An area of about 12 square blocks in downtown Jacksonville was cordoned off by police Sunday after they arrested a man who they said had made a bomb threat.
Police kept the area closed for most of the afternoon while they searched a car for a bomb, eventually concluding there wasn’t one, Sheriff John Rutherford said.
The man was identified as Yossef Bouchlarhem, 34, police spokeswoman Lauri-Ellen Smith said. When police first approached him, he was speaking in both English and Arabic and saying “Allah is great,” according to the police report.
Bouchlarhem has been charged with resisting police and with making a false report about a weapon of mass destruction, Smith said. Police reportedly searched a residence on Bert Road in connection with the case.
Bouchlarhem remained in custody Sunday night and was to be arraigned today, Smith said.
Police received a call about 11:45 a.m. reporting that “a man was acting strangely and making threats” at the corner of Laura and Forsyth streets, Smith said.
Lester McGriff, who was part of a construction crew working on the Laura Street Trio, a group of historic buildings on Laura Street, said a man was walking back and forth across Laura Street shouting that he was going “to blow up downtown Jacksonville.”
He said police arrived and struggled with the man before subduing him.
“We treated it as a serious bomb threat,” especially in light of recent terror attacks in London and in Glasgow, Scotland, Smith said.
Police called in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes units from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to check a car they believed belonged to the man.
Meanwhile, they ordered evacuation of most of the buildings in the area, including the downtown library, the Museum of Contemporary Art/Jacksonville and The Jacksonville Landing.
Terry Carter said that he went to the downtown library to check his e-mail. But about 1:05 p.m., five minutes after the library opened, a supervisor came through and told him to evacuate, Carter said.
Laney and Justin Griner, along with their 9-month-old son, Sam, were visiting MOCA/Jacksonville, which was admitting families free on Sunday. They said they were told to evacuate about 1:20 p.m. from the museum, which, like the library, faces onto Laura Street at Hemming Plaza, about three blocks north of the reported threat.
After the evacuation order, a large crowd of people gathered at the rear entrance of the library, which faces Main Street, waiting for word on when the building would reopen.
Then a violent thunderstorm hit shortly after 2 p.m., adding to their discomfort.
Meanwhile, police cordoned off a zone about six blocks deep and two blocks wide with police tape and parked police cars. The area ran from Church Street just north of City Hall south to Water Street in front of the Landing, and from Hogan Street on the west to Main Street on the east.
The Main Street bridge was closed and traffic on Main Street was diverted east onto Forsyth Street toward the Hart Bridge.
About 5 p.m., Sheriff John Rutherford announced that the car had been searched and no bomb had been found. About thirty minutes later, police tape came down.