Rain, reign and rein of terror Bombings, shootings: Domestic violence causes more fear than imported conspiracy.

February 25, 1997

COUNT ANOTHER decline in the quality of American life as New York's Empire State Building, workplace to thousands and magnet to three million visitors a year, installs metal detectors, scanners, magnetometers and bag searches between the TTC ground and the 86th floor observatory.

That is a reasonable response to the rain of bullets Sunday from Ali Hassan Abu Kamal, a 69-year-old distraught Palestinian who had lost his life savings in a mysterious deal and had bought his .380 caliber Beretta semi-automatic handgun legally last month while a tourist in Florida. He killed one tourist and wounded six others, then killed himself.

He had no political motive, according to his wife and son, yet put life spectacularly at risk at one of the best-known and symbolic sites in America. The country suffers in the world's eyes and its own as a result.

That followed by two days a pair of bombings in Atlanta, the first at a bar habituated by lesbians, injuring five persons, the second a little later targeting the police, fire and paramedic personnel responding to the first. It resembled a similarly timed pair of bombs at an abortion clinic in that city last month, and possibly a bomb in a city park during the Olympics last summer. The "Army of God," which circulates bomb manuals for use against abortion clinics, claimed credit for the newest reign of terror.

This country suffers less terrorism than Britain, France and other countries have had to endure in recent years. Americans always want to believe it was a foreign conspiracy, such as the 1993 N.Y. World Trade Center bombing. That is easier to comprehend and combat than the corn-fed, middle American variety, such as the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995.

Either kind is a rein on individual freedom, prompting more security checks, metal detectors, prying questions in normal destinations of life where Americans expect to come and go without question or ID. There is no alternative to facing up to this with firmness, calm, resolution and concentrated police work.

Pub Date: 2/25/97

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