U.S. officials say 'no indication' Rainbow Bridge vehicle explosion was terrorist attack
While Canadian government officials had been operating under the assumption that Wednesday's vehicle explosion at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls was terror-related, according to national security sources, U.S. officials are now saying there is "no indication of a terrorist attack" at this time.
"At this time, there is no indication of a terrorist-involved attack," New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told reporters, while noting the investigation continues.
"Based on my briefings with experienced law enforcement, with the FBI, Homeland Security, and the Customs and Border Protection… They're still analyzing this, but there's been no indication based on any online threats, anyone taking credit for anything," Hochul said, while cautioning that this is the information she has now, and wanted to share it as to not "leave the public with a lot more anxiety than they need to have at this time."
Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau informed the House of Commons that "additional measures" were being contemplated and activated" at all border crossings across the country.
Soon after footage and reports started to emerge about the suspicious incident that took place shortly after 11:20 a.m. ET involving a vehicle travelling at high speed before becoming airborne and crashing into a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol booth before bursting into flames, Canadian authorities were in contact with their U.S. counterparts and investigators on the scene.
All security related organizations and departments on this side of the border met to discuss the incident, including the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the RCMP and Trudeau's national security and intelligence adviser, according to sources.
While officials early on were trying to determine if it was an isolated incident and as a result had closed four border crossings between Canada and New York, as of Wednesday evening, three had reopened.
"We certainly think if the American authorities think it's safe to reopen the three bridges in the vicinity of the Rainbow Bridge, that would appear to indicate maybe an isolated incident," Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said. "But I think it's important not to speculate or to exaggerate the circumstances. It's important for us to work with the Americans and to get reliable, verified information as their investigation continues," he said in an interview on CTV News Channel's Power Play with Vassy Kapelos.
Interviewed ahead of the governor's press conference, LeBlanc was asked if terrorism has been ruled out, and the minister said it was "too early to come to definitive conclusions in that regard."
Government sources told CTV News they have been told of the possibility the driver was never on the Canadian side of the border crossing, and there are multiple reports that two people in the vehicle that exploded were declared dead at the scene.
Trudeau was briefed ahead of question period, and then after issuing a statement in the House, excused himself so he could receive the latest intel.
"There are a lot of questions and we are following up to try and get as many answers as rapidly as possible. We are in close contact with U.S. officials and we'll continue to work closely with them," Trudeau said. "We will continue to be engaged, we will provide updates."
In his initial address to media mid-afternoon, LeBlanc said the government was considering this to be "a very serious situation," but refused to speculate on the origin or reasons for the explosion, given the "evolving" nature of the situation.
Asked then whether there is a current risk to Canadians, LeBlanc said national security and public safety officials are "doing absolutely everything that Canadians would expect at this moment to ensure that the border crossings can operate safely, that their security is ensured."
"Obviously 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," LeBlanc said, later confirming he spoke with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas about the cross-border collaboration between Canadian and American security agencies.
The CBSA and RCMP also issued statements on the situation, with the national police force offering little beyond saying it was working with its domestic and international partners.
"We are aware of an evolving situation at Rainbow Bridge. We are liaising with our U.S. counterparts on this matter. The FBI is leading on the ongoing investigation," CBSA said, sharing the FBI statement announcing its investigation into the incident, which took place on the U.S. side of the border and prompted the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force to monitor all points of entry in New York state.
Reacting to the rapidly unfolding situation, both Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh expressed concerns about Canadians' safety and those impacted.
"Very disturbing news of an explosion on the Rainbow Bridge that connects the United States and Canada. I would like to thank the first responders for their courage. Canada should provide all available resources to the investigation and to keep people safe," Singh said.
Given Canada is operating under this assumption, and while it has not been ruled out that the explosion was the result of other means such as a medical event or reckless driver, officials have conveyed to police forces that they should increase their presence at likely terror targets.
No issues are being reported at the two border crossings linking Windsor and Detroit.
"The Detroit-Windsor Tunnel is currently open and operating at a heightened level of security. We are closely monitoring the situation in Niagara, this is a developing story. Expect some delays while crossing the border," said a statement released by officials at the tunnel.
A statement from officials at the Ambassador Bridge said "We continue to monitor the situation at the Rainbow Bridge and Niagara area. We continue to communication with CBP and CBSA. The Ambassador Bridge remains open with no delays in either direction."
This is a developing story
-With files from CTV News Chief Political Correspondent Vassy Kapelos