Saudi Military Student Kills Three At US Navy Base

A general view of the atmosphere at the Pensacola Naval Air Station following a shooting on December 06, 2019 in Pensacola, Florida.  Josh Brasted/Getty Images/AFP

 

A Saudi air force trainee opened fire Friday at a US naval base, killing three people before being shot dead by police, with the Saudi king quickly offering his condolences to President Donald Trump.

The shooting, which took place in a classroom building at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, left eight people injured including two sheriff’s deputies who responded to the attack.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the shooter was from Saudi Arabia — the same nationality as 15 of the 19 men involved in the 9/11 attacks, some of whom attended flight school in Florida.

“There’s obviously going to be a lot of questions about this individual being a foreign national, being a part of the Saudi air force and then to be here training on our soil,” DeSantis told a press conference.

“Obviously the government of Saudi Arabia needs to make things better for these victims. And I think they are going to owe a debt here given that this is one of their individuals.”

Commanding officer Timothy Kinsella said the shooter — whose name authorities declined to release — was an aviation trainee, one of “a couple hundred” foreign students present at the base.

“King Salman of Saudi Arabia just called to express his sincere condolence sand give his sympathies to the families and friends of the warriors who were killed and wounded in the attack that took place in Pensacola, Florida,” Trump tweeted.

“The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people.”

Police received their first call about the shooting shortly before 7:00 am (1200 GMT), Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said.

One of the responding deputies eventually killed the attacker, who used a handgun.

“Walking through the crime scene was like being on the set of a movie,” Morgan said. “You don’t expect this to happen.”

Kinsella said the base’s security forces first responded to the shooting before outside police agencies arrived.

The facility, made up mostly of classrooms, was shut down until further notice.

Witnesses described a chaotic scene as police rushed to respond.

Federal agencies are investigating, authorities said, including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Military rarely targeted 

Just two days earlier, a US sailor fatally shot two people and wounded a third at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii before taking his own life.

The Pensacola naval air station hosts 16,000 military personnel and more than 7,000 civilians, and is home to a flight demonstration squadron.

It is an early training center for naval pilots, and is known as the “cradle of naval aviation.”

The base is the center for the US Navy foreign military training programs, established in 1985 specifically for Saudi students before being expanded to other nationalities.

Saudi Arabia has long been a major US ally in the Middle East, thanks primarily to security considerations and oil.

While mass shootings in the United States are common, those at military facilities are rare.

In July 2015, Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez carried out an attack at two military installations in Tennessee that killed four Marines and a sailor, with the FBI concluding that the violence was inspired by a “foreign terrorist group.”

Two years earlier, Aaron Alexis killed 12 people and wounded eight others at the Washington Navy Yard, just two miles (three kilometers) from the US Capitol building, before being shot dead by officers.

Four years before that, Major Nidal Hasan, a US Army psychiatrist, killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others at Fort Hood.

He was considered a “lone wolf” who supported terror network Al-Qaeda.

Supporters of tighter gun laws seized on the latest shooting.

“Our veterans and active-duty military put their lives on the line to protect us overseas — they shouldn’t have to be terrorized by gun violence at home,” Cindy Martin, a volunteer with the Florida chapter of Moms Demand Action whose daughter works at the naval base, said in a statement.

AFP

One Killed, Shooter Dead At US Navy Base Attack

This March 7, 2018, image obtained from the US Navy shows a courtyard and barracks at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida.  Glenn Sircy / US NAVY / AFP

 

A shooter was killed after opening fire at a US naval base in Florida on Friday and killing at least one other person, police and military officials said.

Escambia County Sheriff’s Office said in a message on Twitter it could “confirm there is no longer an active shooter on NAS Pensacola. The shooter is confirmed dead.”

Naval Air Station Pensacola was put on lockdown, with the US Navy reporting that at least one victim had been killed.

“One additional fatality has been confirmed. Unknown number of injured people being transferred to local hospitals,” it said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Local media said that the base hosts 16,000 military personnel and more than 7,000 civilians, and is home to a flight demonstration squadron.

It is an early training center for naval pilots, and is known as the “cradle of Naval aviation.”

