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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Shooting Suspect Fired From Nuclear Plant Job; FBI Officially Treating Shooting As "Terrorism Investigation"; Cars in Flames After California Forest Fire Jumps To Freeway. Aired 7-8:00p ET
Aired July 17, 2015 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:08] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Next, we are following breaking developments on many fronts. CNN learning the alleged gunman in the Tennessee shooting was fired from a job at a nuclear plant. What was he doing there?
Plus, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez's trips to Kuwait and Jordan. A friend says, quote, "Something happened to him while he was overseas." And the alleged shooter's obsession with mixed martial arts. One expert says it was a power trip for him. We have a special report. Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT on this Friday night. Breaking news, the suspect in the Tennessee shooting worked at a nuclear plant in the United States. And he was fired there after ten days. Here is what we are learning at this moment. Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez was dismissed from this nuclear plant job because according to the plant, which is in Ohio, he quote, "Did not meet minimum requirements for ongoing employment." Now, this comes as we also have chilling new video of the massacre in which four American marines were murdered. A barrage of gunfire erupting near one of the military facilities that Abdulazeez allegedly attacked.
Officials now formally are calling this a terror investigation. The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee saying, the shooting is an ISIS-inspired act of terrorism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), CHAIRMAN, HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Too many warning signs. Targets are identical to the targets call by ISIS to attack. So my judgement, in my experience, is that this was an ISIS-inspired attack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Our justice reporter Evan Perez is OUTFRONT with the breaking details. And Evan, I want to start first with this breaking news that he had tried to get a job at a nuclear power plant. He worked there for ten days. And then they fired him because he didn't meet their requirements.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. He had this job Erin provisionally for ten days. It was an engineering job. At a plant owned by first energy in Perry, Ohio. This is right near Cleveland. This is for ten days in 2013 that he held this job. And then the company dismissed him because it ended up after we're done doing what they needed to do, it turned out that he did not meet what they said were the requirements. At first when this story was broken by the Associated Press, the first reports indicated that perhaps he failed a background check. The company says that is not the case. They won't specify what exactly these requirements that he didn't meet. The company says that they have notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and now they have also told the investigators, the FBI investigators, it turns out interestingly enough that the company employees, after seeing media reports of the gunman's rampage in Chattanooga, alerted the company that he indeed had worked there for ten days.
BURNETT: That's pretty incredible. And as you say, minimum requirements, we don't know what that means. But it's a pretty sobering fact that he tried to get a job at a nuclear power plant. We don't yet know the motive or the reason for that. But it raises a lot of questions. And I know Evan that you also tonight have new information about the weapons. Multiple weapons used in the shootings. And how he had them. I mean, were they legal?
PEREZ: Well, that's the big question that the FBI is now following. We now know that there were actually four firearms that he had. There were three found at the scene, Erin. Two long guns and one 9-millimeter handgun were found at the scene. And then they conducted a search of his home. They found an additional rifle there. We are told that at this point, investigators believe he had these guns for some time. They were not recently purchased. A friend mentioned in interviews with CNN that he liked guns and he commonly went out and shooting these guns. So, the question now that the FBI wants answered is how those weapons were transferred to him years ago perhaps. Whether there was a crime that was committed. If there was, they will going to prosecute those people who were involved in that.
BURNETT: All right, Evan. Thank you very much. And of course, to Evan's point as we go through this hour, and we talk more and more about when Muhammad Abdulazeez was radicalized, if he had these guns for years, does the death change the time frame on when he may have become radical?
Drew Griffin is OUTFRONT tonight in Chattanooga, Tennessee. And I know Drew, you have been talking to people there all day. You have learned a lot more about Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Especially from friends who are telling us that something changed in his life, something changed somewhat recently. And even though the FBI today said, look, right now there's no indication that this guy was directed or inspired by anyone other than himself, Erin, his friends say after some overseas visits to Jordan, he came back a changed person.
(Gunfires) GRIFFIN (voice-over): Now an official terror investigation,
officials scouring every detail of Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez's life focusing on the 24-year-old's time in the Middle East where he may have become radicalized.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have asked our intelligence partners throughout the world to provide us with any information they may have concerning his travel.
