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Iraq Staging Offensive Against ISIS In Tikrit; ISIS Releases 19 Christian Hostages; Alleged ISIS Supporters Make Online Threats Against Twitter Founder and Employees; Surveillance Video Shows Moment Boris Nemtsov Was Gunned Down Near Kremlin; Nemtsov's Funeral In Moscow Tomorrow; Georgia Will Put To Death First Woman Since 1945 Tonight

Aired March 2, 2015 - 12:30   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Checking some top stories this hour, Iraq is staging an offensive against ISIS and this time it's in Tikrit. Iraqi forces doubling down on their efforts to retake that city from ISIS even though -- and they're even uniting Sunni and Shiites fighters in this mission. That's a big deal. They're using ground troops and Iraqi warplanes. Helicopters are also striking targets in and around that city. And in case you're wondering how long ISIS has been holding it, they've held Tikrit since last year.

In another development, ISIS has released 19 Christian hostages. They let them go on Sunday and they're expected to release 10 more. The sudden reversal has a lot of people really puzzled. The human rights groups says all but one of the Christians released were in fact from that group of more than 200 captured last week during offenses in northern Syrian villages.

In the latest development in the war against ISIS, people calling themselves "ISIS" supporters at least, have made online threats against Twitter's founder, Jack Dorsey, and other Twitter employees because Twitter has been shutting down accounts that promote ISIS.

CNN's Samuel Burke is CNN London Bureau. Samuel, how serious are these threats and how traceable are they?

SAMUEL BURKE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Ashleigh, we don't want to become a megaphone for this group, but they didn't just threaten Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter, and Twitter employees, also their family members saying that they're upset that their accounts had been closed down.

What we always try to do our Arabic-speaking team here at CNN when we see these threats online is try to establish, is this an account that we're familiar with, a group that claims it's affiliated with ISIS, or just some random person trying to seek attention. It doesn't looking like this is an official account that we're familiar with, but it does look like it's a group that at least self identifies as an ISIS supporter. The group says it's called (inaudible).

You'll remember that name, Ashleigh, because on your show in September, we talked about a group claiming to use the same name, threatening Twitter's headquarters in San Francisco.

Now, thankfully that never came to fruition but Twitter is taking this very seriously. A spokesperson told me earlier today the following, "Our security team is investigating the veracity of these threats with relevant law enforcement officials. We've contacted the FBI," and they won't comment on whether they're opening an investigation.

But I think this all shows Ashleigh the complexity of ISIS and the groups that either loosely or closely affiliated with it, not only offline but online.

BANFIELD: So, you know, Twitter is just one social media outlet where a lot of the hateful messages are out there. And presumably, those outlets are also removing a lot of messages where there's been a request to do so. But are there other outlets being threatened as well or is this just Twitter?

BURKE: Just Twitter is being threatened and it's important to note that this message was originally posted on Twitter and has been deleted but has since appeared on other social networks.

It really is a game of whack-a-mole. We heard from Twitter official here in the United Kingdom during the commission that they have about a hundred people working round the clock to try and deal with these reports from users about ISIS or groups affiliated with ISIS using accounts.

But once it comes down one place, it just goes up on another place just like these threats that we saw against Twitter today.

BANFIELD: All right, Samuel Burke reporting live for us in the London Bureau. Thank you for that.

Still ahead on LEGAL VIEW, this is something that you might think you'd find in a Tom Clancy novel or maybe even a James Bond movie. The Kremlin and the cloak-and-dagger murder in the shadow of that building but this is real. And those officers presumably, presumably are actually investigating an assassination of the Russian president's most vocal critic.


BANFIELD: The assassination of a Russian opposition figure, Boris Nemtsov is shaping up as a political thriller worthy of the wildest conspiracy theories.

There is surveillance video of a bridge near the Kremlin that captures the moment Nemtsov was gunned down on Friday night.

Unfortunately, the big garbage track that's blinking in the foreground there blocks the view of the actual shooting. Was it a coincidence? Or was it not?

And now the woman who was actually with Nemtsov that night is speaking up. His girlfriend, fashion model Anna Duritskaya says the police have been questioning her for the past three days, although she said she didn't see what happened, and she doesn't know who killed him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where did Boris' killer appear from?

ANNA DURITSKAYA, BORRIS NEMTSOV'S GIRLFRIEND (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I don't know. I didn't see because this was happening behind my back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And by description, did this person react to your request immediately or started calling?

DURITSKAYA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): When I turned, I only saw a light- colored car, but I didn't see the make or number of the car that was leaving.


