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Amtrak Crash Investigation; Interview With Former General Stanley McChrystal; Death Penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Aired 18- 19:00p ET

Aired May 15, 2015 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're learning new details of his reaction inside the courtroom.

Stunning setback. ISIS launches a deadly new offensive to retake one of Iraq's most important cities, deploying multiple suicide bombers and car bombs, killing dozens of people. Is this what so many American troops fought and died for? I will ask retired General Stanley McChrystal.

Finally speaking -- the engineer at the controls of the Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia breaks his silence and talks to investigators, along with an assistant conductor who revealed a mysterious new clue. Did something strike the train just before it flew off the tracks?

And boxing Mitt. Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney steps into the ring with former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield tonight. So, what's behind the story of this unlikely match?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following two major breaking stories this hour, including the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, sentenced to death, the 21-year-old condemned by a federal jury to die for six charges stemming from the homemade bombs he and his brother planted near the finish line of one of the world's most famous races.

Also breaking right now, in that Amtrak derailment, one conductor is now telling the NTSB that just before the wreck, she heard the engineer say that the train had been struck by something. We're covering that story and more this hour with our correspondents and our guests, including the former commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, the retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal.

But let's go to our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown. She's beginning the breaking news coverage this hour with the very latest -- Pamela. PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the

decision today handed down by the jury is a culmination of two years after Boston and the nation were shaken by the terrorist attack.

It took the jury a day-and-a-half to hand over the death penalty to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for six of the 17 charges.


BROWN (voice-over): Throughout the more than two months of trial, the jury remained focused on this moment, when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, detonated two homemade pressure cooker bombs at the race finish line, killing three and putting the city of Boston on lockdown.

Jurors heard days of dramatic testimony from some of the 264 bombing survivors and families of the deceased, like 8-year-old Martin Richard. His father fought back tears as he described the moment he saw his son after the bombing, telling the jury -- quote -- "I just knew from what I saw that there was no chance."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some comment on the verdict, please?

BROWN: Tsarnaev's attorneys, including Judy Clarke, argued Tsarnaev shouldn't be put on death row because he was under the influence of his older brother, Tamerlan, who was using him as a pawn.

Death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean told the jury Monday that she met with Tsarnaev and -- quote -- "absolutely believes he is remorseful for his crimes." But the prosecution argued Tsarnaev's writings inside this blood-stained boat where he hid from police showed he was complicit in the bombing.

CARMEN ORTIZ, U.S. ATTORNEY, DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS: The defendant claimed to be acting on behalf of all Muslims. This was not a religious crime and it certainly does not reflect true Muslim beliefs. It was a political crime designed to intimidate and to coerce the United States. The defendant was an adult who came to believe in an ideology of hate. And he expressed those beliefs by killing, maiming and mutilating innocent Americans on Patriots Day.


BROWN: Tsarnaev is in custody of the U.S. Marshals, and even though he was sentenced to the death penalty, it could take years for anything to happen because of the appeals process.

And because of that, Wolf, the Martin family, as you may remember, recently wrote an op-ed asking for the jury to put him in prison for life, because they didn't want this process to drag on with the appeals.

BLITZER: Well, the appeals process is going to go forward I assume now for several years. That's the way it just happens to work out here in the United States. Thanks very much, Pamela, for that report. Let's go to our national correspondent, Deborah Feyerick. She's

in Boston for us. She's been covering the trial from the very beginning.

What's the reaction over there, Deb?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was fascinating, actually.

And just to set the scene inside the court, there was such a heavy silence as the jury findings were read and as the sentence of death on six of the counts was handed down. It's just a heavy silence. That's really the only way I can describe it. Some of the relatives in the court, they dabbed their eyes, the survivors, the victims, they dabbed their eyes with a tissue.

Officials sort of very quiet, and when court let out, many of them simply sort of hugged each other. But it wasn't a mood of celebration. There was no sort of jubilation either. And afterwards, at a press conference, a number of the family members spoke, one of them saying that there was mixed emotions because of this sentence of death.


