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Explosions Rock Hotels in Indonesia; New Developments in Florida Murder Investigation

Aired July 16, 2009 - 22:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, breaking news: one, possibly two explosions at American-branded luxury hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia.

CNN has confirmed is at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the Associated Press reporting a blast a well at the nearby J.W. Marriott, which was actually the site of a deadly bombing back in 2003 -- the AP saying that two bombs went off, first at the Marriott. They're quoting police reporting at least four foreigners are dead.

I want to show you just local TV reports. This is the first video we are starting to get in. You see the damage. This, the damage, I believe to the -- this is to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. One witness, according to the AP reported seeing bodies torn apart. That's at the Marriott.

Then, again, according to the AP, a blast five minutes later there at the Ritz Hotel, tearing away the hotel's facade. Emergency crews wee reported to be all over the scene. You're watching local television. That's not our reporter. So, you -- we're not bringing you what she's saying, because she's not speaking in English.

But you see the -- the Ritz-Carlton behind her. We're also trying to get someone out to the -- the Marriott Hotel. But you see the damage, extensive, the facade literally torn off.

With us by phone from Jakarta is CNN producer Andy Saputra. Also, in Washington, CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen joins us.

Andy, where are you now?


I'm right in front of the Ritz-Carlton and (INAUDIBLE) blocks away from the J.W. Marriott as well. As I'm standing here, I can see the damage, the blasted windows out of the restaurant on the second floor here. And there's a lot of emergency services officers around here.

We have got a bomb squad. The military is here. The police is here, a fire truck in front of the Marriott, and -- and a lot of ambulance here.

COOPER: Andy, do you have any reports of injuries and/or fatalities?

SAPUTRA: Not right now, Anderson, because officials are not -- are not saying anything, until they -- they assess the situation.

But, from what we gather here from eyewitnesses' reports, we're seeing a couple of ambulances drove by, and presumably with victims inside, yes.

COOPER: Andy, how close are vehicles able to get when driving up to these hotels? As you know, the J.W. Marriott was bombed back in August of 2003, killed 12 people back then.


COOPER: Did they then restrict vehicle access to the facades at the fronts of these hotels?

SAPUTRA: Yes, yes, the Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton both restricted access to their lobby.

Both the -- but the -- but hotels are in -- are on the side of the road, although (AUDIO GAP) on the compound anyway. So, I mean, if people are driving outside, they could still be well within range of the blast.

COOPER: Many the blasts we have seen in the past in Indonesia have been suicide attacks, car bombs. So, you're saying a vehicle could drive up relatively close to the front of both these hotels?

SAPUTRA: Yes, yes, yes, not directly to the lobby, but about five meters from the -- from the lobby. So...

COOPER: At this point, do you see any sign of where the -- the blast actually took place and/or what sort of detonation it was? Was it a -- a car? Was it a person?

SAPUTRA: We have no idea about that right now. But all I can see in front of me is the -- is the blasted windows. It looks like it's -- the blast came from inside, because all the -- all the debris was pointing away from the windows. So...

COOPER: So, you think the blast came from inside at the Ritz?

SAPUTRA: Yes, yes, at the Ritz-Carlton.

COOPER: We're seeing on local television...


SAPUTRA: There's no visible damage on the J.W. Marriott right now.

COOPER: We're seeing on local television large numbers of what looks like hotel staff lined up in sort of a grassy area.

Is that -- have they evacuated, I assume, the hotel, and that's everyone they have -- they have been able to get out?

SAPUTRA: Yes, I think in the Ritz-Carlton, they have evacuated all the personnel inside. But at J.W. Marriott, the evacuation processes are still going on.

We can see hospital and an emergency response team coming in with stretchers.

COOPER: So, you see people entering with stretchers to the J.W. Marriott?


COOPER: I want to bring in Peter Bergen, who's watching this along with us, who rushed into the office as soon as word of these blasts began to appear.

And we will continue to look at the pictures.


COOPER: Peter, your initial impression of this?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Anderson, I would say there are three things that are important about this.

One is Western-owned hotels or Western brand-name hotels around the Muslim world where al Qaeda affiliates have a presence have been a consistent target for these groups going back. You mentioned the August 2003 attack on the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta.

But there have been a lot of others, an attack on a Sheraton hotel in Karachi in 2002, an attack on three American brand-name hotels in Amman, Jordan, the Best Western, the Radisson, the Days Inn in 2005, an attack on a Hilton in Egypt very recently. Anderson, I'm sure you recall the attack on the Marriott Hotel, again a Marriott, in Islamabad in the last several months in Pakistan.

So, hotels are in the hospitality business. By definition, they can't turn themselves into fortresses. They -- they are -- they're soft targets. And a Western-owned hotel or Western brand-name hotel is going to attract Western tourists, Western businessmen, businesspeople. And, of course, they're going to be very attractive targets to those groups.

The second point is, the group that has almost certainly carried this out is Jemaah Islamiyah, which is al Qaeda's affiliate in Indonesia. It attacked in 2003 on the same target. It did the Bali attack of 2002 that killed more than 200 people, and mostly Westerners. It's done a second round of Bali attacks in 2005.