[19:05:20] GRIFFIN: Starting in 2005, he traveled to both Kuwait and Jordan. "The Wall Street Journal" reports he took several trips to Jordan, more recently spending as much as seven months in the country. A friend told CNN, "Something happened over there. He never became close to me like he was before he went overseas." The friend goes on to say, "I'm sure he had something that happened to him overseas." In school in Tennessee, the kid described as funny and friendly took on two tough sports, mixed martial arts and wrestling. In his Red Bank High School yearbook, he asked an intriguing question. "My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?"
In fact, his father was a subject of a post-9/11 FBI probe into donations his father made to overseas charities. The elder Abdulazeez was never charged with any crime. In 2009, there was trouble in the family. Abdulazeez's mother filed for divorce. In court paper, she charged her husband with physically abusive both to her and her children. The case was dismissed. We believe they are still together. Friends say. Abdulazeez started going to this mosque more frequently in recent months. Three months ago he began working here at a cable and wire plant near Nashville, Tennessee.
About the same time he had his only known brush with the law. Arrested on a DUI charge. The police report noted, erratic driving, slurred speech. The smell of marijuana and white powder under his nose. Co-workers say Abdulazeez did not show up for work Monday and Tuesday calling out sick. Also on Monday, just three days before the shooting, this ominous statement. Allegedly posted by Abdulazeez. "Brothers and sisters," he wrote, "this life is short and bitter. The opportunity to submit to Allah may pass you by." Still a high school friend expressed the shock that most everyone we spoke to seems to share.
KAGAN WAGNER, FRIED OF ALLEGED SHOOTER: How can this be Muhammad? He wouldn't hurt a fly but he killed people.
GRIFFIN: It's just still stunning for a lot of people here in Chattanooga. And just to reiterate the point, the guns, the friends told us that guns were a part of his life but recreationally, wasn't anything done in anger. Wasn't anything about it other than he just liked to shoot guns. So, Erin, this wasn't -- perhaps wasn't a person who needed to go out and practice for this horrific act he carried off. Guns were a part of his life for a long time.
BURNETT: Right. A long time. And that fits with what Evan is reporting, the four guns may have been in his possession for years. Thanks so much to you, Drew. There are now multiple federal and local agencies involved in this investigation. As I've said, it is now being treated as a formal terrorism investigation. And it now spans from the United States all the way to multiple countries in the Middle East.
The Hamilton County District Attorney is Neal Pinkston. He's OUTFRONT. He's helping with the investigation. And Neil, I appreciate your time. We know this is now a terror investigation that was announced clearly today. Are you at this time a 100 percent certain more people weren't involved?
NEAL PINKSTON, HAMILTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: No. It would be too early in the investigative stages to determine how many people were involved or not involved. It would be error to speculate on that.
BURNETT: So, you're still trying to find out if more people were involved, you know, we saw some pictures Neal of a woman handcuffed, escorted out of the suspect's home. We have blurred the back of her head. We know that she was un-handcuffed and they didn't end up arresting her. Can you tell us who she was and whether she was able to help you though with any useful information?
PINKSTON: She talked to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And those interviews haven't been released and advised what the contents were. But she did speak to federal authorities.
BURNETT: Was she a member of the family, I presume?
PINKSTON: Yes, she was.
BURNETT: Okay. So a member of Muhammad Abdulazeez's family. You know, about the family, Neal, you know, we have the divorce complaint now. I don't know if you just heard our reporters reporting. But Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez's mother filed this report alleging that his father beat Youssef repeatedly beat his mother, once so severely that she went to a crisis center. The papers also say that he was physically and verbally abusive towards the couple's five children. Now, this case was later dismissed. Are you aware of any of this or aware of any other family history that you are looking at at this time?
PINKSTON: No. I became aware of the divorce proceedings this afternoon. And there was an agreed upon dismissal. But other than that information, it's still being looked into by Law Enforcement Agencies.
BURNETT: Do you have any concern Neal that anything was missed here? I mean, obviously the breaking news tonight is that Muhammad had worked for ten days at a nuclear power plant and then was fired after those ten days because he didn't meet the minimum requirements for employment. Now, we do not yet know what that referred to. But we do know he didn't meet the minimum requirements. We know that he had apparently -- allegedly posted on a blog recently. Some very disturbing comments which you just heard from our Drew Griffin. Are you concerned that there were missed signals? [19:10:34] PINKSTON: Not at this time. You know, unfortunately,
bad things can happen to really good people. And there's not always a foreshadowing of criminal activity. And sometimes it's just the unfortunate reality of the situation.
