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War-inspired art causes Metro bomb scare, shutdown

An object resembling a suicide bomber's vest prompted a bomb scare that shut down a portion of the Red Line for two hours late last month.

"It looked like something out of Iraq," said Metro board member Tom Bulger, who was shown a picture of it Thursday.

But it was definitively not a bomb, according to the FBI.

Instead, it was a piece of artwork resembling a vest from an exhibit on "war and hate," FBI spokeswoman Lindsay Godwin said.

A garbage crew alerted officials on June 29, after finding the art at the Fort Totten Transfer Station, the city's garbage repository, about 25 feet from Metro's tracks.

Metro shut down service out of an abundance of caution, given its heightened safety concerns, Bulger said. A portion of the Red Line between Rhode Island Avenue and Takoma stations was then shut down from 11:38 a.m. until 1:45 p.m., according to Metro service records.

Bomb scares happen regularly around the region, leading to unexpected closures of roads and Metro stations, though transit service is rarely affected so dramatically. The FBI's Washington field office has a special team devoted to responding to nearly every report of suspicious packages, powder-filled letters or mysterious hazardous materials.

"A slow day is one response," Godwin said. "The record is 42 in a day."

Metro alone responded to 339 calls for service in the first half of 2011 involving a suspicious person, package, bomb threat or similar condition, as The Washington Examiner reported last year. That's almost two cases every day.

But usually the items are quickly identified as a benign backpack or lunch that someone haplessly forgot, not an actual bomb.

Rarely does the public find out what the "suspicious items" were that caused the delays and closures, though. In one unusual case in December 2010, a suspicious item found in a Pentagon Metro station trash can was determined to be a blinking Christmas ornament -- but only after fouling up the morning rush.

In the vest case, officials quickly determined it was not a hazard or threat, Godwin said. They learned it was art from the exhibit because of other items found in the trash bag, Godwin said. The objet d'art didn't even need to be sent to a lab, she said, and the case was closed.