A man in Florida with a lengthy criminal record was arrested and charged Friday with sending 13 packages containing improvised explosive devices to high-profile figures across the country, authorities said.
The arrest came on the same day law enforcement found three more devices - in Florida, New York and California - and capped off an increasingly tense five-day stretch in which at least one explosive device was found each day, putting officials and potential targets on high alert. None of the devices detonated. All of them were sent to people who have criticized or clashed with President Donald Trump, and authorities continued to warn Friday that others could still be out there.
Authorities arrested 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc, who according to Florida records has a criminal record dating back decades that included including a past arrest for making a bomb threat.
Sayoc was charged Friday with transporting explosives across state lines, illegally mailing explosives, threatening former presidents and others, threatening interstate communications and assaulting federal officials, according to charging documents. He could face decades in prison if convicted. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney.
FBI Director Christopher Wray referred to the 13 explosive devices recovered so far as "IEDs," an abbreviation for improvised explosive devices. He said investigators were able to trace Sayoc after finding a fingerprint on an envelope containing a bomb sent to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and that DNA found on two of the devices was a possible match to a sample previously taken from Sayoc during an earlier arrest in Florida.
Inside the packages sent to three of the potential targets -- former President Barack Obama, former CIA director John Brennan and Waters -- were a picture of each person with red "X" marks on them, according to the criminal complaint, filed by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.
Wray declined to say whether the devices could have detonated, saying that investigators are "still trying to determine whether or not they were functional." But he said they did contain potentially explosive material, adding: "These are not hoax devices."
The complaint also included details suggesting Sayoc's antipathy toward the people and organizations targeted, including CNN, where one packaged was found and another addressed.
"The windows of Sayoc's van were covered with images including images critical of CNN," the complaint said. The complaint also identifies a Twitter account that law enforcement officials believe Sayoc used, and noted that account contained misspellings consistent with those seen on the packages. The complaint also said one post made Wednesday criticized George Soros, the billionaire activist, who two days earlier had received an explosive.
Wray declined to say if Sayoc is cooperating with investigators. When asked why Sayoc allegedly targeted Democrats, Sessions said he "appears to be a partisan, but that would be determined by the facts as the case goes forward." He declined to comment further.
Sayoc's previous run-ins with law enforcement date back at least to an arrest for larceny when Sayoc was 29 years old, according to state records. Other charges of larceny, grand theft and fraud soon followed across the southern part of the state. In 2002, the Miami police arrested him for a bomb threat, a felony. Sayoc pleaded guilty without trial and was sentenced to probation, the records show.
According to the police report, Sayoc called Florida Power and Light, a power company, in August 2002 and threatened to blow them up.
"It would be worse than September 11th," Sayoc said, according to the police report, which also said Sayoc threatened the company's representative with physical harm if his electricity was turned off.
Sayoc declared bankruptcy in 2012, according to a court filing that said he lived with his mother at that time. Relatives could not be reached for comment Friday, and an attorney who represented him in the bankruptcy case declined to comment.
Daniel Aaronson, an attorney who has represented Sayoc over the years, said none of his clients were "as polite and as courteous and as respectful to me" as Sayoc was. He said Sayoc never discussed his political views; if he had, it might have sparked a dispute.
"In fact, I am a Democrat," Aaronson said. "I am very proud of some of the people that were targeted ... so, if he had said anything along those lines, I certainly would have noted it."
Aaronson said he could not recall the precise years he represented Sayoc, but it was as recently as 2015. He represented him in cases where Sayoc was charged with theft or grand theft.
"I'm astounded about everything," Aaronson said. "When I woke up this morning, if you said here's 100 of your clients, and he's one of the 100, and one of those people is going to get arrested for this, I probably would pick out many, many more before I would pick him out."
Speaking Friday at the White House, Trump called the suspected mail bombs "terrorizing acts" and praised law enforcement officers for the arrest in Florida.
"We will prosecute them, him, her, whoever it may be, to the fullest extent of the law," he said at a White House event. "We must never allow political violence to take root in America and I'm committed to doing everything in my power as president to stop it and stop it now."
Investigators began closing in on Sayoc Thursday, as investigators traced the packages' path to South Florida, and recovered evidence inside at least one of the packages pointing to him. Sayoc lives in Aventura, Florida, and investigators believe many of the packages were processed at a nearby mail facility.
News of the arrest emerged as investigators recovered the latest explosive devices, packages sent to Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif..
The FBI said a package, "similar in appearance to the others" found this week, was addressed to Booker and located in Florida. A spokesman for Booker, a prominent Democrat and potential 2020 presidential candidate, declined to comment and referred questions to law enforcement.
A package recovered at a Manhattan postal facility on Friday was addressed to Clapper, a CNN contributor, at the network. Just two days earlier, CNN's offices in New York were evacuated when the package for Brennan, addressed to him at the network, was found in the mailroom. CNN President Jeff Zucker sent a message to staffers saying the package was intercepted at a post office, and he reiterated that "all mail to CNN domestic offices is being screened at off-site facilities."
Clapper appeared on CNN shortly after news broke a package was addressed to him, saying he felt relief no one was harmed by that device.
"This is definitely domestic terrorism, no doubt about it in my mind," he said. Clapper said anyone who has criticized Trump should take extra precautions when handling their mail, adding: "This is not going to silence the administration's critics."
A package addressed to Harris found Friday at a Sacramento mail facility was the 13th device officials said they had linked to Sayoc. Tom Steyer, a major Democratic donor, also said Friday that a suspicious package mailed to him was intercepted in California, but this was not among the 13 listed in the federal complaint.
The only common thread between the people who have received devices is that they are prominent figures -- many current or former Democratic elected officials -- who have publicly clashed with Trump. The list of possible targets began with Soros, then grew to include Obama, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and former attorney general Eric Holder Jr. Then came the packages sent to Brennan and CNN, Waters, former Vice President Joe Biden and the actor Robert de Niro.
One of the packages was recovered at a South Florida office of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., because her name was listed as the return address on all of them.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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