BURNETT: All right. Well, Neal, I appreciate your time. As I said Neal Pinkston is the Hamilton County District Attorney. And you heard him say at this point he feels it would be premature to rule out whether there were others involved in this act which is being investigated as an act of terrorism.
OUTFRONT next, the alleged shooter traveled to Jordan in the Middle East several times, once reportedly for seven full months. Is that when he was radicalized?
Plus, a neighbor who knew the suspected shooter for most of his life and his high school wrestling coach OUTFRONT tonight.
And more breaking news. The defense secretary just announcing enhanced security for the military in the wake of the shooting. That breaking news ahead this hour.
[19:15:00] BURNETT: Breaking news on the deadly attack on two military centers tonight. The FBI officially confirming this is a terror investigation. They are looking for links between the gunman, 24-year-old Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez and terror groups, including ISIS. This as officials tell CNN the gunman travelled to Jordan several times, as recently as last year. "The New York Times" and Wall Street journal both reporting last year was a long one, seven months.
Nick Paton Walsh is OUTFRONT from Amman Jordan tonight. Nick, obviously this is a very significant development, you know, if he was there for a long period of time, up to seven months. What are you learning about what he was doing?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's clear that during his time here, he was with his uncle. Now, we haven't identified that man. We don't quite know where that time was spent together. But Jordan, not itself a hot bed of ISIS in the regional sense. A place where there have been radicals in the past and where there are many Palestinian refugees like where his family came from as well. He came here, it seems a number of time and it's a matter -- there seems to be a Jordanian travel document involved as well. So, authorities here, they're going to be working with the American counterparts, they will try to work out, did he spend all of his time here in Jordan?
Did he perhaps like many elders do use it as transit hub to go to Iraq where there's a lot of ISIS, even al Qaeda too, all less commonly head north towards Syria but there's also potential for many to learn radical techniques become familiar with extremists as well -- although he'd go further field in the region too. All this has to be pieced together. This is not a country where you would normally seek to make your first direct move, if you wanted to acquaint yourself with ISIS. But it's certainly a place where he knew people before -- Erin.
BURNETT: Knew people. Family links. And to your point, Nick, you know, Reuters spoke to U.S. government sources who say that he possibly went to Yemen. And obviously Yemen, known -- headquarters of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. You have spent a lot of time there. What does -- if you did go to Yemen, what does that say to you?
WALSH: We don't know if that was the case. But if it did happen, it would be the most obvious choice frankly of places, like we have seen with many other extremists who have attacked the U.S. and other western targets in the past, they go there for training. Well, I have to point out that while, you know, Yemen was in the past in total chaos, it's much worse chaos right now. The actual skills this gunman showed in Tennessee doesn't necessarily suggest he had to go to a complex al Qaeda training camp and learn bomb making like other previous attackers in the past. So, many questions certainly. But if his journey did take him to Yemen, as you says that's a hot bed of al Qaeda, even ISIS now in parts to that chaos there makes it so easy to those kinds of terror techniques to be passed on and trained there -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Nick Paton Walsh as we said live in Amman, Jordan tonight.
Now, OUTFRONT now, the former assistant director for the U.S. Marshals Service Arthur Roderick and our terrorism analyst Paul Cruikshank. Art, let me start with you. As nick is reporting, the gunman travelled to Jordan, visited his uncle. "New York Times" Wall Street Journal say, it was a seven-month trip. Do you think that this was when he was radicalized? Because all of his friends are saying that this really happened over the past year or so.
ARTHUR RODERICK, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE: Yes. Hi, Erin. I think we can make that assumption. I mean, obviously, I think what the FBI is trying to do at this particular point is establish a time line as to where exactly he went over the past couple of years. And obviously, a seven-month trip to Jordan and then where did go from there? Did he spend all seven months with his uncle or like you had mentioned previously, did he jump off to another location and receive any type of training? But I think the assumption is there that that's probably where his radicalization began.
BURNETT: And, Paul, U.S. authorities telling Reuters to this very point that he was in Yemen and possibly some of those seven months were spent in Yemen. Obviously Yemen is a training ground for Islamic extremism.
PAUL CRUIKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Erin, if he went to Yemen, this transforms the entire investigation. Because Yemen of course is the base for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an organization that three times has plotted terrorist attacks against the United States and United States aviation. Their leader Nasir al- Wuhayshi was just killed in a U.S. drone strike in Southern Yemen. They are out for revenge. So, if he did go to Yemen, and it's still very much an effortless point, that brings up all sorts of red flags. Unlikely that he would go to Yemen to get Arabic or Quranic instruction.
