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Attack Gives Anti-Terrorism Experts Pause

October 10, 1995|RONALD J. OSTROW and DAVID WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Anti-terrorism specialists Monday puzzled over the vexing details of an Amtrak passenger train attack, with experts claiming no knowledge of a "Sons of Gestapo" and questioning whether such a group exists.

But some authorities, including a former top FBI official who oversaw terrorism investigations, drew particular significance from the fact that a "manifesto" was left behind by the attackers and that significant technical skill was needed to cause the derailment.

Oliver B. (Buck) Revell, former No. 3 official at the FBI, said he was "a little dubious" that a known terrorist group caused the wreck. "Most existing terrorist groups don't leave notes or messages" at the scene of their carnage, said Revell, who heads a Dallas-headquartered international security consulting organization.

But while agreeing that "Sons of Gestapo" appears nowhere in the database of extremist groups maintained by the Militia Task Force of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Klan Watch, Mike Reynolds, an official there, said: "It would be not all out of the ordinary for a particular cell" of a larger organization "to sign off that way." Reynolds likened it to the signatures of unknown cells left behind by such terrorist groups as the left-wing Weather Underground in the 1970s.

Revell, however, focused on statements by Roberto Concepcion, a bartender on the train who said a passenger handed him an anti-government "manifesto" that the passenger said had been found on tracks after the derailment.

The passenger "said it was an unsigned, typewritten, anti-government manifesto," Concepcion told the Associated Press while he was in a Phoenix hospital for treatment of injuries he suffered in the derailment.

Revell said he thought the publishing of the Unabomber "manifesto" by the Washington Post at the urging of the FBI and Justice Department could have spurred a "copy-cat syndrome" with individuals or a group saying: "If the Unabomber can get away with it. . . . "

"I think the publishing of the Unabomber manifesto broke the tradition that you don't give in to terrorist demands," Revell said, citing the report that an anti-government "manifesto" had been found at the train wreck.

Revell, one of the few experts to urge reporters to consider possibilities other than Middle East terrorism in the hours after the April 19 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 169 people, said he saw three possible scenarios behind the train incident.

One would be "young folks trying to see if they could pull something off and concocting this, using the Unabomber, Ruby Ridge and Waco as their rationale."

A second would be "reactionary, anti-government elements" reacting to Ruby Ridge, Timothy J. McVeigh, who is a defendant in the Oklahoma City bombing, and the "anti-law enforcement bent" Revell said he sees emerging in U.S. society.

The third would be a skinhead or neo-Nazi group, he said.

He said he dimly recalled seeing "Sons of Gestapo" being mentioned in skinhead literature but could not be more precise.

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that "the signature 'Sons of Gestapo' and [the mention of] Waco suggest to us that they [those responsible] are a right-wing, anti-Semitic group. This incident unfortunately demonstrates that domestic terrorism is a clear and present danger to the American people."

Rick Eaton, a researcher with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said that "Sons of Gestapo" signals that "a younger element" is behind the action against the passenger train. The name sounds like "something created on the spur of the moment and tells me that a younger element was listening to propaganda and decided to do something 'on our own,' " Eaton said.

The sparsely populated expanses of Arizona provide perfect cover for terrorists, according to Robert A. Wood, a political scientist at North Dakota State University.

"Right-wing groups, in general, tend to operate in rural areas of the country," said Wood, who co-edited a recent book on rural law enforcement.

Assuming that anti-government zealotry drove both the Oklahoma City bombing of last April and Monday's Amtrak derailment, Wood said that both events vary from previous, far-right terrorism.

"These incidents usually have targeted one individual, or a number of individuals . . . " Wood said, citing the killing in 1985 of a Denver radio show host and attacks on judges and IRS agents. "I've never heard of right-wing groups doing anything like this before but we're into a new era."

Several terrorism authorities said they were not surprised that the latest terrorism took place in Arizona. Reynolds of Klan Watch's Militia Task Force said his group's database shows 47 white supremacist groups and 22 militias and paramilitary organizations operating in the state. But it came as a surprise to one law enforcement official in the state.

"If someone had gone to Washington, D.C., and done something to the Capitol, or shot up the White House, that would not surprise me; but this does," said Graham County Sheriff Richard I. Mack, who patrols desert and mountain terrain about 140 miles northeast of Tucson.

"I think the fear, the anger, it's all aimed at the government," said Mack. "To aim the fear and the anger at innocent men, women and children is just mind-boggling to me. . . . I hope that they find out who it was and string 'em up."

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