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Iraq Launches Air Attacks to Slow Advance of ISIS; Terrorists Post Gruesome Execution Images; Funnel Clouds on Ground in Nebraska

Aired June 16, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Jake, thanks so much.

Happening now, stopping the terrorists -- Iraq launches air strikes to slow the relentless advance of a brutal terror group.

Will the U.S. soon be doing the same thing?

President Obama may be about to decide how to act on the growing crisis in Iraq.

Aiming at the U.S. -- terrorists have already used an American suicide bomber in Syria. And now there is concern -- it is growing -- that they'll send American jihadists to carry out attacks back home.

Plus, dangerous weather alert -- 20 million people now face a severe weather threat, including possible tornadoes.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Terrorists leave a trail of blood and graphic video evidence of their crimes as they move toward Baghdad. By showing off their mass executions, the jihadists seem intent on stirring up an all-out civil war. They're also showing off what they claim to be captured firepower.


BLITZER: Iraq's Air Force is hitting back at the insurgents and President Obama is weighing air strikes and even direct talks with Iran as options to address the crisis. The United States is moving some staffers out of its embassy in Baghdad and moving more troops into a different area to protect the complex, while others move into the region for possible evacuation duty.

From the Pentagon to Iraq, our correspondents and analysts, they are standing by to bring you the kind of coverage only CNN can deliver.

Let's begin with our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, the president is

convening his national security team to discuss options for a U.S. response, including military options. We're told he will make his decision with urgency. This, as ISIS militants and their Iraqi Sunni allies captured another of Iraqi, Tal Afar, near Mosul, firming their grip on the northern part of the country with a campaign of brutal violence.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): These are the forces now ruling Northern Iraq -- ISIS militants taunting and humiliating captured Iraqi soldiers. "These are Maliki's dogs," he said, "and we are the soldiers of God."

Moments later, one is executed on camera. Here, similar violence, but on an enormous scale, 1,700 soldiers, claims ISIS, captured, paraded, then shot in cold blood, a mass killing unseen in Iraq since the days of Saddam Hussein.

CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of these images. Tonight, the president is convening his national security team to review options for a U.S. response. The USS Mesa Verde with 550 Marines on board arrived in the Persian Gulf to help with a possible evacuation of Americans, joining the carrier, George H.W. Bush.

Secretary Kerry, in an interview with Yahoo! News, acknowledged air strikes on Iraqi targets are now under consideration.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: When you have people murdering, assassinating in these mass massacres, you have to stop that. And you do what you need to do if you need to try to stop it, from the air or otherwise.

SCIUTTO: With or without military action, U.S. officials emphasize a political compromise bringing Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds into the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki must be a part of any response and it must be immediate.

COL. PETER MANSOOR (RET.), FORMER AIDE TO GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: If we engage in a military action without a political solution, we will be seen as backing Maliki in a Sunni/Shia civil war. And that is exactly the opposite of what we want to do.

SCIUTTO: The political effort may extend all the way to neighboring Iran. U.S. officials saying today that Washington is open to direct talks on Iraq with Iranian officials.

Ryan Crocker was U.S. ambassador to Iraq during some of the worst sectarian violence in the mid-2000s.

RYAN CROCKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: The stakes are very high here. This is al Qaeda 6.0. And if they consolidate their territorial gains, they will be in a stronger position than they ever were in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. We know how that turned out. (END VIDEO TAPE)

SCIUTTO: Increasing the fears of a possible civil war is the fact that the battle lines are already mirroring Iraq's ethnic lines. Look at this. These are the cities that ISIS militants have taken over or taken parts over. And this is the Sunni part of the country here. This is the Kurdish part, roughly, and this is the Shia part. These are essentially the battle lines in that country right now.

Things to watch going forward, Fallujah is now an ISIS stronghold. It's a path into Baghdad here.

Do they take advantage of it?

It would add to the path from the north, a real for Baghdad going forward. In fact, they already have many contacts in the western part of Baghdad allowing had to carry out bombing attacks. It's also a potential path to the south, the Shia dominated south and the religious sites here.

The other thing to watch going forward is what does Iran do?

