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EARLY START

A Happy Night That Ends in Horror; Police Treating Suicide Bombing Outside Manchester Concert as T error Incident; No Break on Russia Probe. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired May 23, 2017 - 03:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[03:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Chaos, confusion, and anguish after a suicide bombing outside a concert in Manchester. Police treating it as a terror incident. The big question this morning, who was this attacker and what inspired him.

EARLY START'S complete coverage starts right now. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to Early Start. A grim evening. I'm Christine Romans.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A despicable act indeed. I'm Dave Briggs. And it's Tuesday, May 23rd, 3 a.m. in the East.

Grief, outrage, and unanswered questions the morning after a deadly bombing at an Ariana Grande bombing in England. An apparent suicide attacker killing at least 22 people at the Manchester arena. Children are among the dead.

At least 59 others were injured. The explosion ripping through a public space just outside the main concert area as everyone was leaving the show. Police are treating the incident as an act of terrorism.

ROMANS: Here is all what we can tell you. A male at the scene has been identified as the probable bomber. Investigators are digging into his background right now. It was, of course, a chaotic scene at this arena in the moments just after the blast with thousands of concert- goers all trying to figure out what was happening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fourteen hit...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. What's going on? What's happening? (muted). What's going on? Oh, my God!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Dave, what you see when you look at these pictures are thousands of young people. You see parents who have brought their teenage daughters, even children to this concert. When you talk to witnesses and survivors, they've describe the scene of parents waiting outside the venue to pick up their children.

It was about 10:35 local time in Manchester, to pick up their children, their young adults from this concert. A concert that attracts lots of young women. It is a teenager crowd here. So the targeting of such young people just adds to the chilling nature of this event.

BRIGGS: Yes. We've become almost numb to terror attacks in recent years, but this one stands out, the particular horror of targeting young teenage girls.

We will get reaction from world leaders pouring in over the next couple of hours. But I think Malcolm Turnbull perhaps summed it up best, the Prime Minister of Australia when he said it is especially vial, especially criminal and especially horrific because it deliberately targeted teenagers.

ROMANS: All right. Some 68 ambulances responded to the blast at the Manchester arena taking victims to local hospital.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin joins us live. She is there at the Manchester Royal Infirmary where some of the wounded are being treated. What are you hearing from officials there, Erin?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Christine. This is one of six hospitals that are treating victims from this horrific attack. We have yet to hear from officials on specifics in terms of the times of injuries that they're treating here, but we know they were very busy in the overnight hours. They actually closed the hospital down to regular patients. It was only urgent patients that were being treated here.

Those restrictions though have since been lifted. We've been speaking to some eyewitnesses that were here at this hospital. Seventeen-year- old Ellie Ward was here. She was inside the arena for that horrendous attack. She described to us the moment that that explosion happened. It was just after Ariana Grande had just finished her last song and left the stage.

That's when the explosion happened. She said that she could feel the explosion with her friend inside the arena. Her grandfather was on another level of the arena. He actually sustained a head injury and is being treated at this hospital. That is why Ellie Ward was here.

We also spoke to one woman who was here because her mother and her sister were there to pick up her nieces at the arena. They sustained glass injury. So we're hearing more and more of these kinds of stories, of victims sustaining injuries, many of them parents who were there to pick up their kids.

And as we know as well from that press conference earlier today with the head of the police in Manchester that children sadly are among the dead. They are still working to try to identify the attacker who perpetrated this attack. All they're saying publicly at the moment is that they know it was a male seeming to act alone at the scene, carrying an improvised explosive device. [03:05:01] BRIGGS: Erin, thank you. We will check back with you

throughout the next couple of hours.

Ariana Grande tweeting this morning in reaction, "Broken. From the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry. I don't have words."

Again, we will find reaction from world leaders in the next couple of hours and hospital police reaction there in Manchester.

Donald Trump, the President of the United States, will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. We expect to see them at 3.40 Eastern Time. So you would expect a statement ahead of that if not on camera comments from the president as well.

ROMANS: And again, authorities are working to identify who this male is who they believe had an improvised explosive device, perhaps suicide vest outside this location. It was only two months ago that there was the Westminster car attack and stabbing attack, and, of course, all the way back in 2007 was the tube attack, the terrorist attack in London that killed 17 people.

Already the death toll from this concert blast has surpassed that. I want to bring in Robinson Simcox, he is a counterterrorism and national security expert at the Heritage Foundation. He is with us right and early this morning from Washington, D.C. watching these developments overnight with us. Robin, your first response here as authorities dig into who this suspected bomber is?

ROBIN SIMCOX, COUNTERTERRORISM & NATIONAL SECURITY EXPERT, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Well, it appears as if -- it appears to be a suicide attack. I think you have to say it looks increasingly clear that it is Islamist in nature. Then you start looking at whether is this ISIS directed, has it managed to smuggle one of its fighters into the U.K., has it possibly been able to recruit a home-grown radical.