And -- and the final point is that Jemaah -- what is interesting about these attacks, if it indeed is Jemaah Islamiyah, which is seems very probable -- multiple attacks against Western targets being their modus operandi -- this is somewhat surprising, because Jemaah Islamiyah has more or less taken itself out of circulation in Indonesia.

The Indonesian government has had a very aggressive campaign against this al Qaeda affiliate. They have arrested a lot of the top leadership. The Indonesian public has had a great deal of revulsion against these -- the tactics of these groups. And, so, any legitimacy or popular support they may want -- might -- they might want to -- once enjoyed has -- has evaporated.

And, so, what this indicates to me, Anderson, is that these groups have -- you know, this is really a show of strength: We're back in business, and we can do these multiple kinds of attacks on significant Western targets in the capital of a major Muslim country.

COOPER: The -- the name Jemaah Islamiyah, Peter Bergen, as you know, means "Islamic organization" in Arabic. They pan-Islamic, basically, state across the entire region.

And we have seen them rear their head elsewhere in the region, in the Philippines. We have seen their personnel, I believe, operate in Cambodia, in Thailand, trying to have this sort of be all across Southeast Asia. Do we know at this point what their connection to al Qaeda is?

BERGEN: Well, in the past, it's been very strong. I mean, sometimes, these -- these kinds of links between al Qaeda affiliate groups are, you know, somewhat obscure.

But, in the case of Jemaah Islamiyah, the guy who ran it was a guy called Hambali. And he was also on the al Qaeda leadership council, somebody who knew Osama bin Laden, somebody who trained in Afghanistan. He's now in U.S. custody.

So, the links between al Qaeda and this Southeast Asian affiliate were quite strong, have been quite strong in the past. They may be less strong today. But, certainly, historically, many of the leaders of these groups fought in Afghanistan, alongside al Qaeda and -- and even pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden himself.

COOPER: I want to go back to Andy Saputra, our producer who is right outside the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, also in sight of the J.W. Marriott.

Andy, the last time there was -- that I can remember, a suicide bombing was in October of 2005 in Bali, killed 20 people, injured 129 people. Of course, there was an even larger attack in Bali back in October of 2002, the nightclub bombings that everyone remembers.

How surprised would you be to hear that Jemaah Islamiyah is back, if in fact that is the group which is responsible for what seems to be two simultaneous, or near-simultaneous, attacks on Western targets?


We are very surprised here, as you can imagine, because, I mean, in the wake of recent election, of reelection, of possible reelection of (INAUDIBLE) He's been touted as -- as one of his achievements is to clamp down on terror attacks in Indonesia. So, they have gone four years without an attack from going each year one attack in Indonesia.

So, this is definitely a big shock to people here and also -- also the (INAUDIBLE) community here.

COOPER: Andy, I assume you have been to these hotels, the Ritz- Carlton, the J.W. Marriott. I have spent time -- a lot of time -- in Jakarta, but I haven't been to either of these hotels lately. What is security like as you enter?

SAPUTRA: Well, J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton are -- are one of the two best, well-guarded hotel here in Indonesia, especially in the wake of the bombing in 2003 in J.W. Marriott. They (INAUDIBLE) the security significantly. But, as we can see now, apparently, it's not enough.

COOPER: I assume -- I mean, Peter, Peter Bergen, when you go to other hotels -- for instance, the hotels you and I have stayed at in -- in Islamabad and Pakistan -- vehicles are stopped well before they're able to get to the front of these hotels. All guests go through magnetometers. All bags are screened going in.

I would assume that's the same situation here.

SAPUTRA: Yes, right.

BERGEN: You know, I have spent some time in Jakarta in the 2005 time frame, and stayed at the Four Seasons, which was not attacked in these set of attacks.

And I think part of the reason is, the Four Seasons is pretty set back from the street, and is -- is -- is quite secure. From what Andy, our producer in Jakarta, is saying, both Ritz-Carlton and the Marriott are not -- don't have really a sufficient setback from the street, although one of the attacks appears to be coming from actually inside the hotel. So, that point may be moot.

So, clearly, after 2003, there was a much more serious effort in Indonesia to protect these hotels.

But I wanted to pick up on the point that you made, Anderson, about the 2005 attack in Bali. That attack really did Jemaah Islamiyah in. Indonesia -- tourism is a very important business in -- in Indonesia. The 2005 attack, Bali was just recovering from the attack three years earlier.

This attack didn't kill a lot of Westerners. It killed mostly Indonesians. So, that's why, I think, as Andy said, that this attack is so surprising, because Jemaah Islamiyah had really seemed to have shot itself in both feet with the Bali attack of 2005, where almost all the victims were Indonesian.

COOPER: Yes. And I want to point out this video which we're now showing you is back from the Bali bombings. I believe these are the Bali bombings.

This the 2002 video or 2005? Do we know? Two thousand and five. So, this is the -- the last suicide bombings in Bali, killed 20 people, injured 129 people. And that's what Peter Bergen was just referencing. This really kind of turned the tide against Jemaah Islamiyah.

We're going to continue to follow this, obviously, throughout the hour. As you can tell, these are early reports. Our producer is just now on the scene. We're going to let you go, Andy, Andy Saputra, on the scene, CNN producer, to try to gather more information, try to find out about any casualties and/or fatalities. And we're going to follow this throughout this hour.