Iran right now has some 300 or so, it's estimated, Quds Force militants. These are sort of like Iranian Green Berets, Special Forces, a largely advisory role. If Iran sends in more troops, more regular troops, infantry battalions, that kind of thing, that's the kind of involvement which will increase this split. Iran remembering supporting the Shias, the Sunnis here and the Kurds up here. This is exactly the kind of map and the kind of divisions, Wolf, that many advisers, many U.S. officials are worried about right now.

BLITZER: All right, Jim. Stand by.

Aside from putting boots on the ground, President Obama says he's open to all options on Iraq. And administration officials have been huddling now for several days. The president is arriving back in the White House this hour and a decision may be looming.

Let's get the very latest from our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta -- Jim, the president is now back in Washington.

JIM ACOSTA, HOST: That's right. And President Obama, Wolf, is due to arrive back here at the White House any moment now. We understand he has not made any final decisions on Iraq. But later on this evening, as Jim mentioned, he will be meeting with his national security team to review his options for dealing with the ISIS threat.

One White House official tells us the president has a fundamental set of options in front of him, but that those options could be tweaked or changed before a course of action is taken.

One option we have heard about here at the White House is that the U.S. could expand its already existing training programs for Iraqi security forces. But national security spokeswoman, Kaitlin Hayden, cautions that ramping up training in Iraq would not put troops in a combat role. The president said he's not going to do that.

Aides to the president also say they are stressing that any military strike against Iraq would be limited in scope. Incoming White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, told reporters aboard Air Force One that any action would not lead to a quote, "open-ended commitment." And White House officials, we should say, are also downplaying just how much the U.S. would work with Iran in containing the ISIS threat. Earnest told reporters there are no plans for any military coordination between the U.S. and Iran, only that officials from both countries may speak on the sidelines at this week's discussions in Geneva regarding Iran's nuclear program.

But, Wolf, there is deep concern here at the White House over ISIS. A senior administration official told me the national security team was working with the situation with the same urgency throughout the weekend as we saw last week. And as we know, last week, Wolf, it got pretty intense.

BLITZER: A quick question now.

Do we know if the president will be meeting tonight with his national security advisers in the Oval Office, in the Situation Room at the White House or some other room?

I ask the question because if it's in the Situation Room at the White House...

ACOSTA: Right...

BLITZER: -- they can have video conferencing, they can bring in military commanders. All of a sudden it ramps up the possibility that the president may be moving toward some sort of military action.

ACOSTA: That's exactly right, Wolf. And we understand that those national security meetings were happening here at the White House throughout the weekend and then the national security adviser, Susan Rice, was keeping the president up to speed on how all of those meetings were going. We don't have precisely the location of tonight's meeting. We'll work on that information and get it back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right,

Jim Acosta at the White House.

We'll monitor that.


ACOSTA: -- video now.

BLITZER: Yes, I hear Marine One arriving on the South Lawn of the White House right now.

We'll stay on top of this story. As the terrorists advance, thousands of Americans could be in

harm's way. We're getting new information on the possible military steps the president could authorize and the forces that are available.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

She has details -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at this hour, the Pentagon has put a lot in place -- ships, aircraft, missiles, everything that they would need to carry out an option, a military option for the president, it just awaits a decision.


STARR (voice-over): As the fighting rages on in Iraq, the Pentagon is moving more firepower and manpower into the region to prepare for whatever President Obama orders. Already at the U.S. embassies in Baghdad, dozens of Marines and Army troops have moved in to beef up security.

A top priority?

Evacuate all Americans at the embassy if it comes to that.

The aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush and five other warships are now in the Persian Gulf. More than 500 Marines and dozens of helicopters are on standby carrier evacuation is ordered. The former top U.S. commander for the region warns it may not be enough.

GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI (RET.), U.S. MARINE CORPS: I also think we ought to have a more robust capability to evacuate Americans, if necessary. I don't believe just a carrier itself. I would like to see an amphibious ready group in there, more helicopters, more Marines.

