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Hala Gorani Tonight

Zuckerberg Rebuts Whistleblower's Claims As Nonsense; Pope Francis Expresses Shame for Church's Failure to Confront Sexual Abuse; Two New Incidents Heighten Concerns About Anti-Semitism in Europe; ISIS-K Suicide Bomber Was In Prison Just Days Before Kabul Airport Attack; Afghan Girls Robotics Team Begins New Chapter In Mexico; More And More Christians Leaving Their Historic Homeland; U.S. Secretary Of State Admits U.S. Took French Alliance "For Granted". Aired 2-3p ET

Aired October 06, 2021 - 14:00   ET



HALA GORANI, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, live from CNN in London, I'm HALA GORANI TONIGHT. Facebook fires back against the whistleblower, but is Mark

Zuckerberg's defensive statement enough or even accurate? Then a moment of shame. Pope Francis' strong words as the Catholic Church is forced to face

up to hundreds of thousands of child abuse cases, this time in France.

And a public health breakthrough decades in the making. The World Health Organization has just endorsed the first malaria vaccine. Is it a game

changer? It has been quite a week. Those words from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has publicly hit back at allegations that his company puts

profit over public safety after a former employee-turned whistleblower told U.S. lawmakers that Facebook amplifies hate speech and has misled the

public about how it can be harmful to teens in particular. One of the world's richest men took to his own platform to post a rebuttal to some of

the claims Frances Haugen made.

Here is part of his response. "At the heart of these accusations is this idea that we prioritize profit over safety and well-being. That is just not

true", Zuckerberg writes. "The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical." The 1,300-word

memo went on claiming Haugen had painted a false picture of the company. Here to discuss is our chief media correspondent Brian Stelter who is in

New York. So, what argument is Zuckerberg making? Because Haugen was saying essentially that Facebook is pushing hate speech because it engages people,

it makes them angry and therefore is more profitable. How is Zuckerberg arguing that as, quote, "illogical"?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: No, he is referring to the company's advertising business, saying Facebook makes almost all of its

money off of ads and advertisers don't want to be placed next to hateful or harmful content. Now, that's true in theory, and that is what advertisers

say is true. But they often don't know what they're actually appearing next to. Advertisers are frequently surprise by the kinds of content they're

showing up next to on sites like Facebook and all across the world wide web.

This has continued to be a problem for major sponsors and brand for several years. In fact, we saw that stop hate for profit campaign last year where

some advertisers left Facebook at least temporarily for that very reason. So, Zuckerberg is trying to cite the business model, saying the business

model is strong, we just have some problems around the edges. And he's admitting, you know, we do research to find faults and we fix the flaws.

What Zuckerberg is not really reckoning with is the impact of these algorithms on people's brains and minds and hearts.

That's the bigger story here, that's bigger than Facebook, that Frances Haugen I think is really pointing out in a strong, powerful way. She is

talking about what happens when you're able to go deep down rabbit holes --

GORANI: Yes --

STELTER: Of information you agree with, where you may not be designed to make you angry, but when you read more and more and more, you get more

isolated, you get more disconnected, you get more alienated. That's what we've seen in societies including the United States for the past few years,

whether Zuckerberg is trying to do that or not is a separate question. It's not about his intent, it's about the outcome from these platforms.

GORANI: So, what is a potential cure for this? I mean, it seems like Facebook, some people observed yesterday achieved the near-impossible,

uniting Republicans and Democrats in Washington against the company.

STELTER: Yes, that is true. I mean, there's clearly a bipartisan level of frustration and, you know, there's just a sense that they're fed up in a

way that has not existed before. I think the --

GORANI: Yes --

STELTER: Conversation about Facebook and about these platforms has moved quite a bit in the past couple of years, to the point where they're all

talking about addiction as if it's just commonly accepted wisdom. Yes, these products make you addicted. So the conversation is shifting. The goal

posts are shifting, and we know Haugen has a lot more to say. We know she's going to be testifying to the British parliament. We know that she is going

to near the roll out of her message in the weeks to come. So, what can be done? Well, she had some concrete ideas yesterday.

She said maybe the Facebook algorithm should -- you go back to a conventional chronological mode, so instead of seeing the thing that's

going to make you the most passionate, you just see the thing that was posted most frequently. That's how Facebook used to work, but now it moved

into this world of engagement where the algorithm tries to figure out what you're going to want to see and then give you more and more of it.

