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Officials trying to prepare for chemical terrorist attack

December 20, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Concerned that terrorists may someday target the nation’s capital with chemical weapons, officials are working to develop a response plan. So far, they say, they are not ready.

``I am still convinced that a whole bunch of firemen and policemen are going to die in that first hour,″ said LeRoy Oettinger, chief of the Montgomery County Fire Department in suburban Maryland. ``They’ll want to help, but we’re ill-equipped at the local level to do anything.″

The Washington-area Council of Governments is working to develop a response plan to a chemical attack, hoping it may someday serve as a model for other metropolitan areas. But the plans have not gotten off the drawing board, and there have been no simulated attacks for firefighters and police officers to prepare, Oettinger said.

Oettinger points to terrorist bombings in Oklahoma City and at the World Trade Center and the 1995 Tokyo subway gassing as he predicts a domestic chemical attack before the end of the century.

``We’re ripe for a chemical terrorist attack in the United States,″ he said. ``The question is when and where. ... I just hope that wherever it is, they’re a little better prepared for it.″

His comments echoed a Senate committee report in March that concluded the nation is ill-prepared to cope with the explosion of a chemical, biological or nuclear weapon by terrorists.

``It is not a matter of `if’ but rather `when’ such an event will occur,″ the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said. ``Many of the terrorist groups of today appear more likely to utilize weapons of mass destruction.″

At the time, fire chiefs complained that they were not prepared for such an attack and needed training and equipment.

The larger issue of domestic terrorism, specifically in the Patriot Movement, is the subject of a report scheduled to air Saturday evening on the cable station A&E’s ``Investigative Reports.″

The program examines ``the new face of terrorism,″ examining the goals, strategies and activities of the Patriot Movement. It includes an interview with Randy Weaver, whose wife and son were killed in a 1992 siege in Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

Weaver, a white separatist who has become a martyr for the militia movement, says he does not condone killing or other terrorist acts.

``They teach that the white race is superior and ... it’s OK to go out and kill them because they’re different. And that’s totally wrong,″ he told A&E. ``Don’t be going out and killing people in the name of Ruby Ridge, period. Leave us out.″

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