That means that the process will drag on. Another said there's nothing to celebrate. This is a matter of justice. That's what prosecutors said, that death was not giving Dzhokhar Tsarnaev what he wanted, it was giving him what he deserved. And another said, it feels odd; I have no idea what I should feel.

So very mixed, very somber, the defense attorneys not happy at all. They followed Dzhokhar Tsarnaev back into a holding cell after the verdict was read, after the sentence was handed down. And then they left court very, very quickly. One of his lawyers during the entire time was very aggressively scribbling notes on a legal pad.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, for his part, showed very little reaction, very little response as he listened to everything that was read, and then as he exited the court -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick in Boston with the latest developments, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sentenced to death. There will be a lengthy appeals process.

There's other breaking news we're following right now, including that deadly Amtrak derailment. Federal investigators have conducted their first interviews with the train's crew, and one conductor told the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, that just before the wreck, she heard the engineer in the locomotive say that the train had been struck by something.

CNN's Rene Marsh is joining us from Philadelphia with more.

Tell us the latest, Rene. RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that really

is the most interesting headline coming out of this presser that is still going on.

So, we know that investors had their face-to-face with the engineer of this train, as well as two assistant conductors. Now, one of the assistant conductors says she had heard a SEPTA, a different train operator call in to dispatch saying, I believe I have been hit with something, perhaps some sort of projectile, a stone, something to that effect.

We know that after that was reported to dispatch, this conductor said she believed she heard the engineer of the Amtrak train said -- said the same sort of thing happened to his train. That is what she believes. So this is something that investigators are now looking into. Was this Amtrak train struck with some sort of projectile? We know that there is damage to the lower half of the windshield. And it is a circular force, a circular sort of pattern in the windshield.

And now they want to find out, was this train struck as well?


MARSH (voice-over): Today, accident investigators met for the first time with the train's engineer, Brandon Bostian, as well as two assistant conductors. The interviews will be critical in determining what caused the deadly derailment.

ROBERT SUMWALT, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD MEMBER: She said she heard the engineer talking to a SEPTA engineer. She recalled that the SEPTA engineer had reported to the train dispatcher that he had either been hit by a rock or shot at. She also believed that she heard her engineer say something about his train being struck by something.

MARSH: The NTSB says the train accelerated as it approached a sharp curve in the track. Data from the train's video camera shows, 65 seconds before the crash, the train was moving at 70 miles per hour, 22 seconds later, more than 80, then 90, before exceeding to more than 100 miles per hour, the brakes heard as it approached the curve.

SUMWALT: Mere seconds into the turn, we could see the train tilting approximately 10 degrees to the right. And then the recording went blank.

MARSH: According to friends, Bostian has a passion for trains and was a train safety advocate. Following a deadly 2008 Metrolink crash in California blamed on an engineer distracted by text messages, a post on a train enthusiast Web site believed to be from Bostian read -- quote -- "That's why it shouldn't take an act of Congress to get industry to adopt commonsense safety systems on their own."

Meantime, we're now hearing from emergency crews who helped pull people from the wreckage. DANIEL COSME, PHILADELPHIA POLICE DEPARTMENT: I saw a lot of

people injured, a lot of head wounds, a lot of arm injuries, leg injuries.

MARSH: Officer Daniel Cosme, seen on the far left, was one of the first to arrive after 911 calls flooded in.

COSME: The guy, he was laying on the floor, holding his leg. He had a broken leg, a broken ankle. Grabbed each other's hands to make a chair so he can sit down. And then we carried him through the whole way.


MARSH: And, Wolf, we also now know what the engineer, the man operating this train, said to investigators.


He told them that he was not tired. He said he had no problems handling the train. He knew the speed limitations. But he also said he didn't remember what happened or what led up to the crash, so most of the detail that we're getting now coming from the assistant conductor -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The assistant conductor saying she overheard this conversation between the engineer of 188 and another engineer for a local commuter train. The other local commuter train said some projectile went through his window and then the engineer of 188 said, yes, there's just been something here, too.

And the next thing you know, there's this crash. Go ahead.


MARSH: And, if I could add, because of that account, we now know the FBI has been brought in. They are looking at the windshield of this train, Amtrak 188, to make the determination if something struck it.

