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Package Bomb Not Terror-Linked

May 14, 2002

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ There is no evidence that a bomb found in a Postal Service mailbox was related to Middle Eastern terrorists, despite a note on the parcel that said ``Free Palestine now,″ authorities said Tuesday.

Investigators said the bomber’s intended target was not immediately clear.

``No terrorist group has owned up to it. There is no indication at this point that it was terrorist related,″ said John Sinnen, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Philadelphia.

Also on Tuesday, police and federal agents investigated a suspicious item found in a mailbox just before noon but quickly determined it was not a bomb, FBI spokeswoman Linda Vizi said.

Police said the bundle did have a note reading ``Free Palestine,″ but it contained a pair of sneakers rather than explosives. It was found 2 1/2 miles from the box where Monday’s bomb was discovered; both boxes are served by carriers from the Fox Chase Station post office.

The package found Monday, which contained a foam box packed with nails and an explosive charge, was detonated by police bomb squad members who blasted it with a water cannon. The blast hurled shrapnel 100 feet but injured no one.

Investigators described that device as more sophisticated than the series of crude pipe bombs that injured six people in the Midwest earlier this month.

The first package, which a letter carrier found Monday in a mail drop in northeast Philadelphia, was not addressed and bore no postage. In addition to the note, which also mentioned the al-Qaida terrorist network, the parcel had protruding wires almost certain to raise suspicion, Sinnen said.

``Luckily enough, this guy didn’t make much of an attempt to disguise it,″ he said.

The note and wires instantly caught the attention of letter carrier Matthew Widmeier, who didn’t handle the package when he found it at about 12:30 p.m. and immediately phoned his supervisor, police and postal inspectors.

Sinnen said investigators didn’t have a suspect but were exploring several theories, including the possibility that the bomb might have been placed by a copycat inspired by the Midwest attacks, in which a 21-year-old student from Minnesota has been charged.

``It certainly could be that _ a publicity stunt. It could be someone who wants that sort of attention. We aren’t sure,″ Sinnen said.

Authorities consider it an act of terrorism even if the person who placed the bomb had no political agenda, said FBI spokeswoman Linda Vizi.

``The fact of the matter is that it makes people afraid to go to their mailbox, just like it makes people afraid to go to a coffee shop in Israel,″ Vizi said.

Days earlier, carriers based at Widmeier’s office had been given a refresher talk on spotting and dealing with potentially dangerous packages. Postal workers received a similar warning Tuesday, said U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Belinda Kelley.

``We have had ongoing talks since September 11th to remain vigilant and take caution, and if they see a suspicious package not to touch it,″ Kelley said.

Widmeier finished his mail route after discovering the bomb Monday and was back at work Tuesday, Kelley said.

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