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New Round of Airstrikes after ISIS Mass Beheadings; CNN Poll: Obama Losing Support on Terror, ISIS; Alleged Terror Gunman Pledged Support to ISIS; Interview with Congressman Adam Smith; Netanyahu to European Jews: 'Israel is Your Home'; Fears of Rising Anti-Semitism after Deadly Attack; 50 Million Facing Dangerous Winter Storm

Aired February 16, 2015 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, angry retaliation -- Egyptian jets target ISIS after the terror group's horrific video shows the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians.

Terror attack -- hard new questions are being asked about public safety and security after a gunman's murderous rampage.

Eye of the storm -- it's pounding 50 million Americans with snow, ice and dangerous cold.

And happy birthday, dear leader -- what today's celebration says about Kim Jong-un in North Korea.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


We're following breaking developments on several fronts of the war with ISIS. Egyptian jets joined the fight today, repeatedly pounding ISIS targets in next door Libya. The airstrikes on ISIS targets in Libya are retaliation for the killings of 21 captured Egyptian Christians.

ISIS posted a gruesome video of them being paraded on a beach, then beheaded.

Another new front in the war on terror, Denmark, where an open microphone caught the sounds of a gunman's murderous rampage.


BLITZER: Tonight, 30,000 people packed the streets of Copenhagen to pay tribute to the victims. The Danish ambassador to the United States is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us.

We'll also hear from the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

Our correspondents and our analysts, they're all standing by.

Let's begin with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

She has the very latest on ISIS, the brutality and the response -- Barbara.


The U.S. intelligence community across the administration looking at every single frame of this latest ISIS video, looking for any clues about the identity of the perpetrators, any clues about exactly who has -- who is behind this.

The brutal video -- and we can only really show a still photo from it -- shows these men who are Egyptian Christians who came to Libya looking for work. They had been kidnapped some weeks ago, now paraded onto a beach, brutally murdered. The video showing about a dozen of the 21 men being beheaded.

The video is catching a good deal of attention for a couple of reasons. One of the speakers on the video speaks very good, very well-spoken English. It's not clear who he is, his identity is. If the U.S. intelligence community knows, they are not saying. And keep looking at that picture, Wolf. Once again, we see this now very repeated act of ISIS parading its victims out in orange jumpsuits. That is something that the U.S. believes is ISIS' very pointed reference, if you will, to the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay that, several years ago, were in orange jumpsuits.

The Egyptian military weighing in today with those repeated airstrikes against ISIS positions across the border inside Libya where this all happened -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And as you say, this happened in Libya, Barbara, to Egyptians. So it clearly raises concerns that ISIS is expanding right now, doesn't it?

STARR: It does, Wolf. Libya in a very strategic position. Consider the fact this all happened on the coastline of the Mediterranean, just several hundred miles from Italy. This now puts ISIS much more directly, if you will, into what could be considered, you know, a major approach to Europe. So that is one concern.

But over the last several weeks and months, what has happened is ISIS now expanding, you can call its ISIS adherents, if you will.

Are they card-carrying members, are they central members of ISIS?

It may not really matter. But you see in Libya, in Yemen, as far away as Afghanistan and Pakistan, far beyond their traditional stronghold in Syria, and then when they moved into Iraq, ISIS now the ideology spreading and certainly the ability to recruit some number of people to their cause to engage in these acts. It's causing a lot of concern -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is.

All right, Barbara, thank you. An exclusive new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows voters here in

the United States are very unhappy with the way President Obama is handling the war on ISIS.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.

She's got the numbers for us.

Disturbing numbers for president and officials at the White House -- Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're right, Wolf. They're interesting.

I mean what we see, basically, from these numbers is a country pretty much equally divided on whether or not people trust President Obama as commander-in-chief. Also, a growing disapproval with how he's handling the biggest security issues. And now, more Americans open to sending ground troops.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): ISIS, medieval in its brutality, shocks the world almost daily now with its executions of Muslims, Christians, Jews, including Americans.

