TOPEKA, Kan. - Several homemade bombs were found yesterday in a pickup truck parked near the Kansas State House that had specialty license plates issued only to US military paratroopers, and police said they arrested the owner inside an underground tunnel connecting the Capitol to an office building.
Capitol Police spokesman Patrick Saleh said the incident was not connected to another arrest yesterday of a man who allegedly phoned in a threat to Governor Sam Brownback’s office from a Topeka motel.
“Neither one of them was armed, and neither of them offered any resistance,’’ Saleh said.
Saleh said officers went to investigate the pickup after receiving a call from a state employee about it being parked in a restricted lot outside the Kansas Judicial Center, south of the State House, without the normal state worker tag. An officer saw suspicious objects inside, including an empty gun holster, and authorities called in the Topeka Police Department’s bomb squad.
Saleh said the homemade explosives were made with household materials and designed to spray shrapnel once they were detonated. He did not have further details, but called them “actual explosives.’’
But, he added, “Everybody in the building was safe.’’
Officers arrested the pickup’s owner inside a tunnel used by legislators, state officials, lobbyists, and others to go between the State House and a state office building. Saleh said the man claimed to have an appointment in the building, but none was verified. Saleh did not have information about the man’s identity.
The man was being questioned by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, Saleh said.
The discovery of the pickup truck led authorities to temporarily block traffic and access to the parking lot. The black Ford, with no hood and a beat-up front grill, remained in the Judicial Center parking lot yesterday afternoon, set off by a police car and orange cones.
The truck had a specialty Florida license plate issued only to qualified paratroopers. It also had a Special Forces sticker on its bumper and stickers on its back window saying, “Welcome to America. Now speak English’’ and “Does my American flag offend you? Call 1 800 LEAVE THE USA.’’
The Associated Press attempted to check the license plate number with the Florida Highway Patrol, but officials declined to provide information about the vehicle’s owner.
“We would not be able to release that because of an ongoing investigation they’ve got going on out there,’’ Lieutenant Jeff Frost said.
The pickup incident and the phoned-in threat to Brownback’s office came the same day a Kansas House committee opened three days of hearings on several bills designed to crack down on illegal immigration, backed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a former law professor who helped draft tough laws in Alabama and Arizona.
But Saleh said neither arrest was connected to a coinciding rally at the State House that was protesting policies pursued by Brownback, Kobach, and other Republican officials.
The other man was arrested at a Motel 6 in Topeka within minutes of making calls to Brownback’s office yesterday morning and is being held in the local jail on suspicion of harassment by telephone, Saleh said. He is 37 and has no permanent address, but his last known home was Columbia, Mo.
Saleh said the man told officers he was planning to move to Salina, about 100 miles west of Topeka, but authorities could not find an address for him there. Saleh said the governor’s office pinpointed his location through caller ID.
He described the man as “ranting’’ but said his comments were threatening enough for Brownback’s staff to call authorities. The governor’s office referred calls about the incident to the Kansas Highway Patrol, which oversees the Capitol Police.