Five men charged with plotting to bomb a US bridge placed what they thought were real explosives at the site and repeatedly tried to detonate them using text messages from mobile phones, according to an FBI affidavit.
Federal authorities described the men as anarchists who are angry with corporate America and the government and unknowingly worked with an FBI informant for months as they crafted and carried out their plan.
The FBI said suspects bought fake explosives from an undercover employee and put them at the base of a highway bridge south of central Cleveland on Monday.
After leaving, they tried to set off the explosives using a text-message detonation code, and they called the person who provided the bombs to check the code when it failed, according to the FBI affidavit.
“They talked about making a statement against corporate America and the government as some of the motivations for their actions,” US Attorney Steven Dettelbach said.
All five are charged with conspiracy and trying to bomb property used in interstate commerce. They appeared in US District Court and were remanded in custody until Monday.
The charges carry possible penalties of more than 20 years in prison.
Similar arrests in the last few years – including in Massachusetts, Oregon, New York and Texas – offer a glimpse into sting operations by undercover FBI agents trying to catch possible terrorists.
Defence attorneys in those cases have accused federal authorities of conducting overblown operations that entrapped their clients. Authorities have defended the practice, saying it has prevented countless terrorist attacks.
Christopher Banks, an associate professor at Kent State University who has written on terrorism, defended the tactic as one of many the US government uses in fighting terrorism. He said each case involving a possible terrorist threat is different, but after 9/11, caution weighs more on the side of government than the individual citizen.
“In this age that we live in, and with the heightened sense that the government should be doing something to prevent these kinds of acts, in that sense it can only protect public safety,” he said. “So it’s a fine line.”
The suspects had been associated with the anti-corporate Occupy Cleveland movement but do not share its non-violent views and do not represent Occupy Cleveland, organiser Debbie Kline said.
The alleged plotters were frustrated that other anti-corporate protesters opposed violence, Mr Dettelbach said.
Federal authorities said their investigation was aided by a convicted criminal who worked as a paid confidential source, made contact with the some of the suspects in October and recorded conversations with them over the past three months.