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Man Arrested in Bomb Scare at Capitol

Times Staff Writer

Police on Monday tackled and arrested a man who deposited two suitcases in front of the west side of the U.S. Capitol, stood motionless and asked to speak to President Bush.

The man, whose name was not released, is a 33-year-old Chinese national who has been in the country less than a week, said Terrance W. Gainer, chief of the U.S. Capitol Police.

Dean Boyd, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the man had entered the United States legally.

The incident began about 12:40 p.m., Gainer said, when police became suspicious after the man set his luggage down and “took a statue-like pose,” looking up at the Capitol.

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The man told officers that he wanted to speak to the president, Gainer said.

After evacuating that side of the Capitol on concerns over a possible bomb, armed officers approached the man from behind. After squatting behind a wall, they ran toward the man and tackled him.

The man, who did not resist, was detained for questioning by the Capitol Police, the FBI and the Secret Service. Capitol Police spokesman Michael Lauer said the man would initially be charged with disorderly conduct.

Once the area was clear, the Capitol’s bomb squad X-rayed the bags. One was found to be harmless, and the other contained items that resembled explosives, Gainer said.

Gainer said the man was asked about the contents of the bag and told police that if they wanted to see what was inside, they should open it.

The Capitol Police “discombobulated” the suitcase with the intent of destroying it to ensure that any explosive triggers could not be used, Gainer said, and found that the suspicious items were parts of a CD player.

The tourist entrance to the Capitol was closed and admission to the building was restricted for several hours.

Offices on the Capitol’s West Front -- including those of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) -- were warned of the situation, and the building’s West Lawn was evacuated.

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The incident came during the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, one of the busiest tourist times in the capital. The Capitol’s West Front, which overlooks the National Mall, is a favorite backdrop for photographs.

Not on Monday afternoon, though.

“We just wanted a picture up on the Capitol steps,” said Angela Henderson, 20, who was visiting from Sweet Home, Ore., with her mother and grandmother.

But all was not lost, she said: “We got here at the perfect time for the cherry blossoms.”

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