ATLANTA -- Federal law enforcement officials say they have connected Eric Robert Rudolph to smokeless powder purchased Tennessee about four years ago and used in the 1996 bombing in Centennial Olympic Park that killed an Albany woman and injured 111 people.
FBI and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents have said for months that they want to question Rudolph, a fugitive believed to be in the western North Carolina mountains, about three bombings in Atlanta, but the powder evidence appears to connect Rudolph directly to the Atlanta bombings.
Agents say they have interviewed a Tennessee gun dealer who identified Rudolph as the man who bought from him a "special order" of about 50 pounds of smokeless powder. They have connected the powder to the park bomb, agents said. The Tennessee man has not been charged with a crime.
In addition, agents say they have evidence that the dynamite-and-nail bomb that killed an off-duty Birmingham police officer at an Alabama abortion clinic Jan. 29 was detonated remotely, indicating that the bomber saw his target before he activated the device.
Officer Robert DeWayne Sanderson, 35, was killed as he investigated a package that held the bomb. It was left near the front door of Birmingham's New Woman All Women Health Clinic, shortly after Sanderson reported to work at his extra job as a security guard.
Rudolph, an itinerate carpenter from Murphy, N.C., who turns 32 today, has been charged with the Birmingham bombing. He disappeared Jan. 30 and remains a fugitive with a bounty of up to $1 million.
Information on new evidence was confirmed by four federal law enforcement agents connected to the investigation who asked not to be named.
A man who has been identified as Rudolph was seen within two blocks of the Birmingham clinic after the blast. The witness who identified Rudolph said he slipped off a blond wig and drove off in a truck. The witness copied the license number, and law enforcement officials determined that the truck was registered to Rudolph.
Agents said the ATF lab found evidence that the bomb was fitted with components used in remote detonation.
"The main thing here is, that changes the whole perspective," said Bob Finke, retired from the ATF and Army Special Forces. "Now, if he has a remote device, he is definitely trying to kill people. With the other [Atlanta] bombs, [the bomber] didn't know who he was going to get. He couldn't be certain. Now, he is certain. It's basically an assassination. That's what it amounts to."
The single blast at Centennial Olympic Park in July 1996 was followed in January 1997 by two explosions at a Sandy Springs abortion clinic and in February 1997 by the bombing of an FTC Atlanta gay nightclub.
In Olympic Park, an anonymous call warned police that a bomb would explode in 30 minutes; the blast occurred 20 minutes later. In Sandy Springs, a second bomb known as a "gotcha" bomb exploded as police investigated. Police detonated a second bomb by robot at the nightclub. In each case, investigators have said the bomber may have designed the sequence of events to kill law enforcement officers, and they speculate that he may have changed to a remote detonation in Birmingham to ensure that he hit his target.
Woody Enderson, FBI inspector in charge of the Southeast Bomb Task Force, came as close as he ever has to naming Rudolph a suspect in the Atlanta cases earlier this week when he said investigators had "developed additional evidence" linking the fugitive to the five devices planted here. He would not elaborate.
Investigators are trying to decide whether to prosecute Rudolph first in Birmingham where they have an identification, or in Atlanta where the evidence will be based strongly on the forensics or makeup of the bombs.
Pub Date: 9/19/98