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Explosion At U.S.-Canada Border Crossing; Four Major Border Crossings Closed; Prime Minister Trudeau Takes Situation Seriously. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 22, 2023 - 14:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: You're watching CNN News Central, where we are tracking breaking news. I'm Boris Sanchez in Washington. Wolf Blitzer is in Tel Aviv, Israel for us. We'll get to him in just moments. But first, we want to talk about the breaking news at a New York border crossing. The FBI is investigating a vehicle explosion there. This is at the Rainbow Bridge U.S.-Canada border crossing. Let's get straight to CNN's Brynn Gingrass with the latest details. Brynn, bring us up to speed.

BRYNN GINGRASS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Boris. The FBI, the ATF, the JTTF, which is the Joint Terrorism Task Force, there's a number of federal authorities both on the U.S. side and also on the Canada side that is monitoring the situation, trying to figure out exactly at this point what happened. What we know is that there was a car crossing into the U.S. from Canada and what has been described as some authorities a crosh -- as a crash, sorry at that crossing there at the Rainbow Bridge.

And then a subsequent somewhat explosion is what the FBI is describing. Now, whether or not this was sinister or not is not clear at this point. However, as you can imagine, at this point of entry, it's going to be an uptick in security across that area. So that is what we are seeing currently in response as this is still being investigated. We're hearing there is a system-wide security uptick at this point due to this explosion. That means there are going to be more security checks of cars in that area.

Around the airports in that area and more security screenings of passengers who are coming in and out of this area. Now, of course, with the holiday, that was already sort of being an uptick, certainly as we've seen more travellers during this time. But this has sort of definitely raised it to another level. So, again, it's very unclear at this point what exactly happened at that crossing. We're still trying to get those answers as authorities are also on the ground there investigating. But, again, there is an uptick in security.

And we also know from the JTTF that all points of entry into the state of New York are being closely monitored at this point. So still trying to get some answers, Boris. But that's the very latest that we're hearing on the ground there. SANCHEZ: Bryn, please stand by. I just want to let our viewers know

these are live images of the scene that we are watching. It appears that law enforcement is there in large numbers diverting traffic away from the crossing area. I want to go to CNN's John Miller because, John, you have some new reporting. You've spoken to multiple law enforcement. You've spoken to multiple law enforcement sources. You have details about some of what unfolded. What are you hearing?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, Boris, right now what they're looking at is trying to get to all the video so that they can kind of re-piece together what happened. So, all of this is still preliminary. But what we're being told is this car was coming into a checkpoint, went through the first checkpoint where they examined driver's license, passport, and so on, and then was referred towards a second checkpoint. Now, from people who have looked at the videos, they say the car reaches a high rate of speed, apparently crashes into some kind of barrier, and there's an explosion.

So that's what we know from what they think they have pieced together at the scene. Here's what we don't know, and these are all important questions, which is, what was it that made the car increase speed and strike the barrier? Did the explosion happen? Did the explosion happen because there was something inside the car that blew up, or because it impacted something hard, flipped over, and exploded as a result of the accident? I use the word accident. What I mean is collision. Who are the 2 individuals who were in the car who were seriously injured?

We don't have their condition yet, but it is supposed to be, according to my sources, what they believe to be 2 males. And as soon as that happens, we'll know. But as soon as they have those identities, they will be going backwards through their records, their intelligence, who are these individuals, where were they going, where were they coming from.


In the meantime, that's a crime scene where the FBI's bomb technicians, ATF's bomb technicians, the county sheriff's bomb technicians from the Buffalo side will all be looking to determine what may have been in that car, whether it was the car that exploded or whether it was something inside the car that exploded. So, these are all very serious questions.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, it's literally unfolding before our eyes. John, just to clarify a point you made, it appears from the reporting that this car went through the initial security screening and then there was a second search or there was an attempt at a second search, and it was at that point that the car then sped and collided?

MILLER: Well, at that point, the car increases speed, and right after that, there's an explosion. And this is where --depending on which witnesses you're talking to or who viewed which videos, the story becomes divergent because what is not clear is did the car explode because of or upon some impact or did the car explode because there was something in the car that blew up and then caused the impact? And that's what they're trying to look at. They're trying to look at every angle of the video, talk to every witness, but also forensically identify, what's in that car.