So, she did offer some concrete ideas, but, frankly, not a lot of new ideas. This is really, you know, over off to lawmakers to see what will

they come up with, if anything, and I frankly think we should be skeptical about whether U.S. lawmakers are going to come up with a lot of realistic

proposals here given the bitterness and the lack of bipartisanship in Washington. I actually wonder if other legislatures, other parts of the

world are going to come up with some better solutions because so far we've seen Europe leading the U.S. on some of these issues involving Google, for



GORANI: Right, you might have seen the rundown from my show because we're going to be speaking to a member of --

STELTER: Sure --

GORANI: Parliament from the House of Commons who's been deeply involved in looking into Facebook's activities, especially as it related a few years

ago to the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Thanks so much for that, Brian Stelter.

STELTER: Thanks.

GORANI: The ramifications of Facebook's behavior extend far beyond the United States. As we've been discussing with Brian, here in the U.K.,

lawmakers are scrutinizing a new bill that would impose a "duty of care", quote-unquote, on social media companies to protect users from harmful

content. Damian Collins is a conservative member of parliament and chair of the Joint Select Committee on the online safety bill, and he joins me now

live in London. Thank you, Damian Collins for being with us. I understand you will hear from Frances Haugen, the whistleblower, in the House of

Common, in the U.K. parliament. What types of questions would you like to ask her?

DAMIAN COLLINS, CHAIR, JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE ON THE ONLINE SAFETY BILL: Well, that's right. And I think I've spoken with Frances Haugen, and what's

really clear to me is, she has really strong insights on the way Facebook profiles and recommends content, both through tools like newsfeed but also

through groups as well. And for us, we consider the online safety legislation, that's not just about content moderation, absolutely within

the scope of that is algorithmic recommendation and recommendations through groups on Facebook. So, we want to know what Facebook knows about the way

those tools work and how it could correct what goes wrong.

GORANI: How do you control that, through legislation? This, after all, is an American company. How do you achieve that practically?

COLLINS: Well, the companies have to abide by the domestic laws in the countries where they work, and, indeed, Facebook already has to do that

with regards to hate speech in Germany under its national laws as well. And we've seen Facebook do deals in Australia with media companies because the

law there requires it. So it's a question of being really clear what you expect, and content on Facebook that is accessible to people here in the

U.K. would come under this jurisdiction. And what's really important is alongside these laws being created is, we're bringing to an end or we will

do when this passes, the idea of self-regulation, which is that the companies just report back on what they've done, but we have no real


So, we will have a regulator with powers in law that can audit the companies, demand information from them. When we think something has gone

wrong, where the company is actively promoting harmful content as Frances Haugen has identified, then the companies could be audited and they could

face massive fines for doing so.

GORANI: Now, it's not just Facebook, it's obviously Instagram, it's WhatsApp as well. I mean, we saw during that outage when the world

practically stood still how much we all depend. I mean I presume, you're on WhatsApp. I mean, we are all using these platforms. We -- how -- this is a

huge company and some politicians in the United States have suggested, and they're a very small minority so far obviously, that big companies like

Facebook need to be broken up. Do you support that idea? Why or why not?

COLLINS: Well, I think Facebook is too big, but what we saw with the outage is that it's not too big to fail. A company that size should have

invested more in its systems to stop such a massive outage happening --

GORANI: Yes --

COLLINS: I don't think Facebook should have been allowed to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp. And the question now is, should the company be

broken up or could it be regulated effectively like a utility. We're talking about with the online safety bill regulating Facebook and other big

social media companies in terms of content and recommendation. But in terms of fair access and fair trading, I think we should have regulation there.

And you could say, all of this -- one of the big issues here is people are critical of Facebook, they don't like the way it delivers its services.

The research Frances Haugen has shown that, so why don't they leave? They don't leave because there's nowhere else they can go. And that's an --

GORANI: Yes --

COLLINS: That's an example of both abusive market power and failure there.

GORANI: So, here is the counterpoint. The counterpoint is Facebook is a company that is beholden to its shareholders. It's not a charity. It's not

led by elected representatives. It is doing what it is meant to do as a private company in a capitalist system. And that is increase shareholder

value and, you know, work on bettering its bottom line. And therefore, the responsibility --

COLLINS: Well, let's be clear --

GORANI: But just the counterpoint here, the responsibility is with --


GORANI: Legislatures. In fact, the director of Policy Communications of Facebook, Lena Pietsch -- I hope I am pronouncing her surname correctly,

said essentially, "we don't agree with the characterization of Frances Haugen on the many issues she testified about. Despite all of this, we

agree on one thing. It is time to begin to create standard rules that will regulate the internet, and some of these rules have not changed in 25

years. And instead of expecting the industry to make societal decisions, that it is up to legislators to do this." Do you agree with that?