On Wednesday, a US sailor fatally shot two people and wounded a third at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii before taking his own life.

One witness from that attack told local media he was sitting at his computer when he heard shots fired and rushed to the window, where he saw three victims on the ground.

AFP

Trump To Move Permanent Residence To Florida

US President Donald Trump. Brendan Smialowski / AFP

US President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that he will change his permanent residence from New York to Palm Beach, Florida, claiming he had been “treated very badly” in his native city.

“My family and I will be making Palm Beach, Florida, our Permanent Residence,” the president tweeted.

“I cherish New York, and the people of New York, and always will, but unfortunately, despite the fact that I pay millions of dollars in city, state and local taxes each year, I have been treated very badly by the political leaders of both the city and state,” he wrote, adding that “few have been treated worse.”

According to a report from The New York Times, Trump — who is a native New Yorker — and his wife Melania filed individual declarations of domicile in September changing their primary residence from Manhattan to Palm Beach.

The New York Times also wrote that White House officials declined to say why Trump changed his primary residence but cited a source close to the president as saying it was primarily for tax purposes.

Other than the White House, the Trumps’ main residence will now be their Mar-a-Lago resort, where Trump has spent 99 days since becoming president — compared to just 20 at his previous primary residence in Trump Tower, according to the Times.

“I hated having to make this decision, but in the end it will be best for all concerned,” Trump tweeted.

New York “will always have a special place in my heart!”

But New York has not always loved Trump back: Demonstrations outside Trump Tower are common, and Trump has butted heads with the city and state multiple times.

The most recent instance was in the beginning of the month when a federal judge for the Southern District of New York dismissed the president’s bid to block access to years of his personal and corporate tax returns.

New York leadership appeared to agree that Trump had made the right call, with Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeting, “Good riddance.”

“It’s not like @realDonaldTrump paid taxes here anyway,” he wrote.

“He’s all yours, Florida.”

AFP

Florida Executes Killer Who Targeted Gay Men

 

A confessed murderer linked to a months-long killing spree in 1994 that targeted older gay men was executed Thursday in the US state of Florida.

Gary Ray Bowles, who was 57, was executed by lethal injection at 10:58 pm (0258 GMT).

In a final written statement, Bowles apologised for the “pain and suffering” he had caused, stating “I never wanted this to be my life. You don’t wake up one day and decide to become a serial killer.”

Bowles was dubbed the “I-95 killer” after being linked to a half-dozen homicides along the interstate highway of that name, a major artery along the East Coast.

Late Thursday the US Supreme Court rejected defense motions calling for a stay of execution.

According to court records, Bowles had a disturbing and chaotic childhood. His father died before he was born, and his mother remarried several times, twice to men who abused Bowles.

He took to drugs and drinking by age 11, and at 13 he nearly killed his second stepfather by smashing a rock into his head, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

A Washington Post profile, written in 1994 while police were desperately searching for the suspected serial killer, described Bowles as a “rugged, handsome and charming” young man who had left home as a teenager and turned to prostitution to survive.

He had a long arrest record, including for robbery, and spent a few years in prison in the 1980s after beating and raping a girlfriend — so viciously that one detective was quoted as saying, “I’ve seen better looking bodies in an autopsy.”

In 1994, after the months-long manhunt had spurred public fears up and down the I-95 corridor, Bowles was captured in the northern Florida city of Jacksonville and charged with the murder of Walter Jamelle Hinton.

Bowles subsequently confessed to the other murders – crimes that had been linked in part by the killer’s habit of stuffing rags or other objects down his victims’ throats.

He received a death sentence in 1999.

Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, signed the execution order earlier this summer.

Florida is one of 29 US states that still practice capital punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which advocates against the death penalty.

Inmates in that state are allowed to choose death by injection or by electrocution. A private citizen is paid $150 to serve as executioner, according to the state’s website.

Boeing Plane Crashes Into Florida River

The plane with 136 passengers and 7 aircrews on board, was arriving from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, slid off the runway at 9:40 p.m. ET and into the river; now is in shallow water and not submerged/ AFP

 

A Boeing 737 skidded off a runway into a river after crash-landing during a lightning storm in Florida on Friday, officials said, with terrified passengers all safely evacuated to shore from the stricken jet’s wings.

