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IDF Fire Killed Half a Family in Gaza; Gaza Health Ministry Says Death Toll Nearing 30,000; Hunter Biden in Impeachment Inquiry; Nikki Haley Vows to Stay in Race through Super Tuesday; Alabama's IVF Battle; Wildfires Tear through Texas Panhandle; Navalny Funeral to Take Place Friday; U.S. Government Fights Fraud with AI. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired February 28, 2024 - 10:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Abu Dhabi, this is CONNECT THE WORLD.

ELENI GIOKOS, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Welcome to our second hour of CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Eleni Giokos.

Just a moment ago, Hunter Biden arriving to face off with Republicans behind closed doors. They will finally get their chance to question the

president's son for their impeachment inquiry into his father. We will have a live report in Washington, D.C., in just a few moments.

But first, a CNN investigation that reveals in unprecedented detail how Israeli forces in Gaza used indiscriminate fire over the course of one

harrowing night in early January. The report you're about to see offering a window into the Israeli military's overwhelming use of force in areas where

civilians were told they would be safe.

And helping to uncover an atrocity that would otherwise have remained hidden as the death toll in Gaza approaches 30,000.

Jomana Karadsheh and a team of CNN journalists documented an attack that killed more than half the members of one family and found a mystery that

took weeks to unravel. We must warn you, parts of her report contain disturbing and graphic images.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every patient here has a harrowing account of survival. But it is the story of this one young woman

that, as you'll see, would become key to uncovering an atrocity that, until today, had been hidden in the dark

"They're all gone. I have no one left," 18 year-old Roba Abu Jibba told us. She offered few clues as to what had happened to her and her family.

But a week later, a camera man working for CNN in Gaza was out filming as he's done every day for months. He was one of the first to arrive in this

area just after Israeli forces had withdrawn.

It was on that date, January 14th, when he stumbled upon the scene of a horrific incident. At first, we had no idea this was connected to Roba

until they start pulling documents from the rubble. It's Gaza's grim routine of trying to identify the dead.

Then the startling discovery; later that day, CNN producer Abeer Salman screens the footage and sees Roba's ID. This is where she was critically

injured and the bodies are the remains of her family. The images tell of the brutal force that was unleashed here.

And people speak of a massacre of civilians. With the stench of death in the air, they pull body after body. Tiny corpses carried on blankets. And

in the corner, a woman sits, covered in flies. In her decomposing arms, a young man.

But we still didn't really know what had happened here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would be really helpful, especially if we could go through the satellite images.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): This grisly discovery was the start of a weeks- long CNN investigation, complicated by Israel's ban on journalists entering Gaza without IDF escort and frequent communication blackouts.

We tracked down seven survivors, gathered video, satellite imagery, Israeli military press releases.

We verified social media content and spoke with ballistic and forensic experts, allowing us to piece together the events of a bloody night of

death and horror amid intense and indiscriminate Israeli military fire that left civilians dead.

We started by asking the IDF about the incident, giving them pictures and exact coordinates. The military said their troops had come under fire from

that location on January 4th and responded with a, quote, "precise strike to remove an imminent threat" and cannot confirm if the bodies are linked

to that strike.

Our investigation raises serious questions about the IDF's actions that day.

This is where it all unfolded. It's a wide area of Salaheddine Street. Before the war, it was an industrial zone. But as Israel designated

Salaheddine the evacuation corridor out of northern Gaza, business owners allowed hundreds of displaced people to stay in these warehouses.


All of a sudden in early January, those families could hear war creeping closer.

This was the scene filmed by a journalist in nearby Maghazi. The families decided they would leave when morning came. But it was Israeli forces who

arrived first. Eyewitnesses say the warehouses on both sides of the road we recreated in this 3D model were repeatedly struck from the ground and air.

Families sheltering in the warehouses on the left broke holes through back walls, escaping into the farmlands. For the warehouse on the right, there

was no escape for most. They were surrounded. They say the Israelis shot at anyone who tried to walk out.

