January 7, 2011 in Nation/World

Fiery packages shut down Maryland state mailrooms

Ben Nuckols Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley, right, holds up a copy of a photo of a letter that was mailed to Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, in Annapolis, Md., Thursday. At left is A.J. McAndrew with Maryland State Police.
(Full-size photo)

HANOVER, Md. – Two packages about the size of small books ignited and released a sulfur-like smell when they were opened Thursday at Maryland state government buildings 20 miles apart, slightly burning the fingers of two employees. One of the parcels was addressed to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who said the mailing meant for him complained about highway signs that urge motorists to report suspicious activity.

“Somebody doesn’t like seeing that sign,” the Democrat said.

The fiery devices, one found in Hanover, another in Annapolis, closed mailrooms at government offices across Maryland.

A worker unzipped the first package, addressed in typeface to the recently re-elected governor and adorned with holiday stamps, around 12:30 p.m. in Annapolis where mail for O’Malley’s office is routinely checked.

The package contained a message about the state’s terrorism tip line, which is widely shown on overhead highway signs that read, “Report Suspicious Activity” and give an 800 number.

The state also uses the overhead signs to post information about missing children and, to the ire of some drivers, it added real-time traffic estimates to major highways in March. Some commuters complained drivers were slowing down to read the signs, backing up traffic. At O’Malley’s request, the state studied the issue and removed the real-time postings from one congested area on the Capital Beltway.

U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., said a return address on one of the packages turned out to be a Washington parking garage. Ruppersberger, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, was briefed on the mailings. He said there were no apparent links to terror organizations.

“I believe this is what we call in intelligence a lone wolf situation, involving an individual who for whatever reason was upset with state government,” Ruppersberger said.

The second package, torn open about 15 minutes after the first, was sent to state Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley, Ruppersberger said.

It was opened at the agency’s headquarters in Hanover, near Baltimore’s airport. The woman who burned her fingers at the transportation agency building was taken to a hospital.

The FBI’s joint terrorism task force was assisting in the investigation. A U.S. Homeland Security Department official said the department was aware of the incidents and monitoring them.

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