Like I said, there's a circular pattern on the lower left side of the windshield. So now the FBI has been brought into the investigation.

BLITZER: They have got to figure out what the projectile was. All right, stand by, Rene.

I want to bring in Madison Calvert. He was a passenger on an earlier train through Philadelphia, took a picture of the damage caused when that train was struck by some sort of object.

What was going on, Madison? You were southbound Acela heading towards Philadelphia when your window was hit? What happened?

MADISON CALVERT, TRAIN PASSENGER: Hey, Wolf, I was headed down from New York City to Washington, D.C. I had a company meeting up in New York. I took an 8:00 Acela. And at about 9:10 or so, five to seven minutes outside of Philadelphia, 30th Street, right on my left window, all of a sudden, I hear a loud should thud and a shatter of my window.

I'm a regular commuter. I have been doing this for 10 years and never had something like that happen.

BLITZER: That was around approximately the same time as that crash of Amtrak 188, the regional train that had just left Philadelphia. That one, that one, it crashed around, what, 9:28, 9:30, something like that, right?


From what I understood, following the timeline, it looked like the train crashed 10, 15 minutes later, but in very similar position, Wolf. I was going south to Philadelphia. That train was going north and passing Philadelphia. Yes, we were boarded by Amtrak police when we got to the 30th Street Station and at about 9:23, they let us leave. I had a text message chain with my wife five minutes later. So, the other accident occurred.

BLITZER: You reported this, that your window had been hit by some sort of object to the conductor, is that right?

CALVERT: Yes. It actually was not me who reported it, Wolf. It was another guy who was sitting in the same row. But we were boarded by two Amtrak police officers. The conductor came in and checked to make sure that the window had not shattered all the way through. They declared it structurally sound and let us keep going on our way.

BLITZER: And what did it sound like? What did it feel like? Did you actually -- was it a rock? Was it something else? What did it feel like when you looked over at the window?

CALVERT: Yes, Wolf, there's a really small radius in the center of the picture. I mean, the shatter is pretty big, so I assumed it must have been some kid throwing a rock or something like that.

There was a small indentation. Somebody on the train said they thought it was a bullet. You know, I didn't even think about it. But I actually think it was just some sort of rock or some kid throwing a battery or something.

BLITZER: Because now this would be the third train potentially that was hit by some sort of projectile or object, a local commuter train, Amtrak Regional 188, and the Acela that you were on going towards Philadelphia from New York.

Did the authorities, were the police when they came on board, did they say anything?

CALVERT: No, they quickly surveyed it. The conductor at first said we're going to have to check if it's structurally sound. And, again, five to seven minutes later, the two Amtrak cops came on, took a couple pictures, felt the inside of the window and let us continue. So, to me, I thought, even though I have never seen this in

years, I assumed sort of these things must be fairly routine if they would send us off that quickly. All very surreal, Wolf, and I got to say, the mayor of Philly came out the next day and said there was no connection.

And I thought it was rather brash to declare that after my train was hit, a SEPTA train was hit and an engineer with an excellent record gets derailed and crashes. How is all that coincidental?

BLITZER: Yes, I remember reading the next day about that local commuter train that was hit by some sort of projectile and then wondering if there was any connection with the Amtrak 188 Regional train going from Philadelphia towards New York. But now you're telling us about this third Acela going toward Philadelphia from New York was hit by some sort of object as well.

By the way, we're showing our viewers the front of the Amtrak 188. This is the train that eventually was derailed. You see what happened. You see the window. That was shattered there. But they're looking now. They're taking a closer look to try to determine what that projectile or object was that may have hit that. And I'm sure they're going to review the conversation between the engineers of that local commuter train and the Amtrak 188.


Hold on for a moment, Madison, because Ray LaHood, the former transportation secretary, is joining us as well.

This is major news, Mr. Secretary, the fact there may be three trains in the Philadelphia area may have been hit by some sort of object or projectile. What do you make of this?


All I know is what I have been watching on your program. And if it's true, obviously, that would be a huge distraction to the conductor and engineer and the folks that were providing the leadership and providing the -- you know, conducting the trains. And, you know, that, if it's true, it would be a tremendous distraction for them.

