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War of Words Escalates After Unprecedented Protests in Cuba; Video Shoes Suspected Attackers After Assassination in Haiti; White House: Afghan Allies to be Flown Out In Coming Weeks; At Least 17 Killed in South African Protests After Former Leader was Jailed; Small Maryland Town Targeted by "REvil" Ransomware Group; Djokovic Says He Will Pay at Tokyo Olympics. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired July 16, 2021 - 04:30   ET



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

All right, scenes from Florida Thursday where crowds of people marched in the streets in support of the anti-government protest we've been seeing in Cuba. The mayor of Hialeah, who was born in Cuba, joined in the peaceful demonstrations.

On the heels of those massive protests, Cuba taking diplomatic heat from the U.S. President Biden piling pressure on Havana with a verbal slap in the face. Patrick Oppmann with that.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The war of words between the Biden administration and Cuban officials continues to heat up after President Joe Biden at a news conference on Thursday said he thought Cuba was quote, a failed state that represses its people. He offered to restore the internet that the Cuban government took down following the unprecedented protest this week, even offered to send vaccines to Cuba but only if an international organization administered those vaccines, that he doesn't trust the Cuban government to do so.

Cuban officials have already been hitting back saying that they make vaccines in Cuba, they don't need any from Washington, and that Biden should butt out of Cuba's internal affairs. Earlier Biden had said that he wanted Cuba to get out of the way of the protest, not stop them anymore, not to take down the internet.

But Cuban officials have defied his demands. They've continued to crack down on the protesters. They suspended much of the internet here. There's still certain social media sites and other sites that Cubans cannot access to keep them from organizing protests and uploading photos. So the Cuban government's position remains very, very clear that despite whatever is said by the U.S. president, they will continue they say to do whatever is necessary to defend the revolution. Patrick Oppmann, CNN Havana.


HOLMES: Nine days after the assassination of Haiti's president, authorities there have revealed few details about who was behind it and what the motivation was. 18 Colombian suspects now in custody, some apparently thought they were going to detain the President Jovenel Moise and turn him over to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA declining to comment on that particular allegation. But Colombia's president now claims some of the alleged attackers knew that President Moise was to be killed.

And CNN has obtained new video that shows the alleged assassins as they try to elude capture several hours after the attack on President Moise. Our Matt Rivers is in Port-au-Prince with that.



MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now recently, we became aware of a clip of a livestream that was taken the day that President Jovenel Moise was assassinated. Several hours after he was assassinated, this clip has made the rounds in Haiti quite a bit, but it hasn't been given a lot of attention internationally especially by international media. And what it shows really is in the lightning in terms of exactly what happened in the hours after President Jovenel Moise was assassinated.

RIVERS (voice over): Just hours after Haiti's president was killed, this video livestreamed by a local journalist shows some of the men accused of killing him. Here you can see two of the Colombian mercenaries that officials say were part of the hit squad. The first man is holding a rifle, and signals for the journalist to stop. A second then stands up rifle glinting in the sun. They tell him to stop recording.

At this point, Haitian security forces had trapped the two dozen or so alleged assassins, along this stretch of road. At the bottom, a roadblock. Then the look-outs with the majority of the suspects holed up in this building. Moving up the street, and past the vehicles, the suspects had abandoned on the road, the camera reaches that building. As it pans, you can see two things. Several black clad mercenaries, and this man. One of the two Haitian Americans, accused of taking part in the crime. At this moment, he's actually giving a live interview to Haiti Radio Mega saying, they did not kill the president.

"Someone died, but we didn't do it," he says, "people inside the president's house started to shoot at us and we fired back to defend ourselves."

Vincent then says most of the group believed they were going to arrest the president, not kill him. The journalist who filmed them Ahaiko Sanechal (ph), who didn't want to show his face, said the group didn't seem to have a plan. He says they knew they were in a tough position, and knew the president was dead. They were confused, not sure whether to turn themselves in or fight.

Ultimately, some chose to fight. And the fierce shootout with police left at least three Colombians dead. The easiest way to tell who actually killed the president would be to see the footage from CCTV cameras inside the presidential residence that a source tells us captured most of what happened. But authorities have refused to release it or even describe its contents.

RIVERS: We know that there is CCTV footage from the presidential residence the night of the assassination. Why not release that footage to the public? Would that not answer so many outstanding questions about who did this?

LEON CHARLES, HAITI NATIONAL POLICE CHIEF: We cannot reveal to the public anything, any more information until the investigator allow us to do so.

RIVERS: Now, we also got the chance to ask the chief of the Haitian national police about the fact that we haven't heard from any of the alleged suspects in this case that are detained at this moment, including the Colombians that are currently detained in Haiti. And I asked him when we'll be able to hear from those detainees. What have they officially been charged with? Do they have legal representation? He didn't answer really any of those questions. And because of that, our questions will remain about exactly what the motive behind all of this actually is.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.