But there's a lot of other stories to cover. We want to get to them.

Peter Bergen is also going to stand by.

Major new developments tonight in the murder of Byrd and Melanie Billings -- new evidence found, the sheriff hinting at unrevealed information about the case that is going to surprise people. We will try to get him to elaborate.

And, later, President Obama's tough-love message to the African- American community, a powerful, at times thundering, speech he made today -- the message and how it was received just ahead, plus, extended clips. You can judge for yourself -- that and more when 360 continues.


COOPER: We are continuing to follow breaking news out of Jakarta, Indonesia.

You see the aftermath on local television in Jakarta, explosions at two Western-branded hotels, the J.W. Marriott, and the Ritz-Carlton -- the Associated Press now reporting them as bombings, coming five minutes apart. The AP also quoting Jakarta police, who say at least four people have been killed, all of them foreigners.

We have not independently confirmed the fatalities. Our producer on the seen at the Ritz-Carlton said it look as -- it appears to his eye that the explosion may have taken place inside the Ritz-Carlton. But, at that point, that is -- that is unconfirmed. We're trying to gather more information, and we're going to continue to follow that throughout this hour, probably all the way through to the midnight hour, live.

Back home, new details tonight on the double murder that has horrified the nation, Melanie and Byrd Billings, who adopted 13 kids, murdered in their house, with nine of the kids inside when it happened. Authorities called it a well-executed, well-planned operation.

Well, tonight, the investigation picked up its pace with new details about the evidence and new developments on the latest suspect taken into custody, a woman, that woman, who police found on her yacht. We will talk life with Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan in a moment. He's heading up the case.

But, first, let's get you up to speed on the latest developments.

David Mattingly has that.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leonard Patrick Gonzales Jr., the alleged organizer of the home invasion that left Bud and Melanie Billings ruthlessly murdered used to practice commando-style raids in his backyard.

DAMON O'DONNELL, FORMER NEIGHBOR OF MURDER SUSPECT LEONARD PATRICK GONZALEZ JR.: They would run from the -- the back porch. They would run down there. And they would roll. And then they would go up against a tree. And they -- they would aim their guns. And...

MATTINGLY: Damon O'Donnell tells me he watched Gonzalez in 2004 run his wife and kids through drills with toy guns and fatigues.

(on camera): Were they back here laughing, having fun? Did they act like they were playing?


MATTINGLY: Or was it serious?

O'DONNELL: It was serious. And the -- the reason why I say it was serious is because, they did it, and then they all went back in the house, and did it again and again and again and again.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): O'Donnell says, Gonzalez also once grabbed a real gun to complain about the placement of a pile of hurricane debris.

O'DONNELL: He told me, don't ever do it again.

MATTINGLY (on camera): And he was holding the gun when he said it?


O'DONNELL: He was holding the -- he was holding the gun when he said this. Now, actually, he had it right -- he was doing one of these numbers.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): It's not the first time he tried to intimidate. Picked up intoxicated in 1996, Gonzalez threatened the officer who arrested him.

The deputy wrote: "He stated that he knew my mother, my family and where I lived. He said that, when he got out, they were through."

Later that same night, Gonzalez put a jail guard in an arm lock. He spent almost a year behind bars. (on camera): Gonzalez says he's innocent of the double-murder charges against him, but authorities say they have just about wrapped this case up. They have recovered the safe that was taken from the Billings home. They have also recovered guns.

One of them, they believe, is the murder weapon. But they won't say who pulled the trigger.

(voice-over): The latest arrest, the eighth in this case, is free on bond. Pamela Long Wiggins owns a van allegedly used in the getaway. The safe was allegedly hidden behind a house she owns.

And, as the many Billings children prepare to bury their mom and dad, authorities are promising, future details will make this case seem even more shocking.

David Mattingly, CNN, Pensacola.


COOPER: A lot of questions, a lot of new developments.

For answers, let's turn to the man in charge of the investigation, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan. He joins us now.

Sheriff, thanks for being with us.

You said that there was a humdinger part of this case that we simply won't believe. Can you tell us any more on -- on that point?

DAVID MORGAN, ESCAMBIA COUNTY, FLORIDA, SHERIFF: We believe, Anderson, that what that's going to be is all the associated crime that comes out of the current suspects that we have.

And we have had several meetings with our fellow law enforcement officers on the federal side and passed this information on to them. We believe that there will be numerous -- or -- excuse me -- a lot of cases that are going to come out as a result of them being arrested, sadly, for this homicide.

We actually, during the conduct of this investigation, had to remain focused on the homicide at hand and to not get distracted by the ancillary crimes that we had come across.

COOPER: Can you tell me what federal agencies would be involved in those crimes?

MORGAN: Oh, absolutely, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the ATF and the DEA, just to name three.

COOPER: So, the -- the ATF, the -- the FBI and the -- the DEA.


COOPER: That sounds like pretty serious stuff these guys were involved with, I mean, DEA, obviously, drugs, ATF, something to do with weapons. FBI, could be anything.

MORGAN: Yes, sir. Crossed a lot of state lines. It's far- reaching.

