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Michael Brown Funeral Draws Thousands; Dozens Of Aftershocks Rock Napa Area; American Hostage Released; British Government Investigating Foley Killing; U.S. Weighs Military Action In Syria; James Foley's Killer; ISIS Offered Prisoner Swap; Flight Diverted for Bomb Threat

Aired August 25, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: There's lots of news happening this hour.

Meanwhile, family and friends, clergy members and celebrities, they all came together today for the funeral of Michael Brown, the service for the unarmed black teen who was fatally shot by a white police officer. That service is still continuing.

Brown's father asked that there be no protests on this day. He called for a day of silence as he lays his son to rest. Thousands pack the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis for the funeral service. Brown's death touched off anger in the community, put a national spotlight on tensions between police and African-Americans. We're going to have much more live from St. Louis coming up later this hour.

Meanwhile, it's a day of cleaning up and assessing the damage in Napa, California. A 6.0 magnitude earthquake hit the area yesterday. But nerves are still frayed after dozens of aftershocks still rock the area today. More than 200 people were injured and dozens of buildings are damaged to the point where they are now off limits.

Dan Simon is in Napa for us. Dan, give us a sense of the scope of the damage.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Wolf. Every building on this one block where I'm standing here in downtown Napa has been red tagged, meaning they are uninhabitable. This is an example of the kinds of things that we're seeing. You can see this building behind me, absolutely crumbled. You see all the bricks on the ground. On the bottom, you had an outdoor cafe. On the top, you had offices. What folks are doing now, what crews are doing now is they're basically assessing the damage, trying to make sure there are no more gas leaks, trying to make sure that there are no water leaks.

What we saw earlier today is that crews, basically, did a great job in restoring the power, now it's working out some of the other infrastructure problems that you have. You have some roads that are buckled and that is why so many streets throughout downtown Napa have been blocked off. You really can't get through. But there is a sense that things are turning to normal. Some of the public buses are running. Some of the businesses are starting to open. But it's going to be a long time before things truly return back to normal here in Napa -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any assessment to the damage to the economy in the area? This, after all, is the heart of wine country. It's a huge tourist destination as well.

SIMON: There is a huge concern that this is going to have a major impact on the local economy, especially the wine industry. This is a $13 billion industry here in Napa. You've seen these pictures of barrels being toppled over, of the wine bottles being toppled over, broken. At this point, the wineries are still assessing the damage but there is broad concern that there are going to be some steep losses -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Simon in Napa for us. Dan, thank you.

Five days after the release of the video showing the grizzly execution of the American, James Foley. Another American held in Syria was released. Peter Curtis was held by a different terror group than Foley. He was held by the Al Nusra front as opposed to ISIS.

Our Nick Paton Walsh has more on the release.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): It is interesting that this particular group (INAUDIBLE) Al Nusra on the victory front chose to release Peter Theo Curtis right now. Yes, they are affiliated with Al Qaeda. Yes, they are described as a terrorist organization, too. But they are, at times, rivals to ISIS who are now the target of U.S. air strikes. Some speculating that, perhaps, they assisted Mr. Curtis in his release because they wanted to score some good P.R. points in the eyes of the west.

(voice-over): After a week of horror, finally some good news, an American held hostage in Syria by Islamist rebels for nearly two years is free. 45-year-old Peter Theo Curtis, a freelance author and journalist, released Sunday after being held by the Al Nusra front, a Syrian rebel group with ties to Al Qaeda. His family thanking the governments of the U.S. and Qatar for their efforts. While the U.S. has denied any involvement and details about his release remains unclear. Curtis was handed over to United Nations peacekeepers in the Golan Heights who then released him to U.S. government officials.

PETER THEO CURTIS (on camera): My name is Peter --

WALSH: These videos show Curtis during his last few months in captivity. In this video, a rebel points a gun at his head while Curtis speaks rapidly as if under duress. Curtis was captured near the Syrian-Turkey border in October 2012 and held in Aleppo with American journalist, Matthew Schrier. The two locked up for months before planning their escape. Shria breaking free through a window with Curtis' help. Curtis, however, got stuck trying to escape.

MATTHEW SHRIA (on camera): I'm pulling him and I'm pulling him as hard as I could. We weren't making any headway and we were making too much noise and the windows were open and the lights were above me and the sun was coming up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you must have known then that you had to leave him?

SHRIA: Yes. Yes, it was -- that was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I'm not going to have closure until he's home.

