Federal agents arrested a South Florida man outside an auto parts store on Thursday as a prime suspect in a string of pipe-bomb mailings to prominent Democrats and other critics of President Donald Trump.
A trail of DNA evidence on the packages or the devices helped investigators narrow a nationwide manhunt to Cesar Sayoc, a 56-year-old man from Aventura, law enforcement sources told the Miami Herald. Sayoc was being questioned by FBI agents with the Joint Terrorism Task Force following his arrest.
Agents also seized and towed away his white van, which had most of its windows covered in pro-Donald Trump and right wing stickers. Photos of the van, posted by a Twitter user who said he saw the car at a stoplight in April, show rifle scope images over the faces of Hilary Clinton, left wing filmmaker Michael Moore and President Barack Obama. Another said "CNN Sucks," along with an image of Trump standing on a tank in front of fireworks and an American flag.
The arrest was made at an AutoZone in Plantation instead of his home to avoid any potential dangerous confrontation, sources told the Miami Herald. News partner CBS4 reports a "loud explosion" was heard at the time of the arrest, possibly from an FBI flash bomb device.
Sayoc was a frequent poster on social media sites and his Twitter and Facebook accounts were filled pro-Trump memes and attacks on Democrats — including a string linking Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for Florida governor, with billionaire George Soros, a major party donor and recipient of one of the menacing mailings.
Court records show he has a handful of arrests, including on charges of making a bomb threat in 2002 in Miami-Dade. Other cases included grand theft and battery in Broward County.
FBI agents brought the man into custody at the bureau's South Florida field office in Miramar and plan to question him at length. The interview, assuming the suspect doesn't hire a lawyer and refuse to talk, could last hours — ranging from questions about where the suspect bought the materials to make the bomb to where he initially posted the packages for mailing to his targets.
Meanwhile, agents and the U.S. attorney's office in South Florida would eventually write up a criminal complaint charging the man with potential terrorism and related charges. His first appearance in federal court could come over the weekend or on Monday.
Investigators draped the vehicle with a blue tarp and towed it away on a flat bed truck. Police have blocked off traffic at Peters Road heading north on State Road 7.
Federal investigators quickly centered the investigation on the dozen crudely fashioned "pipe bombs" sent to top Trump critics, including Hillary Clinton and Cory Booker, on a mail sorting facility in Opa-locka. The devices have been recovered in New York, Washington D.C., California and South Florida, all with the return address of Debbie Wassermann-Schultz's office. Several words, including her name, were misspelled on the packages.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice confirmed on Twitter one person is in custody and the department plans to hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m.
The arrest came a couple hours after Trump cast doubt on the timing of "this 'Bomb' stuff" in a tweet.
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Live shots from a Local 10 news helicopter show federal agents examining a white van covered in a blue tarp. Police have blocked off traffic at Peters Road heading north on State Road 7.