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AMERICAN MORNING

Searching for a Way Out of a War Zone; Funding Hezbollah

Aired July 20, 2006 - 09:32   ET



THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING's special coverage of the crisis in the Middle East. I'm Miles O'Brien in New York.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Soledad O'Brien. We're reporting live from the port of Larnaca in Cyprus -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's get you right up to date on the crisis in the Middle East first U.S. Marines helping Americans get away from the war in Lebanon. A Navy amphibious transport, the USS Nashville, taking another 1,000 people to safety today.

And the first American evacuees arrived on American soil a few hours ago. About 145 landing in Baltimore. About 8,000 Americans, in all, would like to get out of Lebanon.

Israeli tanks and big guns still shelling Southern Lebanon as troops cross the border, targeting Hezbollah guerrilla strongholds, fighting them on the ground, not a full-scale invasion, however. But Israel isn't ruling one out either.

Upwards of 60,000 foreign nationals and people with dual passports, dual citizenships are hoping to get out of Lebanon. Hundreds of them are crossing the border over land into Syria.

CNN's Hala Gorani live now on that border with more -- Hala?

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, we've been told that more than 50,000 people have crossed the (INAUDIBLE) border crossing so far today, and it's a little after 4:00 p.m., 4:30 p.m. local time. You have people crammed into open buses with their belongings, their suitcases and basic food supplies. Others who say they're trying to wait it out. They hoped that the fighting would end in their country. But then after five or six days said we couldn't wait any longer; the bombs were falling just a bit too close for comfort.

We found one man, we met man, Mohammed (ph), who was running toward a taxi cab holding his baby niece in his arm. And this is what he told us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's my sister's child, you know. She's afraid from you can't talk to anyone you know, from bombs, shouting all the time, airplane. Oh, my God. Something unbelievable, you know.

GORANI: What did you see?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did I see? I saw a lot of. I think that I don't want to remember it. I don't want to remember it, you know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: So you heard there from that man carrying a baby in his arms. Let me give you a bit of flavor of what's going on here at the (INAUDIBLE) crossing. And you have people are waiting in line here.

And if you can pan this way, Joe, you have the administrative offices here where people have their passports, stacks and stacks of passports hoping to get them stamped. We have one woman who's child is an American citizen, and she told me, I was stamped with a visa, but my child only got a 48-hour (INAUDIBLE) visa, and that's the way it is for Americans now, is what we were told. So they can't stay here as long as they want, until they find a way out.

She was saying, what if my plane is delayed, what do I do with my child, who's a U.S. citizen? And they told this is what we're stamping U.S. citizens with now, 48-hour transit visas. I also met a Canadian family who waited days to be evacuated, and finally took matters into their own hands, when the Canadian embassy, they told me, was of no help -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, Hala, you haven't seen many Americans there. Is that the first time you've seen an American citizen at that checkpoint?

GORANI: That's the first American citizen I saw. There's this duty-free area, a little bit closer to the Lebanese border. I saw a Lebanese American man, who told me this is the first time I came to Lebanon, the land of my parents. I was supposed to stay here four months. And a month and a half into my visit, this happened. So this was not the happiest of first visits for this Lebanese-American man. But no, Miles, mainly, people who were crossing at this stage in the game, and especially at this border crossing are among the poorer of the refugees, those who couldn't afford in the beginning to leave and who tried to wait it out, and then said it doesn't matter if I have nowhere to sleep on the other side; I just want to be safe.

M. O'BRIEN: Just looking at the scene behind you, Hala, I see the people do not have a lot of personal belongings with them. Do you have the sense that they left things behind because they were in such a hurry? Or do they think they're just going to be evacuated for a short period of time?

GORANI: I think you have a mixture of both. You have those who were in a hurry, those who perhaps have their belongings in their cars and are just standing in line to get their passports stamped, and then you have those who are saying, I really don't want to stay in Syria that long; I hope that this conflict will end. And the question really, not just for the refugees, but for officials, is what if this short-term displacement problem, this is what we're calling it now, turns into a longer term refugee crisis? Then what? Can the infrastructure here absorb tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people? And that is a question, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: That's a big question. Hala Gorani on the border of Lebanon and Syria, a chaotic scene there, obviously. We'll stay in touch with her as well.

Let's get back to Soledad in Cyprus -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Miles, thanks.

Imagine if your vacation suddenly turns into a search for a way out of a war zone. For many people, in fact, that search for a way out involved small children, who were terrified and absolutely confused.

Here is a look at what some parents have been facing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN (voice-over): Even in the dark, you could make out the anxious families on the Orient Queen in the windows comforting babies, or carrying their little ones in their arms off the ship or holding them tightly by hand. Marie and Sam Hamade and their two children were exhausted but happy to be out of Beirut.

SAM HAMADE, EVACUEE: We had a hard time explaining what a bombing was, because they were scared. We just wanted to leave. Elena, I guess, she was more scared than the little kid, because she didn't understand, but she was very scared and she was crying, like get me out of here.

