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Over 100 Killed in Terror Attack Near Soleimani Grave; Senior Hamas Leader Assassinated in Lebanon; Investigation into Japan Runway Collision; Harvard President Resigns amid Mounting Controversy; World Darts Championship; Aired 10-11a ET

Aired January 03, 2024 - 10:00:00   ET




BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): This hour, we have reports of more than 100 killed and 140 wounded in explosions near the burial site of slain

Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani. We will bring you the latest on that.

First, your other headlines this hour.

A senior Hamas leader in Lebanon has been assassinated, raising fears of an escalation in the Israel-Hamas war. Saleh Al-Arouri and several others were

killed on Tuesday in the apparent drone strike in Beirut.

And the death toll from the 7.5 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan this week has risen to 73. Total number of missing yet to be confirmed.

Harvard University president Claudine Gay is stepping down after only six months on the job. She received criticism for her testimony at an anti-

Semitism hearing on Capitol Hill last month. In a letter on Tuesday, the Harvard Corporation defended Gay and said that they accepted her

resignation with sorrow.


ANDERSON: We are watching two big stories out of the Middle East this hour. This region facing growing tensions amid fears that the Israel-Hamas

war will expand.

First, let's deal with the breaking news out of Iran. State media there reporting more than 100 people killed and 140 wounded in explosions here

near the burial site of slain Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani.

They were visiting the site on the fourth anniversary of his assassination in Iraq in an airstrike ordered by Donald Trump. Nada Bashir joined us a

short time ago from Lebanon's capital for more on these explosions in Iran. Iran calling these terror blasts in what is a growing death toll there.


NADA BASHIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Two explosions went off the first just 700 meters away from the burial site, the second about a kilometer away.

Important to remember of course, that there would have been hundreds of pilgrims gathering around Qasem Soleimani's burial site today. Today marks

four years since he was killed at Baghdad International Airport in a U.S. strike targeting Soleimani, carried out of course, under the orders of then

president, U.S. President Donald Trump.

There has been some concern around the potential for violence in Iran around the anniversary of Qasem Soleimani's death but we haven't

necessarily seen that on past occasions. We are still waiting for more details.

But state media citing Iranian officials is now characterizing this as a terrorist attack. But no clear details just yet as to what caused the

explosion or who caused explosion or what the motives may have been.

But, of course, this will send reverberations across the region. We know of course, that Hezbollah, the Iran backed Hezbollah group in Lebanon, their

secretary general Hassan Nasrallah is expected to make a speech later today. That speech was scheduled at some time ago to mark the anniversary

of Qasem Soleimani's killing.

It will remain to be seen what Nasrallah has to say later this evening with regards to that.


ANDERSON: Absolutely. And that's important. Watch out for that speech from the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

I want to take a moment to look back at just who Qasem Soleimani was. He spent most of his life in the Iranian military, serving in the Iran-Iraq

War during the early 1980s.

He rose to prominence and eventually took the reins of Iran's Quds Force, an elite unit that handles Iran's overseas operations, deemed to be a

foreign terrorist organization by the United States.

Soleimani was said to be universally respected by those he commanded and it is believed he was the mastermind of Iranian military operations in Iraq

and in Syria. The U.S. blamed him for orchestrating attacks on coalition bases in Iraq in 2019.

And at the time of his assassination, the State Department said he was, quote, "actively developing plans" to attack American diplomats and service

members in Iraq and throughout the region.

Well, these explosions in Iran coming as they did, on the fourth anniversary of Soleimani's death, happening less than a day after the

assassination of a senior Hamas official in Lebanon.


Hamas, Hezbollah and their allies are condemning the killing of Saleh al- Arouri, who was assassinated along with several others in an apparent drone strike in Beirut. Israel's government saying it is not taking


But a U.S. official tells CNN Israel carried out the assassination. Elliott Gotkine back with us this hour from Tel Aviv.

Let's start with what happened in Beirut. I just want to get your thoughts on what is developing there in Iran.

Al-Arouri, who was he and why is it that, at this point, his assassination, as the U.S. is describing it to CNN, is significant and potentially


ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So Saleh al-Arouri was one of the founding members of Hamas' military wing. He was also deputy head of the

political bureau and was seen to be the leader of Hamas in the occupied West Bank.