BLITZER: Because you heard Robert Sumwalt, the NTSB lead investigator, say they're going it take a look now at the window of the Amtrak 188 to see it they can determine what, if anything, the object was. They're looking at that local commuter train. And now they have this Acela they want to take a close look at as well.

And I know you're an adviser to Amtrak. What -- have they said anything to you, Mr. Secretary, about the possibility that something was going on, three trains relatively within the same amount of time, around between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m., were hit by something?

LAHOOD: You know, I think they just learned about this afternoon, Wolf, and I have not been briefed on it, and probably will be briefed on it next week.

As all of your viewers know now, the NTSB will continue their investigation. They're going to rebuild the train cars, rebuild the braking systems. But they will do some of their work back in D.C., and obviously the reconstruction and so forth. And I think when they do that reconstruction, obviously, they will be looking at the windshield, at the front of the train cars to see if something did hit them. And, hopefully, we will learn a lot more after they have a chance to really look at the train cars and the engine, to see if it was -- if there was some kind of distraction caused by an object that was very distracting to the engineer.

BLITZER: Yes, we knew earlier, right after the -- this train crashed, that the separate commuter train was hit by some sort of projectile. That was widely reported, but the assumption was, there was no connection between that and the Amtrak 188 or the Acela that was hit by some sort of object as well.

Mr. Secretary, stand by. I want to continue the breaking news coverage.

There's other breaking news we're following as well, including new coalition airstrikes right now to push back an ISIS offensive on a very important Iraqi city of Ramadi.

Joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM is retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal. He's the author of a brand-new book.

I want to take a quick break, General McChrystal. I want to get to all the breaking news on what is going on. Stand by. You have been following all of this, but there's major news in Iraq.

Much more with General McChrystal when we come back.



BLITZER: There's more breaking news, a U.S. official telling CNN that multiple coalition airstrikes are being carried out against ISIS right now as the terrorist forces retake a key Iraqi city, that city being Ramadi.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working the story for us.

What are you hearing from your sources, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf, hearing from a senior administration official just in the last hour of eight strikes in just the last six hours.

Earlier, the U.S. military in Iraq told us that Ramadi at this point is about 50/50, half under Iraqi control, half under ISIS control, which is frankly alarming, considering how many months Iraqi forces have been fighting to defend this city. Just on Friday, at least 47 Iraqi soldiers and 26 civilians killed there.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Iraqi forces battling ISIS inside the critically important city of Ramadi, a desperate defense against a deadly offensive by the terror group, who sent a barrage of suicide car bombs through breaches in the city's defenses.

After a months-long battle, Ramadi, the largest city in Western Iraq and just 70 miles West of Baghdad, is in danger of falling into ISIS' hands.

BRIG. GEN. THOMAS D. WEIDLEY, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Within Ramadi, again, it's difficult to say specifically in terms of percentages how much each side controls, if you will.

SCIUTTO: More than 100,000 residents have fled the violence in just the last month, says the U.N.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: Iraqi forces could very quickly be overwhelmed if they're not careful and that could spell all types of trouble for Baghdad.

SCIUTTO: To the northeast, the critical oil refinery at Baiji also remains under ISIS assault, with Iraqi forces struggling to keep the terror group at bay.

The Pentagon calls the fight there a stalemate. The new ISIS push comes as the terror group's leader released an audio statement calling for recruits across the globe to join the fight in Iraq and Syria, or take up arms in their own countries, including the U.S.

Today, the U.S. military said Baghdadi's message is a sign he is having trouble recruiting and that ISIS is securing only propaganda victories on the battlefield.


The combination of the U.S.-led air campaign and Iraqi ground action have left the group unable to field large conventional formations to take and hold territory, says the Pentagon. Former U.S. commanders see weakness in the Iraqi military as well.

LEIGHTON: That ability to hit back on ISIS is nonexistent. Iraqi forces do not have the capability to actually not only defend the territory that they have already got, but to go on the offensive.


SCIUTTO: Let's take a look now at the map.

This is areas under ISIS control in Iraq and Syria in the last three months, yellow ISIS support zones, red ISIS control zones. This is February 2015. This is three months later, today, not much of a difference. I'm just going to back and forth, so you can look again, February and then three months later, some gains up here for some of the rebels against ISIS.

But when you look at cities like Ramadi, when you look at Baiji, it's a back-and-forth, 50/50. When I spoke to the U.S. military today, they said, listen, you have to expect and we are expecting, the U.S. military is expecting periods of progress and periods of setback. But you look at the overall picture, Wolf, it really looks like a stalemate across large parts of Iraq and Syria. It's a real challenge moving forward.

BLITZER: And ISIS still in control of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, a city of nearly two million people. And the Iraqi army doesn't even think about going after that target, at least for now. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, reporting.

Let's get some more now from retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal. He commanded U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan. He previously headed the Joint Special Operations Command. He has a brand-new book out. It's entitled "Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World."

General McChrystal, first of all, thanks for your service. Thanks for writing this important book.

What's going on in Iraq rye now? Because you served there, 4,500 Americans lost their lives there, trillion dollars maybe was spent by U.S. taxpayers there. Tens of thousands of American troops came home wounded. Tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed in that war. Was it for naught?

GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL (RET.), U.S. COMMANDER IN AFGHANISTAN: Well, it sort of doesn't matter at this point. We have to navigate from where we are.

And if we look at where we are right now, we have several factors. First, we have got a very weakened region, not just Iraq. Iraq is politically weak. It's having trouble putting its military together. It's having trouble bringing the different sects, religious sects together, and it's next door to Syria, which has literally melted down, as we know.

And then you have got intervention by the Iranians and whatnot. So, the entire region is like a patient that has HIV/AIDS. It's lost its ability to use its immune system.

BLITZER: It looks like this government, the central government in Baghdad and their military is missing in action. They can't control what's going on. And ISIS is not losing. It seems to be winning.

MCCHRYSTAL: Yes. They're having a hard time.

And the other interesting part is, ISIS is a 21st century thing that has created. It's got certain attributes of a traditional terrorist organization. You see the suicide bombing tactics that they use around Ramadi. It's very unnerving. You also see that they're holding terrain. They're gaining a little bit of credibility just by the fact that they are governing areas, albeit from perfectly.

But, finally, they're leveraging this information technology to make us think that they're everywhere, to make us think that they're behind our doors and under our beds and that they can communicate so extraordinarily well. Their message is even more powerful than their presence on the battlefield.

BLITZER: General Dempsey, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he testified not that long ago. He suggested that Ramadi wasn't really strategically all that important. The Baiji oil refinery, that was strategically important. But Ramadi is very -- a lot of Americans got killed trying to -- trying to secure Ramadi, and there's been a lot -- it's the capital of the Anbar province. The Sunnis look there.

What's going on here?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, ground is very important. Cities are very important, because they have an emotional tie as well. That's part of the course the -- the Western Euphrates River Valley. Ramadi is biggest city west of Baghdad. So, it's critical from that standpoint. But it's critical as a symbol.


BLITZER: Ramadi.

MCCHRYSTAL: It's critical to the...


BLITZER: Why is the Iraqi military, after all the training, the arms, everything the U.S. did to train 300,000 Iraqi soldiers -- I'm guessing most of them are missing in action right now. They have fled.

Why did the Iraqi army turn out to be a disaster?

MCCHRYSTAL: I think, after the departure of the Americans in 2010, there was a move that let the Shia dominate organizations. And I think it cut the morale and leadership out of many organizations.

I think there's still some solid organizations in there, but the most critical thing about a military is its leadership. And you have got to have an infrastructure of it through, and they're clearly fighting to try to put...


BLITZER: So, the former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, turned out to be a disaster. You blame him?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, I think he has the biggest part of the guilt, but there's plenty to go around.

BLITZER: Should the U.S. be supplying arms directly to the friends of the United States, like the Kurds, like Sunni -- moderate Sunnis in the Anbar province, because, right now, the U.S. is unwilling to do so?

They still send all the weapons to the central government in Baghdad, and then the Baghdad regime disperses those weapons. That sounds like an awful decision.

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, let's look at it this way. We've got to decide what our long-term goal is, our long-term strategy to reach that goal. If ISIS disappeared today, right now, we'd still have a terrible situation in that region. And we've really got to deal with that.

