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Incendiary packages might be part of 'vendetta,' police say

A device ignites in a Washington postal facility the day after two similar incidents in Maryland

January 07, 2011|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

Reporting from Baltimore — An incendiary device ignited inside a package at a U.S. Postal Service processing center in Washington on Friday, a day after two similar parcels sent to Maryland officials ignited in mailrooms, prompting authorities to warn that more are possible.

Friday's package was addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, according to a department official who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because of a continuing investigation.

It was similar in design and shape to packages received Thursday in Maryland, addressed to the governor in Annapolis and the state's transportation secretary in Hanover. The packages were accompanied by identical handwritten notes by someone complaining about the state's terrorism tip line.

"We just don't know where this person is going," said Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, who warned that other mailings were likely.

Cathy Lanier, chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, said the package was discovered, unopened, about 2 p.m. by a postal employee after it ignited in a "brief flash of fire."

The employee flagged down a police officer, and emergency teams from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives responded. No one was injured.

Lanier said Washington officials put precautions in place Thursday after the Maryland incidents..

The District of Columbia package brought new agencies into the joint federal and local investigation, but it didn't appear to alter the working theory: that the sender is angry with some part of government.

"This was an act done by a sole individual, who, for whatever reason, wanted to send a message," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, (D-Md.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

He made the statement during a telephone interview Friday afternoon before the discovery of the Washington package. He said later through a spokeswoman that the three packages appear to be linked.

Sheridan, of the Maryland State Police, said Friday that investigators are looking for one or more potentially disgruntled people who "may have a vendetta" against the state government.

"We're not sure what we have here," Sheridan said.

If caught, the perpetrator could be charged with felony possession and use of an explosive device, which carries a 20-year maximum prison term.

Maryland investigators were combing through phone calls, e-mails and letters that might shed light on potential suspects, though none had been identified as of Friday. Members of known terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda were considered unlikely.

The Maryland packages were addressed to Gov. Martin O'Malley at a State House building in Annapolis and to Department of Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley at the agency's headquarters in Hanover.

Each package had a 44-cent stamp and was about the size of a VHS cassette tape, Sheridan said.

Sheridan declined to say whether the Friday package contained a note like those in the Maryland parcels, which read "Report suspicious activity! … You have created a self-fulfilling prophecy." They were signed "X," and one appeared to be a photocopy of the other.

The comments led investigators to believe that the sender was referring to messages on highway safety signs. At least one of the Maryland packages had a return address that was traced to a Washington parking garage, Ruppersberger said.

On Friday, it was still unclear what kind of device or flammable material was in the packages. Each will be examined at an FBI facility in Quantico, Va.

Both state employees who opened the Maryland packages had singed fingers. Neither was seriously injured.

In an e-mail to state employees Friday morning, O'Malley asked for "continued vigilance."

Baltimore Sun writers Michael Dresser, Jamie Smith Hopkins, Nick Madigan, Annie Linskey, Yeganeh June Torbati, Childs Walker and Tim Wheeler contributed to this report.

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