And as a leader of Hamas, as far as Israel is concerned, his days were numbered in the wake of October the 7th and those Hamas terrorist attacks

that killed at least 1,200 people and kidnapped more than 200.

And indeed, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others in the government have said that Hamas leaders, wherever they are in the world, should know

that Israel will get to them and will take them out.

They've also said, of course, that they will be going after specifically the leaders of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, such as Yahya Sinwar and others who

they deemed to be masterminds of those October 7th attacks.

So Israel certainly has made threats against the leadership of Hamas. It certainly has the means and the motivation to go after them.

And although its official line right now is the kind of strategic ambiguity that I suppose was -- seemed quite quaint almost these days, neither

confirming or denying, officially at least, that it was responsible, the cat is kind of been let out of the bag by the likes of Danny Danon, a

former Israeli envoy to the United Nations.

He's from prime minister Netanyahu's own Likud Party, posting on X last night his congratulations to the Israeli security services for the targeted

assassination and saying that everyone who was involved in the massacre of October the 7th needs to know that we will get them and close accounts with


Those sentiments kind of echoed by the Mossad chief, David Barnea, today. The funeral of the previous Mossad head. And I think that it is despite the

lack of official admission that this was Israel.

We've heard from U.S. officials, we've heard from Israeli officials, we've heard from people close to the government. It seems almost like an open

secret that this was Israel. And I suppose everyone now is bracing to see if there is repercussions in terms -- especially not so much from Hamas

because I suppose the thought there is, what more can Hamas do after October the 7th?

But really for Hezbollah, this targeted killing was in southern Lebanon -- excuse me; in southern Beirut. This is a kind of a bastion of Hezbollah.

And the one thing that Mark Regev, one of the prime minister's spokesmen, said last night.

He was, despite not accepting responsibility was noting that this wasn't against Hezbollah. In other words, a message to Hezbollah, this is between

us and Hamas. This doesn't require you to get involved.

Whether Hezbollah will escalate the situation -- and tensions, of course, have been simmering with daily attacks. We've had attacks today from

Hezbollah in Syria, launches toward Israel, Israel firing back toward Hezbollah positions and cells from Hezbollah as well.

Nothing out of the ordinary there. So it doesn't seem there's been any additional retaliation or escalation as a result of this killing. But the

IDF does say, Becky, that it is on high alert.

ANDERSON: There's a lot to unpack here. Elliott, thank you.

CNN political and global affairs analyst Barak Ravid joining us now.

And Barbara Slavin is a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center and author of "Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted

Path to Confrontation."

It's good to have you both with us.

Barak, let me start with you. The most recent of these events, the explosion of course, or the two explosions, the twin explosions in Iran,

you could argue that no two events in the region are entirely disconnected, especially at the moment.

What are we looking at here?

BARAK RAVID, CNN POLITICAL AND GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, Becky, you're definitely right. There are very few coincidences in the region. But on the

other hand, not every two incidents that happen day after day are necessarily connected.

But this is definitely a very big deal that just happened in Iran, because I think that we still don't know who exactly was there and who might have

been killed in this explosion.


There are more than 100 people who were killed at the moment. This number is going to rise and the question is -- and I think then we will know more

about what is the origin of this explosion (INAUDIBLE) -- we will know whether there were any Iranian officials, especially from the IRGC, from

the Quds Force who were there and got killed.

ANDERSON: This of course the fourth anniversary of the death of Qasem Soleimani. The Iranian authorities calling these terror blasts not

specifically pointing the finger of blame at any one entity or country. Much talk around the region that this could be the work of the Israelis.

But absolutely no responsibility taken by anyone at the present.

That is in the past couple of hours in Iran. Let's turn to what happened before I bring Barbara in here in Lebanon. You wrote that the attack in

Beirut, the assassination, as one U.S. official is describing it to CNN, could push the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group to escalate its attacks

against Israel.

Taking stock now, 24 hours on after that after that explosion, is that something that you worry about ahead of Nasrallah's speech in the next hour

or so?

RAVID: Yes, I think this is a very likely scenario. I'm not sure if it will happen today before the speech. But the Israeli officials think it is

highly likely that Hezbollah will conduct some sort of an attack as a retaliation.

