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U.S. Airstrikes Hit Iranian-Backed Militia in Syria; Hong Kong Kicks Off Mass Rollout of COVID Vaccine; New York City Variant Shows Vaccine-Evading Mutations; Russian Diplomats Push Their Way Home from North Korea; Accusations of Ethics Violations in India Vaccine Trials; House Lawmakers Press for Answers about Response to Attack; Lawyers: Alexei Navalny Moved from Detention Center. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired February 26, 2021 - 00:00   ET


JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Hello, everyone. I'm John Vause.


We begin this hour from Washington. Just 36 days into his first term, and Joe Biden has personally ordered the first known military strike of his presidency.

The targets were Iranian-backed Iraqi militia based in eastern Syria, which according to the Pentagon, were behind at least three separate attacks on U.S. assets in Iraq. The most recent was last week, when the city of Irbil came under rocket and mortar fire.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin offered few details as to what precisely was hit by these airstrikes.


LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're confident in the target that we went after. We know what we did. And -- and we're confident that that target was being used by the same Shia militia that -- that conducted the strikes.


VAUSE: For more details, CNN's Oren Liebermann reports now from the Pentagon.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The air strike against a site in eastern Syria along the Iraq-Syria border is the first known military action under President Joe Biden. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said it was his recommendation, and then Biden gave the final authorization for the strikes on Thursday morning.

A U.S. official familiar with the strikes said up to a handful of militants were killed in that airstrike. And they come after a series of rocket attacks against U.S. and coalition forces operating in Iraq. First in Irbil about a week and a half ago. Then in Balad Air Force

Base just north of the city of Baghdad and then in the Green Zone in Baghdad itself.

Austin said that part of the messaging here -- and Pentagon spokesman John Kirby would back this up -- was first that there will be a response to these rocket attacks, and second to deter future rocket attacks.

Austin made it clear that they're confident that it was Iranian-backed Shia militias that were operating in these sites that were struck by the U.S. Air Force, And it was those same militias responsible for the rocket attacks. Up until now the U.S. hadn't attributed the rocket attacks to anyone but now pinpointing an Iranian-backed militias and, more broadly, holding Iran responsible for the actions of its proxies in Syria and in Iraq.

This comes at a crucial time for the Biden administration when it comes to Iran, as it tries to figure out what to do and how to work diplomatically about Iran's nuclear program. Also signaling that it wants to broaden out the agreement to include Iran's ballistic missiles and Iran's actions in the region.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, at the Pentagon.


VAUSE: Right to Baghdad now, where CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is standing by.

And Arwa, the U.S. president, the Iraqi prime minister spoke by phone on Tuesday. According to a brief White House read-out of their conversation, they discussed the recent rocket attacks against Iraqi and coalition personnel; agreed those responsible for such attacks must be held fully to account.

Two days later, here we are. A targeted strike just over the Syrian border, which in theory, means no blowback for the Iraqis. What else is happening there?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, presumably, that is the hope here. Because let's remember that, when it comes to the proxy war that is unfolding between the U.S. and Iran, most of the time the blowback does happen here in Iraq at the expense of the Iraqi population.

But yes, the fact that the U.S. chose to target an installation that is in Syria is perhaps an indication that this administration is much more sensitive to the position that Iraq does find itself in.

And it's also, you know, worth noting that, for the members of the Iraqi government who are not affiliated with the political parties that have ties to these Iranian-backed militias, in many ways, they would want nothing more than to see an end of the era of negative Iranian influence. But Iran's tentacles extend so far into this country, because on the

one hand, you have the economic ties, the realities of a shared order that is hundreds of kilometers long. You have cultural ties that exist, as well, and on the other hand, you have the strength of the Iranian-backed Shia militias which has only increased over the years and an Iraqi government, an Iraqi security apparatus for quite some time now, has struggled and failed to contain it.


The escalation that we saw taking place almost a year ago when then- President Trump's administration decided to kill Qassem Soleimani on Iraqi territory had a very severe blowback for this country.

With this current action of the Biden administration choosing that target in Syria, versus one of the many targets that is in Iraq this does, in some ways, rewind us back to the era before the killing of Qassem Soleimani, when there were fairly regular, indirect fire attacks against U.S. installations, especially the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and then a more measured U.S. response.

