WASHINGTON (AP) — A bomb squad safely destroyed a pressure cooker found in a “suspicious” vehicle left unattended Sunday afternoon on the National Mall near the U.S. Capitol building and the vehicle’s owner was located and arrested, a U.S. Capitol Police spokeswoman said.
Police Lt. Kimberly A. Schneider told The Associated Press that Capitol Police officers on routine patrol spotted the parked, unoccupied vehicle on a street on the mall west of the Capitol around 5 p.m. Sunday.
“Further investigation revealed a pressure cooker, and an odor of gasoline was detected,” Schneider said, adding a Capitol Police bomb squad was called in because the vehicle was deemed “suspicious in nature.”
She said the squad known as the Hazardous Devices Section destroyed “items of concern in the vehicle including the pressure cooker” at about 7:45 p.m. after temporarily closing off the area on the long Memorial Day holiday weekend. She did not immediately identify the other items but said only that “this safe disruption produced a loud `bang.’
Asked by AP if the “disruption” involved controlled detonation of the items, she said that was accurate. She also said that follow-up searching of the vehicle detected “nothing hazardous.” Her email said the suspicious vehicle was investigated during a Memorial Day Concert in Washington though it was unclear how many people were nearby at the time.
She said the bomb squad intervention came after authorities had set up a security perimeter around the site on 3rd Street in the nation’s capital. She said that street was temporarily closed between Independence Avenue and Constitution Avenue while authorities investigated.
After the pressure cooker was destroyed, she said, police conducted a thorough “hand search” of the vehicle and concluded their investigation by about 8:20 p.m. “with negative results and nothing hazardous found.”
Asked whether police had specifically identified any threat to public safety, Schneider told AP via email: “If we can’t determine whether or not an item is safe/dangerous, we’d have to treat it as dangerous until we determine otherwise. She added that was “why the items were safely disrupted, out of an abundance of caution.” She didn’t elaborate.
She added that the vehicle owner was located and her statement identified him as Israel Shimeles of the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia. The statement said Shimeles was arrested by Capitol Police and charged with “Operating After Revocation” and that he was being processed Sunday evening at the police headquarters building.
It wasn’t immediately known if he had an attorney. Schneider didn’t elaborate on the charge.
Schneider also said the city’s Metropolitan Police, U.S. Park Police, the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force were assisting Capitol Police.
The FBI did not immediately return a call for comment late Sunday.
Authorities have noted that pressure cookers have been used in the past to create explosive devices. Three people were killed and more than 260 others wounded in April 2013 when two pressure-cooker bombs were set off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.