And Americans, in this latest CNN/ORC poll, are now increasingly disapproving of how the president is handling the fight against ISIS. Fifty-eight percent now feel it is going poorly, up from 49 percent just in October. Even among Democrats, nearly half are not happy, despite the coalition response that's been lauded by the administration.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're taking out their commanders, their fighters and their leaders.

KOSINSKI: And maybe because most Americans feel it is actually not going well, now there's less opposition to the U.S. potentially sending ground troops to battle ISIS. Today, almost equally split on whether that would be a good idea. Forty-seven percent of Americans would like to send troops, up from 43 percent in November. But that's something the president has been against from the beginning, last week asking Congress to approve a new authorization for military force more tailored to ISIS.

OBAMA: The United States should not get dragged back into another prolonged ground war in the Middle East. That's not in our national security interests. And it's not necessary for us to defeat ISIL. Local forces on the ground, who know their countries best, are best positioned to take the ground fight to ISIL. And that's what they're doing.

KOSINSKI: What the vast majority of Americans, nearly eight in 10, do agree on is that Congress should vote on what the long-term fight against ISIS will look like.


KOSINSKI: And more bad news for the White House, according to these numbers. Fifty-seven 57 percent disapprove of how the president is handling foreign affairs in general, 54 percent of his handling of terrorism and 64 percent disapprove of his handling of cyber security -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Not very good numbers for the president at this critical moment on these national security related issues.

Michelle, thank you.

We're also following breaking developments in the aftermath of a deadly terror attack in Europe. We're just now learning the alleged gunman apparently pledged support to ISIS before heading off to attack a free speech rally and then a synagogue in Denmark.

Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is joining us live from Copenhagen -- what's the latest, Pamela, you're hearing about this gunman?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're learning that just before the shootings here this past weekend, the suspect, who authorities say is Omar al-Hussein, pledged allegiance or fidelity to the ISIS leader, Al-Baghdadi. He then, according to authorities, went to a free speech event right behind me here, opened fire. He killed one person and wounded three other policemen here. It's believed that he was targeting the controversial artist, Lars Vilks, who had depicted the Prophet Muhammad with a dog, was put on al Qaeda's 10 "Most Wanted" list.

He was able to escape, but we've learned he's now in hiding. From here, the suspect then went and apparently changed clothes and then went to a synagogue, opened fire there, where he killed one security guard outside of that synagogue.

Wolf, we know that he was killed in a shootout later after that synagogue shooting. But two people have been arrested, two people who authorities say may have helped the suspect hide after the shootings.

The investigation very much ongoing here in Copenhagen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I know, Pamela, you spoke to someone who was inside the synagogue at the time of the shooting.

Explain what you were told.

BROWN: Just a horrifying experience for this woman we spoke to today, Mette Bentow. In fact, her daughter was celebrating her bar mitzvah in the synagogue. She said one moment they were dancing, having a great time. The next, a security guard runs in and says, turn the music off, go down in the basement, go to the safe room.

She said it was chaos for two hours straight. They didn't know what was going on. In fact, she knew the security guard who was shot and killed outside the synagogue. And here's what she said during our interview today.


METTE BENTOW, SURVIVED SYNAGOGUE SHOOTING: All I could think about was, of course, Dan and his family, and how are we going to show our gratitude?

And, yes, so it was scary. It was a very violent experience, as you would say in Danish.


BROWN: I asked her, after this experience, did this make her want to leave Denmark, as we've heard others say. And she said no. She says, I'm Danish and I'm proud to be Danish -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to get back to you. A horrible situation in Copenhagen unfolding.

Thanks very much, Pamela Brown.

With us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, the top Democrat of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Adam Smith of Washington State.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

When you see an attack like the one we've just seen in Copenhagen this weekend, going after some journalists, if you will, then going to a synagogue, are you concerned about something like this potentially happening here, because it certainly has the feeling of a copycat attack that occurred in Paris, now Copenhagen?

How worried are you?

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA), HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, that's what we've long been worried about, is all the foreign fighters that have gone to Syria and Iraq, primarily, but Libya, as well, to fight on behalf of ISIS and would they return home?

