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Blasts probed at Atlanta family planning clinic


2nd explosion injures 6

January 16, 1997
Web posted at: 7:30 p.m. EST

In this story:

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Officials said they are looking at reasons other than abortion clinic violence as possible motives in two blasts Thursday at a family planning clinic in suburban Atlanta. Six people were injured in the second explosion at the clinic where abortions are performed.

Various Atlanta television stations report on the Family Planning Clinic just after two bombs explode there. The second explosion is caught on tape in this QuickTime. -- 2.4M/56 sec. QuickTime movie 0movie icon

The explosions occurred as abortion rights advocates were announcing in Washington that anti-abortion violence had declined slightly. President Clinton condemned the explosions as "a vile and malevolent act" of terrorism.

WitnessWitness account of the explosion
iconFirst Explosion
"We saw a flash of light. . ."
(18 sec./446K AIFF or WAV sound)
iconSecond Explosion
"It's amazing more people weren't hurt. . ."
(24 sec./532K AIFF or WAV sound)

"It would be a terrible mistake to assume that the reign of terror is over," said Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation, as aides interrupted the news conference with the news from Atlanta.

Clinics are on high alert at this time of year, because next week marks the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case recognizing a woman's right to abortion.

Quotes from U.S. Attorney Kent Alexander
icon Motive (318K/23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
icon A third device? (254K/17 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
icon Related to Olympic Park bombing? (254K/14 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

"If it was abortion violence, this is not an issue of abortion rights," said Kent Alexander, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, at a news conference at the site of the blasts. "This is about the rule of law."

Domestic terrorism possible

Alexander also refused to rule out "domestic terrorism," and said it's too early to tell whether the crime is related to the July 27 Centennial Olympic Park bombing that killed a woman.

"Nobody has a right to use violence in America to advance their own convictions over the rights of others. We will get to the bottom of this. We will punish those responsible to the fullest extent that the law provides," Clinton said.

Alexander is heading a team of local, state and federal officials to investigate the case. A similar approach was used to probe the Olympic Park bombing.

"The investigation is in early stages," Alexander said. "Every resource available will be put to this."

He asked the public to call 1-888-ATF-BOMB with any leads.

The building shook


The first explosion, about 9:30 a.m., shattered the southwest corner of the clinic in Sandy Springs. There were about four people inside at the time, and no one was injured. The bomb apparently didn't contain shrapnel like the one that injured more than 100 at Centennial Olympic Park.

"It shook the entire building," said clinic employee Antoinette Sims. "The clinic was in ruins."

About 45 minutes later, as law enforcement officials were investigating, a second device exploded in a trash container outside the northwest corner of the building.


About half a dozen people, including several officials, were injured, but none critically, during the second blast. Two cars near the trash container were badly damaged, and police evacuated everyone within 500 yards (460 meters) of the building.

People who gathered outside after the first explosion heard a loud boom and felt the concussion when the second blast occurred with a bright flash, sending debris flying through the air. The first explosion rocked nearby buildings as well, breaking many windows.

"Very troubling is the fact that the second device exploded after the first at a time when law enforcement was on the scene," Alexander said. He said there were no reports of telephone calls giving advance warning of the explosions.

QuickTime Movies of Second Explosion
movie icon Blast interrupts witness interview
(562K/13 sec. QuickTime movie from side of building)
movie icon Witnesses hit by force of blast
(544K/14 sec. QuickTime movie from back of building - video only)
movie icon Witnesses hit by force of blast
(839K/21 sec. QuickTime movie from different camera in back of building - video only)

The same family planning clinic, then located in a different location, reportedly was firebombed in an attack in 1984. It later moved to its current address.

History of anti-abortion violence

Clinton signed a 1993 law that strengthens penalties against people who inflict violence against abortion clinics.

The government last year said violence aimed at women's health clinics and people who work in them -- including shootings, bombings, arson, death threats, chemical attacks and clinic blockades -- has occurred in at least 28 states, the District of Columbia and dozens of cities.

In 1994, John Salvi killed two receptionists at clinics in Massachusetts, and former minister Paul Hill used a shotgun to kill two men outside a Pensacola, Florida, clinic.

A year earlier, Dr. David Gunn was shot to death at another Pensacola clinic. Hill was the first person convicted of violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law, and was sentenced to two life terms.


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