Tips on cult added up to massive arsenal for a doomsday mission Agents indicate group bought grenades, AK-47s for holy war

March 08, 1993|By Dallas Morning News

WACO, Texas -- The tips came in bits and pieces: a diplomatic cable warning of an impending blood bath, a delivery man's description of grenades spilling from boxes sent to a fortified compound, a gun dealer's boasts of new clients with an endless appetite for assault weapons.

Beginning in June, federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents began compiling an increasingly alarming picture of what lay beyond the high walls of the Branch Davidians' compound.

Authorities were told of a cult blindly loyal to a self-proclaimed prophet who talked of unleashing his doomsday arsenal on local police, the surrounding community or his own followers.

Federal officials say dozens of new leads suggest that David Koresh was planning an apocalyptic holy war, assembling enough firepower to hold more than 100 federal agents at bay.

"I think some people are going to be stunned at the pile of stuff we finally take out of there," said an ATF official who requested anonymity.

"The information we're getting now suggests there's a lot more in there than even we suspected."

The ATF official said the agency began formally investigating the cult in June after receiving reports from sources as diverse as the U.S. State Department and the McLennan County Sheriff's Department that the Davidians were arming themselves for Armageddon, the world's final battle.

Last April, other federal officials say, a U.S. consulate in Australia cabled information warning that the cult was contemplating mass suicide and intended to kill any authorities who intruded on their property.

McLennan County sheriff's deputies and other local law enforcement officials forwarded reports suggesting that the group was conducting military exercises and amassing a massive arsenal by mail.

From the county sheriff, said the ATF official, authorities learned that a United Parcel Service delivery man had begun reporting potential problems from the cult after a box he was delivering to the cult broke open and disgorged dozens of fragment grenade casings.

From local sources, federal investigators also began hearing about Henry McMahon, a Florida man who had set up his own gun business in nearby Hewitt after moving to Waco about 1 1/2 years ago.

McMahon bragged of selling dozens of AK-47s and AR-15s, the civilian version of the M-16 assault rifle, to Mr. Koresh and his followers.

By monitoring additional shipments to the 77-acre Davidian compound, federal agents learned of more disturbing acquisitions: a massive array of chemicals, gunpowder and other propellants commonly used in making homemade explosives, grenades and bombs.

"We identified persons with knowledge that would enable them to build bombs and explosives," who were members or were assisting the cult, the ATF official said.

Cult members also were amassing instruction books detailing how to convert arms to automatic weapons, said the official.

"They were moving in what I would have to describe as very aggressively in the latter part of 1992 to acquire material and knowledge," the official added.

Mr. Koresh also seemed to be interested in unleashing Armageddon from his small, rural compound, the ATF official said.

"They were involved in discussions of violent activity. . . . Sometimes they would talk of violence toward the community [of Waco], sometimes toward law enforcement officials, sometimes toward themselves."

The cult's growing extremism prompted officials to plan a surgical strike aimed at surprising Mr. Koresh's followers and overwhelming the compound.

Weeks before the raid, they began drilling with Army Special Forces units in specially built mock-ups of the compound built at nearby Fort Hood, federal officials said.

But none of the assault teams' planning could prepare for an unexplained telephone call that apparently tipped the group off to the coming raid, they said.

The result was a horrific, 45-minute blood bath that left four federal agents and at least three cult members dead.

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