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Terror Attacks Claimed 290 Lives in Sri Lanka; Democrats Discuss What's Next After the Mueller Report; World Headlines; Terror in Sri Lanka; Ukraine Election; Deadly Flooding in Quebec. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired April 22, 2019 - 03:00   ET


[03:00:00] GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: A devastating tragedy shakes Sri Lanka and now a day later it's still unclear who is responsible for the deadly Easter Sunday bombings there. We'll have a live report ahead for you.

One of President Trump's lawyers calls an investigator from the Mueller probe a hit-man and he dismisses the entire team as, quote, "unfair to Mr. Trump."

Also, ahead this hour, people use row boats to get through some of the streets in Quebec as intense flooding shuts down part of the region.

We are live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta and we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell. The CNN Newsroom starts right now.

Three a.m. on the U.S. East Coast.

It is a day of mourning in Sri Lanka after a series of deadly bombings, the bombings hitting on Easter Sunday. We're talking about eight blasts in total, those blasts killing 290 people. They hit four hotels and three churches, again, all on Easter Sunday.

The explosions have devastated the island's Christian minority and there are fears that more violence could be in the works.

The U.S. is warning its citizens to take increased caution in Sri Lanka. The State Department saying terror groups continue plotting possible attacks. Authorities have made at least two dozen arrests so far. There's been no immediate claim of responsibility, but there may have been signs that an attack was coming.

A police source says that an intelligence memo circulated earlier this month -- he said the leader of a Muslim extremist group may be planning a suicide operation.

CNN's Nikhil Kumar has been following this story and standing outside the Cinnamon grand hotel in Colombo. Nikhil, again, we were talking about this more than 24 hours ago, you and I were covering the first reports of these attacks. What are you seeing there on the ground now? How are authorities and people dealing with this? NIKHIL KUMAR, CNN NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF: Well, George, 24 hours on

things are still very, very tense. Security is out in force you can see behind me on the Cinnamon Grand, one of the hotels that was hit yesterday.

The security forces everywhere. Everyone who is going in has been checked, frisked. They're not allowing anybody in unless they have some business inside this building. It's the same with other public places around Colombo and around the island.

Those overnight curfew, that was lifted in the morning, but security remains very tight because there is still this concern about whether there are any other attackers out there.

As you say, they've arrested 24 people, but they're still investigating this. They still don't know who did this. We still don't have a clear idea about which group or groups what might have been behind what looks like a very sophisticated attack, a series of bombs hitting churches and hotels that have just devastated this island that is not new to violence.

You'll recall throughout the '80s and the '90s and into the 2000s, this island was devastated by a violent and vicious civil war. That came to an end in 2009. Next month is in fact the 10-year anniversary. Over the last decade, people have been getting used to some sense of normalcy, to peace.

And this morning they're just struggling to come to terms with the fact that they're back here again when violence is here, is visiting Sri Lanka all over again. George?

HOWELL: Let's talk just a bit more, Nikhil, about that memo that circulated, warning about a possible attack. What more are authorities saying about it as it appears that memo was overlooked?

KUMAR: Well, it has become a major controversy, George, because people are really concerned that if there was a warning why wasn't it heeded. The prime minister of the country has said that he wasn't aware of this warning, but we know from a police source that this memo was out there. That some official certainly knew about it.

We don't yet know whether it's connected to these particular attacks, but there are major questions about if there was any warning at all, then why wasn't security, as it's been stepped up today. You can see all over the city, you can see it all across this island. As it's been stepped up today, why wasn't it done in advance to prevent this atrocity from happening in the first place. George?

HOWELL: Have been good on explaining this. And just, you know, as we have our U.S. audience as well following the aftermath of these bombings, the ethnic and religious breakdown in that country is certainly in play here because this is a nation that is just nearly a decade past a civil war.

KUMAR: That's right. And that civil war really did pit the two major ethnic groups here against each other. The tunnels in the north who are concentrated in the north of the island and the Sinhalese majority.

Now, the Christians are a minority. Some of them belong to the Tamil community. Some of them belong to the Sinhalese community.