And the scenario that the Israelis are looking at is launching of long- range missiles by Hezbollah at targets inside Israel as far as Tel Aviv. And if that is the case, we are looking at a very significant escalation in

the situation on the Israeli-Lebanese border, that (INAUDIBLE) months was much more tense than ever.

But it was below the threshold of an all-out war. If Hezbollah launches missiles in Tel Aviv, we're getting much, much closer to a regional war.

ANDERSON: Let me bring in Barbara at this point.

Let's provide some context, if you will. Take a look at this.


ANDERSON (voice-over): This was Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, praying over the coffin of the IRGC commander Mousavi, who was killed in a

Christmas Day strike in Syria. This is another example of the violence that we are seeing across this region.


ANDERSON: These events, as Barak and I have just been discussing, they aren't happening in isolation. Whilst we may not be able to connect dots

between each and every single event, nothing is happening in isolation at this point.

BARBARA SLAVIN, AUTHOR AND DISTINGUISHED FELLOW, STIMSON CENTER: No, obviously, not. Of course, you mention the killing of that general. That

has been attributed to Israelis.

So it seems as though Israel is very much testing Iran's willingness or not to retaliate for some of these strikes. Then we just put a piece up on the

Stimson Center that how Iran has not been retaliating in a timely fashion for these assassinations and even its response to the killing of Qasem

Soleimani was not particularly robust.

Which raises the question of whether Iran thinks history is on its side and it does not have to engage in tit-for-tat strikes or whether there is real

concern about internal stability in the country.

The fact that these kinds of explosions could take place at a commemoration for Qasem Soleimani suggests at a minimum that Iranian security has some

major problems and major (INAUDIBLE).

And I was thinking, you know, it could be Israel; it could be the mujahidin hub, it could be ISIS, which has carried out strikes in Iran in the past

and, of course, Qasem Soleimani fought against ISIS and was instrumental in kicking ISIS out of Iraq and defeating it in Syria.

So he had a lot of enemies, not just Israel. And we should look there. But clearly this could be a fairly tense time for the region and there's going

to be a possibility of retaliation, which could just widen the war.

ANDERSON: And I want to talk about that, because we know that Khamenei is a fan of strategic patience.

I want both your perspectives on this.

He's a fan of strategic patience but, at some point, one assumes that he is going to have to act. Now right from the outset of this latest conflict,

the Americans have said, do not get involved.

Anybody who thinks about getting involved in this conflict, don't. And that was clearly squarely aimed at Tehran, with warships of course, U.S.

warships out on the coast of the Mediterranean.


The Israelis have also warned Hezbollah in Lebanon not to get involved. But there are those around this region -- and I'm in London today but I'm

normally based in the Gulf in the Middle East -- those around the region. I talk to people all the time who suggest that they see evidence that Israel

is actually trying to draw Hezbollah into this war.

There is criticism of Israel's position at present. I don't think anybody is suggesting that the U.S. is trying to pull Hezbollah or Iran into this.

But I wonder what you both make of what we are seeing on the ground.

Certainly Yoav Gallant, the defense minister -- let me start with you, Barbara -- has said that we are fighting now on seven fronts, six of which,

he says, they are actively in combat on, suggesting that Iran -- and this was a week or so ago -- Iran was the outlier at this point.

What do you make of what we are seeing, Barbara?

SLAVIN: You know, I think there's been a tendency in Israel to blame Iran and to blame Iran's proxies for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Even

right after October 7th, you saw Benjamin Netanyahu blaming the Iranians for what was an assault that, for as far as I know, Iran was not informed

about in advance.

Now you can say that Iran has some responsibility as a longtime exporter of Hamas. But I think it is a way of deflecting attention from the real

problem, which is between Israel and the Palestinians and also deflecting attention from the horrific devastation that Israel has wrought on Gaza in

retaliation for October 7th.

And so perhaps by widening the war, the Israelis think that the world will stop paying attention to 20,000-plus Palestinians dead. I think it is a

grave miscalculation. I think it will widen the division between Israel and the United States, which as you mentioned, has been trying desperately to

prevent this war from widening.

ANDERSON: Barak, your perspective?

RAVID: Yes, I know one person who might have an issue with Barbara's analysis and that is the Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei. If you look

at everything he has been saying for the last year, almost on a weekly basis, Iran is increasing its support for Hamas and for the Islamic Jihad,

both in the West Bank and in Gaza.