CRUIKSHANK: Because he could just go to Jordan for that.
CRUIKSHANK: So, that will be a very, very interesting developments in -- and of course, when went, ISIS wasn't so strong at that time. It was more al Qaeda in Yemen that was in the forefront.
BURNETT: Al Qaeda.
CRUIKSHANK: And Art, we also have this development tonight that he had a job at a nuclear power plant and was fired after ten days because he didn't meet the minimum requirements. Now, we have no sense as to whether that was linked or part of any ambition or anything other than a job. But nonetheless, it does raise a lot of questions.
RODERICK: It does. And I heard the earlier reporting that the company is coming back and saying it didn't have do to do with a background investigation. I find that very odd. I know, in a lot of these positions having dealt with background investigations before, you have to have some sort of background investigation, a basic one to even get on to the job. And then as you are on the job, they continue further with a more classified type of investigation.
[19:20:18] BURNETT: So, Paul, officials are now looking at a blog post that was allegedly posted by Muhammad three days before the shootings. And it reads in part, "Brothers and sisters, don't be fooled by your desires. This life is short and bitter. And the opportunity to submit to Allah may pass you by." Does this sound like someone who is trying to wage some sort of a holy war to you?
CRUIKSHANK: I have looked at this blog. It's consistent with somebody with Salafi Fundamentalist views. A certain sympathy for Jihad, that Jihad is important within Islam. He is saying all those things. But this doesn't necessarily lead to the idea that he is necessarily pro-ISIS or pro-al Qaeda.
CRUIKSHANK: It does not seem like the FBI have found any kind of smoking gun in his social media or online postings to suggest that he was inspired by a particular terrorist group.
BURNETT: And Art, of course, I think the big question is, when we hear a post like that, you say, well, gosh, should law enforcement have looked at that? Could this have been prevented? We know he wasn't on any U.S. database of suspected terrorists. And frankly, you know, we just talked about that blog post, but that is sort of the anomaly. He was not out there on social media tweeting anything like that. Nothing on Facebook, at least that we're aware of. RODERICK: Yes. Erin, you are right. That's very unusual.
Usually, they are blasting out all kinds of information over social media. And apparently, he was not doing that. And I think that's something that's really got to be looked at by the FBI is they have got to figure out why did -- how could he fly under the radar, what was he doing differently that others have not done in the past? Is this some new type of method that we're seeing employed by these types of individuals where they want to fly under the radar as opposed to putting all that information out on social media?
BURNETT: And Paul, is this something that anybody, you know, there's so many people who are shocked by this who knew him. But there's also people who say, well, look, you know, he was a clean shaven kid a year ago and then he grew the beard and he became more religious. Is this something that anybody could have raised a flag about?
CRUIKSHANK: Well, that remains to be seen. We have seen plenty of cases where these people go through radicalization very, very quickly.
CRUIKSHANK: And they hide it from their family, they hide it from many of their friends. Very rare is the example indeed though when somebody is a complete loner that they haven't got some kind of contacts in the community.
CRUIKSHANK: So, there may have been extremist potentially in the United States that knew him and helped contribute towards his radicalization.
BURNETT: All right. Well, thanks very much to both of you. Raising the point of course as the district attorney just said that they cannot rule out whether anyone else was involved here in the United States at this time.
Next, the breaking news, the secretary of defense announcing enhanced security at military sites across the United States. We have those breaking headlines coming up after this.
And Muhammad Abdulazeez and mixed martial arts. He was big at that. He was an avid wrestler. Well, the Boston bombers, one was a wrestler, the other a boxer. Some say this is more than coincidence, that's ahead.
And we're following some breaking news coming out of California at this hour. A wildfire now raging in San Bernardino, it just jumped over a major freeway. Look at this pictures. Cars are on fire. At least 50 cars on the freeway are on fire. There are multiple injuries. We will going to be taking you there live in a moment.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:27:50] BURNETT: We're following breaking news out of
California. I want to show you these pictures. These are live pictures. A massive wildfire burning near the San Bernardino national forest. It just jumped an interstate highway, Highway 15, a major highway. You see cars burning. At least 50 acres on fire. First responders tending to multiple burn victims.
Stephanie Elam is OUTFRONT in Los Angeles. Stephanie, these pictures are stunning. These people were on their commute. All of a sudden, fire just bursting across the highway into these cars. What can you tell us?
