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Campuses evacuated in Texas, North Dakota after bomb threats

Students line sidewalks at the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas, after buildings were evacuated after threates on Friday, September 14, 2012.

By Michael Muskal and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times –

Tens of thousands of people had to leave college campuses in Texas and North Dakota on Friday as officials ordered precautionary evacuations after bomb threats that turned out to be false.

The Austin campus of the University of Texas was shut for hours, as was the campus of North Dakota State University in Fargo. Both schools resumed operations later in the day, and officials continued to investigate the incidents.

The evacuation of the 51,000-student campus in Austin was prompted by a telephone call from a man, described as having a Middle Eastern accent, who said that bombs had been planted on the campus. The threat occurred during demonstrations in the Middle East against the United States, sparked by a movie maligning the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation saw the threats as “largely local matters,” special agent Jason Pack said in a telephone interview from Washington. “There’s nothing we know that links the threats to something else.”

Such threats against universities are rare, said Christopher G. Blake, associate director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. The last well-known case occurred in the spring, involving more than 40 bomb threats made by a man against the University of Pittsburgh. Adam Busby, 64, has been charged in that case.

The association “deplores such acts, which cause massive disruption to the university community and interrupt the educational process,” Association President Anne P. Glavin said in a statement about Friday’s threats. Glavin is the police chief at California State University Northridge.

The first threat was made at about 8:35 a.m. CDT in Texas and the second about 90 minutes later at North Dakota State.

“At 8:35 this morning, the university received a call from a male with a Middle Eastern accent claiming to have placed bombs all over campus. He said he was from al-Qaida and that these bombs would go off within 90 minutes,” Tara Doolittle, a University of Texas spokeswoman said.

The call was placed to Walter Webb Hall, she said, which houses a number of offices, including the campus visitor center. She said it was not clear who the caller was, from where he placed the call or why he contacted officials at that building.

“We are extremely confident we know the campus is safe,” university President William Powers Jr. said at a briefing for reporters. He said no bombs were found in any of the buildings checked.

“We thought the prudent thing to do was to clear our buildings,” the president said. Classes were canceled for the day, but other scheduled activities resumed in the late afternoon.

About 20,000 people were evacuated in North Dakota, Classes resumed in the early afternoon.

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