STARR: Fighter jets on the carrier could be used to strike ISIS targets. The U.S. has increased drone surveillance over Western and Northern Iraq in an effort to gather more intelligence to share with Iraqi forces for targeting ISIS on the ground. But a former U.S. commander in Iraq says it will be very tough.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), IRAQ COMMANDER 2007-2009: It's the same reason it was so hard to target them when we had 160,000 troops there. They intermingle with the people. You know, I think, some of the media has shown these truck convoys going down the roads and I think the uninitiated might say, hey, what's so hard about that, let's drop a couple bombs.

STARR: President Obama has ruled out troops on the ground.

But can there be effective military strikes without putting some troops in to find out exactly where ISIS fighters are operating?

ZINNI: I do believe we ought to put Special Forces on the ground with the Iraqi forces, certainly with the Kurds and the Peshmerga in the north and also with the Jordanians. They can provide some of that ground intelligence.


STARR: So now, one of the most critical intelligence questions for the U.S. military is whether these ISIS fighters can make it all the way to Baghdad and challenge authority in that city. Some U.S. officials are telling us, no, that the ISIS fighters will encounter very well-trained Shia-based security forces from the Iraqi government and that they will be stopped.

But -- but if they do make it to Baghdad, if they were to attack the airport in Baghdad, that really changes the equation. And many say then the U.S. would have to move in and use some of those assets to evacuate all Americans out of the U.S. Embassy.

Still no decision about any of it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what the president decides, if he makes a decision, tonight at his national security meeting.

Barbara, thank you.

Up next, see you guys in New York -- that was a chilling warning from the man who now leads the brutal terror group rampaging through Iraq.

Will it bring the deadly violence to America?

And will the upheaval in Iraq, with its strategic oil fields, have you paying more at the pump?

We're standing by to take a closer look.


BLITZER: We're about to show you some disturbing images, tormenting of prisoners, mass executions all captured on video. ISIS terrorists are sowing deep fear right now, stirring up sectarian hatred with these cold-blooded killings.

Let's get a closer look. Our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon, she's in northern Iraq, in the city of Erbil. She's joining us live right now. These are horrific video pictures we're seeing. What's the latest?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We do have to warn our viewers that they are going to be very difficult to watch. But this is just one example of ISIS's brutality.


DAMON (voice-over): Two of the captives have Iraqi border guard patches on their sleeves. The bearded man demands his prisoners repeat "Islamic state here to stay." The first two comply, fear on their faces. The third struggles to formulate the words. Moments later, this. He appears to be dehydrated, barely reacting to what's happening. In the next video, he is dead, his jaw blown off. At the end of the clip, the ISIS gunman proudly declares, "We killed a Shia."

This Facebook page's profile picture matches the man in the video. He goes by the name Abu Hamza al-Mohammed (ph) from Tunisia. We accessed the Facebook account before it was taken down, posted on it these stills of the same execution. There's another photograph that shows the other four men dead. They're accused of being Maliki's dogs, a reference to Iraq's Shia prime minister. Abu Hamza boasts about how he blew the infidel's heads to hell. Location, Iraq.

In another post, Amu Hamza says, "Send these videos to the Shia," an effort to foment sectarian rage in what has become a ruthless battlefield. Many of the images posted online are too horrific to show.

Stills posted on an ISIS Twitter account show a shallow ditch filled with bodies, all accused of being members of the Iraqi security forces. Often we don't know who the victims are. But in this case, we managed to identify the man who could not speak. He name is Jafa Zinseki (ph), 36 years old. A father of two boys and a girl, who adored his children and took the job as a border guard to build them a home.


DAMON: Wolf, what makes this all the more unbearable and difficult for the families that they're unable to retrieve his body, because ISIS controls the area where it is believed to be at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: What a horrific, horrific situation. Arwa Damon in Erbil. Arwa, thanks very much. Full analysis of what we just saw coming up, but there's some breaking news I want to get to right now. A tornado is on the ground in Nebraska. Our meteorologist and severe weather expert Chad Myers is standing by. We've got live pictures. Look at those funnel clouds, Chad. What is going on?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Unbelievable tornado on the ground just through the Pilger, Nebraska, P-I-L-G-E-R, Pilger. We looked at it earlier as it grew very, very close to Stanton, Nebraska. This is what we call a stove pipe, straight up and down tornado. You're noticing another one in the background. Two tornadoes on the ground. These are live pictures. This is U.S. 275 in northeastern Nebraska.