The plane carrying 143 people including the crew from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba slammed into shallow water next to a naval air station in Jacksonville after a hard landing that saw the plane bounce and swerves down the runway, passengers said.

No fatalities or critical injuries were reported.

“As we went down … the plane bounced and screeched and bounced more and lifted to the right and then it lifted to the left,” Cheryl Bormann, a defense attorney who was on board the flight, told CNN.

READ ALSO: Dozens Of Rockets Fired At Israel From Gaza

“And then it sort of swerved and then it came to a complete crash stop.”

Some oxygen masks deployed and overhead lockers flew open during the landing, she added.

Twenty-one adults were taken to local hospitals, but none were critically injured, Jacksonville sheriff’s office said on Twitter.

Others were treated for minor injuries at the scene.

Naval Air Station Jacksonville said in a statement all 136 passengers and seven aircrews on board had been accounted for.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Saturday a team was being sent to investigate the incident.

Navy security and emergency response personnel including some 90 firefighters attended the scene.

Passengers in life vests were instructed to clamber onto the wings of the jet before being transported to shore aboard inflatable life rafts, Bormann said.

“We couldn’t tell where we were, a river or an ocean. There was rain coming down. There was lightning and thunder. We stood on that wing for a significant period of time,” she told CNN.

Images showed the Miami Air plane lying partially submerged in water after the crash-landing, with its nose cone missing.

Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry tweeted that the White House had called to offer assistance as the situation was developing.

“All alive and accounted for. Our Fire and Rescue teams are family to all,” said Curry.

Teams were working to control jet fuel spilling into the St Johns River, he added.

The “Rotator” flight from the US base in Cuba carries passengers including military personnel and family members.

Boeing said it was aware of the incident and gathering information.

The US aerospace giant is under scrutiny following two crashes that killed 346 passengers and crew and grounded its 737 MAX planes worldwide.

Florida Remembers School Shooting Victims One Year After

In this file photo taken on February 17, 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez reacts during her speech at a rally for gun control at the Broward County Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. PHOTO: RHONA WISE / AFP

 

The city of Parkland, Florida came to a standstill Thursday to remember the victims of a school shooting that took the lives of 17 people on Valentine’s Day one year ago, igniting a student crusade against gun violence.

Survivor Emma Gonzalez, who emerged as a leading activist after the massacre, said the gun control movement known as the March for Our Lives will go off-line and silent from Thursday through the weekend.

“Like so many others in our community, I’m going to spend that time giving my attention to friends and family, and remembering those we lost,” Gonzalez wrote in a statement.

“The 14th is a hard day to look back on. But looking at the movement we’ve built — the movement you created and the things we’ve already accomplished together — is incredibly healing,” she wrote.

READ ALSO: Brazil’s President Leaves Hospital After 17-Day ‘Power Vacuum’

The shooting saw a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School walk in with a military-style rifle and kill 14 students and three staff members.

The school says it will mark the anniversary with a “non-academic” day, offering counseling services. It will close its doors before 2:20 pm, the moment when the shooting started.

A March for Our Lives spokesman said many students will not show up for school.

No protest marches are expected, nor are student sit-ins or anti-gun campaigning.

 Quiet day of mourning 

“For this date we wanted to stay quiet, simply out of respect,” said 15-year-old shooting survivor Ryan Servaites.

“You know, this affected us very personally. We know this community. We’re from Parkland and we love Parkland and we simply don’t want to turn this into a day of protest when it really should be a day of mourning.”

Parkland and neighboring Coral Springs, home to many students of the activist movement, will hold events to honor the victims of the shooting.

In Parkland, at a park next to the school, mental health professionals will be deployed as will dogs meant to provide comfort. So will staff from a food program for needy kids. An ecumenical religious service will be held.

In Coral Springs, the artist David Best will inaugurate a work called Temple of Time — a 11-meter high structure of plywood decorated with Asian images where people can go to pay homage to the victims of the shooting.

In mid-May the structure will be burned down.

