Government - and Militias - Tread Softly on Bombing Anniversary

Article excerpt

For the government, April 19 has become like a dark family secret: It looms over everything, yet is seldom discussed.

Federal agencies have quietly planned extra security for Saturday's twin anniversaries of violence: The 1993 fire that killed more than 80 Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas, and the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building that killed 168.

"I think everybody's being sensible about it," Attorney General Janet Reno said this week, refusing to comment further. Other Justice Department officials said they knew of no specific threats. But they added it would be foolish not to be especially careful. Concern is heightened in Atlanta, site of three bombings in nine months, and Denver, where jury selection is under way in the Oklahoma City bombing trial of Timothy McVeigh. "We can't get into details, but we'll take appropriate precautions," one official said. "Every government agency has plans to add extra security based on the circumstances. It just makes sense to take appr opriate steps this time of year." The Oklahoma City bombing exposed a threat of domestic terrorism. Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replied Thursday to the latest Internet rumor: That the A-10 Air Force warplane missing in the Colorado mountains would be used to bomb the Denver courthouse. "I do not have enough information to lead me to believe there's somehow a connection," General Shalikashvili said. "But my intention is to call to all the commanders' attention the fact (that) the anniversary is coming, and that it's prudent to re-evaluate the security situation at their particular installations." Members of citizen "militias" said they worried about violence by the government. They note that April 19 is the anniversary of the 1993 fire that ended the 51-day siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco. The day began with a tank-and-tear-gas raid by the FBI. Immolated in the fire were cult leader David Koresh and about 80 of his followers, including an unknown number of children. Critics have blamed the government for the fire, calling it an attack on gun owners and unorthodox religions. Government agents, who had sought to arrest Branch Davidian leaders on weapons charges, said the sect members set the fires themselves. Prosecutors said the events of Waco inspired the truck bomb that destroyed the Oklahoma City federal building two years later. …