AIKENS TRIAL: ATF believes Aikens set off 2020 loan company bomb using toy remote

Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 12:58 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2022 at 3:29 PM CST
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Continuing coverage (day 3) of the Daniel Aikens trial, the man arrested after a Jan. 2, 2020 explosion outside of PayDay Today on MacArthur Drive. Check back for updates throughout the day.

12:45 p.m. Update:

ATF agents said they believe that Daniel Aikens used a toy helicopter remote to detonate a pipe bomb outside of PayDay Today loan company on MacArthur Drive on Jan. 2, 2020.

Aikens pleaded “not guilty” to a series of federal charges related to the explosion in Alexandria and the possession of a destructive device. He’s accused of demanding $10,000 from the loan company after setting off the explosion.

Investigators said they linked him to the blast by tracing a phone number he called from on a burner phone that he purchased the previous month at a Dollar General on Horseshoe Drive.

Gary Smith, an ATF agent with experience in explosives, detailed evidence collected from three separate explosion sites in Monroe and Alexandria.

Smith said the Monroe explosion outside of Cloyd’s Beauty School on September 12, 2019, was a pressure cooker bomb. The explosion reported in a field near the Texaco on Jackson Street on December 20, 2019, was a pipe bomb. And, the explosion reported outside of PayDay Today on MacArthur Drive was also a pipe bomb and agents recovered a circuit board from a toy helicopter and believe Aikens set off the bomb by remote from a Mobile gas station across the street.

“This was an improvised explosive weapon that had function,” said Smith. “This was a remote-controlled device.”

3:20 p.m. Update:

A special agent with the ATF told a federal jury how the agency traced a burner phone used to call in a threat to PayDay Today on MacArthur Drive in Alexandria on Jan. 2, 2020, to a Dollar General on Horseshoe Drive the previous month that they said shows Daniel Aikens buying it.

Aikens pleaded “not guilty” to a series of federal charges related to the explosion in Alexandria and the possession of a destructive device. He is accused of demanding $10,000 from the loan company after setting off the explosion.

Special Agent Andrew Erdmann said agents got that phone number from the loan office’s caller ID after a helicopter toy remote-controlled pipe bomb exploded outside the building. They realized that the person who called in the threat had watched from a nearby location - which they tracked to a Mobile gas station across the street from the loan office.

“We knew we were going to be dealing with a device that was controlled remotely,” said Erdmann.

Their investigation led them to the Dollar General, where a burner phone was purchased on Dec. 19, 2019.

“He (the person in the video they believe is Aikens) brought a cellphone to the counter,” said Erdmann.

The video picks up a white Jeep Cherokee parked across the street and shows a man crossing Horseshoe Drive on foot to enter the store. Videos were shown from the Dollar General and the gas station.

After the explosion, agents tracked down the white Jeep to a home on Tennessee Avenue in Alexandria, ran the plate, and eventually came back with Aikens’ name.

On the evening of January 6, 2020, a federal team in unmarked units started following the Jeep, but an RPSO unit that didn’t know agents were following, recognized the Jeep from a BOLO that went out and pulled Aikens over.

Agents immediately got to work after that.

“This is one of the most critical type cases we can work,” said Erdmann, noting that time was of the essence.

Agents made a request to AT&T over the 716-area code number. They also brought Aikens to the FBI field office in Alexandria for questioning. He signed his rights and agreed to talk.

Agents took Aikens’ iPhone and interviewed him for about two hours.

“He said the Jeep belonged to his mother and he had been driving it since September 2019,” said Erdmann.

Aikens claimed he was not at the Mobile gas station (the watch spot they think the bomber watched from for the PayDay Today explosion) or the Dollar General (where they say the burner phone was bought).

Agents asked Aikens about owning pipe, since the PayDay Today explosion was a pipe bomb. Erdmann said Aikens said he does not work with pipe. They asked about black smokeless powder, and Aikens said he had no recent interaction with it.

“He acted normal for the most part,” said Erdmann about the interview.

But, Erdmann said Aikens’ demeanor changed when they told him they were getting a search warrant for his house after he did not consent to a search.

“His right temple began pulsing rapidly,” said Erdmann.

When agents searched the home on Jan. 7, 2020, Erdmann said they entered the kitchen: “There appeared to be a blast scene in the kitchen.”

Erdmann said there was no stove, and photos shown to the jury showed most of the wall missing. A vent hood was hanging down. There was “heavy damage” to the ceiling, a “large hole surrounded by several small holes.”

They found a shop vac and took its contents. Erdmann said agents seized pipe fragments from a trash pile outside, a piece from the shop vac, and one in the wood frame where the stove should have been.

Defense attorneys for Aikens during cross-examination pointed out that there were several “watch” locations for the bombing near PayDay Today and asked Erdmann if they looked at others.

He said they did - most didn’t have cameras, but the Mobile gas station did and that’s the video he said shows Aikens entering before the blast across the street.

Aikens is represented by federal public defenders Natalie Awad and Wayne Blanchard. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jamilla Bynog, Daniel McCoy, and LaDonte Murphy are prosecuting for the government. Judge Dee Drell is presiding.

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