[03:05:01] And they certainly haven't been subjected to an attack like this, which has really brought fear into that minority. And this is a really, really important point because in the aftermath of that war, many people, many leaders, outside leaders, the pope came here in 2015. They've all pushed a message of reconciliation, of peace, of rebuilding after that devastating war.

And today this morning as this country tries to come to terms with this attack on Easter Sunday, that's the big question. Is this going to cleave communities apart again? Is that a risk? And that's what the leaders here are trying to avoid.

And the first step in that I think authorities here are trying to just understand who was behind this to make sure that they can understand how it came about and prevent this from happening again and give assurances to the communities such as the Christian community, the minority, that they are safe, that reconciliation is still a process that is ongoing. It's not -- that it's not interrupted by this devastating bombing. George?

HOWELL: Nikhil, 12.35 there where you are right now. And as you've been reporting, we've seen that show of force behind you at the hotel there. I'm curious to ask what may seem to be an obvious question, but what is the feeling and the mood there on the streets, given the terror that played out just a short time ago?

KUMAR: Well, George, for a lot of people in this island grew up with that war, and they've seen a lot of violence around this island. And as I say, over the last 10 years, things have been peaceful. The economy has improved. The tourist rate has boomed. This has become a tourist hotspot. Hotels like this are full during peak season.

And so, for a lot of people it's brought back some very, very dark memories. And which is why that memo is so important. Everyone is asking, could this have been prevented? George?

HOWELL: Nikhil Kumar has been on the story from the start. Thank you for all the reporting and context. We'll keep in touch with you.

Now let's bring in Greg Barton. Greg, a professor of global Islamic politics at Deakin University in Australia joining from Melbourne. It's good to have you with us this hour. Thank you for your time.


HOWELL: Let's talk more about that memo that was circulating, warning of a possible suicide attack. A group mentioned in that memo as well. How important do you believe this piece of information might have been in having some knowledge about this attack?

BARTON: Well, George, as we've hearing, this is the biggest terrorist attack since 9/11 in a stable democracy. It's sort of old school going back to the last decade that had this coordinated mass explosions.

So, a major intelligence failure. How did this happen. It appears a perfect storm. The government wasn't paying attention. But the failure to pass on this April 11 memo, which may have involved information from the Indian rural intelligence agency, just mentioned as the foreign intelligence agency.

One possible explanation is that the former president and former prime minister, Mahendra Rajapaksa, he's got a strong following in the security forces, these guys may have calculated that it was good to embarrass the current government. Not wishing an attack, but nevertheless not letting them have the full picture of the security situation.

Whatever the explanation, there was a perfect storm situation where a local terror group, we think probably inspired by the Islamic state, involving perhaps some of the 40 Sri Lankans who have gone to Syria to fight with the Islamic state sees an opportunity and pulled off a voracious attack.

HOWELL: One would certainly hope the latter suggestion you offered there was not the reason that that memo didn't circulate, but, again, the warning was not there. And we see these attacks that took place. We're talking about these soft targets, soft targets, churches, hotels, the timing also key as well on Easter Sunday when these churches would have been packed when foreigners who travelled to Sri Lanka were staying in these hotels.

BARTON: That's right, George. Soft targets by definition are easy. What's not easy is to pull off simultaneous high-powered explosions, six simultaneously and a two further subsequently and a ninth detected in a pipe from outside the airport.

That's pretty hard to do. It's hard to do because normally you get picked up by intelligence in your communications. And that's what's sort of remarkable about this attack.

So, you know, I'm speculating about what may be behind it in the political context, but in any democracy, interagency intelligence sharing, think of the 9/11 commission report, for example, sharing between CIA and FBI. We all struggle with this, even in the best of times, and sometimes holding back information just a little bit too long and not giving enough information in the right time because of a sense of rivalry or whatever the turf war consideration may be can lead to a fatal error.

And something like that may have happened here because otherwise even soft targets would not be hit so freely on such a scale, if somebody had been paying attention.

[03:09:59] HOWELL: Greg, I want to touch on this I think it's important, to get a sense here of the ethnic and religious divide. The tensions that exist in Sri Lanka and how that might play into what we saw just the other day.