To the east of Norfork, Nebraska, about to cross that road. That car just drove right down that road right toward that tornado. And so did that one. And you can see it right in front of you. You have to know what that is.

So this is the problem when you're storm chasing or if you don't know what you're talking about, don't know what you're doing, they're looking at this tornado right now and these cars are passing him. You need to be stopped. You need to be away from this tornado. A dangerous situation in Pilger, Nebraska. BLITZER: Near Stanton, we're told. It looks like there's two

funnel clouds on the ground over there. There's one right in the middle of the screen to the right. There seems to be another one. Is that normal?

MYERS: That is absolutely not normal. There was a tornado on the ground. You talked about it near Stanton. That tornado went away. These chasers were to the east of that tornado, thinking they were in very good shape.

Then all of a sudden, we saw the new tornado signature on the radar. The storm regenerated a tornado about four miles east of that first one. Separated from the first one and moved there.

This one you're looking at right now is a very large maxi tornado. We're looking at EF-3, EF-4 damage that moved through that town. We saw debris in the sky from that town. It is now north of U.S. 275.

And the one that you're looking at, you just can't see it to the right if they pan to the right a little bit, that one would be moving toward Wisner, Nebraska. Wisner, Nebraska, right along Highway 275. You need to be taking cover now. This is open country, but these are major tornadoes on the ground. Wind speeds in excess right now, Wolf. I'm going to go 175 to 200 miles per hour. Paralleling themselves.

BLITZER: Hold on.

MYERS: And in northeastern Nebraska.

BLITZER: Ben McMillan is on the phone. He's driving this vehicle that we're seeing right now. Ben, tell us what's going on from your vantage point.

BEN MCMILLAN, STORM CHASER (via phone): Hi, Wolf. We're just northwest of Wisner, Nebraska, on State Road 275. We're behind these tornadoes. We're in a safe position. They're moving away from us. But this is a very deadly situation if you're near these. We've seen 10 to 20 buildings get completely destroyed at this point. We also have two tornadoes on the ground. Wolf, I don't know if you can see both of these tornadoes on the east side of the screen.

BLITZER: We see -- we see these two tornadoes pretty close to each other. How close are they? They're on each side of the screen right now. We're showing our viewers your live pictures.

MCMILLAN: They're probably about two to three miles apart. And again, they're kind of rotating around each other.

Again, we are west of the storm. So please, if you think this is a safe job, it's really not. You've got to be, you know, at a safe place out ahead these things. We're behind them. So we're all right. But take this very seriously. These are the kind of storms you need to be underground to survive like hit Oklahoma last May.

BLITZER: It looks like people are driving toward those two tornadoes right now. But you're saying they're moving much more quickly in the other direction?

MCMILLAN: Yes, I'm very worried. People aren't aware of what these are. Not a lot of folks have as much experience as our team does recognizing and interpreting severe weather threats. And I just don't know if these folks are trying to get out of the way or rush home and check on loved ones or what they're leaving at this point.

BLITZER: How close are you from -- because we're looking at live pictures. How close are you to these tornadoes?

MCMILLAN: We're probably about two to three miles at this point. We're now south of the main one in the middle of the screen on state road 275. Northwest of Wisner, very small town here. But folks south of Lane (ph), Nebraska, and west of the town of -- the other one starts with a "P," west of Pender, Nebraska. That's the main area of threat at this point. These are violent tornadoes continuing to turn east across the countryside.

BLITZER: Hey, Ben, I want Chad Myers to talk to you for a moment. Go ahead.

MYERS: Ben, I just you to remember now, you see all those power lines to the left. There will be a point on 275 that you're going to run into those power lines over the roadway. Keep that in mind. A lot of those power lines could still be alive as you drive over them. I know that's your job.

MCMILLAN: Thank you very much.

MYERS: But that -- both of those tornadoes went right over that highway. I know you saw them.


MYERS: Wolf.