And the Iranians actually did it. A big part of Hamas' military wing budget comes from Iran. A lot of the training that Hamas operatives and Islamic

Jihad operatives get is from Iran. A lot of the support, the diplomatic support and the military support that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad get is

from Iran and from Hezbollah and Lebanon.

And those are not secrets. Those are things that both Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad everyone are saying publicly. So I think that Iran is very

much involved, even if it was not involved in the exact timing and plans for the October 7th attack.

There's a lot more than that. And the Iranians, on the other hand, did not get their hands dirty directly. And they continue what they've been doing

for many, many years and this is fighting the wars through other people, either through Hezbollah or through Hamas and Islamic Jihad, working

through pro Iranian militias in Syria.

Or through the Houthis in Yemen or through the militias in Iraq. It's a very well-known Iranian MO (ph) and they continue to do this since October


ANDERSON: The Houthis in Yemen, of course, a front that Yoav Gallant has included in Israel's ongoing fight.

To both of, you it's good to have you.

I'm going to have to take a break but it's good to have you. I'll have you back.

You can always find a lot more news at CNN digital and a lot of that comes out of CNN's Middle East newsletter. It is "Meantime in the Middle East."

That is produced and written out of Abu Dhabi, where I am normally based. It is a jolly good read. Use the QR code, scan there and subscribe. It is

full of really good information.

The footprint on the Middle East is extremely important. Right, now a fresh article on Israel's supreme court historic ruling, while we break down the

court's decision just days ago was unprecedented. That is at


Still to come, we are following new details about the deadly plane collision in Japan and how the flight crew remarkably helped more than 350

passengers to safety.




ANDERSON: Japanese officials have just released a written transcript of communications between air traffic controllers and the two planes involved

in a deadly collision on a Tokyo airport runway.

According to the transcript, air traffic control cleared Japan Airlines to land its passenger plane on Tuesday with hundreds of people on board. But

it's not clear yet why the collision occurred. What is clear is this: that is the debris.

I mean, remarkable that nobody was killed in the commercial plane. Sadly, those on the Coast Guard Flight 506 lost their lives. CNN's Will Ripley

joining us from Tokyo with more on what is a developing story.

What does that transcript tell us, Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What it tells us, Becky, is the air traffic control gave, at least on paper, the commands

that are normal for a plane that is taxiing to the runway, getting ready to take off. That is the Coast Guard plane, the -8.

And then a plane that is making the final approach into the airport, that was the Japan Airlines Flight 516. So both of these planes in those crucial

minutes from 5:43 pm local time to 5:47, they were presumably, if you read the transcript, exactly where they needed to be.

And yet they weren't, because when that Japan airliner was touching down, the -8 was right in its path. The two planes, collided creating that huge

fireball, incinerating them essentially. It took 18 minutes for that giant Airbus A350-900 to be fully engulfed.

And it is now just a mangled pile of metal and plastic. They have yet to locate the cockpit voice recorder. A team from Airbus has arrived in Tokyo,

just in the last couple hours or so. It will be assisting with the technical aspects of this investigation and looking for that crucial

cockpit voice recording.

They've been listening to the cockpit voice recording from the Coast Guard plane. But as they continue to dig through that evidence for clues as to

who screwed up here to cause, this we once again have more examples, more eyewitness video of the truly heroic, valiant efforts by those nine members

of the flight crew.

Who, despite not having a functional communication system, despite black smoke billowing through the cabin, some of the exit doors not even


They still, just using the power of their voices and some megaphones, managed to get all of those passengers, 365 of them, plus eight infants off

of the plane alive without barely a scratch.

Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language).



RIPLEY: Experts say this is a textbook example of how an evacuation is supposed to go. You have the flight crew fully prepared, acting essentially

on instinct and passengers who complied and did not push and shove each other or try to grab the carry on bags.

They just got up, got off of their seats, didn't panic and slid down the slides to safety, every single last one of them, Becky.

ANDERSON: Amazing stuff. Will, thank you.

And, of course, continuing urgent rescues still happening in Japan for people affected by the earthquake there. The 7.5 magnitude disaster killed

at least 73 people. More than 70 have been rescued but the number of others who have been missing remains unknown.