Now, Europe's in a different situation. The numbers are much, much higher of people who have left Europe to go fight for ISIS and then go back. So they've got a bigger problem in that regard.

But, yes, it is a -- I think it's our number one security concern in the U.S. right now, is being concerned about people who support ISIS, either who have been over there and come back, or who simply pledge allegiance to them.

So I know our security forces in this country are tracking that very closely.

BLITZER: Well, how do you deal with, you know, like a wannabe terrorist, let's say, inspired because of a copycat or whatever, something he or she might read on the Internet?

How do you deal with these kinds of individuals?

SMITH: Well, you need good intelligence and good law enforcement. Now in both the case in Paris and the case in Copenhagen, the individual was known to law enforcement. At least that's what has been reported.

So I think you need to do a better job of getting to these people before they act.

But they do leave trails. You can find them, whether it's because they've been in these countries, stuff that's posted on the Internet, intelligence that's available. That's the way you deal with it, is you try to find them before they commit these types of acts.

But it's not easy. You know, you're absolutely right about that.

BLITZER: We've heard some of your colleagues in the House and the Senate suggest to us, Congressman, that ISIS may now be moving beyond the inspirational -- aspirational, I should say -- aspirational element of desiring to go after a U.S. homeland target, but may be actually getting involved in a specific plot.

Is there evidence that you've come across pointing to specific evidence of a plot or sleeper cells, something along those lines?

SMITH: Not that I've seen. No.

BLITZER: But this is the great concern that you have and other law enforcement and Homeland Security officials have?

SMITH: You know, I mean there's two levels to the concern. One is an al Qaeda 9/11 type attack, where it's plotted, planned. They send in the people to commit the attack.

The other, which is, you know, more difficult to deal with, in some ways, is the lone wolf, the person who's individually motivated in the U.S. acting out.

So tracking both of those is of utmost concern to our law enforcement.

BLITZER: All right, I want you to stand by, Congressman.

We have much more to discuss, including these latest poll numbers, as far as the American public is concerned.

Much more with Congressman Adam Smith right after this.


BLITZER: In our new exclusive CNN/ORC poll, voters give President Obama poor marks for handling of the situation with ISIS, as well as the overall war against terror.

We're back with the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Adam Smith. These numbers are not very encouraging for the president right

now, Congressman. The latest poll numbers show 57 percent of Americans disapprove of the president's handling of foreign affairs; 54 percent disapprove of his handling of terrorism; 57 percent disapprove of the way he's handling ISIS. What does he need to do to get a majority of the Americans to think he's doing the right thing?

SMITH: Well, I think first of all, to clearly and comprehensively explain his strategy. And I -- you know, one of the other poll numbers you mentioned earlier was the number of people who think that we ought to send ground troops, which I think would be the exact wrong approach. That would empower ISIS. That would have them fighting off western invaders, which would, I think, add to their appeal.

What we need to do is what the president has outlined: build support amongst Sunni Arabs in the region to fight that fight and support them.

Now, I think we were, you know, a little slow to do that in Syria. I've been arguing for some time that we should have been supporting the -- you know, the moderates there, the people who were not backing ISIS, the Free Syria movement and others.

But I think more than anything, he just needs to explain that strategy consistently and show a commitment to it. I am worried that we will think that, because things aren't going well, military force must be the answer. I think we learned in Iraq and in Afghanistan that there's a limit to what U.S. military force can do in terms of reshaping a nation in the Muslim world. We need Muslim allies. That's what we have to work on.

BLITZER: Because that poll number you mentioned, I was surprised when I saw it, as well. Should the U.S. send ground troops to fight ISIS, 47 percent favor it, 50 percent oppose. That's almost an even split right now. You say the U.S. should not send ground troops. Are you with the president on the language he submitted to Congress last week for military authorization to go ahead and fight this war?

SMITH: I think it's a good start. I want to make sure it's not too open-ended. This president is only going to be in office for, gosh, a little less than two years, so another president will have this authority, as well. So we can't simply rely on what President Obama has said he's going to do. We've already seen how the 2001 AUMF was expanded beyond what was imagined at that time.

