Tuesday 22 January 2019

US mail bombs: Man charged over campaign targeting Trump critics

Cesar Sayoc has social media accounts that denigrate Democrats and praise Mr Trump.

FBI agents covering a van in connection with the case (WPLG-TV via AP)
FBI agents covering a van in connection with the case (WPLG-TV via AP)

By Michael Balsamo, Colleen Long and Eric Tucker, Associated Press

A man has been charged in connection with a mail bomb campaign targeting prominent Democrats who have criticised US President Donald Trump.

US Justice Department officials revealed that a fingerprint found on one package helped them identify their suspect as Cesar Sayoc, 56, of Aventura, Florida.

The criminal complaint charges Sayoc with illegally mailing explosives, illegally transporting explosives across state lines, making threats against former presidents, assaulting federal officers and threatening interstate commerce.

Court records show Sayoc, an amateur bodybuilder with social media accounts that denigrate Democrats and praise Mr Trump, has a history of arrests for theft, illegal steroids possession and a 2002 charge of making a bomb threat.

Cesar Sayoc has been charged (Broward County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

The development came amid a nationwide manhunt for the person responsible for at least 13 explosive devices addressed to prominent Democrats including former president Barack Obama, former vice president Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.

The case widened on Friday as investigators in California scrutinised a similar package sent to Democratic senator Kamala Harris, her office said.

In Washington, US attorney general Jeff Sessions cautioned that Sayoc had only been charged, not convicted.

Attorney general Jeff Sessions speaks about the arrest of Cesar Sayoc (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

But he said: “Let this be a lesson to anyone regardless of their political beliefs that we will bring the full force of law against anyone who attempts to use threats, intimidation and outright violence to further an agenda. We will find you, we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”

In Florida, law enforcement officers were seen on television examining a white van, its windows covered with an assortment of stickers, outside the Plantation auto parts store. Authorities covered the vehicle with a blue tarp and took it away on the back of a truck.

The van’s windows were covered with stickers (Courtesy of Lesley Abravanel via AP)

The stickers included images of Mr Trump, American flags and what appeared to be logos of the Republican National Committee and CNN, though the writing surrounding those images was unclear.

Mr Trump, after Sayoc was apprehended, declared that “we must never allow political violence take root in America” and Americans “must unify”.

As in comments earlier in the week, he did not mention that the package recipients were all Democrats or officials in Mr Obama’s administration, in addition to CNN, a news network he criticises almost daily.

Earlier on Friday, he complained that “this ‘bomb’ stuff” was taking attention away from the upcoming election and said critics were wrongly blaming him and his heated rhetoric.

The Justice Department scheduled a Friday afternoon news conference in Washington that was to include New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill, whose department investigated the mailings with the FBI.

Law enforcement officials said they had intercepted a dozen packages in states across the country. None had exploded, and it was not immediately clear if they were intended to cause physical harm or simply sow fear and anxiety.

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 Mr Trump – had been intercepted.

Investigators believe the mailings were staggered. The US Postal Service searched their facilities 48 hours ago and the most recent packages did not turn up.

Officials do not think they were sitting in the system without being spotted.

Press Association

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