A 19-year-old man accused of causing a panic by planting shrapnel-packed homemade explosives inside a Juárez shopping mall could face Mexican federal terrorism charges, authorities said.
In a city long accustomed to drug cartel and gang violence, the bombings were a different type of menace, described by authorities as a possible act of "terrorism" by a young resident who left a hateful message.
On Friday, a special operations group of the Chihuahua state police arrested Osvaldo N.M. on a street in the Division del Norte neighborhood, some 4 miles from the mall, following tips from neighbors, a day after security camera images of the suspected bomber were publicly released by the Chihuahua Attorney General's Office.
Bombings cause panic at Gran Patio Zaragoza shopping mall
No one was injured in the bombings, which sparked a fear and panic on the night of April 14 and then again nearly a month later on May 19 in the Gran Patio Zaragoza shopping mall. Each incident occurred on a Friday night.
Gran Patio Zaragoza features a Cinépolis movie theater, a Walmart store, Peter Piper Pizza and several other stores and restaurants. The mall is on Zaragoza Boulevard next to Oscar Flores Boulevard in south-central Juárez.
On April 14, nails and chunks of aluminum went flying when a makeshift bomb left in a black plastic bag exploded in a mall hallway, according to local news accounts. Police, state investigators and Mexican army soldiers rushed to the scene.
On May 19, moviegoers rushed out of theaters in fear when a bomb ignited at Cinépolis Gran Patio Zaragoza. Cellphone video showed customers running down stairs as police officers armed with rifles ran up after a bomb went off and amid a false belief there had been a shooting, according to video published by the Norte Digital news site.
Investigators determined one bomb had ignited, causing it to smoke, but it didn't explode. Military personnel and crime-scene investigators found three other undetonated bombs made from what appear to be plastic bottles packaged with nails, metal chunks and shards, which in an explosion could fly out as potentially deadly shrapnel.
Juárez mall bomber leaves swastika, 'hate' note
A full-scale investigation into what authorities described as a possible case of "terrorism" was under way following the second bombing.
The bomber had allegedly left a hand-written message stating, "El odio mas puro esta en el corazón de la persona mas buena luego de ser destruida. La paz mental propia esta en el sufrir ajeno. Los actos de hoy son una muestra de lo mórbida que esta mi mente y lo (expletive) que esta mi alma."
Translated in English, it stated, "The purest hate is in the heart of the best person after they’ve been destroyed. Your own peace of mind is in the suffering of others. Today's acts are a sample of how morbid my mind is and how (expletive) up my soul is."
A swastika was drawn at the bottom of the message. The swastika is widely seen as a Nazi hate symbol used by white supremacists. The swastika is also one of the most common forms of "shock graffiti" drawn by teens, who are not actually white supremacists, but seek to shock and alarm with the image, the Anti-Defamation League reported.
Mexican investigators soon tracked down security camera footage that showed the suspected bomber – referred to as the "terrorista" in Juárez news media – in the mall on both nights of the attacks.
Last Thursday, the Chihuahua State Attorney General's Office, seeking the public's help to identify the bomber, released photos of the note and security camera images of the suspect: a young man with dark hair wearing a black face mask and a "BYU Cougars" hoodie walking in the mall.
Neighbors tipped off investigators, leading to the arrest of Osvaldo N.M., who was initially taken into custody on charges of possession of an unspecified drug and a charge of disobedience. His last name was not disclosed by police in keeping with rules in Mexico regarding the naming of crime suspects.
Investigators allegedly found bomb-making materials at his home and suspect he was planning more bombings.
The arrest was the result of an investigation by the State Investigations Agency, Plataforma Centinela, or Sentinel Platform, the city's extensive police video surveillance system, state police special operations groups and the Chihuahua Attorney General’s Office.
A state prosecutor told reporters that the suspected bomber works in a maquila and has no work history with the movie theater. A motive in the bombings remains unknown. An investigation by Mexican federal authorities continues.
This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: 'Terrorista' suspect arrested in Juárez shopping mall bombings