At the same time, they're dealing with a separate suspicious package that's been found at the scene, which they'll work their way through, which may or may not have anything to do with this. That's common in these situations. But really, the best piece of evidence, physical evidence that may contain those answers, is going to be that vehicle. And that means chemical tests. It means going through the wreckage. It means looking for signs of something that blew up to determine was that a spontaneous combustion upon impact fueled by the gas tank and fuel and other things, or was there an improvised explosive device? These are questions right now, not answers.

SANCHEZ: Right. I do want to note we've just gotten word that Canadian officials are going to be holding some kind of press briefing to provide us with potentially some of those answers to the questions that John brought up. I want to bring in former Boston Police Commissioner, Ed Davis, who joins us now. Thank you so much for joining us, Ed. I wanted to ask you something about what John brought up.

The fact that this car was apparently selected for secondary screening, what is it that would prompt some official to see something in a car to say that that vehicle needs to be screened further? Because it sticks out to me that between getting from that first checkpoint to the second one, the car sped up and then there was an explosion. Could you tell us a little bit more about that and what you think is going on with that car?

ED DAVIS, FORMER BOSTON POLICE COMMISSIONER: Good afternoon, Boris. Yes. This is a clue, I think, as to what may be going on here. It's hard to say at this juncture, and John is correct in saying it's very early in the investigation, but all of the agents on the borders are trained in something called suspicious indicators. And so, anything that might have happened, either in the exchange with the driver of the vehicle or his passenger, or something that they saw inside the vehicle, that caused them concern.

They do have explosive sniffing dogs there. Again, that's just speculation. But there are a multitude of things that could have happened that raise the suspicion of the Border Patrol agents. And that's exactly why they're there. They're doing their job. And if they started to expand their search and the 2 suspects knew that they were going to get caught, anything's possible.

SANCHEZ: Ed, I do want to pause for a moment because it appears we just put -- Okay, the Canadian officials are set to brief at any moment, but it has not yet started, so we will bring it to you as soon as it does begin. Okay. Ed, please stand by. I believe we also have Josh Campbell, CNN's Josh Campbell, with us. Josh, you've just heard the latest details about what is unfolding at the Rainbow Bridge crossing, U.S.-Canada Crossing. What stands out to you about this reporting? JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you mentioned before, it's too early right now to tell, you know, whether we're talking about terrorism, whether this was an accident. I mean, there are so many possibilities here. But what is clear is that, you know, the FBI, every field office, 56 offices across the country has a joint terrorism task force. And what those agencies do, it's not just bureau personnel, but a host of other agencies, Customs and Border Protection, local police, state police, all the resources and databases, that you would bring to bear to try to determine, you know, who are these individuals? Do they have any type of, you know, criminal history? That would help you then piece together a possible motivation here, obviously conducting interviews with these people as well.


But, you know, within the FBI, there's a specialty that's called an SABT that stands for Special Agent Bomb Technician. They would launch to the scene. And I think we would be able to quickly rule out whether there was some type of incendiary device because they would do their testing, their chemical testing, take samples from in and around the area to see if any of those samples actually, you know, match with some type of explosive. So that happening behind the scenes, that wouldn't take long in order to make that determination. So, you have multiple moving parts.

I will say, though, you know, as far as the border checkpoint, among the tens of thousands of law enforcement agencies throughout this country, there exists exactly one that has the greatest power when it comes to stopping people, and that's U.S. Customs and Border Protection. These officers can stop someone for any reason or for no reason at all in order to conduct, you know, secondary screenings. Oftentimes, they'll do random selections of people at the border as well. And so, it's too soon to determine, you know, why this particular vehicle was then called over to secondary inspection.

But it's worth pointing out that, you know, that is the power and authority that they have. But that would obviously be a key question as well for authorities. Was there some type of indicator that the border checkpoint officers, something that raised their suspicion? And then we'll just have to wait and see what the chemical law enforcement agencies are going to do. And then we'll just have to wait and see what the chemical analysis does, what the, you know, obviously the interviews, the looking into the background of these people.

