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FBI Joins Probe of Attacks on 2 Berkeley Bookstores

March 02, 1989|ROBERT CHOW | Times Staff Writer

BERKELEY — The FBI on Wednesday entered the investigation of two Berkeley bookstore firebombings that authorities said may have been prompted by Muslim outrage over Salman Rushdie's novel, "The Satanic Verses."

An FBI spokesman in San Francisco said the agency stepped in on the grounds that the attacks violated the Hobbs Act, a federal law prohibiting violence or threats against interstate commerce.

Law enforcement officials had yet to hear from any person or group claiming responsibility for the Tuesday predawn Molotov cocktail bombings at Cody's book store and a Waldenbooks outlet, both on Telegraph Avenue near the University of California.

'Open Mind' in Probe

"We're approaching this with a real open mind," said FBI spokesman Chuck Latting. "It's real easy to assume this has something to do with the Rushdie book." He added, however, "At this time we have no real hard evidence."

Cody's had maintained a high profile in the Rushdie furor, proclaiming on a window poster that it will not ban the book. After the Molotov cocktail attack, a pipe bomb also was found in the wreckage there.

Latting said the crude nature of the devices, as well as the limited damage to both stores, made it unlikely that the blasts were the work of international terrorists. "It wouldn't have been so sloppily done," he said.

As dozens of FBI agents went door-to-door looking for witnesses, Berkeley Police Lt. Michel de Latour said his detectives had not yet turned up any suspects. "We have a few leads in the case," he said. "There are a few witnesses and that's all I have to add."

Cody's remained closed for cleanup on Wednesday, but manager Nick Setka said he plans to reopen and "probably hire a security guard."

Open for Business

Waldenbooks, where workmen replaced the shattered window and charred carpeting, carried on a normal business day. Security guards have been hired there and at another Berkeley Waldenbooks store.

A spokesman for the chain in Stamford, Conn., said the bombing had not changed its policy of allowing individual store managers to decide whether to sell "The Satanic Verses."

But, said Trace Urdan, "The chances are slim that it will ever be displayed in the windows."

Meanwhile, in Washington, a group of publishers and booksellers, fearing that bookstore bombings will continue, met with Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh and received his assurance that "every resource available" will be used to hunt down the bombers and guard against future attacks.

In the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, 10 representatives of publishing houses and three representatives of booksellers expressed their concerns in the wake of Monday's firebombings.

Thornburgh later told reporters: "There simply is no room for any threat against the exercise of First Amendment rights."

Times staff writer Lee May in Washington contributed to this article.

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