Wednesday 14 November 2018

US mail bomb suspect charged, as FBI confirms more than a dozen bombs were not hoax devices

Cesar Altieri Sayoc is pictured in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. in this August 2015 handout. Pic: Broward County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS
Cesar Altieri Sayoc is pictured in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. in this August 2015 handout. Pic: Broward County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS
NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence & Counterterrorism John Miller, center, arrives outside Time Warner Center on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in New York. Law enforcement officials say a suspicious package that prompted an evacuation of CNN's offices is believed to contain a pipe bomb. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
An NYPD bomb squad vehicle departs an area outside Time Warner Center on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in New York. Law enforcement officials say a suspicious package that prompted an evacuation of CNN's offices is believed to contain a pipe bomb. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
Officers watch over the scene outside the Time Warner Center on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in New York. Law enforcement officials say a suspicious package that prompted an evacuation of CNN's offices is believed to contain a pipe bomb. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

Zachary Fagenson and Bernie Woodall

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Friday that Cesar Sayoc, the suspect in a raft of suspicious packages sent to prominent Democrats and others, is in the custody of the FBI and has been charged with five federal crimes.

Sayoc faces up to 58 years in prison if found guilty, Sessions said at a press conference announcing the charges.

An NYPD bomb squad vehicle departs an area outside Time Warner Center on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in New York. Law enforcement officials say a suspicious package that prompted an evacuation of CNN's offices is believed to contain a pipe bomb. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
An NYPD bomb squad vehicle departs an area outside Time Warner Center on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in New York. Law enforcement officials say a suspicious package that prompted an evacuation of CNN's offices is believed to contain a pipe bomb. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

"We will not tolerate such lawlessness, especially political violence," he said.

FBI director Christopher Wray said more than a dozen mail bombs sent were not hoax devices.

FBI agents arrested Sayoc, 56, in Plantation, Florida and also hauled away a white van plastered with pro-Trump stickers, the slogan "CNN SUCKS" and images of Democratic figures with red crosshairs over their faces.

Wray told the news conference that fingerprints on a package sent to Representative Maxine Waters belonged to Sayoc.

He also said there could be other packages.

Announcing the arrest by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to a cheering audience at the White House, US President Donald Trump said such "terrorizing acts" were despicable and had no place in the United States.

Officers watch over the scene outside the Time Warner Center on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in New York. Law enforcement officials say a suspicious package that prompted an evacuation of CNN's offices is believed to contain a pipe bomb. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
Officers watch over the scene outside the Time Warner Center on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in New York. Law enforcement officials say a suspicious package that prompted an evacuation of CNN's offices is believed to contain a pipe bomb. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

"We must never allow political violence to take root in America - cannot let it happen," Trump said. "And I'm committed to doing everything in my power as president to stop it and to stop it now."

Sayoc's home address was listed in public records as an upscale gated apartment complex in the seaside town of Aventura, Florida.

According to the records, he is a registered Republican with a lengthy criminal past - including once making a bomb threat - and a history of posting inflammatory broadsides on social media against Trump's political foes.

Sayoc was being held at an FBI processing center in Miramar, Florida, CNN said. He was expected to be taken to the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami and will likely make his first appearance before a judge on Monday, according to former Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weinstein.

A federal law enforcement source said charges would likely be brought by federal prosecutors in Manhattan and Sayoc transferred to New York City.

US authorities earlier detained Sayoc in connection with the mail bombs scare that has widened to 14 suspicious packages, officials said

Video from television news helicopters showed federal agents and police examining a white van in the car park of a business in Plantation, Florida.

Earlier on Friday, authorities said suspicious packages addressed to New Jersey senator Cory Booker and former National Intelligence director James Clapper - both similar to those containing pipe bombs sent to other prominent critics of President Donald Trump - had been intercepted.

The discoveries further spurred a coast-to-coast investigation as officials scramble to locate a culprit and possible motive amid questions about whether new packages were being sent or were simply surfacing after a period in the mail system.

The devices have targeted well-known Democrats including former president Barack Obama, ex-vice president Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and former attorney general Eric Holder.

The FBI said the package to Mr Booker was intercepted in Florida, and one discovered at a Manhattan postal facility was addressed to Mr Clapper at CNN's address. An earlier package had been sent to former Obama CIA director John Brennan care of CNN in New York.

Investigators are analysing the crude devices to reveal whether they were intended to detonate or simply sow fear just before election day on November 6.

Law enforcement officials said the devices, containing timers and batteries, were not rigged to explode on opening, but they were uncertain whether the devices were poorly designed or never intended to cause physical harm.

Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen acknowledged that some of packages originated in Florida. One official said investigators homed in on a postal facility in Opa-locka, where they believe some packages originated.

The package addressed to Mr Booker was found during an oversight search of that facility, according to a law enforcement official.

Most of those targeted were past or present US officials, but others were sent to actor Robert De Niro and billionaire George Soros.

The bombs have been sent across the country - from New York, Delaware and Washington DC to Florida and California, where Democratic representative Maxine Waters was targeted.

They bore the return address of Florida representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

The common thread among the targets was obvious: their critical words for Mr Trump and his frequent criticism in return.

The president claimed he was being blamed for the mail bombs, complaining in a tweet: "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!'"

The package to Mr Clapper was addressed to him at CNN's Manhattan address. The frequent Trump critic told CNN he was not surprised to be targeted and that he considered the actions "definitely domestic terrorism".

The devices were packaged in manila envelopes and carried US postage stamps. They are being examined by technicians at the FBI's forensic lab in Quantico, Virginia.

The packages stoked nationwide tensions ahead of the elections to determine control of Congress - a campaign both major political parties have described in near-apocalyptic terms. Politicians from both parties used the threats to condemn a toxic political climate and to lay blame.

Mr Trump, in a tweet on Thursday, blamed the "Mainstream Media" for the anger in society. Mr Brennan responded, tweeting that the president should "stop blaming others. Look in the mirror".

The bombs are about 6in 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 first bomb discovered was delivered on Monday to the suburban New York compound of Mr Soros, a major contributor to Democratic causes, who has called Mr Trump's presidency "dangerous".

Reuters

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