The quake destroyed buildings and triggered many fires. It's also set off tsunami alerts.

More on breaking news, up next, over 100 people killed in an attack in Iran in the past couple of hours. What we know and what it means for the region

that is already beyond tense is after this.




ANDERSON: Welcome back. I'm Becky Anderson. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Time in London today is 3:30 pm. Back to our breaking news out of

Iran. And a warning: video you're about to see has some graphic images.


ANDERSON (voice-over): Iranian state media reporting that more than 100 people killed and the 140 wounded in explosions near the burial site of

slain Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani.

They were visiting the site on the fourth anniversary of his assassination in Iraq in an airstrike ordered then by then U.S. president Donald Trump.

Iranian officials are calling the explosions a terror attack. State TV also says that the first explosion appeared to be caused by a remotely detonated

suitcase bomb.

Dr. Vali Nasr joins us now via Skype. He is professor of international affairs and Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University.

This does seem like a major security breach, especially in a country that cracks down severely on any forms of protest.


I just wonder why, at this point, given everything in the region, why authorities would not be more aware. Let's just start there.

VALI NASR, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think they have been aware. But there have been terrorist attacks on Iran in the

past. It's a very large country. But also this is happening in the context of the Gaza war.

So even though the Iranian government has decided not to point the finger at Israel, there is this lingering feeling that this might be very well

connected to the other assassination of an Iranian general in Damascus and to the tensions that are brewing in Lebanon and generally between Iran and


So in other words, it has to be seen in a broader context that this is happening in relationship to everything else going on in the region.

ANDERSON: Yes, and I think that's important and we've been making that point, Vali, that not every event or incident is linked specifically. But

the wider context is very as very little happens here without being ultimately associated with another event in the region, particularly at

this time.

Whoever is responsible for this, the timing on the anniversary of Soleimani's death, is a message, surely, correct?

NASR: Yes, first of, all it is a message, the size of the blast and the number killed is a message. Also this is, if indeed it is connected to the

Gaza war, this is the second attack on the Revolutionary Guards directly to the assassination in Damascus.

Followed by the attack on the anniversary of death of the general who was the superior of the commander that was killed in Syria and was very

connected, in fact, to the Hezbollah, Hamas and everything else.

It is a very powerful signal and also I have to say that, in the past, terrorist attacks that happened inside Iran, Iranians have blamed it always

on foreign hands and have always connected those to regional issues.

So the mindset of the Iranian regime, even though they may call it a terrorist attack, not to put themselves in a box to retaliate immediately,

they will not see these as disassociated.

ANDERSON: Interestingly, back in December, of course, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had suggested that Hamas' assault on October the 7th,

the Al-Aqsa floods, as it's known by Hamas, was in part a response to Soleimani's assassination four years ago, something that Hamas itself, as

an organization, refuted somewhat.

Even as we work to understand exactly what is happening today in Iran, the fear is that this conflict could expand around the region, as Israel

continues to bombard Gaza.

How worried are you?

NASR: I am very worried. I don't think the Iranians want an expanded conflict. And their viewpoint that has been said by one of the

Revolutionary Guard commanders, is that they think that Israel maybe baiting them into a wider war.

But when you have 100 people killed, the number is pretty important here, the number of dead.

And the signal is that whoever it is behind the terrorist attack can act with impunity and at such a scale inside Iran, it builds enormous amount of

pressure on the Iranian government to do something about it and not to claim that they are going to retaliate at some point in the future.

And so there is always a case -- and this may very well be it -- that an event has such a magnitude that it changes the calculus altogether. And we

shall see in the next 24, 48 hours what Iran will do.

ANDERSON: Yes, and it's interesting, because as you discuss how Tehran might calibrate its response, so we are waiting on the response or a speech

by Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, today.

And that speech in the next couple of hours, coming just 24 hours after the attack with impunity by the Israelis, as far as the U.S. is concerned, on a

Hamas leader in southern Beirut. So it will be very interesting to see what happens in response to these two acts.

Mohammed Mazari (ph) of the Simpson Center, wrote this, and I quote, "Evidently, Iranian officials are confused and divided regarding the

appropriate method of exacting revenge. Their relative inaction is in line with the policy of strategic patience that seeks to avoid a direct conflict

with the U.S. or Israel.