WALSH (voice-over): Curtis' release comes just five days after ISIS released a video of one of its militants beheading American journalist, James Foley. On Sunday, his parents releasing a letter on Facebook that they say he composed in captivity. He talked about sharing one cell with 17 others and playing games made up of scraps they found. Foley had a fellow hostage memorize the letter, dictating it to his family upon release. British officials close to identifying the ISIS militant responsible for the beheading. Experts say he speaks with a distinctly British accent. Investigators making headway, using clues in the video to pinpoint the killer out of hundreds of British Muslims who had joined ISIS.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were putting out a great deal of resource into identifying this person. I think we're not far away from that.

WALSH (on camera): Peter Curtis' family are clear they don't believe money changed hands in this release. They don't know the full details. They say this was a humanitarian effort. And that was the principle guiding factor behind his release. Very many details, though, still to clarify but one American family extraordinarily happy.


Nick Paton Walsh reporting for us, thank you.

ISIS fighters have captured more territory, this time in Syria. The insurgents seized a military base in the north. When combined with the other base that was taken in the region, it effectively gives ISIS control of the Raqqa Province.

The Syrian government is also now saying it's willing to accept support from United States and others in its fight against ISIS.

The statement from Syria comes as President Obama considers taking military action to stop the surge of ISIS terrorists there. Air strikes have slowed the extremist group from advancing in neighboring Iraq but ISIS is thriving right now in the chaos of Syria.

CNN's Barbara Starr is joining us now from the Pentagon. Barbara, the president is sounding serious about possible air strikes. What kind of pressure is he under to move in that direction, not only launching air strikes in Iraq but now expanding to air strikes in Syria?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, by all accounts, the president has yet to make a decision to give the go ahead for it. But some initial steps could be underway. What officials are telling us is before they would even do air strikes, they will have to fly reconnaissance flights into northern Syria over this Raqqa stronghold of ISIS. They need to get a very close-up look at the ground. Where are the ISIS troops? Where are the commanding control centers, the training camps, the installations? That would be the targets that they would want to go after, again, to sort of stop ISIS' momentum across this wide swath of northern Syria, to deny them this safe haven.

Nobody thinks air strikes are going to put ISIS out of business. But they have seen, they say, some evidence in Iraq that it's working, that it's putting them on the run a bit, that they're not as free to move around, that they can't just simply sweep into towns anymore. So, they're hopeful, if they get the go ahead, they can do something similar in Syria.

But, still, I mean, make no mistake, that's a -- it's a very long road. One of the questions is, would the U.S. coordinate any of this with the Syrian regime? Right now, all indications are the U.S. military would not coordinate with the Al Assad regime. But, on the other hand, this would be a very long-term effort if it got started. It could go on for months -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, the U.S. does coordinate air strikes in Iraq with the Iraqi military as well as the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. In Syria, there's a free Syrian army, as it's called, but it's rather -- it's limited in its capabilities. And the U.S., if it doesn't want to coordinate with Bashar Al Assad's military, it's going to have a problem in Syria, right?

STARR: Well, it may get a bit difficult for the U.S. military. I mean, look, Assad's forces have been fighting for the last several days to try and hold onto that air base you were just talking about that ISIS, by all accounts, has now taken. And, you know, in this area of northern Syria that is now essentially the ISIS safe haven, how much influence Syrian forces, Assad's regime, have here really part of the intelligence question? Right now, all the indications are ISIS has a pretty good grip on this area. If the U.S. can get in and out with its aircraft, with a minimal risk of encountering the Syrians or being shot down by them, it may be a risk that military planners are willing to take.

One of the things we continue to hear is that this area of northern Syria may not have the level of air defenses that you see the Syrian regime maintain further south around Baghdad -- pardon me, around Damascus and other key areas. The Syrian air defense is very well built up over the years, also along the coastline, because they feared an Israeli incursion, if you will. So, this area in the north may be something that the U.S. can deal with without coordinating directly with the Syrians.

But if you start air strikes, they could go on for months to have any meaningful impact. So, we'll see if not coordinating with the Assad regime to something they can stick to.

BLITZER: We'll see what the president decides to do. Barbara, thank you.

Let's get some more now on the funeral of Michael Brown, the 18 year old whose death touched off protests and marches. Our colleague, Jake Tapper, is outside the church in St. Louis. Jake, give us a little sense of the message we're hearing from Brown's funeral service today, after days of angry protests. Is there a sense of hope coming from the service?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think it's fair to say, apart from all the cameras and the celebrities, this is clearly a time of personal grief for Michael Brown's family. And one of the things that's been so important about the service is how much meaning those speaking have been trying to find in his death, about what his death has spoken for, about who has been moved by this and about the fact that, for many people, Michael Brown's death is about a larger issue, about a larger movement. And that's the hope that I'm getting from people speaking here that -- the idea that something more meaningful can come from this dialogue or perhaps more -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there a sense that the folks there will honor the desire by the family that they avoid protest marches, at least on this memorial day?