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): Yes, Erin, the video is absolutely stunning when you see it. And those of us who live in Southern California have been riveted by these pictures after seeing here. What is important about this highway, it's Interstate 15. And this is a vital way for people who are in Los Angeles to get to, say, Las Vegas. And it's a Friday afternoon. So, you can gather, there are a lot of people who are probably heading that way. We do know now that these fires is about 500 acres and it's spreading quickly. We have seen some people actually standing out on highway as we have been watching this.
And what's interesting about that is you can see how quickly the wind is blowing their clothes. That is how this fire is spreading so quickly. Now, there are reports that there may be some people that are burned. The California Highway Patrol is trying to get out there to make sure that people have removed themselves from these cars and that they are now in safety. But just having to run from their cars. You see that one boat that's on fire there. They continue to drop fire retardant here and try to get in there to make sure that all these people are safe. But the fire is spreading from car to car really quickly -- Erin.
BURNETT: I mean, spreading really quickly and, obviously, when the fire just all of a sudden jumped from the side into the highway, something people didn't expect, I mean, there are injuries as you understand it, right Stephanie?
ELAM: Right. They believe that there may be some burns. We do not know to what extent at this point. We know that they are trying to get out there to confirm that. That they are sending ambulances and also paramedics out there as well to tend to these people. There are people out there also at one point they just closed down the freeway. So, you could see some people are trying to get off the freeway further back and get out of there. But when you look at these images, you can see that there's a couple of car carriers where the cars that they are carrying -- the trucks -- the cars they are carrying on these trucks are on fire as well.
They look like some other truck that was out there that may have some sort of tank that carries some type of gas. So, these are all things that they are trying to figure out what to do with and how to get them off of these freeways. But this is the thing about wildfires. They can change direction on a dime. They can move very fast. And that is why they don't want people to waste any time when they give directives to stop or to change. It can really change and really affect people's lives.
BURNETT: We have someone from the Forest Service going to come on in just a moment. But, Stephanie, I think when we look at this, and you look at this line of cars, I mean, the fear here looks to be from the images that we are seeing, you talk about this wasn't expected to jump, just jumps on the freeway and. It jumps into the cars.
There's nowhere for people to go. This has to be terrifying for all these cars. I mean, I want everyone to understand. These cars are full of people.
ELAM: Yes, there are people who are literally driving.
And the thing about the freeway, too, where they are, it's pretty much remote. It's very remote territory. So, there's not like there's places they can run to, to take shelter away from this anyway. But you're talking about running away on the highway. Putting your car in park and having to run from it. But where are you running to? If your car is burned up, what are you going to after that?
So, it's just a terrifying situation. You can see the red right there in that shot that we saw for a little bit there, that is fire retardant. And so, they are trying to protect people there and make sure that now that the fire has burned through this area, you see right there, a drop of the fire retardant on those cars. They are trying to make sure there isn't any other flame that comes through and affects these people and the situation even more.
BURNETT: All right. Stephanie, please stay with me here, I just want to bring in Melody Lardner, with the U.S. Forest Service, a public information officer.
Melody, you know, we saw a helicopter flying in low trying to drop fire retardant on some of these cars. You can see all the fire retardant dropping down. But there was sort of a burst of smoke that went up. Now the fires seem to be burning just as they were before.
This has got to be incredibly terrifying. You have a freeway out of the middle of nowhere full of cars with people in them. They have nowhere to go.
MELODY LARDNER, U.S. FOREST SERVICE (via telephone): Yes, they are trying to move the vehicles off the freeway as best they can. It is congested because it's a Friday afternoon. That path is very busy on Friday afternoon. They are dropping water on the cars that are actively burning as best they can.
BURNETT: And, Melody, do you know -- I know we're trying to understand. We do know there are people injured. We don't know the extent of the injuries. Do you have any sense of the situation on the road right now with the injured and also with people who are trying to get out of their cars and run away?
LARDNER: We have no confirmation of injuries at this time. We don't do -- we are aware there are people on the side of the freeway. BURNETT: And how shocked are you that this happened? Our
understanding is that this fire was burning and then all of a sudden just jumped on the middle of the freeway in some incredibly quick change of direction.
LARDNER: Yes, the fire moved very rapidly. It has happened in the past, too. But this is the most vehicles I'm aware of burning at one time on this freeway.
