Texas package bombs probed as possible hate crimes

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Chicago (AFP)

Two parcel bombs rattled the US city of Austin on Monday, 10 days after a similar deadly blast, as Texas police said they were investigating the possibility that the attacks were serial hate crimes.

A 17-year-old was killed early Monday after bringing a package into his home and opening it, while a woman living at the same address was injured.

A second explosion later in the morning left an elderly woman in critical condition, after she was injured picking up a package in front of her home, police said.

The twin bombings followed an initial blast on March 2, when a 39-year-old man was killed -- also after opening a parcel bomb.

"This again is the third in what we believe to be related incidents over the past 10 days," Austin police chief Brian Manley told a news conference.

"We are imploring the community, if you know anything about these attacks, it is imperative that you come forward," he said.

The Texas governor's office offered a $15,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.

"I want to assure all Texans, and especially those in Austin, that local, state and federal law enforcement officials are working diligently to find those responsible for these heinous crimes," Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement.

Investigators have found no evidence so far of a terrorism link, and have yet to establish a definite motive or profile of the bomber, Manley said.

Police were considering whether racial hatred was a factor.

"We have had two victims that were African American, and the victim of this latest incident was a 75-year-old Hispanic female. So, we are still working to identify whether or not that may play a role, but we are not going to rule that out," the police chief said.

Michelle Lee, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation which is aiding in the probe, told AFP, "Nothing had been ruled out in terms of motive."

- 'Be aware' -

Authorities believe the packages, described as unremarkable looking boxes, were left overnight and not sent through the mail or any other delivery service.

The explosions came as Austin, a metropolis of two million people, welcomed some half a million attendees from nearly 100 countries for the massive entertainment and media festival South by Southwest.

Major celebrities attending the event included Tesla founder Elon Musk and actor Ashton Kutcher.

Festival organizers did not immediately say whether they would be taking extra precautions, but the police chief urged attendees to "be aware of what's going on."

Residents meanwhile have been warned to avoid opening unexpected items left at their doorsteps and to report anything suspicious to police.

The request led to several calls to authorities, Manley said in the afternoon conference, but none uncovered anything suspicious.

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms said a national response team would join Austin police in the investigation.