Atrocity in Oklahoma


The bombers of Oklahoma City made war on the people of the United States. All our sympathy goes to the survivors and families of victims of the most murderous terrorist act in the nation's history. But it is not only the federal workers, citizens going about their business and toddlers in the day care center of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building who were victims. So were all of us, in terror for ourselves, fear for others and constraints on our lives. If Oklahoma City, then anywhere in America.

President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno moved swiftly not only to dispatch the necessary expertise and set up an organization to cope with the emergency but also to address the nation and its concerns. They understood the magnitude of the atrocity in psychological as well as material or physical terms.

The United States, though enduring a murder and gunfire epidemic, has been relatively free recently of such terrorism. There were many smaller bombings two and three decades ago, when several home-grown terrorist movements were at work. All those have subsided. Hence the shock at the New York World Trade Center bombing in February 1993, the work of foreigners.

Other countries have been living with public bombings, random death and daily fear for many years. They know what we now encounter. Americans, with their emotions about the bombers of Oklahoma City, can better appreciate why Ulster Unionists have trouble sitting down with Gerry Adams and Israelis with Yasser Arafat, given the history of both in promoting bombings in public place before declaring their respective cease-fires.

On outward appearance, this bombing resembles the technique developed in Beirut and associated with Middle East extremists and the World Trade Center bombing. This one occurred during the trial of 11 defendants in New York for allegedly planning more. But this bombing method has been so publicized that it could be mimicked by others.

While many terrorists see no point if they don't get credit or publicize their cause, others crave anonymity. Hours before the bombing in Oklahoma, a commuter train line was attacked with poison gas in Yokohama, Japan, as an apparent reprise of the fatal March 20 gassing in the Tokyo subway, for which no group claims responsibility.

So Americans should heed President Clinton's caution not to jump to conclusions about the Oklahoma perpetrators. Retribution against people who didn't do it, or castigation of large groups of innocents, only does the terrorists' work.

Several 1970s bombings in the United States went unsolved. Great advances in investigative technique quickly solved the 1993 New York World Trade Center attack. For that, four men have each been sentenced to 240 years in prison. Their alleged )) ringleader, captured in Pakistan in February, awaits trial. The chances of catching the Oklahoma City bombers look good as a result. Determination, not panic, brings justice.

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