Best began building such temples in 2000 at the Burning Man festival in Nevada to honor a friend who died in a motorcycle accident.

Since then he has specialized in offering towns this tool of collective mourning.

“The Temple is meant to serve as an object of great beauty built out of tremendous loss,” the Coral Springs city hall wrote on its web page.

AFP

Rich Russians Flock To Florida To Deliver American Babies

 

In southern Florida’s Sunny Isles Beach, Russian tourists Anna and Helen sip coffee with their husbands and newborn babies: a common scene in what has become a prized destination for well-off foreigners looking to secure US citizenship for their children.

Under the shadow of luxury skyscrapers — among them Trump Towers — exists an army of well-dressed women, either pregnant or pushing top-of-the-line strollers. Most are Russian or from former Soviet Union countries.

The weather, white-sand beaches and dazzling turquoise waters are common reasons given for traveling to give birth in this city of 20,000 people, north of Miami.

But one 34-year-old, who gave her name only as Anna, was more direct.

“For the American passport!” she told AFP, smiling. She arrived in the US while expecting now two-month-old Melania.

Both she and compatriot Helen, mother to a three-month-old, said tens of thousands of dollars and months of planning went into their trips.

The attraction is clear. President Donald Trump does not like it, but according to the US constitution, children born on American soil automatically gain citizenship, opening up highly sought-after opportunities to study and work.

And why Sunny Isles specifically?

“Feel home, lot of Russian,” Anna said.

Upon turning 21, baby Melania will also be able to sponsor visas for her parents to come to the US — another policy that has disgruntled Trump.

The trend is big business: Miami Mama, a company in neighboring Hallandale Beach, has been organizing travel packages for Russian mothers since 2009.

Charging between $6,900 and $49,000, they will coordinate everything from interpreters and apartments to medical care and citizenship documents, according to the firm’s website.

And none of this is illegal, according to US immigration laws.

But according to NBC, the FBI raided Miami Mama in 2017, arresting one employee for making false statements in federal documents to obtain passports for children.

Miami Mama — whose logo shows a pregnant woman against the backdrop of an American flag — did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment.

 Little Moscow 

So-called “birth tourism” to the United States isn’t just popular with Russians. Expectant Chinese parents have for years travelled to California, while South Americans — particularly Brazilians — prefer Florida.

A tentative estimate by the Center for Immigration Studies — a conservative group that advocates curbs on immigration — suggested in 2015 that maternity tourism to the United States could account for some 36,000 births each year.

But there is no reliable data on how many US citizens the practice creates.

In 2014, Vera Muzyka, head of a firm helping Russian mothers in Miami, told The Moscow Times that in that city, 40 to 60 babies were being born each month to citizens of Russia or former Soviet Union countries.

Sunny Isles Beach earned itself the nickname “Little Moscow” from around 2010, when Russian beauty salons, supermarkets, restaurants and realtors started to crop up.

Nowadays, you’re more likely to find syrnikis — a type of sweet cheese pancake — than Cuban croquetas, while dried fish has become a staple bar snack.

And while southern Floridians are used to seeing shop signs in English and Spanish, in Sunny Isles it’s English and Russian — with real estate offices, notaries and businesses offering “passport services” the most common around town.

According to a 2017 report by The Daily Beast, many Russian families stay in the luxury Trump Tower condominiums.

But while connections between Trump and the Kremlin have been under investigation for over two years, there is no evidence the president benefits from Russian tourism in Florida.

Suspicious of the press, most of Sunny Isles Beach’s Russians won’t speak to the media and those who do prefer to remain anonymous or give only their first name.

That included Kate, eight months pregnant with her fourth child, who would only tell AFP: “We plan to give birth.”

Entering a specialty Russian supermarket with her husband and children, the 35-year-old added — true to form — that it was the balmy climate that brought them to Florida.

AFP

Last US Execution Of 2018 To Hold In Florida

 

The last execution of 2018 in the United States is set to take place Thursday in Florida, where a man convicted of a murder that took place more than 25 years ago is to receive a lethal injection.

