Incendiary mail goes off in D.C.

The incendiary device from the package sent to a state building in Annapolis.
The incendiary device from the package sent to a state building in Annapolis. (Department Of Homeland Security)

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Laris Karklis/The Washington Post
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 8, 2011

A package addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ignited in a District postal facility Friday, authorities said, a day after two similar parcels containing low-grade incendiary devices flashed in Maryland government buildings.

The latest incident, which caused no injuries, occurred in a Northeast Washington postal facility that was created to screen mail sent to Congress and federal agencies after the terrorist attacks and anthrax scare of 2001. The package sent to Napolitano was not opened, but it ignited after a worker sorting mail tossed it into a bin, authorities said.

"The package was described as popping, smoking, and with a brief flash of fire, and then it extinguished itself," D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said.

The incendiary parcel confirmed fears that Thursday's packages in Maryland were not the only ones in the mail and gave heightened urgency to an already large investigation involving myriad local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

"I hope this is just one individual," D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said of whoever mailed the parcels. "We hope it's not part of some broader terrorist act."

Lanier described the package that ignited Friday in the District as "very similar" to the packages in Maryland.

A postal employee flagged down a D.C. police car shortly after 2 p.m. Friday to report what had just happened at the mail facility in the 3300 block of V Street NE. The investigation is being led by the FBI's Joint Terrorist Task Force in Baltimore, and the package will be taken to the FBI lab in Quantico for analysis, Lanier and FBI officials said.

The task force's role includes evidence collection. Lindsay Godwin, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Washington Field Office, said FBI terrorism investigators were involved in the case but had not classified the matter as an act of terrorism.

"I think until we can rule out anything, we have to have all of our assets involved," Godwin said.

The two Maryland packages contained identically worded messages in what appear to be handwritten block letters: "Report Suspicious Activity! Total [B-------]! You Have Created A Self Fulfilling Prophecy. -X-"

Maryland State Police Superintendent Terrence B. Sheridan said the notes may refer to the messages that cycle on electronic signboards above the region's highways asking motorists to report suspicious activity. But whether the sender has a grudge against government had not been determined.

"We're not sure what we have," Sheridan told reporters. He said no additional packages had surfaced as of Friday afternoon in Maryland government mailrooms.


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