Bombs found attached to Norfolk chemical tanks

February 05, 1991|By Peter Honey | Peter Honey,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Police in Norfolk, Va., said yesterday that two bombs -- made up of six pipes stuffed with explosives -- found attached to huge gas and chemical tanks near the nation's largest naval base were safely removed yesterday.

At the end of an eight-hour drama, during which a one-square-mile area around the tanks was evacuated, local police and FBI spokesmen were unable to say who was behind the attempted bombing. No one claimed responsibility for the incident at the tank farm, which is not used by the military.

The two law-enforcement agencies appeared yesterday to disagree on the nature of the bombs -- the FBI saying they were "not sophisticated," while a Norfolk police spokesman said "the sophistication and configuration of the two explosive devices gives reason to take this very seriously."

Norfolk police spokesman Bob Haynes said he would not disclose the kind of detonators or explosives used -- whether they had been designed for industrial or military use.

"Let's just say that if any one of them had gone off, it would have caused a massive explosion," he said.

FBI special agent Jim Waters said that while the bombs would certainly have caused a huge explosion, the nature of the intended bombing was "not what you would expect if you were expecting the worst" -- indicating the bureau did not regard it as a "terrorist action."

Iraq's President Saddam Hussein has called on sympathizers around the world to attack U.S. and allied interests.

In Washington, FBI spokesman Bill Carter said the FBI had taken the lead role in the investigation because of the possibility terrorism could be involved.

The bombs were attached to two of about 12 chemical tanks belong

ing to Allied Terminals Inc. on the Elizabeth River, about 10 miles from the sprawling Norfolk Naval Base and five miles from the Navy's Craney Island fuel depot. The base has been the disembarkation point for about 35,000 U.S. sailors bound for the Persian Gulf.

The first device, Mr. Haynes said, was found by a company employee at 7:42 a.m. It consisted of two 2-foot-long pipes filled with explosives and connected to a single detonator, which was not working. This was attached to the valve system of a 3-million-gallon methanol storage tank that was one-third full.

The state police bomb disposal squad disarmed it by removing it from the tank and blowing the caps off the tubes, causing it to "burn like a Roman candle," he said.

The second bomb consisted of four 2-foot-long pipes filled with explosives and attached to a single detonator. Police found this device at 1:16 p.m., while searching the vicinity of the first bomb, Mr. Haynes said.

He said it was attached to another 3-million-gallon tank that was partly filled with sodium sulfate, a slightly flammable compound used in fertilizer. That tank was about 150 feet from the methanol tank.

The bomb squad placed the second device in a hole in the ground and detonated it, he said.

Police let residents return to their homes near the site later in the afternoon. Earlier, workers had drained the methanol tank as a precaution.

Norfolk police said it was not the first bomb incident in Norfolk, although bombs were "a very rare event" in the area.

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