Box That Caused Alarm on Highway Was Not Explosive

The suspicious metal box that forced the closure of the Schuylkill Expressway in Pennsylvania and backed up traffic for three hours Monday night contained wood mixed with an adhesive - not a bomb, FBI and law enforcement officials said yesterday.

"It's a hoax," Jerri Williams, an FBI spokeswoman, said. "The device was discovered not to be explosive."

It had been clamped to a Peco Energy Co. transmission tower near the Belmont Avenue exit. Bomb technicians with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department forced the box open with explosive charges Monday night.

Evidence has been turned over to the FBI, which said it is investigating a possible connection with a domestic environmental terrorist group called Earth Liberation Front. The box had "ELF" in block letters affixed to it.

The group seeks to inflict economic damage on those profiting from the destruction and exploitation of the natural environment, according to its Web site. An e-mail request for an interview with an ELF representative was not returned yesterday.

The Sheriff's Department received a call about the device about 6 p.m. from county dispatchers. A worker with Norfolk Southern Railway Co. had discovered the metal box near the railroad tracks that run along the river and reported it to state police, Williams said.

Sheriff deputies were joined by FBI and Pennsylvania State Police bomb technicians.

Authorities described the metal box as being 1/8 inch thick, 171/2 inches long, 10 inches wide and 81/2 inches deep. An adhesive and three vise clamps held it to the tower frame.

"It was a 'calling card' stating potential danger," Williams said.

After X-rays of the device did not find explosives, it was placed in bomb disposal container and taken to a secure facility, authorities said.

The State Police decision to close the expressway forced rush-hour commuters onto jammed local roads, causing lengthy traffic delays.

The expressway remained closed for three hours because the bomb technicians had to be methodical in examining and removing the device, Williams said.

"The State Police understands the inconvenience, but the number one priority is public safety," she said.