HOLMES: Next week the Biden administration will begin relocating thousands of Afghan interpreters and translators who help the U.S. during the almost 20 year war, or at least that's the plan. Many of them now, of course, fear for their safety, some have died as the Taliban gained ground and American forces pulled back.

Lawmakers and advocates have sharply criticized the White House for not doing enough or quickly enough to protect these crucial allies and their families who are now in danger. The military drawdown expected to be finished by the end of next month. I spoke to former U.S. Army Captain Matt Zeller about the importance of doing right by these Afghans and if he worries the White House efforts are too little too late.


MATT ZELLER, CO-FOUNDER, NO ONE LEFT BEHIND: The administration has just been completely lacking on the key details of who gets to go in this evacuation, where do they get to go, and when do they get to leave. The other thing that we all are wondering is the advocates who have been pushing for this evacuation is why are we doing it now at the 11th hour. Why we didn't we do it, you know, over the last four or five months when we still had forces in Afghanistan.

The association of wartime allies recently surveyed the Afghan special immigrant visa applicant's population in Afghanistan. And what they found was that over 49 percent of our Afghan wartime allies currently live outside of the city of Kabul. The Biden administration thus far seems to only have a plan to evacuate people who are in Kabul.


So, what are we going to do about, you know, the other 40,000 people or so that are not in Kabul? There doesn't seem to be a plan for them.

HOLMES: Yes, I mean, how are they even going to get to a rally point? I mean, it is. This is part of the problem. Too late. When it comes to this concern over vetting, which you know, a lot of people on the right in particular keep saying they need to be vetted and so on. I mean, someone can gets lost in all the bureaucratic side of this, is all of these people have been vetted thoroughly enough to do the jobs they did. I know when I went -- what I went through in order to embed with the military and get on bases, these people have already been through a ton of vetting or they wouldn't been doing the job.

ZELLER: Yeah, it's not like anybody just walked up and said, hi, I speak English, like, here is a weapon, go and patrol. These people had to be polygraph as a terms of their employment every six months. Their emails were monitored. Their phone calls were monitored. They were given privileged to access to some of the most sensitive U.S. military personnel and equipment.

We have a gentlemen that we interviewed for our podcast War Time Allies, he's named is Sharif. He was the personal interpreter for the United States Navy Seals and U.S. Army Special Forces for over seven years. This guy can't get a visa right now. He's had his visa application already denied once. The Taliban have killed his mom, his dad, all of his siblings. He's afraid he's going to get left behind. And he's a prime example of somebody who clearly passed all of the vetting to work alongside us, but somehow can't seem to get through the vetting that we now require to get to safety. It's just atrocious.

HOLMES: Matt, we will get you back and talk more about this. Matt Zeller, thanks very much.

ZELLER: Thanks, brother. I really appreciate it.


HOLMES (on camera): Now, the death toll has now climbed to at least 117 after days of unrest and mayhem in South Africa. Officials say the country is seeing some of its worst violence in years. 10,000 soldiers deployed on Thursday morning to help police quell widespread looting and vandalism. And authorities say the situation in several cities is now calming down. Let's get the latest from CNN's David McKenzie. He is live for us in Durban, South Africa. And then David, the president visiting Durban today. What is he aiming to do?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well he was just here where I'm standing a few moments ago, Michael. I put the question to President Ramaphosa, what does he feel about the fact that citizens had to protect their property over the last few days of chaos and that the police and state security was late to help them.

He gave a pretty surprising answer saying that he welcomed the fact that people have set up barricades and that they have protected their property and working in conjunction with the police and the military. The fact that they had to do that speaks to the level of the crisis here in South Africa.

If you look over here, this is a mall that was looted near KwaMashu in Durban some days ago. People are now picking up the pieces. President Ramaphosa said that the issue of former President Zuma played into this, but he said that they're going to investigate the instigators of this violence and looting because he said it clearly was planned on some level -- Michael.

CHURCH: All right, David McKenzie on the spot there for us in Durban. South Africa. Thanks David.

Quick break for us. When we come back, an unlikely target in a major cyberattack. Coming up -- the small American town brought to its knees by a notorious group of hackers. We'll be right back.



HOLMES: Welcome back. Questions surrounding the mysterious disappearance of the cyber hackers known as REvil are intensifying. The Biden administration refusing to give out any information. Small towns though across the U.S. were targeted in the group's latest attack. CNN's Alex Marquardt travel to Maryland to see how one town was brought to a halt in just a matter of minutes.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Leonardtown is a quiet little town in Southern Maryland, on the banks of Potomac River, population, 4,500. Not the kind of place you'd expect would be hacked by Russian hackers, but that's exactly what happened as the Fourth of July weekend started.

