Homeland Security inspectors show Golden Triangle businesses how to spot suspicious purchases for homemade bombs

STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI) – Throughout the week, members of the Department of Homeland Security have been visiting businesses in Lowndes, Oktibbeha and Noxubee counties to spread awareness about improvised explosive devices.

Operation Flashpoint is a joint effort between DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the FBI to help businesses spot suspicious purchases that could end up as homemade bombs.

“If a person came in and bought…drain cleaner, a galvanized piece of pipe or some caps, and some other items like nails, sometimes that’s a telltale sign of making a bomb,” says East Mississippi Lumber Company General Manager Toby Steed

Mississippi is one of just four states (Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky) that are part of the program’s initial launch.

“Disgruntled individuals can use, unfortunately, not very large quantities of easily obtainable materials (for IDEs),” says CISA Region 4 Director Dr. Joye Purser. “As we’ve seen in a recent case in Nashville, Tennessee, or in the case of the Boston Marathon bombing or Oklahoma City.”

According to a report on explosive blasts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a single pipe bomb is the equivalent of roughly five pounds of TNT. DHS says it received more than 2,000 reports of bomb or suspicious package incidents in 2020 alone.

CISA Chemical Security Inspector Rodney Knight visited nearly 100 businesses across seven Mississippi counties during the final weeks of August.

“For hardware stores, they have actual components that can be used (for explosives) so we kind of tell them to watch out for that,” he says. “If they’re purchasing something like stump remover or pipes with end caps that should raise an eyebrow.”

Knight says pharmacies, as well as pool, farm and even beauty supply stores, are also potential targets.

“They’re going to need mass quantities of chemicals,” he says. “To just go and buy one or two bottles off the shelf is not going to do anything.”

Steed says having Knight explain exactly what to look for can make all the difference and plans on sharing the information with his employees.

“We get a lot of customers that come in, buy a lot of materials on this list and sometimes, you don’t put two and two together what they could be doing with it,” he says.

Other warning signs include buying items in bulk, paying in cash and avoiding eye contact.

“If we have people who staff at these places who are trained or just have that bit more information on how to identify this suspicious behavior, we think that we can go a long way toward preventing improvised (bombings),” Dr. Purser says.

And help the FBI catch those responsible for any attempted bombings.

“Possibly people who have nefarious activities on their mind,” Knight says.

Business owners can anonymously report suspicious activity to the FBI by calling 1-855-835-5324. CISA says the goal is to expand the program across the rest of the United States in October.

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