Austin bombings: Explosion at FedEx near San Antonio could be linked, FBI says

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Tuesday’s blast, which officials said injured one FedEx worker in Schertz, Texas, came as four explosions, two of them deadly, have rattled Austin, about an hour’s drive to the northeast, since March 2.

The latest developments, including the revelation of the second package and hundreds more reports of dubious parcels, added to the anxiety that one official described as “absolute panic.”

There was confusion about the second package. Earlier, San Antonio Police Chief Bill McManus said there was a second suspicious package at the Schertz facility.

The federal official clarified with CNN that the second package being discussed was discovered at a sorting facility near the Austin airport and not in Schertz.

A FedEx spokesman said of the person who sent the package that exploded, “The individual responsible also shipped a second package that has now been secured and turned over to law enforcement.” FedEx didn’t say where the package was when it was secured.

The company also gave law enforcement “extensive evidence related to these packages and the individual that shipped them collected from our advanced technology security systems,” Jim McCluskey added in a statement.

Key developments

• The FBI is investigating a “confirmed link” between packages involved in the Austin investigations and a mail delivery office in Sunset Valley, southwest of downtown Austin, police in Sunset Valley said Tuesday. They did not indicate which packages were connected to the Sunset Valley office.

• At the Schertz FedEx facility, a package that was moving along an automated conveyor exploded around 12:25 a.m. Tuesday, Schertz Police Chief Michael Hansen said.

• A worker standing near the explosion suffered minor injuries and was treated and released, officials said.

An ATF vehicle sits at a FedEx sorting center where a package exploded Tuesday in Schertz, Texas.

• Preliminary information indicates there could be a connection between the Schertz blast and the four Austin explosions, FBI San Antonio spokeswoman Michelle Lee said.

• But FBI special agent James Smith said it was too early to know whether the Schertz blast was connected to any of the ones in Austin, which killed two people and injured four others over 17 days.

• If the FedEx explosion is confirmed to be linked to the Austin blasts, it would represent a new method for the bomber or bombers. None of the four previous explosives was mailed, police have said.

• Hansen, the Schertz police chief, said he was confident the package that exploded there was not meant to target that facility or the city, though he wouldn’t say why.

• The FBI’s Smith declined to answer reporters’ questions about whether the package that blew up was destined for Austin. Smith also said he had no reason to believe people in Schertz face any threat.

• There have been more than 1,200 calls about suspicious packages that have come in since March 12, Austin police said.

• President Donald Trump did not comment when asked Tuesday if he thought the bombings were acts of domestic terrorism. Trump called the situation “absolutely disgraceful” and said of those responsible: “We have to find them really immediately.”

The four Austin bombings

In Austin, authorities have been combing for clues to the four explosions there, the first three of which involved cardboard packages left in front yards or porches. They weren’t delivered by the US Postal Service or services such as UPS or FedEx, police say.

Those three explosions — one on March 2 and two more on March 12 — killed or wounded three African-American people and one Hispanic person. The blasts happened in east Austin areas that predominantly have minority residents, and some in the area expressed concern the attacks might have been racially motivated.

Police have not uncovered a motive and have not ruled out the possibility those bombings could be hate crimes.

In the fourth blast, a device Sunday was triggered by a tripwire, injuring two white men, police said. It had been left on the side of a road in a predominantly white area. Those men are in good condition at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, a hospital representative said.
“The use of a tripwire is far less discriminating than leaving parcel bombs at residences and suggests that (Sunday’s) victims were not specifically targeted,” the global think tank Stratfor said in one of its Threat Lens reports.

If one perpetrator is behind all five blasts, then the person deployed an unusually wide range of skills and delivery methods, CNN law enforcement analyst James Gagliano said.

“Some of these folks … as long as the bombmaker walks away with 10 fingers and 10 toes, that’s successful to them,” said Gagliano, a retired FBI supervisory special agent.

“But the method, the delivery system and the different means that he’s having these things in place shows that he’s trying to show — if it’s the same person on all five of these — a full panoply of different ways of doing this,” he added, “and that’s frightening.”

Three members of the Congressional Black Caucus called Monday for federal officials to classify the bombings as terrorist attacks and determine whether they are “ideologically or racially motivated.”
The NAACP called the incidents “acts of domestic terrorism” and called for vigilance and caution for communities in Austin.

What agencies are involved?

More than 350 special agents assigned by the FBI, as well as Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents and forensic investigators in Quantico, Virginia, are on the Austin case.

What the tripwire suggests about the bombmaker
At the state level, about 100 Texas Department of Public Safety officers, sergeants and special agents as well as the Texas Ranger bomb squad, bomb-sniffing dogs, intelligence agents and helicopters are also involved, CNN affiliate KXAN reported.

Police departments in Houston and San Antonio are sending bomb technicians and canine teams to Austin, their police chiefs said Monday.

How are they examining the evidence?

ATF has taken evidence from the four blast sites in Austin, Police Chief Brian Manley said.

“The prior three scenes are already in the lab at Quantico, and the evidence from the scene from last night is on its way to Quantico as well,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday night.

“They’re looking at the devices, they’re comparing them, looking for similarities,” he said. “The similarities they’ve seen to this point, lead them to believe — as we do — that these are all being constructed by the same person or persons who are responsible for this.”

How are they handling the tips?

Austin bombs were 'meant to send a message,' authorities say

Austin police have received lots of tips, Manley said Monday night.

“As each tip comes in, it gets assigned to either a team of FBI agents, ATF agents or Austin police detectives to do follow-up work on,” he said.

Manley urged residents to call police with any information.

“No matter how inconsequential you think it may be, that may be the piece of evidence we need to link it together and solve this before we have someone else in our community that gets seriously injured or killed,” he said.

What resources are they getting?

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced more than $265,500 in emergency funding for the Austin Police Department and the Texas Ranger Response Team to purchase seven portable X-ray systems.

These can be used to assess the safety of packages quickly.

“I want to ensure everyone in the Austin region and the entire state that Texas is committed to providing every resource necessary to make sure these crimes are solved as quickly as possible,” Abbott said in a statement.

The reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone responsible for the blasts totals $115,000.

What are police asking residents to do?

Police are appealing to residents to pay attention to their surroundings. Residents shouldn’t approach or touch anything that looks suspicious, Manley said.

“We now need the community to have an extra level of vigilance and pay attention to any suspicious device — whether it be a package or a bag, a backpack — anything that looks out of place,” he said Monday. “Do not approach items like that.”

CNN’s Holly Yan, Steve Almasy, Tina Burnside, Jason Morris, Mike Figliola, Keith Allen, Braden Goyette, Amir Vera, Ed Lavandera, Christina Zdanowicz and Janet DiGiacomo contributed to this report.





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