I'm worried about the language about associated forces, but I think overall, putting -- putting a time limit on it and putting a limit on the use of ground troops makes sense. And I think Congress should give the president the authority in this fight. But we have to do it in a way that makes sense and is not unlimited.

BLITZER: Well, let's see if the Republicans and Democrats can get together, because this is the -- the sort of strange situation. The Republicans want to give the president more military authority. The Democrats want to restrain that military authority on a Democratic president. It's a little unusual.

We'll get back to that. I want to turn to the video that was released over the weekend, horrible video of ISIS showing the murder of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya. So this is just brutal, the way these individuals, these Egyptian Christians who had gone to Libya to work were simply beheaded, most of them, by these ISIS terrorists. What should the U.S. do as far as expanding airstrikes right now, not only in Syria and in Iraq against ISIS but maybe to include Libya? Would you be in favor of that?

SMITH: If we had targets. If we had clear targets to hit, I think we should. I think also we need to work very closely with Egypt as an ally. I know Egypt has been very actively involved in Libya trying to turn back ISIS, as well.

Again, we need to work with our allies. We need a united front amongst the countries in that region who, frankly, you know, are far more threatened by ISIS directly than we are. We mentioned at the top of the show here that the concerns -- and they are real in the U.S. and they are real in Europe -- but by far, the most carnage that's being caused by ISIS is being caused in the Muslim world.

So we need them to unite against ISIS and put together a cohesive coalition to fight them. We had a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan. They are very committed to it. Egypt is committed to it. We need to build on that and build solid coalition.

BLITZER: Congressman Smith, thanks very much for joining us.

SMITH: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, after a string of deadly shootings targeting European Jews, there are now new concerns about a rising wave of anti- Semitism, with one expert warning it's as bad as any time since World War II.

And 50 million Americans are now facing dangerous wintry weather. We'll have the latest forecast as the snow and the ice move in.


BLITZER: Benjamin Netanyahu is speaking out telling Jews to leave Europe and come, quote, home to Israel. Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is joining us from Jerusalem with more on this part of the story.

Elise, give us the reaction. Tell us what's going on over there, to what's going on in Europe.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Israel is waiting for the Jews with open arms, and he's putting his money where his mouth is. The Israeli cabinet has taken up a $46 million plan to encourage Europeans to emigrate.

His comments kind of echoed what he said after those recent attacks in Paris on that kosher grocery. Netanyahu is increasingly facing criticism, though, irritation, even, from European political and Jewish leaders. The prime minister of Denmark said Danish Jews are a strong part of society. The chief rabbi of Copenhagen saying he was disappointed by those remarks. And leaders in France also slamming him. President Hollande saying Jews have an important place in Europe and in France, Wolf.

BLITZER: We know that the Israeli elections are scheduled for March 17. A lot of political analysts in Israel say what the prime minister has been saying, not only as far as European Jewry is concerned but what he's saying about President Obama and the deal that could be in the works as far as Iran's nuclear program, a lot of this is aimed at domestic politics in Israel, trying to get himself re- elected. Give us some perspective on that.

LABOTT: Well, certainly, the French prime minister accused him of campaign politics, and it's not really going over well in Israel, either. You'll notice Netanyahu is hitting those themes that speak to his strengths on security issues, the danger posed by Iran, as you said by Islamic extremism.

Former Israeli President Shimon Peres even blasting Netanyahu yesterday for exploiting these attacks against Jewish targets, saying, "Listen, Jews should emigrate to Israel out of love for the country and of the Jewish faith, not out of fear." And it's also worth noting that Jews here increasingly victims of these lone wolf attacks, Wolf. People are being run over waiting for a train. You have that terrible synagogue stabbing last summer. And of course, Israel is always under, you know, threat of rocket fire from Hamas and Hezbollah. So all around really right now at this sensitive time, Netanyahu's argument is falling a bit flat, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Elise Labott, reporting from Jerusalem, thank you.

