PLANTATION, Fla. (Reuters) – A man suspected of sending at least 14 bombs to prominent critics of U.S. President Donald Trump in the run-up to elections next month was arrested on Friday in Florida and charged with five federal felonies.
Cesar Sayoc, 56, a former stripper and professional wrestler once charged with threatening to bomb an electric company for trying to shut off his lights, was taken into custody outside an auto parts store in Plantation, Florida, near Miami.
Authorities also seized a white van belonging to Sayoc, the windows of which were plastered with pro-Trump stickers, the slogan “CNN SUCKS” and images of Democratic politicians with red cross-hairs over their faces.
Fingerprint and DNA evidence was used to identify the suspect, but Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray cautioned that the arrest did not necessarily end the threat.
“There may be other packages in transit now and other packages on the way,” Wray said.
One federal law enforcement source told Reuters that authorities were investigating whether other individuals were involved and did not rule out more arrests.
Sayoc’s arrest followed an intense four-day manhunt sparked by bombs addressed to high-profile Democrats and critics of Trump including former U.S. President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom Trump defeated in the 2016 presidential race.
The first of the bombs surfaced on Monday at the Westchester County, New York, home of billionaire Democratic donor George Soros. Four packages turned up on Friday, the 14th addressed to another wealthy contributor to the Democratic Party and liberal causes, Tom Steyer. That parcel was found at a post office outside San Francisco.
Each consisted of explosive material packed in a plastic pipe and wired to a small clock and a battery, Wray said. He said investigators had yet to determine whether the bombs were actually “functional,” but the devices could be dangerous “if subjected to the right combination of heat or shock or friction.”
All were sent through the U.S. Postal Service system and intercepted before reaching their intended targets without exploding. No one has been hurt.
Bomb experts have said that based on the rudimentary construction of the devices, they appeared more likely designed to sow fear than to kill.
According to CNN, Sayoc told investigators the bombs would have done no injury and that he would not have wanted anyone hurt. Wray declined to say whether the suspect was cooperating with authorities after his arrest.
He told the news conference that fingerprints on one of two packages sent to U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, a Los Angeles Democrat, belonged to Sayoc.
The bombs have heightened tensions during what was already a highly contentious campaign season ahead of the Nov. 6 elections in which Democrats are battling to seize control of Congress now held by Trump’s Republican Party.
A criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan charged Sayoc with five felony counts, including interstate transportation and illegal mailing of explosives, threatening a former president, making threatening interstate communications and assaulting federal officers.
If convicted on all charges, Sayoc would face up to 48 years in prison, officials said.
“We will not tolerate such lawlessness, especially political violence,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a press conference announcing the charges.
Announcing the arrest to a cheering audience at the White House, Trump said such “terrorizing acts” were despicable and had no place in the United States.
“We must never allow political violence to take root in America – cannot let it happen,” Trump said. “And I’m committed to doing everything in my power as president to stop it and to stop it now.”
A native of New York City’s Brooklyn borough and a registered Republican, Sayoc’s home address was listed in public records as an upscale, gated apartment complex in the seaside town of Aventura, Florida.
Apart from the right-wing imagery pasted on his van, Sayoc’s political leanings were evident on social media. His Facebook and Twitter accounts were filled with posts railing against Democrats and liberals, including one anti-Soros tweet published two days before a bomb showed up at the financier’s home.
Public records show numerous arrests over the years for domestic violence, theft and other charges, including the alleged bomb threat against a utility company.
Sayoc was initially held at an FBI processing center in Miramar, Florida. He was expected to be taken to the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami and will likely make his first appearance before a judge on Monday, according to former Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weinstein.
In addition to Steyer, the intended recipients of packages discovered on Friday included Democratic U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, former U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Democratic U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California.
‘STOP THE RANCOR’
Hours after a federal law enforcement official said the investigation’s focus on Florida had intensified, police closed roads around the parking lot of an AutoZone store in Plantation where Sayoc was arrested and helicopters flew overhead.
Investigators covered Sayoc’s van with a blue tarp before removing it on a truck.
All the people targeted by the suspicious packages have been maligned by right-wing critics. In addition to Obama, Clinton, Soros and Waters, packages that surfaced earlier in the week were addressed to former Vice President Joe Biden, former Attorney General Eric Holder, actor Robert De Niro and former CIA director John Brennan. His package was delivered to the Manhattan bureau of CNN, where he had served as an on-air analyst.
The episode has sparked an outcry from Trump’s critics charging that his inflammatory rhetoric against perceived enemies among Democrats and the press has fostered a climate ripe for politically motivated violence.
Trump’s supporters have accused Democrats in turn of unfairly suggesting that the president was to blame for the bomb scares.
“If we don’t stop this political mania, this fervor, rancor, hatred, you’ll see this again and again and again,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told MSNBC. “We have to get to the genesis, and the genesis is an overheated, vitriolic political division in this country and it starts with the leaders, and it starts with the president.”
After first calling for unity at the White House event, Trump lamented partisan attacks against him and again pointed at the media.
“I get attacked all the time … I can do the greatest thing for our country, and on the networks and on different things it will show bad,” he told the crowd, acknowledging an attendee who shouted “fake news.”
Reporting by Zachary Fagenson and Bernie Woodall; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus, Gabriella Borter and Peter Szekely in New York, Mark Hosenball, Makini Brice, Susan Heavey, Sarah N. Lynch and Lisa Lambert in Washington, and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Bill Tarrant; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Toni Reinhold and Cynthia Osterman