Sniper attack on California power station raises alarm on domestic terrorism



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Originally published on February 6, 2014


Former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Jon Wellinghoff said that last April's sniper attack on a power station near San Jose, California was an act of domestic terrorism.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Wellinghoff described the sniper attack on the Metcalf transmission substation as "the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred" in the U.S. He said he was going public because he was concerned about national security and worried that larger-scale attacks on electric-grid sites are now in works. The entire country could easily experience a blackout if more such attacks are launched on poorly protected power stations.

The attack, which took place on April 16 last year, was perceived as vandalism at first and therefore received scant attention before Wellinghoff's remarks. Even now, many mysteries remain unsolved. The number and identities of the attackers are still unknown, and no arrests have been made.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the assailants cut optical-fibre telecommunications cables owned by AT&T in an underground vault near Highway 101. The manhole cover was so heavy that it could only be lifted by at least two people.

Then the attackers approached the Metcalf transmission substation. After sending out a signal by flashlight, they fired AK-47s at its transformers. A total of 17 transformers were knocked out, and more than a hundred shell casings were later found at the site.

The attackers seemed to have targeted the transformers' oil-filled cooling systems, which began leaking oil after numerous gunshots. The Wall Street Journal reported that 52,000 gallons of oil was spilled, causing the transformers to overheat. But they did not explode and cause further damage.

The assailants fled the scene after waving the flashlight again, a scene that was captured by a surveillance camera. But the images did not help in solving the case as the attackers were standing outside of the camera's field of view.


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