So I do have some sympathy for the idea that, if you start to go around the central government, you don't solve the problem. We saw that in Afghanistan. You actually make it worse.

BLITZER: But the central government, with all due respect, looks like pretty much a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Iranian regime next door.

MCCHRYSTAL: Yes. Our problem is if we don't fix the central government, then we'll be living with a bad central government even if ISIS disappears. So it's a tough call. And certainly, when you see the Kurds struggling and Sunni tribes that are trying to defend themselves, there's a balance. Sometimes you've got to go out and give help. But I do think you can just say automatically we're going to go around the central government, or your problem will be in your rear, not your front (ph).

BLITZER: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, he was on an audiotape that was released yesterday. The Pentagon suggesting that says -- well, that shows how weak they are, because he's making speeches and distributing them on social media, on the Internet. You buy that?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, I think that that perspective will probably not be shared around the region. It's possible that that's true, but people around the region who hear that will hear his voice and probably give him credibility for being alive and in charge.

BLITZER: And a big portion of his supporters are the Saddam loyalists who were basically removed when the U.S. went in, in 2003, right?

MCCHRYSTAL: It's Sunnis who felt dispossessed, former Ba'athists. It's also much more broad than just Iraq. It goes outside Iraq. It goes to North Africa, people who like the idea of this.

BLITZER: What's the most important lesson all of us should learn from "Team of Teams"?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, you can have great small teams, but if you can't put them together in a big team linked together -- and you're going to have to do that with sharing information in a way we've never done before -- you're not going to be very effective. And that's true of every kind of organization today.

BLITZER: General McChrystal, thanks very much for coming in.

MCCHRYSTAL: Wolf, thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Once again, the book is "Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World." Thanks very much.

MCCHRYSTAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, a U.S. man arrested by the FBI, accused of going to Syria to fight with ISIS. We're now learning new details.


[18:37:20] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The NTSB now revealing an assistant conductor on the derailed Amtrak train hearing the engineer saying the train had been struck by something just moments before the train derailed.

Also, a U.S. official telling CNN that multiple airstrikes are now being carried out against ISIS as the terrorist force fight to retake a key Iraqi city, that being Ramadi.

Let's get some more on what's going on. Joining us, the former CIA counterterrorism official Philip Mudd. He's our CNN counterterrorism analyst. Also joining us, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, a CNN military analyst; and former CIA operative, the CNN intelligence and security analyst Robert Baer.

General Hertling, you heard these report: ISIS making major moves on Ramadi, the U.S. and other coalition partners sending airstrikes in. I guess the fear is Ramadi, which has seen in the last month 100,000 refugees flee that critically important town in the Anbar province, Ramadi could be falling right now to ISIS control. That would be really awful, wouldn't it?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It would be, Wolf, and it's been hotly contested for over a month now. It's the forefront. It's the front of the campaign between ISIS and some of the Iraqi security forces.

My sources on the ground tell me right now there's quite a few of what any Iraqi veterans will know to be a shamal going on out there. You see your pictures, watch your films, you'll see the overcast clouds. That's tough to bring in air power. So while they are bringing in air power, it's really tough, and ISIS knows that. That's when they drive the suicide vehicles up to the gates and blow their way in.

So I think you're going to see a tough fight here for the next couple of days. At the same time you're also seeing tough fights in Baiji, in Hawija, on the Hammering Mountain in Sinjar and Talafar, and even outside of Mosul, as security forces are surrounding those areas. There's no -- there's no scarcity in fighting going on in Iraq right now.

BLITZER: Very disturbing developments all around.

he FBI meanwhile, Phil, they arrested an Iraqi-born American citizen in Texas under charges that he had travelled to Syria to fight with ISIS. This shows a shift in strategy for how the intelligence law enforcement communities are going to respond to individuals who have shown an interest in support, sympathy for ISIS. What's going on here?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, you've got to think about this in terms of how much the war on terror has changed in the last five, ten years.

If you're looking at a traditional al Qaeda case, you've got to sit on that case for a while. Because you're talking about a conspiracy that might go into Asia. You're talking about understanding how people are communicating, how they're recruited, who provided false documents or money. It takes a long time to map that kind of conspiracy.

