0

Bomb threat, package close Clayton courthouse

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Clayton County Police received a 911 call a little before 10 a.m., Friday, warning that members of a mosque were allegedly planning to blow up the Harold R. Banke Justice Center.

The caller, a man who didn't identify himself, said he had overheard some men talking in a Muslim house of worship about planting three bombs at the Clayton County courthouse on Friday, said Office Tim Owens, a police department spokesman.

Clayton County Sheriff's deputies took the threat seriously, and swept the courthouse Friday morning. Sheriff Victor Hill said nothing was found inside, but a suspicious package was found on the ground outside, in the parking lot between two cars.

At 11 a.m., with the morning's fog heavy over the courthouse, the Clayton County Police Department's bomb squad was X-raying the package and sheriff's deputies were stationed to secure a perimeter around the justice center.

"The package could or could not be related," the sheriff said, at a press conference across the street from the courthouse. "It could be a coincidence."

The bomb squad determined there "was nothing lethal in the package," Owens said. The package was detonated as a safety precaution, and then determined to be "breakfast cereal," Owens said.

The box of cereal was wrapped in another box, and may have been meant to look like an explosive device.

The courthouse was reopened a little after 3 p.m.

Hill said deputies thought from the beginning that the phoned-in bomb warning was probably a prank, but that they have to take such threats seriously.

It is a felony, however, to falsely warn officials about a bomb, and Hill said his office is investigating the anonymous caller. The call has been traced back to a pay phone, Hill said, and investigators are looking for fingerprints on the phone and looking for anyone who might have seem someone place a call at that time.

They are also considering the possibility the call may be connected to a threat called into the Sheriff's Office earlier this month. Hill said that, while the courthouse does receive threats semi-regularly, it is unusual for two calls warning about bombs to come during the same month.

A Dec. 10 bomb threat is still under investigation.

Anyone with information about the threats is asked to call the Sheriff's Office at (678) 479-5350.