‘Exotic’ Batteries, Data Analysis Led Police to Austin Bomber

‘Exotic’ Batteries, Data Analysis Led Police to Austin Bomber

The Austin police department has credited the use of battery components it deemed “exotic” as critical to ending the killing spree of a man who detonated multiple bombs across Austin in the past three weeks. The suspected bomber, Mark Anthony Conditt, detonated a bomb in his own car as the police attempted to take him into custody.

“These weren’t your store-bought Duracells,” one law enforcement official said, noting that it was this specific trait and the fact that the batteries came from Asia that gave investigators a critical piece of the puzzle. Unfortunately, the batteries themselves or even the technology they’re based on hasn’t been revealed. Of the six known explosions, the first few seemed to target individuals based on race or ethnicity. The first two bombs targeted African American families who attend the same church and were friends, and the third bomb injured Esperanza Herrera, a 75 year-old Hispanic woman. The fourth bomb was a tripwire device found alongside a residential street, a fifth exploded at a FedEx facility, and a sixth was intercepted before detonation.

Investigators homed in on the batteries because the rest of the components within the bombs were relatively crude, corresponding to the kind of basic supplies you’d find at a Lowe’s or Home Depot. We should note, however, that it’s entirely possible that the batteries in question were simply from an Asian supplier, rather than representing any kind of exotic product. Law enforcement officials appear to have closed in on the bomber thanks to a mixture of old-fashioned investigation and high-tech surveillance. As more sophisticated weapons were detonated, federal and local law enforcement attention on the case increased; as of last week the FBI had brought more than 350 agents to Austin.

“With this tripwire, this changes things,” said Christopher Combs, special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Antonio office, told the Washington Post. “It’s more sophisticated. It’s not targeted to individuals.”

Police and/or the FBI may or may not have used a stingray in their search for Conditt, though this type of event represents one of the scenarios in which the use of warrantless wiretapping is obviously justified as a means of preventing an already murderous individual from harming yet more people. NBC News reports that the cops were able to generate a list of phone numbers and individuals who were picked up as being in the area of the previous bomb sites. Cross-referencing those lists of numbers against each site for a given period of time may well have been an important part of finding the bomber.

Conditt died when the police attempted to take him into custody, though the timeline is not completely clear at this point. It appears the cops were tailing him on I-35, at which point he pulled his vehicle over. He then detonated a bomb while officers were apparently on approach (the NBC report refers to one officer being knocked back by the force of the blast). Conditt was an unemployed community college dropout without any known motive. A blog believed to be written by the deceased has been found, but its entries date to 2012 and none of the handful of entries shed any light on the man’s actions.

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