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Israel Prime Minister Speaks After Hostage Deal; Two Dead In Car Explosion On Bridge At U.S.-Canada Border; Buffalo Airport Closes To International Flights After Border Explosion. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 22, 2023 - 15:00   ET





BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Welcome back to CNN NEWS CENTRAL. We're following two breaking stories happening right now. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just spoke after a major hostage deal was finalized between Israel and Hamas.

We're also following a developing story out of New York State. Two are dead and the FBI is on the scene after a vehicle exploded at the U.S.- Canada border crossing near Niagara Falls. Sources say a car carrying two male occupants exploded on its way to a secondary search location at the checkpoint at the Rainbow Bridge. We know President Biden is receiving updates, and the White House is in touch with senior Canadian officials.

We'll, of course, to bring you the very latest from Upstate New York.

But first, we want to listen to Prime Minister Netanyahu. He's speaking for the first time since the deal was announced.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAEL PRIME MINISTER (through interpreter): At the beginning of the war, I cannot stop thinking about them and about you, the members of the family. I met you. I heard from you what's going on with you, what you're going through about your nightmare, the uncertainty not knowing and the worry that has no limits.

When I meet with you, you (inaudible) your love ones (inaudible) and me and my friends will look at every (inaudible) this photos are (inaudible) to bring them home, everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone, including (inaudible) to bring back the (inaudible) Gaza will not (inaudible) we will act to create the (inaudible) the first effort is massive military pressure.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right. So there you hear the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, making his point, his major point, that he's not going to rest until all the Israeli hostages have been returned safe and sound back to Israel. He's also insisting that the war, the effort to try to destroy Hamas in Gaza, will continue.

All this happening just hours before this exchange is about to unfold, the first of several Israeli hostages, we're told, are about to be released. We'll watch that very closely, see how Israel is going to deal with that, how these hostages will be coming back to Israel and all of that. That's supposed to happen in the coming hours.

But, Boris, we're also watching this major story coming out of Niagara Falls, New York. This incident that has occurred aboard the - on top of the Rainbow Bridge, separating the United States and Canada. I know you're getting more information. You're watching these breaking developments as well.

SANCHEZ: Yes, Wolf, I think the world is on heightened alert right now, given the story you're covering in the Middle East. And obviously, as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, many travelers are hitting the road and taking to the skies to be with their loved ones. So as this is unfolding, we're trying to get the latest details to find out whether this was something nefarious.

That's why we want to bring in CNN's John Miller, who's been covering this story.


And, John, your latest reporting is that security footage from the crossing appears to show a vehicle on a local road in the United States at one point hitting a dramatic rate of speed. You said something close to 80 miles an hour before approaching the crossing and then becoming airborne as it hit a curb and then exploding on impact. What's the latest you're hearing from your sources that have reviewed that footage?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, they're trying to determine what it all means. When you look at the car in the footage, you see it passing all the other cars at the high rate of speed. You see it engages with the curb and then goes flying over a barrier, crosses to the other side of the highway, and then upon impact, literally disintegrates while exploding in a ball of flames and black smoke.

So this is the high energy impact of a car traveling at a high rate of speed that then is airborne and flying at a high rate of speed with great force, which then impacts on the ground. That is the kind of thing that you don't really need an explosive device to get a spontaneous combustion on a high energy impact with a full tank of gas.

It also explains, Boris, a lot of the early confusion. And that's why we always say in this reporting the information is preliminary because the first story usually does change. They believed it was coming from the Canadian side towards the United States because it ended up on the other side of the road in the secondary search area, which would have been the direction you'd be going when you were headed to the United States. It wasn't clear until they saw the video. It had actually started on a local road in Niagara Falls where it jumped the divider. So it's not even clear that the car intended to leave the country. And that brings up the possibilities. Do we have an incident of a driver under the influence? Is it a driver with a medical issue? Is it a driver who decided to commit suicide? Is it a driver who simply had an unintended acceleration and lost control of the car? Those are all going to be questions.

And the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, the ATF, Customs and Border Patrol, the Canadian authorities, they are all at the scene trying to literally put the pieces back together in terms of this vehicle where it impacted. But try and identify who is the operator of the vehicle, who is the person who is with them, what's their background, and what can they learn from their travels today before this incident, what was going on in their life from friends and family. That is the main focus right now is who is the person who is at the wheel and what can that tell us?

SANCHEZ: John, please stand by. I do want to just point out that we were looking at new images of the scene at the crossing. These were the closest images that we've seen to this point of what John was just describing and you see flames and smoke there. Clearly, a very serious crash and explosion. We do want to play some sound for you as well because Canadian prime minister spoke about the incident in the last hour. Here he is.


JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADA PRIME MINISTER: 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.

We will continue to be engaged. We will provide updates. Updates I can give right now is there are four 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: We should also point out that the President, Joe Biden, who's traveling to Nantucket for the Thanksgiving holiday has been briefed on the situation. We understand that top-level officials in both the United States and Canada are going over all the latest details as they try to sort out exactly what happened at the Rainbow Bridge. I want to discuss this with Beth Sanner. She's a former Deputy Director of National Intelligence.

