Web-based bomb threats net indictment

A 19-year-old U.S. citizen living in Mexico, was this week indicted with two counts of providing false and misleading information in two Internet threats to the McAllen Miller International Airport in McAllen, Texas. 

Juan Rodriguez was arrested Oct. 30, 2007, by FBI agents and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos. At that time, the court ordered Rodriguez temporarily detained in federal custody, without bond.  On Nov. 1, 2007, the judge granted bond in the amount of $100,000 with a requirement of a 20% cash deposit.

According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint originally filed Oct. 29, 2007, from between Aug. 22 and Sept. 10, 2007, the McAllen Airport received four separate bomb threats via the message board on the airport’s website. Two threats were sent Aug. 22, and the other two were sent Sept. 7 and Sept. 10. All were written in Spanish and sent via e-mail with false return e-mail addresses. The threats claimed C-4 explosives were located inside the airport or in a vehicle parked in a lot by the airport, or that bombs were aboard in-bound Continental Airlines flights, the FBI said.  

In the threat sent Sept. 7, the defendant demanded airport personnel deliver $20,000 to the reception desk area of Holiday Inn hotels, but no one approached the hotel’s reception desk on either date to claim the money. On Sept. 10, the last of the four threats was received by the airport and claimed explosives were inside the airport and aboard an outbound Continental Airlines flight to Houston from McAllen. The bomb threats prompted immediate action by the FBI, the Transportation Security Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and local law enforcement agencies to secure the airport and ensure the safety of the flying public. However, no bombs or explosives were found.

On Sept. 15, according to the complaint, a computer using the same Internet Protocol address and web browser as the one from which the threats had originated was located in Reynosa, Mexico. On Sept. 22, the computer from which the threats allegedly originated was collected at the residence of Rodriguez’s parents in Reynosa, Mexico. A forensic examination of that computer allegedly confirmed the computer was used to access the airport and Continental Airlines websites.

A conviction for providing false information and hoaxes such as these carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine, according to the FBI.

Such threats are but one of the nefarious activities the FBI is looking to shut down.  FBI Director Robert Mueller recently spelled out a number of Web-based threats the Internet community should be concerned about: "Officers, agents, and IT specialists in our Regional Computer Forensic Labs find and examine digital evidence from e-mail and cell phone data to documents on hard drives. Together, we continue to break new ground in the investigation and prosecution of cyber criminals. But we cannot limit our operations to the United States. Increasingly, cyber threats originate outside of our borders. And as more people around the world gain access to computer technology, new dangers will surface.   

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