LASCHELLE MCKAY, TOWN ADMINISTRATOR FOR LEONARDTOWN, MARYLAND: We were, you know, just sitting at our computers. We were all pretty much operating them and all of a sudden everything was gone.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Laschelle McKay has been the administrator of Leonardtown for over 20 years and says the past two weeks had been the most chaotic she's ever seen.

MCKAY: They just said shut everything down. So, it was a little bit of panic.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Leonardtown was one of the up to 1,500 victims of a massive ransomware attack carried out by REvil, a criminal hacking group. They attacked an American company called Kaseya whose software is used around the world.

In the town hall of Leonardtown, the Wi-Fi went down, the computers were locked up, email and data inaccessible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll email it to him once the system is back up and running.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): They couldn't process permits or payments and had to resort to writing everything out or using the office's one typewriter.

MCKAY: Just everything you can imagine that you would start to do, you realize wasn't available.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): In Sweden, 800 grocery stores shut down. In New Zealand, schools and kindergartens were knocked offline. REvil demanded a $70 million ransom payment.

The White House argued that the national impact was small since critical infrastructure wasn't hit. But the pain was deeply felt by small companies like Shasho Real Estate Consulting, which we visited with Joshua Justice, whose company, Just Tech, is the IT provider for Leonardtown --

MARQUARDT: John, good to see you. Nice to meet you.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): -- Shasho Consulting and more than 100 others whose systems were locked up by the hackers.

JOSHUA JUSTICE, PRESIDENT, JUST TECH: And we prepared for the worst and we have encrypted backups of everyone's data in case the worst happens. We never envisioned this and having to bring up so many, over 100 clients up at one time.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Just Tech had shut everything down in only eight minutes. But the damage was done.

JUSTICE: Over 1,000 devices infected in that short period.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Thanks to the Just Tech backup system, none of their clients like Shasho Consulting and Leonardtown, had to pay the $45,000 per computer demanded by the hackers. But their business essentially ground to a halt.

HARRY SHASHO, PRESIDENT, SHASHO CONSULTING: It's been pretty bad. Yeah, it really hurt us.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Harry Shasho thought his company with just four employees had all the protection that they needed.

SHASHO: Who would have thought that that would even imaginable happen? I mean, I could see a TV program on this somewhere, but I never in a million years thought that that would happen.

(04:50:00) MARQUARDT (voice-over): Back in Leonardtown, Laschelle McKay says this has been a major lesson, one that she hopes others will learn from, that attackers thousands of miles away are wreaking havoc on towns like hers.

MCKAY: It's just a small town, rural area. But it just goes to show that no one's really safe from this.

MARQUARDT: It took that IT firm Just Tech about ten days of working around the clock to get their clients back up and there's still more work to be done. Both the mayor of Leonardtown and the head of that small real estate company told me they want President Biden to be more aggressive and to go after these attackers overseas. That may happen, Biden has said, his team is also saying that they are leaning on the Kremlin to crack down on hackers based in Russia. And as part of the Biden administration's plan to fight ransomware, they announced on Thursday rewards up to $10 million for helping to identify hackers backed by countries like Russia.

Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.


HOLMES: And we'll be right back.


HOLMES: The tennis world number one says that he will be going to the Olympics. Here is Patrick Snell with a minute in sports.



PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT: In recent days we've told you about a whole spate of high profile tennis stars who won't be competing at the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics, but now we're learning top ranked Novak Djokovic will be traveling to Japan. Novak now a 20 time grand slam champ tweeting out the news earlier to one of his young fans.

I've booked my flight for Tokyo and will proudly be joining team Serbia for the Olympics.

Meantime we've learned the young Australia player, Alex de Minaur, who was slated to play in the singles and doubles at the summer games, has tested positive for COVID-19 and won't now be competing.

To the latest on the fallout from the online races abuse three England footballers received in the aftermath of their country's Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy, now Bukayo Saka saying in part, by driving out the hate by being kind to one another, we will win, love always wins.

And at golf's open championship, 2010 Claret Jug winner, Louis Oosthuizen in the lead after round one by one shot over Jordan Spieth at Royal St. George's. The South African star fire in a sizzling 64 on Thursday with six birdies along the way. And with that, it is right back to you this Friday.


HOLMES: Patrick Snell our thanks.

Now aerospace company Blue Origin says its first paying customer will also be the youngest astronaut to go to space. 18-year-old Oliver Daeman will be traveling with Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, aboard Blue Origin's first manned flight on July 20th. He graduated from high school just last year. Joining them will be the oldest astronaut, 82- year-old Wally Funk. The trip will mark the first ever crewed flight of blue origins suborbital space tourism rocket.

Thanks are spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @HOLMESCNN. "EARLY START" coming up next.