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Five arrested over Ohio, Cleveland bomb plots

FBI says men planted fake explosives in a bid to blow up a bridge in Cleveland.

The Cleveland bridge at the centre of the alleged plot.
The Cleveland bridge at the centre of the alleged plot.
Image: AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

FIVE MEN DESCRIBED by US federal authorities as anarchists angry with corporate America and the government were charged yesterday with plotting to bomb an Ohio bridge linking two wealthy Cleveland suburbs.

The men were arrested on Monday night after unknowingly working with an FBI informant for months, a strategy that federal investigators have used repeatedly in recent years to nab alleged terrorists.

“They talked about making a statement against corporate America and the government as some of the motivations for their actions,” US Attorney Steven Dettelbach said in announcing the arrests with the head of the FBI in Cleveland, Stephen Anthony.

The alleged plotters researched explosives and obtained what they thought was C-4 explosives. The material, in fact, was harmless and the public was never at risk, because the men got it from the informant, officials said.

The men planted the fake explosives at the base of the bridge, armed them, went to a remote spot and “entered the codes that they thought would blow up the bridge with innocent people travelling over it,” Dettelbach said.

Court documents detail several conversations the FBI secretly recorded in which its informant discussed the bomb plans with some of the suspects.

In one, Brandon L. Baxter, 20, of Lakewood allegedly said “Taking out a bridge in the business district would cost the … corporate big wigs a lot of money” because it would cause structural damage and prevent people from going to work.

He and another suspect, Douglas L. Wright, 26, of Indianapolis, favored targeting a bridge because it would limit “the number of casualties and the potential for killing possible supporters,” court documents said.

The men considered different plots over time, including distracting law enforcement with smoke grenades while trying to bring down financial institution signs in downtown Cleveland, according to an affidavit

The men also discussed other potential targets, including a law enforcement center, oil wells, a cargo ship or the opening of a new downtown casino. The document also alleges that one suspect talked about being part of group planning to cause trouble during an upcoming NATO summit in Chicago.

The group finally settled on blowing up the busy bridge, federal authorities alleged.

The men were charged with conspiracy and trying to bomb property used in interstate commerce. All five appeared in US District Court yesterday, where Magistrate Judge Greg White ordered them jailed without bond pending a hearing on Monday.

Charges

In addition to Baxter and Wright, the suspects were identified as Joshua S. Stafford, 23, and Anthony Hayne, 35, both of Cleveland, and Connor Stevens, 20, of suburban Berea. The charges carry possible penalties of more than 20 years in prison.

At the hearing, the men, with wrist manacles chained to the waist, sat in the jury box with their attorneys and acknowledged receiving copies of the complaint against them and an understanding of their rights.

At the end of the hearing, Stevens’ father, James, shouted, “Love you, Connor.”

The target of the plot was a bridge that carries a state highway over part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and a picturesque scenic rail line and canal towpath in the Brecksville area, about 15 miles south of downtown Cleveland.

The men had been associated with the anti-corporate Occupy Cleveland movement but don’t share its non-violent views, organiser Debbie Kline said.

“They were in no way representing or acting on behalf of Occupy Cleveland,” Kline said in an email cancelling the group’s May Day protest at a GE Lighting plant in view of the arrests.

The alleged plotters were frustrated that other anti-corporate protesters opposed violence, according to Dettelbach, citing the criminal complaint filed in the case.

“It talks about the anger and frustration that these five individuals felt that other people would not support their violent aims,” Dettelbach said.

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Associated Press

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