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Rainy Weather in Southeast Bringing Flood Watch Warnings; Western Women Marrying Islamic Extremists Or Becoming Terrorists Themselves; Interview with Leanna Harris's Attorney Lawrence Zimmerman; Yazidis Worship One God and Seven Angels, Yet Persecuted for Worshipping Devil; Pro-Russian Rebels and Ukrainian Leader Talk about Letting Humanitarian Aid in Donetsk Area

Aired August 10, 2014 - 06:30   ET


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Number two, 48 people are dead in Iran after a plane crashed at the Tehran airport earlier today. Local reports say the passenger plane crashed shortly after takeoff. Everyone onboard was killed and severely burned several people who were on the ground. Five rescue workers even had to be taken to a hospital.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Number three, NASCAR driver Tony Stewart under investigation this morning for a deadly crash during a dirt track race. This was in upstate New York. But sheriff's official say, another competitor was walking on the track when he was hit. Officials say Stewart is fully cooperating with the ongoing crash investigation this morning.

BLACKWELL: Let's go to Missouri now. This is for number four. Police are investigating the death of a teen there after he was shot and killed by police Saturday. Now, witnesses say 18-year-old Mike Brown was unarmed when he was stopped by a cop car and told to walk on the sidewalk. Well, after a heated exchange Brown was reportedly shot, even after he showed his hands to the officer. Investigators are expected to release more details about the case later today.

PAUL: And number five, fire crews say residents near the -- in Oregon I guess, I should say, can return to their homes after the Rowena was brought to 65 percent containment. The fire has burned more than 3500 acres. Meanwhile, across the south today there's a lot of rain in your forecast. Including some flood watches across the Carolinas, into Georgia. It's going to get nasty. Jennifer Gray is in the CNN weather center with the rest of your forecast. Good morning to you.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, good morning to you, Christi and Victor. We are going to see a lot of rain again in the southeast. Anywhere from Savannah, Georgia all the way up to the Carolinas, just as you said including Raleigh. We do have flood watches in effect for today. So do expect heavy rain, the occasional thunderstorm as well. We're looking at anywhere from one to three inches of rain around Nashville, anywhere from two to four inches of rain along the coast in South Carolina, and isolated amounts even higher, we're even looking at two to 4 inches of rain in parts of the Florida panhandle. So nasty weather across portions of the southeast for today. We're going to be dealing with the scattered showers and thunderstorms in the southeast, very nice weather, though, on the other hand in the northeast, pleasant weather in the Pacific Northwest.

However, that is not good news for those fires you were just speaking of. We are still going to be dealing with that very dry, very hot air, so firefighters up in that region still battling those blazes, still very hot and dry, of course, in the southwest as well. We are going to see some of those scattered showers continue, though, across portions of the Rockies, guys.

BLACKWELL: Yeah. Impacting a lot of people here in the U.S. Jennifer Gray, thank you so much.

Another big story that we're watching from the Middle East this crisis in Iraq. And we now know about these airstrikes from the U.S. while Iraqi officials tell CNN that ISIS is ramping up recruiting efforts to build up forces.

PAUL: Now, the primary target is young Sunni men. ISIS is also trying, though, to get Western women to join the fight. Not just for martyrdom, but for marriage. CNN's Stephanie Elam has more.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDEN: There's leaning in and then there's arming up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The idea that women can be involved in Jihad is something that people still don't take as seriously as they should.

ELAM: Women around the world are now taking part in Jihad, in Nigeria, Syria, and now in America. The number of women willing to give their lives to terrorist extremists experts say increasing over the last ten years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've seen Western women going to Jihad in Syria for about a year and a half now.

ELAM: Why now? Experts believe terror group organizers count on women from Europe, Canada and the U.S. to get past terrorism intelligence agencies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's Western women, they come with their Western passports, they are going to fall under a radar screen. Majority of the women are going to go there to be traditional wives.

ELAM: But that's not always the case. Take American Shannon Conley. The 19-year-old is charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. She reportedly fell in love with an ISIS fighter online and allegedly was on her way to join him in Syria before officials picked her up in April.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was interviewed, no fewer than nine times before her arrest by the FBI because she was scoping out a local church. ELAM: Her attorney had no comment. Many of these women are

radicalized at home, seduced on the internet.