Let's get some more now. Joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the Danish ambassador to the United States, Peter Taksoe-Jensen.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us. Tell us what you can about this suspect who is now dead, the shooter in this case who went to this free speech luncheon, if you will, going after journalists in Denmark and Copenhagen and then a few hours later, attacked this synagogue. What do we know about this individual?

PETER TAKSOE-JENSEN, DANISH AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: This is a 22-year-old person who was born and raised in Denmark. He is of Arab ethnicity, citizenry. And he has been known by police for a long time but not as an extremist, more as a violent person who's carried out violence and gang problems in Denmark. He was just released a couple of weeks before the attacks this weekend from prison, and it seems that he might have been radicalized while in prison.

BLITZER: While he was in prison, radicalized to become a jihadist, you mean?

TAKSOE-JENSEN: At least an extremist who wants to carry out violence for political purposes.

BLITZER: He was in prison for stabbing someone with a knife, right? But he served his time, and so what you're suggesting is while he's in prison, some group or individual or whatever inspired him to go out and go after this Danish cartoonist and then go after the synagogue where one guard, security guard was murdered?

TAKSOE-JENSEN: Police are still investigating what was motive behind this. It's getting too far out to start speculating too much. But there's no doubt that he was just a normal criminal, and suddenly he became an extremist. And as you said in your beginning, that he targeted a free speech gathering.

BLITZER: Because the cartoonist years ago had drawn a picture, a negative picture of the Prophet Mohammed.

TAKSOE-JENSEN: A couple of hours later, he went to the Danish synagogue in the center of Copenhagen.

BLITZER: It sounds like it was similar to what happened in Paris a few weeks earlier, going after the magazine in Paris, then going after that Jewish supermarket.

TAKSOE-JENSEN: Exactly. It looks as if he might have been inspired by those attacks there and wanted to carry out something similar.

BLITZER: This is Omar Abdul Hamid El-Hussein. There are two other individuals, alleged accomplices, who have also been picked up now by Danish police. Tell us about them.

TAKSOE-JENSEN: What I know is that they have been picked up by Danish police, and they are investigated for helping him out in some way to give him a safe place and maybe also to provide him with a weapon. But there is still an investigation...

BLITZER: Do they have any political or religious motivations, or are they just gang members or common criminals? Do you know anything about these two accomplices?

TAKSOE-JENSEN: No, I don't know.

BLITZER: They are in prison now. They're in jail for ten days as this investigation goes forward. Presumably, we'll be learning a lot more.

I've been to Copenhagen. It's a beautiful city. Denmark is a beautiful country. How surprised are you about these kinds of attacks now, because it goes against the grain of everything we've always thought of in Denmark?

TAKSOE-JENSEN: That's exactly right. But I think we have to realize that this has been something we have been trying to avoid for a long time. We had our cartoon crisis back in -- almost ten years ago, and this meant that we suddenly became a target for extremism and terrorism. We have seen attempts before in Denmark against cartoonists and others who have exercised free speech and freedom of expression. And this was just the first time that an attack actually was somewhat successful.

We have to remember the Danish police actually avoided -- that this gunman got into the cafe and did much more damage but he didn't get into the synagogue, because the police were in place and drove him back.

BLITZER: How concerned are you about the safety of the Jewish community in Denmark?

TAKSOE-JENSEN: Of course, we are very concerned when an attack like this is carried out. We have a very, very long tradition of a well-integrated Jewish community in Denmark. They have been there for centuries. We all remember the rescue of the Jews back in the Second World war. We see them as Jewish Danes, actually. So therefore, as my prime minister has said, we will do everything we can to protect this minority in Denmark, as anybody else would.

BLITZER: I spoke earlier today with the former chief rabbi of Denmark who was very upset that the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, is now saying publicly leave Denmark, leave France, to the Jewish communities there, and come to Israel. I want -- you're the representative of Denmark to the United States; you're the ambassador. Do you want to react to the Israeli prime minister, what he's saying?

TAKSOE-JENSEN: I can only react to what the Danish Jews, the Jewish Danes are doing. And I think they should stay in Denmark if they feel safe. We will do what we can to take away any fear they have. If they want to go to Israel because they want to live in Israel, they should go there. But it shouldn't be because of fear or anything else.