BURNETT: I mean, watch this. You can see the cars are completely burned out. I mean, Melody, it would seem there's no way for any -- at least object the ground, emergency assistance to even get there. I mean, all we're seeing now is helicopters trying to drop the fire retardant.
LARDNER: Right. The freeway is very congested. We do have fire equipment in the area working the fire in the brush as well as on these vehicles, because the brush is also threatening nearby homes.
BURNETT: There are homes nearby. Obviously, from what we could see, it doesn't look like there's a massive development there. But you're saying there are homes?
LARDNER: Yes, it borders the community of Baldy Mesa, and that area is under a mandatory evacuation, at scattered ranch homes in that area.
BURNETT: And they are under a mandatory evacuation.
BURNETT: All right. Melody, please stay with me.
I want to bring on the phone now, Steve Carapia of the California highway patrol.
Steve, thank you for being with me. I know you are seeing these terrifying images as well. What is the situation on the ground here as we see these cars being completely burned out by the fire?
STEVE CARAPIA, CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL (via telephone): Absolutely, it's a horrific scene right now as we are watching. These vehicles were actually left unattended on the freeway. We have about -- confirmation of 70 to 80 vehicles that were left unattended on this freeway as the fire approached. They were able to evacuate. We don't have any report of any injuries. I know there's been some sources out there that have reported --
BURNETT: Yes, we heard that there were. We didn't know any details. You are saying you don't know that there were.
CARAPIA: As of right now, at the CHP, we do know if there are injuries.
And just remember, this a coordinated effort with the California Highway Patrol, Cal Trans, the Fire Department and also the U.S. Forest Department as well.
Right now, what's becoming a difficult task is to get the vehicles off the freeway. Again, some of the cars were left unattended without any vehicle keys in them.
CARAPIA: We are requesting the assistance of several tow companies to come in and assist with the removal of these vehicles.
[19:35:04] Also, we have notified -- I know Nevada Highway Patrol have been notified and they have activated their signage to aware the public what's going on down in our area.
BURNETT: And, Steve, in terms of the risk here, you have -- you can see people walking around on the highway. But again, we have been able to see a few drops where the helicopters have flown over and literally you see the fire retardant drop down. It didn't look like it was able to stop any of the fires. Now, you're seeing black or smoke. So, many it is starting to have a little bit of an affect. But are you concerned about it spreading from car to car?
CARAPIA: Well, absolutely. Absolutely. That's why fire personnel are on scene, trying to assist with evacuations of any occupants of the vehicles. Again, fire personnel, CHP personnel are in the heat of it, and they're trying to do the best they can with the resources they have.
BURNETT: All right. Steve, thank you very much. I know we'll be coming back to you as you get more information.
I want to Kyung Lah who is in Los Angeles, who's covered a lot of these wildfires. We talked about highway 15 going from L.A. towards Las Vegas, very, very busy time. This is a Friday. You can see the backup, all the cars impacted by this.
And, Kyung, you've never seen anything like this?
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, ever seen anything like this. I have seen fires in this area. You have to forgive, the fire trucks passing through here in Hollywood.
All right. In the Cajon Pass, this is an area, if you look at it on the map, it's between mountains. If you can keep watching, you can see that it's a terrain that is mountainous. This particular area is very windy. It is quite rugged. There aren't a lot of houses right around this freeway.
It is unpredictable in the Cajon Pass. Anyone whose covered a fire -- and all of us here in the L.A. bureau have covered fires in the Cajon Pass, it is very easy for this fire to jump and to change direction.
So, firefighters do the best they can to predict which way a wildfire will go. But with all the winds shifting, with all the heat in that area, it is very difficult to predict. Here is what we have never seen before. I have never seen
vehicles stuck on a freeway, especially on Interstate 15, burning up. It started with a few of these cars catching fire. We were watching in the newsroom as heat was continuing to go. There were water drops, the fire department doing a very good job trying to drop large amounts of water on some of these vehicles.
But then another part just a little north of where this first fire was burning, there was a car carrier that caught fire. Now, the thing that I immediately started to worry about -- certainly, what first responders are going to worry about is, what about those other cars that are stuck there? It looks like there are dozens of cars stuck there.
Do they have concerns about the gas tanks? What's going to happen to them? So, there are a lot of safety concerns. How do you fight these fires? There are people standing around on freeway because they don't have a lot of information through the Cajon Pass. There are big sections of the Cajon Pass that you can't get Twitter, that you don't have a very good cell signal.
