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Obama, Clinton among targets of suspected bombs ahead of US election

None of the packages detonated, and nobody was hurt. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

FILE: Former US President Barack Obama delivering the 2018 #MandelaLecture in Johannesburg on 17 July 2018. Picture: Twitter @ObamaFoundation

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK – Former US President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were among the targets of suspected package bombs delivered to several high-profile Democrats and CNN in what New York officials on Wednesday branded an act of terrorism.

The suspicious parcels, at least five in all, were intercepted before any reached their intended recipients, including Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, and former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan, the FBI said.

None of the packages detonated, and nobody was hurt. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

But news of the threats heightened tensions in a nation deeply polarised ahead of elections on 6 November that will decide whether Democrats take control of one or both houses of Congress from Republicans and deny President Donald Trump the majority his party now holds in both.

President Donald Trump told a political rally in Wisconsin that his government would conduct “an aggressive investigation.”

“Any acts or threats of political violence are an attack on our democracy itself,” Trump said. “We want all sides to come together in peace and harmony.”

But he said the media has a responsibility “to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and oftentimes false attacks and stories.”

FIVE PACKAGES

The first package, which turned up on Monday, was addressed to billionaire financier George Soros, a prominent Democratic Party donor and frequent target of right-wing conspiracy theories.

The parcel intended for Holder ended up rerouted to the return address that had been printed on all five packages - the Florida office of US Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who formerly chaired the Democratic National Committee, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"It is possible that additional packages were mailed to other locations," the FBI said in a statement on its website.

US Representative Maxine Waters, a veteran Democratic congresswoman from Los Angeles, said her Capitol Hill office also was the target of a suspicious package that “has been referred to the FBI.”

The five other packages confirmed by the FBI in its statement were all described as consisting of a manila envelope with a bubble-wrap interior containing “potentially destructive devices.” Each bore a computer-printed address label and six “Forever” postage stamps, the FBI said.

Other officials said the devices contained in the envelopes were all similar to one found in the mailbox of the Soros home and later detonated by police.

The US Secret Service intercepted packages addressed to Obama at his Washington home and to Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee for president, at her home in New York state.

The CNN bureau in New York also received a package addressed to Brennan, who has appeared as an on-air CNN analyst, leading police to evacuate the Time Warner building in a busy Manhattan neighborhood near Central Park.

“So far the devices have been what appeared to be pipe bombs,” John Miller, the New York City police deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, told a news conference.

“This clearly is an act of terror attempting to undermine our free press and leaders of this country through acts of violence,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference.

‘WORDS MATTER’

All of the targets are frequently maligned by right-wing critics. Trump has repeatedly criticized CNN as “fake news” and disparaged the mainstream news media as an “enemy of the people.”

“There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media,” CNN President Jeff Zucker said in a statement that was read on CNN. “The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand that their words matter. Thus far they have shown no comprehension of that.”

US Democratic leaders in Congress said Trump’s call for unity rang “hollow” because of his past statements condoning acts of violence.

“Time and time again, the president has condoned physical violence and divided Americans with his words and his actions,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives top Democrat Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

Last week, Trump, who has joined other Republicans in accusing Democrats of encouraging “mob” tactics, heaped praise on a Montana congressman who assaulted a reporter in 2017.

“Any guy that can do a body-slam ... is my guy,” Trump told supporters at the rally.

Brennan at an event in Austin, Texas on Wednesday also faulted Trump for frequent inflammatory rhetoric, saying the president “too often has helped incite some of these feelings of anger, if not violence, when he points to acts of violence.”

“He should not be beating the tom-toms of anger and animosity and war,” said the former CIA chief, whose security clearance was revoked by Trump after he criticized the president’s summit earlier this year with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The package to Clinton was found late on Tuesday while the one addressed to Obama was recovered early on Wednesday, both during routine off-site mail screenings, the Secret Service said. Obama and Clinton were not at risk, they said.

The package sent to CNN also contained an envelope of white powder that experts were analyzing, Police Commissioner James O’Neill said.

Trump at the Wisconsin rally called attention to “how nice I’m behaving tonight.”

“Have you ever seen this? We’re all behaving very well and hopefully we can keep it that way, right?”

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