The man emerging as a key figure in the Oklahoma City bombing has told authorities that he and Timothy J. McVeigh went “floor-to-floor” through the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building posing as job applicants so they could survey the structure as a potential target for destruction, a source close to the case said Saturday.
Michael Fortier, who went to Oklahoma City with his wife last week to testify before a federal grand jury, contends that while he and McVeigh lived and worked in Kingman, Ariz., they discussed blowing up the Murrah building and several other sites, the source said.
Fortier told the FBI that in the days before the April 19 explosion, he and McVeigh traveled to Oklahoma City together. He said they went inside the nine-story Murrah building to inspect the federal offices located there.
“He said they went floor-to-floor in there, asking about work and picking up job applications,” said the source, a federal official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But he said their real reason was to check the place out.”
Fortier’s account could serve as a major break for federal law enforcement officials who are looking for signs of a wider conspiracy beyond McVeigh and another Army friend, Terry L. Nichols, in the bombing case.
But officials said they are wary that Fortier could be trying to strike a deal with prosecutors, and they harbor doubts about his veracity concerning what he might or might not know about the bombing and other matters.
Earlier this month, for instance, the 26-year-old Arizona man insisted to reporters that McVeigh was being falsely accused in the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
To federal officials, Fortier presents a quandary. Should his current version of events leading up to the explosion hold true, he either becomes a prime witness against McVeigh or the third person to be charged with “aiding and abetting” the bombing conspiracy. His comments about casing the Murrah building not only appear to put him at the scene before the blast, but also indicate he had a direct role in the preparations for the bombing.
Another source close to the case said Fortier began reciting his version of events with McVeigh only after being summoned to testify before the grand jury last week.
His background is being thoroughly reviewed, and “he will be given a polygraph” examination to measure his honesty, the source said. In addition, the FBI will search for any documents or corroborating witnesses that can bear out Fortier’s story.
McVeigh, 27, was arrested in Perry, Okla., on a traffic violation 90 minutes after the bombing. He was charged two days later with carrying out the attack.
Nichols, 40, surrendered in Herington, Kan., on April 21. After a brief period in which he was held as a material witness to the case, Nichols was charged in the bombing. He also provided the FBI with potentially incriminating information, contending that McVeigh warned him in the days before the bombing that “something big was going to happen.”