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August 29, 2007
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FBI investigating threats to U.S. stores

The Associated Press

NEWPORT, R.I. A bomb threat that caused the evacuation of a Wal-Mart and led employees to wire $10,000 to the caller appears to be part of a broader scam targeting other businesses around the country, authorities said.

An unidentified man called the Newport store Tuesday morning, saying he had a bomb and would harm employees. He also demanded that workers transfer $10,000 to an account, said Newport Police Sgt. James Quinn. The store wired the money, Quinn said.

FBI spokesman Rich Kolko said the threat appears related to a plot in recent days targeting banks and stores near Phoenix, Detroit, Salt Lake City and Philadelphia.

An anonymous caller made a bomb threat Tuesday against a Dillons grocery in Hutchinson, Kan., demanding that the store wire money to his bank account and ordering everyone in the store to disrobe. No one was injured and no money was paid, police said. On Wednesday, two other stores in Hutchinson also received bomb threats, said police Lt. Steven Nelson.

Authorities said the caller Tuesday appeared to have visual access to the grocery, although officials were investigating whether the caller was out of state and may have hacked into the store's security system.

"If they can access the Internet, they can get to anything," Hutchinson Police Chief Dick Heitschmidt said. "Anyone in the whole world could have access, if that's what really happened."

The FBI was looking into whether the calls to the banks and stores were being placed from overseas and was compiling reports from local police departments to probe for similarities between the cases, Kolko said Wednesday.

"At this point, there's enough similarities that we think it's potentially one person or one group," Kolko said from Washington.

Police in Virginia said a similar threat was made at a store there on Tuesday. In that case, no money was sent and no bomb was found.

In Newport, the caller placed three separate calls to the store, Quinn said. An employee reported the bomb threat to police at 6:52 a.m., minutes before the store's scheduled opening.

Roughly 25 employees who were inside at the time were evacuated as a police SWAT team spent hours sweeping the building and bomb-sniffing dogs searched around cars in the parking lot. Neither the suspect nor any explosive device was found in the store, and no one was injured.

Quinn said police have identified the account where the money was wired, but he would not say where it was held. He said the caller used a land line from out of state, but would not say from where. No arrests have been made.

A similar call was made to a bank inside a Wal-Mart store in western Virginia late Tuesday morning, police said. An employee at a bank branch inside a Wal-Mart store in Salem was told that a bomb would explode unless an undisclosed amount of money was sent via Western Union. The store was evacuated and later reopened after no bombs were found, police said.

Another bomb threat was called in a few minutes later to a bank inside a store in Virginia's Pulaski County. That store was also evacuated and no bombs were found.

No arrests have been made in either of the Virginia incidents.

The store in Newport does not have a bank branch inside, but offers a money transfer service similar to Western Union, police said.

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