"Yet remaining silent in response to Israeli attacks on Iranian facilities and forces could erode the legitimacy of the very regime, already widely

unpopular amongst ordinary Iranians, amongst its staunchest supporters."

In light of, you know, what I just read, I am going to leave you with a sort of moment to kind of conclude this interview by just giving us a sense

of what we might look out for now in the hours ahead.

NASR: First of all, if you put all of these three events, the killing of a Hamas leader in Beirut, the assassination of Iranian general in Damascus

and now this bombing, the message that they are getting is that Israel is taking the fight to them.

And it's sending a signal that it can kill and operate in the Iranian Hezbollah territory at will.

I do agree with the author that Iran will not want to play Israel's game and wants to play it on its own. But 100 dead is a fact itself. And I don't

think it will delegitimize the regime. I think this number could potentially also give some legitimacy to Iran's claim that it is under


It can create a rally to the flag domestically. And in fact it is at the rally to the flag that puts pressure on the regime to actually do


You know, it's one thing if you had a bomb i Iran that nobody got killed. It is another thing when 100 people are killed and many more are injured.

That is a whole different ball game. And it does change the calculus, even with the Iranian people.

ANDERSON: It is only January the 3rd of 2024, which, of course, is a U.S. election year. You are in Washington.

From that perspective, through the lens of Washington, how do you see this likely to play out, especially if the U.S. presidential election is a

rematch between the incumbent, President Biden and the former president, Trump, who by the way, called for the assassination of Qasem Soleimani?

NASR: I think the calculation, at least among Iranians, Hezbollah, maybe other governments in the region, not necessarily Israel, is that the United

States does not want a bigger war.

President Biden doesn't want a bigger war. And even though Trump ordered the killing of Soleimani, he did not want to get into a war in the region.

And the question really for Iranians is that, is the United States going to restrain Israel from expanding the war into Lebanon and perhaps attacking

Iran directly?

And increasingly I guess the evidence is that the U.S. is not capable of doing that. And so I think that everybody is reacting to events as they are


And so it's quite possible that either they will wait to see whether the United States will step in and prevent a escalation in the region -- and

particularly by restraining Israel -- or that it's not able to do so, in which case the calculation will become very different.

ANDERSON: It was Israel's national security minister in the past 24 hours, hitting back at the Biden administration, saying, quote, "We are not

another star in the American flag."

This was in response to the talk that Israel's is intent on displacing Palestinians out of Gaza. And he went on to say that the immigration of

hundreds of thousands from Gaza will allow Israeli residents of the border areas to return home and live in security and protect IDF soldiers.

Another part of the story, of course, which is highly contentious and one that we can discuss another time.

But I thought that it was important just to know as you are describing what is going on and the likely response from -- through the Washington lens is

this very specific, "we are not another star on the American flag," says Israel's national security minister.

And certainly we have seen a change in tone from the Biden administration, an appeal, a demand for a lower intensity of the Israeli assault on Gaza.

But we see much evidence to suggest that the Israelis are simply not listening to this U.S. administration.

It's good to have you, sir, invaluable to have you, particularly on a day like this. I'm looking forward to speaking with you a lot more in the days

and weeks to come. Thank you.

NASR: Thank you very much.

ANDERSON: More CONNECT THE WORLD in just a moment. Stay with us.





ANDERSON: Harvard University president Claudine Gay is stepping down after only six months on the job. She made that announcement after a firestorm of

controversy, including an alleged plagiarism scandal.

It always started with criticism of her testimony at an anti-Semitism hearing on Capitol Hill last month. In a letter Tuesday, the Harvard

Corporation defended Gay and said that they accepted her resignation with sorrow. CNN's Matt Egan is across this from New York.

The board had really backed Claudine Gay all the way. But it seems that the pressure was just too much at the end of all of this. At the beginning of

all of this, of course, was what can only be described as an absolute car crash of a testimony with MIT's head and Penn State's alongside Claudine


Should we be surprised at the end of the day that she is gone?


MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS SENIOR WRITER: This has all been a nightmare for Harvard. It really began earlier. It began on October 7th. The university's

initial response to the Hamas attacks on Israel was criticized, even by Harvard officials.

The university's response to the anti Israeli statements from student groups was also widely criticized.

