Police investigate packages sent to Robert de Niro and former VP Joe Biden | News | DW | 25.10.2018
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Police investigate packages sent to Robert de Niro and former VP Joe Biden

US security services are conducting a nationwide hunt for those behind at least 10 suspect packages sent to critics of President Donald Trump. The packages have been delivered over the last week.

Actor Robert De Niro and former US Vice President Joe Biden were sent suspicious packages on Thursday that were similar to others that contained pipe bombs, according to US media reports. US investigators are said to be focussing on leads from the southern state of Florida. Though some bombs appear to have been delivered by hand, authorities believe that they all passed through the US postal system at some point.

FBI Assistant Director in Charge William Sweeney has posted a series of tweets from New York urging "the American people to remain vigilant, as it remains possible further packages have been or could be mailed." He wrote that the packages "should be considered dangerous," as well as alerting people: "Do not touch, move, or handle, any suspicious or unknown packages."    

At a press conference held in New York on Thusday afternoon Sweeney announced that initial analysis of powder sampled from some of the packages was shown to have posed no biological threat. He told reporters that investigators at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, are analyzing the pipe bombs to determine whether they were in fact intended to detonate or simply designed to spread fear. New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill, who also spoke at the press conference, said investigators are treating all such packages as a real threat.   

The news followed a series of suspected pipe bombs sent to high-profile Democrats and critics of US President Donald Trump.

What happened Thursday

  • New York City's police department responded to reports of a "suspicious package" found in Manhattan that was located in an area where Robert De Niro owns a restaurant.
  • Police later said they'd removed the package, but advised locals to expect a large police presence.
  • Another suspicious package addressed to former Vice President Biden was intercepted at a Delaware mail facility, according to US media reports citing law enforcement officials.
  • The FBI, US Secret Service and police are conducting a nationwide hunt for suspects.

Why would De Niro be targeted? The 75-year-old actor is one of many in Hollywood who have spoken out against the US president. During the Tony Awards in June, De Niro cursed the president on national television. Trump responded at the time by calling De Niro a "very low IQ individual."

Bombs targeting Trump critics: Investigators have been on the hunt for suspects after several package bombs were sent to prominent Democrats in recent days. None of the packages detonated, although some were packed with shards of glass.

Besides De Niro and Biden, at least eight others have been targeted so far, including: Trump's former political opponent Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, former US President Barack Obama, billionaire financier George Soros, former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former Attorney General Eric Holder, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and former CIA director John Brennan. The suspicious package addressed to Brennan was sent to broadcaster CNN's New York office, prompting police to evacuate the building on Wednesday.

Trump says media to blame for 'anger': After condemning political violence and urging for harmony on Wednesday, Trump took to Twitter on Thursday morning to rail against the media, accusing news outlets of stirring up "anger" in society with "purposely false and inaccurate reporting."

Democrats and critics of Trump have blamed the president's rhetoric for stoking violence, pointing to his repeated remarks where he appears to be condoning violence, particularly against journalists. Just last week he delighted a crowd of supporters at a campaign rally by heaping praise on Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte for body slamming a journalist last year, saying: "Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my guy." 

Former CIA Director John Brennan was quick to call out Trump on Twitter Thursday, telling him: "Stop blaming others. Look in the mirror." He also said the president's "inflamatory rhetoric, insults, lies & encouragement of physical violence are disgraceful."

Speaking to reporters on her way into the White House Thursday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders blamed media outlets for stoking division, sidestepped questions as to whether the president would stop insulting political opponents and said it was "ridiculous" to suggest Trump bears any blame for the current situation.

js,rs/rt (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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