SUMAYA ABU JIBBA, ROBA'S MOTHER (through translator): "My son, along with other relatives, started getting our belongings out the door. A bomb

exploded. They struck him in the heart. He bled, ran, fell to the ground and died. Our relative and another guy were also killed. Everyone was

screaming and calling for an ambulance"

KARADSHEH (voice-over): Roba's mother, Sumaya, helplessly watched as her son, Hamdi, died in front of her eyes. But nothing could have prepared her

for what would come next.

SUMAYA (through translator): As we were calling for help, another bomb hit. We were all knocked unconscious. When I woke up, I found my children

and relatives killed. Roba was hanging between life and death.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): What knocked them unconscious was likely a massive 2000-pound bomb, according to three ballistic experts, who analyzed images

of the crater. The blast shockwave is so powerful that it can rupture the lungs, leaving victims to drown in their own blood.

Two forensic experts who examined our video tell us this shockwave is what they believe killed the Abu Jibbas.

Roba's sister, Diana, survived. She ran out frantically, searching for help.

DIANA ABU JIBBA, ROBA'S SISTER (through translator): The Israelis fired a bomb at us. I saw my siblings die. Hamdi died in my arms. I went out to get

an ambulance. The tank was close to us. We started running. They started shooting at me.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): While the Israeli military says these allegations of shooting at civilians are baseless, Sumaya and three of her children

barely made it out. They wanted to get help for the others but couldn't return, left not knowing if loved ones they'd left alive would survive

their injuries.

Five of the Abu Jibba children were killed, the youngest among them, Al- Zain. He was 10 and Ali, 13. Their bodies lay rotting in the warehouse. What the family didn't know was that Roba was still alive, bleeding for

four long days among the dead.

After a January 7th interview, we tried to find her again. She was lost in the chaos of overwhelmed hospitals. After weeks of searching, we found her

miles away in Rafah, receiving treatment.

ROBA ABU JIBBA, ATTACK SURVIVOR (through translator): The Israelis were outside shooting and started firing bombs. We were all injured and fell to

the ground. The metal roof and wood collapsed on us.

My mother and brother came to take me but I couldn't get up because of the injuries to my arm and eyes. So she left to get an ambulance.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): With Roba desperate for help and her little brother, Ali, fighting for his life for days, Israeli forces were right

outside. Satellite images from January 5th, one day after the attack, show IDF vehicles by the warehouse and freshly bulldozed ground as close as 70

meters from where the siblings lay.

ROBA (through translator): Oh, my family members who were still alive, left. A relative and I stayed. They started bulldozing the place and dumped

it on top of the dead people, my siblings.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): She and her relative felt they had to get out of this shelter turned morgue. They decided to make a daring escape. They were

questioned by soldiers about links to Hamas before making it to the relative safety of a local hospital.

We cannot confirm the Israeli military's claim that their troops came under fire. And yet survivors we spoke to tell us there were no militants in the

warehouses. Some witnesses say they heard what they called resistance fire. And local journalists that day reported clashes in the area.

CNN found that the Israeli military has separately alleged there were Hamas weapons facilities nearby but never linked them to the warehouse where the

Abu Jibbas sheltered, which we've highlighted here on this IDF map.

However it began, there is no doubt the Israeli military used ferocious firepower. The size of the bomb was, by its nature, indiscriminate and

survivors say they were not warned to leave by the military, as it claims it always tries to do.

In response to extensive questions from CNN, the IDF claimed it told civilians to leave in the days before the deadly incident but provided no

evidence when asked.


The first time the military publicly said this part of Gaza was no longer a safe evacuation route came in this post on X at 11:28 am on January 4th

hours, after the attack.

SUMAYA (through translator): They knew we were civilians. Their drones saw everything. We had big white flags up. They said it's a safe area. The

south is safe. We came to the south for nothing. They bombed us and killed our children in the south.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): The events of that January day, only a small window into the vast, undocumented suffering that the Israeli military has

inflicted on civilians in Gaza. With tens of thousands already killed, leaving so many like the Abu Jibba family grieving, traumatized, with no

recourse to justice and accountability.

ROBA (through translator): They died in front of me. I couldn't do anything. We would love to be silly and play together. Now those memories

are gone.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, London.