TAPPER: Well, you can hear right now, Wolf, people coming out of the overflow, chanting, hands up, don't shoot, hands up. This is an even -- there's a -- the scene going on right here, some young men coming out, yelling, hands up, don't shoot. And a woman saying, I love you but don't come out here and protest. Don't come out here with this. And they have since quieted down. So, obviously, there is an effort to quell and quiet any of those passions, at least right here in the immediate vicinity of the funeral -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure the Brown family is pleased that three officials from the White House had decided to attend this funeral service today, right?

TAPPER: I'm sure they are. There are a lot of public officials here. I should point out that those who are affiliated with Officer Darren Wilson feel like the presence of a White House delegation, the presence of other public officials here is unfair because, obviously, Officer Wilson has his side of the story. We have yet to hear what it is but at least, from what we've heard from the police, they maintain that he was attacked by Michael Brown.

And the idea that there are White House -- there is a White House delegation here, there are public officials here, to those affiliated with Officer Wilson. And, of course, he has the presumption of innocence just like anyone else. They feel like that is the government weighing in and saying, well, we believe this version of events. We don't believe Officer Wilson's version of events. So, it's a very sensitive time.

Obviously, people who are coming to the funeral are trying to say that this is about the loss of an 18-year-old. This is about one family's personal loss. But there is so much politics and protests surrounding it, there are those who take issue with the White House delegations presence and as well as the presence of other public officials -- Wolf. BLITZER: And we'll be checking back with you, Jake, throughout the

day. Jake, of course, will be anchoring "THE LEAD," 4:00 p.m. Eastern from St. Louis, Ferguson area there. Much more coming up on "THE LEAD." Jake, thanks very much.

Coming up here, the latest on the federal investigation into Michael Brown's death. Was racial hostility a factor in the shooting? We'll have a live report.

Also coming up, we'll have more on the search for James Foley's killer and how British investigators may be closing in.


BLITZER: He's become the new face of ISIS. I'm talking about the man who executed the American journalist James Foley and whose British accent may be the clue to who he really is. Brian Todd is here with me.

Brian, what are we learning about this man who actually killed James Foley?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're learning, Wolf, that the search for his identity is very intense right now. The forensic investigation into that video, to be able to name who that man is, is very intense right now. Asked by our own Candy Crowley as to whether they have a name of the person who did this, the British ambassador to the U.S., Peter Westmacott, said, we're close. It doesn't mean - we don't know if that means, you know, are they close to actually getting the name themselves, having it for their own - on their own, or are they close to being able to tell us who the name is? Do the British know the name and they're not able to tell us yet who it is?

We do know that we're probably very close to, you know, having a name of somebody to be revealed later this week. We do know from our conversations -- excuse me, with British officials, that they're going over every piece of this video, Wolf. The voice on it, of course, is key. The background. The terrain where they were. They're looking at the editing of the video because the video does go black during the apparent moment when he's being killed. So those are all the forensic things that they're looking at in this video and, of course, we're told by the British ambassador, we're close to being able to maybe say a name of this person.

BLITZER: Do they know how many British citizens are actually part of ISIS in Iraq and Syria right now?

TODD: Our conversations with intelligence officials here in the United States indicates that there are hundreds of British citizen, somewhere between 400 and 500 British citizens who have gone to fight in Syria and hundreds -- within them, hundreds are members of ISIS. So there is a very strong British contingent of fighters within ISIS. Americans, only a handful. But British, French and German, they number in the hundreds, those numbers in ISIS. And the scary thing is, of course, Wolf, we've been reporting, they all have western passports. They don't necessarily need a visa to get back in the United States. So they can travel here fairly easily and that's what U.S. officials, you can sense that their concern over this is really ratcheting up now.

BLITZER: Yes. The British ambassador says they're close. We'll see how close they actually are to identifying this individual.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian, for that report.

TODD: Sure.

BLITZER: In the days leading up to the killing of the journalist, James Foley, ISIS made two demands. Before the terrorists demanded a $132 million ransom, they offered a prisoner swap. In exchange for Foley, they want a woman released who's serving 86 years in a Texas prison. Jean Casarez introduces us to the woman known as Lady al Qaeda.


AAFIA SIDDIQUI, SUSPECTED TERRORIST: What I'm saying is simply that a woman is not an unpaid slave.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, also called Lady al Qaeda, a Pakistani national, her release from a U.S. prison was one of the demands made by ISIS in exchange for American journalist James Foley before he was beheaded by his captors. In an e-mail sent to Foley's family on August 12th ISIS wrote, "we have also offered prisoner exchanges to free the Muslims currently in your detention like our sister Dr. Aafia Siddiqui."

