June 29, 1995 in Nation/World

Bomber Now Says Threat ‘Just A Prank’ Air Travel, Mail Delivery In California Thrown Into Chaos By Unabomber Letter

Dinos Lambropoulos Associated Press
 

After throwing air travel and mail delivery into chaos with a threat to blow up a plane out of Los Angeles, the Unabomber said it was all just “one last prank.”

The New York Times said it received a letter late Wednesday night in which the Unabomber took responsibility for the bomb threat and said the whole thing was a ruse.

“Since the public has a short memory, we decided to play one last prank to remind them who we are,” the letter said. “But, no, we haven’t tried to plant a bomb on an airline (recently).”

The letter also expressed remorse for some past acts. “We don’t think it is necessary for us to do any public soul-searching in this letter. But we will say that we are not insensitive to the pain caused by our bombings.”

The Times said the FBI authenticated the mail late Wednesday, but said the agency would continue to take the threat seriously. A call to the FBI by The Associated Press wasn’t immediately returned.

The threat to blow up a plane by the July Fourth weekend temporarily grounded all mail in California on Wednesday and imposed the tightest airport security since the Gulf War.

The warning received Tuesday by the San Francisco Chronicle, read: “WARNING. The terrorist group FC, called unabomber by the FBI, is planning to blow up an airliner out of Los Angeles International Airport some time during the next six days.”

The typewritten letter was pronounced authentic by the FBI. Ed Jones, division manager of security for the Federal Aviation Administration, said “We do deem it to be a credible threat.”

It represented the first time the elusive bomber had threatened a target in advance.

At airports from San Francisco to Los Angeles and San Diego, passengers had to produce photo ID at counters and curbside baggage check-ins and were told their bags might be opened. The FAA also warned travelers to watch for suspicious bags or parcels and expect security delays.

Long lines formed as ticket agents checked passengers’ identification. Some travelers changed their plans.

Tracy Woods, originally scheduled to fly to Dallas from Los Angeles International Airport, switched to a flight out of Burbank Airport.

“I do really take this fellow really seriously, somebody who has been able to elude the FBI for this long,” she said. “If it was some kind of terrorist threat or something like that, then I might not take it seriously. But this I do.”

Others, like John Mulcrone of West Hollywood, who had to produce his driver’s license to check in at the curb at Los Angeles International Airport, said he felt “unsafe, but I try not to let it ruin my life.”

At Los Angeles International Airport, which is the world’s fifthbusiest, handling nearly 1 million passengers a week, police added officers and posted one with a bombsniffing dog near the United shuttle gate. A United Airlines president was once the target of the Unabomber.

Some airlines waived fees for passengers wanting to change their flights. There was no rush to cancel flights in advance of the Independence Day holiday, airlines said. But signs of the scare were showing.

“We’ve had a lot of worried people calling,” said Joel Weinberger, an agent at Adore Travel in Los Angeles. He had just one cancellation, however.

All mail flown in and from California was ordered halted for most of the day. Many of the Unabomber’s explosives have been mailed from Northern California post offices, and the FBI has said the Unabomber probably lives near Sacramento.

Some of the mail security measures were similar to those taken during the Gulf War, said Postal Inspector Daniel L. Mihalko in Washington. He said anything going aboard aircraft would be scrutinized.

Late Wednesday, the Postal Service said it had worked out guidelines with the Federal Aviation Administration to resume shipment of letters. It said it also would soon resume package service under heightened security measures.

It wasn’t clear how the letter proclaiming the hoax would affect mail delivery and airport security.

Federal Express and United Parcel Service, which rely on their own planes, said they would continue to fly but were instituting stricter security in California. Both said occasional or first-time air shippers are being asked for personal ID, and all documents and packages are subject to visual inspection.

In Sydney, Australia, police searched a United Airlines jet that arrived from Chicago and Los Angeles on Thursday morning after a bomb scare.

Passengers said they were about two hours from Sydney when the crew told them they suspected a bomb was in the rear of the plane. The passengers were herded toward the front of the 747 until it landed.

A police source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the device was not a bomb.

The letter containing the Unabomber threat, postmarked San Francisco, did not refer to any specific flight. And the FBI said it was not clear when the six-day period began.

In the letter to The New York Times, the Unabomber referred to a 1979 altitude-triggered incendiary bomb that he sent on an American Airlines flight. The bomb partially detonated in the cargo hold during flight, and 12 people suffered smoke inhalation.

“In one case we attempted unsuccessfully to blow up an airliner,” the letter said. “The idea was to kill a lot of business people who we assumed would constitute the majority of the passengers.”

“But of course some of the passengers likely would have been innocent people - maybe kids, or some working stiff going to see his sick grandmother.”

The Times said the letter also contained a passage discussing the morality of past acts, including a 1982 bomb sent to a professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

“A bomb package that we mailed to computer scientist Patrick Fischer injured his secretary when she opened it. We certainly regret that. And when we were young and comparatively reckless we were much more careless in selecting targets that than we are now.”

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Excerpt from latest Unabomber letter

Associated Press

The New York Times received a letter Wednesday that said in part: “Since the public has a short memory, we decided to play one last prank to remind them who we are. But, no, we haven’t tried to plant a bomb on an airline (recently).” “In one case we attempted unsuccessfully to blow up an airliner. The idea was to kill a lot of business people who we assumed would constitute the majority of the passengers.” “But of course some of the passengers likely would have been innocent people - maybe kids, or some working stiff going to see his sick grandmother. We’re glad now that that attempt failed.”

This sidebar appeared with the story: Excerpt from latest Unabomber letter

Associated Press

The New York Times received a letter Wednesday that said in part: “Since the public has a short memory, we decided to play one last prank to remind them who we are. But, no, we haven’t tried to plant a bomb on an airline (recently).” “In one case we attempted unsuccessfully to blow up an airliner. The idea was to kill a lot of business people who we assumed would constitute the majority of the passengers.” “But of course some of the passengers likely would have been innocent people - maybe kids, or some working stiff going to see his sick grandmother. We’re glad now that that attempt failed.”


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email