The last thing I'll say as well is that, you know, anytime that there's some type of potential terrorism, which again, we're not saying that this is that, far too soon to say that, but you start looking at, well, you know, what are possible targets of terrorism? And, you know, you don't think a, you know, a booth at a border checkpoint would be among those, you know, if someone was trying to get in the country in order to do something incendiary, you know, there are, you know, multiple other potential targets as well. Obviously, we don't know exactly what happened at the border, but again, the bottom line, there's a lot of work going on behind the scenes right now, far too soon right now to tell whether this was something sinister, whether this was accidental, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Josh, please stand by. I do want to point out, we are getting new reporting from Arlette Saenz who's traveling with president Biden in Nantucket for the Thanksgiving holiday. The white house is closely monitoring the incident at the Rainbow Bridge crossing, Niagara falls. They say that law enforcement is on the scene and investigating. So obviously President Biden is being brought up to speed with the latest on what is happening there.

I want to go back to former commissioner Ed Davis because obviously, Ed, the specter of what's happening in the middle East has heightened the sense of potential danger for different points of entry into the United States and for different landmarks across the country as well as obviously the Thanksgiving holiday too. And with so many people traveling, it seems like soft targets are especially vulnerable with just the sheer number of people that are at airports in different locations. Talk to us about the complicated process when something like this happens of then buttoning down and protecting other areas that might be vulnerable.

DAVIS: Yes, that's a very good point for us. Just a little over two weeks ago, Christopher Ray, the FBI director warned of an increase in potential terrorist attacks. This is Thanksgiving. Uh, there's a lot going on in a hundred different places in New York, not the least of which is in New York city. It's the very epitome of a soft target. And the problem with the soft target is there's so many thousands of people that are coming to this event. You can't stop everybody and everything. And, this is exactly, I mean, whether or not this is terrorism, this is a timely reminder to everyone in security and policing that they need to stay on their game right now.

I do want to bring in CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who is a live force in Tel Aviv reporting on what's been happening in the middle East. And obviously Wolf, uh, this to a degree, we don't know, exactly what, has unfolded here in the context of whether it's a terrorist attack or not, but this is something personal for you because you're from Buffalo. You're from this area. I'm wondering what's going through your mind as you're watching these images.

It's so sad because those of us who grew up in Buffalo, obviously very, very close to Niagara Falls, one of the great tourist attractions in the country and this Rainbow Bridge, which I've gone over many, many times. Every time we had visitors coming to Buffalo, we would always go to Niagara Falls to show them Niagara falls. And we would always go to the Canadian side because the view from the Canadian side, you cross the Rainbow Bridge is really magnificent to see the falls from the Canadian side, as well as the U S side.

But, a lot of people have always thought it's a better view from the Canadian side. That's why this rainbow bridge was always so popular. And, and it's just, it's sad to hear that an incident like this could take place at a place that I love having grown up there. My family grew up there and all of us, you know, would always be frequent visitors over at Niagara falls just to see something like this.

[14:15:09] We don't know what it is. We don't know what caused this. I do know that whenever you went across any of the bridges from the United States into Canada, whether the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls or the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, you would go through -- in the old days they would it would be very quick. They would say, where are you from? You see, I'm from Buffalo. Okay, go ahead. And then later they they wanted to see some passport passports once terrorism became an issue or whatever.

But if there was a problem, they would always send you to a secondary location for further screening, whether paperwork or look at what you're bringing into Canada or bringing into the United States. So it just brings back a lot of memories. But it was never a big deal to go between the U.S. and Canada. This is very worrisome for those of us who grew up in that area and know it well.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, no question about that. I do want to point out for our viewers, as Wolf noted, the several border crossings in that area, all 4 land border crossings between the United States and Canada near Niagara Falls have been shut down as investigators work through the scene there. We also just got word from CNN's Paula Newton that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been briefed on the situation in Niagara Falls.

Essentially, the prime minister's office saying that they are in contact with U.S. officials, and they are fully engaged offering necessary support. I do want to go back to CNN's John Miller for a moment because, John, as you were reporting, your sources have shared with you that there were 2 suspects in this car. It's unclear at this moment exactly what caused the explosion that we've been monitoring. But would we soon know whether that explosive, potential explosive material was detected on the scene? How long does it take to sort that out?

MILLER: So, we're learning a little bit more. The initial report was that the car was past the first checkpoint and was referred to secondary. And Ed talked about, you know, there's indicators that get you referred to secondary. Now they have had time to review video from multiple angles. And it is beginning to tell a slightly different story, which is the car comes onto the bridge and accelerates to an extraordinarily high rate of speed. We're talking about, you know, the speed of a car that's possibly shy of 100 miles an hour. And it strikes the curb, a divider, and then literally goes airborne, flying through the air, smashes into, upon landing, the secondary inspection area.