VAUSE: Arwa, thank you. Arwa Damon, who has reported extensively from Baghdad for many years. Thank you, Arwa. Appreciate you being with us.

With us now from Washington, CNN military analyst and retired U.S. Air Force colonel, Cedric Leighton.

Colonel, thank you for staying up and being with us.


VAUSE: Thank you, sir.

Well, the Pentagon reportedly offered Biden a range of options. He went for the less aggressive approach. There is reporting out there that says the strikes were a relatively small, carefully-calibrated military response. U.S. fighter jets dropping seven 500-pound bombs on a small cluster of buildings and unofficial crossing at the Syria- Iraqi border used to smuggle weapons as well as fighters.

So talk to us about the strategy here in terms of sending a clear message to Iran that they are responsible for the militia they back while, at the same time, not risking a major escalation.

LEIGHTON: So John, what the U.S. administration seems to have done in this particular case is send a message. They're sending a message to two basic audiences that are adversaries of the United States.

First of all, the Iranians letting them know that any action that they do will get a U.S. response.

And the second audience on the adversarials are, of course, the Iranian-backed militias like Kata'ib Hezbollah as an example. And those militias acting as Iranian proxies have been responsible, according to most U.S. intelligence reporting for a lot of the attacks against U.S. installations, U.S. personnel. And this is basically a message-sending operation, letting them know that it could escalate our responses, should need arise for it to do so.

VAUSE: They described this as a small calculated response. Five- hundred-pound bombs. That is still a lot of firepower when there's seven of them being dropped in a small area.

So we're waiting for a battle damage assessment to come in. But from your opinion, from the targets that were hit, the weaponry that was used, would this have done a significant amount of damage to put these militias out of business, at least for a significant amount of time?

LEIGHTON: Yes. If the targets are -- you know, are perfectly calibrated, and they usually are, you know, and selected very carefully than anything that would go through that area, and it looks like it was a border control post or some kind of an area where perhaps they would have administrative functions in that particular location, and those would be disrupted considerably for quite a few days.

Of course, these militias are very adept at working around U.S. airstrikes and U.S. offensive operations of every type. But it still is quite a message. Like you said, you know, with that kind of weaponry, it does send a message, and you can definitely feel it when you're in that area.

VAUSE: Earlier this week, the White House did warn of retaliation for those rocket attacks on U.S. assets in Iraq. Take a listen.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We do hold Iran accountable for the actions of their proxies. And of course, we reserve the right to respond in a manner and at a time of our choosing.


VAUSE: It might not be a red line, but is this the Biden administration, I guess, establishing boundaries for Tehran, if you like?

LEIGHTON: Yes, I think so. John, when you look at the way Jen Psaki made that statement, and you know, the fact that she was basically saying, you know, we can go up to a certain point, we won't tell you exactly what that point is.

But if you cross that line, we will definitely respond to you, and that is what we're seeing here. I think the Biden administration is reserving its most aggressive responses for more aggressive attacks from the Iranian-backed militias or from Iran itself.

So these are messages that are being sent very carefully. The Biden administration doesn't want to risk harming civilians. It doesn't want to risk harming non-combatants of any type. But it will go after these militias, and it will go after the Iranians. And the message is pretty loud and clear from my standpoint. VAUSE: There's also the separate issue but related of the Iranian

nuclear deal, which the Trump administration withdrew the United States from, and there is now talk of trying to get this deal back on track. Of course, these things don't happen in isolation, so what message does Tehran read from this military strike in regards to negotiations or in future negotiations for that nuclear deal?


LEIGHTON: I think what their message that they're receiving right now into Iran is this. That the United States does want to have negotiations that would, in essence, revive the Iran nuclear deal.

But it's not as important a goal as protecting American lives and American installations, so that's priority No. 1, in essence, a force protection goal from -- from the United States point of view.

But it also sends a message to the Iranians that, yes, we want to talk to you, and we don't want to destroy you, but what we do want to do is we want to make sure that you do not misbehave. And that is the message that the Iranians should be receiving from this airstrike.

This was, in essence, a demonstration of what the U.S. can do, and the Iranians are being put on notice that they -- you know, if they want to relieve the sanctions that are being, you know, voiced against them, they need to make sure that they behave. And that's -- that's, in essence, what the United States is saying to them.

VAUSE: Retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. Thank you, sir, so much for being with us. Most appreciated.

LEIGHTON: You bet, John. Anytime.

VAUSE: Well, new coronavirus cases are declining. Variants are on the rise and threaten to reverse all progress that is made. Ahead, the push to ramp up vaccinations.

Also, the extreme lengths a group of Russian diplomats took to leave North Korea amidst some incredibly tough COVID restrictions.


VAUSE: Around the world, it seems a spread of the coronavirus is starting to slow. The number of daily infections has been declining significantly.

In the U.S., forecasters say cases have dropped more than 70 percent over the past five weeks. But the trend may be short-lived as variants rapidly spread to dozens of countries.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has seen more than 2,000 cases of the variant first found in the U.K. and now being identified nationwide.

And two separate teams of researchers have found a worrying new strain in New York City and other areas of the northeast of the country, leaving the nation's leading infectious disease experts to once again stress the importance of getting vaccinated.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We don't know if it works directly against it, but that is the point that you want to get across to people. Even though this vaccine is not directly matched to a variant that might occur wherever -- South America, South Africa, California, New York -- the higher level of protection against the original one is a spillover protection against the variant.


VAUSE: Meantime, regulators in the U.S. could be just days away from green-lighting a third vaccine. Advisors from the Food and Drug Administration will meet in the coming hours to consider emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Mass vaccinations are underway in Hong Kong after regulators there authorized two vaccines for emergency use.

Long lines have gathered at vaccination centers which have been opened across the city. Healthcare workers and people over the age of 60 are first to get it.

Live now to CNN's Kristie Lu Stout outside a vaccination center in Hong Kong. Kristie, two vaccines may have been given the green light but only the Chinese-made Sinovac has actually was actually delivered.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The BioNTech vaccine was due to arrive today. It's been delayed, but we just learned in the last 15 minutes that the Hong Kong government says the western-made vaccine will arrive, in Hong Kong, tomorrow.

But this is a big day for Hong Kong. This is the first day of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout here, in the city, and the first vaccine up to offer is one from China, Sinovac.

I'm standing outside one of five vaccination sites here. Seventy-five thousand Hong Kongers have already signed up for the vaccine. The appointments have been booked solid for the next two weeks.

Now, the Sinovac vaccine, they have yet to be approved by the World Health Organization, but it has been approved by Hong Kong health authorities and the government here, for emergency use.

Now, according to the Hong Kong government, priority is to be given to the following individuals. Those over the age of 60, healthcare workers, caregivers, as well as people who work in cross border transportation like pilots or drivers.

This morning, we've been talking to a number of people who just got vaccinated, including a 63-year-old Mrs. Nuk (ph). She said that the process took about 30 minutes. It was smooth. And she also said she was very confident about the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine. Now, according to a recent University of Hong Kong survey, it said

about less than 35 percent of people questioned said that they would not be willing to take the Sinovac vaccine.

And in order to counter that vaccine hesitancy, especially in regards to Sinovac, Carrie Lam, the top leader here in Hong Kong, earlier this week got the jab herself. She was inoculated with the Sinovac COVID vaccine in a live, televised event.

As a result, it seems to be working. A number of people now want to get the vaccine, but BioNTech vaccine is arriving tomorrow. We also just learned that around 200,000 additional vaccinations slots will be open to the public on Monday -- John.

VAUSE: So Kristie, we're talking about the healthcare workers and the frontline workers, and the carers of the elderly, as well as the elderly themselves as the first ones to get this. And then what's the timeline? Who else is next? How long will it take?

STOUT: This is a process that's going to take several weeks and several months. But there will be enough inoculations for everyone. The Hong Kong government has said that it has ordered 22 and a half million doses of vaccines, not only from Sinovac, as well as from BioNTech, but also from Oxford/AstraZeneca. That's more than enough to inoculate the entire population of Hong Kong, some seven and a half million people, but it's going to take time.