COLLINS: Well, I think three key things here. Firstly, the company is not controlled by shareholders, it's controlled by Mark Zuckerberg, he has the

controlling interest. So it is not as responsive as other companies would be. And Mark Zuckerberg can't have it both ways, he can't say Frances

Haugen has misrepresented the company, then hold on to all the other research if he wants Facebook to get a fair hearing.


Then make that research available to universities researchers who have been asking in fact, to it for years. And indeed, when the team at NYU tried to

do external research on Facebook ads, Facebook closed it down. So, you can't have it both ways. In terms of the company's right to make a profit,

of course, it does. That's why we have legislation to check consumer interest, and we have done for over 100 years now, legislation to make sure

companies don't abuse their market power and that they treat customers fairly. So those things are baked in, in other areas of commerce, but

they're not so far in the tech sector, and that's something that needs to change.

And yes, of course, you know, we will -- we are in the U.K. going to legislate on online safety and set these standards for these companies,

just as we've set and for other industries in the past, and particular, you know, the motor industry and by bringing in seatbelts and other safety


GORANI: True. All right, and when are you hearing from Frances Haugen in the U.K.?


GORANI: When are you hearing then, when is she testifying in the U.K.?

COLLINS: She'll be testifying this month. We're in the process of just finalizing the arrangements with her and her team, and I hope we'll be able

to make an announcement on that very soon.

GORANI: All right, we'll be following that Damian Collins, thank you so much for joining us, really appreciate it --

COLLINS: Thank you --

GORANI: This evening. Pope Francis is expressing sadness and shame over how sexual abuse victims have been treated by the Roman Catholic Church.

His comments come one day after a damning report revealed hundreds of thousands of children had been abused by French clergy over the past seven

decades. In his remarks, the pope acknowledged the church's failures to put the needs of victims first.


JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO, POPE, ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH (through translator): I wish to express my sorrow and my pain to the victims for the trauma that

they have suffered, and also my shame, our shame. My shame for the too-long incapacity of the church to put them at the center of its attention. I

assure them of my prayers.


GORANI: CNN's senior Vatican analyst John Allen joins me now live from Rome. How significant is this statement by the pope?

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Well, I think it is significant, in that it follows a statement released in the pope's name yesterday by the

Vatican press office, so that's really two papal statements in the span of about 24 hours. You contrast that with the way the Vatican has reacted to

earlier releases of national-level reports, whether it was the John Jay report in the United States in the early 2000s, the Ryan report in Ireland

in 2009, reports in the U.K., Germany.

On those occasions, the Vatican didn't comment at all for a good long time, taking the position that this was something for the local Bishops to

address. I think what they have learned in the intervening period of time is that anything that strikes people as a return to denial or delay or

indifference simply doesn't help. And so, this clearly is Pope Francis and his team trying to get in a sense ahead of the curve.

GORANI: So these are statements that express sympathy, that express empathy, in fact, with the victims of the Catholic Church in France this

time. That was the latest report. Will this go far enough do you think for those who've suffered?

ALLEN: Oh, certainly not. I think, you know, certainly, the first thing that most survivors of clerical abuse wanted from the very beginning was to

be taken seriously by the people who were running the church. So that was - - but that was always a point of departure, not a point of arrival. I mean, they've gotten that, and they certainly have gotten a number of fairly

aggressive reform measures beginning really under Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and continuing under Pope Francis. But I think certainly, the survivors

of abuse in France are going to want much more, beginning with the church taking out its checkbook.

I mean, we heard a spokesperson for the survivors in France yesterday at the press conference to present this report, saying he believes it is

essential for the church to pay reparations. And based upon the numbers of potential victims identified in this report, almost 330,000 people

potentially victimized by clergy and other personnel of the church over the last 70 years, those reparations could be substantial.

And I think the church's willingness to take a look at that, to enter into serious conversation about it and not to fight it kicking and screaming,

that will be a key measure for many survivors of how serious the church actually is.

GORANI: John Allen, thanks very much, live in Rome.