BARTON: Well, George, we're just a month shy coming up to the 10th anniversary of a truly horrible civil war that raged on for a quarter of a century. We saw the insurgent LTT Tamil Tiger Group turn into a terror group with suicide bombings.

In fact, they really pioneered for us, for the entire world, the suicide bombing method. That involved a horrible end to the war. Lots of human rights abuses alleged. Ninety thousand lives lost at least, but the last decade has been relatively peaceful.

This is a successful multicultural nation, multiethnic, multireligious. Seventy percent Buddhist, might the Sinhalese Buddhist, but significant Tamil and Sinhalese and other communities who are Catholics and Christians, about 8 percent, about 10 percent Muslims, and it has been a peaceful island. You know, it's seen tourism numbers double in the space of five years. People like it because of the peacefulness. People get along well. We saw people queueing up in the thousands to donate blood after the blasts.

So, this is very out of character with a country which has had a troubled history, but which was thought to have got over this troubled history.

HOWELL: And the Christian community there a very small community. I believe, correct me if I'm wrong, around 7 percent. Give us a sense, if you have any insight or thought, as to why that group, that small group would be targeted in Sri Lanka.

BARTON: Yes, it's about 7 and 8 percent, it's 82 percent Catholic and the rest various Protestant churches. The two big churches hit around Colombo on the west coast were Catholic churches, but the church on the East Coast was a Protestant church.

I don't think this reflects local conditions, George. I think it reflects -- and this is speculation but, again, if this is indeed involving the Islamic state or some such external actor, that reflects certainly the pattern of Islamic state targeting.

Targeting Christians has been, you know, very much part of their propaganda, their narrative. I don't see -- although the local Christians have been complaining for years to degrees of persecution and harassment.

And there have been troubles around the edges. The Muslims have also been complaining about persecution. There hasn't been a level of antipathy or communal tension which would explain this. So, I think this comes from external factors.

HOWELL: Greg, you know, there is a lot that's left unanswered at this point. What we do know, clearly these attacks were coordinated. Clearly, the timing was important, on Easter Sunday, and at this point there are a lot of families who are now left without their loved ones. Greg, thanks for your time.

BARTON: Yes, it's incredibly tragic. Thank you, George.

HOWELL: Leaders from around the world have condemned these attacks. They're sending their words of support to Sri Lanka, this from the former U.S. -- from President Donald Trump, rather.

Donald Trump saying this. "The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka. We stand ready to help."

We also heard earlier from the former President Barack Obama. Also, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying this. "There is no such place for barbarism in our region. My thoughts are with the bereaved families and prayers with the injured."

This from the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, saying she was, quote, "Deeply saddened by the attacks." She adds, "Our thoughts are with the victims and their families. We stand with Sri Lanka's people at this terrible moment."

Of course, we will continue to cover all the latest from Sri Lanka. You can get the latest at Also, our security analyst Peter Bergen shares his insights and thoughts about what happened there.

In U.S. politics, Democrats are considering whether to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump, the deeper dive into the Mueller report and how the president is reacting to it.

The election is over and now Ukraine's president-elect has a lot of work to do. He used to be a comedian before this job. We'll look at one of his biggest challenges facing Vladimir Putin.

Stay with us.



HOWELL: As we learn more about the attacks in Sri Lanka, we learn more about the victims as well. One of them Shantha Mayadunne, she was a well-known TV chef in Sri Lanka, popular in India and the United Kingdom as well. Her daughter apparently posted this image on Facebook right before those attacks.

The family sitting down for Easter breakfast at the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo. Both mother and daughter lost their lives.

Overall, at least 290 people were killed. We continue to follow the story for you.

A terrorism expert spoke earlier with CNN about the memo that may have warned about these attacks. Levi West is the director of terrorism studies at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Australia and had this to say.


LEVI WEST, DIRECTOR OF TERRORISM STUDIES, CHARLES STURT UNIVERSITY: It's a regrettably not unfamiliar story in the aftermath of terrorist incidents where there has been pieces of information and pieces of intelligence not having -- this has been stitched together the way that they needed to be. Now people will remember the conclusion of the 9/11 commission report

that found similar I.D.s that the information was there in disparate locations, that if somebody had the full picture, then there might have been something that could have been done.