(on camera): How are they appealing to these Western women?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't have to convince that many if somebody spams millions of people, you only need a certain number that are going to respond to that.

ELAM (voice over): The scariest of prospects are the lone wolves, people acting on their own like Roshonara Choudhry in England. The King's College student dropped out of school just before graduation and tried to assassinate a member of the British parliament for supporting the Iraq war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was not radical. She didn't talk about Jihad. She just secretly and by herself downloaded 100 sermons.

ELAM: Women, some fairly well known are also using Twitter to recruit new members from the West.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like Um Layth, who is one of the premiere female Jihadis. She is British and she is the one that keeps calling to women around the world especially women in the Western countries to come and join the global Jihad. They think that they are doing something good for their community or their people.

ELAM: A darker side of the fairer sex now wanted around the world. Stephanie Elam, CNN, Los Angeles.


PAUL: That is bizarre.


PAUL: All right. We have to talk about the U.S. and what they are warning Russia now. Stay out of Ukraine. And do not send in humanitarian convoys without getting permission first. We'll have the latest on that crisis.

BLACKWELL: Plus, my network exclusive interview with Leanna Harris' attorney. She is the mother of that little boy who died after being left in a hot car for hours in the sweltering heat. Here why her attorney says mom is a victim here.


BLACKWELL: The lawyer for Leanna Harris is speaking out for the first time, he is defending his client in this controversial case against her husband who is accused of killing their young son by leaving him locked inside a hot car.


BLACKWELL: The death of my son is still unreal. I now live a tortured existence. The emotional first words from Leanna Harris since a Georgia judge denied bond for her husband Justin Ross Harris. He's pleaded not guilty to murder and child cruelty charges for the death of their 20-months old son Cooper. Cooper died in June after being left in this sweltering SUV for seven hours, both parents say it was an accident. However, in this victim impact questionnaire sent to Leanna Harris by the cop county district attorney and released by her attorney, Harris listed herself as the victim.

LAWRENCE ZIMMERMAN, LEANNA HARRIS'S ATTORNEY: She's a victim of - she's lost a child, she is a victim of public perception thinking that she had something to do with it.

BLACKWELL: In a network exclusive interview, Lawrence Zimmerman says accusations that she plotted to kill her son that are based on her perceived lack of emotion had left Harris with no confidence in society.

ZIMMERMAN: And is she supposed to be publicly emotional? I mean is that how people are supposed to react to tragedy in their life? I don't think there is a right way to react to tragedy.

BLACKWELL: And what about the testimony from Cobb County detective Philip Stoddard during her husband's probably cause hearing?

PHIL STODDARD, COBB COUNTY DETECTIVE: In front of several witnesses all of a sudden she states Ross must have left him in the car. She had him sit down and he starts going through this and she looks at him and she's like well, did you say too much.

BLACKWELL: In a statement Harris writes Ross was a wonderful father and he loved Cooper with all of his heart. "Because I know how he treasured that little boy for 22 months I know without a doubt he would never have knowingly allowed any harm to come to our son. I want you to know what a loving father he was to Cooper." And then there are those accusations Ross Harris was sending sexually explicit messages as Cooper suffered in the heat.

STODDARD: He was having up to six different conversations with different women. The most common term would be sexting. There are photos of his exposed penis, erect penis being sent.

BLACKWELL: Leanna Harris writes, whatever issues that transpired in our marriage is between God and us, for he will judge those moral sins.

ZIMMERMAN: Eventually there will be the right time and the right place for her to possibly speak publicly if that's what she wants to do. But certainly not yet.

BLACKWELL: Is it something she wants to do? Does she want to speak out and say here is the truth?

ZIMMERMAN: I think anybody who is being cast in a false light or negative light maybe that's the better word, but always want to defend themselves. Someone called you out on something you would want to defend yourself. But because she is in the public eye this way, you know, it's hard for her to do that.

BLACKWELL: Why is it difficult? Why is it now the time? If the truth is the truth today and it will be the truth during a trial or after trial why not come out and tell the truth now?

