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‘Mail bombs’ sent to Obama, Clintons, senior Democrats and CNN

Shannon Stapleton, Reuters | Members of the New York Police Department are seen outside the Time Warner Center after a suspicious package was found inside the CNN Headquarters on October 24.

Parcels containing "potential explosive devices" were sent to prominent Democrats, including former president Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, US authorities said Wednesday. A similar package was sent to CNN, prompting an evacuation.

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The Secret Service said it intercepted a suspect package addressed to Clinton at her home in Westchester, a suburb north of Manhattan, on Tuesday and a second package addressed to the Obama residence in Washington, DC, on Wednesday.

"The packages were immediately identified during routine mail screening procedures as potential explosive devices and were appropriately handled as such," the Secret Service said in a statement.

"The protectees did not receive the packages nor were they at risk of receiving them."

A device constructed with a pipe and wires was also sent to the Time Warner Center, where the CNN studios are located, prompting an evacuation on Wednesday.

CNN reporters broadcasted from the street outside their newsroom in a bustling part of Manhattan, saying they heard the fire alarm and the lights went off before they evacuated.

The package was addressed to former CIA director John Brennan via CNN. Brennan has appeared on the channel as an analyst but does not work for CNN.

Two more suspected bombs were found in New York City and Delaware on Thursday morning. Police said a device was addressed to actor Robert De Niro, who hurled an obscenity at President Donald Trump at the Tony Awards last June. A ninth suspicious package was addressed to former Vice-President Joe Biden via a mail facility in New Castle County, Delaware, CBS News reported, citing federal authorities.

'Words matter'

US President Donald Trump called the suspicious packages "despicable" and said a "major federal investigation" was underway.

Speaking at the White House, he urged the nation to come together and send "one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America".

At the same time, Trump also called for more civility in public life, saying: "Those engaged in political arena must stop treating political opponents as being morally defective.

"No one should carelessly compare political opponents to historic villains, which is done often."

Trump rails against ‘fake news’

However, others pointed the finger squarely at the US president who has frequently attacked opponents in politics and the media with divisive and fiery rhetoric.

Adding to this, Trump later shifted his tone, appearing to place at least some of the blame on the media. Speaking at a convention in Wisconsin he said the media has a responsibility "to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and oftentimes false attacks and stories".

Craig Ruttle reports from near CNN center in New York

At a rally in Montana last week, for instance, Trump praised Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte, who pleaded guilty to assaulting a reporter, saying that "any guy that can do a body slam ... he's my guy". And he has repeatedly singled out CNN as he rails against the "fake news" media, egging on his crowds as they jeer reporters covering his rallies and smiling as they chant "CNN sucks!"

"There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media," CNN President Jeff Zucker said in a statement. "The President, and especially the White House Press Secretary, should understand their words matter."

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders hit back at the CNN president's of the Trump administration's rhetoric toward the press following the bomb threat, with Sanders highlighting Trump's call for the USA to come together.

The relationship between CNN and the Trump administration has long been combative, with Sanders and CNN's Jim Sanders regularly sparring at press briefings and the the White House even once banning the station's Kaitlin Collins.

Clinton, who lost to Trump in 2016's acrimonious presidential election, thanked the Secret Service and raised concerns about what she called a "troubling time" in America.

"It's a time of deep divisions, and we have to do everything we can to bring our country together," she said.

Top Democrat lawmakers Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer accused Trump of condoning "physical violence and dividing Americans" as tensions soared.

'Act of terror'

Other targets included prominent African-American Democrats Obama's former attorney general Eric Holder and Maxine Waters, a lawmaker from California both them outspoken Trump critics.

A suspicious device sent to the Manhattan office of New York's Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo turned out to be a false alarm, as did a scare in the offices of California Senator Kamala Harris.

The packages reportedly included the return address of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

An apparent explosive device was found in a mailbox outside the New York residence of billionaire financier George Soros on Monday. Agents described it as a small pipe bomb made from about 6 inches (15 cm) of pipe and filled with explosive powder.

The NYPD's deputy chief of intelligence and counterterrorism, John Miller, said the explosive devices sent to CNN, Clinton, Obama and Soros all appeared to be crude pipe bombs.

"What we saw here today was an effort to terrorise," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told a hastily gathered press conference. "This is clearly an act of terror, attempting to undermine our free press and leaders of this country through acts of violence."

"I want to make very clear that the people of New York City will not be intimidated, that we're going to go about our lives undeterred, because the very concept of terrorism is to change us and we will not allow that to happen," he added.

De Blasio significantly underscored, "Don't encourage hatred. Don't encourage attacks on media. You can disagree but you have to show respect for people and air your disagreements peacefully."

The White House released a statement condemning the attempted attacks.

"These terrorising acts are despicable, and anyone responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law," said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders in a statement Wednesday.

"The United States Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies are investigating and will take all appropriate actions to protect anyone threatened by these cowards."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS and AP)

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