So, I'm confident there will be a substantial investigation into what's happened there and what's gone wrong. There was not a suggestion that there was going to be a multilocation coordinated suicide bombing attack like what's happened.

And, you know, there is a difference between the suggestion that there could be a suicide operation sometime in the next week or the next month. It is highly likely that that will take place. And intelligence that says there's going to be six attacks on these locations at this time.

So, I think it's important -- there will be an investigation to find out what's gone wrong, but to suggest that it's necessarily a failure and that they had specific information is just to reduce that down.

In regards to the individuals in the organization, myself for most of the people I've spoken to in the last 24 hours have little to no information on the individual or on the organization in relation to Jihadist terrorism.


[03:20:08] HOWELL: U.S. house speaker will hold a conference call with the Democratic caucus later Monday, and the topic will be impeachment. As lawmakers go through the Mueller report on Russian election meddling, Democrats are considering their options.

In the meantime, our Boris Sanchez has more now on how President Trump is reacting to the fallout from that report.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: According to sources, President Trump spent the weekend at Mar-a-Lago fuming over news coverage and details in the Mueller report from former White House officials that depict a White House in chaos.

President Trump as an angry and paranoid president and aides who either refuse or ignore many of his orders.

Meantime, the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, took to the Sunday morning talk shows. He spoke with Jake Tapper on State of the Union and Jake pressed him on a question about the behavior of some Trump campaign officials and whether they behaved ethically or morally. Listen to what he said.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: No, no, there's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: There's nothing wrong with taking information? GIULIANI: It depends on where it came from. It depends on where it

came from. You're assuming that the giving of information is a campaign contribution. Read the report carefully. The report says we can't conclude that because the law is pretty much against that. Do you -- people get information from this person, that person.


SANCHEZ: The strategy being employed here by the White House is one that we've seen before. They're now calling into question the credibility of many of those that were interviewed by the special counsel.

We should also point out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is set to hold a conference call at 5 p.m. on Monday with the Democratic caucus to discuss the potential for impeaching President Trump.

Impeachment was on the president's mind on Sunday evening when he tweeted this. He writes, quote, "How do you impeach a Republican president for a crime that was committed by the Democrats? Make America great again."

Boris Sanchez, CNN, traveling with the president in Palm Beach, Florida.

HOWELL: Boris with the reporting. And now Inderjeet Parmar with analysis. Inderjeet is a professor of international politics at City University, joining us this hour from London via Skype. Good to have you.


HOWELL: So, Boris pointed this out in his report. The president is angry about former staffers who, according to sources, describe a White House in chaos. Some of those people are refusing to carry out his orders. He's apparently angry about that.

But Inderjeet, is it true that the actions of some of those staffers may have actually worked in the president's favor?

PARMAR: Well, they worked in his favor in one respect, that is they didn't carry out orders effectively to obstruct an investigation or to remove people from that investigation or for the attorney general to be recused.

But on the other hand, the fact that the evidence has come out that they acted in this way but they were ordered to do something differently, it means that President Trump is now going to face charges of attempts to obstruct justice. He was actually trying to do that, and that is in itself something which should be further investigated and is possibly an impeachable offense.

HOWELL: Inderjeet, we also heard from the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, in that report from Boris Sanchez. He was speaking out earlier on State of the Union, essentially saying there is nothing wrong with taking information from Russians, it just all depends, he says, on where came from. What do you make of that?

PARMAR: Well, it goes to the heart of the investigation at the point of its beginning, which was that there was a collusion allegation, at which Mueller called a conspiracy, that the Trump administration in some way or another, the campaign was involved at the behest of Russian -- Russian power, an attempt to influence the outcome of the election.

And I think they're trying to go back to that and say, well, basically, there is no evidence of conspiracy. We can go to a variety of places to get information and the central kind of contention that we were guilty of conspiracy has been disproved.

So I think moving on to that kind of territory probably gives them a little bit more what they would see as political leverage, but it doesn't get rid of a fundamental problem for them now, which is that the White House isn't just seem to be chaotic, because many people can be badly organized, but it's actually attempted to break the law by preventing an investigation.

