PORTSMOUTH, N.H. Ė The report of a bomb on a bus that was stopped and surrounded by police in the city's downtown Thursday was a false alarm and the incident was not related to terrorism, police said today.
The man who stayed on board the bus during the scare while all the other passengers left, faces no charges and has been released, said Portsmouth Police Chief David "Lou" Ferland.
"We do not believe this to be a terrorist-related act. I can't stress that enough," he said at a news conference at police headquarters.
Ferland defended the law enforcement response in the incident, in which police and federal agents cordoned off the bus, shut down businesses and closed streets, and engaged in an hours-long "standoff" with the last man on the bus.
He said it was "perfectly measured and appropriate, given what we knew at the time."
He said police learned that there was no bomb on the bus after completing searches using X-rays and bomb-sniffing dogs at 10 p.m or 10:30 p.m. Thursday night.
Ferland said the man on the bus had been afraid to leave the bus. The Maine resident, a legal immigrant from Burundi, Africa, did not understand the circumstances, police said.
"It wasn't long before we realized he was scared. We donít think there was any criminal intent," Ferland said.
Police said the situation was defused after they were able to contact the man's family and someone who knew him and spoke the language.
The incident began when a passenger overheard the Burundian immigrant talking on a cellphone and thought she heard the person he was talking to referring to a bomb on the bus, said Captain Mike Schwartz, a department spokesman.
The woman then called 911 and let the bus driver know. The bus driver stopped the bus and disabled it. When police arrived, tension rose when they talked to people on board and heard other reports of a scuffle and a gun being shown. No gun was ever found.
Police then checked the bus for a bomb and when they were relatively confident one was not aboard, they told people to exit, said Schwartz.
Schwartz said there was no reason to believe there was malicious intent behind the initial 911 report and he doubted that charges would be filed.
Two passengers were charged with unrelated crimes after being taken off the bus. John Smolens, 68, of Lewiston, Maine, didn't comply with police orders and was Tased. He faces a charge of resisting arrest.
Calvin Segar, 29, of Brooklyn, N.Y., faces a charge of giving false names to police. Both men are to be arraigned this afternoon.
Asked if the law enforcement response had been heightened because of the bomb recently discovered in New York City's Times Square, Ferland said, "Since 9/11, things have changed. Since Sept. 11, everything's changed. For us on the law enforcement side, things have changed."
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