A man with two suitcases at the U.S. Capitol and asking to see the president prompted a standoff yesterday that ended when police tackled him. They later blew apart one of his bags.
Authorities said that the suitcases did not contain explosives and that no one was seriously injured in the incident, which halted tours and closed some streets near the Capitol for about three hours during the afternoon.
Allan Doody, who heads the Washington field office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency identified the man at the center of the incident as Wenhao Zhao, 33, of Australia. One source said he was from Sydney, and police said he had recently arrived in the United States.
An official at the Australian Embassy declined to comment, referring questions to police. Police in Sydney said last night that they had no immediate information about the man.
Investigators were expected to charge the man with disorderly conduct for allegedly failing to obey a police officer, top police officials said. Authorities said he was being held on an immigration detainer.
The spectacle drew crowds of tourists, reporters and photographers, all trying to get the best view of the unfolding drama. Some tourists took photographs of each other in front of heavily armed police officers while others chatted on cellular phones with relatives tracking the incident on television.
The standoff began about 12:40 p.m. when the man, dressed in black, rolled two suitcases near the fountain on the west side of the Capitol, said Chief Terrance W. Gainer of U.S. Capitol Police.
A uniformed officer noticed the man and tried to talk to him, Gainer said. "He was not very responsive or cooperative with the officer," Gainer said.
Worried that the man might be a suicide bomber, the officer requested backup, Gainer said.
Within minutes, tactical squads began shutting down traffic and prodding people away from the area. As another officer spoke to the man, officers sneaked up behind him, Gainer said.
The man then told police that he wanted to speak to the president, Gainer said.
During that conversation, the man appeared to have "some command, it seems, of English," Gainer said.
An hour after the incident began, officers determined that the man did not have any detonators in his hands or wires attached to the bags, Gainer said. He was then tackled and dragged away from the bags. The man and a police officer suffered minor cuts and bruises.
A few minutes later, investigators questioned him about the contents of his suitcases, but he refused to cooperate, Gainer said. "He said if we wanted to know . . . we'd have to open it ourselves," Gainer said.