COOPER: Today, you said that you're nearing the end of the investigation as far as -- as your -- as the -- Escambia County is concerned. Are you confident at this point that you know exactly what happened?

MORGAN: Yes, we are. We're confident also that we have the individuals incarcerated that actually committed this terrible crime.

And, so, we want to assure the public here in Escambia County that we can return as -- as much, I guess, as can be expected to normal after suffering through this thing. But those who participated in that are where they should be.

The individual that's out on bound, again, is one of those ancillary suspects. And, in consultation with the state attorney, we felt that it was appropriate to take the action that they did. We agreed with the state attorney's decision.

But the case will continue. We still have some folks that are persons of interest.

COOPER: Those are people involved...


MORGAN: And we will be looking to get those folks...


COOPER: Those -- those are people who may have had knowledge of the security system; is that correct?

MORGAN: That is correct, sir.

COOPER: Go ahead.

MORGAN: We -- we have about three of those.

COOPER: I'm sorry. Someone was speaking to me.

You said you have about three of those people?

MORGAN: Yes, sir. There are three individuals.

COOPER: And -- and those people you have identified, you know where they are, but you haven't talked to them yet -- or have you?

MORGAN: No, sir. We have spoken to these three individuals.

COOPER: OK. And, so, they remain persons of interest?

MORGAN: Yes, sir, they do. COOPER: Are they being cooperative?

MORGAN: To this point, yes, sir.

COOPER: The -- you said you recovered valuable evidence, the stolen safe, several weapons, including the murder weapon. At -- at this point do you feel you have enough evidence to send the Billings murderers to jail?

MORGAN: We do, sir. And, again, that's the state attorney's call.

But we believe the combination of the physical evidence that has been recovered at the scenes and statements taken by other suspects and other witnesses, I feel very assured that the state attorney is going to have a successful prosecution of these individuals.

COOPER: You released the security camera, some of the security camera video, the images where -- where these folks actually -- you see them raiding the house.

I believe, earlier on, a couple days ago, I read somewhere you had said there was also video inside the house. Were the murders caught on tape?

MORGAN: We have been asked not to release that, Anderson.

But let me make this statement. There are interior cameras in that home.

COOPER: That -- that give you an idea of what happened?

MORGAN: That is correct, sir.

COOPER: All right.

We are going to have to leave it there. Sheriff, I -- again, I appreciate your time. I know it's been a busy -- busy several days for you. Thank you.

MORGAN: Thank you, sir.

COOPER: Coming up: the latest on our breaking news, the bombing at two hotels in Jakarta.

Plus, race and politics in America -- President Obama speaking at the NAACP convention tonight. He talks of new challenges for African- Americans that the country must overcome, fascinating speech. We're going to bring you extended clips tonight.

And new details emerging about Janet Jackson's potentially growing role in the lives of her nieces and nephews, Michael Jackson's kids.

We will be right back.


COOPER: We're going to continue to bring you the latest on the deadly bombings in Indonesia, two American-branded hotels targeted.

The AP is now reporting at least -- at least six have been killed. The story is still developing. They have talked to Jakarta Hospital doctors, who confirm six dead, 18 injured, in the blast at the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott hotels.

We want to -- also, Suzanne Malveaux reporting that she has got an e-mail from White House spokesman Bill Burton, who has confirmed that President Obama has been notified of the Jakarta hotel bombings.

Let's quickly check some of the other stories we're following right now.

Randi Kaye has a 360 bulletin -- Randi.


Fighting words from Defense Secretary Robert Gates -- in a speech tonight in Chicago, he scolded Congress for trying to force more F-22 fighter jets into the defense budget. Lawmakers from both parties have defied the White House in recent days by putting money back into a defense spending bill designed to scale back or eliminate big-ticket programs like the F-22. Gates wants to instead increase spending on counterinsurgency programs and irregular warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, how many F-22s do we really need? Well, tomorrow, we're "Keeping Them Honest" with an in-depth look at the defense budget battle and a reality check on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now on Capitol Hill, a fourth and final day of tough questioning for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Republican senators grilled her about controversial speeches that she has given, but also promised Judge Sotomayor a quick confirmation vote, possibly as soon as next week.

Monday is the 40th anniversary of the -- man's first steps on the moon. And, today, NASA released newly restored videos of that historic moment. The images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the lunar surface are much clearer than those fuzzy pictures people saw on their TV sets that first time around.

And, finally, a change of heart -- after six years of sharing a burrow at the San Francisco Zoo, Pepper and Harry, two male penguins, who also hatched and raised a chick together, have split up. Yes, we're -- we understand it was Harry's idea.

A couple of months ago, he hooked up -- yes, penguins use that word -- hooked up with Linda, a female penguin...


KAYE: ... in a nearby burrow. She was newly widowed. And, according to the zoo, at first, Pepper was pretty upset, but now he seems to be just OK with this new arrangement -- Anderson.

COOPER: Randi, thanks.

Just ahead on 360: President Obama's rousing speech tonight at the NAACP 100th anniversary event in New York. He could have been back on the campaign trail, from the crowd's reaction -- what he said about race and where "Raw Politics" factor in.