Let's go to Texas now in 2015. We don't see with ISIS those kinds of conspiracies. We've seen kids as young as 15. In this case we have an individual in his 30s. They're looking at propaganda online, maybe with minimal interaction with other people and saying, "Hey, I'm just going to travel." You don't have to sit on that case for a long time to say, "We're taking it to federal court." There's not a lot to learn here.

[17:35:20] The final thing you see here, quickly, is that there are so many of these cases after the Garland situation, if you're in an FBI field office, you're looking at this saying, "We've got to triage this. We've got to move through this and move to the next one. And furthermore, we're not going to sit on this too long, because we can't afford to have a second Garland."

BLITZER: I agree, Bob Baer, it looks like this arrest could be a result, at least in part, of what happened in Garland, Texas, outside of Dallas. What's your analysis?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think the FBI is stepping up its game. They've been waiting around for an attack for a long time. And it finally came in Garland. And they're starting to pull the trigger in a lot more of these cases, because they simply don't know, unless they're really on top of these people, whether they're going to flip that switch and turn to violence. And the only way to do it is to preempt it.

I think we're going to see a lot more arrests and a lot more active FBI now that we've actually had a case of terrorism.

BLITZER: I think you're probably right. Bob Baer, Mark Hertling, Phil Mudd; guys, thanks very much.

Another important story we're following: the wreckage of a U.S. Marine helicopter that went missing in Nepal has now been found, along with three bodies. Six American Marines, two Nepal service members, they were on board, taking part in earthquake relief efforts. No word yet on the cause of the crash.

For more on how you can help with the earthquake relief efforts in Nepal, visit

Just ahead: Kim Jong-un may be ruling with an iron fist, but is he also losing his grip on power and reality, as some analysts are now suggesting? We're about to take a closer look at what's behind the latest brutal crackdown.


[18:46:46] BLITZER: Brutal and unpredictable, North Korea's Kim Jong-un is feared as a dictator. Just recently he allegedly ordered the execution of his military chief, ripped apart by high-powered anti-aircraft weapons. But is Kim Jong-un the one that's really afraid?

Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, has been looking into this story for us.

Elise, what are you learning?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the defense minister is just the latest of in a report of a series of increasingly gory executions Kim Jong-un has ordered as part of a paranoid strategy to project power and eliminate his rivals. There are signs that Kim's cruelty is starting to back-fire, raising questions whether his reign of terror could be coming to an end.


LABOTT (voice-over): He is erratic, cruel and rules North Korea with an iron fist, pumping out propaganda showing him flying high, and in command.

But after a series of recent high-profile executions of his closest advisers, some experts wonder if Kim Jong-un is losing his grip on power and reality.

VICTOR CHA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: The tactics that he's using are really aimed at trying to scare people and to following his role.

LABOTT: The Kim family dynasty has always been one of brutal dictatorship. Un's father Kim Jong-il and his grandfather both imprisoned their enemies. But the young Kim is taking ruling by fear to new levels.

Within three months of taking power, the son had his father's inner circle seen here as pallbearers at this funeral executed. Fears of a coup allegedly prompted Kim to kill his uncle and mentor, Jang Sung-taek, followed by hundreds of alleged purges of military brass and party officials. BILL RICHARDSON (D), FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: By purging,

executing, by creating a climate of fear, I think he's undermining himself. He's going to create some internal opposition that in the end could topple him.

LABOTT: South Korean intelligence says Kim had 15 top regime officials killed so far this year. Followed by this week's purge of his defense minister for being disobedient and dozing off at military events, according to South Korean intelligence, his reported punishment, death by an anti-aircraft firing squad -- a warning to hundreds of North Korean elites watching the spectacle.

U.S. officials say they have no reason to doubt the execution, but CNN cannot independently confirm it.

CHA: Among his own people in both the party and in the military structure, he's clearly having problems, because he keeps executing them. The transition that lasts four years isn't a transition any more. It's -- it means that there's something seriously wrong.

LABOTT: Now, a North Korean defector who worked with Un's father and asks for his identity to be hidden, tells CNN Un has lost the confidence of North Korea's military and elites and predicts that the regime could implode within three years.