BANFIELD: What may be also really bizarre is that Nemtsov seem to predict his own death just days before he was murdered. He told a Russian news website this, and I'm going to quote him. "I'm afraid Putin will kill me. I believe that he was the one who unleashed the war in the Ukraine. I couldn't dislike him more."

Nemtsov was once a deputy prime minister, even hinted that the dangerous political intrigue in Russia last year when he sat down for dinner with our own Anthony Bourdain.


BORIS NEMTSOV, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN: If you have good relationship with Putin and his people around, right?


NEMTSOV: You have good relationship with governor, it doesn't matter if you are in city, while you have a chance to raise money to be successful, you know, to buy real estate in the south of France or in Switzerland, to open accounts in Swiss banks, et cetera, but if something happens between you and Putin or you and the governor, you will be in jail. It's very easy.

BOURDAIN: Whether your company dismantle your --

NEMTSOV: Yeah. Your company will disappear --


BANFIELD: Jail might be a much better option.

Senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson is live right now is Moscow.

Ivan, how is this playing out where you are, on the street? Do people think it's that all possible this was just a, you know, a crime? A random crime or did they think the Kremlin actually is involved here? IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think some people are quick to blame the Kremlin or at least the atmosphere of intolerance that they claim that the Kremlin's media organs have created, saying that may have contributed to this very brazen assassination.

On Sunday, there was a march in honor of Boris Nemtsov that went through Central Moscow. And there were, perhaps, tens of thousands of people who marched in memory of this man, but that is - when you think about it in a city of so many millions of Muscovites, is a relatively small number. In fact, I've seen somebody compare it to the outpouring of more than a million people estimated in Paris after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo on that cartoon magazine. Compared to that, the number of people who came out in favor of Boris Nemtsov was relatively small, and perhaps, should underscore the fact that he was -- despite his international prominence, within Russia he was quite a marginal political figure. He was basically a regional council member, and wasn't a major player in national politics, Asleigh.

BANFIELD: So is it possible, though, Ivan that perhaps that rally, as large as it look on the TV screen, is really just the beginning of a momentum that's gathering because this only happened a couple of days ago. And you never know what can happen when, you know, social media gets a hold of it and there's really a ground fall about this. Is the Kremlin worried?

WATSON: I don't know. The Kremlin has promised to investigate this. The Kremlin has called the murder a provocation, and Putin himself has reached out to the family of Nemtsov, offering his condolences and condemning the attack.

I've asked some of Nemtsov's supporters who are very quick to accuse the Kremlin of at least creating the atmosphere that lead to this killing. His close deputy, a young man named Ilya Yashin, who says basically, Nemtsov's blood is on President Putin's hands. I've asked them if they think that this is going to be a turning point for Russia, and some of the last liberal voices left in this country say it's far -- it's early to tell.

Nemtsov's funeral will be taking place here in Moscow tomorrow, and there's a terrible tragic coincidence here. His mother's birthday, her 88th birthday will be tomorrow. She'll be attending that funeral on her birthday, the funeral of the death of her son. Really awful.

BANFIELD: Ivan, I didn't know that. Thank you for that. Ivan Watson live for us in Moscow. Appreciate it.

Another story we're covering, the state of Georgia is just a little over six hours away from executing the first female inmate in 70 years. You probably look at the clock, a whole bunch of time during the day, but imagine how that woman is looking at her clock as the minutes countdown to her scheduled death.

Might it be prevented? We'll tell you in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BANFIELD: Faring a last minute stay of execution, Georgia, tonight, will put to death the first woman since 1945 in that state. This morning, her attorneys filed an emergency request for a 90-day stay with the board of pardons and paroles, not to execute Kelly Gissendaner. They've already declined her -- denied her clemency, though.

Gissendaner is the only woman on Georgia's death row, the only one. She's convicted of conspiring with a boyfriend to kill her husband in 1997. At that time, Gissendaner tried to appear as the concerned and worried wife.


KELLY GISSENDANER, WOMAN ON GEORGIA'S DEATH ROW: -- if he's somewhere that he can get to a phone just for him to please call home and let somebody know he's all right. If he's not calling me, call his parents or something. That's all I want, I want him home.


BANFIELD: That was 1997, and now, we're almost two decades later. And we're also joined by the Episcopal priest and Reverend Cathy Zappa who is the director of the Prison Theology Program that Kelly Gissendaner participated in.

Reverend, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today. I just want to ask you, what are your efforts right now to stop this scheduled execution just now six hours and 10 minutes from now?

CATHY ZAPPA, DIRECTOR OF PRISON THEOLOGY PROGRAM: Well, there are a lot of things going on right now and a lot of people involved. As you know the attorneys have filed a plea for a stay of execution in the hopes that the board will hear some new evidence and we consider some of what they've heard.

