Three suspects in the Spokane Valley bank robberies and bombings are in jail after a squad of heavily armed FBI agents arrested them Tuesday in a Yakima suburb.
The arrests bring new life to the 6-month-old investigation into one of the top domestic terrorism cases in the nation.
Two of the suspects are Charles H. Barbee, 44, and Robert S. Berry, 42, sources confirm. The men live near Sandpoint.
A third man, Jay Merrill, whose age and hometown weren’t available, also was arrested. The men were booked into the Spokane County Jail late Tuesday.
They are scheduled to appear today in U.S. District Court in Spokane where they are expected to be formally charged with attempted bank robbery and possession of explosive devices.
Other arrests are likely as the investigation expands, sources say.
A secret white supremacy sect known as the Phineas Priesthood is believed linked to the three Spokane bombings and two bank robberies.
The Spokesman-Review’s Valley office was bombed on April 1 and the Planned Parenthood office near Sprague and Pines was bombed on July 12. The U.S. Bank branch at Sprague and Mullan was robbed minutes after each bombing. On April 1, the bank was bombed as well.
A $130,000 reward - just boosted by $15,000 last week - is being offered for information on the robberies and bombings.
On Tuesday, FBI agents used airplanes and ground surveillance to follow and arrest the three men at 2 p.m. in Union Gap, Wash.
Authorities were unavailable for comment on any of the details of the arrests, including what had tipped them off to the suspects.
Earlier Tuesday, the agents reportedly had watched the men try to enter a U.S. Bank branch in Portland, which had been warned and hastily was closed.
“The FBI called the bank and told them to lock the doors and have the employees get down on the floor,” a law enforcement source said.
“When the robbers walked up to the bank, the doors were locked, so they just left.”
The frustrated robbers sped away in a van they had stolen earlier in Hood River, Ore., sources said.
The suspects left Portland in three vehicles and drove 200 miles to Union Gap. They pulled into the AM-PM Mini Market, at 20 E. Valley Mall Blvd., just off Interstate 82.
One unconfirmed report said a fourth man, who had been using a pay phone, may have been traveling with the suspects and escaped.
The convenience store in Union Gap is about three blocks from another U.S. Bank branch.
Apparently worried about the possibility of another robbery attempt, FBI commanders ordered the arrests after the men got out of their vehicles.
Originally, FBI agents intended to follow the men to the Spokane area before trying to arrest them.
The plan called for FBI agents and the Spokane Police Department SWAT team to stop the suspects’ vehicles at the former Granite Lake rest area, about 12 miles west of Spokane on Interstate 90.
“That was the plan,” one law enforcement official said, “but the agents were told to make the arrests any time the opportunity presented itself, and it presented itself in Yakima.”
The suspects could be returned to Portland or face trial in Spokane if they are formally charged with the Spokane Valley bombings and robberies.
AM-PM Mini Market clerk Gerry Ballinger said dozens of police - FBI, Washington State Patrol troopers and Yakima County sheriff’s deputies - surrounded the store.
One suspect was arrested inside. Another was pulled from a restroom while a third man was captured as he filled his gas tank.
“I pulled in just as the FBI agents were arresting them,” said convenience store owner Diane Butler.
“There were guns and grenades and all kinds of stuff in their cars out there,” Butler said as FBI agents searched the vehicles.
One of two Chevrolet Suburbans impounded by authorities is registered to Curtis Berry, who listed a machine shop in Ponderay, Idaho, about two miles east of Sandpoint, as his address.
Curtis Berry is Robert Berry’s brother.
After dusk Tuesday, cars believed to be carrying FBI agents converged on the Ponderay machine shop. Authorities are expected to search it sometime today.
Although details of the arrests trickled out from various sources, agents clamped a tight lid on the case as it unfolded Tuesday evening.
Normally talkative federal prosecutors, proud to be part of such cases, were either unavailable for comment, didn’t return telephone calls or wouldn’t talk.
U.S. Attorney Jim Connelly declined to confirm the arrests. “We’re right in the middle of an investigation and there’s nothing I can say,” he said.
FBI officials in Spokane and and Seattle, including supervisor Burdena Pasenelli, either refused comment or didn’t return telephone calls.
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