But it seems to be rolling out very smoothly. There is an online registration form in place. People are signing up. There were long lines early this morning, and now, additional sites will be opened up on Monday -- John.

VAUSE: Kristie, thank you, Kristie Lu Stout, live for us in Hong Kong with the very latest.

Thomas Bollyky is the director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is also the author of "Plagues and the Paradox of Progress." He's with us this hour from Washington.

Thomas, thank you for taking the time to be with us.


VAUSE: You know, it's always been a risk, to quote Charles Dickens, but these seem to be the best of times, the worst of times. Although, I -- the COVID vaccines have exceeded all expectations.

But then, at the same time, we had these new variants which are emerging, and they're causing increasing concern. So if this is a foot race between the vaccinations and the variants, globally, are the variants ahead?

BOLLYKY: So they are. And the two are related. And here's why.

Ultimately, what we need to be able to do is to suppress the spread of the virus. Because with each new case, you run the risk of more variants emerging that can also be more contagious, more deadly, more resistant to vaccine. So we need to stay ahead of that by vaccinating the population.

Here's the challenge. If we need to have additional doses, or new vaccines, or even a booster shot to deal with this variant, it's going to put increasing pressure on the global supply of vaccines. I don't mean the countries with vaccines will -- access to vaccines will take even longer to share them with poorer nations, because they will need to boost their own population for these new variants emerging.

VAUSE: Yes, even if we look at the -- the infection rates in the United States and Europe, which had been falling, it seems to have hit a plateau. That plateau was close to zero, being good news.

But in the U.S., for example, it's around the 70,000 mark for new daily infections. Some countries in Europe have seen these numbers edge back up.


A recently released fork-in-the-road moment where what we decide to do and the actions that we take at this point will be consequential for months and maybe years to come.

BOLLYKY: It could be. So the good news, and as you mentioned, there is good news this year, is between the first of January, and today, the world has halved the number of cases that we have of the coronavirus, at least reported cases.

So that's progress, but as you've also noted in the last six days, they've started to tick up five percent. And the issue there is that we, ultimately, need to be able to suppress the spread of this while our vaccine supplies catch up to the point that we can actually vaccinate enough population to start to suppress with just the -- more with the vaccine than relying on these same types of measures -- a mask and social distancing that we've had throughout this pandemic.

VAUSE: Well, that seems to be the advice, which we're getting from the head of the WHO, who basically says that, while those, you know, lower-income nations that don't have access to the vaccine just simply have to wait as we continue on with social distancing, as well as testing. Listen to this.


DR. TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, WHO: The most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chains of transmission. And to do that, you must test and isolate. You cannot fight a fire blindfolded, and we cannot stop this pandemic if we don't know who is infected. We have a simple message for all countries. Test, test, test.


VAUSE: And it seems testing as a priority has kind of dropped off the mat recently. You know, the official worldwide count of the number of corona cases is closing in on 113 million. How many times higher would you expect that real-world number to actually be, and what are the implications of that?

BOLLYKY: It's going to vary, country by country, how far that number is off, the number -- reported numbers. But it's, at a minimum, multiples -- multiples short of what the reality is. And in some settings could be -- could be an even lower percentage of that.

It is true. As much as these variants are scary and they seem novel, the strategies for controlling them are not. They're largely the same strategies that we have been trying to maintain for months now, in this pandemic. We just need greater adoption.

What's hard is for that is the wealthy nations that have access to vaccines, you do see some increased use of masks, or social distancing, or reduced mobility showing that people are staying at home, particularly in parts of the U.S., the U.K.

The problem is, in countries where vaccines aren't coming any time soon, this is a long haul for them. And there really is a certain amount of pandemic fatigue. So the director general is conveying the right message. I hope people listen and are able to hold on while we're waiting for vaccine supplies to reach them.

VAUSE: Ian Bremmer, he of the Eurasia Group fame and Foreign Policy Bureau, looked at how those countries have responded to the pandemic, who was successful and why. His op-ed in "TIME" concludes with this: "It's not money or political orientation alone that leads to successful country responses -- leadership is critical, and the ability to create a shared sense of commitment and sacrifice is essential. Those leaders who took the threat most seriously early on and relied on science to guide the policy responses are the ones that have (so far) fared the best."

