U.S. News

Flaming minivan at U.S. air base in California carried propane tanks

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A minivan that burst into flames as it breached the main gate of Travis Air Force Base in northern California earlier this week was carrying several propane tanks and gasoline cans that the driver apparently ignited himself, law enforcement officials said on Friday.

The driver, identified as Hafiz Kazi, 51, a native of India living in the United States since 1993, was pronounced dead at the scene of Wednesday’s incident, about 50 miles (80 km) northeast of San Francisco, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Kazi was the only person harmed in the late-evening incident. No motive was known and there was no immediate evidence of any extremist ideology involved, authorities said.

“I wouldn’t classify it as a suspected terror attack,” Sean Ragan, the FBI special agent in charge of the bureau’s Sacramento field office, said at a news conference.

“We don’t have any evidence of a religious affiliation” behind the encounter, he said. “We don’t have any nexus to terrorism at this point.”

Inexplicably, the interior of Kazi’s minivan appeared to base personnel to be on fire as he approached the gate, then drove through the checkpoint and crashed as flames engulfed the vehicle, Ragan said.

The doors to the vehicle had been locked, and Kazi was dead by the time he was extricated, Ragan said.

Inside the vehicle authorities found five propane tanks, three plastic gasoline canisters and several lighters, along with a gym bag containing personal effects, according to Ragan. Exactly what sparked the flames was still unknown.

But investigators believe the driver ignited the fire himself, according to a law enforcement source who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

No shots were fired at the minivan, Ragan said. The local coroner was performing an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death.

Kazi apparently acted alone, and authorities saw no further threat to the base or surrounding community, Ragan said. He said it was not yet determined if Kazi had any prior connection to the base.

A legal permanent U.S. resident, Kazi previously drove a cab and lived mostly in the San Francisco area since moving from India about 25 years ago, Ragan said. Investigators were seeking to establish his last place of residence and latest occupation.

No family members have been located in the United States, but the FBI notified a relative in India of his death, Ragan said, adding “some associates” of Kazi’s were being questioned.

Travis Air Force Base, located east of Fairfield, California, is home to the largest airlift organization in the Air Force, with a fleet of C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III cargo planes and KC-10 Extender refueling aircraft.

Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler