Parcel addressed to Napolitano ignites in DC - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Parcel addressed to Napolitano ignites in DC

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Law enforcement officials are seen near a postal sorting facility in Washington, Friday, Jan. 7, 2011, after a package ignited. Law enforcement officials are seen near a postal sorting facility in Washington, Friday, Jan. 7, 2011, after a package ignited.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A package addressed to the U.S. Homeland Security secretary ignited Friday at a postal facility, and authorities said it was similar to fiery parcels sent to Maryland officials a day earlier by someone complaining about the state's terrorism tip line.

The suspicious package was discovered by an employee at the D.C. facility when it began popping and smoking and emitted "a brief flash of fire" before extinguishing itself, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said. The details were very much like what Maryland authorities described Thursday after workers at state government buildings opened the small packages about the size of a book. There, the workers' fingers were singed.

It's not clear what ignited the package at the D.C. facility because the worker didn't open the package, Lanier said. No one was injured.

Authorities were bracing for more packages to surface.

"Right now we don't have any other packages, but we're not taking anything for granted," Lanier said.

The D.C. package was addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, according to a department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of an ongoing investigation. The parcel ignited in northeast Washington about 2:45 p.m. Authorities wouldn't say whether it contained a note.

In July, Napolitano launched a nationwide "see something, say something" campaign. Her recorded voice can be heard in Washington-area Metro stations, reminding commuters to report suspicious behavior.

The Maryland packages had a message railing against highway signs urging motorists to report suspicious activity by calling a toll-free number. The message read: "Report suspicious activity! Total Bull----! You have created a self fulfilling prophecy."

The state's terrorism tip line is widely shown on overhead highway signs along with information about missing children. To the ire of some drivers, the signs added real-time traffic estimates to major highways in March. Some commuters complained drivers slowed to read the signs and backed up traffic. At Gov. Martin O'Malley's request, the state studied the issue and removed the real-time postings from one congested area on the Capital Beltway. There are some 113 signs statewide.

Washington Mayor Vincent Gray called the person who sent the packages "incredibly irresponsible" and said sending them was a "cowardly, reprehensible act."

The earlier packages, addressed to O'Malley and to Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley, have been taken to the FBI lab in Quantico, Va., for forensic analysis, and Lanier said the D.C. package would also be sent there.

The packages did not contain explosive material. Maryland State Fire Marshal William Barnard declined to speculate Friday on whether the incendiary devices worked as intended.

They were opened within a 15-minute period Thursday at state government buildings 20 miles apart. Mailroom employees around the state were back at work Friday, and they had pictures of the packages and were advised to be vigilant about anything suspicious.

The Postal Service rereleased a safety talk on how to recognize suspicious mail Friday in light of these suspicious incidents, American Postal Workers Union spokeswoman Sally Davidow said.

"An incident can take place at any facility," she said.

Investigators had no previous indication the packages would be sent anywhere other than Maryland government buildings, FBI spokesman Richard J. Wolf said. While Maryland State Police has been the lead investigative agency, the FBI might now be forced to take a more active role, he said.

Police have not yet identified any suspects and were searching for disgruntled people who've made threats against state government. Anyone arrested would be charged with possession and use of an incendiary device, which includes a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, authorities said.

The state terrorism tip line averages about two calls per day, said Jim Newton, privacy officer at the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center, where police officers field the calls. Any valid information related to terrorism is sent to the FBI.

Neither Newton nor police were aware of any repeat, angry callers to the tip line. In a sign of their continued confidence in the tip line, police urged people with information about the packages to call it.

The call volume typically doesn't spike when the phone number is displayed on highway signs, he said. Instead, calls tend to come in after terrorism cases make news in the U.S. or internationally, he said.

Speaking before the new package was found, Maryland State Police Col. Terrence Sheridan said Friday that authorities were expecting more packages to surface.

"We've got to make sure we go after this person and get them off the street and get them behind bars, because these kinds of things are very, very dangerous," Sheridan said. "We just don't know where this person is going with this. We don't know who it is. We don't know what they're thinking right now."


Nuckols reported from Pikesville, Md. Associated Press writers Alicia Caldwell, Eileen Sullivan, Randolph E. Schmid and Brett Zongker in Washington and Sarah Brumfield in Baltimore contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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