S. O'BRIEN: Could you hear the bombs, Elana?

ELENA HAMADE: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Really? Did they sound loud? What did it sound like?

E. HAMADE: It sounded like fireworks, but louder.

S. O'BRIEN: And did you want to go right away, too?

E. HAMADE: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN (voice-over): They joined a long line of Americans waiting to be processed through customs, then settled with the help of the embassy. They were relieved to be safe, but many people said they were sad to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our heart goes out to our parents and family that we left behind, so.

S. O'BRIEN (on camera): That's got to be tough.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it is tough.

S. O'BRIEN (voice-over): Inside the crowded port it was organized chaos, easily half the passengers were children. Some got sick from the heat in the crowds and the long trip.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're all crammed in there and they're getting heat exhaustion, because you're crammed in these little corridors, and you can't move. You can't move. It was excellent until this time. We were treated very well. We had the luxury boat, you know, and we were treated very well, until now. They're not letting people out and they're jammed in there, and the kids are getting sick.

S. O'BRIEN: Some who'd seen the very worst were unsure of how to explain the horrors of war to their children.

ZAR YASSIN, EVACUEE: I've never seen so many charred bodies in my life. I've never seen, as a father, I saw a 7-year-old being carried, a poor soul of a 7-year-old without the bottom half. I saw a 3-year-old that was just charred and stiff. It was just devastating for me. I am a father; I have a child. This is unnecessary. This is uncalled for. There is no reason for this.

HANNAH SOUEID, EVACUEE: It's kind of scary because you could hear the bombs and you could also kind of feel it sometimes. So...

S. O'BRIEN (on camera): And what did you do? I mean, I can't imagine what I'd do if I started hearing or seeing bombs. What did you do to sort of, you know, comfort yourself?

SOUEID: Well, we all like stayed together so we wouldn't be scared or anything. We watched some movies and stuff, like just to comfort ourselves to make it not scary.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: It's been really disconcerting to see the number of small children who describe, honestly, very matter of factly, Miles, the bombs dropping around them and how scared they were and how nervous they were. It's been sort of a sad thing to see as they disembark and head, hopefully, back to their next destination, which should be home -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: It's interesting, Soledad, because Lebanon was on the State Department's list of places where they would discourage Americans to travel. And yet I can't imagine anybody you spoke to there thought in advance that this would have happened while they were there.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, you know, a lot of these folks are Lebanese- Americans. They come back to visit grandparents, or brothers and sisters and cousins and have the kids come and spend several weeks in the summer. So, yes, I think these are people who certainly knew Lebanon's history, many of them, but, no, I think everybody's been completely taken by surprise -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Soledad. Back with you in just a little bit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, next time you buy some smokes, or even some blue pills, if you know what I mean, think where that money is going. You might be funding Hezbollah. We'll explain.

Plus, the Mideast crisis online. Dramatic video. What is it like when a bomb is falling and you happen to be in the crosshairs? That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: So who or what is funding the Hezbollah barrage of rockets raining down on Israel right now? Well, it could be you.

CNN's Randi Kaye explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Terrorism analysts say Hezbollah may be the wealthiest terrorist organization in the world, money coming from the U.S. and abroad.

EMILY HUNT, TERROR FINANCING EXPERT: Any time that you buy a good illegally on the black market, there is a possibility that you are helping to fund groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

KAYE: Emily Hunt suggests tens of millions of dollars, a conservative estimate, is funneled to Hezbollah from the U.S. through various illegal operations.

In March, the Justice Department charged 19 men with racketeering to support a terrorist organization. For eight years, investigators says, the suspect sold contraband cigarettes, counterfeit rolling papers, even counterfeit Viagra. The profits go to Hezbollah.

(on camera): Here's how it worked. The suspects allegedly bought cigarettes in North Carolina, where the taxes are lower; and in some cases, bought them tax-free at an Indian reservation in New York. By doing so, they evaded tens of millions in cigarette taxes, then made huge profits by reselling them at market prices, both here in New York and in Michigan. A portion of the profits, the indictment charges, was then sent to Hezbollah.

(voice-over): Imagine, United States citizens unknowingly sending money to Hezbollah.

HUNT: They would be extremely shocked and very unhappy to find that out.

KAYE: But to supporters of Hezbollah in the U.S., this won't be a surprise. In some cases, buyers on the black market were charged a resistance tax, a set amount over the going price, and told the money would go to Hezbollah. Members of the group also allegedly solicited cash from customers to be given to orphans of Hezbollah suicide bombers.



And the money doesn't stop flowing there. Investigators say Hezbollah also received financing through sympathetic charities. Donations are made, then diverted, to Hezbollah. In Charlotte, North Carolina, donation receipts helped investigators trace half a million dollars to members of a Hezbollah cell. But they fear as much as $2 million could be out there.

How is this terrorist money trail able to continue?

HUNT: Many of them are able to kind of fly under the radar, simply because we don't have the resources, you know, law enforcement doesn't have the training or the time to really be delving into their backgrounds.