DEBORAH SCROGGINS, AUTHOR, "WANTED WOMAN": She is an icon. She is the poster girl for jihad. And in that way, she served as a sort of rallying point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is the premier symbol of the Muslim woman in distress.

CASAREZ: Siddiqui earned degrees from MIT and Brandeis University outside Boston. This petite 44-year-old woman, a neuro scientist and mother of three, lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, and in 2003, she disappeared. In 2004, was put on an FBI alert list, considered a clear and present danger. In 2008, Siddiqui was stopped by Afghanistan National Police for acting suspicion outside a government building. According to court documents, officers searched her handbag and found numerous documents describing the creation of explosives, chemical weapons and other weapons involving biological material and radiological agents. Handwritten notes by Siddiqui referred to a mass casualty attack, listing various locations in the United States, including the Empire State Building, Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge.

When American authorities came to question her the next day, she grabbed one of their rifles and started shooting. Siddiqui was flown to the U.S. where she was never charged with terrorism but convicted of attempted murder. Siddiqui claimed she was framed. SCROGGINS: She interrupted her trial repeatedly with heated outbursts,

anti-Semitic outbursts about Jews, all kinds of things. The judge found that she was mentally capable of standing trial, but that she needed some sort of treatment, and that's why he sentenced her to a prison in Texas where she is able to receive psychiatric care.

CASAREZ: She also has a notorious in-law. Siddiqui married the nephew of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks.

CASAREZ (on camera): Based on what you know, is she a scientist or is she a terrorist?

SCROGGINS: She's definitely a terrorist sympathizer, there's no doubt about that. And she was helping terrorists. But she was never -- she's never been accused of actually committing a terrorist act herself.

CASAREZ: Whether she has committed a terrorist act or not, ISIS clearly considers her to be of great value.

Jean Casarez, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Just ahead, hackers target online gaming networks but did they also target a passenger jet with a sonny executive on board? We have details.

And later, many questions still remain in the shooting death of Michael Brown. So far the FBI has interviewed more than 200 people. We're about to get an update on the federal investigation.


BLITZER: Over the weekend, hackers took down Sony PlayStation and other online gaming networks, but apparently they didn't stop there. An American Airlines flight with a Sony executive on board was forced to land in Phoenix on Sunday after the same group reportedly sent out a tweet claiming there were explosives on the plane. Our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh is following this sort of bizarre story for us.

So, what are you learning?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, this is American Airlines Flight 362. It was supposed to go from Dallas to San Diego but instead it was forced to divert to Phoenix.

Here's what we also know. Two fighter jets had to be scrambled as this plane was coming in for a landing. And it appears that it is all because of a hacker group that goes by the name Lizard Squad and they say that they'll keep on doing what they're doing until the bombing of ISIS troops stops.

We do want to mention that on board Flight 362 was the president of Sony Online. Apparently, this group knew he was on board because they tweeted directly at him, as well as American Airlines, saying that - and I believe we have the tweet there, that they were concerned there were reports of Flight 362 from Dallas to San Diego had explosives on board. The tweet went on to say, look into this. They also paired that tweet with images from September 11th.

We should tell you, the plane landed safely. However, cameras did capture that Sony exec when he landed. He didn't have much to say to the cameras. But he sent out his own tweet essentially confirming that, indeed, the plane was diverted, saying he wasn't going to discuss any more than that, and he ended the tweet saying justice will find these guys.

Of course, no explosives were on board. But that being said, the FBI is investigating. I mean we're talking about a false threat here that's a criminal offense so they're looking into it. And, you know, people believe that eventually they will find out who's behind this.

BLITZER: Because disrupting, you know, PlayStations is one thing. Diverting a jet, you know, a passenger jet, and forcing other fighter jets to go up there and accompany and see what's going on, look, those seem like two very different things.

MARSH: Two very different things. And, I mean, like I said this is a -- this is a criminal offense when you have this false threat that you are making towards an airliner which had passengers on board and now you have F-16s called into the picture. So now the FBI wants to know who is behind this. They told CNN that they are -- this investigation is very much underway at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do know there's some sort of link, connection between what's called the Lizard Group and Sony, for example?

MARSH: That's the question because, I mean, not only did they bring down the online gaming, but they also appeared to know that this exec was on this flight. At this point we don't have any indication that there's a backstory to this between Sony and this group. We should mention they also took down other online gaming sites as well. So not just specific to Sony, but I'm sure this is something the FBI will be looking into.

BLITZER: Yes, this is a federal investigation right now.


BLITZER: This isn't local. This is a big deal.


BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Rene, for that report.

Still to come, were Michael Brown's civil rights violated when he was shot and killed by police? That's a question federal investigators are trying to answer. We'll have a live report on the latest.

And up next, we're going to go to the heart of California wine country. They're picking up the mess after that big earthquake yesterday. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)