CESAR SAYOC as he is escorted from an FBI facility to the court in Florida. (ABS-CBN News)
SAN FRANCISCO – A man, described as a Filipino American with reported ties to the Philippines, has been arrested in Plantation, Florida and subsequently charged in court in connection with a series of packages of homemade bombs sent to prominent Democrats who are said to be critics of US President Donald Trump.
Law enforcement officials identified the man arrested and charged as Cesar Altieri Sayoc, 56, who said his grandfather was a certain Col. Baltazar Zook Sayocwho allegedly fought communists in the Philippines. (More details on Sayoc in the column of Perry Diaz.)
Sayoc was accused in court of mailing explosives to 11 prominent Democrats or liberal critics of the president, including former president Barack Obama and Trump’s opponent in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton.
The other targets were former vice president Joe Biden, Hollywood star Robert De Niro, billionaire donor George Soros, former CIA director John Brennan, former intelligence chief James Clapper, former attorney general Eric Holder, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
Subsequent investigation showed some 100 other personalities and groups including media network CNN, were supposed to be also targeted with the mail bombs as shown in a list recovered by investigators.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said fingerprints left on one of the packages sent to Congresswoman Maxine Waters helped them track down Sayoc.
President Donald Trump spoke about Sayoc’s arrest as the White House hosted an event for young black conservatives.
As the president condemned political violence, he also called on Americans to unite.
“These terrorizing acts are despicable and have no place in our country. I’ve instructed authorities to spare no resource or expense in finding those responsible and bringing them to swift and certain justice. We will prosecute them, him, her whoever it may be to the fullest extent of the law. We must never allow political violence to take root and America cannot let that happen. And I’m committed to doing everything in my power as president to stop it,” he said.
In Manila, presidential spokesman and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, informed that the US mail bomb suspect have ties in the Philippines, condemned the act and declared “Terrorists know no race or ethnicity.”
In a statement, Panelo at the same time urged everyone to be vigilant against terrorists.
“Unmindful of the nation where they belong, the perverted causes they espouse is the very cause of terrorism. We thus encourage everyone to always practice vigilance amidst this global issue,” Panelo said.
Judge Edwin Torres of the US court in Florida where Sayoc was charged and brought for the reading of the charges ordered him held without bail.
Sayoc was scheduled to appear in a court in Miami again this week, it was learned.
An official privy to the investigation revealed that Sayoc kept a list of elected officials and others who investigators believe were intended targets. The official also said authorities had recovered soldering equipment, a printer, and stamps similar to those used on the package bombs in the investigation into Sayoc. Authorities believe Sayoc put the explosives together in his van which authorities had seized.
The federal authorities did not publicly name the individuals and news organizations on the list recovered that they believe Sayoc compiled before his arrest but law enforcement officials have begun notifying people who appeared on it, New York Times reported.
The list and the package recovered suggested that the national turmoil that Mr. Sayoc is accused of unleashing could have lasted considerably longer had law enforcement officials not moved in when they did, according to the report.
While the authorities issued their private warnings to the possible targets, postal officials intercepted the 15th suspicious package possibly linked to Mr. Sayoc — this one addressed to the Atlanta headquarters of CNN.
It was also reported that Jeff Zucker, CNN president, said in a statement that there was “no imminent danger” to CNN Center, the vast complex in downtown Atlanta that is both a workplace for journalists and one of the city’s busiest tourist attractions.
The list recovered by the authorities included an editor at The New York Times and a flat Manila mail was later found in the newspaper’s mail box but without any bomb. The list suggested that Mr. Sayoc was considering threatening other media outlets.
Sayoc is described as a registered Republican with a criminal history, who lived in Aventura, Florida and has ties to New York. His criminal records included theft, fraud, and bomb threat charges, according to authorities.
Authorities said Sayoc’s past arrest records have described him as white, but according to Sayoc’s LinkedIn page, in which he calls himself a promoter and booking agent, he claimed to have historic and prominent links to the Philippines.
Aside from making claims about his grandfather, he also claims that his grandfather was connected with the Sayoc International Schools Martial Arts Kali System which the group later denied.
Sayoc also claimed his family was also prominent in the medical field, building hospitals in the Philippines.
His other social media pages also showed a history of anti-democrat sentiments, as well as criticisms of the mainstream media.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions condemned the political violence, saying that this case has been a top priority since this began earlier this week.
In their briefing, the FBI warned people that despite the breakthrough, people should remain cautious, if there are other packages still in transit.
In a North Carolina campaign rally, Trump called the attempted attacks “terrorist actions” that must be punished “to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Political violence must never ever be allowed in America and I will do everything in my power to stop it,” he stressed.
The president acknowledged the suspect’s political allegiance, but denied any responsibility that his incendiary rhetoric could have played a role in motivating him.
“I heard he was a person that preferred me over others,” he told reporters. “There is no blame,” he insisted, despite being hounded by political opponents for his response to the crisis in which he lashed out at the media.
“The media has been unbelievably unfair to Republicans, conservatives, and certainly to me,” he said. “But with all of that being said, we’re winning. So I like that.”
It was reported that each of the homemade bombs included six inches of PVC pipe, a small clock, a battery, wiring and energetic material, defined by Wray as potentially explosive.
The first package was intercepted at Soros’s Bedford, New York home. The most recent ones in California, Florida and New York.
Award winning actor Robert De Niro, a Trump critic, urged people to vote in the midterms after a device was discovered at the Manhattan offices of his production company.
“I thank God no one’s been hurt, and I thank the brave and resourceful security and law enforcement people for protecting us,” he said. “There’s something more powerful than bombs, and that’s your vote. People MUST vote!”
According to reports, the packages were sent in manila envelopes lined with bubble wrap, each stamped with six postage stamps bearing the picture of an American flag.
Each envelope listed Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, as the sender, and misspelt Florida as “Florids,” according to the criminal complaint.
The typed addresses included misspellings in Clinton, Obama and Waters’s first names. The package destined for the former president included a photograph of Obama marked with a red X, according to the criminal complaint.