GIOKOS: A very moving piece there by Jomana Karadsheh, important work there. I'm joined now by UNICEF communication manager, Ricardo Pires.

I know you were watching Jomana's report with us.

What are your thoughts

RICARDO PIRES, COMMUNICATION MANAGER, UNICEF: Thanks for having me, Eleni. It's heartbreaking. It's very difficult to watch such strong images,

especially of children suffering children, children being separated from their families.

Laying in hospitals, injured, fighting for their lives while not yet knowing that their parents might have died, their siblings. They're

traumatized. Of course, they've lost everything. They've lost their homes. They can no longer go to school.

They have no access to proper health care, they have no food, they have no water. It's just a horrendous, catastrophic situation. And I think this

investigative piece kind of summarized the story very well of what's happening on the ground, with bombs blasting and killing innocent


And children and families being displaced, it's very shocking, very sad and heartbreaking.

GIOKOS: You know, it's unraveling what is going on right now in a place where there's clearly no safe zone. It reminds me of a family I met when I

went to Cairo, Palestinians that were evacuated into Egypt for safety.

They had taken heed of the warning from the IDF when they went in the north with those pamphlets. They moved to Khan Yunis. And most of the family

ended up losing their lives.

This is the question.

Where is a safe zone right now for Gaza, as we wait for perhaps what could be an imminent ground incursion into Rafah?

PIRES: First of all, the ground incursion would be a disaster for children and families. We have at least 600,000 children right now, squeezed into

Rafah in a tiny piece of land, living out of makeshift tents under very, very difficult conditions, with disease spreading, no safe water to drink,

not enough food and clearly no safe place to stay.

There is no safe place in Gaza. There hasn't been a safe place in Gaza since this horrendous war started on October 7th. The idea that children

can be protected anywhere with so much displacement, moving from one place to the other with no underground space to shelter is not realistic.

So there is no safe place, that's the short answer. And unless there's a ceasefire, there won't be a safe place for children. And more children will

die, more children will get injured. And the true cost of this war will be measured in children's lives and those who will be forever changed by it.

GIOKOS: The death toll now approaching 30,000, so close to that number, over 70,000 people that are injured which is an astronomical figure. UNICEF

has said that Gaza is a graveyard for children.

By your understanding right now, what has the impact on children been in terms of the death toll and the injured?

PIRES: We know thousands and thousands have been killed and many more thousands have been injured since the onset of this horrendous crisis. They

are -- children are always at the forefront of war. They are the first ones to suffer, the most vulnerable to conflict.

They haven't asked for any of this to happen and yet their lives have been completely disrupted by violence and unrelenting conflicts and assaults on

the ground, bombs falling from the sky.


And disease spreading as well because their infrastructure has been very much affected and it's almost collapsed. So access to clean water, which is

such a basic need for any human being, especially if you're a child, is just no longer a reality.

They are struck to be able to keep hydrated, living under the minimum threshold in an emergency of water, which is normally 50 liters there (ph),

only the 1.5 now. So it's just a complete chaotic situation, a nightmare for them. And we need that ceasefire to take place as soon as possible or

this will have a much longer lasting impact.

GIOKOS: Yes, absolutely.

And as we wait for hopefully more aid to go in, given it's down 50 percent for the month of February, catastrophic scenarios we're hearing coming out

of Gaza. Ricardo Pires, thank you so much for your time and joining us today.

Moving on now. And it is a big moment for an impeachment drive on Capitol Hill. House Republicans finally have their star witness in front of them.

We'll go live to Washington.

Plus you're looking at the Smokehouse Creek Fire in the Texas Panhandle. It has scorched 0.5 million acres and is now the second largest wildfire in

state history. More on this straight ahead. Stay with CNN.




GIOKOS: In the U.S., Republican lawmakers have been trying to secure a deposition with Joe Biden's son for months. And finally, this hour it is

happening. Hunter Biden is on Capitol Hill to answer questions behind closed doors.

It is the biggest interview yet in a Republican drive to impeach the U.S. president. They accused Joe Biden of profiting improperly from his son's

business dealings and abusing his position when he was vice president. But they have not been able to prove any wrongdoing so far.

Senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz joins us now from Washington.

Katelyn, this happening behind closed door, which means, of course, essentially working through pages and pages of transcripts.

Why were Republicans insisting on this being private?

And what are we expecting from this inquiry?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Republicans insisted that Hunter Biden show up. They subpoenaed him and he

wasn't going to be able to avoid this testimony outright.

But his team spent months and months negotiating for the way that they're going to be doing this today. So Hunter Biden now is on Capitol Hill. He

has released a public statement in advance of going into this deposition testimony.

And then he will sit behind closed doors with quite a lot of members of Congress, from both the House Oversight Committee and the House Judiciary

Committee, and answer their questions for likely hours upon end today.


He's not going to be videotaped and there is likely to be a transcript generated and released publicly pretty quickly after this interview. Those

are the terms that his team came to with House Republicans as they were negotiating this long-awaited testimony.

Now Hunter Biden, in his deposition, he is not mincing words in the statement that we have in advance.

He says, "I did not involve my father in my business, not while I was a practicing lawyer, not in my investments or transactions, domestic or

international, not as a board member and not as an artist, never."

He says the committee have hunted him, that this is a partisan house of cards and that there is a baseless and destructive political charade that's

been fueling this impeachment inquiry.

And particularly the pursuit of him to testify. He's hoping that this is the end of things. It is very likely the Republicans will be asking about

his role in business tied to overseas, his role on the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma. Also, some of his business interests in China.

But Hunter Biden is very likely to stick quite closely to what he's saying in his public statement, that there is no evidence and that he did not have

any sort of bribe situation with his father or funnel money to his father financially, the sort of things that a man, who was an FBI informant, had

lied about to the FBI.

So the Republican impeachment inquiry, it could go on. But they're getting what they want today and there hasn't been much evidence that they have

turned up at all to support a continued inquiry into the sitting president.

GIOKOS: OK. Katelyn Polantz, great to have you on the story. Thank you.

We head now to Michigan, where President Joe Biden and Donald Trump easily won their primary contests on Tuesday. But the election results also

highlight some of their biggest political vulnerabilities.

On the Democratic side, a coalition of Arab and Muslim Americans led a campaign, urging voters to choose the uncommitted option on their ballots

instead of President Biden. And as you see, tens of thousands of them did just that. They're angry over his administration's handling of Israel's war

in Gaza.

Now on the Republican side, Trump notched a solid victory over rival Nikki Haley. But she still netted about a quarter of the votes. This may indicate

there's still a sizable group of Republicans either firmly opposed to Trump or yet to be convinced that he's the right candidate.

I want to turn now to CNN's Omar Jimenez in Waterford, Michigan. And he's following the reaction to the election results from the campaign trail.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, look, there weren't expectations that Biden was going to lose his primary. There weren't expectations that

Trump was going to lose this primary here in Michigan.

But we got a good level set for where their support actually lies in this critical battleground state of Michigan. Let's start with President Biden.

There was a large movement led by Arab American activists to vote uncommitted instead of vote for Biden over his handling of the Israel-Hamas


Now in -- statewide, they got over 100,000 votes, which is obviously a very significant number. But here in Dearborn, which has one of the largest Arab

American communities in the country, uncommitted actually beat Joe Biden, 56 percent to 40 percent.

Now we're talking about a total of 11,000 votes in that contest but still shows that this movement and this message, pushing the Biden an

administration to get toward a permanent cease-fire, is a serious one and one that they believe should be respected come November.

I mentioned over 100,000 uncommitted. I want you to keep in mind that Biden actually won this state by around 150,000 people in 2020. So you can get an

idea for the margins that are really in play here.

On the Republican side of things, yes. No expectations that Donald Trump was going to lose this date. But Nikki Haley getting around 26 percent of

the vote, just under 300,000 votes, is no small bloc to laugh at.

And for someone like Donald Trump, who is clearly trying to move toward a general election mindset, this has remained a thorn in his side that Nikki

Haley has still generated some significant support, not just here but in the previous primary in South Carolina, where she got around 40 percent of

the vote, approaching 40 percent there.

