Friday 19 July 2019

Mail bomb investigators probe Florida link

Investigators are searching for the culprit and motives behind the mail-bomb plot.

Police tape cordons off a post office in Wilmington, (Matt Rourke/AP)
Police tape cordons off a post office in Wilmington, (Matt Rourke/AP)

By Associated Press Reporters

Investigators hunting for the source of package bombs sent to critics of President Donald Trump suspect that some of the parcels were mailed from Florida.

Three more devices were linked to the plot — two addressed to former vice president Joe Biden and one to actor Robert De Niro — bringing the total to 10 as authorities warned there might well be more.

Law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that the devices, containing timers and batteries, were not rigged like booby-trapped package bombs that would explode upon opening.

But they were still uncertain whether the devices were poorly designed or never intended to cause physical harm.

Local and federal authorities remove a suspicious package found at a US postal facility in Wilmington (David Swanson /The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

A search of a postal database suggested at least some may have been mailed from Florida, one official said.

Investigators are homing in on a postal facility in Opa-locka, Florida, where they believe some of the packages originated, another official said.

Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen, in an interview on Thursday night with Fox News Channel, acknowledged that some of packages originated in Florida.

New details about the devices came as the four-day mail-bomb scare spread nationwide, drawing investigators from dozens of federal, state and local agencies in the effort to identify one or more perpetrators.

The targets have included former president Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, CNN and Representative Maxine Waters of California.

At a press conference on Thursday, officials in New York would not discuss possible motives, or details on how the packages found their way into the US postal system. Nor would they say why none of the packages had detonated, but they stressed they were still treating them as “live devices”.

“As far as a hoax device, we’re not treating it that way,” said Police Commissioner James O’Neill.

Details suggested a pattern — that the items were packaged in manila envelopes, addressed to prominent Trump critics and carried US postage stamps. The devices were being examined by technicians at the FBI’s forensic lab in Quantico, Virginia.

The packages stoked nationwide tensions and fears as voters prepared to vote on November 6 to determine partisan control of Congress.

Even with the sender still unknown, politicians from both parties used the threats to decry a toxic political climate and lay blame.

“A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News,” Mr Trump said on Twitter. “It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”

He later added: “Funny how lowly rated CNN, and others, can criticize me at will, even blaming me for the current spate of Bombs and ridiculously comparing this to September 11th and the Oklahoma City bombing, yet when I criticize them they go wild and scream, ‘it’s just not Presidential!'”

Former CIA director John Brennan, the target of a package sent to CNN, fired back.

“Stop blaming others. Look in the mirror,” Mr Brennan tweeted. “Your inflammatory rhetoric, insults, lies, & encouragement of physical violence are disgraceful. Clean up your act….try to act Presidential.”

The list of bombing targets spread from New York, Delaware and Washington DC to Florida and California.

The explosive devices were packed in envelopes with bubble-wrap interiors bearing six American flag stamps and the return address of Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

The bombs seized on Wednesday were about six inches long and packed with powder and broken glass, according to a law enforcement official who viewed X-ray images.

The official said the devices were made from PVC pipe and covered with black tape.

The packages addressed to Mr Biden were intercepted at Delaware mail facilities in New Castle and Wilmington, officials said.

Much like earlier targets, both Mr Biden has been sharply critical of Trump.

In turn, Mr Trump has called the former US vice president “Crazy Joe” and “mentally weak”.

On Thursday, during a campaign trip to suburban Buffalo, Mr Biden said: “We’ve got to get off this hate machine. We’ve got to come together.”

At a New York briefing, authorities confirmed that at least some of the packages were distributed through the US mail, and cautioned that there could be additional devices in the postal system. They said investigators searching for more suspicious parcels had not found any during the previous eight hours.

David Chipman, a retired federal ATF agent and now senior policy adviser for the Giffords Centre, said the details revealed telltale signs that could help guide investigators.

The tape on the pipe is “an investigator’s dream,” he said, recalling a case in Texas that was solved because the fibres on the tape were traced to the bomber’s dog. He said bombers tend to plot methodically.

“This is someone sitting down and spending time thinking about what they’re going to do to someone else. And some people like to relish that,” he said.

The new packages discovered on Thursday set off a new wave of alarm.

A retired New York police detective working in security in De Niro’s Manhattan office called police after seeing images of a package bomb sent to CNN and recalling a similar package addressed to the actor, officials said.

The actor has also been a strong critic of Mr Trump, dropped an expletive insult against him at this year’s Tony Awards and also apologising to Canadians for the “idiotic behaviour of my president”.

The first crude bomb to be discovered was delivered on Monday to the suburban New York compound of George Soros, a liberal billionaire and major contributor to Democratic causes. Mr Soros has called Mr Trump’s presidency “dangerous”.

Similar packages addressed to Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama were intercepted on their way to Mrs Clinton’s New York home where she lives with former President Bill Clinton and to Washington, where Mr Obama lives with his wife, Michelle. The Secret Service said neither package reached its intended recipient.

Others were sent to frequent Trump critics Ms Waters and former Obama attorney general Eric Holder. His ended up at the Sunrise, Florida, office of Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was listed as the return address.

A police bomb squad removed the package addressed to Mr Brennan on Wednesday from CNN’s New York office, which was evacuated.

In response to the events, Mr Trump decried political violence but also joked about moving to more polite speeches.

“Let’s get along,” he said at a Wisconsin rally on Wednesday night. “By the way, do you see how nice I’m behaving tonight? Have you ever seen this?”

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