BLITZER: I was -- I wanted to ask you, Chad, and maybe Ben can weigh in. The -- there's an official -- the official situation is being described as a particularly dangerous situation alert. Particularly dangerous situation alert. Chad, what does that mean?

MYERS: There will be on the ground large max I tornadoes like the one you're seeing right there on Ben's screen. That is a big tornado, wide on the ground. Ben, what do you think? A half mile, mile wide at the base?

MCMILLAN: Yes, we had about a half mile wide tornado. Then we had these horizontal vertices which you only see in the most violent of tornadoes. I don't know if you remember this video coming in from Tuscaloosa. It had a lot of these horizontal vertices, which indicates how strong these really are. We're seeing lots of tree and structural damage. And again, very concerned about the residents in eastern Nebraska at this time.

MYERS: Have you come upon any damage yet? You're getting very close to where that tornado went over. MCMILLAN: We haven't seen any large cities or residential

structures. Actually, we're just seeing the first out here off to the right. Can you see below the tornado, Wolf? Those structures in the shot?

BLITZER: Yes. We see them.

MCMILLAN: Yes, that's the damage that literally just occurred seconds ago here. The grain bins had their roofs ripped off. Those are normally round as you can see in the left side of the shot. The tops completely removed, and I'm getting worried folks watching about injuries and possible fatalities now. This is not a light situation. You need to take it very seriously. And we're very, very worried for folks at this point.

BLITZER: This is pretty rural, this area. It's not very urban, right?

MCMILLAN: It is -- it's pretty rural. There's still a lot of farmsteads here in eastern Nebraska. It's a large industry. There are still lots of folks with their livelihood out here. We don't want to underplay the threat.

BLITZER: Chad, that tornado looks huge. I'm not an expert by any means. But it looks so devastating. Give us an explanation of how big this is.

MYERS: You know, Ben just said, it's probably a good three- quarters of a mile wide on the ground. I'm looking at it now. And Ben, you're on a highway that's going north and south. There's a little spin right to the north of you a half a mile. I want you to keep looking forward as you're driving. I know you are, but that second tornado that did spin back up into the clouds could come back down at any time.

Wolf, the storm that you're seeing on the screen is now becoming the main tornado. It is still many miles from Penger. It is still many miles from Thurston. A lot of wide open countryside here. But this is going to be the big dawn tonight, EF-4, possible EF-5 damage. We have debris signatures in the air, which means the radar itself is picking up debris in the air. Go ahead, Ben.

MCMILLAN: And left side we have a large tornado, a huge tornado that has formed left side of the screen. Again -- multiple tornadoes on the ground here.

BLITZER: How many are you talking about, Ben?

MCMILLAN: Two possibly three. I've never seen anything like this Wolf. I've been storm chasing for probably 10 to 12 years professionally. This is just very, very dangerous.

BLITZER: What's your contingency plan, Ben, if these tornadoes move towards you?

MCMILLAN: Again, we're south of the circulation. So we're, you know, in a safe position. But I just -- I guess I could turn around if I had to. Again, we're just trying to get this information to you so you can get it out to the folks in this area and protect their lives and property.

BLITZER: If anybody's watching in this area, Chad, what do they need to do right now? Remind them.

MYERS: Absolutely get underground if you can. This is a tornado with winds of 200 to 225 miles per hour right now. And you need to be underground or inside your home with as many walls between you and the outside as possible.

And what I don't want you to do, Ben, is get on any dirt roads now. This storm had a lot of rainfall before it started, before the tornadoes came down. All of those dirt roads in the Nebraska, even some of the -- they call them all-weather roads are wet and swampy and you cannot drive on them. You don't want to get stuck on a dirt road.

Look at that, Wolf. Two tornadoes on the ground right now. Spinning there in northeastern Nebraska just north now of what would be Wisner, Nebraska, west of Pender, Nebraska. Still a lot more land here. Wide open country. But that doesn't make it any less dangerous if you're in the way.

BLITZER: So what happens, Ben, your experience, how long do these tornadoes stay where they are and move on?

I think we just lost Ben.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get inside, please. Get inside, please.

BLITZER: Yes. Looks like we lost Ben. It looks like there's SOME cars stopped over there, Chad. People are getting out of those vehicles. I don't know how smart that is.