You know, wealthy or poo, democracy or authoritarian, it did not matter. So as we head into this next stage, this vaccination stage with pandemic fatigue and all the rest of it, how crucial is that assessment, moving forward?

BOLLYKY: It's crucial. So look, nations aren't going to be able to change their leaders, immediately. What is clear, that's important, is to be able to communicate clearly and start to build trust.

And what health officials and political leaders are saying, so that we can kind of do this -- do the things that we have discussed to get ahead of these variants to stop the spread of this virus, and that's really what we've seen throughout here.

The end of the day the only way to protect each other is by starting out protecting ourselves, wearing a mask, staying home, social distancing. Let's been true for months now. Still true today.

VAUSE: It was true from the very beginning. It seems like only now that message is actually sinking in.

Thomas Bollyky, thank you for being with us.

BOLLYKY: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

COVID restrictions in North Korea are so severe, conditions inside of the country are so bad that eight Russian diplomats and their families are so desperate to leave, they loaded onto an old railed handcart and began their journey on Tuesday, pushing and pumping by hand their way to the border.


Live now to CNN's Paula Hancocks, following the story from Seoul. Paula, you know, those who grew up watching TV westerns in the old black-and-white movies, they'll remember these hand-pushed rail carts. But this is a real-life journey, almost 900 kilometers. And it begs the question why?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the actual hand cart, luckily, was not for the whole 900 kilometers. But certainly, it is remarkable, this story. The images, the videos showing that one family having to -- to go by this hand cart, which they'd actually built themselves and put onto rails across the border from North Korea into Russia.

So this really just points to how paranoid North Korea is about COVID, and how closed, how sealed that border is, that they couldn't allow a plane, or a train, or a car into North Korea, to take these diplomats out.

So the entire journey, according to the Russian ministry of foreign affairs on their Facebook, was 32 hours on the train to get to that border, two hours on the bus to get right up to the border, and then they did have to do the rest on foot. But instead, you can see from the images that they decided to build that hand cart, to put it on the rails, to load it up with suitcases, and then to put the children on top.

It really is quite remarkable. They all seem in particularly good spirits. You can hear cheering as they are coming towards, presumably, the Russians side of the border, where they had some of their colleagues meet them there and take them up to Vladivostok to -- to continue the journey home.

But this really does highlight the fact that North Korea has sealed its borders tight, knowing it cannot let COVID come into the country, still claiming zero cases. There's a big question mark about that.

But we did hear from the Russian ambassador to the DPRK just recently. And he said, inside the country, they are experiencing some food shortages, for example. The staples like pasta, vegetable oil, flour, sugar, things that they are unable to import at this point. So certainly, this is just a very strong illustration of how closed those borders are -- John.

VAUSE: That's the question. How many foreign diplomats do we know are still inside North Korea under these conditions? Because there seems to be some kind of exodus, at least in parts.

HANCOCKS: Absolutely. We've seen this exodus over -- over months, really. Many of them left last summer when they realized that they were allowed to leave, but then they wouldn't be allowed to come back in. And then the situation just became too tricky for them inside.

Again, the Russian ambassador saying that it's not just the limits on goods at this point. But of course, there is the concern that, if someone is seriously ill, there's a limit on medicine. How do you get to the border quickly. Certainly, this is proved you can't get there quickly.

So there are very few foreigners left in North Korea. There are very few embassies that still have anybody within them. Most of them have been closed down within recent months. We don't have an exact figure, though. It is very difficult to find out exactly who is still there, but I can say the majority of those embassies are now empty.

And, of course, Russia is one of the friendly countries to North Korea. It's one of the allies, and they still have to get out this way.

VAUSE: Says a lot when you happy to get to Vladivostok. Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks, live for us in Seoul.

Well, questions are being raised about the ethics of the vaccine study in India. Participants were recruited from a slum with a very tragic history. We'll tell you why activists are especially concerned.



VAUSE: Welcome back. A quick look at our top story this hour, the U.S. air strikes hit in Syria. The target: a site used by two militia groups backed by Iran.