LABOTT: And U.S. officials point to a very volatile political situation inside North Korea. You hear more and more speculation how officials in the regime may conclude that nobody is safe and perhaps team up to kill Kim or launch a coup. Watch this space, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, the story is developing. We're going to have more on it. Elise Labott, thanks very much. We'll take a quick break.

[18:50:00] More on North Korea right after this.


BLITZER: South Korea says it will allow a group of women peace activists from around the world to march across the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. The heavily mined frontier separating millions of troops on the North and the South has been called the most dangerous place on earth.

[18:55:00] Organizers say the North gave its permission last month. Critics say the group is playing into the hands of Kim Jong- un.

Let's discuss what's going on with two key members of this group.

Joining us, the filmmaker Gay Dillingham, and Chung Hyun -- a professor at the Union Theological Seminary.

Hyun Kyung Chung, Professor Chung, sorry for mangling your name. Appreciate it very much. Let me start with you, Professor. What's the objective of this


PROF. CHUNG HYUN KYUNG, UNION THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: We try to end Korean War. We will make a call for action to end longest war in 21st century and 20th century. Korean War never over. We only have a cease fire and when we make the armistice 1963, they said we will have a peace treaty within three months. That three months became 62 years.

So, we tried for called for ending the Korean War and also to reunite the 10 million divided family between North and South, and to put women's wisdom in every step of the peace process. That's why we walk.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about that, Gay. Let's go through -- how many women are going with you on this march?

GAY DILLINGHAM, FILMMAKER: We have 30 international women, incredible group. I highly respect them from all walks of life, from academics to two Nobel Peace laureates, Mairead Maguire from Ireland, who helped in that civil war, Leymah Gbowee from Liberia, who helped in that civil war.

So I think non-engagement is what is risky and naive. And I believe that the kind of intellectual and strategy that this group has put together, I'm honored to be a part of it. And if not us and now, who?

I -- this is a game changer. I don't think this has ever happened, certainly this many international women crossing the most militarized border in the world after a 70-year war. And wish us luck. We hope to meet with the women, tell stories, hear from them so that we start the engagement.

BLITZER: And we know that Gloria Steinem is going on this mission too, right?

DILLINGHAM: Yes, that's true. Gloria Steinem, 15 countries are represented.

BLITZER: Fifteen countries. You have permission from North Korea. You're all going to be flying to Pyongyang, spending what, five, six, seven days there, and then driving down to the demilitarized zone and walk across the DMNZ.

South Korea has given you permission to do that, Gay?

DILLINGHAM: Correct. The final official approval was today from the Koreans. The North Koreans gave us approval about a month ago. The U.N. command is now going to help facilitate it. So, we have all of the approvals we need. We fly from Beijing to Pyongyang on the 18th of this month, and stay for almost a week and cross on the 24th of May, which is International Women's Day of Peace and Demilitarization. It's 15th anniversary.

BLITZER: Professor Chung, is there any opportunity you might have like Dennis Rodman to actually meet with the leader Kim Jong-un?

CHUNG: I don't think so. This is diplomacy. And we will have peace symposium, women, leaders in North Korea, then we'll have a peace symposium of women leaders in South Korea. We avoid the political leaders at this time.

BLITZER: You remember, Gay, you and I were in Pyongyang with Bill Richardson in December of 2010. It was a very tense period.

How worried are you now, Gay? I'm sure your loved ones are worried about your own security and safety heading into North Korea.

DILLINGHAM: Well, to be honest, I am probably more -- yes, there's been some real maneuvers lately that are very disturbing. But I think I would be more worried to not do something. This deadlock is not working and I think citizens have to get involved.

So, you know, I trust what we're doing is the right thing. So yes, I'm sober about it. I think we all are very sober about it. But it's necessary and I hope that the world will stand with us and try to engage this flash point in the world.

BLITZER: Well, we hope you'll stay in touch with us, Gay Dillingham, Professor Chung. I know you guys have a tough mission out there. Let's see what happens. We'll hopefully stay in touch with you throughout this mission. Thanks very much. Be safe over there.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.