MYERS: Well, you know what, a pickup truck and a NOAA weather radio doesn't make you a storm chaser. Ben knows what he's doing. He knew where those tornadoes were. He has a radar in his car. He could see it, and he could see where the great rotation was.

s I was watching Ben chase the first tornado going east on that 275 highway, the second tornado and then the third developed to his right. And I was very concerned that he didn't notice it. But then his spotters in the car told him, "We have to stop. We can't go any farther. There's another tornado on the way right in our path." And he did stop.

This is unbelievable video, Wolf. I have never seen two -- these are now EF-3, EF-4 tornadoes...

BLITZER: All right...

MYERS: -- on the ground at the same time.

BLITZER: Chad, stand by.

We're going to reconnect with Ben.

We'll take a quick break.

You're right, unbelievable images of these tornadoes.

Our coverage will continue in a moment.


BLITZER: We're following these horrific pictures that are coming in. Multiple tornadoes now on the ground in Nebraska.

Chad Myers is standing by with an update -- Chad, tell us what's going on, because the images we just saw -- these are live pictures now -- at least two, maybe three, funnel clouds on the ground.

What's going on now?

MYERS: Moving back into un-urban territory. This is -- this is wide open stuff. This, in fact, as I remember Norfolk, Nebraska, this is watermelon territory. You don't see a lot of corn on the side of the ground. This is very fertile ground.

But there are still farmsteads in the way of these two merging tornadoes. They will bump into each other. They may die off awhile and then they will regenerate itself.

And when that storm regenerates itself, we'll be back.

This is what it looked like just a few minutes ago, when the two were on ground side by side as they merged. They're kind of playing battling tops. And right now, we'll take a break from this, go back to other news and come back to me when I see this storm merging again.

BLITZER: All right, Chad. You'll stay on top of that for viewers.

But let's, indeed, move on to some other major news we're watching, including the possibility of U.S. military action in Iraq.

As President Obama weighs what to do about Iraq, terrorists are showing off some very gruesome evidence of their mass executions of Iraqi prisoners as they push toward Baghdad.

Let's discuss what's going on with our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, and our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto -- the images we just saw, Christiane, of these insurgents, or these terrorists, these ISIS jihadists, taking these Iraqi soldiers, making them say certain words, beating them and then simply executing them...


BLITZER: -- we haven't seen this kind of stuff in awhile.

AMANPOUR: Well, it reminds me of the -- really, the bad old days, when we were all in Iraq post-invasion, late 2003, 2004, 2005 and on. And it was terrifying. Honestly, it was terrifying, whether it was Iraqi security forces who were being massacred by the Islamist insurgents, whether it was journalists, whether it was NGOs, whether it was foreigners. It was almost a daily occurrence. And it is truly terrifying.

It actually makes me sick to see this again, because it reminds me of how bad it was back then.

BLITZER: It reminds me of that, as well.

And the president is now back at the White House. His Marine One has landed. He's going into a major meeting to discuss U.S. military options with his national security team -- Jim, what are you hearing?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've got a much better idea today. A few options on the list.

One is increased reconnaissance surveillance flights. You gather intelligence on the ISIS positions around the northern part of Iraq and possible intelligence for air strikes.

Second, the possibility of manned or unmanned air strikes.

BLITZER: U.S. air strikes?

SCIUTTO: U.S. air strikes to aid the Iraqi military. We also learned more details today about another option, speaking to a senior military official a short time ago, putting more U.S. advisers, military advisers, on the ground in Iraq. There are already about 200 inside the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad.

So don't picture advisers out in the field with combat units, where they would really constitute boots on the ground, which is something the administration has ruled out. More in the background in that embassy compound, which is essentially a fortress, but helping guide the Iraqi military response to this going forward.

But, again, officials will always emphasize that any strategy has to have a political component, it has to involve political compromise by the Shiite government. And then the other bigger point is that these are, in effect, short and medium term solutions. This is rapidly becoming a regional Sunni-Shia conflict that needs a regional strategy.

