News World Florida man arrested in relation to pipe bomb attacks against Donald Trump critics

Florida man arrested in relation to pipe bomb attacks against Donald Trump critics

Authorities swoop on a white van covered in pro-Republican stickers in relation to a bomb scare in the United States. Photo: AAP
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A Florida man has been arrested and is expected to be charged over a pipe bomb campaign against prominent Democrats and outspoken critics of President Donald Trump.

The arrest of Cesar Sayoc, 56, on Saturday (Friday morning local time) comes after more than 12 explosives were sent this week to the offices of CNN in New York and senior Democrats including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

No explosives detonated but the pipe bomb campaign has left Americans and law enforcement on high alert about additional bombs.

According to Florida’s Sun-Sentinel newspaper, Mr Sayoc – a registered Republican – has been arrested at least 10 times, including in 2002 for making a bomb threat.

Authorities arrested the Aventura man in the parking lot of an automotive supplier in the South Florida town of Plantatian, swooping on a white van covered in pro-Republican stickers which they later covered in blue tarp and loaded onto the back of a flatbed truck.

Police officers work the scene after an explosive device was found at the CNN offices in New York on October 24. Photo: AP

The attacks come just 11 days before the midterm elections and have been labelled by lawmakers and authorities as “domestic terrorism”.

Although no formal charges have been laid, the New York Times reports authorities expect Mr Sayoc will be prosecuted in Manhattan’s Federal District Court, with the FBI’s New York office leading the investigation. Five of the 12 explosives were delivered to targets in New York.

Suspect Cesar Sayoc, 56. Photo: AP

The spate of attacks began on Monday when a pipe bomb was found at the New York home of billionaire philanthropist and Democratic donor George Soros. A caretaker found the package before calling authorities.

On Wednesday, similar explosive devices were mailed to the home of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in upstate New York and the Washington office of former President Barack Obama. The offices of CNN in Manhattan were also evacuated after a device was delivered by courier.

The 12 explosives were near identical in appearance, all mailed in plain manila envelopes. The devices were reportedly made out of PVC pipe packed with what the Times is reporting as pyrotechnic powder and shrapnel.

The pipes were also fitted with a small battery and a digital clock as a timer which causes the device to explode, but bomb experts have questioned whether the devices were capable of exploding and instead meant to frighten their targets.

Former vice president Joe Biden and actor Robert De Niro were also mailed explosives on Thursday before bombs mailed to Democrat senator Cory Booker, a potential 2020 presidential candidate, and former director of national intelligence James Clapper were intercepted on Friday.

“This is definitely domestic terrorism,” Mr Clapper told CNN on Saturday (Friday local time). “Anyone who has in any way been a critic, publicly been a critic of President Trump, needs to be on an extra alert.”

On his social media, Mr Sayoc appears to be a staunch Trump supporter, sharing photos of himself at a Florida rally in a “Make America Great Again” hat.

According to Vice News, Mr Sayoc shared hundreds of racist memes and conspiracy theories about many of his targets including Mr Obama and potential 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.

The bomb scares have kicked off a bitter partisan debate about who is responsible for the attack, with Donald Trump’s supporters claiming Democrats cooked up the plot in an attempt to smear Republicans ahead of the midterm elections.

Mr Trump initially called for unity before pointing the finger at the mainstream media on Twitter.

“A very big part of the anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the mainstream media that I refer to as fake news,” Mr Trump tweeted.

On Friday, actor Robert De Niro urged people to vote after an explosive was delivered to his production company’s Manhattan office on Thursday.

“There’s something more powerful than bombs, and that’s your vote. People must vote,” he wrote in a statement.

Ebony Bowden contributed reporting from New York City.