The FBI offered a $1-million reward Tuesday for help in arresting Eric Rudolph, who has been charged in last January's fatal bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic, and for the first time also linked him to the Centennial Park bombing during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
In announcing an increase in the reward for help in capturing Rudolph from $100,000, FBI Director Louis Freeh said the bureau also is placing him on its "10 Most Wanted Fugitives" list and has developed "a significant linkage" between the Birmingham bombing and three earlier Atlanta bombings, including the Olympic blast. He said Rudolph is not an official suspect in the Atlanta cases, but added that he is "the only individual that we're seeking right now" for questioning about those incidents.
Freeh's announcements marked the first official suggestion from the Justice Department that the explosions in Atlanta and Birmingham could be the work of one man or one group, although some law enforcement officials have speculated along those lines. The FBI director's comments also indicated that, despite massive efforts, his investigators have failed to pinpoint who set off the Olympic bomb nearly two years ago and have no hot leads on Rudolph's whereabouts since the Birmingham bombing.
The Jan. 29 attack on the New Woman All Women Health Center in Birmingham, the first fatal bombing of an abortion clinic in the country, killed an off-duty police officer who was working as a security guard and severely injured a nurse as she arrived for work. The Centennial Park explosion, which disrupted Atlanta's celebration of the Summer Olympic Games, killed one woman and injured dozens more.
The only potential link between the Birmingham abortion clinic bombing and the explosion in Atlanta's Centennial Park mentioned by Freeh was the type of bombs used. The FBI long suspected that the Atlanta bombing was the work of Richard Jewell, a security guard working during the Olympics but was later forced to issue a public statement saying that Jewell did not plant the bomb.
The two other Atlanta bombings that Freeh said may be linked to Rudolph occurred in January 1997 near an abortion clinic and a month later outside a bar popular with homosexual men and women. No one was killed in the two blasts but 11 people were injured.
Rudolph, 31, was last seen Jan. 30, the day after the Birmingham bombing, near his home in the rugged mountains of western North Carolina. He made a purchase at a local store and drove his pickup truck a few hundred yards, where he abandoned it and disappeared.
Since then hundreds of federal, state and local law enforcement agents have been searching the area for traces of Rudolph, whom Freeh described Tuesday as an "accomplished hiker, a backwoods person, a survivalist" with a proven ability to live outdoors alone.
In Cherokee County at the western tip of North Carolina, Sheriff Jack Thompson said the new $1-million reward might make Rudolph's capture more likely, adding: "A friend might turn him in for that amount of money."
But Thompson also said he doubts Rudolph is being sheltered by friends. "I think he's on his own," he said. "I think he's hiding somewhere around here."
Freeh said the FBI "hasn't ruled out any possibilities," including that Rudolph is dead or has fled North Carolina. He said that there is no evidence of Rudolph's death and that the search for him has been extended beyond North Carolina.
At a news conference also attended by Attorney General Janet Reno; John Magaw, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; and the chiefs of the Birmingham and Atlanta police departments, Freeh said the investigation has developed a "commonality" between the bombings in the two cities. He said one such link in every case was the type of bombs used, which he described as "powerful, anti-personnel devices containing nails designed to maim and kill."
Freeh noted that in Birmingham and one of the Atlanta bombings, the targets were abortion clinics. In addition, he said, after last year's two Atlanta bombings and the Birmingham bombing this year, letters claiming responsibility for the attacks were sent to news organizations in Atlanta by "the Army of God," an anti-abortion group about which little is known.
The "Army of God" letter after the Atlanta bombings threatened to "target all facilities and personnel of the federal government" and called for "Death to the New World Order." The FBI has not released the letter sent after the Birmingham bombing.
Freeh said that the investigation has not confirmed reports of links between Rudolph and right-wing extremist groups.
The FBI offers a standard $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone on its "10 Most Wanted" list. The up to $1-million reward being offered for help in the Rudolph manhunt is one of the highest the bureau has offered.
Freeh said how much an informant might collect would depend on the quality, reliability and speed of the information provided.
FBI hot line
The FBI asks that anyone with knowledge about Eric Rudolph call (800) 575-9873.