And I think that's now where the full-scale political warfare is likely to focus for the next several, what, next 18 months or so before the general election.

HOWELL: Well, you know, that really leads to my other question. What do Democrats focus on more here, do they focus on those investigations, do they focus on the possibility of impeachment or do they focus on those issues that Republicans warn if they don't could -- it could backfire on them? What do you see playing out here?

[03:24:57] PARMAR: Well, if the fundamental principle of political parties and their leaders and representatives is to win the next election, and so, their calculations would largely be focused and their strategies would be focused around that.

So, when we look at the Democrats, they will investigate -- certainly they will investigate. They will now want to do a number of things. That is, they want to bring Robert Mueller to -- in front of a committee or -- one or more committees to give all background information.

They'll demand the full unredacted report. They will also want the supporting documents behind it. That will be a kind of large amount of information which they'll be able to use.

Now, what will be the political effect of that is likely what they're aiming to show is that this is an unworthy president. This person should not be in the White House and that Republican voters, many of whom deserted in the 2018 elections, should take that very seriously and basically not support this particular -- this particular candidate.

We know that the GOP has Bill Weld, as having declared himself a primary challenger. On the Republican side, on the Trump side, clearly what they want to try to show is that this is unfair, that this is a sort of hit. This is a kind of a character assassination of the president and so on.

They want to try to discredit Robert Mueller and try to say to their base and their supporters, stick with us, this was an unjust investigation in the first place and we've come through it with flying colors and we are kind of ready to continue to govern. And I think they think they can win on that basis.

So, I think in the end that is the political calculation which will be at the top of their minds. But that may not necessarily take care of voters' concerns because many of them are really fed up with this whole political warfare, which is focused largely on Washington, D.C. and they, where as we know they are worried about a very large number of problems of everyday life. Minimum wage, health care, tuition fees and so on.

HOWELL: Very important issues, and we'll see which will be most important to voters as we get close to the election. Inderjeet Parmar, thank you.

PARMAR: Thank you.

HOWELL: And you can hear from the five Democrats hoping to take Mr. Trump's job next year later on Monday. CNN is hosting back to back town hall meetings with Senators Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, as many people know, out of the five town halls. It all starts 7 p.m. Eastern Time in the United States. Midnight in London. Only here on CNN.

We continue to follow the developments out of Sri Lanka. We will speak with a Sri Lankan minister ahead.

And Ukraine's president is probably not laughing at the exit polls show he lost Sunday's presidential election to a TV comedian, that comedian now that nation's president.


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: A warm welcome back to viewers here in the United States and all around the world. This is "CNN Newsroom" live from Atlanta, and I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.

Opposition groups and protesters in Sudan are suspending contact with the Transitional Military Council also known as the TMC. They're accusing the TMC of being made up of remnants of the ousted regime of Omar al-Bashir. In the meantime, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced the $3 billion aid package to Sudan.

In Central Mali, at least 11 soldiers were killed during an early morning attack at their military base, this according to the defense ministry. No one has claimed responsibility. However, military posts in Mali are routinely attacked by separatists and terror groups with links to al Qaeda.

The deadly bombings in Sri Lanka, we continue to follow this, of course. Police say they have arrested two dozen people since the wave of attacks there. At least 290 people were killed in eight different explosions across the country. The U.S. State Department is warning its citizens to use increased caution if traveling to the island. It says terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks there.

One day after Easter Sunday, Sri Lanka certainly in mourning. CNN's Will Ripley explains how these attacks unfolded.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bomb after bomb, city after city, a terrifying Easter Sunday across Sri Lanka. The primary targets, four hotels full of foreigners and three churches full of Christians. One blast rocked Saint Sebastian's Church at the end of Easter mass. A thousand worshippers ran from the horror. Lifeless bodies, blood-stained pews, debris, and human remains propelled through the sanctuary into the streets.