So, it wasn't really referred to secondary. After its initial collision and the car goes up into the air, it literally crashes into the secondary area and disintegrates upon impact. The engine is separated from the car. The car is in pieces and so on. So, this adds a layer of uncertainty to what we're talking about because it starts to drift away from the theory that the car contained an improvised explosive device. But it starts to move towards the theory that this was some kind of high-speed accident. But then we have to look at the word accident, which was what do we have here, do we have a car that was out of control, do we have a malfunction, do we have an accident, or do we have a ramming attack?

So, it still leaves us with more questions than answers, but it gives us a better picture of what occurred in the seconds before that car landed and came apart in so many pieces at the secondary inspection area.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, that is a significant point. It's not out of the realm of possibility that this was some kind of medical incentive. incident to that point. Let's get the CNN's Josh Campbell, because, Josh, in the process of this investigation, how is it that investigators go about potentially ruling out terrorism?

CAMPBELL: Well, so you have the characteristics of the incident itself to start with. I mean, you know, again, as we've been reporting on far too soon whether to say this is terrorism, but that's something that state, local, federal investigators would work to try to rule out. Now, just, you know, looking back past incidents as we've had, you know, with terrorist groups, I mean, the likelihood that a terrorist, you know, 2 terrorists would then conduct some incident like this at the bridge, you know, potentially losing both of their lives, characteristic of a terrorist group.

You have had cells out there, but they typically try to kind of harm that they could. So that tells me if you have 2 people in one vehicle, that in and of itself, I think, is an important indicator. But also, you have, you know, you were just talking with John Miller, who, you know, John has long been involved in the law enforcement bomb tech community. You know, these are you know, specialists who work every single day, not only responding to incidents, but also honing their own skills. They have highly sophisticated technology that they deploy to scenes in order to try to take samples to conduct forensic examination in the field to determine what type of substance they might be working with.


So all of that would be done in short order to try to rule out any type of incendiary device. And then again, the characteristics of the individuals themselves, if they are conscious and able to be interviewed, that could help authorities very quickly try to determine, okay, what are we dealing with here? Was this someone who panicked? Is it someone who was driving and wasn't paying attention, particularly with the high rate of speed that John was just talking about there? So that would be important to gather that information. Will they in any criminal indices, the state, federal, local law enforcement databases to determine, are they known or suspected terrorists? Do they have a criminal history?

The U.S. government actually has numerous watch lists, which we've all become familiar with in the wake of September 11th. But there's also something that's called TIDE, which is a data database used by the U.S. intelligence community, the FBI. If any of those agencies during the course of their operations gets an indication or an identifier, someone who is a known or suspected terrorist, that goes in that database. And then if they get the name, they run the name, and they can determine if there's any what they call DEROD (ph) derogatory information on those people, that would be happening behind the scenes as well.

And if that doesn't show up as a known or suspected terrorist, again, that doesn't mean you're in the clear, but that does help them try to rule things out. So again, a lot going on behind the scenes right now, both forensically, you know, if they're able to conduct those interviews, that would be important. And then the final thing I would say is that, you know, as we've been indicating, there are other bridges in and around the area that have been on alert. That is standard. Again, you're trying to rule things out. You would want to get information to those checkpoints just in case. Again, I say just in case there's any other type of, you know, follow-on type incident. But all of this is so standard now.

SANCHEZ: Josh, I'm sorry to cut you off. We just want to go to Canadian officials who are giving an update on the incident. Let's listen.


We always do on a minute-by-minute basis by our American counterparts. And I hope to speak with U.S Secretary Mayorkas in the coming moments.


UNKNOWN: I appreciate this is an evolving situation but from a national security perspective, you're in touch with U.S. security officials. This is at a boarder crossing. What are the main national security concerns at this moment based on what we know.

DOMINIC LEBLANC, CANADIAN PUBLIC SAFETY MINISTER: Well obviously, anytime a piece of infrastructure as important to the U.S. and Canada, like a border crossing, sees this kind of violent circumstance, it is sort of a concern for the government of Canada and the United States. So, we're taking this circumstance very seriously. But to speculate on the origin of this particular circumstance, the reasons why this happened, until we have more accurate information is simply not responsible.


UNKNOWN: People want to just understand, is there a current risk to public safety for Canadians.