Has it provided any kind of instruction or any foreign terrorist group provided any instruction in constructing the device? How was this -- how did the authorities miss this? Was this person possibly on the radar and it was just the case that so many terror suspects in the U.K. that it's not possible to track everyone?

Has the person who carried out the attack got any kind of connections? Has he been on telegram, is there an electronic signature that the authorities can begin to trace? I think these are the things they will be pouring over in the hours and days to come.

BRIGGS: Now, of course, what makes this stand out is the targeting of teenage and adolescent girls. Does that tell you anything about a potential group that might take responsibility for this latest terror attack?

SIMCOX: Well, it tells you it's one that has absolutely no regard for decency of human life. That could be ISIS. I think ISIS would be the number one suspected group. Could be Al Qaeda. But you're almost lost for words to know who could target this specific audience there in that venue. ROMANS: And we don't want to speculate of course in these early

hours, Robin, as you know, developments change quickly. There are sometimes leads and angles that are followed and pursued that turn out not to be correct.

So we're just going to try to stick with exactly what we know here. We know there are 22 dead. We know that children are among them. And we know that this venue is a little bit different. Westminster a couple of months ago, that was clearly meant for maximum international tourism impact.

SIMCOX: Sure.

ROMANS: The seat of government, tour the heart of London. The tube system in 2007, transportation hub. This is very clearly those soft targets that all of you counterterrorism folks are so concerned about. All of these people in one place with only a few exits right there. Those are -- those are the real difficulty in protecting.

SIMCOX: Yes, absolutely. And music venues themselves are something that terrorist groups in the past have liked to target. You may remember there was a suicide bombing at a music festival in Germany last summer. The Bataclan in Paris in November 2015 very specifically targeted by ISIS.

There was a plot back in 2004 to attack the ministry of sound nightclub also in London. So, because of the conditions that you correctly laid out, it makes it an appealing target for terrorists because you've got high concentration of people, very hard to protect from the kind of attack of people leaving exits and leaving all together at one time, very easy to cause panic. And I think that's what you've seen take place in Manchester last night.

BRIGGS: Robin, Gary Walker who attended the concert with his family told Sky News after his wife was that he looked on the ground and saw, quote, "metal nuts all over the floor." What does that tell you?

SIMCOX: Well, again, it suggests it's some kind of potentially some kind of nail bomb. That's the kind of bomb used for maximum impact, cause maximum damage, maximum casualties.

[03:10:01] Again, it just shows us whoever is behind this attack truly had no regard for human life. They were looking to carry out the most amount of -- commit the most amount of -- kill the most amounts of people possible, the highest amount of casualties possible.

I think it's just a stark reminder of the kind of hateful ideologies that exist, that people would just -- that people would be in that venue, in amongst those people, see the young people they were with, see the teenagers, see the parents and think that they were a target that deserved to be killed. I mean, it boggles the mind really that anyone could carry out this kind of attack, but, unfortunately, we see it again and again.

ROMANS: How much support, Robin, is needed for a lone wolf say to walk -- to get the bomb making materials necessary and pull off something like this? Or is this something that needs a network, that needs coordination from what you can see here?

SIMCOX: I would tend towards to think it would be the latter. I think there was -- I think it more likely there would be a network. You do get lone wolf style terrorists who can have some kind of instruction electronically from abroad.

They may, you may get an ISIS commander in Raqqa encouraging somebody to carry out a knife attack or an attack with a car, something that's quite simple to pull off. But something like this where you've constructed an IED, that requires a level of expertise that I think would push us towards the fact there may be a broader network operating out there.

BRIGGS: Maybe the person that carried out the attack had some kind of training abroad. I think these are the kind of things the police and authorities in the U.K. are going to be trying to find out.

BRIGGS: Robin, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will hold what is called a Cobra meeting with her cabinet today, 9 o'clock local time. That's 4 a.m. Eastern Time here in New York.

I want to ask you though, about the security in the U.K., in England, in Manchester. They were at a severe terror level warning, meaning an attack is highly likely. How secure is the London, Manchester, U.K. area?

SIMCOX: Well, the U.K. has been -- the severe threat level has been there for many years. I mean, U.K. has been under threat very consistently now for over a decade. You referred earlier to the July 2005 bombings on the transport network. There's been dozens of thwarted plots, and obviously you had the attack in Westminster earlier this year.

The attack in Manchester actually also came four years to the day since Lee Rigby, a British soldier was stabbed to death by two radicalized British-Nigerians.

So, there is very clearly a threat in the U.K. I think the U.K. has devote an awful lot of money to counterterrorism. It has world class intelligence services, but there is a numbers game. The fact of the matter is there are thousands of terror suspects in the U.K. The U.K. doesn't have the ability to track all of them.

And so, you -- they're constantly making assessment, who is the crocodile nearest the boat. Sometimes they're going to get it wrong, and it appears as if yesterday it was one of those -- one of those people that slipped through the net.