Now, this could be a game changer for certain parts of Africa. A long- awaited breakthrough to report in the fight against one of humanity's most devastating diseases. The World Health Organization says the first and only

approved vaccine against malaria is effective at preventing infections, severe illness and death. Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people

each year. CNN's David McKenzie is tracking this potentially very significant development from Johannesburg. Talk to us about the vaccine and

what this W.H.O. announcement changes for so many people, especially kids I understand might be eligible for it in certain parts of the continent.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Hala, it's hugely significant. You know, generations of scientists have been working on one of the

trickiest problems in public health, which is combating malaria. This parasite which is transmitted by the anopheles female mosquito that has

killed so many untold millions over the years. Every year, more than a quarter million children under 5 in Africa alone die from malaria. This has

been a huge effort from GlaxoSmithKline and the malaria initiative for decades to try and develop what has become known as the RTS,S vaccine.

And it's not only a first for malaria, it's a first for a vaccine for any kind of parasitic disease. And what this means, Hala, in practical terms,

it's a widespread usage, has been allowed by the W.H.O. to be used in areas, particularly in the African continent where malaria is endemic.

It's been shown to have about 30 percent efficacy to prevent severe illness on its own. Here is what it means to the chief of the World Health



TEDROS ADHANOM, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: I started my career as a malaria researcher and I longed for the day that we would have

an effective vaccine against this ancient and terrible disease. And today is that day, a historic day.


MCKENZIE: Well, historic is often thrown around, Hala, but in this case, I think it very much is historic. And for anyone who has traveled through

these regions or been sick of malaria themselves, they know what such a devastating disease this is, particularly for young children on the African

continent. Hala.

GORANI: Now, 30 percent prevention of severe disease, it doesn't seem that high. So why so much excitement?

MCKENZIE: Well, it's because of how it is going to be used and what it's going to be used with. So the idea is -- and this is born out of these very

large-scale pilot programs in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, three countries amongst others that are hit very hard by malaria every year, is that public

health experts believe and have shown that rises up to 70 percent, Hala, if the vaccine, which is relatively complicated. It's given three times to

young children -- the youngest children and then 18 months later, a fourth time, if that is combined with prophylactic medication during the worst

season, if children are sleeping under bed nets, which have insecticide impregnated in them, combined, that has a very real demonstrable effect of

tens of thousands of lives likely to be saved by this.

This vaccine was the missing piece of the puzzle. It's so much more complicated to develop a vaccine to combat a parasite than it is to combat

a virus given the nature of the parasite and how complex it is and how it mutates over time. And so, this will be seen as a huge breakthrough that

was started way back in the '80s for this specific vaccine, but, of course, many generations of scientists, as I've said, have been struggling with

this problem, and it could have very real impact on children and families across the African continent and beyond.

GORANI: So many people die of this disease. Well, it's positive news and we'll continue to keep an eye on it. Thanks very much David McKenzie

reporting live from Johannesburg for us this evening. And still to come, a high court ruling here in London with some pretty big implications around

the world. The courts say that Dubai's leader ordered the hacking of his estranged wife's phone. Those details and his response next.

Then from the Auschwitz concentration camp to a hotel in Germany, there are fears about rising anti-Semitism in Europe, and in Germany in particular,

we're live from Berlin coming up.



GORANI: England's high court has ruled that Dubai's leader ordered the hacking of his estranged wife's phone during a legal custody battle over

their children. A senior judge said Princess Haya and her inner circle were targeted for surveillance, but Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum so far

is denying the allegations. CNN's Nina dos Santos joins me now from London with more on this story. Nina.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks very much, Hala. Well, finally, after the lifting of a year-long court reporting restriction pertaining to

this case, we're starting to get more details and troubling ones that really could have important implications for a key ally of the U.K. in the

Middle East and also somebody who is extremely prominent here on the U.K. social scene. He is often seen at Ascott, being a big investor in the

racing world alongside the queen. Sheikh Mohammed is also very much an establishment figure as well, and it comes embarrassingly enough just a few

weeks after the U.K. cemented a key investment partnership with the UAE.

So, going back to these allegations, they date back to about two years when Princess Haya, the sixth wife of Sheikh Mohammed fled to the U.K. just

before the pandemic in the company of her two children that she shares with Sheikh Mohammed, and immediately began custody battle for them here in the

U.K. Remember that Princess Haya is the half-sister of the king of Jordan. She is somebody who is a British educated, also herself, has a good

relationship with the royal family in the U.K. She said that she had to flee Dubai because she became concerned about the welfare of two daughters

of Sheikh Mohammed by previous wives including Princess Latifah who had claimed that she's been held against her will in the kingdom.

So, this is a very acrimonious legal battle. This has involved multiple teams of security advisors, high-level lawyers, but now, as we know from

this ruling from the most senior U.K. family court Judge, Sir Andrew McFarlane, that her legal team, the Princess Haya's legal team was

hacked. We also know that her staff, her security staff was hacked, and most troublingly, a very senior family barrister, Baroness Shackleton who

is also a member of the House of Lords. So, there's real concerns here about abuse of power and also potentially criminal behavior here. Hala?

