Originally created 01/17/97

Bombs blast abortion clinic; 6 hurt



ATLANTA - Two bomb blasts an hour apart rocked a building containing an abortion clinic Thursday, injuring six people who had rushed to the scene of the first explosion, including federal agents, rescue workers and a TV cameraman.

"The second explosion is clearly designed to maim and hurt those who were coming to assist," said Mayor Bill Campbell. "So we're dealing with a warped mind here."

The explosions left the Atlanta Northside Family Planning Services clinic in ruins and blew out windows across the street along a busy commercial strip north of Atlanta. Police immediately tightened security at clinics in Atlanta.

President Clinton condemned the explosions as "a vile and malevolent act."

"Make no mistake: Anyone who brings violence against a woman trying to exercise her constitutional rights is committing an act of terror," he said.

The first bomb went off at 9:30 a.m. near the clinic on the ground floor of a five-story office building that also houses lawyers, dentists and other professionals. The second bomb went off near a trash bin in the parking lot.

A crowd of investigators, police, journalists and bystanders who had gathered outside after the first explosion heard a loud boom and felt the concussion. They could see a bright flash and debris flying in the air.

"It was scary as hell," said clinic counselor Geralyn Thompson, who arrived just after the first blast. "I probably will never work at an abortion clinic again in Atlanta."

All of the injuries appeared to be minor. An Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent was seen bleeding from the head and hands as he was carried to an ambulance. The other injured included two FBI agents, a firefighter, an ambulance worker and a television cameraman.

In Washington, Assistant Attorney General Deval Patrick said there was no immediate claim of responsibility and that investigators were checking with law enforcement agencies to see if any warning was received.

A federal law enforcement official, demanding anonymity, warned investigators not to get "locked in on the clinic."

"We're not saying for sure that it was aimed at the clinic. We're being very careful because we have no evidence on the motivation," the official said, noting that there are other businesses in the building.

Employees of the Atlanta Northside clinic said it does not see patients every day and none were expected Thursday. The blast apparently took place at the back of the clinic, away from the only two employees there at the time.

The attacks came five days before the 24th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Patrick said the government has for several years sent alerts to state and local law enforcement agencies around the anniversary to watch for violence. But it was not immediately known if this year's alert had gone out yet.

Police evacuated other buildings in the area after the second explosion around 10:35 a.m. and closed down nearby ramps to Interstate 285, which circles the city.

Campbell dispatched extra police officers to all abortion clinics in the city as a precaution. A nearby clinic was briefly evacuated after the second blast, but all said they would remain open.

U.S. Attorney Kent Alexander said investigators were combing the area to make sure there wasn't a third bomb. "There's no reason to think there is, but there was no reason to think there was a second device," he said.

Alexander said that authorities would compare the case to the Olympic bombing last summer but that there was no reason yet to believe the cases are linked.

"We are not ruling out domestic terrorism unrelated to clinic violence," Alexander said.

The Justice Department's Patrick said: "We presume the clinic was the target, but we are keeping an open mind and not ruling anything out. We don't know enough yet."

The last abortion clinic violence in Atlanta came in 1984, when the same clinic, then located a few miles away, was firebombed. The clinic is now under different ownership.

Last month, there were three arson attempts at the A-Z Women's Center in Phoenix; an armed robbery at Planned Parenthood of Dallas and northeastern Texas; and a doctor was stabbed at a Baton Rouge, La., abortion clinic.

Justice Department figures show that from 1993 through 1995, there were 15 or 16 bombings and arsons at abortion clinics per year. That total dropped to only seven last year, spokesman Bert Brandenburg said.

In 1994, John Salvi shot and killed two receptionists at abortion clinics in Brookline, Mass., and former minister Paul Hill used a shotgun to kill two men outside a Pensacola, Fla., clinic. A year earlier, Dr. David Gunn was shot to death at another Pensacola clinic.

Federal authorities are asking that anyone with information on the bombing contact them at the following toll-free number: (888) ATF-BOMB.