ROMANS: Robin Simcox, thank you so much for monitoring all of this for us and giving us your expertise.

SIMCOX: Thank you.

ROMANS: As these 10 hours now since that attack in Manchester. Thank you, Robin.

SIMCOX: Thank you.

BRIGGS: All right. The attack in Manchester leaving victims and their families absolutely devastated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLOTTE CAMPBELL, OLIVIA CAMPBELL'S MOTHER: You can't find her, you don't know if she's dead or alive. I don't know how people can do this to innocent children.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Hear from witnesses and people waiting to hear from their loved ones next here on Early Start.

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BRIGGS: More on our breaking news. An explosion killing 22 people, injuring dozens more last night in an arena, an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. Police are treating the incident as a terrorist attack and are focusing on a male at the scene as the, quote, "probable suicide bomber."

ROMANS: The blast ripping through a public area just outside the main concert stage moments after the show ended.

Listen to Charlotte Campbell. Her daughter Olivia attended the show and has not been heard from since.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAMPBELL: She went to the concert with her friend. I spoke to her just before 10 o'clock. She was enjoying herself. And we've not heard anything from her since. We've been -- we have phoned hospitals. We've phoned everywhere we can think. We've posted on every social network, and there's nothing. There's no news of her. She is now registered as a missing person.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: We're going to put her picture. There she is. We are putting her picture on the screen for our viewers to see. What do you want people to know what parents like you are dealing with tonight? I don't know if you can even put it into words.

CAMPBELL: I can't. It is the most horrible feeling ever, to know that your daughter is there, you can't find her, you don't know if she is dead or live. I don't know how people can do this to innocent children.

LEMON: Yes.

(OFF-MIC)

CAMPBELL: She is just petrified whoever did this would come to the house or would go to her school. She's just -- she's devastated. For her at 10 years old to witness something like that is just horrific. People just pushing and trying to get out, and I was screaming at

people to stop pushing because my daughter was being pushed. For children to see their idols and then have this then impacting the rest of their lives is disgusting. These people are cowards. They're just sick cowards.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Imagine as a parent running through that venue with your kid, just watching all of that.

BRIGGS: You can't help but think of that. You and I are both the parents of young children, and this is a despicable act like the world has never seen, targeting teenage girls, adolescent girls, there with their parents. It is unimaginable the terror that took place there last night.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said they are working to establish the full details of what is being treated by the police as an appalling terrorist attack.

[03:20:01] We are almost 10 hours after this attack in Manchester. Still no statement from the White House on this. A bit surprising certainly. We expect to see and hear from President Trump alongside Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, in 20 minutes. We will keep you up to date.

ROMANS: All right. Back to our coverage in Manchester in just a moment, but first the President of the United States, President Trump asked intelligence officials to publicly clear his campaign of collusion allegations. We've got that and a whole lot more on the Russia probe. You don't want to miss this next.

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ROMANS: Again, we're following all the breaking developments in the Manchester bombing and the president's trip overseas.

There's a long list of important developments on the investigation into Michael Flynn. At the same time and the Trump campaign ties to Russia.

That's right there. First, President Trump called two top U.S. intelligence figures asking them to publicly deny that there's evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russia during the election.

BRIGGS: Current and former U.S. officials tell CNN that the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coates, and NSA Director Michael Rogers were both uncomfortable of the president's request and refused to comply.

[03:25:08] The president called Rogers and Coates after then FBI Director James Comey publicly revealed in March that the bureau was investigating possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia. ROMANS: Also, Robert Mueller, the new special counsel investigating

Russian election meddling, Robert Mueller has now been briefed on memos Comey wrote documenting those conversations he had with the president.

In one memo Comey wrote that the president asked him to end the FBI probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. People familiar with the matter say Mueller has also visited FBI headquarters to meet counter intelligence agents who have been working on the case for a year now.

BRIGGS: We've also learned that Michael Flynn will not comply with a subpoena from the Senate intelligence committee and will invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

Republican chairman of the committee Richard Burr and the ranking democrat Mark Warner say immunity for Flynn is off the table. They say they're reviewing options to compel Flynn's testimony including possible contempt charges.

ROMANS: And the top democrat on the House oversight committee now says Michael Flynn lied to investigators who vetted him for 2016 security clearance renewal.

In a letter to committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, Elijah Cummings says "Flynn claim his foreign trips were paid for by U.S. companies and he did not receive any benefit from a foreign country," but in fact the trips, including a 2015 event where he received $45,000 to speak, they were paid for by R.T., a propaganda arm of the Russian government.

BRIGGS: All right. Officials working to put the pieces together after this despicable deadly attack in Manchester.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IAN HOPKINS, CHIEF CONSTABLE, GREATER MANCHESTER POLICE: We are currently treating this as a terrorist incident until we have further information.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Twenty-two dead, dozens hurt, children among the dead. Who was behind it?

We are live in the U.K. with the latest information for you next on EARLY START.

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