KAYE: And, Hunt says, with fundraising operations already established in the U.S., there's a real fear Hezbollah's cells could turn their sights on American targets. They've proven they have the money to do so.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

M. O'BRIEN: Randi's report first aired on "ANDERSON COOPER 360." Anderson among our correspondents in the Middle East, of course. The program airs weeknights 10:00 Eastern.

"CNN LIVE TODAY" is coming up next. Daryn Kagan working on a lot for the next couple of hours. Daryn, what do you have?

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Miles, good morning to you. Coming up at the top of the hour, caught in the crossfire, pleading for a ceasefire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tell them to stop this right now, because there is -- not everybody is terrorist. And it's not our fault.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: Civilian casualties speak out. Plus the latest developments in the Mideast fighting.

Also ahead, it's a first for President Bush. He's addressing the NAACP next hour. We will carry that speech live. Join us on "CNN LIVE TODAY" in about 11 minutes. Back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: Hearing that little girl just breaks your heart, doesn't it?

KAGAN: Yes, uh-huh, it does.

M. O'BRIEN: We will watch.

KAGAN: OK.

M. O'BRIEN: Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, the war online. Compelling words and pictures from both sides of the conflict. We'll show you some images that put you right in the gun sites, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Images and words of war are blanketing the Internet, giving us real time as we have never seen before.

Our technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg is following the threads and videos for us. He joins us from the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Hello, Daniel.

DANIEL SIEBERG, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles. That's right.

We need to preface everything we're going to say with a sort of cyber-caveat: CNN can't independently authenticate what we're going to show you on some of these video sites and the blogs.

That said, people are using online sites like YouTube to post a lot of video. YouTube is where anybody can share online video with anybody else in the world.

The first video we want to show you that's connected to this particular conflict shows a couple of guys who are reacting to what they hear in the background. They hear an explosion. They turn around, try and find the source of it. And you can see the smoke there in the background. This apparently taking place in Bekaa, in Lebanon. And I'll pause for a second, and you can hear some of what they say. We actually had to censor out a little bit of it.

In this case, they were basically responding in a visceral way. That's why we had to edit out their comments. At the end of it, they said, "Why did they hit over there?" So we thought that was kind of interesting. The next one we want to show you is a night scene. This is a flash of an explosion you can see at night, this apparently in Beirut. You can see that. And I'll pause for the shockwave from that.

It's pretty intense and dramatic video that was posted in that case. This was featured by YouTube on their main page, so it was getting a lot of traffic this morning. The last one we want to show you today features a person who basically says, look in my backyard at the rockets, the Katyusha rockets that are landing there. In fact, that's the start of their video. It says, "bombings view from my window," which is some pretty amazing video. There's no sound with this. But you can see there in the background the smoke. This apparently in Israel. This person -- obviously, you can imagine getting into this person's mind, what they would see there. And pretty amazing that their first instinct, Miles, is to grab a video camera and try to capture what's going on.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, It never ceases to maze me we have this kind of nation of amateur journalists out there now, equipped with cameras.

The other thing that is a new development. This is the first time we've seen a war unfold, is the power of blogs, which is lending voice to a lot of distinct opinions, isn't it?

SIEBERG: Right. And no less powerful in terms of what we're seeing on the blogs. And you know, earlier today, we introduced you to this young girl named Mana, who is posting on this Cedar Seed Live Journal. This is a Lebanese blog site. And earlier, she was commenting about her family and her concerns about evacuating there. Just this morning, she's posted again. And this is what she says -- at this point she says, "My grandmother's neighbor died yesterday when the trucks were bombed in Achrafieh. She died of fright when the explosion rocked her home." So some pretty emotional stuff there on the Cedar Seed Live journal there, presumably referring to the stately Cedar trees in Lebanon.

On -- across the border, we found a woman who goes by the name of Karmia (ph). She's posting on a blog site called Kishkusim. And she has this to say, basically that she's concerned about her boyfriend's well-being, and some pretty emotional stuff, Miles, on both sides.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Let's -- at the risk of sounding self serving, there is another good place to see video in real time coming out of the region. Tell us what Pipeline has going.

SIEBERG: Yes, I spoke to the Pipeline folks. They've got -- actually, what's really interesting on Pipeline right now, they've got a live feed of some of the Mideast television networks. They're skipping around, going from different parts of the region. But that's some pretty insightful and amazing stuff that you really can't find anywhere else. I know they're also going to be covering Bush speaking with the NAACP at 10:30, and I think they're talking to some guy named Miles O'Brien a little later this morning as well.



M. O'BRIEN: Oh, I hear. I have an engagement. It is Thursday. It's a busy news day.

And, Daniel Sieberg, thank you for that.

And I will be on pipeline coming up at 10:30 Eastern Time. And now would be a good time to send us e-mail for that segment, the Miles-cam segment. AM@CNN.com is the place to do that. Questions, anything that's on your mind from the Middle East, from our coverage, to the fact that on this day in 1969 men first walked on the moon. Remember that? Where were you then?

AMERICAN MORNING back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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