Beth, when you look at the details that we're getting, about this incident, what stands to you? BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think that the way that John Miller is really approaching this and Andrew McCabe is exactly the right way. I used to be in charge of new analyst training at CIA. And one of the things we teach new analyst in the Intelligence Community is to not just go your assumptions right away, but to really piece through the facts at hand slowly, methodically and try to ignore the pressure to come an answer, because usually that first answer that your brain will lead you to is going to be incorrect.


So there are a lot of assumptions going in because we're really thinking about the testimony last week by FBI Director Wray talking about this incredibly heightened state of alert that we are now in. And those are really real things, but these things may not, and it looks increasingly like not connected.

SANCHEZ: We also have Robert D'Amico with us. He's a retired FBI agent. Robert, your read of the situation based on the details that you've heard.

ROBERT D'AMICO, RETIRED FBI AGENT: Right now, with John Miller's input, that they have a video of the vehicle going is huge. In the bomb tech world, they blow up cars all the time. And due to Iraq and Afghanistan, our knowledge of VBIEDs is immense. So they're going to start looking at this video and even from the video, they're going to be able to start looking where that explosion was actually initiated. Was it high explosives?

You can tell by some of - how the debris is thrown out of an explosion at the rate of speed, was it high explosives, was it low explosives? They're going to have local teams with technical stuff. Even if it's not safe, they can send robots down to start taking samplings. So all this stuff is going to go into actually different bomb techs. They're going to send it down to Quantico where the national level guys are at, and they're going to start looking for it. And they're going to start analyzing those videos.

We used to study them all the time when we did explosive work. And the start of it and how the explosion goes and how the vehicle comes apart, like I said, they do that all the time. And they can literally just take the video and start looking at it and really come up to a better determination.

SANCHEZ: So Robert, to that point, what would the timeline be here to get a definitive answer as to whether this was terrorism? They're not going to come off of a definitive answer because even if it wasn't a high explosive initiation of the vehicle, it still could have been something that had some type of terrorism background. But what they're going to be looking at is how this vehicle exploded. They're going to come back and say, was there high explosives in it that it started, what was created by it and walk that backward.

They're going to start interviewing the family members. Again, was there something going on in the family members that were killed that were in the vehicle that would indicate something else? But I think the biggest thing, if they can determine, hey, that was a high explosive initiated and - vehicle, then it's going to ramp it up a little bit. They really determine that it's not looking that way, I think you can start looking at other things coming in.

They'll probably have NTSB coming in because they deal with vehicle explosions all the time and bring those experts in to start looking at that scene with the JTTF.

SANCHEZ: Yes, Beth, back to you. You mentioned the heightened state of alert that we're currently in, given - everything that's been happening in the world and the warnings that we've gotten from top U.S. officials about the potential for some kind of nefarious activity. It's obviously a very challenging window of time that officials are also working in, given that tomorrow's the Thanksgiving holiday and some two plus million people are going to be traveling. It's a very sensitive time for soft targets specifically, right?

SANNER: Exactly. I mean, this is definitely what we're seeing across the militant world from AQ to ISIS to Hamas to Hezbollah is messaging that's going out that's really trying to inspire Americans and anyone else to take violent action, particularly against Jews. And so - and I think that as Director Wray said, this is not a time for panic, but it is a time for vigilance.

And so, you know, I would just encourage everybody to - I mean, I hate to take us back to 9/11, but we really need to be paying attention to stray backpacks and where you are and your surroundings and to take extra precautions because these threats are at a heightened state that we haven't seen for decades.

SANCHEZ: Beth, please stand by.

I want to go to Arlette Saenz, who's traveling with President Biden in Nantucket, Massachusetts, traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Arlette, the president has been briefed on what's happened at the Rainbow Bridge near Niagara Falls. What's the latest you're hearing from the White House?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, the latest that we've heard is that President Biden has been briefed, the White House saying he was briefed on the vehicle explosion at Rainbow Bridge. But beyond that, the White House has not shared any other details about what they believe this incident might have involved.

Now, the president, in addition to being briefed by his team, the White House has noted that there is law enforcement on the ground there investigating this. That includes the ATF and FBI.


And there has also been communication between White House officials and senior Canadian officials as well. That's according to one administration official that I had spoken with. At the same time, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, himself, said he has also been briefed and is also in touch with their counterparts. Now, the president has been updated by his advisers, but it's clear that this is a situation that is fluid and they are still gathering information on.

And it comes as President Biden is here in Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he is spending the Thanksgiving holiday with family. But this isn't simply a vacation. It is very much a working trip for President Biden. He is accompanied by his advisers. He stays in contact with his team back at the White House.

Just this afternoon, the president has also balancing another situation, holding calls with the Amir of Qatar, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as that hostage negotiations, that potential hostage release, is expected to come in the coming hours.

So, President Biden right now is balancing those two things, discussing both these potential hostage release that could be coming in the next day, as well as getting these latest updates on the incident that's occurred at the Rainbow Bridge.