AMANPOUR: And regarding the political solution, yes, that's what the administration says. I just spoke to the Iraqi ambassador to Washington. And he said, look, fine, but we don't have the time to talk about that now.

So they seem not to be working in tandem on this issue. And what they're saying is we want immediate help. We've got to stop them for taking Baghdad.

And he also said, look, this is not just our problem, it's the global problem. You had one Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, he said, you could thousands of them coming out of this.

And if you look at the map, it is, again, terrifying that we now have a rump al Qaeda-like statelet spanning Iraq and Syria. That's the reality right now.

BLITZER: That's a horrible reality, indeed.

Christiane, Jim, guys, thanks very much.

And, of course, don't forget tomorrow, Christiane Amanpour, she'll be moderating a CNN exclusive town haul meeting with Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton's Hard Choices, live 5:00 p.m. Eastern, a replay at 9:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night. A special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM airing immediately afterwards, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, all right here on CNN.

Coming up, as a brutal terror group rampages through Iraq, there's growing concern it will make good on threats to confront America on American soil.

And on this, the eve of CNN's exclusive town hall meeting with Hillary Clinton, are Republican attacks on her foreign policy making a dent?

We've got a brand new poll.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: The brutal terror group which has been on a bloody killing spree as it moves toward Baghdad may soon take direct aim at the United States. And it may use American jihadists to carry out its threats.

Brian Todd has been looking into this part of the story -- Brian, it's pretty chilling stuff.

What are you learning?


Tonight, new information from a U.S. intelligence official who says Americans may have joined the terrorist group ISIS that's now targeting Baghdad. We know Americans have already joined other jihadist groups in Syria. And we've now identified the American who made a terrorist recruiting video there.


TODD (voice-over): The video looks like a movie trailer. It says, "coming soon," shows an American flag burning and a passport burning. One billboard reads, "The story of an American muhajir in Shaum, which is Syria. The militant's blurred image appears. Then you hear him talking

about haq, which means divine obligation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is haq on you to protect your brothers and oppressed. It is haq on you to fight.

TODD: A U.S. intelligence official tells CNN the man with the blurred face is Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, a 22-year-old jihadist from Vero Beach, Florida, who blew himself up in a truck bomb attack in Syria last month. Three dozen were killed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The point that the group is trying to make is that despite that the United States is leading the war on terror, we welcome Americans. We have Americans. We actually would rather Americans because they are the best poster boys for propaganda.

TODD: According to our source in U.S. intelligence, it stands to reason that some Americans who've joined the broader fight in Syria have linked up with ISIS, the brutal terrorist group now targeting Baghdad. The official could not say whether those fighters are in Iraq right now or in Syria.

U.S. lawmakers and analysts warn the next 9/11 style attacks could come from Iraq or Syria. Militants with American passports could have an easier path to attacking America's homeland and ISIS might soon have the motivation to do that.

SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: Direct U.S. engagement against ISIS does raise this question about whether they will turn to the U.S. and attempt to attack the homeland. Certainly more than they have today.

TODD: And the shadowy vicious leader of ISIS may have already warned about that. Colonel Ken King was the U.S. commander at Camp Bucca in Iraq when U.S. forces released Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2009.

KENNETH KING, FORMER COMMANDER AT CAMP BUCCA: He looked over to us and as he left he said see you guys in New York. Today I believe that there is some merit in his words in the fact that he has a significant force. He has a significant amount of money after going through Mosul and Tikrit and he has gained some momentum in his movement south.


TODD: Another ominous piece of intelligence, a spokesman for the FBI's field office in Minneapolis tells CNN the FBI is now looking into reports that young men of Somali descent have the left the Minneapolis area and joined up with jihadists in Syria. That official could not say whether those young men joined up with ISIS but he did voice concern over the fact that they have American passports -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are you hearing from U.S. officials, other experts about a potential timing for any kind of ISIS attack at U.S. interests? TODD: Well, among the officials and analysts you speak to, they

say it's probably not going to happen tomorrow but they do worry that ISIS may target American embassies in the region.

Turkey is a particular worry, Wolf, because many of the -- much of the flow of ISIS fighters comes through Turkey. And experts say they could easily hit an American installation there.