GORANI: And what is the response of Dubai's leader?

DOS SANTOS: Well, exactly. That's the important bit. So the initial accusation here from Sir Andrew McFarlane, the judge, is the findings

represent a total abuse of trust and, indeed, an abuse of power.


Well, to that, Sheikh Mohammed says he's contesting that. He says it's based on an incomplete picture. And this is the statement that he's given

to us and other media outlets this evening. "I have always denied the allegations made against me and I continue to do so. These matters concerns

supposed operations of state security and as a head of government involved in private family proceedings, it was not appropriate for me to provide

evidence on such sensitive matters either personally or via my advisors in a foreign court. Neither the emirate of Dubai or the UAE are party to these

proceedings and they did not participate in the hearing. The findings are therefore inevitably based", he said, "on an incomplete picture."

This is obviously embarrassing to the UAE, as I was saying. It's also likely to strain somewhat relationships with the U.K. at a pivotal time of

investment. The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed also spends a lot of time in the U.K. as well. But it also raises very concerning questions about

this use of the sophisticated spyware made by the Israeli group NSO, the actual spyware, itself is called Pegasus, and that is the sophisticated

element at the heart of this supposed hacking. The fact that it is being used so widely, obviously, there's going to be campaigners who say, this is

exactly how this type of thing shouldn't be used in an autocratic fashion. Hala?

GORANI: Nina dos Santos, thanks very much for the latest on that story. Two new incidents are refocusing attention on the rising tide of anti-

Semitism in Europe. A German musician says a hotel clerk in Leipzig wouldn't let him check in unless he concealed his Star of David necklace.

And the Auschwitz Memorial Museum said someone spray painted anti-Semitic graffiti on wooden barracks in the notorious Nazi concentration camp.

Senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in Berlin for us with more on this story. Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Hala, well, especially this incident with Gil Ofarim, he's this German musician

who tried to check into a hotel in Leipzig in Germany. That is causing a lot of uproar here in this country because Gil Ofarim, he actually posted

after the incident on his Instagram account, and you could see him almost in tears after that incident took place where he said he was waiting in

line at this hotel, trying to check in, and he was wondering why everyone else was being let in line in front of him and being served first.

And then he asked the hotel staff why that was the case, and I want you to listen in to what he said the hotel told him. Let's have a look.


GIL OFARIM, GERMAN MUSICIAN (through translator): I asked, excuse me, what's the matter? Why is everybody else being preferred? Mr. W's answer

is in order to deal with the queue, I'm also waiting in line. Then somebody is calling from the corner, pack up your star, and Mr. W says, pack up

your star. And then he says, if I pack up my star, I may check in. Really?


PLEITGEN: So, there you have it. Only if he would, as they put it, pack up his star or conceal his necklace with the Star of David on it. He said they

would let him check in. Now, I spoke to Gil Ofarim today and he was still really very much taken aback by this incident. He said no one in that hotel

lobby came to his aid. He was obviously still distraught by all of this. We've also been in touch with the Westin Hotel as well. They said that they

have launched an investigation into the issue. They also said that the staff in question has been suspended, and that they want to try, and as

they put it, integrate all of their guests and also their staff, no matter which religion that they may follow.

However, I did speak to, as I said, Gil Ofarim today and he said he has not received an apology from them yet. As I've said, a big topic here in

Germany as we've seen so many reports of this rising tide, as you correctly said, Hala, of anti-Semitism that Jewish groups here in Europe and

specifically in Germany have been talking about for a very long time, Hala.

GORANI: Right, and that's a big chain hotel as well. And what more can you tell us about what happened --


GORANI: At the Auschwitz Concentration Camp?

PLEITGEN: Yes, exactly. And that happened -- or at least, we got word of that on exactly the same day as this incident in that hotel took place as

well, where the Auschwitz memorial site came out with a statement, and saying that this anti-Semitic graffiti had been found on one of the blocks

in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Of course, the Auschwitz complex, that memorial site is essentially three sites. You have the Auschwitz one, former camp and you

have Auschwitz-Birkenau which is of course was by far the biggest camp and really the one that most people know of with those wooden barracks and that

train entry site as well.

