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FBI hunts suspected domestic terrorist after bomb found on Columbine anniversary

/ Source: staff and news service reports

Law-enforcement officials asked the public's help Thursday in determining the identity of a suspicious looking man shown in images at a suburban Denver mall following a fire on the 12th anniversary of the Columbine massacre.

The FBI is investigating the Wednesday incident as a case of domestic terrorism, NBC station KUSA reported.

Investigators on Thursday released a third photo of the person. In two photos released the previous night, he is seen entering a stairwell and carrying a white plastic bag. The latest shows him on an escalator inside the Southwest Plaza Mall.

The FBI said the man is a person of interest in the case after a pipe bomb and two propane tanks were found after a small fire at the mall.

The man in the picture is white with graying hair, KUSA reported. He has a silver mustache and was wearing a dark colored cap with a light-colored logo on the front. He was also wearing a gray and white horizontally striped shirt, a dark jacket with silver buttons, blue jeans and dark colored shoes. Video surveillance recordings showed a bag-toting man enter a private-access mall corridor. Other pictures showed him without the bag.

“There’s an urgency to find the individual for obvious reasons and we’re using all available resources that we need in Jefferson County and certainly our federal partners to run down those leads and identify that person of interest in those photographs,” Sheriff Ted Mink said at a Thursday news conference attended by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The mall, evacuated Wednesday, reopened Thursday.

"I was fine yesterday, but this morning it's scary," Cindy Sear, who works at a Pearl Vision store at the mall, told KUSA as she returned to work.

Evidence found at the scene has been traced back to a Target store across the street from the mall, KUSA said. Investigators interviewed witnesses at the Target.

About 300 mall employees and up to 10,000 shoppers were evacuated from the Southwest Plaza Mall in Littleton after the fire, which started around noon. No one was injured and the bomb and tanks didn't explode, .

However, one official called the location and timing of the incident "disturbing." The mall is about two miles from Columbine High School, where two student gunmen killed 13 people and themselves on April 20, 1999. Unexploded pipe bombs and a propane tank with explosives attached were found in the school after the shootings.

"We're concerned about the date, the time, things of that nature, but we don't have anything solid that would indicate any link at all other than, certainly, circumstances," Mink said Thursday.

"The fact that has happened on April 20, 12 years later, near the school and with similar devices is very disturbing," Jefferson County sheriff's spokeswoman Jacki Kelley said on Wednesday. "The comparison between what happened there [Columbine] 12 years ago and having something here today, it's hard to ignore. So it's something that we'll certainly look at. But it's devastating that someone would, anyone would decide today's the day to do anything like this at all."

Kelley told KUSA that the propane tanks "seemed to be at the heart of the fire, which started about 11:52 a.m. and was contained within seven minutes.

"The propane tanks could have been devastating if they worked."

This April 20, 2011 image taken from surveillance video provided by the FBI shows person of interest sought in a fire and the planting of a pipe bomb and two propane tanks near a food court at the Southwest Plaza Mall in Littleton, Colo. (AP Photo/FBI)FBI

The pipe bomb was found around 5 p.m., KUSA said. The bomb squad was going to detonate it, but it fell apart when investigators picked it up.

Firefighters told KUSA that there was no damage from the fire, but one security guard was treated for smoke inhalation.

Investigators stayed on the scene late into Wednesday night.

Mink hinted Thursday that the community shouldn't feel threatened as progress was being made in the investigation.

"It isn't a situation where we don't have a good handle of the direction where we're going," he said, declining to elaborate.

Through the years, students across the country have been accused of threats and incidents modeled after Columbine, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold wounded several students and killed 12 and one teacher before shooting themselves.

Despite authorities' assurances about safety Thursday, the community seemed uneasy.

Students at an elementary school in Littleton were evacuated to another school Thursday after a man entered the building to use a restroom.

Schools also were locked down following the fire at the mall on Wednesday and alerts were sent to malls in the Denver area.