Also ahead, the latest on what's happening in Jakarta, the two bombings at the American-branded hotels, the Marriott and the Ritz -- we're bringing you the details as they come in.

Stay tuned.


COOPER: Now President Obama's speech tonight in Manhattan.

Safe to say this was not the Rose Garden Obama or even the State of the Union. It was a return of the Obama people remember from the campaign trail. After giving a stump speech this afternoon for New Jersey's Governor Corzine, he spoke tonight to the NAACP's 100th anniversary event in New York.

Take a look.


OBAMA: Make no mistake, the pain of discrimination is still felt in America...


OBAMA: ... by -- by African-American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and a different gender...


OBAMA: ... by Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their own country...


OBAMA: ... by Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion simply because they kneel down to pray to their God.


OBAMA: ... by our gay brothers and sisters still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights.


OBAMA: On the 45th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, discrimination cannot stand, not on account of color or gender, how you worship, or who you love.

Prejudice has no place in the United States of America.


COOPER: The president tonight.

He had a lot more to say in a way that no other president has ever been able to before.

The "Raw Politics" from Suzanne Malveaux, joining us now.

The president saying, basically, that -- that, yes, tremendous advances have been made in race relations in America, but there's still a lot of work to do.


And, you know, Anderson, we saw that different kind of Obama -- you had mentioned that before -- the cadence, the rhythm, the style, the -- the energy from this president that we saw in the campaign for two years, but, essentially, really kind of turned the corner in that tone when he became the president, that things were a lot more serious.

But he has a familiarity with this audience. A couple of things that he wanted to do. First and foremost is acknowledge that yes, discrimination still exists. That a lot of people have tough times. But that most African Americans have it tougher, have it worse.

Having said that, he wanted to put that into context and say, look, you have control over your future. It is time for accountability and responsibility. He does this because he feels that he has the familiarity, but he also has the credibility to deliver this kind of message more so than you had with President Bush before.

When we saw President Bush go before this group in 2006, a lot of tension, he ignored this group for five years or so. But his message was similar. He talked about the need for accountability, responsibility. He did not have the same kind of credibility that President Obama does.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It is no secret when even when I was talking to the president this past weekend, and you ask him questions about African Americans, the African-American experience, he treads very carefully when talking about this.

And so to see him focusing on it tonight in a speech was sort of interesting because I think it was Ann Compton who asked him several weeks ago at a press conference about his experiences in the White House as president, as an African American. And he quickly moved off it.

MALVEAUX: Well, it's not something that he's really comfortable addressing when you talk about mainstream media or even if there's like town hall events. There are plenty of town hall events where he has been asked about this. Not even from reporters but you'll have folks will come up and will say -- congratulate him, you know, we're so proud.

Being a biracial president or being an African-American president, he will quickly turn the corner. This is not something that he really wants to focus on. He uses these occasions to focus on it. But we saw in the campaign, I mean, the way that he talked about race was over the hole of Reverend Wright issue. It was such a pressing issue that he...

COOPER: He had to.

MALVEAUX: ... decides he had to.

COOPER: Right.

MALVEAUX: His only outline. Yes.

COOPER: Interesting. Suzanne, thank you very much.

President Obama also spoke tonight about his visit to Africa's former Slave Coast. Listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last week in Ghana, Michelle and I took Malia and Sasha and my mother-in-law to Cape Coast Cass in Ghana. Some of you may have been there.

This is where captives were once imprisoned before being auctioned. Where across an ocean so much of the African-American experience began.

We walked through the door of no return. I was reminded of all the pain and all the hardships, all the injustices and all the indignities on the voyage from slavery to freedom.


COOPER: Now thousands of Americans of all races were making the return voyage. They go to learn, to bear witness, to feel the echoes of history and heritage. For some, the feelings are so raw, so vivid they decide to move to Ghana. We met some of them on our trip to Ghana with the president just a few days ago.


IMAHKUS OKOFO, MOVED TO GHANA FROM THE U.S.: This wall tributes our African leaders.

COOPER (voice-over): When Imahkus Okofo first visited Ghana in 1987, she had no idea the trip would change her life forever.

(On camera): First trip. You hadn't been here more than a couple days.

OKOFO: Never. That's right.

COOPER: And you decided this is it, this is home?

OKOFO: I knew it. To have that sense of really being a part of something as opposed to being a colored person in America, going through the things that we went through in America. This was different. This gave me a total sense of belonging.

COOPER (voice-over): Imahkus and her husband left their home in New York and settled near Cape Coast, Ghana. They built a lodge and a tourist service called One Africa.

It's estimated as many as 5,000 African Americans now call Ghana their permanent home.

(On camera): For African Americans who moved to Ghana, the transition can often be difficult. And many will tell you they feel a sense of home here but often Ghanaians view them as foreigners.

Bruni is a term that people here...

OKOFO: Use to describe...

COOPER: ... on the street have called me.

OKOFO: Sure. They use it to describe white people.

COOPER: Right.

OKOFO: But they also...

COOPER: So they also use that sometimes to describe you.

OKOFO: Exactly. And when I question that...

COOPER: And the first time -- did that hurt you?

OKOFO: Of course I didn't know what it meant. And then when I did know what it meant, and they said that it meant white man or stranger, and I said how do you call me a white man? They said, because you sound like a white man.