BLITZER: Brian Todd with that ominous report. Thanks, Brian, very much.

Let's get back to the breaking news right now. Multiple tornadoes on the ground in Nebraska. Our meteorologist, severe weather expert Chad Meyers is standing by at the CNN Severe Weather Center.

Chad, these pictures are pretty devastating. A little while ago, we saw live pictures of two tornadoes right next to each other on the ground. But these are pretty ominous, as well. These are live pictures.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: This is a single tornado on the ground. Those two tornadoes really combined into one circulation. And now what we see is this one on the ground. This is about seven miles to the west just to the northwest of Pender, Nebraska, heading to Emerson, Nebraska.

But let me show you what it looked like, those pictures you talk about as he turns away anyway. As we take a look at the two tornadoes that were on the ground simultaneously, we do know that a town in northeast Nebraska was hit by one of those tornadoes. We saw the debris on the ground before it crossed over Highway 275, Pilger, Nebraska, took a direct hit from that big, big tornado -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Chad, we'll stay on top of this together with you. Thanks very, very much.

Just ahead, coming up at the top of the hour, a SITUATION ROOM special report. We're going live to Baghdad. Our own Anderson Cooper is there on the scene. We'll check in with him.


BLITZER: The dangerous and escalating crisis in Iraq, just one of several critical global conflicts. Hillary Clinton will likely be grilled on by audience members at CNN's exclusive town hall event tomorrow evening. This as key Republicans are seizing on new opportunities to attack her foreign policy record as secretary of state.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar. She's got details -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well Hillary Clinton here is sort of threading the needle. She is attached to President Obama. She worked for him after all, right? But she's also showing her independence from him on many decisions. But critics seeing trouble around the world are taking aim, blaming Clinton.


KEILAR (voice-over): As tensions mount in Ukraine after pro- Russian separatists shot down a Ukrainian military plane killing all 49 people on board and Iraq descends into chaos as Islamist militants take over much of the country, Hillary Clinton's critics are looking at international hot spots and seeing political pager.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC'S "MEET THE PRESS": What's the playbook to beat her?

MITT ROMNEY, FORMER GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, the playbook, I believe, is to look at her record. I think you have to consider what's happened around the world during the years that she was secretary of state and you have to say it's been a monumental bust.

KEILAR: So far at least voters don't seem to agree, giving Clinton high marks on how she would handle foreign affairs and even terrorism. Benghazi, Libya, where terrorists killed the U.S. embassy and three other Americans, is the exception. 55 percent of those polled said they are dissatisfied with how she handled the 2012 attacks on the American consulate in a new CNN/ORC survey.

As Clinton continues her high-profile book tour and eyes another presidential run, she is emphasizing her differences with President Obama. On Syria where a civil war rages and some wonder if Obama's delay in arming Syrian rebels was a wise choice, Clinton makes clear it wasn't her call.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I did feel quite strongly that we needed to see if it were possible to vet and train and equip moderate opposition figures.

KEILAR: And on Cuba, the trade embargo Obama has maintained, Clinton says lift it.

CLINTON: I would like to change the psychology of this issue. We've been in a corner for too long. We need to get out of the corner.


KEILAR: Now Clinton is walking a line here. She can't escape that she was a key part of President Obama's Cabinet. Many of his problems are hers as well. For instance, on Iraq, she is supporting his reluctance to use military might. She put the blame here on the Iraqi government which she called dysfunctional and authoritarian.

BLITZER: It is dysfunctional and it's authoritarian.


BLITZER: On that point she's right. All right, thanks very much, Brianna, for that.

And please be sure to tune in tomorrow for a CNN exclusive town hall event with Hillary Clinton. Our own Christiane Amanpour will moderate "HILLARY CLINTON: HARD CHOICES," tomorrow 5:00 p.m. Eastern. It will replay at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Special edition of the SITUATION airing at 6 p.m. Eastern, all only here on CNN.

Coming up at the top of the hour, a SITUATION ROOM special report on the deadly violence in Iraq. We'll have full coverage. Our own Anderson Cooper will join us live. He is now in Baghdad.

And will the Iraq crisis bring the U.S. and Iran together to fight terrorists? Stand by.