ZIMMERMAN: Because she is not only dealing with the loss of her child, her husband, and grieving and trying to get her life back in order, she's also concerned that the district attorney's office may try to level a charge against her.

BLACKWELL: Does your client expect charges?

ZIMMERMAN: I think we are hoping that the district attorney office is looking at her as a victim of a crime since she lost her child, that that's a sign that they are not going to charge her.

BLACKWELL: But in a statement to CNN a Cobb County spokeswoman writes, "We are required by the crime victims bill of rights to send those forms to all victims or victims' next of kin and it is standard procedure in the Cobb County district attorney's office to do so. Regardless of charges Zimmerman says Leanna Harris is holding on to at least one long term plan.

ZIMMERMAN: She wanted to have another child I think. Anybody who loves children would want more children. Of course.


BLACKWELL: And we know that Cooper would have turned two years old on August 2nd. And Lawrence Zimmerman tells me that Leanna Harris went to the cemetery there to mourn her child.

PAUL: Yeah, at the end of the day that child, I mean, as a parent you cannot help but mourn regardless of anything that's out there, regardless of what anybody is saying, you love your child.

BLACKWELL: And she says in that survey that -- the questionnaire, that she now is in grief counseling and she expects it to last for the rest of her life. We'll continue to follow that story, of course.

PAUL: We certainly will. Also, of course, this morning following the violence in Ukraine. It appears to be getting worse. Vice President Joe Biden has a stern warning now for Russia.


BLACKWELL: Vice President Joe Biden and the Ukrainian president say any Russian action in Ukraine, even for humanitarian purposes would be a violation of international law, unless Russia gets the formal authorization of the Ukraine government first.

PAUL: Those words coming as a pro-Russian rebel leader in Donetsk says they are ready for a humanitarian ceasefire to bring aid to civilians, but they would quote "fight to the death" to protect their territory. CNN's Will Ripley is live for us from Kiev. Well, good to see you today. What can you tell us about the situation on the ground there right now?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christi and Victor. Yeah, the situation on the ground is not good for the people who are caught in the middle of all of this. The people of eastern Ukraine who've had to deal now with days of very intense fighting. In Lugansk, which is just 20 kilometers, or 12-and-a-half miles from the border with Russia, people have been cut off for eight days now completely so you're talking no power, no water, no communications, their cell phones aren't even working. Food and medical supplies can't get in. Very, very critical situation. Those people are going to be in need of some help in the coming days, but getting help to them, that seems to be the key question here in Kiev where everybody acknowledges that the people need help, but they can't seem to agree on how to get it to them. You talked about Russia and John Kerry's stern warning to the Russian foreign minister basically saying that if Russia were to cross over into Ukrainian soil under the guise of a peacekeeping mission there is a lot of concern here in Kiev that peacekeeping could mean Russia trying to take a piece of Ukraine.

Crimea obviously fresh in everybody's minds here, so then again you have the Ukrainian forces saying they are open to an international humanitarian aid convoy, but they are insisting that the convoy would have to be escorted by the Ukrainian military and that rebels would essentially have to allow the Ukrainian military into their territory and lay down their arms, something the rebel forces are saying they are just not willing to do, so you have all of this back and forth and you have days now where these people don't have access to their basic human needs. A very, very critical situation on the ground here in Ukraine, guys.

BLACKWELL: Will part of what we do essentially is taking these world events and putting them into something we can relate to. And I relate this to someone saying to another person, don't cross that line, and then they cross it, and then you say well, don't cross the next line and they cross it again. Because you didn't do anything when they crossed the first line.

PAUL: The first time.

BLACKWELL: Right? So what John Kerry's words, Vice President Biden's words, even Samantha Powers saying at the U.N. that it would be an invasion of Ukraine? You put up that map, Crimea's already gone. Donetsk already gone. So what is the reception there in Ukraine to these stern warnings from the U.S. to Russia?

RIPLEY: Well, you know, Victor, just by talking to people who live in this country, there is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of fear. People are afraid for their future, they are afraid for their family's future, they are afraid for the future of their country because they really don't know what's going to happen. That's how volatile things are on the ground right now.

