Federal authorities have arrested one individual in connection with suspected explosives sent to top Democrats, former senior US officials and prominent critics of President Donald Trump, the Department of Justice said on Friday.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told reporters on Friday that Cesar Sayoc was arrested in connection with the bomb investigation. Wray said Sayoc’s fingerprints were found on a package sent to Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters.
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Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Sayoc was charged with five federal crimes, including threats against former presidents and the illegal mailing of explosives. Sayoc faces up to 58 years in prison, if convicted.
The news of the arrest came not long after authorities said several more suspicious packages were found on Friday, bringing the total number of explosive devices discovered over the past week to at least 13.
Two new packages discovered on Friday included those addressed to US Senator Cory Booker and James Clapper, the former US director of national intelligence.
“This is definitely domestic terrorism, no question about it in my mind,” Clapper told CNN. “This is not going to silence the administration’s critics.”
Photos of the van confiscated at the time of Sayoc’s arrest show the vehicle plastered with pro-Trump stickers, the slogan “CNN SUCKS” and images of Democratic figures with red crosshairs over their faces. Authorities have not confirmed that the van was linked to Sayoc, who has a long criminal history, records show.
Trump said on Friday that he knows the suspect was one of his supporters, but said he bears “no blame” for the suspect’s actions.
Authorities said there could be other packages.
Trump says ‘bomb stuff’ slowing Republican momentum
The wave of parcel bombs has been denounced by authorities as terrorism and comes less than two weeks before US congressional elections. The results could alter the balance of power in Washington, DC.
Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC on Friday that the mail bombs were stoking fear across the county and that US leaders, including Trump, must reassure the public.
“Elected officials and others need to say that this is not who we are as a country,” Warner said. “That would be a heck of a lot stronger if that message also came from the White House.”
All the individuals targeted by the suspicious packages have often been maligned by right-wing critics. They included Democratic Party donor George Soros, former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, and former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The FBI said that at least five of the packages bore a return address from the Florida office of US Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee.
There has been an outcry from Trump’s critics, who charged that his inflammatory rhetoric against Democrats and the press has created a climate for politically motivated violence.
After first calling for “unity” and civil discourse on Wednesday, Trump lashed out again on Thursday at the “hateful” media. His supporters accused Democrats of unfairly suggesting the president was to blame for the bomb scare.
“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!” Trump said on Twitter early on Friday.
Hours later, he tweeted that “this ‘bomb’ stuff” is slowing the momentum for Republicans in the leadup to the November 6 midterm elections.
“Republicans are doing so well early voting, and at the polls, and now this ‘bomb’ stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows – news not talking politics,” he said, adding “Very unfortunate, what is going on. Republicans go out and vote!”
Speaking to reporters later in the day, Trump declared “we must never allow political violence to take root in America.” He added that the person responsible would be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law”.
Devices treated as ‘live’ explosives
Authorities believe the packages, which were intercepted before reaching their intended recipients, all went through the US Postal Service at some point, news agencies reported, citing federal security sources. None detonated and no one has been hurt.
The devices were thought to have been fashioned from bomb-making designs widely available on the internet, a federal law enforcement source told Reuters news agency.
The FBI’s Wray said on Friday that the explosives were “not hoax devices”, and each pipe bomb contained materials that could react and cause a potential explosion.
Two packages were sent to Waters and Biden. Others who received the bombs were former Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA director John Brennan, US Representative Maxine Waters of California, and actor Robert De Niro.
On Friday, authorities were also investigating a suspicious package mailed to Democratic Senator Kamala Harris in Sacramento, California, her office said.