COOPER: Do you warn folks who just come here for the first time, African Americans who come here, and maybe hope to be embraced in a way, do you want them that, you know what, you might get called a white man?

OKOFO: Sure. And I tell people, don't take offense.

COOPER (voice-over): Tourism has become big business in Ghana, some 10,000 African Americans now come here every year to reconnect with their heritage. Many make a pilgrimage to Cape Coast Castle, one of several fortresses with dungeons where millions of enslaved Africans were held before being forcibly sent to the new world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow. What this must have been like. COOPER: Makeba Clay has been coming here since 1995. She works at Princeton University and brings groups of students here to learn about the history of slavery. For her, the most difficult part of the trip is standing by the door of No Return, through which so many enslaved Africans passed before being forced on to slave ships.

MAKEBA CLAY, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY FIELDS CENTER: All that the slaves went through, the rape, the bloodshed, the deaths, the babies that were born and unborn. And I think about their final moments, leaving the shores of Ghana, some who made it and some who didn't. That's what brings about the emotional aspect.

COOPER: It was visiting this dungeon where enslaved women were once held that made Imahkus Okofo decide to move to Ghana. More than 150 women would be crammed to this room, sometimes for months, before being shipped off.

OKOFO: Thank you, thank you, thank you.

COOPER: Every time Imahkus visits, she prays for the souls of those who died here and those who passed through. It's a painful pilgrimage but one that also gives her strength.

(On camera): And the pain is what? What is the feeling?

OKOFO: Have you ever had a knot in your stomach? Like something is just gripping you in here? That's what it feels like.

COOPER: And what about the experience of being in that room made you want to live here?

OKOFO: I don't know. It was something that just came over me. That when I -- after I had gone through that experience, and after I had felt my ancestors, I felt -- I felt as though people were -- I felt as though people were putting their arms around me, they were comforting me.

They made me know that this was my place. And that I had a responsibility in being here. That I belonged here. That's what it said. It said you belong here.

COOPER: I'm glad you feel that you found a home.


COOPER: It's a good feeling.

OKOFO: Right. You got that right.


COOPER: Imahkus Okofo now makes Ghana her home.

You can see more of the images from my trip and president's -- to Ghana at right now. Also be sure to join me for a special presentation. President Obama's African journey. An hour special. That's tomorrow night at 11:00 p.m. Eastern on 360 as well as over the weekend at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Saturday and Sunday nights.

Next on 360, new details on the breaking news. The bombings of two hotels in Jakarta. The Associated Press now reporting at least six have been killed. The hotels popular with Americans and other westerners. We'll have the latest. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Breaking news and a rising death toll. There is more information now coming out of Jakarta, Indonesia. A site of explosions, likely bombings, reportedly five minutes apart at two western branded hotels. The Ritz-Carlton and J.W. Marriott.

The Associated Press reporting at least six fatalities and earlier reporting that four of them are foreigners. We have not independently confirmed the fatalities. And again, these are very early reports, as you know, as you well know, often those change. The AP is attributing it to a doctor at a local hospital.

The Marriott, you'll remember, the site of a bombing in 2003 that left a dozen dead. The terror network Jamaah Islamiyah was blamed in that blast. But there has been a massive crackdown on the group since then.

We spoke earlier about it with national security analyst Peter Bergen. He joins us once again along with Kathy Quijano on the phone from Jakarta.

Kathy, what's the last on this? Where are you right now, Kathy?

KATHY QUIJANO, CNN PRODUCER IN JAKARTA (via phone): Well, Anderson, I'm in front of the -- I'm sorry, at the J.W. Marriott in Jakarta. And from what I've seen, the explosion happened in the cafe on the ground floor, the same site where the bomb in 2003 went off.

It's pretty quiet here. Now where are ambulances and police in front of the hotel. But earlier, security guards at the hotel told us that they evacuated several bodies out of the hotel.

And as you mentioned earlier -- I mean the reports are saying at least five or six people died in the blast. We don't have independent confirmation on this yet. And as you say, the details are pretty sketchy right now.

COOPER: You're saying that the blast occurred inside the hotel? Is the cafe inside?

QUIJANO: That's -- it looks like it's from here because we can see that large parts of the windows are cracked. And I think we believe that because of the blast in 2003, the J.W. Marriott is heavily fortified right now. No cars can even go through the lobby. Cars have to go through at the very front of the building. But it seems like from what we see, the explosion did come from inside or did happen from inside.

COOPER: OK, our producer on the scene at the Ritz-Carlton earlier, Andy Saputra, said he thought that the situation was the same at the Ritz-Carlton from what he could tell. And again, this is just one eyewitness report. But he said it seemed as if the blast may have occurred inside the Ritz-Carlton as well.

That would seem to indicate either somebody walking a bomb in or planting one and getting out in time.

Peter Bergen, again, Jamaah Islamiyah, the most likely suspect. The name means Islamic organization. But as you were saying at the beginning of this program, it would be a surprise only in that they have effectively been suppressed for several years now.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATL. SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. Well, I mean, saying that they're the leading suspect, it would be kind of surprising if it wasn't this group, Jamaah Islamiyah. But they've take be a lot of hits over the last several years.

