Just after midnight on Tuesday, a package bomb detonated at a FedEx facility near San Antonio, Texas, injuring a worker. The parcel was addressed to Austin, potentially linking it to the string of explosions in the city that have killed two and injured three. While officials do not know the motivation of the bombings, it is thought they are likely related. Now, House Democrats are demanding the Austin bombings be investigated as terrorism.
The two people who were killed in the bombings are black, and the woman wounded in the third bombing is Hispanic. Austin police have said there is the possibility that the bombings are "domestic terrorism or hate-related." Interim police chief Brian Manley was asked when the bombings would be declared domestic terrorism, and he replied, "That has been the question all along." Her further noted that the investigation is in its preliminary stages.
The police have few doubts, though, that the perpetrator is a "a serial bomber at this point, based on the similarities." For some, that would be enough to declare the bombings as terrorism. But the definition is actually varied among federal agencies — let alone local police departments. For some in law enforcement, terrorism requires that there be specific ideology, while others focus more on the focus on infrastructure or mass casualties.
For the three members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the evidence is sufficient. "To be clear, these bombings must be classified as ongoing terrorist attacks and should be investigated as such," the members wrote in a joint statement. They go on to say it is a national security and that the "full investigative force" of the government must try to stop the attacks.
"For too long we have focused only on certain sources of terrorism and violence while ignoring others," the representatives wrote. The members specialize in security, terrorism, and the black community. Rep. Bennie Thompson is the Homeland Security Committee ranking member, Rep. Cedric Richmond is the Congressional Black Caucus chairman, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security ranking member.
The bombings, while thought to be related, have been different. The first were targeted, and the last explosion in Austin was more random. A trip wire set it off and it was found on the street. Who the latest bomb was addressed to has not been released.
FBI Special Agent Christopher Combs told KUT, Austin's NPR station, that the different types of bombs will change how the investigation is carried out. "The bomber has shown his ability to change the way he constructs these devices," Combs told KUT. "So, he could change it right now, and that’s why we don’t want to focus on just one thing to be careful of."
In the meantime — terrorism or not — the public needs to take care, Austin Police said. "We now need the community to have an extra level of vigilance and pay attention to any suspicious device — whether it be a package or a bag, a backpack — anything that looks out of place," Interim Chief Manley added at the news conference Monday. "Do not approach items like that."
There are as many as 500 people working on the case. Some 350 are from the FBI alone, plus local and state police, the ATF, and the Texas Ranger bomb squad. The state government has allocated special funds to help with the investigation too.
The FBI and ATF are already in San Antonio at the FedEx facility, and agents have told CBS News that "it's more than possible" the newest blast is related to the string of Austin bombings, although the bomb was more sophisticated.
The investigation is being taken seriously, with or without the terrorism designation.