Texas bomber kills himself, leaving unanswered questions

Two people died and at least four were wounded by bombs during the month of March

Members of law enforcement stage near the area where a suspect in a series of bombing attacks in Austin blew himself up as authorities closed in, Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in Round Rock, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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The suspect in a string of deadly bombings in Austin, Texas blew himself up in his car on Wednesday morning leaving police and residents with one burning question: What was the motive that drove him to target the liberal, university city?

Two people died and at least four were wounded by bombs during the month of March, prompting a string of warnings for residents to report any suspicious packages.

Throughout the massive manhunt police said they were unable to explain the apparently random pattern of attacks.

Even as Brian Manley, the city police chief, announced that a white, male suspect had killed himself while a Swat team closed in, he said officers were no closer to understanding the motive.

“We do not understand what motivated him to do what he did, and that will be part of the continuing investigation as we try to learn more about him and to understand why he took the actions he did,” he said.

He was quickly identified as 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt, of Pflugerville, Texas.

Police said he was unemployed and had no criminal record.

Officers on Wednesday were searching the home where he was believed to live with two housemates.

Investigators made their breakthrough on Tuesday, when a device exploded at a shipping centre. The incident prompted detectives to search the FedEx branch it was sent from.

The evidence - gathered from witnesses and video footage - led investigators to a hotel car park in Round Rock, about 32 kilometres away.

Police and federal agents surrounded the location, said Mr Manley. However, as they waited for armoured, tactical vehicles to arrive, the suspect began to drive away in a car and officers followed.

He eventually came to a stop in a ditch.

“As members of the Austin Police Department Swat team approached the vehicle, the suspect detonated a bomb inside the vehicle, knocking one of our Swat officers back,” explained Mr Manley.

Officers said they would now be scouring his movements to identify the location where he built the bombs and any documents or social media posts that may offer an insight into his behaviour.

With so much still unknown, civilians have been warned not to drop their guard.

Fred Milanowski, who heads the Houston division of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said it was difficult to know whether the suspect was acting alone.

“We are not 100 per cent convinced there's not other devices out there,” he said. “We still want the public to be vigilant.”

President Donald Trump offered his congratulations to officers.

“AUSTIN BOMBING SUSPECT IS DEAD,” he wrote on Twitter. “Great job by law enforcement and all concerned!”

The first device exploded on 2 March, killing Anthony House, 29, at his home.

Draylen Mason, 17, died 11 days later when he picked up a package from his doorstep. His mother was also critically wounded.

A 75-year-old Hispanic woman was injured by a third device on the same day.

The pattern initially led police to believe they were dealing with a hate crime that was targeting ethnic minorities.

But on 18 March, two white men were wounded after triggering a tripwire left at the side of the road, leading officers to consider the possibility that the targets had been chosen randomly.

It prompted a desperate race to identify the person responsible before he could strike again. Some 300 officers joined a manhunt as locals grappled with why someone would want to attack a city known for its liberal politics, diverse population and booming economy.


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Mr Manley spoke for many when he said the attacks felt “personal”.

Investigators got their much needed breakthrough on Tuesday. A bomb inside a package exploded in the early morning as it passed along a conveyor belt at a FedEx depot close to San Antonio and about 96 kilometres from Austin.

A second package was identified at a FedEx facility near Austin airport, offering a potential treasure trove of information – from fingerprints and DNA to components used to build the devices.

Authorities also closed off a FedEx store they believed the bomber may have used to send the bomb that exploded, searching CCTV footage and paperwork.

Until then, police said they were baffled. Officers had appealed directly to the culprit, asking him to explain his motive in the hope that a manifesto may offer clues to his identity, in much the way it had helped track down the Unabomber during the 1990s.

Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis at Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence platform, and a former federal agent who investigated the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing, said many questions remained unanswered.

“This person may be just mentally disturbed and there may be some irrational manifesto, but there could also be some political or other ideological purpose,” he said. “It’s difficult to know.”

Others said his modus operandi suggested he may have been building towards a bigger attack.

Randall Rogan, who worked with the FBI on the Unabomber case during the 1990s, said the attacker had graduated from leaving homemade bombs where they would eventually be picked up to building a device that could be sent in the mail.

“It seems that what was transpiring was a greater level of sophistication that the perpetrator was exploring and building upon the first couple of incidents, that could potentially lead to a greater, more elaborate act of violence,” he said.