Clinton, Congress take on terror Probe in Atlanta claims progress in identifying suspects

Atlanta Olympics

July 30, 1996|By Carl M. Cannon and Bill Glauber | Carl M. Cannon and Bill Glauber,SUN STAFF

As President Clinton outlined several new anti-terrorism proposals to leaders of Congress at the White House yesterday, investigators in Atlanta said they were making progress in identifying suspects in the Olympic bombing.

Clinton asked the bipartisan group to work with him in a "long, disciplined, concerted, united effort" to combat acts of terror.

He said that Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park, where a crude pipe bomb exploded Saturday, has "became our national common ground -- a symbol of our common determination to stand against terrorism."

In Atlanta, investigators continued to pore over leads that point to several Americans as potential suspects in the Olympic bombing, as security was tightened with police and National Guard reinforcements.

"There have been no additional explosive devices found nor any arrests made," said David Tubbs of the FBI's Atlanta office.

But the city continued to experience jitters, as an evening bomb scare forced police to seal off a chunk of the downtown corridor.

Police said earlier yesterday that they had dispatched teams to examine 151 suspicious packages since July 1, including 48 since the early Saturday morning blast.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Officials received a warning from a caller to 911. According to the FBI, the caller told the operator, "There is a bomb in Centennial Park. You have 30 minutes." And then he hung up.

Investigators said they are tracking the caller, believed to be a white American male with no discernible accent. The FBI said composite sketches were drawn of people who may have been in the area at the time of the explosion.

The Associated Press reported that several potential suspects are receiving attention, and that these suspects are not the people depicted in composite sketches previously produced by the FBI from eyewitness statements.

"I'm not willing to label anyone at this time a suspect," Tubbs said. He added, "If and when we're ready to label them a suspect, then we'll put the composites out. But we're not ready to do that at this time."

Investigators have received nearly 1,000 calls to a special hot line. They are also taking witness statements and examining videotapes and amateur photographs.

"History leads me to believe we'll make an arrest," Tubbs said. "We will continue to work on the case until we make an arrest."

After the White House meeting, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said 16 members of Congress -- eight from each party -- will meet today with White House chief of staff Leon E. Panetta to review the anti-terror proposals that the president would like to speed into law this week.

The Atlanta bombing resulted in two deaths and the wounding of 111 others, while casting a pall over the Olympic Games. It came only 10 days after a TWA flight from New York to Paris crashed into the sea, killing everyone aboard after what federal authorities believe was an explosion caused by a bomb.

"When we are attacked we come together," Clinton said. "The main thing is we need to get the very best ideas we can and we need to move as quickly as we can, do everything we can, to try to strengthen this country's hand against terrorism."

Those present agreed with the president.

"This [bombing] unites all Americans in their commitment to make this country safe and to protect innocent people," House ** Speaker Newt Gingrich told the president. "We look forward to having a serious discussion here about how we can work with you to continue to strengthen our ability to deal with these kinds of people."

Time is short, however, because Congress goes into recess at the end of the week, and neither White House officials nor Republican leaders were certain that differences that have separated them can be breached so soon.

While Gingrich and Lott pledged to cooperate with Clinton in exploring ways to address terrorism, they also urged caution, especially in light of the fact that the TWA crash has not definitively been ruled terrorism and that the motives and identity of the Atlanta bomber are unknown.

"We shouldn't jump to conclusions and start doing this and doing that and spending money in various places until we find out what happened," Lott said.

Clinton's inclinations have been the opposite.

Within days of last year's Oklahoma City bombing that killed 169 people in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, Clinton had prepared an anti-terrorism bill that expanded the power of the FBI to wiretap, trace explosives and engage in what amounts to domestic espionage of suspected terrorist groups.

That bill passed a year later, on April 18. It contained some of the provisions requested by the president. Yesterday, Clinton renewed his demands -- and added proposals as well. In all, he outlined the following measures:

Allowing multipoint wiretaps of people suspected of terrorism that would include not just their own phones, but those of anyone they talk to as well.

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