And then, of course, there was, as you mentioned and has been described, a car crash of a hearing. And the plagiarism allegations all just became too

much. But it is important to emphasize that, even though Claudine Gay has resigned, this nightmare is not over for Harvard.

They still remain under intense scrutiny from Congress. The House committee investigating the plagiarism allegations told me yesterday that they still

want Harvard to turn over a treasure trove of documents.

That same committee is also investigating anti-Semitism on campus at Harvard, MIT and Penn State. There is also a federal probe, the Education

Department investigating anti-Semitism on campus as well as Islamophobia.

And Harvard still has to find a permanent replacement for Claudine Gay. They need to find somebody who can restore confidence in this institution.

It will not be, easy Becky. Because they are taking criticism from all sides and they arguably really mishandled this situation for months now.

ANDERSON: What about MIT's head?

The Penn State head is gone.

What about MIT's head at this point?

Is there pressure there?

EGAN: You are right.


Sally Kornbluth, the MIT president, was also testifying at that hearing, like the former presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.

She struggled to answer that key question over whether or not calls for the genocide of Jews would violate school code.

Now unlike Claudine Gay, the MIT president has not apologized for her testimony. The MIT Corporation, the board that runs MIT, they have stood

firmly behind their president.

But we are seeing signs that there is going to be pressure on MIT as well. Billionaire Bill Ackman, the hedge fund investor, within minutes of

Claudine Gay announcing her resignation, Bill Ackman put a tweet, saying, "Et tu, Sally?" referring to the MIT president and his desire to shift the

spotlight over there.

Becky, one other thing, getting back to how Harvard has handled all of this, we are seeing more scrutiny on the Harvard Corporation, which is that

board that runs the university.

I just talked to Jeff Sonnenfeld, the Yale management guru, and I asked him, what letter grade would you give the Harvard Corporation for how they

handled the last few months?

And he said he would give them a generous D because he argued that they damaged the Harvard brand, they adhered to groupthink and he compared their

handling of this to how some infamous corporate boards, like those at Enron and Tyco rallied behind the leader instead of trying to listen to outside

voices and offer an independent review.

Some harsh criticism for the Harvard Corporation which, of course, hired Claudine Gay, stood behind, her three weeks ago and now has accepted her


ANDERSON: Fascinating. It is good to have you. Happy new year.

EGAN: Thank you, Becky.

ANDERSON: Gold bars and Grand Prix tickets are some of the gifts that U.S. Senator Bob Menendez is accused of receiving from Qatar. An alleged

coconspirator as part of a years-long corruption scheme.

These allegations are part of a superseding indictment made public on Tuesday, which makes Qatar the second foreign country, along with Egypt,

that the New Jersey Democrat is accused of helping while in office.

Menendez sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, of course, and is in a hugely powerful position. He has vigorously denied any wrongdoing.

Only 12 days left before the Iowa caucuses. And just a week until CNN's Republican debate in the state capital of Des Moines. Three candidates have

qualified for the debate: Donald Trump; former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley from Trump's administration, of course, and Florida governor Ron DeSantis.

Trump, who holds a commanding lead in the polls over the rest of the field, has skipped the first four Republican primary debates and will not appear

in CNN's debate.

Coming up, a young sports sensation aims to make history at this year's World Darts Championship. Details ahead on the battle for the Sid Waddell

trophy after this.




ANDERSON: Well, a 16-year-old sensation hopes to hit the bull's-eye at this year's World Darts Championship.


British teenager Luke Littler darted into the final following a 6-2 win against veteran player Rob Cross. Thousands are expected to attend the

London competition later today, where they will watch the world's best players battle it out for the World Darts Championship.

Moments ago, I spoke with the 1983 World Darts champion, talking about Luke Littler's rise to fame and his game against Luke Humphries tonight. Here is

some of what former champion Keith Deller had to say about the teen sensation.


KEITH DELLER, 1983 BDO WORLD DARTS CHAMPION: It is just unbelievable. It was a young lad this year playing in tournaments away from the TV, because

he's not been on TV, playing really well.

So we all knew that he was really good and he was being a very good dart player. But we thought, he has to go to the world championships. The like

of Michael van Gerwen and Michael Smith and Luke Humphries and Gerwyn Price.

