FBI warns police chiefs of millennium-linked terrorism

November 03, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The FBI used an international conference of police chiefs yesterday to warn that domestic terrorists could use the onset of the new millennium to wage a violent war of hate.

While stressing that U.S. intelligence agencies know of no specific threats against cities or people, the head of the FBI's national security division told members of the International Association of Chiefs of Police that they should not lightly dismiss the potential for trouble.

Though the meeting in a conference room packed with police executives from the nation's smallest and largest departments was closed to the public, the FBI released a version of the secret report, which surfaced last week.

While concentrating on potential threats in the United States, the report makes special note of Jerusalem, regarded as a holy city by Jews, Christians and Muslims -- particularly Temple Mount, revered by Muslims and Jews.

"The millennium holds special significance for many, and as this pivotal point in time approaches, the impetus for the initiation of violence becomes more acute," the report says. "Several religiously motivated groups envision a quick, fiery ending in an apocalyptic battle."

The 32-page report outlines several extremist movements, including militia groups, cults and Christian Identity, which asserts that white Aryans are God's chosen people and "a unifying theology for a number" of splinter groups.

Yesterday's closed-door meeting took place after a briefing by a top White House official who told more than 1,000 police chiefs that they need to take precautions on Dec. 31, particularly with how well computers will work.

While the federal government and most big cities -- including Baltimore -- are ready for year 2000 computer complications, many smaller cities and towns have not upgraded their systems to handle the date change. Older programs may read 2000 as 1900, causing crashes.

"It is a balancing act between overreacting and complacency," said John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion. While officials played down potential problems, the FBI's meeting -- closed to anyone who wasn't a law enforcement official -- was standing-room only.

The report is full of frightening language. It warns that many small towns and rural areas are not in Y2K compliance, so glitches could cause problems with tasks as simple as issuing checks.

The report details three recent examples of shootings by men "who adhere to ideologies that emphasize millennial related violence": the August shooting at a Los Angeles Jewish day care center; a rampage that killed two and wounded 10 minorities in Indiana and Illinois; and the dragging death of James Byrd Jr., a black man in Jasper, Texas.

"Numerous religious extremists claim that a race war will soon begin, and have taken steps to become martyrs in their predicted battle between good and evil," the report says.

The report describes many extremist movements and rates their potential for problems. It says that "various right-wing groups pose a threat to American society."

The FBI is particularly concerned with Christian Identity, because many religious groups believe the end of the world is at hand. The report calls Christian Identity "the most unifying theology for a number of these diverse groups" whose "doctrine allows believers to fuse religion with hate, conspiracy theories and apocalyptic fear of the future."

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