The question though moving forward, is you need delegates to get to the nomination and she has not won any of these contests. And Super Tuesday,

which is coming in less than a week here, we're going to see more than 15 states with voting contests and more than a third of the delegates at stake


And if she can't be successful in that Super Tuesday effort, it's hard to see what her path moving forward is. But it is -- there's no doubt that

there's a significant amount of Republicans who are looking to put their support behind her rather than the former president.


GIOKOS: Omar Jimenez for us reporting in Michigan.

Back now to the Washington area and what has to be one of the most closely watched medical checkups in the world. The White House says U.S. President

Joe Biden is at Walter Reed hospital for his annual physical. Video taken a short time ago shows him leaving the White House.

The president is 81 years old and in the midst of a grueling campaign that would exhaust far younger candidates. Polls show Americans of all stripes

have concerns about the president's age and whether he's up for another four years.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is with us.

Great to see you, sir.

Everyone focusing, I guess on the cognitive test, right, the outcomes and what that entails because age has come up so often, as we discuss who the

next president will be.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think that that's been the focus of a lot of attention. I think, when you think about

these types of physical exams, they're pretty exhaustive.

So we know, for example, last year, interestingly, he went to the Walter Reed right around the same time, about 09:15 in the morning last year; came

back around noon. So gives you a 2-3 hours of exams.

And looking at lab tests, heart and lung function, things like that, we know we'll find out what medications he's taking. We know, for example, he

was on a statin medication for his cholesterol. He's been on blood thinners because he has a history of atrial fibrillation.

There was a lot made of his change in gait or his change in walking. So the question was, what was driving that. And last year they said it was due to

arthritis in his spine and some arthritis in his foot that was really causing this.

So we will see if there's any updates but you're quite right. I think a lot of attention and questions about cognitive testing. Just to give you a

little bit of context here, those cognitive tests are not typically done as part of the physical exam.

In fact, about 16 percent roughly of seniors who go in for a physical exam will have some sort of cognitive testing. And it's usually because the

doctors say, hey, look, there's some concern here, so we're going to order these tests.

Former president Trump had this test done but it was at his own request a few years ago. And I think we have an example of what that test looks like,

just to give you a little bit of frame of reference here.

This is called the Montreal Cognitive Assessment: matching numbers to letters, throwing a three-dimensional cube, identifying animals, memory

tests, remembering five objects, for example, for several minutes.

And it's a screening test, meaning that, if there's a concern based on the score, more tests would be done. It's not diagnostic. But again, there's no

indication, to your point earlier, that he's going to have this test done.

We're likely to get a written summary over the next several hours and we'll see. We'll see what it shows. We'll see how it compares to last year

GIOKOS: Yes, interesting times. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, great to see you. Thank you so much.

And still to come, advocates for IVF treatments are taking their fight to Alabama's state capital. We'll be live in Montgomery up next.





GIOKOS: Welcome back to CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Eleni Giokos, in for my colleague, Becky Anderson.

The battle over a woman's reproductive rights in Alabama is headed to the state's capital. Fight for Alabama Families is holding a rally on the

statehouse steps in Montgomery. A number of IVF families and advocates are expected to attend.

As of right now, IVF treatments remain in limbo, as the state halted treatment in three fertility clinics. The Alabama Supreme Court this month

ruled that frozen embryos are human beings and those who destroy them can be held liable for wrongful death.

On Tuesday, Alabama Republicans introduced a bill that would provide protection to anyone who provides in vitro fertilization in the state.

Democrats are also making moves to better define frozen embryos are not children. Isabel Rosales is standing by in Montgomery, Alabama.

Great to see you. You've been speaking to people, families that are affected.

What are they telling you?

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you. Yes, we are here at a rally in front of the statehouse where there are dozens of

demonstrators that have driven from all over Alabama.

Here in orange, you can see them holding up signs, "I support IVF." "I am here because of IVF."

They are condemning this Alabama Supreme Court ruling. And they're sharing how this has deeply impacted them and severely restricted their options in

trying to pursue having a family. They're pushing on lawmakers to protect IVF.