MALCOLM RANJITH, ARCHBISHOP OF COLOMBO: This morning, Easter Sunday, in two of my churches, Saint Anthony's Church in Kochchikade and Saint Sebastian's Church in Katuwapitiya, two bombs exploded. It's a very, very sad day for all of us.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Pope Francis expressed sadness and solidarity, calling the attacks cruel violence in his Easter address, offering prayers and a moment of silence for the victims.

POPE FRANCIS, HEAD OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND SOVEREIGN OF THE VATICAN CITY STATE (through translator): I learned with great sadness the news of the serious attacks that today on Easter brought mourning and pain.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Police say more than two dozen foreigners are among the dead, many of them killed in hotels in and around Colombo, Sri Lanka's largest city and in recent years a tourist hotspot. Also killed, three police officers raiding a house when two bombs went off inside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): In the explosion, three police officers from the Colombo Crime Investigation Division were killed. The officers, one sub-inspector and two constables were killed when two explosions killed during a raid at a home in Colombo where they were attempting to question the resident.

RIPLEY (voice-over): The targets in timing have the hallmarks of international terror, but Sri Lanka also has active local militias and next month marks a decade since its bloody 26-year Civil War came to an end.

MANISHA GUNASEKERA, HIGH COMMISSIONER OF SRI LANKA TO THE U.K.: I would say that this is an attack against the whole of Sri Lanka because Sri Lanka is a very multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi- cultural country, and the whole country comes together in celebration of Easter Sunday with the Christian and the Catholic community, so this is an attack against the Sri Lankan nest (ph) and the Sri Lankan identity. [03:34:58] RIPLEY (voice-over): As a growing list of world leaders condemned the bombings, Sri Lanka's president expressed shock and dismay, calling all police officers back from Easter break, imposing an island-wide curfew and closing schools until at least midweek.

Sri Lanka's army, navy, and air force also held emergency meetings as the small South Asia island nation grappled with familiar questions in this age of terror. Why here? Why now? And what's next?

Will Ripley, CNN.


HOWELL: Let's talk more about all of this now with Harin Fernando. He is Sri Lanka's minister of telecommunications, foreign employment and sports. He joins us this hour from Colombo. Thank you for your time.


HOWELL: I want to start by talking about this intelligence memo that was apparently overlooked. You tweeted about this. If we could pull up the tweet, I'll share part of it with our viewers. It says, "Some intelligence officers were aware of this incident. Therefore, there was a delay in action. Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored." So, your thoughts, tell us what you think needs to happen. What needs to be done given this gap in information?

FERNANDO: Yeah, so we just finished another cabinet meeting just a while ago and even yesterday after the incident, we've been in cabinet meetings, ministers meeting. However, what was alarming was the fact that we were not informed, even though certain sectors of our security details or the diplomatic security detail as well as the formal president's detail actually had some information being sent out from the intelligence unit around 11:30.

What's ironic is that this particular report was not considered with the cabinet or mentioned to the cabinet and this looms a huge doubt on why and how was this lapse actually happened. We do hear reports that the Indian intelligence agencies also have informed of this particular attack, and now the government is really looking into who neglected, who avoided, and who did not perform their duty in at least in informing the government that this attack was at large.

HOWELL: Harin, you know, I hear what you're saying there, but I can only imagine what this means to hear this for those families, the families that, you know, have lost loved ones in these attacks.

FERNANDO: Absolutely. I myself being a Catholic go to this particular church in Kochchikade which is in Colombo. That particular day, I was in my agency (ph) which is quite far away from Colombo. However, it was quite shocking because even the hotels that were attacked, it wasn't the restaurants which had the Easter brunch.

So we just were perplexed on how that intelligence missed it all out. And unfortunately, as you're all aware, Sri Lanka had a coup about 51 days -- 51 days of a coup starting from last year, October until about late December.

From there onwards, there have been lapses and there have been certain infighting in the government. I'm being very brutally honest with the fact that I did not see the government with the executive and the legislature working together.

So probably would this be one of the causes? I'm being a citizen without being a politician in thinking yes. There could have been a serious attack that actually happened and that's one of the outcomes of this.

So as you are aware, our defense minister and the law and order minister, happens to be the president. Unfortunately, either he was not briefed properly or he did not brief it back to the cabinet. The cabinet is from a different party and the president is from a different party. Unfortunately, it pays off with innocent lives which we can't get back again.

