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The FBI believes that the person who left functioning pipe bombs just blocks from the U.S. Capitol on the eve of the Jan. 6 riot was operating out of the vicinity of a nearby park.
On Wednesday, the Bureau released yet another plea for any information that could help them crack the case of the mysterious pipe bomber, as well as previously unseen surveillance footage showing the suspect sitting on a bench in a small park by the Democratic National Committee headquarters. The new video offers a full frontal view of the suspect, who is seen wearing a grey hoodie, a face covering, gloves, and Nike Air Max Speed Turf sneakers.
But the bottom line is the FBI appears to still have absolutely no idea who left explosive devices by the headquarters of the RNC and DNC. The fact that the pipe bomber remains at large nine months after the fact is a particularly unsettling reminder as Washington, D.C., ramps up security ahead of a planned protest on behalf of jailed Capitol riot defendants later this month.
The FBI also released a virtual map tracking the suspect’s movements, from when they first appeared at an intersection in Capitol Hill at around 7:30 p.m., then made their way up a residential street. At one point they pause, gingerly place their backpack on the ground, look around, and appear to make a phone call.
Then they loop around the headquarters of the DNC and sit on a bench for a while. They get up and walk out of view, and then retrace their steps. By 8 p.m., they were back at the exact intersection they started at.
Eight minutes later, they appeared again at another intersection a quarter-mile away. They loop around the headquarters of the RNC, where they left the second device.
The FBI believe that the bomber was operating out of a location “in the vicinity of Folger Park” that evening, an assessment they made after analyzing the suspect’s route of travel between the DNC and RNC, and “the manner in which the suspect carries the backpack after placing the pipe bomb at the DNC.”
However, based on interviews with residents of the area, they don’t think that the suspect actually lives around there. They’re urging anyone who might have noticed something unusual in Folger Park on Jan. 5 to call the FBI.
The bombs weren’t actually discovered until 12:45 p.m. the next day, when a passerby saw the device nestled between a rat trap and a recycling bin by the RNC and called the police. During a sweep of the area, they discovered the second device.
Ninety minutes after the first bomb was found, a horde of angry Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.
During a series of congressional hearings parsing the numerous security failures in the aftermath of the deadly riot, Capitol Police officials testified that the discovery of the devices (about 90 minutes before the Capitol was breached) meant officers were pulled away from their usual posts. The former Capitol police chief stated he believes that the bombs were planted as a diversionary tactic.
But explosives experts previously consulted by VICE News expressed some skepticism about the “diversionary tactic” theory.
The devices appeared to have been time bombs, constructed using relatively straightforward components, including steel pipes, steel wool, alligator clips, an unidentified powder, and a kitchen timer. They were described as “live devices” (rather than “hoax devices”) because the pipes contained a viable explosive substance. However, it isn’t totally clear when they were supposed to detonate. The person who discovered the first device told news outlets that she couldn't hear any ticking, and that she believed the timer was set to 20 minutes.
Experts who’d worked high-profile bombing investigations also told VICE News that finding the suspect in this case couldn’t be more urgent. Bomb-makers typically spend years and years perfecting their “craft”—and it can take a while to finally be able to make a viable device. What’s more: those experts said that when bombers aren’t caught, they tend to keep going.
“This person is still on the loose. And as we have seen with past bomb-makers, if they are able to stay out there and keep experimenting, working on their ‘art,’ they can become more sophisticated,” Scott Stewart, a former State Department special agent and vice president of TorchStone Global, a strategic security advisory company, told VICE News in February. Over time, Stewart said, those devices can become more dangerous.
Since January, the FBI says it’s conducted more than 800 interviews, collected more than 23,000 video files, and looked into more than 300 tips related to this specific investigation. “We know it is hard to report information about a friend or family member,” Steven M. D’Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office, said in a statement. “But these pipe bombs were viable devices that could have detonated.”