A U.S. official tells CNN a handful of militants were killed. The site isn't specifically tied to recent rocket attacks on American forces, but the U.S. defense secretary says he is confident it was used by the same Shia militias.

This is also the first known U.S. military action under President Joe Biden. Earlier on Thursday, President Biden spoke with the Saudi King Salman.

The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was not mentioned in the official readout of the call, but a long-awaited U.S. intelligence report is expected to further implicate the Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi's death.

He was killed and dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in Turkey back in 2018.

Well, ethics, human trials, vaccines, and drug measures, a mix which is now raising concern in India and its homegrown vaccine. Participants in the slums of Bhopal may not have known they were

taking part in one of the studies. And the maker of Covaxin is denying allegations of malpractice.

CNN's Vedika Sud is covering the story first. She joins us now, live from New Delhi. What are the details?

VEDIKA SUD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to be with you, John.

Well, in fact, government and organizations from Bhopal, which is located in central India in January brought to the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, health minister. And they requested both of them to stop the trials that were taking place, particularly at a hospital in Bhopal.

Now, just a reminder to our viewers. Bhopal witnessed one of the worst industrial disasters in the year 1984.

Covaxin is a vaccine that has been produced by one of the biggest pharma giants here in India, along with the government-run institute.

Now, these trials, Phase 3 trials, were taking place across 26 centers across India, but activists and experts have raised the red flag over what was really happening in a hospital in Bophal. Here are the details.



GRAPHIC: A van came. It had speakers on top and they were making announcements that they are offering COVID vaccines and you will get 10 dollars. They said everyone needs to take it now, or you may have to pay money to take it later.

SUD (voice-over): Twenty-seven-year-old day laborer Cholu Dos Beragi, like many others in the slums of Bhopal, says this was an offer he simply couldn't refuse.


GRAPHIC: I haven't been working since the lockdown last year. I thought, might as well get the vaccine and $10.

SUD: Beragi says he walked into nearby People's Hospital in December, expecting a COVID-19 vaccine, but he claims he unknowingly became a participant of Phase 3 clinical trials for India's indigenous vaccine Covaxin, developed by India's pharma giant, Bharat Biotech, sponsored by the government-run institute, Indian Council of Medical Research.

India's rules for clinical trials clearly state administrators must inform participants about the trial; require written consent; provide clear understanding about the trial risks; explain a placebo may be administered in place of the vaccine.

But Beragi, who is illiterate, says he had very little understanding about what he was agreeing to.


GRAPHIC: They gave me a form and asked me to sign it. I said, sir, I cannot read or write. How will I fill it out?

SUD: It's an allegation that gives bioethical expert Dr. Ananth Pam (ph) pause.

DR. ANANTH PAM (PH), BIOETHICAL EXPERT: There have been some concerns raised around one particular complaint and the way of course -- the fact that it was done, the fact that there was a reimbursement amount and the fact that this was an opportunity to get vaccinated with the vaccine and they're not participating in a trial.

SUD: Pam (ph) also says that reporting adverse events is critical in any vaccine trial. Some slum residents have said that, despite experiencing what they considered adverse events, the follow-up by trial administrators wasn't regular.

Responding to media queries and the trials in January, Bharat Biotech in a press statement said, "All adverse effects were reported, and all patients were monitored on a regular basis."


The pharmaceutical company went on to say that participants were enrolled after careful assessment, and the payment of $10 was not an inducement. No comprise had been made with the scientific rigor of the trials.

CNN spoke to 20 other participants besides Beragi. And most say they didn't know they were participating in a vaccine trial, and others say they did not understand what that meant.

What's more? Trial participants that spoke to CNN were from a vulnerable community. This slum around Bhopal was a major sight of an industrial disaster in 1984.

ICMR, which collaborated with India's pharma giant in development of the vaccine, denies the trial was unethical.

DR. SAMIRAN PANDA, INDIAN COUNCIL OF MEDICAL RESEARCH: ICMR is respectful about the ethical practices when conducting a trial and have, therefore, more reason to believe that the Bhopal trial did not follow ethical principles.

SUD: While manufacturers say no corners were cut in its trial phase, experts worry the findings in Bhopal's vaccine trials might raise questions about the reliability of data gathered if these allegations are proven true.