HOWELL: Harin, you know, I'm also -- you know, it's important to point out the timing on Easter Sunday. It's important to point out the targets, churches that would be filled on that day and hotels where foreigners are staying. I'm curious to ask you here, given the scale of these attacks, had you had that information? What could have been done to prevent something like this?

FERNANDO: See, our intelligence -- we've had very good intelligence in the past and to my knowledge on a personal opinion, my knowledge is that once the police or the main NIB or the National Investigation Bureau, had they do an investigation, it has to be handed over to the military intelligence to apprehend the culprits.

What I think, honestly, when I do my own survey on this matter of how it happened, I honestly do feel there was a breach and as well as there's been a big, massive miscommunication or somebody has taken this whole intelligence report very lightly and thought, no, it's not possible.

[03:40:07] But they had all the information, and I now hear even about 20 minutes before the attack, the Indian agencies have informed that that was going to happen. It's unconfirmed, though.

HOWELL: Harin, and the last question I ask you here, certainly there is, you know, the investigation to find out who might have all been behind these attacks. The simple fact that so many lives were lost, that must be weighing on so many people there, so many families, and this information that, you know, there was a memo that might have played into this one way or another. What is the mood there in Sri Lanka, given all of these things?

FERNANDO: Well, right now, Sri Lanka is really mourning at the moment, but even today's meeting at the cabinet, we were informed by today evening we would have the entire story, entire people who were behind it. So far, what we have identified, it's all local people who were the suicide bombers, and it's quite shocking for us when we had a very traumatic era, 33 years of a brutal war. We saw suicide bombers going all over Colombo. It had come to a halt. Sri Lanka was booming very fast. Tourism was really reaching on top. So we are very worried to see this was just a pure element of extremism or it was also to do with some sort of a political agenda behind it as well.

We were named the number one destination. We were doing so fantastically well with most of the top class hotels in the Colombo City. So this brings a lot of avenues to venture in to and find out who actually -- what are the reasons behind this, was it a political motive or an extremist motive? It's yet to be found out.

But I'm quite certain we will find it. We named tomorrow a national mourning day and the government has taken the entire funerals of the deceased to be taken by the government funding and also to compensate them and to rebuild all the churches immediately. However, we could not be able to build the lives that are lost, and I hope everybody in the world will stand with Sri Lanka in solidarity.

HOWELL: I do just want to ask one other question. It plays on to the mood there, but, you know, it delves back into the history. The history here, I think, is important because 10 years ago, Sri Lanka is coming out of this Civil War there. I'm curious to ask you. The ethnic and religious tensions on the island, how would that play into this and why the Christian minority, 7.4 percent, I believe, there in Sri Lanka, why that group targeted here do you think?

FERNANDO: I'm completely perplexed why it was, and the Catholics and the Muslims generally have a very good relationship. We've never seen any tension between them. We did have certain incidents with the Muslims in the past, that the majority Buddhist extremism was also targeting them. However, since of late, I'm almost convinced this problem was brought to rest.

Unfortunately, until this particular thing came out, we were quite shocked. But fortunately, unfortunately, intelligence had the information, but I think the unfortunate part was that nobody has really dealt with it properly and it has been paid with over 250 lives.

HOWELL: Harin Fernando, we appreciate you taking so much time with us to give us your insights, your thoughts about what happened and, you know, the steps moving ahead. Certainly, the world is pouring out its condolences to your country, to the people there and to the families. Thank you for your time.

FERNANDO: Thank you.

HOWELL: Moving on now to Ukraine. That nation has had an election. The people have spoken and now a comedian and TV star is now the new president, Volodymyr Zelensky. Well, he played a president on TV at one point. He has little -- he has no political experience, but he was the pick for that nation. Phil Black looks at the challenges the new president will face.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The sitting president has been removed peacefully and democratically in Ukraine. That's historic because the last one was forced out in a violent and hard-fought revolution that left more than 100 people killed. That was only five years ago.

This election is also extraordinary because of who has won, Volodymyr Zelensky, the political novice, the professional comedian and actor, the man who has become famous in this country through pretending to be Ukraine's president on a TV show.

