Feds tracking RIC phone threat

Posted at 7:25 PM, Jun 11, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-12 07:47:38-04

HENRICO, Va (WTVR) - Federal agents are investigating a phone call to Richmond International Airport Tuesday morning that led to the evacuation of the entire terminal.

The FBI office in Richmond confirmed they sent at least one agent to RIC.  A joint investigation with local police, state police and federal agents is underway.

FBI officials in Richmond said their office is taking the lead, but reiterated they are working closely with their partners.

Reports have surfaced that the caller referenced the Taliban in the threat; however, FBI officials said they had not information to corroborate those reports and could not comment on them.

No further information on the nature of the phone threat or the investigation could be released, according to the FBI.

CBS 6 talked to James McNamara, a retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent, to find out what it takes to catch someone who has made a phone threat. (See video above for the full report.)

McNamara said federal agents have to be careful about what information is released in the investigation, but said they often start by trying to trace where the call first originated.

"In these days, it's a lot more sophisticated than it used to be," he said. "There's a lot more technical expertise and technical units in law enforcement to specialize in that."

McNamara said officials will also see if there are any background threats and check if anyone had problems with airport management or the airlines.

"Is there anything that the caller said that would lead bomb techs, people familiar with explosive devices to say hey, this person really has some expertise?" said McNamara.

As for the person who placed the call, legal experts said phoning in a threat is punishable as a class five felony in Virginia, which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.  Federal charges are also possible in this case.

An estimated 3,000 people were evacuated from the airport around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.

After thorough sweeps of the building, RIC was reopened around 9:40 a.m.

It was the first time the entire terminal was evacuated at RIC since the days immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  Officials at the airport said they could not recall a time when an evacuation of this size happened because of specific threat on RIC.

The three-hour shut down caused flight delays across the board at RIC.  Departures and arrivals to the airport were delayed, as many travelers searched boards for when their flights were scheduled.

RIC's temporary closure affected airports at cities across the nation.

K.C. Mendez was flying into Richmond from Boston. Mendez said his plane arrived at RIC around 8:30 a.m. while the evacuation was still active.

"We were here," Mendez said after an 11 a.m. landing.

The pilot said over the intercom the plane was running low on fuel, so they flew to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., according to Mendez.  Once cleared, the flight back to RIC took only 15 minutes, Mendez said.

A TSA. agent who was leaving work for the day was overheard saying, "the best part about today is that it's over."

The investigation into the threatening phone call is ongoing.  Stay with CBS 6 for updates on this developing story.

Jake Burns's 6 p.m. report from the airport: