The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said yesterday that it had "officially discounted" the possibility that international terrorists planted the pipe bombs that were discovered earlier this week at two chemical tanks in Norfolk, Va.
In a statement issued after five days of investigation, the bureau characterized the incident as "a serious criminal act" but said:
"The motive for the bombing is in no way connected to the war in the Persian Gulf or to the naval facilities located in Norfolk."
The bureau's statement did not elaborate, but federal officials familiar with the inquiry said investigators from the firearms bureau, as well as from the FBI, were focusing on whether the bombs were the work of an arsonist who wanted to destroy the chemicals in the tanks for "financial reasons," presumably to collect insurance.
They said there was a suspect.
One official described the bombs as crude, adding that they were "the good old all-American kind that common criminals plant all the time, certainly not the kind that experienced terrorists use."
The bombs discovered early Monday at the base of the chemical tanks were found during a routine inspection.
The tank storage site, owned by Allied Terminals Inc., is near the center of the port city and not far from a naval repair installation and a residential neighborhood.
One tank contained a million gallons of methanol, a flammable liquid, and the other contained a million gallons of sodium sulfate, a relatively harmless mixture of water and salts.
In the statement by the firearms bureau, the director, Stephen E. Higgins, said investigators were giving their "full attention" to the incident.
"Investigators have officially discounted terrorism as the motive," Mr. Higgins said. "While it is unusual to comment on the motive in an ongoing investigation, we recognize that this is a time of heightened concern and believe it is important to allay unwarranted public concerns."