Texas serial bomber recorded video confession before blowing himself up: Police | world news | Hindustan Times
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Texas serial bomber recorded video confession before blowing himself up: Police

world Updated: Mar 22, 2018 09:31 IST
Agencies
Agencies
Agencies
The vehicle that the Austin package bomber, Mark Anthony Conditt, was driving when he blew himself up is towed from the crime scene along Interstate 35 in suburban Austin on Wednesday in Round Rock, Texas.

The vehicle that the Austin package bomber, Mark Anthony Conditt, was driving when he blew himself up is towed from the crime scene along Interstate 35 in suburban Austin on Wednesday in Round Rock, Texas. (AFP Photo )

The serial bomber whose deadly attacks terrorized Austin, Texas, for weeks left a 25-minute video “confession” on a cell phone found after he blew himself up on Wednesday as officers closed in to make an arrest, police said.

Mark Conditt, 23, an unemployed man from the suburb of Pflugerville, detailed how he made all seven bombs that have been accounted for - five that exploded, one that was recovered before it went off and a seventh that he detonated as officers rushed his vehicle early on Wednesday.

But the video failed to reveal a coherent motive for the attacks spread over the past three weeks, police said.

“He does not at all mention anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate, but instead it is the outcry of a very challenged young man, talking about challenges in his personal life,” Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told reporters.

“I would classify this as a confession,” Manley said.

Conditt, who had never before been in trouble with the law, killed two people and wounded five with a campaign of violence that began on March 2, authorities said.

Based on their search of the suspect’s home and his video statement, authorities said they felt confident that there were no other bombs and that the public was safe from further harm.

FBI special agent Christopher Combs said investigators believe the suspect would have continued his attacks had he not been apprehended.

Police recovered a “target list” of addresses for future bombings, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing US Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Even so, the video gave no explanation for the individuals and addresses singled out as recipients of the bombs that were planted or shipped, Manley said.

Police previously said they had considered the possibility that the attacks were racially motivated, noting that the first several victims, including the two who died, were either African-American or Hispanic.

Conditt likely recorded the video between 9 pm and 11 pm on Tuesday. According to Manley, Conditt said he believed police “were getting very close to him,” and he was right. Authorities filed a criminal complaint and issued an arrest warrant around that time.

By Wednesday morning, police had tracked Conditt to a hotel and were waiting for the arrival of tactical units and equipment before they planned to make an arrest, Manley said. But then Conditt drove away.

Police followed and decided to stop him before he got on the highway. Just as officers approached the vehicle, the explosion went off, Manley said. There was also some police shooting.

“This can never be called a happy ending, but it’s a damn good one for the people of this community, the people of the state of Texas,” Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore told reporters.

Residents in Austin, a city of 1 million people and a liberal enclave of university students and tech companies, voiced relief that the hunt for the serial bomber was over.

“I am going to be leery and extra careful tomorrow at work, but I feel relieved now,” said Jesus Borjon, 44, an employee of parcel delivery firm UPS, who lives in Pflugerville.

Austin was hosting thousands of out-of-town visitors for its annual South by Southwest festival of music, film and technology when the first bombings occurred..

Trail of clues

The trail of clues leading investigators to the serial bomber ranged from store receipts and fragments of booby-trapped packages to surveillance video of the suspect in a hat and wig.

Experts scoured the suspect’s home for further evidence on Wednesday, removing bomb components.

“I wouldn’t call it a bomb-making factory, but there’s definitely components consistent with what we’ve seen in all these other devices,” Fred Milanowski, special agent in charge of Houston office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told reporters.

Investigators evacuated a four-block radius around Conditt’s house while they searched the home, which Conditt shared with two roommates who had been detained for questioning. Conditt moved in a year ago after leaving his parents’ home about a mile (1.6 km) away, public records showed.

One law enforcement official involved in the investigation but speaking on condition of anonymity told Reuters that some of the materials found in remnants of the bombs were traced back to where they had been sold.

The source also said investigators, once they had identified Conditt as a potential suspect, obtained a warrant to monitor his Google search history.

Surveillance video showed the suspect in a hat and a blond wig, as he prepared to ship one of two booby-trapped packages he was known to have sent through FedEx Corp’s delivery service, according to the source.

He used the alias “Kelly Killmore” to ship those packages, ABC News reported, citing unnamed law enforcement sources.

Conditt’s uncle says he was smart, kind

The 23-year-old’s uncle described him as a smart and kind “computer geek” and a friend said he was an assertive person who would end up being “kind of dominant and intimidating in conversation.”

Neither had any idea what might have motivated Mark Anthony Conditt.

“I mean this is coming from nowhere. We just don’t know what. I don’t know how many ways to say it but everyone is caught off guard by this,” Conditt’s uncle, Mike Courtney of Lakewood, Colorado, told The Associated Press.

Conditt grew up in Pflugerville, a suburb just northeast of Austin.His family said in a statement they had “no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in.”

Conditt was the oldest of four children who were all home-schooled.

Jeff Reeb, a neighbour of Conditt’s parents in Pflugerville for about 17 years, said he watched Conditt grow up and that he always seemed “smart” and “polite.” Reeb, 75, said Conditt and his grandson played together into middle school and that Conditt regularly visited his parents, whom Reeb described as good neighbours.

Conditt attended Austin Community College from 2010 to 2012 and was a business administration major, but he did not graduate, according to college spokeswoman Jessica Vess.

Although he worked for a time at an area manufacturing company, Gov. Greg Abbott told KXAN-TV in Austin that Conditt apparently was unemployed more recently and had no criminal record.

Conditt left little discernable trace on social media. Aside from a few photos of him on his family’s Facebook pages, he addressed a range of topics in an online blog he created in 2012. Vess said he had created the blog as part of a US government class project.

In the blog titled “Defining my Stance” he gives his opinion on several issues, often in response to commentary by someone else. Conditt wrote that gay marriage should be illegal, argued in favour of the death penalty and gave his thoughts on “why we might want to consider” eliminating sex offender registries.

Of gay marriage, Conditt wrote: “Homosexuality is not natural. Just look at the male and female bodies. They are obviously designed to couple.”

In the “about me” section of the blog, Conditt wrote that he wasn’t “that politically inclined,” saying he viewed himself as conservative but didn’t think he had enough information “to defend my stance as well as it should be defended.” He said he hoped the class would help him do that.

A friend of Conditt described him as smart, opinionated and often intimidating. Jeremiah Jensen, 24, told the Austin American-Statesman that he was close to Conditt in 2012 and 2013. Jensen said they were both home-schooled and he would often go to the Conditt home for lunch after church on Sundays and they attended Bible study and other activities together.

“I have no idea what caused him to make those bombs,” Jensen told the newspaper .

He called Conditt a “deep thinker.”

“When I met Mark, he was really rough around the edges,” Jensen said. “He was a very assertive person and would end up being kind of dominant and intimidating in conversation. A lot of people didn’t understand him and where he was coming from. He really just wanted to tell the truth. What I remember about him he would push back on you if you said something without thinking about it.”

He said “the kind of hate that he succumbed to” was not what Conditt believed in during high school.

“I don’t know what happened along the way,” Jensen said.

Jensen said Conditt had attended regular church services at Austin Stone Community Church but he didn’t know if Conditt “held onto his faith.” A spokesman for the church said no records of past engagement or past involvement by Conditt were found.

Congressman Michael McCaul told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the suspect matched the FBI’s initial profile suspicion that the bomber was likely a white male. But McCaul said a psychological profile probably won’t be known until investigators go through Conditt’s writings and social media postings.