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ATF unearths bomb plant near Atlanta

Suspected militia members arrested in raid

April 26, 1996
Web posted at: 10:30 p.m. EDT

Columbus, Georgia

COLUMBUS, Georgia (CNN) -- Federal agents arrested two men with suspected militia ties Friday after a pair of raids uncovered a virtual bomb factory in central Georgia.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) discovered components for making pipe bombs during raids at two locations in Crawford County, south of Atlanta near the city of Macon.

Starr

Two men, electrician Robert Starr of Roberta, Georgia, and plumber William McCranie, who worked in Americus High School, were charged with conspiracy to manufacture explosive devices, a federal felony.

Officials said the two men were leaders of a group called the "Militia at Large for the Republic of Georgia." They said the group is believed to have at least 11 members.

Prosecutors said the bombs were to be used as a way to "defend their rights against the invasion of the government."

Materials

The bomb-making components -- mostly chemicals -- were found buried on Starr's property, a source said, adding that the two men were thought to be "McVeigh sympathizers," a reference to Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh.

But FBI officials in Washington referred to the suspects as "small potatoes."

Justice Department spokesman Carl Stern described the devices as low-level pipe bombs that the group planned to assemble and keep in their homes.

No Olympic threat, officials say

Contrary to early reports, officials said there was no indication that the group was plotting to disrupt the summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Stern said the government is making "no allegation that (the suspects) intended to explode any devices at the Olympics."

Property

According to an affidavit filed as part of Friday's arrest warrant, an informant told ATF agents earlier this month that the group's plan was to "fully arm the pipe bombs" on Saturday, April 27, and "that whoever wanted one could have it."

The affidavit said Starr wanted to make as many bombs as possible and distribute them among the members after packing them with explosives and wrapping them with nails for fragmentation.

The informant told the ATF that he had attended a meeting with McCranie, Starr and others at which McCranie had bragged that he had enough chemicals to make 40 bombs. "McCranie said that nails make great shrapnel," the prosecution warrant said.

Year-long investigation

Starr was arrested in Knoxville, Georgia, at about 8 a.m. Friday. He was armed with a semi-automatic AK-47, a source said, but offered no resistance.

McCranie was arrested unarmed about three hours later in Americus after he drove into a service station.

Outside McCranie's property

The arrests culminated a nearly year-long investigation that began in north Georgia and was focused on a militia leader who had moved from there to central Georgia.

Amy

McCranie's neighbors said Starr was very open about his beliefs.

"He never kept it a secret that he was militia," said Amy Nicholson, McCranie's neighbor. "He told everybody he knew that he was militia. He never kept it a secret."

The two men appeared separately before U.S. Magistrate William Slaughter in Columbus Friday and were ordered held without bond pending a court hearing in Macon next week.

McCranie, heavyset with an athletic build and a tattoo on his left wrist, was dressed in a black T-shirt and military fatigue pants. Starr appeared in court earlier and was casually dressed.

Security issue haunts Olympics

Security has been one of the major headaches for Olympics organizers since the murder of 11 Israelis participants by Palestinian guerrillas during the 1972 Munich Games.

Local news reports linked Starr and McCranie with local militias, groups which have mushroomed across the United States, many sharing anti-government and right-wing views.

Such groups were thrown into the spotlight after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people a year ago. Two men linked to anti-government, right-wing militias have been charged in the attack.

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