Well, is he going to get past? Them

I don't think he will. The first couple of games he played, 100 averages. I thought, hello, something is good here. And then last night against Rob

Cross, the number 8 seed, former world champion, 102 average against him, all through that match. And he won 6-2 comfortable. So this, guy, this

young lad is such a talent.

ANDERSON: What makes him so good?

Tell us, as a darts player.

DELLER: Well, it's -- he's just got self belief. I mean, the way he plays. When he gets three treble 20s, 180, they're so grouped together, the darts,

they're not just all around the treble 20 bed, which is always good. But they're just so grouped, I mean, I think he -- I don't know, 15 or 16 180s

last night. His finishing is unbelievable.

And when I spoke to him beforehand, because I said it went on my mind 41 years ago, I was 101 outsider, not supposed to win, beat the best three.

But all I thought to meself is just you got five or six games to play and each player is going to try and take you out. Have to make sure they don't.

And that is the way he is looking at it. Everyone is in front of him. They're going to go home. And that's unbelievable.


ANDERSON: I think it's unbelievable. I think a lot of people might say this is the arrogance or confidence. Perhaps we should call it confidence

of youth, which is amazing to see.

We have seen record viewing figures for this guy and there have been an awful lot of buzz in our office that would not usually be there for a darts

tournament. And I'm talking about people from around the world, not just English people. Brits here in the bureau in London.

Could Littler bring a new audience to the game?

DELLER: Definitely, especially a younger audience as well. Darts is worldwide. The PDC darts, you know, the government body. Madison Square

Garden now playing darts at a TV event around Australia and New Zealand, all over the world.

And it's such a massive worldwide sport now. I have been doing pitches with the trophy at the world championships for the world trophy. And 24 percent,

25 percent of the crowd are from Germany. But it's been from Asia coming over. It's just so big.

This is going to make the darts grow even bigger. The arenas are sold out wherever you go. And a younger audience now is going to see Luke and go,

wow, he's 16. He doesn't look 16.

ANDERSON: He doesn't.


DELLER: -- I am 64, Becky, and I could grow a beard like --


DELLER: But seriously, he is just, in a way, people say is he a freak?

Asking, well, there's always been people in sport. Look at Usain Bolt in athletics. He just made 100 meters look like a walk. But it is just

unbelievable talent. But there is going to be a lot more youngsters coming along over the next few years. And I know people that are 8 years old hit

perfect games, nine darts.


DELLER: I've had one in my career.


ANDERSON: You talked about the venues and the Ally Pally, as we know here in London, the event space where the tournament is being held. It's famous

for a party atmosphere. I hear that you are heading there right after this interview.

What makes the fans there, at Ally Pally, so special?

DELLER: Well, they just dress up, Becky. I remember a couple years ago, I was working at the Sky. I was going to tell the cameras where they go for

the finishes. And there were 10 lads dressed up as tenpin bowling. One was a 4 with a black number 7 or whatever on it.

All of a sudden, in the game where they all stood up, he was actually rolling on the floor and knocked them all over.


ANDERSON: Brilliant!

DELLER: It is a game of darts going on here. And there was another guy who dressed up as a Christmas tree. I'm afraid he'd had one too many drinks and

he fell over. And he had 5 fails and people singing "tree fell over."


DELLER: And you see someone, some of the players look back and start laughing.

ANDERSON: Let me ask you very briefly. You talked about the crowd. We know we can back the crowd tonight.


Who are you backing, though, ultimately, today?

Can you see him going all the way?

DELLER: I am going to say Luke Humphries to win 7-6. The reason I say that is that he has won the last three big televised events. He has gone to

world's number one. He has a higher average last night. He is really playing well.

And I just feel that -- it's really not -- I wouldn't be surprised if Luke Littler wins it because of the way he is playing. But I just think that

Luke Humphries has got that winner mentality at the moment. He's winning the big finals.

And I know he's not going to have the crowd, we must be sure, because they're all going to want Luke to win it but it's going to be an

unbelievable final. Atmosphere is going to be fantastic. Worldwide viewing figures are going to go through the roof.

And it's only playing for our games. So I'm really looking forward to watching the final and may the best player win.


ANDERSON: Wonderful.

That is it for CONNECT THE WORLD tonight. Stay with CNN. "STATE OF THE RACE WITH KASIE HUNT" is up next. I'll see you tomorrow.