But we can anticipate today, with that senate bill that you were mentioning, senate Bill 159, is today at the Senate, the state senate

health care committee will hold a public hearing to discuss that legislation, which offers criminal and civil protection to anyone who

provides IVF.

So again, this is a legal protection to IVF providers. It does not address when an embryo should be considered an unborn child. So the big question

here today is whether they will take a vote on it.

If they do and they vote in favor of it, it goes to the senate floor for then an overall bigger vote.

I want to introduce right now, Gabbie Price. She is a woman that has been trying for six years to have a baby.

Gabbie, you've put in a lot of sacrifice in this endeavor, tell me about how you got to this point.

GABBIE PRICE, IVF PROSPECT: Yes. So my husband and I have been trying to conceive for six years. To put that into perspective, we've been together

for nine. So the majority of our relationship has been spent trying to start our family.

We have made a ton of lifestyle changes in order to get here. We moved into a camper that we remodeled to be able to afford our treatment. So the

entire cost of our mortgage is now going toward our IVF treatments.

And we have changed our diet, we have changed all these little things. And then I actually got an entire new job specifically for the IVF benefits.

Those benefits actually take effect March 1. So we were days away from that when we found out about this ruling and the effects that it was going to

have on IVF.

And now we're sort of in a waiting game again.

ROSALES: And when you heard about the Alabama Supreme Court, its ruling that frozen embryos are children, what was your first thought?

PRICE: That they're not. I understand, with especially IVF patients, it's a really hard line to make. We obviously really care about the embryos that

we have created, will create or so forth and so on.

However, regardless of when you believe conception begins, a life will not start if it is outside of a womb. So therefore, those fertilized eggs,

those frozen embryos, they will never go anywhere. They will stay frozen or they will die until they're put into a womb. And right now, that can't

happen in three of our hospitals.


ROSALES: One of them, Alabama Fertility, that you were in talks with to start this IVF cycle, when this ruling came down, can you tell me where you

are emotionally, mentally, where you're at in this sort of limbo?

PRICE: I'm angry. I don't really have a better word for it. I'm upset and I'm hurt, not only for myself but for the hundreds of other families. I

consider myself pretty lucky because we hadn't started our process yet.

And because of the insurance that I have, we do have the option to go out of state if that's necessary, even though that's not what we want to do.

Many other couples do not have that option. They are either already in this middle of this process.

And now they don't even have the ability to move those frozen embryos, as transporters are saying they will not transport embryos out of the state

due to -- they have no idea what the liability for that's going to be.

And with Alabama not being a mandated state, the majority of these families don't have insurance coverage, let alone something that will allow them to

go out of state.

ROSALES: Gabbie Price, thank you so much for your perspective and your time and best of luck.

PRICE: Thank you.

ROSALES: Eleni, back to you.

GIOKOS: Yes, thank you so much, Isabel. Interesting and important to hear Gabbie's perspective there. Of course, it's a very big story with big


Well New York City's mayor Eric Adams, is calling for huge changes in the city century policies. Meanwhile and meaning that undocumented migrants

accused of crimes could be handed over to immigration officers.

Adams is saying that those who commit crimes and are violent should not be able to live in New York. His stance is a change in the policy that started

in the late 1980s and comes after a series of high-profile incidents involving recently arrived migrants, accused of violent crimes.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D-NY), NEW YORK CITY: I don't believe people who are violent in our city and commit repeated crimes should have the privilege of

being in our city. There's some people that feels that they should be able to remain here, keep doing the actions until they're eventually convicted.

I don't subscribe to that theory.


GIOKOS: Well, this just underscores how important the immigration issue is in the United States. And worth noting that we will see both Joe Biden and

Donald Trump visit the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday.

I want to take you now to the latest on those fast-moving, destructive wildfires in the Texas Panhandle. The Smokehouse Creek Fire is now the

second largest fire in Texas history, scorching over 500,000 acres.

And that's just one of five fires burning in the Panhandle right now. Several communities have been forced to evacuate and many are without

water. CNN's Lucy Kafanov has the latest from Amarillo, Texas.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, let me set the scene for you. We are in Amarillo, Texas, where there is low visibility,

extremely high winds. All of that due to the five wildfires burning in the surrounding areas.

