Letter bomb mystery deepens; Police close DVP as they take devices to lake for destruction, then focus their search on east-end ‘Bombay Bunker’
(TheStar.com) A gutted red bungalow known by neighbours as the “Bombay Bunker” was the focus of an intensive police search overnight by bomb squad investigators probing a string of attempted letter bombings here and in Guelph.
Police, who have one man under arrest, are investigating the manufacture of at least six explosive devices – three sent to unwitting recipients here and in Guelph during the past several weeks, and three found in the trunk of a rental car stopped Thursday night at an Esso station at Overlea Blvd. and Thorncliffe Park Dr. in Don Mills.
“We don’t have a motive at this point,” Toronto police Const. Wendy Drummond said. “We do know that the three victims – the two in Toronto and the one in Guelph – were not chosen at random.”
The discovery of the bombs in the car led to a day of high drama in a city unused to bomb threats. Officers, unable to safely disassemble the devices, decided to explode them on the remote Leslie St. Spit, and shut down the Don Valley Parkway’s southbound lanes around noon for the convoy transporting the explosives.
As helicopters buzzed overhead, more than a dozen vehicles took 90 minutes to make the journey through leafy residential streets, down the DVP and along the Leslie St. Spit’s rutted dirt tracks to an isolated point of land jutting out into Lake Ontario, where the three devices were exploded in a ball of black, yellow and white smoke.
Thursday night’s dramatic high-risk takedown of the suspect, who police had been following, came after the man began acting nervously at the gas station.
“I was pumping some gas and I went inside to pay for the gas, and there was a guy inside who was asking for jumper cables,” said Jamal Watson, 23, who witnessed the takedown.
“I thought there was something wrong with his car, the way he was acting – he was nervous, you could just see it,” Watson added. “He kept yelling `Jumper cables! Do you have any jumper cables?’ And the man at the cash wouldn’t answer him.”
The suspect, Watson said, “was getting agitated, and he kept going in and out of the store, yelling to the shop owner.”
That’s when Watson noticed two men, who he now realizes were plainclothes police officers, following the suspect.
“Two guys who were behind him in line stepped outside, and were waiting for him to come out,” Watson said. “They were undercover cops, I think. So as soon as he stepped out, four guys were on top of him.
“They handcuffed him and yelled at us `Police officers! Police! Just get out! Get out! Move out!'”
Not sure of what was happening, Watson heeded the orders, jumped into his car and drove off as police were handcuffing the suspect, who was being held face-down on the pavement.
Yesterday Adel Mohamed Arnaout of 176 Ashdale Ave.was remanded to Sept. 5 during a brief appearance in provincial court on Eglinton Ave. E.
Arnaout, handcuffed and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, is charged with three counts of attempted murder, three counts of intending to cause an explosion, one count of criminal harassment and one count of possession of explosive material.
Within hours, police were scouring the Ashdale Ave. bungalow, in the Coxwell Ave. and Gerrard St. E. area, which neighbours said was sometimes home to up to 30 people at a time.
“That’s definitely a strange house,” said Ashley Hinds, who lives nearby.
“Most of the residents have a nickname for it, `Bombay Bunker.’ It wasn’t because of the families, it was because of the brick extensions and the double steel doors in the front, the tiny peep windows with mesh lining.
“Everyone thought something unusual was always happening there, because people came and went all the time. The illegal extensions were reported to authorities, but nothing was done.”
Neighbour Sue Hammond said the house, with two gaping open windows and surrounded by construction debris, “was conspicuous because of the way that the front was built.
“When the doors are shut and the gates are shut, it looks like a fortress compared to the homes around it.”
Karrie Peterbaugh, another neighbour, said “There were so many people in and out of that place, it was really hard to keep track.
It was also difficult to keep track of the construction that always seemed to be going on, she added. “It started out as a small little shack. They kept on adding and saying it was for family, and the next thing it was a rental unit.”
According to police sources, the investigation into the letter bombs began in June when Toronto resident Steven Scott complained to police of being repeatedly harassed by a man.
The ensuing police investigation began drawing links between the suspect and a string of incidents involving letter bombs.
The first recipient, Abdelmagid Radi, who lives in the Victoria Park and Lawrence Ave. E. area, sustained minor injuries when he opened a letter bomb Aug. 11.
The second, real estate lawyer Terrence Reiber, called police Aug. 19 after noticing a package smelling of a petroleum-type odour at his house in the Yonge St.-Sheppard Ave. area ; that device was later detonated by police.
Both of the packages were bubble-wrapped envelopes, had properly addressed courier receipts and contained petroleum-type fluid.
While both packages bore the same courier label, they were not delivered by courier, Const. George Schuurman said. “So there’s a belief that the suspect modified blank courier labels.”
A third package, opened by Guelph resident John Becker Aug. 22, contained a bomb packed with nails and explosive materials, but the device did not explode.
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