Polish police launch nationwide manhunt for Krakow bomber 'Gummi Bear'

September 08, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WARSAW, Poland -- Police set up roadblocks around the medieval city of Krakow and launched a nationwide manhunt yesterday for a terrorist who has threatened to blow up the southern city.

About 1,000 Krakow police officers, more than a quarter of the police force, joined the search for Sylwester Augustynek, a 50-year-old burglar and thief who police say developed a knack for sophisticated explosives while working in the nearby Silesian mining region.

Mr. Augustynek, who has called himself "Gummi Bear" in telephone calls and letters, allegedly planted a bomb last Thursday at the bus terminal near the city's 13th-century Old Town, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Poland. Anti-terrorist squads detonated it, hollowing a crater the size of an automobile.

"This is a very serious threat," said Krakow police spokesman Cezary Butny. "This is the first time we have ever had to deal with a situation where someone is terrorizing the entire city."

Police have received 28 bomb threats since the bus station bomb last week, leading to evacuations of the courthouse, train station and a university building, but they have found no more explosives.

In a rambling letter yesterday in the newspaper Gazeta Krakowska, a man identified as "Gummi Bear" claimed to have hidden 10 bombs across the city and repeated an earlier demand for more than $300,000 in ransom. If authorities did not pay the money, he wrote, he would transform Krakow into a "carnival" by setting off the explosives.

Authorities tried twice over the weekend to snare the bomber. In one phone call to the Krakow newspaper, "Gummi Bear" instructed police to leave the money in a bag in a police car in the mountain resort of Zakopane. Police followed the instructions -- although they apparently stuffed the bag with a tracking device, not cash -- but no one came to claim the cache.

In another phone call to the newspaper, "Gummi Bear" ordered police to drop the money in small bags from a train between Zakopane and Krakow, but the instructions came so late that the train had left before police could make the arrangements.

Although there were doubts about the authenticity of the letter, the author offered the first insights into "Gummi Bear's" motives. The letter was critical of local politicians with ties to Solidarity and of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, saying that less money should be spent on restoring old cathedrals and more on helping local residents.

Although hotels and restaurants reported yesterday that foreign tourists continue to arrive in droves, residents of Poland's royal capital were living in fear.

"There is general panic," said Bozena Dzialowska, assistant manager of Wierzynek restaurant in Old Town.

"Everyone feels it. I am afraid because I take the bus home and my stop is close to the bus station."

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