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3 charged in Calif. federal courthouse bombing

Three people have been indicted on federal charges of using a weapon of mass destruction in the bombings of a federal courthouse and a FedEx building, authorities said Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Three people have been indicted on federal charges of using a weapon of mass destruction in the bombings of a federal courthouse and a FedEx building, authorities said Wednesday.

A grand jury returned the indictment Tuesday, alleging Rachelle Carlock, Ella Louise Sanders and Eric Reginald Robinson planted bombs at the downtown courthouse and a FedEx distribution center in San Diego.

The courthouse explosion on May 4 spread nails and shrapnel as far as two blocks, and authorities almost immediately began looking into whether it was related to the April 25 FedEx bombing. No one was injured in either bombing, which occurred during early morning hours.

U.S. Attorney Karen P. Hewitt would not comment on a possible motive for the bombings, saying only that the investigation was continuing. It was unclear whether others were involved or how the three people knew each other.

If convicted of using or conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, the three San Diego residents face mandatory sentences of life in prison. Other counts against them include conspiracy to commit malicious damage and possession of a destructive device.

FBI traced explosive powder
Using surveillance video from outside the courthouse, federal investigators began piecing together evidence in the courthouse bombing and later tracked the explosive powder that was used in the bombs to a gun shop in El Cajon, said Keith Slotter, special agent in charge of the FBI's San Diego office.

"Thankfully, no one was injured; but, make no mistake, the indictment sends a clear message: anyone who attempts to harm or even threaten the citizens of this community will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Slotter said.

Robinson, 43, was arrested Tuesday at a residence in San Diego. He was scheduled to be arraigned later Wednesday in federal court in El Centro, where the case has been moved because many of the judges in San Diego had offices in the building that was targeted, Hewitt said.

Carlock, 31, was initially arrested and charged in May with using false identification to obtain explosive materials, being a felon in possession of explosive materials and fraud. Carlock has a 1999 armed robbery conviction.

Sanders, who is at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla on unrelated state charges, also faces charges of being a felon in possession of explosive materials. Sanders, 59, has a 2004 felony drug conviction. She was expected to be arraigned in El Centro at a later date.

Homemade pipe bombs
The U.S. attorney's office did not know whether any of the accused had attorneys.

The indictment alleges that the three practiced making bombs and exploding them before planting them at the courthouse and FedEx buildings. It also alleges that a little more than a week after the courthouse bombing, Carlock attempted to buy more explosive material.

Hewitt would not say whether Carlock or the others had planned to target other buildings.

The indictment alleges the two women built the pipe bombs and that Robinson helped test them.

Slotter said the courthouse explosion involved three large pipe bombs that were wrapped together and loaded with nails and explosive powder.

Authorities allege Carlock built the pipe bombs used in the courthouse attack and hid them in a black backpack. The bombs were left at the front entrance of the building.