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Olympic Bombing Stuns World

Games Carry On After Blast Kills 2, Injures 111

Explosion: Terrorism ignites fears in Atlanta, but the stadiums continue to fill for contests. Probe centers on caller who warned of planting device at park. Troops take on a more visible presence as security is heightened.

July 28, 1996|ERIC HARRISON and BILL DWYRE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

ATLANTA — A pipe bomb that hurled snarling shrapnel through a dancing crowd brought desecration Saturday to the Games of the XXVI Olympiad, killing two people, injuring 111 others and touching the event with a stain of terror that sent a shiver around the world.

Soldiers took up heavy arms at Olympic venues, and federal agents with bomb-sniffing dogs descended upon the Games, the first in the United States to know deaths at the hands of a terrorist. President Clinton vowed that the bomber and any accomplices would be found. "We will track them down," he declared. "We will bring them to justice."

In grand tradition, the Games went on. Seven hours and 35 minutes after the explosion, rowers raced across Lake Lanier before a crowd of 30,000. Three minutes later, badminton players began a qualifying round of competition before a full audience of 4,800. Olympic officials said total attendance was close to 90% capacity, and 80% of their volunteers reported to work.

These were the first deadly Olympics since 1972, when Black September Palestinians seized Israeli athletes in Munich during an attack that cost 17 lives. Then too the Games went on. Now horror came to a nation already stunned by the apparent terrorism that downed TWA Flight 800 only 10 days before. Nonetheless, said Francois Carrard, director of the International Olympic Committee, "the Games will go on."

Reaction to the Olympic bombing came instantly. Pope John Paul II condemned it as "senseless violence." German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, whose nation was darkened by the 1972 terrorism, called it "cowardly." Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin said it was "barbaric." French President Jacques Chirac said an "anti-terror" summit this week in Paris should search for ways to guard against bombings.

Across America, people recoiled in shock, then sadness. Terrorism is hardly new here, but this kind of Olympic terrorism surely is. In New Jersey, secretary Mary Klinck said it was hard to digest. Marvin Crow, a Texas businessman, told his brother-in-law in a note: "A few rotten people makes a good world feel bad." Some people avoided watching television for fear that the next piece of news would be bad too.

Atlanta reeled after the explosion. Authorities checked venues and scoured the downtown area. They found 35 suspicious objects between the 1:25 a.m. EDT blast and 10:30 a.m. All turned out to be harmless, including an ominous-looking box abandoned just one block from Olympic headquarters. A morning bomb scare evacuated the Austrian canoe and kayaking team from its quarters at North Georgia University.

Bomb Scares

In the afternoon, there were three similar scares at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, the venue for the boxing competition. Shortly afterward, police evacuated hundreds of people from an underground transportation station and an adjoining shopping mall. They sent a robot into shrubbery near a restaurant in the complex. The robot exploded a duffel bag. Afterward, authorities said it had contained a steam iron.

The fatal incident began with a telephone call.

Woody Johnson, special agent in charge of the FBI in Atlanta, said the call was placed from a pay telephone at 1:07 a.m. EDT to 911 operators by someone who sounded like a "white American male with an indistinguishable accent."

The caller warned that a bomb would explode at Centennial Olympic Park, a public area for Olympic entertainment, in half an hour, Johnson said. "We have a pretty good idea of where the call came from, and we are conducting an investigation around that particular information."

Johnson said the caller did not claim affiliation with any organization or give any motive for the bombing. "I can't comment further on it," Johnson said.

Several hundred people were in the park at the time of the telephone call, clapping and dancing to a Los Angeles-based rock band called Jack Mack and the Heart Attack. Agents of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation were among those providing security. The agents said afterward that they were never told about the bomb threat.

One security guard, however, happened to spot a suspicious package in a green knapsack. The guard summoned a GBI agent. The agent, in turn, called over a bomb squad, which by coincidence was already in the park.

"They arrived within minutes," Johnson said. "They observed the knapsack and were able to see wires and what appeared to be a pipe or pipes in the knapsack."

The officers began to clear the area.

"Within a period of two or three minutes," Johnson said, "the device went off."

Hail of Shrapnel

Eighteen minutes had passed since the telephone call. Authorities were trying late Saturday to determine why the warning was not communicated from the city's 911 emergency service to the GBI agents in the field.

GBI officials and others said, however, that they did not think the agents in the park would have acted any differently if they had known about the threat.

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