WASHINGTON/NEW YORK – The investigation into 10 pipe bombs sent to high-profile Democrats and critics of U.S. President Donald Trump is focusing on leads in Florida, a federal law enforcement source said on Thursday while another source said investigators believe the devices’ design came from the internet.
All the suspicious packages were believed to have gone through the U.S. postal system at some point, the source said. Many of the packages had the return address of the Florida office of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who formerly chaired the Democratic National Committee, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The instructions for such explosive devices are widely available on websites and in propaganda distributed by militant groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaida, said the second law enforcement official and a former federal government bomb expert.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and actor Robert De Niro on Thursday became the latest targets of the bombs, none of which exploded.
The bombs have heightened what already was a contentious campaign season ahead of the Nov. 6 elections in which Trump’s Republicans will try to maintain majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives. The episode has also called attention to the harsh rhetoric Trump wields against his rivals.
Trump condemned the bombs but later blamed the media, his frequent foil, for much of the angry tone.
No one has claimed responsibility and the FBI urged the public to report any tips. The packages consisted of a manila envelope with a bubble-wrap interior containing “potentially destructive devices,” the FBI said. Each bore a computer-printed address label and six “Forever” postage stamps, the agency said.
Some of the packages sent to New York locations had envelopes of white powder in them, but FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney said at a briefing in New York that initial analysis showed it was not a biological threat.
The pipe bombs discovered on Wednesday were similar to the ones sent to Biden and De Niro, a federal official told Reuters. Authorities described the devices as crude while security experts said their goal may have been to create fear rather than to kill.
One of the bombs was sent to the New York headquarters of CNN, which Trump has frequently derided for its coverage of him, and the network said on Thursday the device was being taken in a bomb-proof truck to the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia, for analysis.
Leading Democrats said the bombs were a dangerous outgrowth of an antagonistic political atmosphere created by the president.
Trump and other Republicans have likened Democrats to an “angry mob,” citing protests at the confirmation hearing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The FBI said on Thursday one of the two packages sent to Biden — who once said he would have fought Trump if they were in high school — was discovered at a mail facility in his home state of Delaware and the second at another location.
The device intended for De Niro, who received a loud ovation when he hurled an obscenity at Trump at the Tony Awards in June, was sent to one of his properties in New York City.
At a Wisconsin rally on Wednesday night Trump, who has denounced news media organizations as an “enemy of the people,” called attention to “how nice I’m behaving tonight” but on Thursday morning he attacked the media.
“A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News,” Trump wrote. “It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”
Several of the people who were sent bombs — including former President Barack Obama and Trump’s rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton — are frequent targets of right-wing critics.
Also sent packages were Eric Holder, who served as attorney general under Obama; former CIA Director John Brennan, who had his security clearance withdrawn after frequently lambasting Trump; prominent Democratic Party donor George Soros; and California Rep. Maxine Waters, another outspoken Trump critic. Two packages were sent to Waters, whom Trump has called “an extraordinarily low IQ person.”
Several politicians, including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, described the package bombs as an act of terrorism.
“Someone is trying to intimidate. Someone is trying to quash voices in this country using violence,” De Blasio said. “I am confident that we will find the perpetrator or perpetrators.”