Now the air here is still full of smoke, it burns your eyes, it burns your mouth and throat. Residents are being encouraged to stay inside, to keep

their pets inside. This is also one of the areas that folks who can get here from neighboring counties are being encouraged to come here for


We actually visited a shelter late last night. They're bringing in more cots to make it more comfortable to people who have sought refuge and

shelter here.

Governor Greg Abbott issuing a disaster declaration for 60 counties -- that's six-zero. And as of this warning, that blaze exploding to more than

500 thousand acres. Now the Smokehouse Creek Fire, that's the largest of the fires that's burning, being described as the second largest in Texas


Now a lot of these areas are rural. That means it's not just people that are impacted but ranches, wildlife; there was some dramatic footage of

horses and other animals trying to flee the smoke and the flames.

The main facility that disassembled America's nuclear arsenal is located about 17 miles -- pardon me -- from where we are standing. That is the

Pantex Plant. That had to shut down on Tuesday and is back online as of Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, the city of Fritch, one of the areas that was evacuated, residents were asked to limit the water use so that fire trucks could be

filled. They are also, that city, asking for outside help to bring their water system back online after that massive wildfire knocked out power


Canadian, Texas, another area that was very hard hit by the blaze, one of the motel owners there told CNN that it looked like Armageddon. All of the

trees are covered in white ash. The local hospital there had to evacuate all of their patients due to the fire on Tuesday.


In other parts of the Panhandle, people had to take shelter in schools, in churches, not safe enough just to stay home. The blaze just so powerful

there. And now we are learning those fires spreading to neighboring Oklahoma -- back to you.

GIOKOS: Remarkable pictures there.


GIOKOS: And parts of Australia also facing catastrophic fire dangers with some of the worst conditions the country has seen in recent years. About

30,000 people were ordered to evacuate parts of the state of Victoria by midday, Wednesday.

One bush fire has been burning out of control since Thursday, fueled by hot, dry and windy conditions. It's destroyed at least six homes and

authorities fear the flames could spread to more populated areas.

This comes more than four years after bush fires ravaged large parts of southeastern Australia, killing 33 people and wiping out critical animal


And still to come on, CNN, Alexei Navalny's widow unleashes a scathing critique of Vladimir Putin, blaming him directly for husband's death. What

she told European Parliament earlier today.






YULIA NAVALNAYA, ALEXEI NAVALNY'S WIFE: My husband will never see what a beautiful Russia of the future will look like. But we must see it. And I

will do.



GIOKOS: Applause for the wife of late Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, addressing European Parliament earlier today. Yulia Navalnaya had

scathing words for Vladimir Putin, blaming him directly for husband's death and saying she didn't know if his funeral would be peaceful.

Navalny's spokesperson has announced that the funeral will take place in Moscow on Friday, exactly two weeks after Navalny's mysterious death at an

Arctic penal colony. We've got CNN's Melissa Bell joining us now from Paris.

And we heard Yulia's comments and messaging to the E.U. Parliament.

How significant is what she said and is Putin and the Kremlin going to be paying attention to her messaging?

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think what's been interesting over the course of the last couple of weeks is to see just how

closely they've been paying attention.

In fact, on several days, we've had direct responses to what the widow of Alexei Navalny had to say or tweet from the Kremlin and his daily

briefings. So I think they are listening.

There's also a suggestion on the part of Alexei Navalny's team that they struggled to find funeral parlors, a date to get Alexei Navalny's funeral


What they say is that, despite the team's attempts to get it for Thursday, which they'd hoped to organize both the farewell and the funeral on,

because that is a day when Vladimir Putin addresses the Russian parliament, their allegation is that it was impossible to find anyone who might dig a


Instead, then it will be held on Friday, this funeral.

Of course, one of the questions is, how many people inside the country will have the courage to attend, to pay their respects, to show their support

for the late opposition leader?