[03:44:55] That show, "The Servant of the People," shows Zelensky playing a regular guy who accidentally becomes president and goes on to do battle with corrupt oligarchs and politicians to try to clean up the political system here.

Zelensky's campaign was very much modelled on that idea. He made virtue of his ignorance and inexperience, his fresh face. He didn't give many interviews. He didn't appear publicly. He didn't talk a lot about policy detail. He fought his campaign using online videos, sleek videos, often cheeky mocking the old political guard in this country, his broad somewhat abstract message that he's going to make it a better place somehow.

It worked. He led the campaign throughout. He easily won the first round of voting, and in the run-off exit polls suggests he secured around 73 percent of the vote.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF UKRAINE (through translator): I will never let you down. To all post-Soviet countries, I tell you, look at us. Everything is possible.


ZELENSKY (through translator): We did it together. Thanks to everyone.


ZELENSKY (through translator): Now there will be no pathetic speeches. I just want to say thank you.

BLACK: The hard work starts day one of the Zelensky presidency. He inherits a troubled economy and a five-year war against Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country. This professional clown will now be internationally going face-to-face with the vastly experienced president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. All of this matters because Ukraine represents the front line of the west's confrontation with Russia across a wide range of issues.

How Zelensky is going to deal with all of this really isn't known because politically, publicly, he represents essentially a blank piece of paper. But his enthusiasm, his smile and charisma, his sense of honesty, all of this has been enough to convince many Ukrainians to support him or at least help them realize that they simply don't want five more years of the same. Phil Black, CNN, Kiev.


HOWELL: Heavy floodwaters in Quebec have claimed at least one life. Our meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has more on what's triggering that disaster. You'll want to stay with us.


HOWELL: Canadian media report that an elderly woman has died. This is after driving her car into a massive sinkhole caused by heavy floodwaters. Three cities in Western Quebec have declared states of emergency because of the severe flooding there.

Our meteorologist Pedram Javaheri is on deck with all the latest on what's happening there. Pedram?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: George, this has been an ongoing issue here across this region of Canada. Of course, just a couple of weeks ago, we were covering a similar sort of a trend taking place across portions of the Midwestern United States. It was all about the severe flooding because of the snowmelt, the warmer temperatures.

Again, this is happening now across portions of Quebec here where we've seen water levels in the rivers here rise some 25 centimeters per hour. That was the height of this particular event on Sunday across this region, the highest we've seen the water levels in recorded history for this particular community of Saint Marie.

But the temperature of 64 Fahrenheit or 17 Celsius is the warmest in six months. Notice a much cooler trend the next couple of days, but still above the freezing mark. That's critical here because the significant amount of snow has come down in this region of course in recent months.

And now in the past couple of days, we've had heavy rainfall, we've had mild temperatures and a lot of that is leading to rapid melting across this region and certainly leading to some problems when it comes to floods as well.

Late spring warmth all over the place across areas of the United States. May to June-like temperatures on Monday. St. Louis climbs up to 83 degrees. Look at Chicago, just shy at 80 degrees, a June 10th- like temperature versus what is the latter portion of April right now. An impressive run here with warm weather, but much cooler weather in store, George, in the next couple of days.

HOWELL: Pedram, thank you.

JAVAHERI: Thanks for having me.

HOWELL: We'll be right back after this.

[03:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HOWELL: In Sri Lanka, Christians appear to have been the target of Sunday's attacks, but that entire nation is mourning the loss of so many lives. In a sign of unity, a small group of Buddhist monks visited St. Anthony's Shrine. That's one of the Catholic churches that were hit by these bombings. Around 70 percent of that country is Buddhist.

Also, a look in Paris, the Eiffel Tower, remembering the people who lost their lives. You see at the stroke of midnight, the Eiffel Tower went dark for a few minutes. Again, honoring the hundreds of people who were killed in Sunday's bombings.

Thank you for being with us for this hour of the "CNN Newsroom." I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. For our viewers in the United States, "Early Start" is next. For viewers around the world, "CNN Newsroom" continues. I'll have that for you after the break. Stay with us.