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Authorities: Wave of hoax bomb threats made across US

December 13, 2018
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A police officer removes police tape along California Street in San Francisco, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Authorities say bomb threats sent to dozens of schools, universities and other locations across the U.S. appear to be a hoax. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
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A police officer removes police tape along California Street in San Francisco, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Authorities say bomb threats sent to dozens of schools, universities and other locations across the U.S. appear to be a hoax. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

NEW YORK (AP) — A wave of bomb threats emailed Thursday to hundreds of schools, businesses and government buildings across the U.S. triggered searches, evacuations and fear — but there were no signs of explosives, and authorities said the scare appeared to be a crude extortion attempt.

Law enforcement agencies across the country dismissed the threats, saying they were meant to cause disruption and compel recipients into sending money and were not considered credible.

Some of the emails had the subject line: “Think Twice.” They were sent from a spoofed email address. The sender claimed to have had an associate plant a small bomb in the recipient’s building and that the only way to stop him from setting it off was by making an online payment of $20,000 in Bitcoin.

“We are currently monitoring multiple bomb threats that have been sent electronically to various locations throughout the city,” the New York City Police Department’s counterterrorism unit tweeted. “These threats are also being reported to other locations nationwide & are NOT considered credible at this time.”

Other law enforcement agencies also dismissed the threats, which were written in a choppy style reminiscent of the Nigerian prince email scam.

The Palm Beach County, Florida, sheriff’s office and the Boise, Idaho, police said they had no reason to believe that threats made to locations in those areas were credible. One of the emails wound up in a spam filter, Boise Police Chief William Bones said.

The FBI said it is assisting law enforcement agencies that are dealing with the threats.

“As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activities which could represent a threat to public safety,” the FBI said in a statement.

Thursday’s scare came less than two months after prominent Democratic officials and CNN’s Manhattan offices were targeted with package bombs. The suspect in that case, Cesar Sayoc, is in jail while awaiting trial.

In 2015, an emailed bomb threat prompted different reactions from the nation’s two largest public school systems. The Los Angeles school system closed down under threat of a mass attack, but New York City officials quickly saw it as a hoax.

In the wake of Thursday’s emails, some schools across the country closed early and others were evacuated or placed on lockdown. Authorities said a threat emailed to a school in Troy, Missouri, about 55 miles (88 kilometers) northeast of St. Louis, was sent from Russia.

The bomb threats also prompted evacuations at city hall in Aurora, Illinois, the offices of the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, a suburban Atlanta courthouse and businesses in Detroit.

“Organizations nationwide, both public and private, have reported receiving emailed bomb threats today,” Michigan State Police spokeswoman Shannon Banner said. “They are not targeted toward any one specific sector.”

Penn State University notified students via a text alert about threats to a half-dozen buildings and an airport on its main campus in State College, Pennsylvania. In an update, the school said the threat appeared to be part of a “national hoax.”

Officials at Columbine High School in Colorado were dealing Thursday with a bomb threat of a different sort. Students were being kept inside for the rest of the school day after someone called in a bomb threat against the school.

The Jefferson County, Colorado, Sheriff’s Office said the caller claimed to have placed explosive devices in the school and to be hiding outside with a gun.

Sheriff’s spokesman Mike Taplin said nothing was found at Columbine, where 12 students and a teacher were killed by two students in 1999.

Two dozen other Colorado schools were also temporarily placed on lockout, meaning their doors were locked but classes continued normally, as the threat was investigated.

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Associated Press writers contributing to this report include: Colleen Slevin in Denver, Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, Kate Brumback in Atlanta, Saman Creel and Don Babwin in Chicago, Margaret Stafford in Kansas City, Missouri, Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Skip Foreman in Charlotte, North Carolina, David Fischer in Miami, Michael Balsamo and Eric Tucker in Washington.

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Follow Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak

All contents © copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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A police officer removes police tape along California Street in San Francisco, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Authorities say bomb threats sent to dozens of schools, universities and other locations across the U.S. appear to be a hoax. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)