So, this is an extraordinarily difficult situation for these responders, Erin.
BURNETT: It's incredible to look at this. When the shot pulls out and you see how long the traffic goes. You think about the gas tanks on a hot Friday afternoon with the commute.
Kyung Lah, thank you.
We are following these two breaking stories now on this hour. More on the massive wildfire now burning multiple cars on the freeway. We'll be back with that. Our breaking story tonight.
[19:42:43] BURNETT: Back to our breaking story tonight. We're going to show the live pictures of what he would are seeing in California. As you can see on the freeway there, this is the Highway 15, Los Angeles to Las Vegas, sort of part of in a valley, completely backed up. A fire -- wildfire jumped on the freeway and all these cars caught fire, at least five of them. We have been watching helicopters dropping fire retardant that has not succeeded in putting the fires out.
You can see as we zoom in here, people -- there are people walking all over because this is commuting hour. People are jumping out of their cars and walking around. At this point, they have been struggling to get emergency vehicles close. They have been trying to put the fire out with actual helicopters, again, who are dropping those fire retardant.
We're going to be going back there live in a moment so that we can tell you what is going on, whether there are injuries. Now this fire is spreading. In just a moment, as I said. I do want to get back to the other breaking story we're
following, which is the gunman in marine massacre, and its connection to mixed martial arts. We have seen this video of Mohammad Abdulazeez as an MMA fighter. He's the one who's not blurred.
But does this have a connection to what he did? Killing four marines in an act of terrorism?
Kyung Lah is OUTFRONT.
LAH (voice-over): Mohammad Abdulazeez swinging hard, hitting the mat in an amateur MMA fight.
For Abdulazeez and for Boston terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev who boxed, their moments in the ring paint a specific profile says retired FBI agent Steve Moore.
STEVE MOORE, RETIRED FBI AGENT: I see in certain people a feeling that they are powerless. I don't mean powerless as a group of people. I mean powerless as an individual.
LAH: Moore should know. He led the investigation into mass shooter Buford Furrow, who in 1999 wounded five at a Jewish community center. Moore believes racism wasn't the real reason behind the shooting but the need to feel powerful.
The undeniable feeling of power over your opponent is behind the thrill of man on man sports like MMA and boxing. Most sport fighters leave the battle in the ring.
[19:45:00] But for Abdulazeez and Tsarnaev, there may be more at stake. Moore believes for these men, this is a sign in a quest for power and seeking that power not ideology is what drives lone wolf terrorists.
MOORE: The people who are in these organizations are really not true believers in the religion. They are individuals who need an excuse for what's wrong in their life.
LAH (on camera): Dylann Roof, same sort of thing?
MOORE: Dylann Roof is identical. You show me a terrorist and I will show you a violent person looking to justify their violence.
LAH (voice-over): Much of law enforcement agrees that's the potency of ISIS, a slick social media campaign that to most Americans seems ludicrous. But to someone disenfranchised who feels inept, the message cuts through.
MOORE: They give you a cake with a little chocolate chip of truth and the cake itself is poison. It touches a cord for these people. They say, you know what, now I've got a villain. It's like Africanizing bees. All of a sudden, this passive thing becomes wildly dangerous. (END VIDEOTAPE)
BURNETT: So, Kyung, how can they fight lone wolves like this who might be attracted to a community like MMA?
LAH: Well, that's certainly the challenge for national security, as well as local law enforcement. And the overriding answer is, they don't know. There isn't a prevailing theory. If they're not talking to their parents, if they aren't talking to the Muslim-American community and they're not out on social media, what our investigator, our former FBI agent says it's like trying to find one cancer cell in a body. It's extraordinarily difficult.
BURNETT: Not impossible.
Kyung Lah, thank you very much.
And OUTFRONT now, our law enforcement analyst, Harry Houck.
Harry, MMA, boxing, wrestling, we've seen it now in case after case of this. Why?
HARRY HOUCK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, you know, what it does it instills confidence, endurance and strength, all right? These are things that you need if you are going to be successful in anything in this world.
HOUCK: All right? Also the fact that if you are going to be a jihadi terrorist, learning how to fight and how to fight well is very important. So, that's why they're actually involved in this.
BURNETT: So, my question, how is it connected to jihad? Because when you see some of those videos that ISIS put out, they are similar in terms of the fighting physical hand to hand combat that they emphasize.
