Federal authorities said Friday that they foiled an apparent terrorist plan to unleash a Japanese-style gas attack on visitors to Disneyland during its crowded Easter weekend festivities.
The plot was thwarted when authorities at Los Angeles International Airport apprehended two Japanese travelers a few days before Easter with information in their possession about how to make a highly toxic nerve gas, The Baltimore Sun has learned.
The two were allegedly members of the Japanese cult that released the same type of poison gas - sarin - into the Tokyo subway system last month, killing 12 people and sickening thousands of others, the officials added.
Without divulging specifics of the incident, President Clinton referred to it Friday at a news conference after suspects were taken into custody in connection with the Oklahoma City bombing.
“There was one recent incident with which I was intimately familiar, which involved a quick and secret deployment of a major … effort of FBI and FEMA and Public Health Service and Army personnel because we had a tip of a possible terrorist incident which, thank goodness, did not materialize, but we went to the place and we were ready, we were ready to try to prevent it, and if it occurred, we were ready to respond,” Clinton said.
The president cited the incident as an example of the sort of counter-terrorist activity by the federal government that “the public does not see, most of which I should not comment on.”
According to officials, who divulged details of the operation on condition that they not be identified, the attack was apparently planned for Easter weekend, when the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, Calif., puts on special attractions, swelling attendance at the park.
On Easter Sunday, Disneyland held its annual Roger Rabbit’s Easter Buffet and Scramble, an annual buffet followed by an egg hunt that has been a huge crowd draw. Tom Brocato, manager of publicity at Disneyland, said in a telephone interview that the park never releases crowd figures, but this year’s event was “the best we’ve ever done” in attracting the public.
Federal officials were first alerted to the possibility of a terrorist incident by executives at Disneyland, according to one official.
“They were the ones who sounded the alarm,” he said. Disney received a letter “suggesting something was going to happen,” according to the official.
Brocato, the Disneyland publicist, did not return a second phone call seeking information about the warning.
Independently, Tokyo police alerted the FBI earlier this month that two Japanese men associated with the cult Aum Supreme Truth were flying to Los Angeles International Airport.
Both were apprehended on their arrival in Los Angeles several days before Easter. In their possession were written instructions on how to make sarin, as well as a videotape.
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