In October 1992, Jose Jimenez broke into the apartment of a neighbour in North Miami, apparently with the intent to rob her. Instead, he stabbed and beat 63-year-old court clerk Phyllis Minas to death.

“It was a very gruesome crime. He was utterly merciless,” the lawyer who prosecuted Jimenez in 1994, Michael Band, told The Miami Herald.

Jimenez’s execution has been pushed back several times due to legal proceedings but is now scheduled for 6:00 pm (2300 GMT) at the state prison in Starke, Florida.

Lawyers for Jimenez, who is now 55, filed several 11th-hour motions for a stay of execution, including before the US Supreme Court, arguing that his drug addiction was not properly taken into account.

If the execution goes ahead, Jimenez will be the 25th person executed in the United States this year, and the second in Florida.

AFP

Two Women Killed In Florida Yoga Class Shooting

Emergency personnel stationed outside the HotYoga Studio after a gunman killed one person and injured several others inside on November 2, 2018 in Tallahassee, Florida./ AFP

 

Two women were killed when a gunman opened fire in a Florida yoga studio before class members fought back and the attacker killed himself, police said on Saturday.

The women, identified as Nancy Van Vessem, 61, and Maura Binkley, 21, were shot and killed on Friday afternoon when Scott Beierle, 40, opened fire at the Hot Yoga studio at an upscale shopping centre in Florida’s capital, Tallahassee, the city’s police department said in a statement.

Four other people were injured in the shooting, along with a man who was pistol whipped by the shooter, the Tallahassee Police Department said.

“There were indications that several people not only fought back but tried to save other people,” Police Chief Michael DeLeo told reporters.

Two of the wounded were in stable condition and three were released from a local hospital, police said.

Beierle suffered from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said.

Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for state governor, halted campaigning for Tuesday’s midterm elections to return to the city.

“No act of gun violence is acceptable,” Gillum tweeted.

Tallahassee’s murder rate has been an issue in the governor’s race, with Gillum’s opponent Republican former U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis accusing him of being weak on crime.

ACTED ALONE
The gunman appeared to have acted alone and there was no immediate threat to the Tallahassee community, DeLeo said.

Police was looking for any links between him and the victims, he added.

“All evidence points to a single actor who has stayed on scene and is deceased at this time so there is no additional threat to the public,” DeLeo said. City Commissioner Scott Maddox was among officials who went to the incident.

“In my public service career, I have had to be on some bad scenes. This is the worst. Please pray,” Maddox posted on Facebook.

US Mail Bombing Suspect An Ardent Trump Supporter

US Mail Bombing Suspect An Ardent Trump Supporter
This handout mugshot obtained courtesy of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office shows an August 2015 booking photo of Cesar Sayoc, who the US media on October 26, 2018, identifies as the suspect in connection with 12 suspicious packages and pipe bombs sent to critics of US President Donald Trump. HO / BROWARD COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE / AFP

 

Cesar Altieri Sayoc, the Florida man accused of sending pipe bombs to critics of Donald Trump, had plastered his social media accounts and the van where he was living with signs of his devotion to the Republican president and his hatred for Democrats.

Sayoc, 56, of Aventura, Florida, was arrested on Friday for allegedly mailing at least 13 explosive devices to leading Democratic figures, former high-ranking officials and others, FBI Director Christopher Wray said.

Sayoc, a registered Republican with a criminal history and reported past as a stripper, currently faces up to 48 years in prison, although further charges are expected to be filed against him for the mail-bombing campaign, which heightened political tensions and put the country on edge.

Television footage of Sayoc in custody showed a muscular man in a sleeveless black shirt with close-cropped black hair.

Sayoc has been arrested several times previously, including in Miami-Dade County in 2002 for making a bomb threat against a power company, according to court records available online. He was sentenced to a year on probation. He has also been arrested for theft and domestic violence.

Sayoc, who sometimes goes by the name Cesar Altieri, also has a history of financial problems and filed for bankruptcy in 2012, according to county records.

Sayoc’s political leanings are on full display on his Facebook page — which CNN reported has been removed by the social network — as well as his now-suspended Twitter accounts and his impounded white van, which was covered with pro-Trump decals and anti-Democrat stickers.