HOUCK: Right. That ISIS film that came out about the jihad, you see a lot of kung fu in that. In 2008, we had a New York City police officer undercover overseas with jihadis and they were talking about kung fu and all kinds of martial arts. This is why. It instills different things in you that are really good.
Now, are we going to be able to stop a jihadist because they take up MMA or kung fu or some other martial arts? No, it's not. What it's going to be, it's going to part of a pattern that we need to develop while conducting investigations in these type of things that happen. This might be one step. It might be one little point for us. But it's something that we are going to have to look at.
BURNETT: All right. Harry, thank you very much. Adding a whole new layer to the story, but amazing we've seen so many parallels and consistencies on that.
All right. Next, those frightening pictures, you just saw next to me, is the California wildfire burning out of control, jumping a major freeway, setting those cars on fire. We've been watching live helicopter after helicopter so far failing to put the fire out, as people are walking around on this freeway. Fire ambulances sent to tend the burn victims. We're going to go live to the scene, next.
[19:52:27] BURNETT: Back with our breaking news out of California. These are live pictures that you are looking at right now -- plumes of black smoke engulfing cars, trucks, flames across this highway, a fire -- massive wildfire jumping the freeway right during rush hour on Highway 15. It is burning out of control. Right now, we understand there are multiple ambulances on the scene tending to burn victims.
Stephanie Elam is OUTFRONT covering this story.
And, Stephanie, I know you have new information from the fire department on how much trouble they are having right now.
ELAM: Well, one of the main fighting tools when you're fighting a wildfire, Erin, is fighting from the sky. And a DC-10 is an instrumental tool in that. And they can get so much water, thousands upon thousands of gallons of water and dropping the fire retardant in key areas.
Well, they had to ground the DC-10, and the reason they had to do that was because of a drone. There was a drone in the area. This is not the first time we've seen this with the wildfire season. And because the drone is there, it could cause so much damage. If the plane runs into the drone, if something happens, they can't take that chance, so they ground the plane until they can get that drone out of the area.
They are constantly asking people not to fly drones for just that reason. We know that it was grounded. We also know now that the DC- 10 is now back up in the air and able to make drops.
But look at this truck here, Erin. We now know that this fire has exploded to 2,000 acres. That's the latest estimate. We just got that confirmed right now.
And when you take a look at the truck, it started with just the cab was burning. When I talking to you before -- look at how quickly this fire has spread through the cab of this truck and into whatever it was carrying burning through it. The firefighters are out there with hoses and really getting close to these car and these trucks trying to put it out. But as you can see with all of that thick black smoke, it is burning up whatever energy is inside that truck, and it is just burning completely out.
That also tells you, Erin, how hot this fire is burning for that to even happen in the first place.
BURNETT: Yes. ELAM: And again, it's important to point out that this freeway,
these aren't really commuters. These are people just trying to get a jump on the Las Vegas weekend leaving from Los Angeles. This is really out in the middle of nowhere. It's a very expansive -- it is a forest, I know it's not what you think of forests in other parts of the country. But this is California forest.
So, this area, super windy, lots of dry brush because of the fact we're in this long, long drought there. And so, it can just quick field that burn up and it can spread really, really quickly, Erin.
BURNETT: And, Stephanie, 25 minutes ago, you and I first saw these pictures and we were talking about it, it was 500 acres.
[19:55:02] So, now, it is four times bigger than that, 2,000 acres, spreading this quickly. We're talking about a freeway, people don't have anywhere to go. People are out walking around. Emergency vehicles having trouble getting in. We know there are some burn victims. So, how concerned are they about this ability to get this under control?
ELAM: That's always the concern, because the other issue is, the wind could change directions again even though it's burned through there before. So the main thing is to evacuate the cars. We understand there's about 70 or so cars that are in this area, you've got to get them out of the way so that they don't become fuel as well, and also make sure that people are safe.
Now, you've got people who are walking on a freeway. But as I said, there's not a lot of places to go, Erin.
BURNETT: No, there isn't. Incredible what we're seeing right now, this black smoke, you've got the heat, you've got the gas tanks, you've got the oil and all these trucks and cars, and people who are out there on the freeway, desperately trying to find some way to get out.
All right. Stephanie Elam, thank you very much. We're going to continue to cover this breaking story with these live images. We'll be right back.
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Our breaking news coverage of that incredible California wildfire in San Bernardino continues right now with "AC360" which begins right now.