SUD: And a significant percentage of those participants were a part of these trials in Bhopal, out of the slums that I just mentioned. Also, CNN has repeatedly reached out to the manufacturer of Covaxin BioNTech for comment. There's been no response yet.

Also, CNN spoke with the hospital in question, and the dean has said that no one was sent to these slums to recruit participants, and they had all of the consent forms, be it written or audiovisual consent forms, for these trials -- John.

VAUSE: I'm sure they do. Vedika, thank you. Vedika Sud in New Delhi. Thank you.

Well, still to come, where is the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny? His lawyers fear he may have been banished to a labor camp somewhere in Russia's notorious prison system.


VAUSE: To Capitol Hill now. For the past few days, lawmakers have been pressing for answers about the failed response to the January 6 attack. The acting chief of Capitol Police and the acting health sergeant at arms are the latest to face some very tough questions.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has details from Washington.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, growing frustration from lawmakers.

REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH): Why wouldn't we have been prepared for the worst-case scenario? That's what the average American is sitting home thinking about.

SCHNEIDER: The acting chief of Capitol Police and the acting sergeant at arms grilled on their lack of preparedness and the breakdown of communication to Capitol Police officers on January 5.

JAIME HERRERA BEUTLER (R-WA): They were getting no leadership. They were getting no direction. They had -- there was no coordination, and you could see the fear in their eyes.


SCHNEIDER: Acting Chief Pittman admitted there were failures.

YOGANANDA D. PITTMAN, ACTING CHIEF OF CAPITOL POLICE: When there's a breakdown, you look for those commanders with boots on the ground to provide that instruction. That did not happen, primarily because those operational commanders at the time we're so overwhelmed. On January 6, our incident command protocols were not adhered to as they should have.

SCHNEIDER: But Pittman also pushed back, to the disbelief of the committee, that even if leadership had seen that FBI bulletin that warned rioters pledged to go to war at the Capitol, Capitol Police would not have planned any differently.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even if it had moved up the chain, you wouldn't have done anything different?

PITTMAN: That is correct, sir. We do not believe that that document, in and of itself, would have changed our posture. We believe that it was consistent with the information and an intelligence that we already had.

SCHNEIDER: For the first time, Pittman disclosed just how many people came to the Capitol.

PITTMAN: I think that we were well in excess of 10,000 that traversed the grounds. Well, as far as the numbers that actually came into the building, we estimate that that was approximately 800 demonstrators.

SCHNEIDER: And Pittman warned that the fencing and security will remain around the Capitol for now, because the threat from extremists is still looming.

PITTMAN: They want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible with a direct nexus to the State of the Union, which we know that date has not been identified.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


BERMAN: The recently jailed Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, is on the move. But his lawyers and his family say. They say they just don't know where he is.

CNN's Matthew Chance has the latest.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, lawyers for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny say he's now been moved from a jail here in Moscow and is presumably en route to a penal colony somewhere else in the country.

Navalny, of course, who survived a horrific nerve agent poisoning last year and recovered in Germany was arrested when he returned to Russia last month and jailed for two and a half years. A Moscow court finding that he violated the terms of an earlier suspended sentence by being out of the country for too long when he was sick.

The opposition leader's chief of staff says neither Navalny's lawyers nor his family know where he's been moved to yet. But a prisoner monitoring group in Russia tells CNN he's due to be sent to what's called a general regime penal colony, which is one of the most common types of prison in Russia, where inmates live in dorms, not cells, and can work if they choose to do so.

The transfer comes days after the human rights group, Amnesty International, handed pro-Kremlin critics of Navalny a propaganda victory by stripping the opposition figure of his prisoner of conscience designation, citing concerns about anti-migrant statements that Navalny made more than a decade ago. In his defense, Navalny says none of his past statements justify his

current detention, and they say they're continuing to demand for his immediate release.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


VAUSE: Thank you, Matthew.

And thank you for watching. I'm John Vause. Please stay with us. I'll have another edition of CNN NEWSROOM at the top of the hour. In the meantime, WORLD SPORT is up next. Stay with us.