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Officials dismiss terrorism links in fatal Niagara border car explosion

‘No known terrorist connection’: New York governor Kathy Hochul
Debris is scattered about inside the customs plaza at the Rainbow Bridge border crossing, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023, in Niagara Falls, N.Y. The border crossing between the U.S. and Canada was closed after a vehicle exploded at a checkpoint on a bridge near Niagara Falls. The FBI’s field office in Buffalo said in a statement that it was investigating the explosion on the Rainbow Bridge, which connects the two countries across the Niagara River. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Derek Gee/The Buffalo News via AP

The governor of New York state says there’s no apparent terrorism link to a car that hit a median at breakneck speed, soared through the air, crashed and exploded, killing two people Wednesday at a Canada-U.S. border checkpoint in Niagara Falls.

“There is no evidence at this time that this was a terrorist activity,” Gov. Kathy Hochul told a news conference about the explosion that happened just before noon at the U.S. entrance on the Rainbow Bridge spanning the Niagara River.

“That’s what I want to make very clear to the public, just to calm everybody down,” said Hochul. “It’s really important, because based on what’s happening in other parts of the world, everybody is on edge. And this is an international border.”

She said the investigation continues but, based on briefings with FBI, Homeland Security and other officials, there is “no known terrorist connection.”

Hochul added there were no hallmarks of terrorism, such as threat notes or a group taking public credit.

The crash led to confusion and delays throughout the region.

Three other area border crossings between Ontario and western New York were closed for hours as Mounties, the Canada Border Services Agency and Ontario Provincial Police, along with the U.S. FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and New York State Police, scrambled to contain the possibility of expanded threats.

Buffalo-Niagara International Airport began security checks on all cars and told passengers to expect additional screenings.

Hochul said the two people who died were in the vehicle and the driver was from western New York state.

The car hit the median at such a speed that it became airborne, clearing a tall fence before crashing, said Hochul.

“They crashed into a customs and border patrol booth,” she said.

“The car and the booth immediately exploded (and) burst into flames. I saw the video of an airborne vehicle that was absolutely surreal.

“Your jaw will drop in disbelief and how this went so high over an eight-foot fence. It’s rather extraordinary.”

Video released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows the car in the far background as other vehicles go through the checkpoint. The white-coloured vehicle roars through an intersection before hitting the median, vaulting into the air and over a security fence, then twisting as it descends out of view.

A border patrol worker, protected from the crash by a booth, received minor injuries and was released from hospital.

The identities of the dead were not released.

They were a husband and wife, according to a person briefed on the investigation who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

Matthew Miraglia, the FBI special agent in charge in Buffalo, said investigators scanned the social media of the driver but found no “derogatory” information.

“There’s nothing there,” Miraglia said.

Witnesses recalled hearing a loud explosion and seeing black smoke at the crash site.

Tania Chaumont, who lives on the Canadian side in Niagara Falls, said she saw police cars racing down a road outside the Starbucks where she works.

“We live in a crazy world,” Chaumont said. “There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on.”

Hochul addressed unconfirmed reports that the pair in the car had left a Niagara Falls casino just prior to the crash.

“I can’t confirm where the car originated at this time, but there is suspicion that the vehicle may have originated in that vicinity,” she said.

The Rainbow Bridge was to remain closed, she said, as investigators sift through a large debris field.

“This vehicle basically incinerated. Nothing is left but the engine. The pieces are scattered over 13, 14 booths,” said Hochul.

The other three land crossings temporarily shut down were the Queenston Lewiston Bridge in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, N.Y., and the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge in Niagara Falls.

Heightened global tensions and the ongoing Israel-Hamas war had officials on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border taking emergency precautions.

Canada’s Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc called it a “violent circumstance” and a source of concern for both countries but warned against jumping to conclusions.

“Any time a piece of infrastructure as important to Canada and the United States, like a border crossing, sees this kind of violent circumstance, it’s a source of concern for the government of Canada and for the United States,” said LeBlanc.

“We’re taking this circumstance very seriously. But to speculate on the origin of this particular circumstance — the reasons why this may have happened — until we have more accurate information, is simply not responsible.”

Last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned a congressional committee about a heightened risk of extremism linked to the Israel-Hamas war.

Wray said law enforcement in the U.S. was paying heightened attention to how events abroad could fuel acts of homegrown domestic violence.

“We have seen violent extremists across ideologies seeking to target Jewish and Muslim people and institutions through physical assaults, bomb threats and online calls for mass casualty attacks,” he said.

Stephen Laskowski, president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, said 6,500 trucks carry $185 million in goods daily between Canada and the U.S. on routes connecting Ontario and western New York.

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