That's apparently on one of those barracks where that graffiti was found. Now, we spoke to the Auschwitz Memorial site earlier today, and we asked

them whether or not they could send us some pictures of that graffiti, they refused to do so because obviously they didn't want to give it any more of

a platform, they didn't want it to be out there any more than they already had said in their statement. But they said, obviously they're cleaning it

up and also that the Polish police, of course, that Auschwitz site is near Krakow in Poland, had also launched an investigation as well.

The folks at the memorial, of course, very, very angry because of the fact that that site has such a big, historical significance with so many awful

things that happened there during the Nazi tyranny here in Europe -- Hala.

GORANI: Indeed. Thanks very much, Fred, live in Berlin.

Still to come, members of the Afghan girls' robotics team are now safe in Mexico after fleeing their country. Hear their message to other girls,

still stuck under Taliban rule.

And later, their roots run deep in the Middle East but more and more Christians are leaving the land of the prophets. We will talk to an expert

and author to find out why. We will be right back.




GORANI: The ISIS-K bomber who carried out the attack on the Kabul airport in late August was released from prison just days before he struck,

according to U.S. officials. We want to warn you that the images we are about to show you are graphic.


GORANI (voice-over): You will recall this scene of carnage that day if you were following that chaotic pullout of Americans from Afghanistan. The

attack killed dozens of Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.

American officials say the suicide bomber had been jailed at Bagram Air Base and Americans withdrew from that air base just weeks before the

pullout. Our Pentagon correspondent Oren Liebermann joins me with more on what U.S. officials are telling him --Oren.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hala, this all focuses on August 15th, the day the Taliban effectively reached Kabul and was on the

outside of the city. On their way there, they freed thousands of prisoners from two different prisons. First, the Parwan detention facility, right

near Bagram Air Base and in recent years, although the U.S. held the base until this past July, it was the Afghans that ran the prison since 2013.


LIEBERMANN: But the Taliban also freed thousands of prisoners from another detention facility outside of Kabul, the Pul-e-Charkhi facility. In these

groups that they released were not only members of the Taliban but also members of Al Qaeda and ISIS-K.

The Taliban wasn't exactly discerning or discriminatory when they opened these up. A couple of days later, the leader of the Taliban said these were

political detainees and that they were free, not only there but across the countries.

One of those released according to U.S. officials was Abdul Rehman. Just 11 days after his release, 11 days after the Taliban seized the capital of

Kabul, he would carry out the suicide bombing that killed dozens of Afghans as well as 13 U.S. service members.

This highlights two things. First, how quickly the situation was deteriorating and rapidly at that in the final days of the U.S. presence in

Afghanistan, the end of America's longest war.

But it also highlights the dangers of an Afghanistan without U.S. and coalition forces, a place where groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS-K can

reconstitute in an attempt to pose a threat to the United States.

This was always a possibility after the withdrawal was completed. But Joint Chiefs chairman general Mark Milley stressed the timeline is now sooner; it

could happen within six to 36 months, the reconstitution of these groups -- Hala

GORANI: All right. Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon.

The Taliban are rolling back much of the progress women in Afghanistan had made. But members of the Afghan girls' robotics team are now safe in

Mexico. They have a new life there and they spoke with CNN's Matt Rivers.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just four years ago, the half dozen girls from Afghanistan strode confidently into

competition, waving their country's flag. The global robotics competition, held in the U.S., was a chance to show what so many in their country

doubted, that girls can accomplish anything.

And accomplish they did, winning an award for, quote, "courageous achievement," given to teens who persevere through trying circumstances. So

much has changed since then.

In a matter of months this year, the Taliban swept back across Afghanistan, toppling city after city, a mortal threat to girls like those on the

robotics team -- educated, progressive, the exact opposite of how the Taliban believe women should be.

And so five of the original team made the decision to flee in a harrowing journey. They went from Herat to Kabul; there they managed to get on one of

the last commercial flights before the Taliban took the city.

From there, Islamabad, Pakistan, was next, eventually followed by Doha, Qatar, then to Frankfurt, Germany, and then to Mexico City.

Landing in the Mexican capital, where the government has allowed them to stay while they figure out what is next, it is here in the city we got a

chance to meet in person. Safe in Mexico, their first thoughts are, of course, about home and the cruelty of the Taliban regime.

FATEMAH QADERYAN, CAPTAIN, AFGHAN GIRLS ROBOTICS TEAM: The rule of the government is just mockery and insult to Islam. But Islam is the religion

of kindness. We kindly request not only the United States but the entire international community to eradicate the Taliban generation from


RIVERS (voice-over): They know that the U.S. has limited options in that regard after their withdrawal and a terrible situation for those opposed to

the Taliban. They also know how lucky they were to get out.

