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Police departments nationwide sent scrambling by flood of emailed bomb threats

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Police departments nationwide sent scrambling by flood of emailed bomb threats


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Police departments across the country responded to bomb threats emailed to targets demanding bitcoin.
USA TODAY

A torrent of bomb threats emailed to universities, businesses, schools and news outlets Thursday from New York City to San Francisco sent police departments scrambling to sort out what appeared to be a nationwide electronic hoax aimed at extorting bitcoin from its targets.

The New York City Police Department said the threats were meant to cause disruption and compel recipients into sending money and were not considered credible.

There were no reports that any actual explosive devices had been discovered, but the threats alone had forced many police departments to monitor and investigate.

“We are currently monitoring multiple bomb threats that have been sent electronically to various locations throughout the city,” The New York City Counterterrorism Bureau said on Twitter in the afternoon.

“These threats are also being reported to other locations nationwide & are NOT considered credible at this time,” the statement said.

The FBI tweeted on Thursday evening that the agency is “aware of the recent bomb threats made in cities around the country” and urged the public to “remain vigilant.”

The emails were sent to tens of thousands of targets nationwide to dozens of cities, including Seattle, Orlando, Atlanta, San Francisco, Oklahoma City, and Detroit an continued for hours.

Many of the threats demanded $20,000 in bitcoin, according to AppRiver, a Florida-based cybersecurity company that obtained copies of the emails. Some had the subject line: “Think Twice.”

In one, the sender warned that a “recruited mercenary” had placed an explosive device in the targeted building and would detonate it unless the payment was made.

Troy Gill, manager of security research at AppRiver, said the poorly worded emails, which used non-native English, were being sent by a server in Moscow, although it was not clear whether the perpetrators were located in Russia or elsewhere in the world.

In one message, obtained by AppRiver, the senders said, “We are not a terrorist society and dont (sic) assume liability for acts of terrorism in other places.”

Gill said they appeared to be related to a recent flood of “sextortion” emails in which the sender tried to extort money from the recipient by threatening to release embarrassing video.

In Detroit, police were dispatched to the Guardian Building and the Wayne County Treasury building, after an officer received a threat to blow up the Treasurer’s building Thursday.

“One of our employees got an email threatening that if money wasn’t transferred into a designated account, they were going to blow up 400 Monroe,” Pageant Atterberry, a Wayne County Sheriff’s spokeswoman, told The Detroit News. “Then, we got an anonymous phone call from someone threatening to blow up the same building. DPD is in charge, and they’re evacuating the building.”

At Capital University in Bexley, Ohio, Yochum Hall was evacuated because of a bomb threat. Similar threats were also sent to the University of Washington, Penn State and Niagara University.  In New Jersey, even middle and high schools received bomb threats

The San Francisco police department said on Twitter that its forces had responded to reports of bomb threats “at numerous locations throughout the city and had responded to each location.”

Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a tweet the threats in that city followed in the same pattern as others around the country:

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“#ChicagoPolice are working with federal partners on the investigation, and at this time there is no elevated threat level in the city of Chicago,’’ the tweet said.

Other cities reporting similar threats were Oklahoma City, Seattle, Detroit and Buffalo.

•In North Texas area, towns of Arlington and Irving in the Dallas-forth Worth metropolitan area also fielded threats. According to the Twitter site, DFW Scanner, which monitors local police radio, the bomb threats have demanded a large payment of bitcoin.

•In Massachusetts, the state police said its Fusion Center was tracking “multiple bomb threats emailed to numerous businesses in the state.” It said its bomb squad had notified local police departments.

• In Orlando, officers responded to bomb threats at the Bank of America Center tower downtown, at an office park and a townhouse building, The Orlando Sentinel reported.

The Orlando Police Department said it was is assisting federal authorities in investigating the threats, the newspaper said.

 

Contributing: Marina Pitofsky in McLean, Va.

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