BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — No longer a witness wanted for questioning, 31-year-old Eric Robert Rudolph is now officially a hunted suspect in the nation's first fatal bombing of an abortion clinic.
After examining Rudolph's hastily vacated trailer in the remote woods of western North Carolina--along with the storage locker he was renting and the gray pickup truck he was driving, which hunters found abandoned last weekend--investigators said Saturday they believe that Rudolph was responsible for the crude homemade bomb that went off outside the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic here Jan. 29, leaving an off-duty police officer dead and the clinic's top nurse blinded in one eye.
Whether or not Rudolph was also involved in two bombings in Atlanta last year, which injured 12 people, or in the bombing that killed one woman and shattered the 1996 Summer Olympics, Jones and other investigators wouldn't say.
"It's still an open question," said James Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of Birmingham for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, at a news conference near the site of the clinic bombing.
In letters sent recently to media outlets, a mysterious 15-year-old group called the Army of God took responsibility for the Birmingham bomb.
The same group sent letters taking responsibility for last year's Atlanta bombings.
Investigators have said both sets of letters are similar but have not said definitively that they are connected.
Moments after the announcement of a new arrest warrant, which amends the previous warrant listing Rudolph as a material witness, Cavanaugh issued an almost fatherly appeal for Rudolph to surrender.
"I'm concerned for everyone involved, including Eric," he said. "This would be a whole lot easier, this whole situation, if Eric would call us and he would come in voluntarily."
Cavanaugh said Rudolph will have to answer for the crime of which he's accused but cautioned that the alternative would be far worse.
"I'm going to be straight with Eric," Cavanaugh said. "If he calls us and comes forward, he's going to be arrested. He's going to be taken before a judge and he's going to have to stand in a court of law. But that's the right way to resolve this situation."
He added that investigators have learned much about the suspect over the last two weeks.
"We've found Eric is an intelligent person. He's a veteran. He knows what I'm saying is the best way."
Cavanaugh wouldn't discuss Rudolph's 18 months in the Army, which may have included instruction in making explosives and almost certainly included some sort of survival training.
Joseph R. Lewis, FBI special agent in charge of Birmingham, denied that the 2-week-old manhunt for Rudolph, which has included helicopters, bloodhounds and house-to-house searches in the Smoky Mountains, has hit a wall.
He also brushed aside the suggestion that Rudolph could be somewhere other than the swath of forest on which federal investigators have focused.
"That's where he's home," Lewis said. "That's where he's comfortable, and we feel that's probably where he is."
If so, one investigator, who spoke off the record, said the deep woods and high mountains could make it nearly impossible for searchers to find Rudolph any time soon.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama organization that tracks racist and extremist activity, claims to have proof that Rudolph was linked to an anti-government group called Northpoint Tactical Teams, which operates a heavily armed camp in the remote woods near Rudolph's trailer.
Investigators also announced that they are offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Rudolph or anyone involved in the Birmingham bombing.
And they warned that anyone helping Rudolph, who is considered armed and dangerous, risks being prosecuted for federal crimes as well.
Based on an FBI tip, an Erik Farley Rudolph was arrested Saturday as he left a plane in Baltimore, transit police told the Associated Press. But it was quickly determined that he was not the bombing suspect.
The spokeswoman said he resembled the suspect enough that his friends were joking about it.
Erik Rudolph was held on a charge of marijuana possession.