SAGHAR SALEHI, AFGHAN GIRLS ROBOTICS TEAM: It was really hard to, you know, leave our beloved ones in Afghanistan. But we are happy that today we

are safe, not only because of ourselves but here we can be the voice of thousands of girls, who want to be safe in Afghanistan and who want to

continue their education and make their dreams become true.

RIVERS (voice-over): A dwindling reality for girls in that country. In the weeks and months after the Taliban took over, their subsequent actions have

reaffirmed a return to a society where women are treated as wholly unequal to men. Still, the team has a message for those left behind.

KAWSAR ROSHAN, AFGHAN GIRLS ROBOTICS TEAM: So my message and my message to my generation is that to please don't lose your hope, your spirit, wherever

in Afghanistan you are. I know it is difficult, because I am an Afghan girl, too. And I fully understand you.

But please don't lose your spirit. There's always light in the height of darkness. And just make your dream and follow your dream and believe that,

one day, your dream will come true, because I experienced that.

RIVERS: And we asked all of the girls what do you want to do next, both in the near future and in the long-term future?

All four girls that we spoke to told us they do plan on going to college somewhere, hopefully in the United States, they say.


RIVERS: As for the long-term future, they all have hopes to return to Afghanistan some day. Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City.


GORANI: Christianity has been rooted in the Middle East since its birth, obviously, from Syria to Egypt, to Iraq and beyond. But year by year, the

number of Christians in the region is dwindling. In 1900, Christians represented 13 percent of the Middle East population.

Last year, that number had dropped to just 4 percent. Our Ben Wedeman reported on the exodus of religious minorities from the region back in



BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Iraq's once dazzling diversity is fast disappearing, including the smallest communities, like

the Mandaeans, followers of a pre-Islamic monotheistic faith that has all but vanished from Iraq.

BASHAR WARDA, CHALDEAN ARCHBISHOP OF IRBIL: What's frightening me is that, during this period, no one have asked what we, for example, have lost when

we have a declining number of the Mandaean, for example.

And now Yazidis, Christians. They don't care about this, as they did not care when we lost the Jewish community back in the '40s, '50s and '60s and

the cycle is going.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): If that cycle carries on, worries Archbishop Warda, Iraq will destroy itself.


GORANI: Well, our next guest has written a book called "The Vanishing: Faith, Loss and the Twilight of Christianity in the Land of the Prophets,"

Janine di Giovanni joins me now live from New York.

This is probably one of the most heartbreaking aspects of the rise in sectarian conflicts and of extremist groups that are an existential threat

to minority groups like the Christians in the Middle East in the last few decades. Talk to us about your journey researching this book.

JANINE DI GIOVANNI, AUTHOR: Hi, Hala. Thank you so much for having me on. Well, this book actually started many years ago. I started working in the

Middle East about three decades ago.

But it was really during the time of Saddam, when I was working inside Iraq, that I first became aware that ancient Christian communities in the

Nineveh plain, the Syrians, the Chaldeans, the Greek orthodox, the Syriacs.

And when I would go to visit them, they were dwindling. Their community is dwindling is the word that's always used but it's a good way to describe

it. First of all, since 2003, since the American invasion and then 2014, ISIS, they are extremely vulnerable to attacks by radical extremist groups.

But there's other factors. There's climate change. Iraq is the fifth most vulnerable country, according to the U.N., in terms of climate change.

Their livelihood is under threat, their farming.

And, of course, immigration, because there's just no work. Iraq has a 10 percent poverty level. What I did is I basically looked at communities in

Syria, in Iraq, in the Gaza Strip, which, believe it or not, has a population of 800 Christians, who are left, and in Egypt.

And I tried to see their fears, their hopes, how they live and how, most of all, they're hanging onto their faith, despite this extraordinary, these

challenges that are just racked against them.

GORANI: Janine, you wrote about Syria and the West Bank or Gaza in particular but we have figures for the West Bank in Gaza. The Christian

population was 10 percent just a few decades ago.

It is now 1 percent Christians in the West Bank in Gaza. As far as Syria, 16 percent -- I think we have graphics to illustrate this -- down now to 5

percent across Syria. And it is not just Christians. It is obviously minorities. The Jews used to be a significant population in a city like

Aleppo, for instance, several decades ago.

They are now almost -- Baghdad as well. And there are basically no more Jews left at all as far as I know in Syria.

What does that do to the social fabric of a country, to go from this multicultural society, Alexandria, Egypt, is another great example, to all

these minorities feeling under threat and fleeing and leaving, if they can find a way out?

