FBI arrests five people who allegedly tried to blow up Brecksville bridge, other targets discussed

CLEVELAND - The Cleveland office of the FBI announced Tuesday the arrests of five people who allegedly tried to blow up a bridge in northeast Ohio.

The FBI displayed a photo of the Route 82 bridge in Brecksville, just east of Riverview Road and referred to it as the "Brecksville-Northfield High Level Bridge" during a 10 a.m. news conference, and confirmed that was the target. The bridge crosses the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and connects Brecksville to Sagamore Hills.

According to a news release from the US Attorney's Office, these five were arrested Monday evening and charged with conspiracy and attempted use of explosive material to damage physical property affecting interstate commerce:

- Douglas Wright, 26
- Brandon Baxter, 20
- Anthony Hayne, 35
- Connor Stevens, 20
- Joshua Stafford, 23

WEB EXTRA: Click here to see photos of each suspect and some of the targets: http://on.wews.com/JLrAXM

According to the FBI, the five thought they had purchased two improvised explosive devices with a C4 remote detonator. They suspects placed them at the base of the bridge Monday night. At 9:09 p.m., the FBI said the suspects tried to trigger the inert explosives with a remote access code and the bomb did not go off. The five were then arrested by agents who were monitoring the group via video.

The FBI said the bombs placed at the bridge were duds.

According to the FBI, Wright, Baxter and Hayne are self-proclaimed anarchists who formed into a small group and considered a series of evolving plots over several months.

The FBI said the public was never in danger from the explosive devices, as the transaction was handled by an undercover FBI employee.

"The safety of the citizens of the Northern District of Ohio is and continues to be our primary focus. The individuals charged in this plot were intent on using violence to press their ideological views," said Stephen Anthony, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge.

According to a spokeswoman from the Ohio Department of Transportation, 13,610 vehicles travel over the Route 82 bridge each day.

The National Park Service estimates 2.161 million visitors to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park each year.

The FBI said the group has been plotting to target various landmarks in the region. One involved the use of smoke grenades on the Veterans Memorial Bridge to distract law enforcement in order for the co-conspirators to topple financial institution signs atop high-rise buildings in downtown Cleveland.

The affidavit said the FBI learned two of the suspects in the bomb plot thought doing some kind of attack during the opening of the new casino would make a good statement.

The court document also details a conversation an FBI source allegedly had with Baxter and Wright on March 28, discussing bridge targets. They said blowing up a bridge would cause a lot of financial damage.

Here is an excerpt of the document:
"They continued to discuss how taking out a bridge would lead to the government having to put security on every bridge in the country. The "Detroit" (Detroit Superior) bridge was identified as a potential target by Wright because it connects downtown Cleveland and Ohio City. The men talked about the defunct subway system on the bridge and possibly using the subway as a way of accessing parts of the bridge. Baxter and Wright stated they don't want people to think they are terrorists, so they would want to blow up the bridge at night or possibly pretend to be a construction crew and drop orange cones off at each end of the bridge to stop traffic before blowing up the bridge, thus limiting the number of casualties and the potential for killing possible supporters."

Another possible target of the group was blowing up the Federal Reserve Bank with C4 by driving a car into it. The affidavit said the group also talked about attacking the Fusion Center -- a government-run terror watch organization -- located in the Cuyahoga County Justice Center, but the suspects decided it would kill too many inmates.

According to the court filing, discussions with the FBI source said that on April 10, the group also talked about targeting cargo ships on May 1, the day of the "fest."

"Ships are a 'd--n good target," Wright allegedly said during the meeting, adding that all of the cops would be downtown for May Day.

Baxter then allegedly said, "May 1st is going to be crazy." He then suggested getting masks to wear.

During the same meeting, the group talked about what they would do to avoid getting caught. Baxter allegedly suggested getting tacks they could throw out of the back of the car if they get in a chase.

But on April 19, the focus turned to a bridge, as Wright allegedly told the FBI undercover agent there was a change in the plan. The group went to the Route 82 bridge the next day to try to figure out the best place to put the explosives. They decided to place the IEDs toward the back of the bridge because the columns are out of the way and not in plain view.

On April 29, the FBI staffer picked up Wright, Baxter and Hayne near downtown Cleveland and went to pick up the explosives from the undercover FBI agent. The affidavit said Wright gave the agent $450 out of the agreed $900 in return for duffel bag containing vests, smoke grenades and gas masks, as well as two black boxes containing two inert IEDs.

The agent then explained how the device would need to be detonated via cell phone. The suspects said their plan was on for the next day.

ROLES OF EACH SUSPECT

According to the affidavit, these are the roles each suspect allegedly played in the plot:
- Wright recruited Baxter and Stevens to participate in some form of direct action, initially involving smoke grenades and destruction of signage on buildings in downtown Cleveland.
- Wright repeated said he downloaded the Anarchist Cookbook in an attempt to learn how to make explosives.
- Wright and Stevens visited the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to scout locations for a bomb under the Route 82 bridge.
- Two days before getting the IEDs, Wright recruited Stafford into the group to help with the execution of the plan.
- The day the group received the IEDs, Wright reintroduced Hayne into the group by disclosing details of the plan to him and bringing him to the delivery.

Read the full 22-page affidavit here: http://on.wews.com/ITBw3Q

The Occupy Cleveland group confirmed it had an event called "May Day" scheduled for May 1 at the GE Lighting building in East Cleveland, but it said none of these suspects "were in no way representing or acting on behalf of Occupy Cleveland."

Here is the full statement sent by Occupy Cleveland:
"While the group arrested Monday evening by the FBI were associated with Occupy Cleveland they were in no way representing or acting on behalf of Occupy Cleveland or the event that was planned for later today at the GE Lighting building. The May Day Event that was sponsored by Occupy Cleveland, the North Shore AFL-CIO, Cleveland Jobs with Justice, Fight for a Fair Economy and SEIU Local 1 has been cancelled because of the alleged actions of the autonomous group arrested last night. Occupy Cleveland has had affirmed principles of non-violence since its inception on October 6, 2011."

The suspects appeared in federal court Tuesday afternoon, where it was determined that all are eligible for a court-appointed attorney. Their next court date is set for May 7 at 11 a.m.

Keep checking newsnet5.com for more information, and make sure you have the newsnet5 apps on your smartphone (iPhone & Android) to keep up with the details of this developing story while on the go.

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