Federal agents rushed to Disneyland over the Easter weekend after threats were received that terrorists planned to launch a lethal gas attack at the park like the one unleashed in the Tokyo subway system last month, sources and close to the case said Friday.
Security was intensified during the extended holiday weekend--one of the most popular at the Orange County theme park--but the whole thing turned out to be "a hoax," Disneyland officials said late Friday night. There were no incidents or arrests.
Agents learned of the alleged plot when Disney officials called them to report that the company had received a letter and a videotape warning that something was going to happen, sources said.
The tape showed a man from the chest down, wearing rubber gloves and apparently mixing chemicals, sources said. The letter or tape threatened that "guests will die."
An FBI behavioral psychologist in Quantico, Va., analyzed the tape and said he thought the threats were serious, sources said.
Fears of possible calamity like the one that claimed 12 lives in Japan on March 20 prompted federal officials to dispatch special units trained in the confinement, cleanup and disposal of deadly gas to the Anaheim park from the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
The force was said to include civilian scientists and physicians from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
Anaheim police officers were issued chemical warfare gear, including gas masks, from stockpiles at the Marine base at El Toro.
Security at the park was tightened. Visitors were searched as they passed through the park's gates during Easter weekend. It is one of Disneyland's busiest weekends, featuring Roger Rabbit's Easter Buffet and Scramble and other special attractions.
Investigators concentrated on the possibility that the threats may have come from disgruntled former Disney employees, sources said. Pointing to this possibility, the investigators said, was the fact that the threat referred to Disneyland's "guests," a term the park uses for its customers.
In a statement released Friday night, Disneyland said the park's security office had "received a threat to the safety of our guests and notified federal authorities, who investigated and determined it was a hoax." The park followed federal authorities' advice on taking the precautions, the statement said.
Meanwhile Friday, quoting unnamed sources, the Baltimore Sun reported that Tokyo police had said two men associated with the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, blamed for the Tokyo subway attack, had flown to Los Angeles shortly before Easter.
The Sun said both men were arrested upon arrival in Los Angeles, but their present whereabouts were not known.
The FBI discounted much of the Sun story but refused to comment specifically on it. The FBI, the Justice Department and local law enforcement agencies all refused to discuss the case.
But Disneyland said in its statement that the FBI had not detained "any foreign nationals in raference to this threat."
A Japan National Police Agency official on duty Saturday in Tokyo declined any immediate comment on the reported sharing of information with the FBI or on anything else concerning the two men who were reportedly questioned at Los Angeles International Airport. There was speculation Friday night that President Clinton may have been referring to the Disneyland case during an afternoon news conference in connection with the Oklahoma City bombing.
"There was a recent incident with which I was intimately familiar, which involved a quick and secret deployment of a major United States effort of FBI and FEMA and public health service personnel, because we had a tip of a possible terrorist incident which, thank goodness, did not materialize," Clinton said.
"But we went to the place, and we were ready," the President said, although it could not be confirmed late Friday that he was referring to Disneyland.
In Japan, police have arrested more than 100 Aum Shinri Kyo, or Supreme Truth, sect members suspected in the subway attack.
Times staff writers J. Michael Kennedy in Los Angeles and Mark I. Pinsky, Julie Marquis and Ken Ellingwood in Orange County and James Risen in Washington contributed to this story. Lait reported from Anaheim and Malnic from Los Angeles.