SANCHEZ: Arlette, thank you so much for the update. Our breaking news coverage is going to continue on the incident at the U.S.-Canada border in just moments. Don't go anywhere.



SANCHEZ: We're continuing to follow the breaking news from the Rainbow Bridge at the U.S.-Canada border crossing.

Right now, the FBI is investigating a vehicle that exploded there at a security checkpoint. Officials confirm that two people inside that car are deceased. You're looking at images we received a short time ago, very close up of the scene. You see the flames there, vehicle parts scattered throughout that border crossing.

We also have new information about something that's happening at the Buffalo Airport, which is not far from Niagara Falls.

Let's go to CNN's Pete Muntean, who's live for us from Reagan National.

Pete, what are you learning about the Buffalo Airport?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: We are hearing things change by the moment here, Boris, both locally near the incident site and also nationally. We just heard from the FAA that the Buffalo Niagara Falls International Airport is now closed to all international arriving and departing flights. This just crossed from the FAA. No time when they posted this about when this would expire.

We have also heard from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. He has been briefed about this, he says, also has spoken with his Canadian counterpart about this very dynamic situation. We are learning that also at the Buffalo Airport from the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which runs it, that cars coming into the airport are being screened as well as the passengers who are going through security and so they're trying to get the word out for passengers leaving the airport today on a huge holiday travel day to try and factor in some extra time because of that.

The TSA says it's already in a heightened state of security posture because of this. And the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security say they are coordinating with local and federal counterparts to try and make sure that this situation, as it unfolds, they can change things quickly as needed. They say there are things that have gone into place that you can see like dogs at the airport. We have seen them here at Reagan National Airport throughout the last couple of days of this Thanksgiving travel rush. We have also heard of things in some cases that you cannot see.

And so there are many things changing here by the moment when it comes to transportation, because this was at a border crossing. This did involve transportation and now we are learning that the airports are potentially a factor here as well. And that is something coming from the FAA, in which they say that these international arrivals and departures are being halted at the Buffalo Airport.

Pretty significant, because it's only about 20 miles from the blast site and also, it is significant because it's right on the Canadian border. And so, presumably, a lot of international flights come in and out there, 2 million passengers a year at the airport, 5,000 flights a month. And this is a huge time for Thanksgiving travel. They were expecting about 2.7 million people, according to the TSA, at airports across the country today, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Pete Muntean, thank you so much for that update.

We want to go to CNN's Josh Campbell now.

Josh, you're a former FBI special agent. I'm wondering, when you hear the news that the Buffalo Airport has been shut down this way, is it your impression that this is potentially because of some information that the FAA has received or is this simply out of an abundance of caution?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's unclear. We obviously know after major incidents, other entities will take note. We'll see increased patrols oftentimes at different locations, particularly in an area where you're talking about transportation, as Pete was just mentioning. This incident is taking place at a bridge.

But I do think that authorities, the onus is on them to provide information if they go so far as to shutting down something to provide some type of information, because there is also obviously a concern about public confidence here.

I mean, I can tell you, as you and I were discussing earlier, Boris, based on this incident itself and I'll note that there's a lot that we still don't know, there's a lot that investigators are doing behind the scenes, this doesn't fit the typical profile of past terrorist attacks that we've seen. I've worked with a lot of terrorism cases, you have extremists that, this is grim, but their goal is to cause as much loss of life as they can. And so just looking at the incident location here, this wouldn't be a typical place where that would be accomplished.

One thing that also really stands out to me here is the idea that you have two individuals that are in the vehicle. We know that extremists, if that's what this was, which I don't see that being the case right now, they would want to maximize the harm that they could cause. And you don't do that by putting two people in the same vehicle. They would presumably want to conduct an attack with different locations.


And so all that taken together really tells me that it's far too soon to make that determination. One thing, obviously, that authorities want to determine is whether there was any type of incendiary device in that vehicle. The special agent bomb technicians from the FBI and the ATF would be on scene taking, you know, chemical analyses, conducting those tests to try to determine if there's any type of match there to an explosive device. That would obviously change this dynamic completely.

But borrowing that information, it just does not have those typical characteristics of terrorist incidents that we've seen.

Final point I'll make and this is something that Beth Sanner was mentioning earlier, which is so important, that it's easy to get tunnel vision on these incidents. And you look at what happened, obviously, this is concerning. But analysts and agents and officers will be looking at that bigger picture.

What does - what are the characteristics here? Obviously, trying to identify who those individuals are, determine what their past is like, if authorities have any derogatory information on them. And then finally, just whether there was any type of medical history in the past as well. All that would be key, again, because they are deceased. Authorities can't interview them, but a lot of work to be done in order to try to rule out what this was here.

SANCHEZ: Still very early in this process.

Josh Campbell, thanks so much for the perspective. We're going to take a quick break, but we're covering a multiple breaking news stories, not the least of which is the explosion at the U.S. border crossing with Canada at the Rainbow Bridge near Niagara Falls. The very latest when we come back.