And imagine that just less than a year ago Ukraine where I'm standing right now was a quiet, relatively peaceful Eastern European country where people went about their daily lives. There were some concerns about government corruption, there were some economic problems, but for the most part people could go to work, they could come home, be with their families, turn on the lights, turn on the television, just like a family would do in the United States or many countries in the world. They can't do that now because of what is happening on the ground. Very frightening, very sad for these people, guys.

PAUL: All right. Will Ripley, thank you for letting us know what's going on there. We appreciate it.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Will. Let's talk about this really heartbreaking choice in Iraq. You stay and risk being killed, or run off and possibly face the same fate of death. We'll have a deeper look at the people here, the Yazidi minority who's rushed into the mountains to run from ISIS, only for thousands of them to just fall dead from hunger and thirst.


PAUL: When I say tens of thousands in Iraq are faced with a dire choice, let's really - let this sink in. Put yourself in this position. You have to stay where you are and be killed, or, you risk running and then you have the possible death from dehydration and starvation.

BLACKWELL: Yeah, that's the reality faced by the Yazidis in Iraq. It's a small sect. It's being targeted by this militant group we've been talking about now for some time, ISIS. So, who are the Yazidis and why are they being targeted. We are joined now by CNN editorial producer Nadia Bilchik for more. This is something that I think a lot of people, a sect that a lot of people are hearing about for the first time with this ascent to Sinjar. What do we know about them?

NADIA BILCHIK, CNN EDITORIAL PRODUCER: Well, the Yazidis is a very complex religion. It's actually based on Christianity, Zoroastrianism, which predates Islam, an ancient Persian tradition, and it's somewhat of a secretive sect passed on by oral tradition. Now, you can't convert to become Yazidi. You have to be born into a Yazidi family. You cannot even marry into a Yazidi family. Now, the word Yazidi means worshiper of God, so they do worship one god, but also seven angels. And they -- their enemies call them devil worshipers, which is why they haven't been given the choice by ISIS, to say would you rather convert or pay a tax. There is only one choice. We want you dead. And just to hear how dire their plight is, let's listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): ISIS is looking for the Christians, Yazidis, the Shabaks and all of the sects. We're in a poor situation. We're sleeping in streets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translation): We're living in tragic conditions. No one is opening a door for us. We have no food and nothing to drink. We are displaced people. People are ill. And elderly man died yesterday. I don't know what else to say.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BILCHIK: And as you put it what is the choice? You stay on top of Sinjar, and you die of dehydration, they say it's something like maybe one meal a day. Some kind of aid. Or, you risk going down and death. It really is horrific for these people and historically the Yazidi have been persecuted. But as you heard, that's not only Yazidi, it's Christians, the Assyrians and the Chaldeans and what we're hearing from the pope saying I am sending a group of people under Cardinal Felini (ph) to see what's happening. Just to at least show some solidarity. Now, the Chaldeans, the Chaldean sector of Christians are, in fact, related and in community with the Russian Orthodox Church.

PAUL: So, how big, when we talk about the Yazidis how big is that population?

BILCHIK: So, we're looking at under a million, and around 500,000 in Iraq. And continuing, and you know again, what are we seeing? We are seeing aid and by the way I said the Russian Orthodox Church and I do mean the Rome --

PAUL: Roman.

BILCHIK: Catholic Church.


BILCHIK: And therefore, and the Assyrians we know have been persecuted. We know that the Chaldeans, have been persecuted so what happens now, does the pope's visit do something? I want to read you a tweet from the pope.


BILCHIK: What he's saying is that those driven from their homes in Iraq depend on us, I ask all to pray and for those who are able to give material assistance. So I can only be certain that people all around will be praying in their churches today. And interesting enough, Sinjar Mountain is the resting place or supposedly the resting place of Noah.


BILCHIK: So let us hope it doesn't become the resting place for too many more.

BLACKWELL: Indeed. Nadia Bilchik, thank you so much.

PAUL: Thank you, Nadia.

BLACKWELL: Next hour of your "NEW DAY" starts now.