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2 Incendiary Packages Put Maryland On Alert

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WJZ general assignment reporter Mike Hellgren came to Maryland's News...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ/AP) — Police are still investigating after two incendiary devices detonated early Thursday afternoon in Anne Arundel County. U.S. postal inspectors are trying to track the origin of incendiary packages sent to Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and the state’s transportation secretary.

But Mike Hellgren reports just a day after the opening of a package that was rigged to ignite and spit out a puff of smoke, it’s business as usual at the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Department spokesman Jack Cahalan says “every reasonable precaution has been taken” to ensure the building is safe. He says the opening of the package “gives everybody a moment of pause” but that the building has effective security.

Cahalan said the mail that was already in the building in Hanover was distributed Friday morning, but the
department, which collects its bulk mail from the U.S. Postal Service, has suspended its pickups until Monday or Tuesday.

Mike Hellgren  Has The Latest On The Investigation:

It began Thursday afternoon in Anne Arundel County.

“People started running. Alarms were pulled. The building was very quickly cleared,” said one witness.

Two workers, one in Annapolis near the State House, the other in Hanover at the Department of Transportation, had their fingers singed as they opened packages with incendiary devices inside.

One was addressed to the governor, the other to the transportation secretary.

“There was an initial flash of fire and smoke and a smell,” said Greg Shipley, Maryland State Police spokesperson.

“Only thing I heard was when the emergency alarm went off and that was it,” said another witness.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said the mailing sent to him complained about highway signs that urge motorists to “Report Suspicious Activity” and gives an 800 number.

The message read: “Report suspicious activity! Total Bull—-! You have created a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“Somebody doesn’t like seeing that sign,” O’Malley said.

The state also uses the signs to post information about missing children and, to the ire of some drivers, it added real-time traffic estimates to major highways in March. Some commuters complained drivers slowed to read the signs and backed up traffic.

A worker ripped the pull tab on the first package, addressed in typeface to the recently re-elected governor and adorned with holiday stamps, in Annapolis where mail for O’Malley’s office is routinely checked. It produced a “puff of smoke and a sulphur-type smell, like if you would strike a match.”

The building is just blocks from the governor’s office, which is inside the State House in the heart of the capital.

The second fiery package was sent to state Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley in Hanover, said U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md.

Ruppersberger said a return address on one of the packages turned out to be a Washington parking garage. Ruppersberger, a member of the House Intelligence Committee who was briefed on the mailings, said there were no apparent links to terrorist organizations.

“I believe this is what we call in intelligence a lone wolf situation, involving an individual who for whatever reason was upset with state government,” Ruppersberger said.

Investigators are linking the two incidents.

Postal Inspector Frank Schissler of the Washington field division says there were exterior markings on the packages that will help inspectors narrow down their origin. He also says the postal service will examine its internal tracking data. Packages are tracked once they enter mail processing plants.

But Schissler notes that the packages didn’t have individual tracking numbers because they weren’t sent via registered mail or express mail.

Meanwhile, mail facilities at state offices are open again Friday.

“There was no property damage and there was obviously no serious physical harm inflicted on these employees,” said Shipley.

State police have prepared photos of the two packages for agency mailrooms, and will provide steps that workers should take if they find something, Shipley said.

Maryland State Police held a news conference Friday afternoon to talk about the developments in the case. 

Watch News Conference Here:

The FBI’s joint terrorism task force is assisting in the investigation. A U.S. Homeland Security Department official said the department was aware of what happened and was monitoring. One of the packages would most likely be taken to an FBI lab at Quantico, Va., to be examined, state fire marshal William Barnard said.

Meanwhile, suspicious packages have been reported all over the state, but have turned out to be harmless.

Mike Schuh reports two new packages reported in Howard County were quickly determined to be harmless, but it’s entirely possible that there are more incendiary devices out there Friday just waiting to be opened.

The Howard County Bomb Squad rushed to Elkridge, near I-95 on Meadow Ridge Avenue and Mayfield. Police shut down the interstate, and all surrounding roads after someone driving by spotted a suspicious package. About 800 feet away, the bomb squad found a second package a few hours later, but it turned out to be harmless.

Mike Schuh Reports On The Suspicious Package Scare:

 There were two similar scares late Thursday in Baltimore at the Department of Mental Hygiene on West Preston and the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse on Calvert Street.

One package contained a toner cartridge.  The other contained batteries.

“We tested the device. It turned out to be a delivery of laptop batteries, which happens in office buildings across America multiple times a day,” said Anthony Guglielmi, Baltimore City Police.

Postal inspectors have identified 13 dangerous devices since 2005, and only one person was injured, according to the U.S. Postal Service. Both packages were sent by mail and the agency is also investigating.

In 2001, as the nation was still reeling from the 9/11 attacks, letters containing anthrax were sent to lawmakers and news organizations. Postal facilities, U.S. Capitol buildings and private offices were shut for inspection and cleaning by workers in hazardous materials suits. The anthrax spores killed five people and sickened 17.

Governor O’Malley says he has spoken with one of the injured workers in this incident, and left a message for the second. He says they’re both during fine.

“I think it just underscores how whether it’s the mail or whether it’s the subway system or an airline, in this age … you just have to be very, very vigilant because our openness and the freedom with which we communicate and with which we travel can be used as weapons against us,” he said.

Meanwhile, the packages have prompted officials in at least two other states to be more vigilant.

Sgt. Rich Myers of the Indiana State Police said it stepped up security at the Statehouse and other government buildings in Indianapolis on Thursday. The agency also raised its security alert. In West Virginia, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety issued an alert reminding people to be cautious of mysterious packages.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

 

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