BLITZER: Well said. Mr. Ambassador, good luck to you. Good luck to all the people of Denmark. Appreciate your joining us.

TAKSOE-JENSEN: Thank you so much.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Peter Taksoe-Jensen, Denmark's ambassador to the United States.

Coming up, at least 50 million Americans are getting pounded by snow, ice and dangerous cold, including large parts of the country that are not necessarily used to all this horrible winter weather.

And a happy birthday celebration for the so-called Dear Leader, who's dead. Does that spell trouble for North Korea's current leader?


BLITZER: Fifty million Americans are facing more extreme winter weather tonight as a monster storm with frozen rain, heavy snowfalls and high wind chills bears down on more than a dozen states from the south to the northeast, shutting down travel and causing major power outages. Our senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, is joining us

from a salt depot nearby Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. Workers preparing for a wintry assault, Joe. What's the latest there?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you can see, Wolf, it's really coming down here. We are at the mega-salt facility on the beltway in Alexandria. We've been watching the trucks coming and going, picking up salt.

In fact, here in northern Virginia, something like 3,800 trucks are moving around on both the major thoroughfares and many of the side streets, but there's a serious problem out here. Among other things, people are expecting light traffic, because it's a holiday weekend. There's quite a bit of traffic out there. One of the drivers just came by and told us, "Tell people to stay off the roads."

The other problem, of course, is the temperature. The chemicals that they're putting down, the magnesium along with salt, work best around 20 degrees and above. The last time I checked, it was something like 15, 14 degrees, depending where you're standing. So a difficult problem.

The snow appears to be accumulating even right here on the beltway right next to the big salt pile. The best advice, again, from that driver, stay off the roads if you can in the Washington/Baltimore area and ride this thing out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Now they're already starting to close some of the schools tomorrow here in the D.C. area.

Let's get the latest forecast right now. Our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, is joining us from the CNN weather center. Jennifer, how does it look?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, we are looking at some freezing rain continuing across portions of Tennessee, even north of downtown Atlanta, northern metro areas getting reports of freezing and some icing on some of the higher elevations and the overpasses, things like that.

We're also looking at incredible amounts of snow across Kentucky, also moving into portions of Virginia. We've got, actually, broken records in Kentucky this afternoon.

And so we're going to continue to see that icing event across eastern Tennessee, and that's going to push into North Carolina. You're starting out with snow. It's going to end up with ice through the overnight hours, so be very careful. Try to stay off the roads.

D.C., it is just beginning for you, but you're in for a long night. It's going to still be there during the morning commute. Look at all of these winter storm watches, the warnings, the winter weather advisories all across the south. The ice accumulation is the most dangerous part of this, Wolf. Charlotte, Raleigh could pick up half an inch of ice, maybe more. That could possibly knock out power to people, definitely icing on the roads. It is very dangerous. Eight to 10 inches of snow, we're talking right around Richmond, D.C. could pick up several inches. New York City and Boston, also included in that, could see two to four inches of snow.

So timing this out, it is going to continue for the overnight icing in -- around Raleigh, North Carolina. We're going to look at that into Virginia. The snow continues, New York City, by tomorrow morning, and then it skirts by Boston, giving them a couple more inches, Wolf, by the time we get through tomorrow morning.

BLITZER: Jennifer, thanks very much.

I want to show our viewers a live picture we're getting in from Interstate-81 in Southwest Virginia right now. Take a look at this. See what's going on there. That storm, that's moving through Virginia. It's going to be heading our way, into Washington, D.C. and elsewhere. So it's pretty brutal right now. These are live pictures coming in from Interstate 81.

We'll have much more on the weather coming up in our next hour.

But coming up here in The Situation Room, an epic birthday celebration in North Korea but look behind the synchronized swimmers, the ice dancers, a lot more. You're going to see the young leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, is struggling to solidify his power.

And a gruesome new video from ISIS drawing a fierce round of air strikes. The latest on the fight against the brutal terror group.


