Cesar Sayoc has been charged with five federal crimes including threats against former presidents and faces up to 48 years in prison if found guilty, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.
A Florida man with a long criminal history was charged Friday in the nationwide mail-bomb scare targeting prominent Democrats who have traded criticism with President Donald Trump. It was a first break in a case that has seized the national conversation and spread fear of election-season violence with little precedent in the US.
Justice Department officials revealed that a latent fingerprint found on one package helped them identify their suspect as Cesar Sayoc, 56, of Aventura, Florida. The criminal complaint charges Sayoc with illegally mailing explosives, illegally transporting explosives across state lines, making threats against former presidents, assaulting federal officers and threatening interstate commerce.
TRT World's Natasha Hussain reports.
A tense political climate
Law enforcement officers were seen on television examining a white van, its windows covered with an assortment of stickers, outside the Plantation auto parts store. Authorities covered the vehicle with a blue tarp and took it away on the back of a flatbed truck.
The stickers included images of Trump, American flags and what appeared to be logos of the Republican National Committee and CNN, though the writing surrounding those images was unclear.
The development came amid a nationwide manhunt for the person responsible for a series of explosive devices addressed to prominent Democrats including former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.
Trump, after Sayoc was apprehended, declared that "we must never allow political violence take root in America" and Americans "must unify." As in comments earlier in the week, he did not mention that the package recipients were all Democrats or officials in Obama's administration, in addition to CNN, a news network he criticises almost daily.
Earlier Friday, he complained that "this 'bomb' stuff" was taking attention away from the upcoming election and said critics were wrongly blaming him and his heated rhetoric.
The Justice Department scheduled a Friday afternoon news conference in Washington that was to include New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill, whose department investigated the mailings with the FBI.
Law enforcement officials said they had intercepted a dozen packages in states across the country. None had exploded, and it wasn't immediately clear if they were intended to cause physical harm or simply sow fear and anxiety.
Earlier Friday, authorities said suspicious packages addressed to New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former National Intelligence Director James Clapper – both similar to those containing pipe bombs sent to other prominent critics of Trump – had been intercepted.
Most of those targeted were past or present US officials, but one was sent to actor Robert De Niro and billionaire George Soros. The bombs have been sent across the country - from New York, Delaware and Washington, DC, to Florida and California, where Rep. Maxine Waters was targeted. They bore the return address of Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
The common thread among the bomb targets was obvious: their critical words for Trump and his frequent, harsher criticism in return.
The packages stoked nationwide tensions ahead of the Nov. 6 election to determine control of Congress – a campaign both major political parties have described in near-apocalyptic terms.