The Indonesian government had a pretty aggressive set of operations against them, with the help of the Australian government because a number of Australians have been killed in these attacks.

In fact, Jamaah Islamiyah targeted the Australian embassy in Jakarta along with the J.W, Marriot back in 2003. Also help from the United States government and the Indonesian public, of course, has also kind of against this group.

So this group has taken some pretty heavy hits, a number of its senior leaders, a number of its bombmakers have been arrested. But clearly, this is the way, if indeed it is them, their way of saying that we're back.

COOPER: How could they be back, I mean, if senior leaders have been arrested, some were put on trial, bombmakers have been apprehended? Do they recruit new people? Who would still be recruiting?

BERGEN: Well, I understand as you mentioned earlier, this is a pan southeastern organization. It's not just in Indonesia. It's also in Singapore, it's also in Malaysia. So they're able to recruit people from around the region.

So, one, you could have people from outside Indonesia coming in to do these things. Two, you know, relatively small groups of people can do quite a lot of damage. If you go back to the 1970s in Europe, the Brigate Rosse, the Italian terrorist group, or Baader-Meinhof, the German terrorist group.

These groups had very small numbers of recruits but they were able to inflict a huge amount of damage on those respective societies. So you don't need a terribly large number of people.

Indonesia, after all, is a country with almost -- a population of almost 200 million. The largest Muslim country. You know even if tiny percentages of this country engage with these sorts of groups, you can -- you do find -- you can continue to find recruits.

COOPER: It's interesting to me, Peter, that the strategy that's mostly interested me in the last couple of months, really, since the Mumbai attacks, has been sort of coordinated attacks. But instead of just planting bombs elsewhere, we have seen in Mumbai, in Kabul, in - I think it was in Lahore, small groups of commandos going in and reeking havoc with very simple amount of weapons. Few grenades and AK-47s, and essentially holding large numbers of people at bay and kind of, in the case of Mumbai, paralyzing a city.

BERGEN: Well, that's true. So-called Fedayeen attacks where people go in -- it's not a conventional suicide bombing, but you go in knowing that you're likely to be killed. But you extend the life of the operation as it were by going in and doing a series of attacks with guns and grenades, thereby, garnering even more media coverage.

Now with this attack that we're seeing now, these two bombs go off, obviously there's going to be a fair amount of media coverage. But it's a finite amount. If you can do these attacks that we saw in Mumbai, that had coverage for about four full days. So those attacks are often attractive.

Now in this case, we're just seeing two bombs. The life, the kind of media life of this attack is going to be smaller than the one in Mumbai.

COOPER: Out intern Jacob pointed out that Manchester United was supposed to be playing in Jakarta this weekend and it was being hailed as sort of a victory for Indonesia, that a team like Manchester United would come and it would show the best of Jakarta.

Clearly, whether this was timed in some way, but clearly if terrorism is theater, this is trying to send a different message about what's happening in Indonesia. We'll continue to follow it. We're going to be live all the way through to the midnight hour.

Still ahead, just days before Madonna's concert in Marseilles, France, tragedy strikes. A stage collapsing. Details on that coming up.

And we'll have the latest from Jakarta. As we said, the Associated Press reporting at least six dead. We'll have another update shortly. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Just ahead, breaking news. The bombings of two hotels in Jakarta. The AP reporting at least six deaths. We're going to have an update in a moment. But first, Randi Kaye has the "360 Bulletin" from the other stories we're following. Randi?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Madonna is speaking out today about the stage collapse that killed a man in France. Cause is still alone. Madonna issuing a statement saying, "I am devastated to have just received this tragic news." She adds, "My prayers go out to those who were injured and their families, along with my deepest sympathy to all those affected by this heartbreaking news."

Police have a man in custody in connection with the killing of his wife aboard a cruise ship at sea. His name is Robert McGill, now charged with murder. Authorities not saying how his wife, Shirley, was killed. She was found dead in her cabin on Tuesday after an alleged domestic dispute during a five-day Mexican cruise.

Fighting words from Defense Secretary Roberts Gates. In a speech tonight in Chicago, he scolded Congress for trying to force more F-22 fighter jets into the defense budget. Lawmakers from both parties have deified the White House in recent days by putting money back into a defense spending bill designed to scale back or eliminate big ticket programs like the F-22.

Gates wants to instead increase spending on counterinsurgency programs and irregular warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So just how many F-22s do we really need? Well, tomorrow, we are "Keeping Them Honest" with an in-depth look at the defense budget battle and a reality check on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And, Anderson, I know you'll be on the "Late Show with David Letterman" tonight. Maybe Dave got a little tempted, possibly, when he saw the (INAUDIBLE) god on the "Tonight Show" when he did a little -- let's call it some Cooper name dropping.


CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, THE TONIGHT SHOW: Of course, the president's in Africa tonight. It's a big story. CNN's Anderson Cooper, landed an exclusive interview with President Obama in Ghana. Exclusive interview. Yes.

So now Obama's challenge will be to somehow pick Anderson Cooper out of a crowd of Africans. No, no. Ah. No, no.


COOPER: Yes, I blend in. I -- you know?

