WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, Oct 25 2018 : Former U.S. President Barack Obama and two members of his cabinet were among the targets of suspected package bombs delivered to high-profile Democrats and CNN in what New York officials yesterday branded an act of terrorism.
None of the packages detonated, and nobody was hurt. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
But news of the threats heightened tensions in a nation deeply polarized ahead of elections on Nov. 6 that will decide whether Democrats take control of one or both houses of Congress from Republicans and deny President Donald Trump the majority his party now holds in both.
The first package, which turned up on Monday, was addressed to billionaire financier George Soros, a prominent Democratic Party donor and frequent target of right-wing conspiracy theories.
But the parcel intended for Holder ended up rerouted to the return address that had been printed on all five packages – the Florida office of U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who formerly chaired the Democratic National Committee, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“It is possible that additional packages were mailed to other locations,” the FBI said in a statement on its website (bit.ly/2yYPws7).
U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, a veteran Democratic congresswoman from Los Angeles, said her Capitol Hill office was the target of a suspicious package that “has been referred to the FBI.”
The five other packages confirmed by the FBI in its statement were all described as similar in appearance, consisting of a manila envelope with a bubble-wrap interior containing “potentially destructive devices.”
Other officials said the devices contained in the envelopes were all similar to one found in the mailbox of the Soros home and later detonated by police.
The U.S. Secret Service intercepted packages addressed to Obama at his Washington home and to Clinton at her home in New York state. The CNN bureau in New York also received a package, leading police to evacuate the Time Warner building in a busy Manhattan neighborhood near Central Park.
“So far the devices have been what appeared to be pipe bombs,” John Miller, the New York City police deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, told a news conference.
“This clearly is an act of terror attempting to undermine our free press and leaders of this country through acts of violence,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, also labeled the delivery of the suspicious packages an act of intimidation perpetrated by “terrorist thugs.”
“What they are trying to do is scare us and destabilize us, and we will not allow that to happen,” he said.
De Blasio later dismissed social media postings suggesting that the packages were a liberal hoax, telling CNN, “This is the real thing.”
“The bomb that was removed from the building right by here was a serious bomb … No, this is the real thing,” de Blasio said.
Trump and his press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders both condemned the acts as “despicable” and vowed to bring those responsible to justice.
Trump, who usually relishes in making partisan attacks on Democrats, also issued a rare call for unity.
“In these times, we have to unify, we have to come together, and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America,” Trump said at the White House.
“We’re extremely angry, upset and unhappy about what we witnessed this morning, and we will get to the bottom of it,” Trump said.
All of the targets are frequently maligned by right-wing critics. Trump has repeated criticized CNN as “fake news” and disparaged the mainstream news media as an “enemy of the people.
“There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media,” CNN President Jeff Zucker said in a statement that was read out on CNN. “The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand that their words matter. Thus far they have shown no comprehension of that.”
U.S. Democratic leaders in Congress said Trump’s call for unity rang “hollow” because of his past statements that condone acts of violence.
“Time and time again, the president has condoned physical violence and divided Americans with his words and his actions,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives top Democrat Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Last week, Trump heaped praise on a Montana congressman who assaulted a reporter in 2017.
“Any guy that can do a body-slam … is my guy,” Trump told supporters at the rally.
The package to Clinton was found late on Tuesday while the one addressed to Obama was recovered early on Wednesday, both during routine off-site mail screenings, the Secret Service said. Obama and Clinton were not at risk, they said.
Officials said the package received by CNN was addressed to Brennan, the former Central Intelligence Agency chief who appeared on CNN periodically before joining cable news rival MSNBC as a paid contributor.
Brennan has been an outspoken critic of Trump, calling the president’s performance during a July joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki “nothing short of treasonous.”
The package sent to CNN also contained an envelope of white powder that experts were analyzing, Police Commissioner James O’Neill said.
The package meant for Holder was found at the building that houses Wasserman Schultz’s office, the Broward Sheriff’s office said. – Reuters