Agents inch closer to cult compound

March 27, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WACO, Texas -- Federal authorities said yesterday that they have begun edging closer to the fortified compound of the David Koresh cult and clearing its surrounding grounds of debris that could hamper an assault.

"We are getting closer and closer to it," FBI agent Richard Swensen said at a news conference. "Is there an offensive motive in moving these things out? There could be a day when that will happen."

But Mr. Swensen pointed out that clearing the outside perimeter of the 77-acre compound of go-carts, motorcycles and other obstacles will also prevent cult members from hiding behind them at night.

In addition, "it increases the pressure on the folks inside to . . . come out by showing them there is a certain amount of control out here in our hands," Mr. Swensen said. "I don't think anybody's in favor of this thing going on indefinitely."

Meanwhile, David Troy, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms chief of intelligence, aggressively defended his agency's ill-fated attempt to serve search and arrest warrants on Mr. Koresh for illegal weapons violations Feb. 28.

The raid touched off an intense firefight. Four federal agents and an undetermined number of cult members were killed in the gun battle.

Some cult members who have been released in recent weeks have insisted that ATF agents fired the first rounds. Tactical experts have suggested that the raid was poorly planned and risked the lives of innocent children living inside the compound.

Mr. Troy said the raid was meticulously planned months in advance and was compromised when someone tipped off the cult members that ATF agents were on their way.

"We would have had control of that compound within 60 seconds or less had there not been a prior tip-off to the compound that there was an impending raid," he said.

"We feel confident there were no mistakes made on our part," added Mr. Troy. "The mistakes were made by people in the compound who chose to defy the law and shoot indiscriminately at ATF agents."

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