FBI Searches Florida Mail Centre in Hunt for Sender of Package Bombs

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Combination photograph of political figures targeted by suspicious packages
(Top L-R) U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Democratic Party donor George Soros and former U.S. President Barack Obama are pictured along with (Bottom L-R) former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Former CIA director John Brennan in a combination photograph made from Reuters file photos. REUTERS
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By Zachary Fagenson
MIAMI (Reuters) 

Federal agents searched a U.S. mail facility near Miami on Thursday night racing to find who sent 10 pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and critics of U.S. President Donald Trump as leads pointed to Florida as the possible origin of the packages

Investigators are treating the devices as “live” explosives, not a hoax, said James O’Neill, police commissioner of New York City, where two of the parcels have surfaced since the bomb scare began Monday with a device addressed to billionaire Democratic Party donor George Soros.

 

Crowds gather outside after being evacuated from the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, in the Manhattan borough of New York
Crowds gather outside the Time Warner Center after being evacuated, from Columbus Circle, in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Christine Chan

 

A federal law enforcement source told Reuters the devices were thought to have been fashioned from bomb-making designs widely available on the internet.

Investigators believe the packages, which were intercepted before reaching their intended recipients, all went through the U.S. Postal Service at some point, that source said. None detonated and no one has been hurt.

 

A U.S. Postal Inspection Service facility is pictured near Miami International Airport in Miami
A U.S. Postal Inspection Service facility is pictured near Miami International Airport, in Miami, Florida, U.S., October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Zach Fagenson

 

Authorities have branded the parcel bombs, coming less than two weeks before national elections that could alter the balance of power on Capitol Hill, as an act of terrorism, though they have declined to say whether the devices were built to be functional.

Bomb experts and security analysts say that based on the rudimentary construction of the bombs it appeared they were more likely designed to sow fear rather than to kill.

 

 

But the episode sparked an outcry from Trump’s critics who said his frequent expressions of inflammatory rhetoric against perceived enemies among Democrats and the press was stoking a climate ripe for politically motivated violence.

After first calling for “unity” and civil discourse on Wednesday, Trump lashed out again Thursday at the “hateful” media, while his supporters accused Democrats of unfairly suggesting the president was to blame for the bomb scare.

 

FLORIDA WAREHOUSE

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, in an interview with Fox News Channel, confirmed that Florida was the starting point for at least a portion of the bomb shipments.

 

First responders arrive on scene after crowds were evacuated out of the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, in the Manhattan borough of New York
First responders arrive on scene after crowds were evacuated out of the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Christine Chan

 

“Some of the packages went through the mail. They originated, some of them, from Florida,” she said. “I am confident that this person or people will be brought to justice.”

A police bomb squad and canine units joined federal investigators on Thursday examining a U.S. mail distribution centre at Opa-Locka, northwest of Miami, Miami-Dade County police said.

 

Crowds begin to evacuate from the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, in the Manhattan borough of New York
Crowds begin to evacuate from the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Christine Chan

 

The sprawling warehouse, where authorities believe several of the parcels were processed, appeared to remain in operation during the search, with tractor-trailer traffic continuing to and from the facility as police were seen walking around the loading docks.

On Wednesday, two days after the first package arrived at Soros’ home, the FBI identified five more targets – President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA director John Brennan, and California Representative Maxine Waters. Two packages were found addressed to her.

 

Law enforcement personnel operate a bomb disposal robot outside a post office which had been evacuated in Wilmington
Law enforcement personnel operate a bomb disposal robot outside a post office which had been evacuated in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S. October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Makela

 

Brennan’s package was sent in care of the Manhattan bureau of CNN, where he has appeared as an on-air analyst.

On Thursday, the investigation widened with the discovery of three additional packages – two intended for former Vice President Joe Biden in his home state of Delaware and one for Hollywood actor Robert De Niro in Manhattan.

 

MORE TO COME?

“It does remain possible that further packages have been or could be mailed,” William Sweeney, assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, told an afternoon news conference in New York.

 

Law enforcement personnel operate a bomb disposal robot outside a post office which had been evacuated in Wilmington
Law enforcement personnel operate a bomb disposal robot outside a post office which had been evacuated in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S. October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Makela

 

The FBI has said that at least five of the packages bore a return address for the Florida office of U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who formerly chaired the Democratic National Committee. Holder’s package ended up rerouted and delivered to the Wasserman Schultz return address.

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombs, and the public was asked to report any tips.

 

Law enforcement personnel attend a post office which had been evacuated in New Castle
Law enforcement personnel monitor activity outside a post office which had been evacuated in New Castle, Delaware, U.S. October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Makela

 

The parcels each consisted of a manila envelope with a bubble-wrap interior containing “potentially destructive devices,” the FBI said. Each was affixed with a computer-printed address label and six “forever” postage stamps, the agency said.

Sweeney said all of the devices were being sent to the FBI’s crime lab in Quantico, Virginia, for analysis.

 

NYPD vehicles stand outside the New York Times building in New York City
New York City Police (NYPD) vehicles stand outside the New York Times building New York City, New York, U.S., October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

 

Most of the intended recipients were high-profile Democrats and all were known to be outspoken critics of Trump, foils for his political rhetoric or both.

Trump long questioned Obama’s U.S. citizenship and referred to Clinton, whom he defeated in the 2016 presidential race, as “crooked Hillary.” He has derided Waters publicly as “low-IQ Maxine.”

 

The Tribeca Film Center building is pictured after a suspicious package was found inside a building in New York
The Tribeca Film Center building is pictured after a suspicious package was found inside a building which houses a restaurant owned by actor Robert De Niro in New York City, New York, U.S., October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

 

The president revoked Brennan’s security clearance after the ex-CIA chief, a veteran intelligence official in Democratic and Republican administrations, lambasted Trump’s Russia summit performance as “nothing short of treasonous.”

Biden once said he would have fought Trump if they were in high school, while De Niro received a loud ovation when he hurled an obscenity at Trump at the Tony Awards in June.

 

Actor Robert De Niro arrives to receive his Chaplin Award from the Film Society of Lincoln Center in the Manhattan borough of New York
Actor Robert De Niro arrives to receive his Chaplin Award from the Film Society of Lincoln Center in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S. May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

 

At a Wisconsin rally on Wednesday night Trump, who has denounced news media organizations as an “enemy of the people,” called attention to “how nice I’m behaving tonight” but on Thursday morning he attacked the media again.

“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,” Trump wrote. “It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”

 

(Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter, Jonathan Allen and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Mark Hosenball and Susan Heavey in Washington; Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Bill Trott and Steve Gorman; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Cynthia Osterman)

 

More photos ahead ….

 

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