A suspected pipe bomb outside that closed down 15 city blocks in downtown Oakland, California on Wednesday has been revealed as an elaborate hoax – with a mystery message to police inside it.
Authorities had declared a huge cordon in the area surrounding City Hall and evacuated several buildings due to a “possible incendiary device” discovered in a plant bed outside the Rodney Rodney V Dellums Federal Building, which houses government workers and a courthouse.
Local police called in the FBI while a bomb squad from the county sheriff’s office examined the device, which was said to have features that bomb disposal officers found “concerning”.
But on Wednesday night the sheriff’s office said the bomb had been a fake, complete with internal circuit boards, wires and screws designed to make it more convincing.
“This individual left this [package] wanting this type of response, wanting this type of attention, and had a message for law enforcement,” said sheriff’s office spokesman Sgt Ray Kelly. “I’m not going to go into what that message was; that’s up to the FBI. But this was all by design.”
The device was found outside the same building where one federal agent was killed and one wounded during the chaotic George Floyd protests in downtown Oakland, a sister city of San Francisco, in summer 2020.
Some early media reports blamed Black Lives Matter protesters, but US prosecutors now allege that the culprit was a member of the extremist Boogaloo subculture who wanted to spark wider rebellion against the government.
Police were alerted to the device at around 12.40pm on Wednesday when a Federal Protective Service employee saw someone put a suspicious package at the base of a flagpole in a plaza outside the building.
Sgt Kelly said the device was difficult to work with because it was “kind of sandwiched in around dirt and soil and terrain” inside the “deep” plant bed. He said officers were cautious about tampering the device because it had characteristics they found alarming.
“We have not at this point been able to rule out that it’s a credible [explosive] device,” he said during a press briefing on Wednesday afternoon. “It’s got a lot of characteristics that are concerning to us… every time we look more into what we’re dealing with, we see more problems.”
CCTV footage later showed that someone had left the device in the plant bed at around 12.30pm. The FBI said that person could face serious charges, according to CBS News.
Helicopters could be heard throughout the afternoon above the the city, which is part of the 10 million strong San Francisco Bay Area. The 12th St Oakland metro station was also closed.
This story was updated at 18:24 on Wednesday 19 January 2022 to add new information from the police.