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Bombing Suspect in Custody : FBI Questions 2nd Man; Death Toll Hits 65 : Terrorism: Officials theorize that attack on federal building may have been aimed at agent who led raid on Branch Davidians in Waco, Tex.

April 22, 1995|RICHARD A. SERRANO and JAMES RISEN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

But according to authorities, the connection with the bombing did not crystalize until Friday morning. Just 30 minutes before McVeigh was to be taken to a Noble County courtroom in Perry for a bond hearing, local authorities matched up McVeigh's Social Security number with one listed as belonging to a suspect in the bombing.

The FBI was called, and a federal hold was placed on McVeigh, cancelling the bond hearing. But Noble County officials said that without that connection, McVeigh probably would have been released on the $500 bond on the weapons and license charges.

Officials said McVeigh was arrested with slightly more than $200 in cash, which probably would have been enough of a deposit to secure his release on bond.

"This all came out of the blue," said Noble County Sheriff Jerry Cook.

Other authorities in Oklahoma City acknowledged that it was a routine traffic stop and an alert highway patrolman that led to the arrests. Otherwise, they said, it could have been weeks, if not months, before officials finished combing through the building wreckage for clues or before the name of a suspect surfaced.

"The key domino is that there is no question that the guy who leased this van and has been identified as such after his arrest in Perry came to Oklahoma City with that bomb," said one source.

Keating said it did not matter what the motive was for the bombing. He said the people of his state will not forget what happened, regardless of whether the deaths were caused by foreign terrorists or fellow Americans.

"It's irrelevant to me whether it was international or domestic," he said. "What's relative is that evil people did an evil thing in my town. And that we are, as a people, outraged and justifiably angry about this.

"Whether the motive was a protest against the ATF or the FBI or the tax laws, it's irrelevant. What is relevant is that a lot of innocent children and adults were savaged and the people responsible should be brought to justice."

McVeigh and Nichols

Little by little, information began to emerge about Thomas James McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

McVeigh told authorities he was born in New York state and had a mailing address in Michigan. But apparently he had no recent place he could call home.

"He said he was living on the road," said Noble County Dist. Atty. Mark Gibson. "He told us he didn't really have a residence. He just kept on moving."

Gibson said McVeigh had short-cropped hair, was about 6-foot-3 and 26 years old. He said McVeigh's birthday will be Sunday.

At one point, McVeigh was in the Army, according to military officials. His military records were taken from the Army's Personnel Center, a records archive in St. Louis, Mo., by the FBI, a spokesperson for the records center said.

Senior Pentagon officials, who requested anonymity, said McVeigh had left the service around 1990, apparently with an honorable discharge. There was no indication that he had been trained as a demolitons expert, the officials said, although they did not rule out the possibility.

The Army's top public information officer, Maj. Gen. Charles McClain, said that McVeigh was not in the service when he was arrested.

In Michigan, where McVeigh stayed at the Nichols farm on occasion, he was known as someone who might have served in the Army with Nichols--and who was interested in guns.

McVeigh apparently also had an interest in bomb-making.

A salesman at Fatigues and Things, an Army-Navy store in Junction City, Kan., said that two men--including one with a crew cut whom he recognized from an FBI's composite sketch of the suspects--came into the store about two weeks ago.

They looked around, the salesman said, saw a book about bomb-making, bought it and left.

"I'm afraid I'm the one who sold them the book on how to make bombs," said the salesman, who asked to remain anonymous. He said the book was Army-issue and called the "Improvised Munitions Handbook." It sells for $3.99.

"It's one of three or four books we sell," the salesman noted, "on how to make bombs out of things like fertilizer and gasoline."

The salesman said the FBI asked him Wednesday if he recognized a photo of a hat one of the men might have been wearing. He said it was a Dallas Cowboys cap with blue flames depicted on the front.

He said he did not recognize the hat.

Junction City was where the FBI said two men rented a Ryder truck used in the bombing.

David Russell, vice president of operations at Elliott's Body Shop, which is the Ryder rental office, said the FBI asked him not to talk to reporters.

But Sylvia Niemczyk, 36, manager of a Texaco mini mart in Junction City, said a man who looked like McVeigh and another man were regular customers for the past four months.

She described the two men as casually dressed, usually in blue jeans and T-shirts. They visited the mini mart twice a week, Niemczyk said, to purchase gasoline, Coke by the bottle, chips and cigarettes--Kools Filter King and Marlboros by the carton.

They were "very nice and very polite," she said, "but not very talkative."

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