of

the resupply for Russia's war effort inside of Ukraine.

So is this the ambiguousness of what Secretary Blinken is speaking about?

Ukrainian officials don't claim those acts; they suggest they could be partisans, Russian partisans, deciding to use this moment to strike against

President Putin's leadership inside Russia.

If they are, the timing is certainly to Ukraine's advantage. But I think, step back again and take this all in the bigger round, this is a moment in

time where Ukraine is preparing for an expected counteroffensive.

Ukraine in this counteroffensive, we've had many military analysts on CNN explaining how they would be shaping operations for diversionary tactics

here, diversionary tactics there, could all of this happening in Russia be part of these potentially, just, destabilizing, to put Russia off of its

step, off of its game?

Or is it a trick?

What we are hearing about over the Kremlin as Ukraine officials here say a trick by Russia to try to gin up more popularity and support for the war in

Ukraine that's not going at all well ahead of this massive victory day celebration, in just a couple of days' time.

You know, in a war of this nature and this magnitude, with so much at stake, psychological operations, unclaimed actions over the border, all

these sorts of things are possible.

And during war, it is very hard to get clarity. But there is an ambiguousness in what Secretary Blinken has said that does not lend itself

to seeing through getting more clarity on some of these events.

GIOKOS: I want to bring in Matthew Chance.


GIOKOS: The Kremlin has given this messaging that it is impenetrable. And this could potentially give indication to Russians that there is a

vulnerability here. To Nic's point, this could be a way of Russia saying, look, this opens the door for us to retaliate aggressively. It's an excuse

and so forth.

And conversely, it also doesn't make Russia look good internally.

CHANCE: I don't know the answer to what is behind this. Obviously, none of us do at this stage. But it seems extraordinary that Russia would broadcast

this allegation. It is a dramatic attack on the symbolic and political center of the Russian state.

It is a remarkable admission of vulnerability. Look at these images, an explosion striking the dome, right in the center of the grand Kremlin

palace behind the red brick walls of the Kremlin. That is a potent message of vulnerability that millions of Russians will be seeing.

And it sends a terrible message that the Kremlin is losing control of the war, which -- or a special military operation, as they insist on calling it

-- which people see as something far away, it's not going to have a direct impact and they struggled over the last year or so to keep that myth alive.

And these images showing a strike in the center of the Russian state makes it even harder to perpetuate this idea, that the war is not something that

is being fought in a very close quarters way.

Back to Blinken, I thought it was a significant development, a significant departure from the United States' previous position,, which is that

weapons, attacks on Russian forces must be limited to the territory of Ukraine.

It's been a gray area and there's been exceptions on the Crimean peninsula, which is part of Ukraine territory but which Russia has annexed. It's

previously been seen as a potential red line but nevertheless air bases there have been attacked.

And so the fact that the U.S. is saying, look, we leave it up to Ukraine to decide how they fight this war, I think that is significant and potentially

opens the door to more kinds of attacks like this.

GIOKOS: A Russian parliamentary speaker has said that they've got to destroy the Kyiv regime. It's very harsh words.

The entire statement from the Kremlin has been very escalatory and we're trying to ascertain, what does that mean in real terms?

And what could the Kremlin's next movie here?

CHANCE: It's been escalatory, I suppose you could see it that way, although you could argue that shooting drones at the Kremlin and exploding

them in the center of Red Square or close to Red Square, where there's a military parade about to take place, is also escalatory. So it depends on

your perspective on that.

But yes, you're right. The Kremlin are characterizing this as an attempt to kill the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. And they've said they will

strike back and reserve the right to strike back as and when they deem necessary.

And you're, right the speaker of the Ukrainian (sic) parliament has come out and said we should use the weapons are needed to destroy the Ukrainian

state. But this talks to a much broader debate that is taking place inside Russia, on Russian television, in public as well, about how the war is

being conducted so far.

There is this line of analysis by hardliners in Russia that Russia should take its gloves off and really hit Ukraine hard with everything it's got,

not necessarily nuclear weapons but something just short of that to really impose a military solution on the situation.

That may well be what is being contemplated right now. That's why there's so much concern at the moment tonight in Ukraine.

GIOKOS: We've got Nic Robertson with us.

Nic, I know you've been gathering information in real time as it comes through, as the story is developing. The Ukrainians have said they are

distancing themselves from this attack. But let's look at all the options here.

Why would Ukraine want to tackle and attack Russia in this way, inside of Russia?