And I think the significance of what we heard today was both the content and the form it was. There she was, Yulia Navalnaya, once again, as she had

when she released that nine-minute video messaging, looking, sounding like an opposition leader or someone who's willing to step into the breach.

But it was also the content of what she said. We heard more, for instance, about the allegations from her team of what happened in the days leading up

to and following his death.


NAVALNAYA: Putin killed my husband, Alexei Navalny. On his orders, Alexei was tortured for three years. He was starved in a tiny stone cell, cut off

from the outside world and denied visits, phone calls and then even letters. And then they killed him. Even after that, they abused his body.


BELL: Of course, she also added, Eleni, that it was the many millions of Russians who are now outside of Russia that should be helped in their

endeavor to try and get a free, democratic Russia. And that was her plea to European leaders.

Work not against them but alongside them to realize this ambition, that had been Alexei Navalny's, of a free, democratic and beautiful, as she called

it, Russia. She also went back over a number of the things that had been at the very heart of his position.


That this is a corrupt, she said, mafia state that is essentially brittle. And we'll be paying very close attention to both what happens at the

funeral inside Russia and the noise she continues to make from outside -- Eleni.

GIOKOS: Melissa Bell, thank you so much for that update.

And still to come, an AI-fueled crackdown on fraud appears to be paying off for the U.S. government. How tech is helping to flag suspicious

transactions at lightning speed.




GIOKOS: Welcome back.

And in the ongoing fight against fraud, AI can root out suspicious transactions with lightning speed. It is already being used by banks. But

now the U.S. Treasury Department tells CNN its own AI-powered fraud detection recovered more then -- get those -- $300 million last fiscal year


The news is the first time the U.S. Treasury has publicly acknowledged using AI to detect fraud. CNN's Matt Egan has been covering this for us and

he joins us from New York.

Matt, great to see you.

AI can try and get back some money that would otherwise be lost; $300 million recovered.

Who knows what more can be done with this kind of tech?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS SENIOR WRITER: Yes, I'm told that this has been a game changer for the U.S. government.

So starting late 2022, CNN has learned that the Treasury Department quietly started using AI detection models to try to stop fraudsters. Essentially,

they were going after bad guys who were trying to use fraudulent checks.

And this strategy is paying off, paying some early dividends. Treasury officials tell CNN that, in fiscal year 2023 alone, these methods helped

the government recover $375 million and led to multiple arrests.

And as you mentioned, this is a strategy that is already being used in the private sector. Banks and payment companies and other companies are using

AI to try to root out fraud.

So is the IRS, the tax collection agency here in the U.S. Late last year, they announced that they're deploying AI to try to catch tax cheats; in

particular, hedge funds and other complicated companies that file complex tax returns. They are now going to be under AI scrutiny.

Now we should note that this is not exactly the same AI technology that gets all the headlines, right?

ChatGPT and OpenAI, that uses generative AI to create images and stories and songs, all from text prompts. This is really more Big Data and it's

machine learning. But clearly the government and all governments around the world, they need all the help they can get when it comes to fighting

financial crime.

We know that fraud spiked around COVID as governments handed out hundreds of billions of dollars in aid. Check fraud in particular has been a

problem. The Treasury Department says that check fraud is up by 385 percent since COVID.

And here's how AI plays a role. AI technology is really, really good at going through vast amounts of data and finding patterns, spotting red



Doing it faster than humans ever could. One security CEO told me that, once you train an AI model, it can catch these issues in lightning fast speed,

in milliseconds. So in some cases, the government is actually able to spot these red flags, alert the banks and prevent the cash, the checks that are

fraudulent, from ever been cashed in the first place.

And I think the most incredible thing here is that the AI revolution, it's really just getting started.

GIOKOS: It is indeed, I'm just like this so fascinating. I mean, firstly, it's the first time that the U.S. Treasury has admitted to using this type

of technology.

Why the hesitation?

OK, we don't have time left. Apparently we're wrapping the show. Matt Egan, good to see you but something I definitely want to talk to you about.

Again, much appreciated for your time.

Well, thanks so much for watching. That is it for CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Eleni Giokos in Abu Dhabi. Stay with CNN. We've got "NEWSROOM" up next.