Letter bombs target Arabic newspaper in Washington
Others delivered to federal prisonJanuary 2, 1997
Web posted at: 7:15 p.m. EST
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI has taken the investigative lead into an apparent terrorist act in which at least five letter bombs containing plastic explosives were mailed to the Washington offices of an Arabic language newspaper.
Law enforcement officials are trying to find a link between those five bombs and two almost identical letter bombs received at the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.
All the bombs were in holiday cards sent from Egypt, some mailed from Alexandria, Egypt.
An FBI official told CNN some of the letters sent to the offices of Al-Hayat in the National Press Club Building were mailed from the Middle East, suggesting "political overtones".
A federal official requesting anonymity told CNN the plastic explosive is believed to be Semtex or C-4 and has been sent to the FBI headquarters laboratory for forensic testing. The official says straight pins in the letter bombs were clearly intended as shrapnel to do harm to whomever opened the parcels.
The National Press Club building, located two blocks from the White House, was evacuated Thursday afternoon as the potentially dangerous material was being removed by authorities.
No one was hurt in the incident.
The first two bombs were discovered by an employee at the offices of Al-Hayat in the National Press Club building, which houses the offices of several publications and is located just two blocks from the White House.
A source close to the investigation said the bombs were discovered when someone handling one of the letters spotted a wire inside and became suspicious.
The devices were taken to a parking lot at RFK Stadium, where they were detonated by the Washington Metropolitan Police Department bomb squad.
Several hours later, investigators found two other bombs in the incoming mail at Al-Hayat. Police experts removed the bombs.
Al-Hayat is a London-based Palestinian newspaper that describes itself as part of the "mainstream Arab press." It is generally viewed as a moderate voice in the Arab community.
Washington-based Arab organizations were attempting to learn more details of the incident, but declined to speculate on who might have a motive to bomb Al-Hayat. Employees at the newspaper also declined comment on the incident.
Speaking by telephone from London, Al-Hayat Editor Jihad Khazen told CNN: "We were surprised. We've had threatening phone calls over the years but this is the first time we had a physical threat. I can't think of any group or persons behind it."
Khazen noted that his 160,000-circulation newspaper strongly supports Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and has condemned Islamic militants who want to overthrow Mubarak's secular government and replace it with a theocracy..
"It could have been them, or other fundamentalists, or other extremists in other parts of the Arab world," Khazen said.
Khazen said he is a Lebanese Christian who moved the newspaper from Beirut to London in 1988. He said the founder of the newspaper, Kamel Mrowe, was assassinated in 1966 in his office in Beirut. Khazen said the assassination was carried out by Nasserites, Egyptian nationalists of that time. Asked if he's concerned about his personal safety, Khazen said, "Not really. Not in London."
He said the newspaper publishes simultaneously in London, Frankfurt, New York, Beirut, Cairo, Beirut and Bahrain.
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