By Martin Sadongdong and Agence France-Presse
A fan of US President Donald Trump who was arrested and charged Friday over 13 pipe bombs mailed to opponents of the American leader reportedly claims to be of Filipino descent.
Cesar Altieri Sayoc, 56, also known as Cesar Altieri, was arrested in Florida, USA Friday, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray.
While Sayoc makes repeated references to the Seminole Indian tribe on his Twitter feed, he mentions in his LinkedIn profile about his Filipino ancestry, saying his grandfather – a certain Colonel BaltazarZookSayoc – allegedly served as a plastic surgeon. He also claimsthat his grandfather fought with and “overthrew” communists in the Philippines.
Sayoc’s father allegedly hails from the Philippines while his mother is from Brooklyn, New York City, according to reports.
With reports that Sayoc is of Filipino descent, the Philippine National Police (PNP) has yet to issue a statement whether a coordination has already been made with US authorities to verify the mail bomb suspect’s roots in the Philippines.
But PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde had earlier admitted that the incident was an “eye-opener” not only for the Filipinos but also to the whole world.
“We are actually vulnerable. Remember, the threat on terrorism is already global not only in the US, not only here, it’s global,” he said.
The PNP chief also admitted that the Philippines still lacks technological capabilities to respond to similar incidents.But he revealed that the police force is developing a CBRNE unit, or a team of experts in chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives.
“We are currently in the process of developing that unit with the support coming from the different counterparts and little by little, this unit is becoming bigger and our policemen are being trained to respond to such cases,” he said.
Sayoclives in van
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,” 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.
Trump denies blame
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.
Waters and Biden were each sent two packages. All the targets are loathed by Trump supporters for their public opposition to the US president and for being the recipients of his toxic remarks in the past.
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.
Aside from living in a van covered with pro-Trump stickers, Sayochad plastered his social media accounts with signs of his devotion to the Republican president and his hatred for Democrats.
“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.”
US media reported Sayoc had once danced as a male stripper, and The New York Daily News quoted an event promoter as saying the suspect would dance at strip clubs and ran a show called “Girls Night Out.”
“It is my opinion that he was attracted to the Trump formula of reaching out,” lawyer Lowy said. “Trump reaching out to these types of outsiders, people who don’t fit in, telling them they have a place at the table.”
Each of the homemade bombs included six inches of PVC pipe, a small clock, a battery, wiring and energetic material, defined by Wray as potentially explosive.
The first package was intercepted Monday at Soros’s Bedford, New York home. The most recent ones on Friday in California, Florida and New York.
Obama marked with red X
The Clapper and Brennan packages were marked care of CNN, a television network often critical of the administration and long provoking Trump’s ire.