A picture on Sayoc’s Facebook page shows him wearing a red Trump “Make America Great Again” hat and photos have since surfaced of him attending Trump rallies in Florida.

One of the windows of his van, which was seized by the FBI, features pictures of former president Barack Obama and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton with red bulls-eyes on their faces.

There’s also a “CNN Sucks” sticker with a target over the face of one of the network’s frequent commentators, Van Jones.

Obama, Clinton and CNN were intended recipients of the pipe bombs sent through the mail with a return address in Florida.

Debra Gureghian, the general manager of a pizza restaurant in Fort Lauderdale where Sayoc worked as a delivery truck driver for several months, described him to The Washington Post as “crazed.”

“That’s the best word for him,” Gureghian said. “There was something really off with him.”

“He was very angry and angry at the world, at blacks, Jews, gays,” she said.

“He never said he would kill them or murder them or bomb them he just said ‘If I had complete autonomy the gays, the black and Jews would not survive,'” she said. “He was very, very strange.”

– Tweeted right-wing memes –

Sayoc appears to have had at least two Twitter accounts — @hardrock2016 and @hardrockintlent — where he posted as Cesar Altieri and “Julus Cesar Milan.”

Political commentator Rochelle Ritchie said she reported a threat made by Sayoc’s @hardrock2016 account on October 11, but was told by Twitter that it did not violate the site’s rules.

Twitter subsequently apologized, saying it made a “mistake,” and both of Sayoc’s accounts have now been suspended.

The last post on Sayoc’s @hardrock2016 account dates from Wednesday.

It is a retweet of a composite image claiming that Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor of Florida, “admitted” taking money from billionaire George Soros.

Soros, who is a prominent funder of left-of-centre causes, was also an intended recipient of an explosive device.

The post is one of a number of crude tweets critical of Democrats — including California Representative Maxine Waters and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, both of whom were targets of mail bombs.

Another Twitter post references the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose return address was used for the packages containing pipe bombs.

In the Twitter post, Sayoc misspells Schultz’s name as “Shultz,” a misspelling that was also used on the mail bomb packages.

In a June post, Sayoc wishes a happy birthday to Trump.

“Happy Birthday greatest Commander Chief disruptor shake Washington upside down,” it said. “Thank you for all you do against everyone and not be stopped ever. Straight ahead get it done awesome build Wall.”

Most of the posts on Sayoc’s Twitter feeds were retweets of right-wing memes attacking Democrats and dark conspiracy theories.

Sayoc describes himself on one of his Twitter feeds as a former professional soccer player, wrestler and cage fighter.

On his LinkedIn profile, Sayoc claims to have attended Brevard College in North Carolina and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and to have studied veterinary medicine.

“Career decision of becoming a Horse Doctor was always a love for animals, which were here first and never do anything to anyone,” his LinkedIn bio says. “And respect all living things.”

Sayoc makes repeated references to the Seminole Indian tribe on his Twitter feed but on his LinkedIn profile, he mentions Filipino ancestry, saying his grandfather was a prominent surgeon in the Philippines.

He claims to have worked for the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida, but the hotel and Seminole tribe said they have “no evidence” that he ever worked there or was a member of the tribe.

US media reported Sayoc had once danced as a male stripper, and The New York Daily News quoted an event promoter as saying the suspect would dance at strip clubs and ran a show called “Girls Night Out.”

AFP

Suspect Arrested In Florida Over 12 Bombs, Suspicious Packages

This handout mugshot obtained courtesy of the Broward County Sheriff’a Office shows an August 2015 booking photo of Cesar Sayoc, who the US media on October 26, 2018 identifies as the suspect in connection with 12 suspicious packages and pipe bombs sent to critics of US President Donald Trump.
HO / BROWARD COUNTY SHERIIF’S OFFICE / AFP

 

US investigators have arrested a suspect in Florida in connection with 12 suspicious packages and pipe bombs sent to critics of Donald Trump in a days-long spree that has inflamed the United States ahead of key midterm elections.

The Republican commander-in-chief congratulated law enforcement Friday for what he called an “incredible, incredible job” as US media identified the suspect as Cesar Sayoc, a 56-year-old man with a criminal history.

