‘Absolutely terrorism’: Suspicious packages target top Democrats, CNN, actor Robert De Niro

WASHINGTON — Pipe bombs packed with shards of glass were intercepted en route to several prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama, and on Thursday, packages addressed to former Vice President Joe Biden in Delaware and actor Robert De Niro in Manhattan were also found, adding to an unnerving wave that has deepened political tensions and fears two weeks before national midterm elections.

Those targeted with small bombs in October 2018, as of the 24th, are pictured. Additional people were later targeted.

The first of three packages to emerge Thursday was found when a retired NYPD intelligence bureau detective was watching television, saw an image of a bomb found earlier in the week and thought its packaging looked similar to mail he previously screened for De Niro's production company.

“It struck him that it looks very much like the package he had seen on Tuesday in mail he was too screen for Robert de Niro productions,” said NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Counterterrorism John Miller

The retired detective contacted the NYPD's bomb squad immediately, and the package was safely located.

Later Thursday morning, the FBI confirmed two suspicious packages similar to those containing bombs were intercepted in Delaware. Both packages were addressed to former Vice President Joe Biden, the FBI said.

None of the 10 devices found this past week detonated, and nobody was hurt as authorities in New York, Washington, D.C., Florida and California seized the suspicious packages.

Mayor Bill de Blasio in an afternoon news conference said the incidents are "absolutely terrorism."

The package in Manhattan was located a day after a package sent to CNN's New York City office was intercepted and prompted the evacuation of the Time Warner Center in Manhattan where the news outlet has its offices.

The incidents have prompted an increase in security across the city, de Blasio said.

While additional packages could be found, New Yorkers should feel safe as there are no known threats, New York City Police Commissioner James O'Neill said.

The targets of the bombs were some of the figures most frequently criticized by President Donald Trump, who still assails Clinton at rallies while supporters chant "lock her up" — two years after he defeated her and she largely left the political scene. Trump also often singles out cable news network CNN as he rails against the "fake news" media.

The White House on Wednesday condemned the attacks aimed at Democrats and other perceived foes of the administration.

"Acts or threats of political violence have no place in the United States," Trump said. "This egregious conduct is abhorrent."

Other Republican leaders said the same. But Democratic Senate and House leaders Chuck Schumer of New York and Nancy Pelosi of California said such words "ring hollow" when coming from Trump. They noted the president's recent praise of a GOP congressman who body-slammed a reporter, among other Trump statements.

Thursday morning Trump a very different tone, and blamed the "mainstream media" and "fake news" for the incidents.

The attacks overtook other news in an already-tense political season that could reshape Congress and serve as a referendum on the first two years of Trump's presidency. The actions, which caused panicked building evacuations and reports of additional explosives that later proved unfounded, are bound to add to fears that overheated rhetoric could lead to deadly violence as the parties engage in bitter fights over immigration, the Supreme Court and the treatment of women.

The first crude bomb to be discovered had been delivered Monday to the suburban New York compound of George Soros, a liberal billionaire and major contributor to Democratic causes.

The FBI said an additional package was intended for former Attorney General Eric Holder, but that one ended up at a Florida office of Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose return address was on it.

Later Wednesday, the FBI said two additional packages addressed for Rep. Maxine Waters had been intercepted that were similar in appearance to five others.

Law enforcement officials said all the packages were similar: manila envelopes with bubble-wrap interior bearing six stamps and the return address of Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She is the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who was accused by Clinton rivals of secretly helping the party's eventual presidential nominee.

The package intended for Holder had the wrong address and was forwarded to Wasserman Schultz.

The devices all were sent to an FBI lab in Virginia to be studied. Officials provided no details on a possible suspect or motive.

"Suffice it to say, it appears an individual or individuals sent out multiple, similar packages," said John Miller, the New York Police Department's head of intelligence and counterterrorism, who briefed reporters.

The U.S. Secret Service intercepted the bomb that was addressed to Hillary Clinton at the Chappaqua, New York, home she shares with former President Bill Clinton, and another that was sent to Obama at his home in Washington.

A police bomb squad removed still another from CNN's New York office, which was evacuated. The CNN package was addressed to former CIA Director John Brennan, who has publicly clashed with Trump and is a regular television contributor.

Speaking at an event in Austin, Texas, Brennan called the spate of pipe bombs "a very unfortunate turn of events," particularly if he and others are being targeted for their public comments.

"Unfortunately, I think Donald Trump, too often, has helped to incite some of these feelings of anger, if not violence, when he points to acts of violence or also talks about swinging at somebody from the press, the media," Brennan said.

Overhead TV shots showed a truck carrying that device being driven away. The package sent to CNN contained a live explosive, with wires and a black pipe, and an envelope with white powder, officials said.

“Initial analysis indicates the powder did not present a biological threat,” FBI Assistant Director Bill Sweeney said.

O'Neill says investigators are reviewing security video to see if they can identify a courier believed to have delivered the pipe bomb package to CNN's office. O'Neill said in an appearance on CNN that he was "pretty sure those images will be caught on video, and we'll be able to find out where that person came from before they entered the building and where they went to after."

Waters, whom the president has denigrated as a "low-IQ individual," reported Wednesday afternoon that she was the target of a suspicious package. Though the FBI did not initially include her on a list of targeted individuals, the bureau later said two packages addressed to her and similar to the five others had been found. One was intercepted at a Los Angeles mail facility.

Neither Clinton nor Obama received the packages sent to them, and neither was at risk because of screening procedures, the Secret Service said.

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

But while stopping short of blaming Trump's rhetoric for inspiring the attacks, Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN Worldwide, contended there was a "total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media."

"The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that," he said.

Hillary Clinton was attending campaign events for Democrats in Florida and was not at the family's New York residence when the bomb was intercepted. But Bill Clinton was at the family's Chappaqua home, said a person familiar with his schedule. The person said the device was screened at a Westchester County facility — not near their residence — and never reached the Clintons' home.

A law enforcement official told the AP that the package discovered at Soros' home appeared to be a pipe bomb and was in a package placed in a mailbox outside the gates of the compound. A Soros employee opened it just inside the gates, not near Soros' quarters, said the official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

The first seven bombs found each had a small battery and were about six inches long and packed with powder and broken glass, said a law enforcement official who viewed X-ray images and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

The official said the devices were made from PVC pipe and covered with black tape.

Officials have not said if packages send to De Niro and Biden contained bombs.

Anyone with information about the incidents is asked to contact a nationwide hotline at 800-CALL-FBI, or visit tips.fbi.gov.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill, the FBI and others discuss the latest in the investigation: 

PIX11's Henry Rosoff contributed to this report.