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FBI: Bomb threats at Texas, North Dakota universities are 'local'

September 14, 2012|By Michael Muskal and Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • University of Texas students stand outside after evacuating buildings at Austin, Texas, campus. Thousands of people streamed off university campuses in Texas and North Dakota on Friday after phoned-in bomb threats prompted evacuations.
University of Texas students stand outside after evacuating buildings… (Ricardo B.Brazziell / )

Bomb threats forced tens of thousands of people to flee college campuses in Texas and North Dakota on Friday, and campus safety experts were continuing to investigate the threats -- both of which proved false -- throughout the day.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation saw the threats as “largely local matters,” special agent Jason Pack said in a telephone interview from Washington. “There’s nothing we know that links the threats to something else.”

The Austin campus of the University of Texas was shut for hours, as was the campus of North Dakota State University in Fargo. Officials ordered the evacuations as precautionary measures, and the schools resumed operations later in the day.

The evacuation of the 51,000-student campus in Austin was prompted by a telephone call from a man, described as having a Middle Eastern accent, who said that bombs had been planted on the campus. The threat occurred during demonstrations in the Middle East against the United States, sparked by a movie maligning the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Such threats against universities are rare, said Christopher G. Blake, associate director of the International Assn. of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. The last well-known case occurred in the spring, involving more than 40 bomb threats made by a man against the University of Pittsburgh. Adam Busby, 64, has been charged in that case.

The association “deplores such acts, which cause massive disruption to the university community and interrupt the educational process,” association President Anne P. Glavin said in a statement about Friday’s threats. Glavin is the police chief at Cal State Northridge.

The first threat was made at about 8:35 a.m. Central time in Texas and the second about 90 minutes later at North Dakota State.

“At 8:35 this morning, the university received a call from a male with a Middle Eastern accent claiming to have placed bombs all over campus. He said he was from Al Qaeda and that these bombs would go off within 90 minutes,” said Tara Doolittle, a university spokeswoman.

The call was placed to Walter Webb Hall, she said, which houses a number of offices, including the campus visitor center. She said it was not clear who the caller was, from where he placed the call or why he contacted officials at that building.

“We are extremely confident we know the campus is safe,” university President William Powers Jr. said at a briefing for reporters. He said no bombs were found in any of the buildings checked.

“We thought the prudent thing to do was to clear our buildings,” the president said. Classes were canceled for the day, but other scheduled activities resumed in the late afternoon.

About 20,000 people were evacuated in North Dakota, Classes resumed in the early afternoon.

Muskal reported from Los Angeles, and Hennessy-Fiske from Houston.


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