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SJPD lays out evidence against man accused of PG&E transformer attacks; Motive unknown

Raw Video: SJPD press conference on PG&E transformer attack suspect Peter Karasev
Raw Video: SJPD press conference on PG&E transformer attack suspect Peter Karasev 14:12

SAN JOSE -- Police released surveillance video Wednesday of a recent attack on a PG&E transformer in San Jose, one of two recent transformer attacks allegedly by a man whose home contained an array of explosive devices.

At a press conference Wednesday, San Jose Police laid out some of the evidence obtained against 35-year-old Peter Karasev, arrested last week for two PG&E transformer attacks and for allegedly possessing multiple explosives at his San Jose home. Assistant Police Chief Paul Joseph was also joined by Mayor Matt Mahan, and FBI San Francisco Special Agent in Charge Robert Tripp to discuss the case.

Karasev was arrested March 1 at his place of employment in Foster City and booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail. A search of his home on the 600 block of Potomac Court in the Vista Park neighborhood of South San Jose where he lives with his wife and three young children turned up "large quantities of hazardous materials," police said. 

"During the investigation, various items were seized including a homemade liquid explosive, multiple energetic homemade destructive devices, and multiple suspected destructive devices," said Joseph. "Other materials for making destructive devices were found, including pipes, wires, fuses, and various chemicals."

Investigators also probed the possible manufacture of narcotics in the home. Police and FBI evidence technicians were at the home from March 1 through March 4 because of all the evidence that needed to be collected, according to police. Neighboring homes were evacuated over fears of an explosion. Several firearms were also recovered.

"You know if it wasn't for the efforts of our department and our partners ... this could be a very dark day. We could be talking about a very serious tragedy with significant harm and potential loss of life," said Mahan

San Jose explosives suspect Peter Karasev
San Jose explosives suspect Peter Karasev. San Jose Police Department

The investigation into Karasev began in connection with two separate incidents involving explosive devices that happened during overnight hours on December 8 on the 5000 block of Thornwood Dr. and January 5 on the 6000 block of Snell Ave. Both incidents involved PG&E transformers damaged by explosions.

Karasev was later identified as the suspect in the two cases. Evidence was collected in the two cases and a warrant was issued for the suspect's arrest. He was taken into custody Wednesday night, police said.

During the news conference, police showed surveillance video of the Snell Ave. attack, which showed a person police identified as Karasev fleeing on a bicycle just before a transformer housed by a fence outside a building goes up in flames. Police also showed images of the explosives and other evidence gathered from the Potomac Court home.

Joseph said there was no indication so far as to why Karasev allegedly attacked the two transformers, which are among the latest in a string of attacks against energy infrastructure across the U.S.

'At this time, we do not have any evidence about his motive or why he did these things," said Joseph, who added that there was no indication Karasev's wife had 

Physical attacks on the U.S. power grid rose last year by 71%, compared to 2021 and surpassed 2020 figures by 20% according to an industry clearinghouse that predicted the number of serious incidents will continue to rise this year.   

Last month, the top intelligence official at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said the department was "very concerned" about copycat attacks on the U.S. energy grid, driven by white nationalist narratives online.

"We've seen attacks against the power grid for a number of years, and some of those attacks are simply people shooting into substations around the country for purely criminal reasons," said Kenneth Wainstein, undersecretary of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security. "But some of these shootings are also being done by domestic violent extremists" who are trying to engineer a societal collapse.

Last month, two people - including a known neo-Nazi - were indicted by a federal grand jury after allegedly plotting to attack five power substations in Maryland and Pennsylvania to "lay waste" to the city of Baltimore. 

In January, two people were charged in connection with Christmas Day attacks on substations in Pierce County, Washington state, impacting thousands of customers.  

"The vision, in short, is that they want to take down the energy grid because if they take down the energy grid, they believe that society will then collapse," Wainstein said. "And out of the collapse, [they believe], will arise a white nationalist government to replace the current government. And we've seen this narrative online among these white nationalist groups."

An FBI intelligence report published in January and reviewed by CBS News confirms nearly two dozen crimes related to the power grid - including arson, shootings and tampering with equipment - remain under investigation. The report indicates that in these cases, investigators have not been able to determine the motive or whether there was any criminal coordination.

In 2013, the PG&E Metcalf Road substation in South San Jose was vandalized by someone who cut fiber optic cables which knocked out some 911 service and also who fired a rifle at the substation. Authorities said the assailant or assailants appeared to have the objective of "shutting down the system."

The vandalism prompted legislation to beef up security at utility firms' facilities. No one has been arrested in the Metcalf substation attack.

Karasev faces multiple charges including arson, exploding a destructive device, destroying an electrical line and possessing materials with the intent to create a destructive device, and child endangerment, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office said.

Karasev made his initial court appearance on Friday and was ordered to return April 26. He's being held without bail.

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