Bomb-making compound, 100 guns seized in Ariz. Munitions taken from alleged ordnance expert in militia group

July 03, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PHOENIX -- With residential streets cordoned off for fear of an accidental explosion, federal agents seized more than 100 high-powered rifles and hundreds of pounds of a bomb-making compound yesterday from the house of a man whom officials identified as the ordnance specialist of a local paramilitary group.

The seizures followed the arrest on Monday of that suspect, Gary Bauer, and 11 other people on charges of conspiring to blow up government buildings in Phoenix.

Janet Napolitano, the U.S. attorney for Arizona, said yesterday that the dozen people under arrest were the entire membership of the local paramilitary cell, the Viper Militia.

Working gingerly, agents removed from Bauer's house almost a ton of ammonium nitrate, about half the amount used to build the bomb that destroyed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City last year and took 168 lives. Law-enforcement officials exploded much of the confiscated compound at an abandoned Air Force base in the desert west of here.

"Had it gone off in the city, the destruction would have been phenomenal," said Joseph Roy Jr., director of the Militia Task Force, a group that tracks paramilitary activities around the country from its base in Alabama. "This is one of the largest hits ever on an underground organized cell."

Napolitano said the Viper Militia had no connection to two recent terrorist incidents in the region: the Oklahoma City bombing 15 months ago and the derailment by sabotage of an Amtrak train outside Phoenix last October.

Reflections on what might have been were evident in Washington, where President Clinton saluted "the law enforcement officers who made the arrests in Arizona yesterday to avert a terrible terrorist attack."

The 12 suspects are to appear next in public at a detention hearing in U.S. District Court here on Friday. In the meantime, some details of the government's account have begun to emerge.

In court papers, Jose Wall, an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, painted a picture of a tight-knit group obsessed with bombs and guns. Wall's affidavit said one member, Randy Nelson, lovingly called his Browning machine gun Shirley.

Militia members swore to "enter into moral combat against enemies of the U.S. Constitution" and to kill anyone attempting to infiltrate the group, said Wall, whose affidavit was based largely on the account of an Arizona law enforcement officer who infiltrated the group last December.

To weed out informers, one cell member who worked for a local telephone company, Ellen Belliveau, scanned telephone records of prospective members for long-distance calls to law enforcement agencies, the affidavit said.

Despite this vigilance, the government informer was able to join the group and to film or tape-record about 20 meetings, including a weekend session of testing explosives and illegal automatic weapons around an abandoned mine in cactus desert 50 miles northwest of here.

Although the group apparently had been training for two years, it came to the firearms bureau's attention only last November, when a deer hunter complained that a heavily armed group of men dressed in camouflage had threatened him and a group of Boy Scouts in a remote section of Tonto National Park, about 100 miles northeast of Phoenix.

Traveling on these outings with their cars loaded with illegal weapons and explosives, militia members would inspect their vehicles for broken tail lights or license plate irregularities to avoid attracting the attention of the police, the affidavit said.

An indictment of the suspects, returned by a federal grand jury here last Thursday, alleges four counts of unlawful possession of automatic weapons and three of conspiracy. In one, six people are charged with conspiracy to furnish instructions in the use of explosives to promote civil disorder.

Pub Date: 7/03/96

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