BLITZER: They are celebrating in North Korea. Big fireworks, military parades, marking the birthday of the former leader, Kim Jong- Il. But behind the celebrations, there are some concerns that Kim's son, the current leader, Kim Jong-Un, does not necessarily have the same loyalty from his people.

CNN's Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's been monitoring what's going on in North Korea for us.

What are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, those fireworks and that grand display throughout North Korea, they are meant to show everyone inside that country that the Kim dynasty is still intact. But tonight there are growing doubts about whether Kim Jong-Un has done either intimidate or buy off his inner circle and solidify his power.


TODD (voice-over): The so-called Day of the Shining Star began at midnight with fireworks in Pyongyang. With military battalions gathering under the icon of Mount Paektu which North Korea claims is the birth place of its late leader Kim Jong-Il. They pounded their chests in a show of loyalty.

State TV anchors could barely contain their emotions.

North Koreans celebrated the 73rd birthday of the so-called dear leader who died three years ago. But the figure skating and synchronized swimming exhibitions show, the North Korean regime is bent on keeping Kim Jong-Il's cult of personality alive. His son Kim Jong-Un paid tribute to his father at his mausoleum, an attempt, analysts, say to force feed the North Korean people into thinking this dynasty has no cracks.

KEN GAUSE, NORTH KOREA LEADERSHIP EXPERT: With Kim Jong-Un being in a weaker position than his father and grandfather, it is even more important that they re-validate that combination between the state, the regime, the supreme leader being one being.

TODD: Why after three years in power has Kim not been able to solidify his rule?

JONATHAN POLLACK, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: He is a young man. There are real doubts about him, about his knowledge. There's an impulsive quality to him. He is trying to legitimate his rule simply, of course, on the family bloodlines.

TODD: Analysts say executing his uncle to inspire fear and loyalty and moving the nuclear program forward have boosted Kim's standing within the regime. But the one thing he hasn't done yet is funnel enough money to North Korea's inner circle of leadership.

GAUSE: If he is not able to bring in the money in the funding into the regime, his position will get weaker and weaker. The royal economy, which is that part of the economy that is directly controlled by the Kim family, is not bringing in as much money as it did in the past. And he is having to expend a lot more funds in terms of largesse in order to buy off the leadership and buy off loyalty within the leadership.


TODD: Ken Gause says that so-called North Korean royal economy does consist of some legitimate exports like building statues for dictators in Africa. But also it consists of the smuggling of heroin, counterfeit American dollars, fake Viagra, and weapons. The proceeds of all of that are thought to have always gone straight into the pockets of North Korea's leaders.

But now that sanctions have tightened, there's not as much of that money coming in. And analysts say Kim Jong-Un has had to spend more than his father did in order to buy off those closest to him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But they have come up with enough money to remodel Kim Jong-Un's plane, right?

TODD: That's right. The North Koreans have just sent out pictures of Kim Jong-Un sitting in his newly remodeled plane. It's called an IL-62M jet. They issued a photo of him on the phone with a cigarette in his hand, looking out the window. There's another phone of him inside the plane, meeting with his

aids. And in that one you can see the wooden paneling, the leather seats, the curtains. He took a flight around Pyongyang to view some of the -- some new construction in Pyongyang this weekend. But one analyst says so far he's been frightened to fly outside of North Korea out of fear that a coup is going to be staged against him. And he'll either not be able to make it back or maybe something worse will happen to him.

BLITZER: We'll see if he uses that plane to fly to Moscow.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: He's supposedly going to make that first trip as early as May.

All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Fifty million Americans, they're facing more snow and ice as a very dangerous storm tears across the south and the northeast.

We're bringing you live pictures. Take a look at this. This is Interstate 81. It's not far from Rona, Virginia. Look at this. You can barely see what's going on. Traffic backed up, barely moving.

Stand by, full coverage of the growing problem this storm is causing.

And also another huge story we're following. A gruesome new beheading video. Another deadly attack in a European capital as the threat from ISIS extends.


BLITZER: Happening now, icy blast. Fifty million Americans are in the path of a brutal winter storm. Sending parts of the East Coast right now with up to a foot of snow and killer cold.