There are petitions going around, I think there are over 100,000 signatures on one petition asking for clemency and there's another letter going around that's been signed by faith leaders all over the country for many different phase.

My efforts are -- in just trying to let people know that there is another side of Kelly Gissendaner a side that has emerged over the last 18 years of her incarceration.

BANFIELD: Just -- And I know that is critical to a lot of people and then there is this other side where it doesn't matter one iota that Ms. Gissendaner has changed. The only look at the crime and that the legal system played out and that no matter what might have a reason since then, nothing wen wrong legally. Do you respect that?

ZAPPA: I do not respect that because what's been so troublesome about this particular case is why have clemency if the 18 years of incarceration don't matter? Why have a clemency hearing if what she does in that meantime doesn't matter? The board has the power to weigh these situations and see and what I'm hoping I see is that there's a life that is a value in a prison and in our world right now. The whole prison system is built around the idea of rehabilitation. This is a woman who has been rehabilitated. To deny that is deny a lot of what the Department of Corrections is about.

She also has been denied in this process, this process has been a very torturous process, she's been denied a lot of things that I think any human being should have in this process. For example she wanted her chaplain of 16 years to be with her today and she was denied that request. She wanted to receive last rites from her chapel of 16 years and was denied that request.

So part of it too is how this is playing out if there's a side of it that a lot of us don't see until your up close to it.

BANFIELD: So I suppose the question I have for you is this and it's so hard to speak in these terms when you're really facing an actual scheduled death at the hands of the government. Do you think that your actions with respect to Kelly Gissendaner are going to have an effect on her execution? Or do you think perhaps your work might change things down the line for others?

ZAPPA: I hope it's both. I hope it has an impact. I hope people hear. I hope there is pressure on the board and the governor and just this whole state to see what we're doing. This is unconscionable and seeing it up close it is. It's not just an execution it has been 18 years of spiritual, emotional, psychological torture that is continuing in this time.

BANFIELD: What about the family who was so terrible affected by the murder of her then husband, how are they weighing in on this and her own children?

ZAPPA: Right. You know the family has been split by this. It's a horrible tragedy, it's a crime and it has had devastating effects on the entire family. Doug Gissendaner's parents obviously are devastated that I haven't talked to them, but it's very clear that they are weighing on in favor of the execution.

I can't say I understand their anger and they're hurt but I respect it and I imagine it's very hard for them to see people like me coming out in defense of Kelly. Her children are also victims of this crime and they have been in the process of rebuilding a relationship with her and they do not want her executed. So I think that to execute her would be to re-victimize them, would be to make them victims all over again.

BANFIELD: Well, we without question really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us about this and it is something we'll be watching today. We watched this last week and then weather -- of all things, weather changed the scheduled execution but we'll --

ZAPPA: Which has --

BANFIELD: -- certainly see if there's anything else that changes --

ZAPPA: Thank you. Yeah.

BANFIELD: -- the scheduled execution.

ZAPPA: And I hope we all keep her in our prayers.

BANFIELD: Cathy Zappa thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

ZAPPA: Thank you.

BANFIELD: By the way, just as a reminder, Kelly Gissendaner is scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. tonight. The governor does not have the law on that executive office's side, but the governor can appeal to the Board of Pardons and Paroles to see if they will reconsider clemency. So, there is still that last option for the phone to ring, so they say.

And there is another woman who could soon be headed to death row, Jodi Arias, a famous face, a famous case and right now the jurors are in their second full day of deliberations deciding whether she lives or dies for the murder of Travis Alexander. Will we have the same conversation 19 years from now about her? That's next.


BANFIELD: Prosecutors in the Aaron Hernandez murder trial are trying to use his own texts and phone calls to link him to the crime. It's day 18 now of the former New England Patriots trial.

He's accused in the murder of Odin Lloyd back in June of 2013. Lloyd, for his part, before he became a victim with his sister Shaquila just minutes before prosecutors say he was murdered.

Now she could testify today that they indeed texted back and forth and at what time, but the weird part is she is not allowed to say to the jury what the text actually said. His final texts to let her know who he was with says NFL just so you know, meaning Aaron Hernandez.

Right now a jury in Phoenix, another curious (inaudible) jury trying to decide whether Jodi Arias should live or die for murdering her ex- boyfriend Travis Alexander. This morning, the jurors returned to resume their deliberations. You'll probably remember that Arias was convicted in 2013 but the first jury could not decide on her sentence, so they hang. And now it's up to jury number two.

And if jury number two can't decide if they are not unanimous in (inaudible) death, then Arias automatically gets life in prison, no parole. We're going to bring you the verdict just as soon as we get it.

Thanks, everyone, for watching. WOLF starts now.