DI GIOVANNI: It is desperate because what you are doing is eroding the mosaic of these countries. Without these ancient people -- remember, one

thing that really struck me, as I was roaming through these communities, talking to people, particularly post-ISIS.

I was in Baghdad in June 2014, when ISIS rolled through Mosul. And my first thought was actually about these Christian villages.


DI GIOVANNI: They are kind of like pearls that lead out of Mosul and go into the Nineveh plain. These are ancient, ancient people that can trace

their roots back to the time of the prophets, of St. Thomas, of Jonah, Jonah and the whale.

And they've survived. The really extraordinary thing, Hala, is they have survived purges, occupation, numerous attempts to exterminate them. And

they, for 2,000 years they still exist. But this is really the last stand.

Many scholars in the region that I speak to say, will they be here in 100 years?

So if we lose these ancient communities which are so vital to the culture, to the demographic, to the history, it is a blow, not just to the four

countries I looked at but to the entire region. They are absolutely essential and they need to be protected.

GORANI: But I wonder how -- I mean, yes, and so many Muslims, so many Muslims are extremely upset at these extremist groups. And I know it is not

just that; that you have climate change and job opportunities and the rest of it.

But the fear that Christian communities have, of existentially being targeted by bomb attacks, as we saw on Palm Sunday in Egypt a few years

ago, who can blame them for wanting to leave?

What is behind these extremist groups targeting Christians, who is financing them?

Why are they doing this?

Because it wasn't like this a few decades ago.

No, it wasn't. First of all, you just had a report on the Taliban. So the Taliban, their victory will embolden radical groups throughout the region.

It is basically just a shot of adrenaline, saying we succeeded in Afghanistan against the mightiest armies in the world. We can also succeed

wiping out these Christians, Yazidis and minorities we do not want.

What the Christians in Iraq really fear right now are the popular mobilization forces, which, of course, are Iranian-backed. Now elections

are coming up on October 10th in Iraq. And, you know, we are going to see a lot of backlash, I think, against that.

But also they fear the Turkish airstrikes because the Turkish, just in August, hit Yazidi communities. These are genocide survivors. They've gone

through the ISIS years. They were targeted; you know, they're a very distinct minority.

But we need to protect these people with, you know, policy recommendations. The U.S. government in particular really needs to make efforts to stay in

northeast Syria to protect them, to make sure humanitarian channels are open and to -- you know, to really recognize that militias like HTS and

Turkish-backed militias and Iranian-backed militias are not able to prey on them, to intimidate them, to basically make them flee from their ancestral

lands, where they've lived for 2,000 years.

GORANI: Right, exactly. Thank you so much, Janine di Giovanni.

When is the book out?

Forgive me, I don't have the date.

DI GIOVANNI: Today. Actually yesterday, it is out yesterday in the U.K.s. and December in the U.K. and worldwide. But thank you so much, Hala. It is

great to talk to you again.

GORANI: Great to talk to you. It is a story that I am personally very interested in and I know so many of our viewers respond to as well. Thank

you so much. Best of luck with the book.

We will be right back.





GORANI: "France expected better," that's what a journalist told the U.S. secretary of state on television. Antony Blinken is on a mission to fix

ties with his country's oldest ally, strained after the U.S., Australia and the U.K. revealed a new security deal. Cyril Vanier is in Paris.

And the French are not forgetting this story -- Cyril.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, absolutely. Look, Hala, let's be honest. When a U.S. secretary of state goes on French prime time TV,

speaking impeccable French, somebody who has been to school here in Paris and essentially apologizes to the nation, saying, yes, the U.S. is taking

France for granted, that should ordinarily get him some love in French diplomatic circles.

Well, that is exactly what U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken did earlier this week. And nothing, Hala. The following day the French

president was asked if he was confident that the U.S. saw France as an important ally.

And Emmanuel Macron replied, quote, "We'll see."

That tells you the French are in some sense playing hard to get. They do not, as Macron said, do not want words this time, they want actions. By

actions, they mean concrete areas of cooperation.

That is something that the diplomats, top diplomats of France and the U.S. are currently working on. They hope they will be able to give deliverables

to Presidents Macron and Biden when they meet for the first time since the crisis erupted later this month -- Hala.

GORANI: All right, Cyril. Thanks very much for the update.

We will be right back. Stay with us.





(BOND 25)

GORANI: All right. Thanks for watching. I'm Hala Gorani. QUEST MEANS BUSINESS is next.