KAYE: Silver hair, yes, right there.

COOPER: Randi, new developments in the Michael Jackson story to tell you about on the custody front. Whether his kids may have their own ideas about who they'd like to raise them.

And the latest from tonight's Jakarta bombings. We'll following the breaking news closely. Bring you the facts as they unfold.


COOPER: So who should get custody of Michael Jackson's kids? Monday we may get closer to an answer. That's when the family and Debbie Rowe head to court for a hearing. It's a battle, however, between Jackson's ex-wife and his mother. Maybe not.

Tonight there's word that his kids may want someone else to raise them.

Randi Kaye joins us with the new information.

Randi, yet another custody hearing scheduled for Monday for the kids. What's this new name in the mix?

KAYE: Janet Jackson, Anderson. Believe it or not. There's word tonight that Michael Jackson's children may want their Aunt Janet Jackson to the raise them. "OK" magazine is reporting that Janet Jackson reads to the children at night and they, quote, "melt in her arms" when she walks into the house.

The magazine says Janet has, quote, "been their rock." In his will, as we know, Michael Jackson said he wanted his mother Katherine to be the children's guardian. And if not her, then singer Diana Ross, plus you have the custody battle brewing, which Anderson was talking about, with the mother of the two oldest children, Jackson's ex-wife, Debbie Rowe.

And now Janet is possibly in the mix. Well, I spoke to a close friend of the Jackson family's tonight. And he told me Janet is, quote, "the most similar to Michael," adding he wouldn't be surprised if the kids related to and connected to her.

He said Janet has been spending a lot of time with them, Anderson. And there really is what he called a genuine connection.

COOPER: There's another report out today from TMZ suggesting that Michael Jackson's attorney Dr. Conrad Murray is at the center of the investigation.

KAYE: Right. They're reporting that Dr. Conrad Murray made what they're calling incriminating statements to authorities when he was interviewed just a few days after Michael Jackson died. We know he's at the house and he said that he performed CPR on Michael Jackson.

We also know that he was interviewed twice by investigators. Well, I called Dr. Murray's attorney today to see if he made those incriminating statements and his spokeswoman told me, quote, "Whatever was said during the interview was not made public at all. It's part of an ongoing investigation. So unless they," meaning TMZ, which was reporting this, "were sitting in the room, it is bogus."

I asked how Dr. Murray is holding up and was told, quote, "he's optimistic about the toxicology results, looking forward to hearing about this."

I also want to point out that Dr. Conrad Murray is still being treated as a witness, not a suspect. His attorney's office told me he has not been subpoenaed and there haven't been any search warrants issued for his clinics, Anderson.

COOPER: There was also a picture of Paris Jackson at a gathering for Jehovah's Witnesses in Los Angeles.

KAYE: Yes. This was a really interesting picture. I spoke with a family friend about it tonight and he told me that Michael Jackson was raised as Jehovah's Witness but really shied away from it as he grew up. Apparently it reminded him of the trauma of his childhood.

But now you have this photo that you're looking at right there. Paris Jackson spotted at Los Angeles' Kingdom Hall with her brothers earlier this week. Actually on Tuesday. And if you look at the picture, you see that she's holding the book there. It's titled "Sing Praises to Jehovah."

And I asked this family friend if this is how Michael Jackson wanted his children raised? And he told me, absolutely not. He did not intend to raise them as Jehovah's Witnesses. He said Michael Jackson dabbled in a lot of different religions but never really embraced a single religion. Because all of it just really reminded him, he said, Anderson, of his -- this very traumatic childhood.

COOPER: And, again, the toxicology reports made public when?

KAYE: Well, now the latest we were hearing was actually midweek next week. And now the coroner came out today and confirmed to CNN that now it could be within the next two weeks. So the deadline keeps stretching out.

COOPER: But it's not -- they have said this is not a homicide investigation. They're not considering it a homicide investigation at this stage.

KAYE: Well, not yet. But you know, it really depends on who you talk to and which statements you read because we spoke to the district attorney's office in Los Angeles. And they gave us a statement today about this and it reads there have been conversations by district attorney personnel with police and coroners' officials in connection with the ongoing investigation.

But here's the interesting part. It goes on to say, quote, "It is common for law enforcement agencies throughout Los Angeles County to be in contact with the D.A.'s office during criminal investigations."

So there you have the D.A. spokesperson using the word criminal investigation in connection with the Jackson investigation but the LAPD told me just the other day that the investigation is ongoing and it has not been determined if it's criminal yet.

So like I said, depends on who you ask, which statements you read as to what really is going on here. But we can tell you, though, that the D.A.'s office did tell us that the Jackson case has not been formally presented to the D.A. for what it calls evaluation which, of course, is what they would do to see if anybody should be criminally charged in this case.

COOPER: I'm very skeptical of any report from "OK" magazine. I guess so...

KAYE: I know you are. But you know we talked to the family.

COOPER: As are you are, I'm sure.

KAYE: Always.


COOPER: All right. Randi Kaye, keeping it on top. Randi, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

Ahead, an update on the breaking news. The bombings in Jakarta at two American hotels -- western hotels, state-run media now reporting six fatalities. They have confirmed that in Jakarta. We'll have the latest when we continue.