NEW YORK -- A Florida fan of Donald Trump was arrested and charged Friday with mailing 13 bombs to opponents of the US president in a brazen, week-long spree that inflamed the country ahead of key elections.
Cesar Sayoc, 56, a registered Republican with a criminal history and reported past as a stripper, was born in New York and lived in a van covered in pro-Trump and anti-liberal stickers. He was arrested outside a Florida mall.
The van was impounded and Sayoc charged with five federal crimes, including mailing of explosives and threats against former presidents, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced.
If put on trial and convicted, he faces up to 48 years in prison in what politicians on both sides of the aisle have condemned as domestic terrorism.
“We do believe that we’ve caught the right guy but... there’s a lot of work still to be done, which means there are still plenty of unanswered questions,” FBI director Christopher Wray told a news conference.
The 13 bombs were sent through the mail, many of them through a US Postal Service processing center in Florida, and Sayoc was tracked down based on fingerprint and possible DNA evidence, agents said.
The Republican president congratulated law enforcement for what he called a “fantastic job.”
Speaking before his supporters at a North Carolina campaign rally later Friday, 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.”
In southern Florida, FBI agents and police swarmed the strip mall in Plantation, where an AFP photographer saw a van covered in blue tarpaulin loaded onto a truck by authorities and driven away.
Sayoc is accused 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 ex-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.
Trump denies blame
Waters and Biden were each sent two packages. All the targets are loathed by Trump supporters for their public opposition to the US president.
The president acknowledged the suspect’s political allegiance, but denied any responsibility that his incendiary rhetoric could have played a role in motivating the spree.
“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 Friday. “But with all of that being said, we’re winning. So I like that.”
Asked about the role that rhetoric could have played, the FBI demurred.
“It’s too early at this stage for us to be discussing motivation in this particular case,” Wray told reporters in Washington.
A lawyer for the suspect’s family, Ron Lowy, told CNN that Sayoc prior “had no interest in politics,” and that he was more into “bodybuilding, nightclub events.”