“These terrorizing acts are despicable and have no place in our country,” Trump told an event at the White House, confirming a suspect had been apprehended following an FBI-led nationwide manhunt mobilizing hundreds of agents.

“But the bottom line is Americans must unify and we must show the world that we are united together in peace and love and harmony as fellow American citizens,” the president added.

The Department of Justice was to hold a news conference on the case at 2:30 pm (1830 GMT).

In southern Florida, FBI agents and police swarmed the area around a strip mall in Plantation, where an AFP photographer saw a van covered in blue tarpaulin loaded onto a truck by authorities and being driven away.

Pictures broadcast on television showed the van plastered with pro-Trump stickers.

Much of the investigation had homed in on Florida in the last 24 hours, where officials reportedly believed that at least some of the packages had been sent. Media described Sayoc as living in Aventura, Florida while also having ties to New York.

Since Monday homemade bombs and other suspected explosive devices have been addressed to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Hollywood megastar Robert De Niro and a litany of figures loathed by the US president’s supporters.

Trump under fire

On Friday, an 11th package addressed to Cory Booker, a New Jersey senator often touted as a Democratic presidential hope, was intercepted in Florida, the FBI confirmed.

A 12th package, identified by police as a pipe bomb, was found at a US Post Office in Manhattan and removed by the bomb squad, New York police said.

James Clapper, among a string of former intelligence chiefs critical of Trump, was the addressee of the 12th package, sent care of CNN.

On Wednesday, the news network evacuated its New York bureau after a similar package was found in the mail room addressed to another frequent CNN guest, former CIA director John Brennan.

Trump earlier came under fire for his response to the spree, which politicians on all sides have branded domestic terrorism with devices intercepted in New York, Maryland, Florida, Delaware and Los Angeles.

On Friday, shortly before news of the arrest broke, he complained that the packages were slowing momentum for his Republican Party ahead of the November 6 elections, remarks bound to enrage his opponents.

“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,” Trump tweeted.

“Very unfortunate, what is going on. Republicans, go out and vote!”

Trump was also criticized for tempering calls for unity in the wake of the attacks, by lashing out at the press for stirring up “anger.”

He recently endorsed the body-slamming of a reporter, routinely denounces the press as “fake news” and has leveled toxic remarks in the past against the pipe bomb targets.

‘They were dangerous’

Despite little information on whether the man in custody is suspected of working in cahoots with others, New York’s state Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo disputed speculation that the devices were not rigged to explode.

“No one can say there were fake bombs, they were dangerous,” he told CNN. “There may be questions about the levels of sophistication.”

Double Oscar winner and biting Trump critic De Niro on Friday urged people to vote the midterms, one day after a device was discovered at the Manhattan offices of his production company.

“I thank God no one’s been hurt, and I thank the brave and resourceful security and law enforcement people for protecting us,” he said. “There’s something more powerful than bombs, and that’s your vote. People MUST vote!”

“This is definitely domestic terrorism,” Clapper told CNN Friday, hitting out at Trump saying he bore “some responsibility of civility in this country. He needs to remember that his words count.”

The packages were sent in manila envelopes with bubble wrap, marked with computer-printed address labels. Each listed Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, as the sender, including misspellings of her last name, the FBI said.

Wasserman Schultz told reporters in southern Florida that it had “devastating” and “deeply disturbing” to have had her name used.

“I’ve been told by the FBI that this is their highest priority and they’re on top of it,” she said.

Trump Hails Law Enforcement For ‘Incredible Job’ Over Bomb Alerts

No Place For Acts Of Political Violence In US – Trump
File photo of US President by Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump on Friday praised the “incredible job” of law enforcement after a suspect was detained in Florida in connection with 12 suspicious packages and pipe bombs sent to Democratic figures.

“These terrorizing acts are despicable and have no place in our country,” Trump said from the White House. “I’ve instructed authorities to spare no resource or expense in finding those responsible and bringing them to swift and certain justice.”

“We must never allow political violence to take root in America,” Trump added. “We must show the world that we are united together in peace, love and harmony as fellow American citizens.”