- The Washington Times - Friday, December 12, 2003

An early morning bomb threat yesterday shut down traffic in a wide area of Northeast and forced Metro to suspend rail service in the area for much of the day.

Police eventually deemed the threat, which was phoned into the Metropolitan Police, a hoax. However, the threat forced the closure of a major thoroughfare into the city, caused rail delays well into Virginia, prompted four schools to close early, and provoked a massive response from dozens of police and fire officers.

Authorities said a man who lives in the 1700 block of Kenyon Street NW agreed to be questioned by the FBI after his truck was searched by police. Earlier yesterday, police issued and then abruptly canceled a lookout for a different truck.

“We are following up on some leads and we are questioning people,” police spokesman Sgt. Joe Gentile said.

No charges had been filed last night.

Sgt. Gentile said the caller first contacted police by calling 911 at about 5:30 a.m.

“The individual indicated he had placed an explosive device near the flea market at a playground that could destroy a Metro train,” Sgt. Gentile said.

Police determined the location and found a suspicious box about the size of a stereo speaker in the 300 block of Oklahoma Avenue. The FBI and the D.C. Fire and EMS Department responded, and the box was sprayed with a water cannon to neutralize its contents.

About 30 or 40 minutes later, the caller contacted police again.

“He told us there was a chemical agent in that package and two others we hadn’t found yet,” Sgt. Gentile said.

Inside the box, police said they found a dish containing an unknown substance they feared might be a biohazard. Authorities tested the substance at the scene, but D.C. Fire and EMS spokesman Alan Etter said the substance has not been identified.

“We just know there was no biological agent present,” Mr. Etter said.

Police created a wide perimeter around the area while a police helicopter hovered overhead. Canine officers outfitted in biohazard suits, goggles and masks led dogs through a grid search of sidewalks, alleys and trash cans in an area between Benning Road and C Street NE and Oklahoma Avenue and the Anacostia River.

The search did not yield any other suspicious packages. However, police did find a briefcase about 25 yards from where the suspicious box was spotted and took it to the RFK Stadium parking lot. The briefcase turned out to be empty, and police said they were not certain if it was connected to the original bomb threat.

Metro stations on the Orange and Blue lines were shut down at about 8:30 a.m. because of the package’s proximity to rail lines. A spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said shutting down the stations was a “law-enforcement decision.”

“Every action we took was truly for the safety of our customers and our employees,” said Lisa Farbstein. She said Metro officials were concerned that a bomb may have been placed near the columns that support the aerial tracks that run close to RFK.

Service on the Orange Line was halted between the Eastern Market and Minnesota Avenue stations. The Blue Line was closed between Eastern Market and Benning Road. Metro reported delays as long as an hour, and as far away as Falls Church. To alleviate delays, Metro tried to use shuttles to bridge the gaps in service and contacted D.C. cab companies to request service to the affected stations.

Traffic crawled around the area of Benning Road NE well into the afternoon, as police continued to expand their search. Benning Road and the rail lines reopened about 2:30 p.m. when police cleared the scenes.


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