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N.Y. governor says no sign of terrorism in deadly vehicle explosion at border bridge

In this image taken from security video, a light-colored vehicle (top center) flies over a fence into the Rainbow Bridge customs plaza on Wednesday in Niagara Falls, N.Y.
Customs Border Protection via AP
In this image taken from security video, a light-colored vehicle (top center) flies over a fence into the Rainbow Bridge customs plaza on Wednesday in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Updated November 27, 2023 at 1:49 PM ET

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said there was no sign of terrorist activity in relation to the vehicle explosion at a checkpoint that closed the Rainbow Bridge at the Canadian border and left two people dead.

During a late afternoon news conference last Wednesday, Hochul said two people in the vehicle died when it crashed near the bridge on the U.S. side of the border.

"I want to be very, very clear to Americans and New Yorkers, at this time there is no indication of a terrorist attack," Hochul said.

The two passengers were later identified as Kurt P. Villani, 53 and his wife Monica Villani, also 53, according to a news release from the Niagara Falls, N.Y., Police Department.

The couple lived in Grand Island, N.Y., the department said.

The governor said state and federal investigators are "still analyzing" the scene and "it is still unfolding," but that the public doesn't need to be anxious.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection released a security video of the incident.

A CPB employee who was working in one of the booths had minor injuries, Hochul said, adding that debris from the crash was scattered around 13 or 14 booths. The employee has been treated and released from the hospital, CPB told NPR.

Law enforcement personnel block off the entrance to the Rainbow Bridge border crossing on Wednesday in Niagara Falls, N.Y., after a vehicle exploded at a checkpoint.
Carolyn Thompson / AP
/
AP
Law enforcement personnel block off the entrance to the Rainbow Bridge border crossing on Wednesday in Niagara Falls, N.Y., after a vehicle exploded at a checkpoint.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a post on X (formerly known as Twitter) that the FBI had briefed him on the incident.

"Initial reports indicate the two people killed were in the car but nothing's been determined on their identity or motive," he said. "They continue to investigate—law enforcement remains on heightened alert over Thanksgiving."

The FBI said it is investigating a "vehicle explosion at the Rainbow Bridge" and was coordinating with local, state and federal law enforcement partners. The FBI added that the situation "is very fluid," but it did not include further details.

It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion.

President Biden has been briefed on the explosion and he and his team are closely following developments, according to a White House press pool report.

Earlier, Hochul said on X that New York State Police was "actively working" with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and will continue to monitor all points of entry to New York.

Hochul says she is traveling to Buffalo to meet with law enforcement and emergency responders and will update New Yorkers when more information becomes available.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in the House of Commons that "this is a very serious situation."

"We are taking this extremely seriously," Trudeau said briefly before he left to receive an update on the situation.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said during a briefing that his government is receiving regular updates from U.S. authorities, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the border service agencies.

Officers with the New York Police Department have been deployed to support efforts at the Rainbow Bridge, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said on X.

"Our number one priority is, and always will be, the safety of New Yorkers," Adams said.

The Buffalo Niagara International Airport says that while the airport is fully operational, it is increasing security system-wide following the vehicle explosion — saying that cars coming into the Buffalo Airport will undergo security checks, as travelers can expect additional screenings.

"We advise travelers to give themselves time for these extra precautions in addition to holiday travel," according tothe Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which runs the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

Jason Abrams, a spokesperson for Amtrak, told NPR that the company has temporarily suspended cross-border service between New York state and Toronto.

Police in Toronto say they were increasing patrols across the city out of an abundance of caution and there are no known threats for the city of Toronto.

A Justice Department spokeswoman told NPR that Attorney General Merrick Garland has been briefed on the vehicle explosion.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it was sending personnel to the site.

Doug Ford — the premier of Ontario — said in a post on X: "Our provincial law enforcement is actively engaged in assessing the situation. They are working with local law enforcement and are providing support as required."

Follow coverage from our member station WBFO.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.
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