US authorities charged Cesar Sayoc, a 56-year-old Florida man, on Friday with a string of attempted mail bombings that targeted critics of Donald Trump and gripped the nation this week.
The arrest on Friday morning followed four tense days in which an increasing number of explosive devices were discovered across America, addressed to prominent Democratic figures, former intelligence officials, CNN and movie star Robert De Niro.
Christopher Wray, the FBI director, said at a news conference that Mr Sayoc sent 13 devices, each of which consisted of roughly of six inches of PVC pipe, a small clock, battery and potential explosives. Though none of the bombs exploded, Mr Wray said: “These are not hoax devices”.
Mr Sayoc was charged with five federal crimes by prosecutors in Manhattan, where several of the devices were discovered, including interstate transportation of an explosive, illegal mailing of explosives, and threats against former presidents and other persons. He faces up to 48 years in prison, if convicted, the justice department said.*
A registered Republican voter since 2016, Mr Sayoc has an extensive criminal record starting in the early 1990s that included charges of grand theft and battery. He was arrested in 2002 for threatening to bomb a Florida utility company.
His social media accounts showed him at Trump rallies wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat. A white van belonging to Mr Sayoc, seized on Friday, was covered in stickers that praised Mr Trump and images of progressive figures with cross-hairs overlaid.
Public records showed Mr Sayoc’s home was foreclosed in 2009 and he filed for bankruptcy three years later. His bankruptcy filing said he was a store manager who lived with his mother and owned no furniture.
Jeff Sessions, the attorney-general, said he did not know why Mr Sayoc allegedly targeted Democratic figures. “He appears to be a partisan,” he added.
Mr Trump praised the efforts of law enforcement on Friday in remarks from the White House and condemned the attempted mail bombings. “These terrorising acts are despicable and have no place in our country,” he said.
Earlier, in a morning tweet shortly before news of the arrest became public, however, the president appeared to back rightwing theories that the attempted bombings were part of a “false flag” operation to dent Republican chances in the upcoming midterm elections.
“Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this ‘Bomb’ stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows — news not talking politics,” he wrote on Twitter.
The FBI said its evidence for Mr Sayoc’s involvement included a matching latent fingerprint on one of the packages sent to Maxine Waters, a Democratic congresswoman from California. Mr Wray said there was also “a possible DNA connection” that tied the suspect to the devices.
The FBI director said further devices may yet be discovered and did not rule out the possibility that other individuals may have been involved in the attempted bombings. “We do believe we’ve caught the right guy, but we also know this is an ongoing investigation, and there’s a lot of work to be done,” he said.
The events of the week began to unfold on Monday when a pipe bomb was found at a home belonging to investor George Soros. Since then, packages addressed to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, former vice-president Joe Biden, and former CIA director John Brennan, among others, have been found.
A total of 12 figures were targeted with 13 explosive devices, according to the criminal complaint against Mr Sayoc filed in the southern district of New York. The complaint noted his social media posts, which included misspellings of ‘Hillary’ that were consistent with the packages, and criticisms of Mr Soros and Mr Obama.
The complaint also said some of the packages included photographs of the targets were marked with a red “X”.
*This article has been amended to include an updated figure from the Department of Justice on the prison time faced by Mr Sayoc, if convicted.
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