What We Know About The Suspect Who Planted Bombs Before The Capitol Riot

Apr 14, 2021
Originally published on April 14, 2021 8:49 am

More than three months after the U.S. Capitol riot, a bomb-maker remains on the loose.

A majority of the public's attention has been focused on the hundreds of people who have been charged for their role on Jan. 6. But the night before, someone committed a different crime: The person placed two explosive devices near the Capitol in Washington, D.C., and that person is still at large.

The FBI released a substantial amount of information in an attempt to drum up leads from the public, and the reward for information about the suspect is now $100,000.

Here's what is known: The suspect was wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, a COVID-19 mask and expensive sneakers — Nike Air Max Speed Turf with a distinctive yellow logo. Sometime between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m., the suspect placed one pipe bomb on a park bench near the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and another behind the Republican National Committee headquarters.

Doug Kouns spent 22 years in the FBI and focused on counterterrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks, and he said that the suspect made a concerted effort to hide their identity. "You can see the person's wearing gloves. They seem to be familiar with the area. They probably know there's cameras here and there and have really just covered their tracks," Kouns said.

The explosive devices were made from galvanized steel pipes and had plastic kitchen timers mounted on top.
FBI

The explosive devices the suspect made were rather generic: simple bombs made from 1-by-8-inch galvanized steel pipes — the kind plumbers use — with plastic kitchen timers mounted on top, the ones you spin around to set. The FBI said the explosive inside was homemade black powder, which can be a mix of just about anything that will ignite; typically it includes saltpeter, sulfur and gunpowder.

"What I think would be accurate to say, given the information we have, is this is a very hazardous device that could kill people," said Barry Black, a retired FBI special agent and master bomb technician who helped investigate the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

The FBI is also using gait analysis, a technique used to identify someone by the way the person walks, hoping it will lead to a suspect. Agents have released surveillance video to see if someone in the public might recognize the suspect from the way he or she moves.

Dr. Mike Nirenberg wrote a textbook on gait analysis, and he reviewed the FBI video with NPR. "Look at how close their feet are to each other. ... So that is a narrow base of gait," he said, watching the suspect. "Immediately what you notice is the arm swing of the person on that left arm. ... There isn't a lot of rotation in the upper half of their body, their torso."

The FBI has released surveillance video to see if anyone in the public might recognize the suspect from the way the suspect moves.
FBI / YouTube

The FBI is asking people with possible leads to contact it if they know of anyone who acted suspiciously in the time leading up to Jan. 5, purchased multiple kitchen timers without a good explanation or showed an unusual interest in explosives.

While the suspect's motive is unknown, former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund testified before Congress that he believes that the devices were planted as a possible diversion ahead of the events the following day. "We were dealing with two pipe bombs that were specifically set right off the edge of our perimeter to, what I suspect, draw resources away," he said in a congressional hearing. "I think there was a significant coordination with this attack."

Despite all the resources that federal law enforcement has at its disposal, it has not yet been able to make an arrest in this case. "I would say it just takes time," Black told NPR. "You know we've had investigations, bombing investigations ... where it would be 10, 15, 20 years before someone was indicted."

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Authorities have charged hundreds of people for allegedly participating in the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, but one person still eludes them, the person who placed two explosive devices in Washington, D.C., the night before. Here are Tim Mak and Dina Temple-Raston from NPR's Investigations unit.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: The crime the FBI is trying to solve happened between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. That's when authorities believe the suspect planted two pipe bombs just blocks from the Capitol.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: The suspect was wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, a COVID mask and expensive sneakers. They were Nike Air Max Speed Turf with a yellow logo.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Surveillance cameras captured the figure walking through a Capitol Hill neighborhood the night before the January 6 riot.

MAK: One of the bombs was placed on a park bench near the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, the other behind Republican Party headquarters. And surveillance footage caught the suspect walking.

MIKE NIRENBERG: Look at how close their feet are to each other. So that is a narrow base of gate.

MAK: That's Dr. Mike Nirenberg, who wrote the textbook on forensic gait analysis. He helps identify people based on how they walk. He's watching along with us as we review surveillance video from that night.

NIRENBERG: Immediately, what you notice is the arm swing of the person on that left arm. There's not a lot of rotation in their upper half of their body, their torso.

MAK: The FBI has asked for help finding someone who walks like this.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The explosive devices they found were made from 1-by-8-inch galvanized steel pipes plumbers typically use. And they had plastic kitchen timers mounted on top, the kind you spin around to set. The FBI said the explosive inside was homemade black powder, which can be a mix of just about anything that will ignite. Typically, it includes saltpeter and sulfur and gunpowder. The FBI is yet to say exactly what explosive was in these particular devices. Barry Black is a retired FBI special agent and master bomb technician. He helped investigate the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and he says these new devices were dangerous.

BARRY BLACK: What I think would be accurate to say, given the information we have, is this is a very hazardous device that could kill people.

TEMPLE-RASTON: He began talking us through the publicly released evidence on the January 5 bomber.

BLACK: The paper clip is designed to serve as part of a switch. So it looks from this image that there may be some wires attached wrapped around the dial, the part you turn to set the time.

MAK: The reason we know anything at all about an open FBI investigation is because law enforcement has repeatedly turned to the public for clues. And they are offering a reward, which has risen from $50,000 to $100,000. Steven D'Antuono is the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington field office, and he asked for help this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVEN D'ANTUONO: We still believe there is someone out there who has information that they may not have realized was significant until now.

MAK: They want to know if the public is aware of individuals who acted suspiciously leading up to January 5. Did they know someone who purchased multiple kitchen timers or maybe showed an unusual interest in explosives?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Without a suspect in custody, it can be difficult to determine motive. Steven Sund, who was the chief of the U.S. Capitol Police during the riots, testified before Congress that he believes the devices were likely meant as a diversion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVEN SUND: And then also the fact that we were dealing with two pipe bombs that were specifically, you know, set right off the edge of our perimeter to what I suspect draw resources away. I think there was a significant coordination with this attack.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Whatever the motive, the suspect knew enough to conceal his or her identity.

DOUG KOUNS: You can see the person's wearing gloves. They seem to be familiar with the area. They probably know there's cameras here and there and have really just covered their tracks.

MAK: That's Doug Kouns. He spent 22 years in the FBI and focused on counterterrorism after 9/11. Despite covering their tracks, Kouns says that just one mistake could yield a forensics bonanza.

KOUNS: I've worked some cases with some similarities where everything was covered, but they made one mistake. Like, they used a trash bag to hide the device in and tied a knot in it. We got a partial fingerprint from inside the knot. So it's that meticulous, tedious forensic investigation that will crack something like that.

MAK: It's been more than three months since the suspect planted these explosive devices. With all the resources the FBI has, they haven't been able to make an arrest. But Barry Black, the Oklahoma City bomb investigator, says it just takes time.

BLACK: You know, we've had bombing investigations where it would be 10, 15, 20 years before someone was indicted.

MAK: Of course, the FBI is hoping for a faster resolution. I'm Tim Mak.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And I'm Dina Temple-Raston. NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF RRAREBEAR'S "BACKPACK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.