MIAMI (Reuters) – Federal authorities arrested a man in Florida on Friday suspected of sending at least a dozen parcel bombs to high-profile critics of U.S. President Donald Trump days ahead of congressional elections, officials said.
The man was taken into custody in the parking lot of an AutoZone store in Plantation, near Fort Lauderdale, where two witnesses told Reuters they heard a loud blast at the time of the arrest.
Local television stations showed investigators using a large blue tarp to cover a white van that was plastered with decals and stickers, before removing it on a truck.
A federal law enforcement official named the suspect as Cesar Sayoc, born in 1962, and said more arrests could follow.
The U.S. Justice Department was due to hold a news conference at 2:30 p.m. EDT. (1830 GMT), a spokeswoman said.
No one had claimed responsibility for parcel bombs, which were denounced by authorities as terrorism, and came less than two weeks ahead of U.S. congressional elections that could alter the balance of power in Washington.
Police found two of the suspicious packages on Friday addressed to U.S. Senator Cory Booker and James Clapper, the former U.S. director of national intelligence, officials said.
The 11th package was addressed to Booker, a Democratic senator from New Jersey, and was discovered at a mail sorting facility in Florida, the FBI said. A 12th package was addressed to Clapper at cable network CNN and was intercepted at a New York City post office, a federal law enforcement official said.
A thirteenth suspicious parcel was discovered addressed to Democratic U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, CNN reported.
A federal law enforcement official said earlier on Friday that the focus had intensified on Florida as a key location for the investigation and possible point of origin of the packages.
Police closed roads around the AutoZone parking lot, and helicopters flew overhead.
A man named Dre, a manager at a used car dealership next door to the AutoZone, said he heard a loud noise that sounded like an explosion shortly after 11 a.m.
“I heard like a bomb,” Dre, who declined to give his full name, said in a telephone interview. “I opened the door and saw the FBI there.”
Dre said they were told by FBI agents to stay inside as the area was on lockdown.
A woman who lives nearby and declined to give her name said she was in her yard weeding on Friday morning when she heard a loud bang, saw smoke and heard a lot of shouting.All the people 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 Federal Bureau of Investigation has said that at least five of the packages bore a return address from the Florida office of U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee.
(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson and Bernie Woodall; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus, Gabriella Borter and Peter Szekely in New York, Mark Hosenball, Makini Brice and Susan Heavey in Washington, and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Jeffrey Benkoe)