ROBERTSON: Look, Ukrainian officials are very aware that, however their counteroffensive and however military operations go against Russia inside

Ukraine, it's very hard for the Russian population to understand and know what's going on.

They say that if they have big success against Russia and Ukraine, the Russians may not even know about it.


ROBERTSON: That is that Putin's media machine have such control over the messaging in Russia that Russians have no real idea what's actually

happening in Ukraine and therefore Putin can spin anything that's happening here as positive.

And we have seen in other conflicts around the world, that when a country or a group cannot -- it feels it is not punching through and getting the

government, its adversary government's attention, it will perpetrate acts closer to their soil.

So in this way by taking potentially -- if it is Ukraine, they say it's not -- if it's their supporters on the streets of Russia, that's slightly

different. But this is taking the message to the Russians, as Matthew has alluded to here, striking at the cultural, political heart in such an

obvious in the center of Moscow that the Kremlin cannot deny.

And that makes the Kremlin look potentially weak. So in this way, the advantage for Ukraine, whether they did it or not, shows that Russia has a

weakness and a vulnerability. And the war is not going well. And that is something that Putin cannot hide.

The Russians have tried to deflect this, it appears, by upping the ante and calling it an assassination attempt. But there have been these other

strikes that we were mentioning before, on Russian supply lines, inside Russia.

These attacks are happening, where it's much harder for Putin to deny to the Russian people that it's actually happening. And the Kremlin cannot be

a more obvious and bigger place to draw attention to the weakness of the Kremlin and of the war in Ukraine. So in that analysis, this benefits

Ukraine whether they perpetrated it or not.

GIOKOS: Nic Robertson, thank you so much for that analysis. And a big thank you to Matthew Chance there as well.

We will be right back. Stay with CNN.




GIOKOS: Iran's president is now in Syria for talks with president Bashar al-Assad. Ebrahim Raisi arrived in Damascus earlier today to begin his two-

day trip. Iran has been a key financial and military ally during the conflict. Becky Anderson explains how this visit is part of a new era of

diplomacy in the region.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): An historic visit, 13 years in the making. Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi meeting with the Syrian president

Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

Despite Tehran's ongoing financial and military support for Assad, it is the first state visit of its kind since Syria's brutal civil war began in

2011. Raisi's two-day trip taking place against the backdrop of a wider regional efforts to bring Assad back into the fold.


ANDERSON (voice-over): Saudi Arabia's foreign minister making a similar trip to Damascus just a few weeks ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are working closely toward advancing a political solution to advisers in Syria that preserves its sovereignty and its

territorial integrity and make sure it is part of the Arab fold.

ANDERSON (voice-over): And earlier this week, Jordan set a rare meeting between Syria and its Arab neighbors. The tangible outcome of that was

Syria agreeing to curb trafficking of the highly addictive amphetamine Captagon.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf are its primary market. The agreement is seen by many as a confidence building exercise. The push for normalization is

gaining momentum after a devastating earthquake hit Syria and Turkiye in February.

Nearly 6,000 people in Syria who died. And many Gulf Arab countries rushed to provide humanitarian assistance.

Earthquake diplomacy seemingly shaking the Syrian stalemate. Saudi Arabia hopes to invite Syria to an Arab League summit in Riyadh later this month.

But some Arab states oppose Syria's return without a political solution to the conflict.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We don't want to impose solutions on the Syrian people. The people need to reach that. There must be a

political solution for the Syrian crisis.

ANDERSON (voice-over): As for the millions of Syrian refugees brutalized by Assad's war --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a betrayal of the Syrian people I think for any government to normalize with the Assad regime, to do business with the

Assad regime, the person that's responsible for displacing and killing his own people. For the Syrian people themselves, it is a stab in the back.

It's a huge betrayal.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Syrian refugees and citizens caught between shifting politics and facing an uncertain future -- Becky Anderson, CNN.


GIOKOS: For more on this and stories out of the Middle East, you can subscribe to CNN's "Meanwhile in the Middle East" newsletter. It is sent

three times a week, curated by experts across the region. You can sign up at

Popular late night television shows in the U.S. have gone dark and are airing repeat episodes just hours after thousands of TV and film writers

went on strike. Weeks-long negotiations collapsed with production companies over pay and other issues.

A spokesperson for NBC says they are canceling this week's "Saturday Night Live" and will now air reruns until further notice. The episode was due to

be hosted by former cast member Pete Davidson.

We will be right back right after the short break. Stay with CNN.