February 23, 1997 in Nation/World

Atlanta Attack Appears Similar To Earlier Blasts Police Fear Serial Bomber May Be Loose In City

Stephen Barr Washington Post
 

The bombing of a popular gay and lesbian nightclub here late Friday was strikingly similar to that of a suburban abortion clinic in mid-January and has some of the same characteristics as the Centennial Park bombing during last summer’s Olympics.

Federal law enforcement officials said Saturday they fear a sadistic serial bomber may be responsible for the terrorist assaults.

“We clearly believe that we are dealing with a deranged killer, but one that is very clever as well,” Mayor Bill Campbell told reporters.

The explosion Friday at the Otherside Lounge in the Piedmont Road neighborhood spewed large nails into the crowded club, injuring at least four people and sending more than 100 patrons scrambling to escape, officials said Saturday.

The bomb, placed on a patio at the back of the club, blew up shortly after 10 p.m. Police found a second bomb in the club’s parking lot. That bomb was detonated by police early Saturday morning.

Law enforcement officials familiar with both Friday’s attack and the abortion clinic assault last month said there were chilling similarities in the both the devices and the circumstances of the terrorist attacks. The two devices found at the club at first glance appeared “nearly identical” to the two bombs that blew up outside the clinic, officials said.

In both attacks, high explosives - most likely dynamite - were used. In each instance, two bombs were placed. In both assaults, the bombs were deployed similarly, with one bomb placed near potential victims inside the targeted establishment and the other outside the building.

Law enforcement officials think the second bombs may have been aimed at maiming or killing the rescue workers and police officers.

Sources familiar with the probes into the Olympic and abortion clinic attacks said investigators suspect the assailant or assailants are influenced by extremist philosophies. Some extremist circles view abortion and homosexuality as symbols of the demise of American culture, and many extremists also are antagonistic toward law enforcement officials.

Last July, a crude pipe bomb, built with a simple clock and low-grade explosive powder, sprayed deadly shrapnel into a crowd at Centennial Olympic Park. The shrapnel included masonry nails placed in a plastic food container. The bomb and the nails were inside a backpack. The explosion, during a late-night concert, killed one woman and injured 100 others. A Turkish television cameraman died of a heart attack while rushing to the bomb scene.

Friday’s attack bears some similarities to the Centennial Park Olympic assault, authorities said. Shrapnel was used in both attacks. And in the lounge assault, one of the bombs was placed in a backpack.

But there also are stark differences between the Olympic bombing and the attacks on the nightclub and abortion clinic. There was a single device in the the Olympic assault, and it was a low-grade pipe-bomb type. High explosives were used in the nightclub and abortion clinic attacks.

In addition, the Olympic park bombing was preceded by a warning call. The clinic and nightclub bombings came without warning.

Authorities expressed concern more terrorist assaults are likely. “This is scary stuff,” said an FBI official.


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