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Police pursue leads in Atlanta bombing


As many as 100 federal agents expected to join probe

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February 23, 1997
Web posted at: 9:00 p.m. EST

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Authorities have leads in the Friday night bombing at an Atlanta gay bar, although an arrest doesn't appear imminent, a top law enforcement source told CNN Sunday.

Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation returned Sunday to The Otherside nightclub, combing through the neighborhood in search of debris and other evidence. A police cordon sealed off streets for several blocks around the bombing site.

With the prospect that Friday's blast may have been the work of a serial bomber, CNN has learned, federal agents already have begun contacting Jewish organizations, synagogues and schools in the Atlanta area, including the Southern branch of the Anti-Defamation League, as well as African-American organizations and churches.


Members of national FBI and ATF response teams arrived in Atlanta from around the country to assist in the investigation. Authorities predicted the number of federal agents on the case would reach 100 before Monday.

Packed with nails, Friday's bomb exploded in the rear patio section of the lounge shortly before 10 p.m.

Of the five people hurt in the blast, only one was seriously injured. She was listed in stable condition at Grady Memorial Hospital.

Police found a second bomb in a backpack hidden among some bushes in an adjacent parking lot that was detonated harmlessly.

Specter of a pattern


It was the fourth unexplained bombing in Atlanta in seven months, starting with the Centennial Olympic Park blast last July. In that incident, which remains unsolved, a pipe bomb packed with nails and hidden in a green military-style knapsack exploded during a crowded outdoor concert in downtown Atlanta. One person was killed, another suffered a fatal heart attack as a result of the blast, and more than 100 were wounded.

Officials also noted similarities between Friday's nightclub bombing and a January 16 double bombing in suburban Sandy Springs, Georgia, at a building housing a women's clinic that performs abortions.

As with the gay bar explosion, a second bomb, timed to go off after police and medical teams had arrived on the scene, was left near the clinic.

"The secondary devices are unusual," FBI spokesman Jay Spadafore said. "There hadn't been one used in the United States for more than 30 years until last month in Atlanta. Typically, they are aimed at first responders."

'Urban terrorist'

A criminologist who helped investigators in the Unabomb case said the evidence suggests the bomber is not deranged.

"I think we're looking at a methodical bomber here, someone who's stealthy, very careful and it might take a while to catch him," criminologist Mike Rustigan said.

Authorities told CNN they have not ruled out a copycat bomber, in addition to a possible serial bomber.

"We all recognize that there are similarities here. We will be searching out the possibility that we have a serial bomber," Woody Johnson, the special agent in charge of the Atlanta FBI office, told a news conference Saturday.

"The bombings have not been categorically tied together yet. Of course the last bombing was aimed at an abortion clinic. It's a possibility that this one was motivated by hate," Spadafore added.

Is Atlanta haunted by a serial bomber? Mayor Bill Campbell said there's not enough evidence to tell. But he ventured to describe the unknown bomber as an "urban terrorist...a person that is deranged, who wants to hurt, main and kill."

Hate expert Brian Levin speculated the latest blast may be the work of a copycat. "We can't rule anything out at this point because the bombing itself and terrorism of this nature is imitative in nature and what you might have, instead of a serial bomber, is one bomber who takes his cues off a previous bomber."

Gay rights advocates decry attack

Candace Gingrich

Regardless of the motive, many in Atlanta's gay and lesbian community believe they are a target, since the latest bombing struck a club frequented by them.

"This is a hate crime and should be investigated as a hate crime," said Candace Gingrich, half sister of House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a supporter of gay rights.

Mayor Campbell has ordered increased police protection for gay and lesbian establishments in Atlanta. Several rallies were held throughout the city in response to the blast.


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