AUSTIN, March 21, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – A 24-year-old white man suspected of being behind a series of deadly parcel bombings in the US state of Texas blew himself up Wednesday as authorities moved in to arrest him.
Police said the suspect detonated a device in a car outside a hotel in the state capital Austin which has been gripped by fear since the attacks began nearly three weeks ago.
While the search for the unnamed bomber is now at an end, authorities warned that he may have planted other explosives before his death.
“The suspect is deceased,” Austin police chief Brian Manley told an early morning news conference after the dramatic end to the massive manhunt.
Manley told reporters that the suspect is believed to have been responsible for all five bomb explosions that have killed two people and wounded half a dozen others since March 2. The motive behind the attacks remains unknown.
Police traced the suspect’s car to a hotel outside Austin in a pre-dawn operation.
As authorities waited for tactical teams to arrive, the suspect started to drive away. As police then moved to stop and arrest him, he detonated a bomb inside his car that killed him, Manley said. One police officer was injured by the blast.
Police zeroed in on the suspect over the past 36 hours as evidence came in from video footage and witness accounts, Manley said.
“It has been a long almost three weeks for the community of Austin,” the police chief said.
But Fred Milanowski, a senior officer at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), warned that the danger was not yet over.
“We want to make sure that if people see suspicious packages or bags, that they continue to call 911 so that we can respond and deal with them,” Milanowski, said.
President Donald Trump offered his congratulations to police, writing on Twitter: “AUSTIN BOMBING SUSPECT IS DEAD. Great job by law enforcement and all concerned!”
– Call for vigilance –
CBS affiliate KEYE in Austin published what it said were photos of the man, wearing a blue baseball cap, gloves and possibly a wig of long, straw- blond hair as he dropped off packages Sunday at a FedEx office. The photos came from security footage.
One of the Austin bombs went off early Tuesday at a FedEx sorting facility.
Manley said it was still unclear whether the man was acting alone or with accomplices.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler told CNN the people of Austin still had to be vigilant because the investigation is ongoing and questions remain, such as where the suspect has been for the past 24 hours.
But for now, he said, “there is a sense of relief in this community as well as just extreme gratitude and thanks for this army of law enforcement agents that have been here.”
The FBI alone sent in more than 350 agents to help in the investigation.
As the investigation proceeded, police said that the bombs were growing increasingly sophisticated.
The first three were hand-delivered to the doorsteps of people’s houses. The fourth featured a trip wire, and the fifth was sent into the FedEx delivery chain.
More than 1,200 calls came in from residents since police urged them to report suspicious activities after the first explosion.
In the end, police were offering a reward of $115,000 for information leading to an arrest.
Trump had weighed in on the “terrible” wave of bombings for the first time on Tuesday, saying “a very, very sick individual or maybe individuals” were behind the explosions.