June 27, 2007, - 5:10 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
Who released noxious fumes into a Spokane, Washington mall in January, injuring at least 36 people?
That’s what authorities are investigating. But I’m sure the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force–which is looking into it–will tell us there’s no reason to think it’s terrorism (even though internally, they believe that it is). Right–maybe someone just farts more powerfully than the rest of us.
Sending poisonous chemicals through the HVAC systems of a shopping mall has been a plot point in both FOX’s “24” and Showtime’s “Sleeper Cell,” among other shows focusing on Islamic terrorism in America.
More details from Associated Press and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
SPOKANE, Wash. — A February incident in which noxious fumes were released in the region’s largest shopping mall is being investigated by the FBI as a possible incident of domestic terrorism.
The fumes prompted the evacuation of NorthTown Mall in February, and at least 36 people sought medical care.
The case was forwarded to the FBI’s Inland Northwest Joint Terrorism Task Force by Spokane police, police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe said. Officials wouldn’t say specifically why they believe terrorism might have been involved.
Shoppers were evacuated Feb. 11 after some suffered symptoms consistent with being exposed to pepper spray or Mace, DeRuwe said. Reactions included coughing, watery eyes and noses, and scratchy throats.
No one suffered long term health damage, DeRuwe said.
Norman C. Brown, the FBI task force supervisor, said the incident “could be anything from a prank to an intentional act against a targeted store.”
Another possible objective may have been to test the emergency-response system, Brown said.
“If these individuals were sophisticated, it would give them an idea of the type of response and a time frame in which they can operate safely.”
NorthTown Mall marketing director Leslea Warnick declined to comment.
A surveillance video showed a man running from JC Penney inside the mall, where the incident was centered, DeRuwe said. However, they do not know who the man is or if he was involved, she said.
“We have no suspects at this time,” Brown said.
The Inland Northwest Joint Terrorism Task Force investigates cases in Eastern Washington and northern Idaho, including domestic and international terrorism. The task force is made up of federal, state and local law enforcement, and is funded through the FBI’s budget.
Domestic terrorists are U.S. residents “who commit acts of terrorism on our own soil,” Brown said.
When two Hummers were damaged in 2005 at the George Gee Auto Dealership in Liberty Lake, the joint terrorism task force determined it was domestic terrorism. The case is different from the NorthTown Mall incident because “an individual claiming to be affiliated with the Environmental Liberation Front claimed responsibility,” Brown said.
So what has the FBI done to prevent this from happening again? Have they or DHS put out mandated safety and security precautions for shopping malls and other places attracting large populations? Have they mandated what kind of security locks and safeguards there must be to prevent terrorists from infiltrating HVAC systems?
Tags: America, Associated Press, director marketing, Environmental Liberation Front, FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, FBI's Inland Northwest Joint Terrorism Task Force, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Idaho, Jennifer DeRuwe, Leslea Warnick, Liberty Lake, local law enforcement, Norman C. Brown, NorthTown Mall, poisonous chemicals, police spokeswoman Officer, Seattle Post, Sleeper Cell, SPOKANE, Spokane Mall By Debbie Schlussel, Spokane police, task force supervisor, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, United States, Washington, Washington mall