LEBLANC: I think Canadians need to understand that Canadian security agencies, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Transport Canada, Border Services Agency, are doing absolutely everything that Canadians can expect at this moment to ensure that the border crossings can operate safely. That their security is ensured. That work necessarily happens in collaboration with our American counterparts. That's why the Prime Minister and I will be briefed again in the coming moments and we're receiving regular updates from the Canadian Authorities who are coming to grounds on those very details with the American counterparts. But to stand here and speculate on a series of circumstances, we don't have reliable, verifiable information is not responsible.


(foreign language)


SANCHEZ: We are listening to Canadian Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc giving a briefing about the incident at the Rainbow Bridge at the U.S.-Canada border crossing. That's a live image we're watching now of the bridge. The minister did not want to speculate on any of the details that have been reported out about the incident. He says that as of right now, there is no reliable, verified information on whether there is a threat or risk to anyone on the Canadian side. But he insists that their officials are working with the United States to get down to the bottom of exactly what happened there.

We will continue to monitor those remarks from the Canadian Public Safety Minister. But right now, we have Juliette Kayyem with us. Juliette, thanks for being with us this afternoon. I wanted to get your thoughts on the latest reporting that we got from John Miller that according to officials he's spoken to that have reviewed security footage of the incident, the vehicle apparently sped up before it reached the crossing and then went airborne and crashed into an area where secondary searches are conducted. When you hear those details, what stands out to you? What comes to your mind?


JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECUIRTY ANALYST: So, the first obvious is it's purposeful or intentional unless there's some medical explanation for what happened that the driver lost control of the car. That seems unlikely, but you have to rule out everything. The second is that it's serious enough to have both the Canadian equivalent of the Secretary of Homeland Security as well as the governor discuss it and head there. This is a major, you know, it's a major, you know, it's a major crossing. I mean, this thing does not close.

It is fortified. It is, has multiple types of screening. You can't even get close to it without there beginning to be surveillance screening. And so, it would be a natural target. But and this is just where we need to be careful as reporters and analysts. People can assume that they know what the intent is, and I'm not going to assume that yet because I don't, we don't know. The fact that the Joint Terrorism Task Force has been deployed is absolutely accurate at this stage.

The threat environment is, to quote FBI Director Wray, sort of is high. We know it because of international terrorism and what's going on in the Middle East and also how domestic terror groups have been activated or animated.


SANCHEZ: Julia, please stand by. We want to listen to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who's updating the press on this. Let's listen.


JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: -- necessary support. 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 will continue to work closely with them. We will continue to be engaged. We will provide updates. Updates I can give right now is there are 4 border crossings that are right now closed. Rainbow Bridge, Whirlpool Bridge, Queenston Bridge and Peace Bridge. Additional measures are being contemplated and activated at all border crossings across the country. We are taking this extraordinarily seriously. And, Mr. Speaker, I will have to excuse myself now to go get further updates and work on this very serious situation. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


SANCHEZ: That was Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau updating members of the Canadian Parliament on the incident at the Rainbow Bridge, the crossing between the U.S. and Canada. We have a panel of experts with us. And I want to go now to former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, who's been watching all of this very closely. And, obviously, Ed, when we were speaking previously, the characterization changed about what exactly happened when the vehicle was approaching the crossing. What are your impressions from this latest reporting that the vehicle accelerated before it was even screened by officials there on the ground?

DAVIS: Well, it does bring it back to a potential forceful entry into the United States. It, you know, it's possible this is some kind of a medical incident, some kind of an accident, a vehicle going over 100 miles an hour that causes the engine block to exit from the vehicle is extremely, -- is indicative of an extremely serious crash. But if there was a ball of fire, if there was some type of another indication of an explosion, this puts it in a whole different category. So, we have to look at what's coming out of the information of the JTTF and FBI bomb experts, I'm certain, are on scene right now, and they'll be able to tell us very quickly if there's any evidence of explosive material in that car, if that's the case, puts it in a whole different category.

SANCHEZ: Right. Ed, please stand by. I do want to bring in CNN's Evan Perez because, Evan, you have new details about the occupants of the vehicle. What can you tell us?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, again, law enforcement is not making any conclusions based on this. But there were 2 occupants in the car, and they're both deceased, according to law enforcement that we talked to. And, you know, so that obviously makes things a little bit more complicated for the FBI, for the authorities there at the border who are trying to get to the bottom of this. Obviously, if there was a person who they could detain and question and ask questions of, they could get to the bottom of what happened a little more quickly.