Atlanta `hero' denies placing bomb

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For several days, he was trumpeted as the all-American hero of the Olympics. Richard Jewell, a podgy 17-stone security guard and former policeman, was the man who said he spotted the suspicious knapsack that turned out to be a bomb in Atlanta's crowded Centennial Park last Saturday. "Had it not been for Richard, there could have been dozens of fatalities instead of two," his colleagues said.

Yesterday, FBI agents questioned Mr Jewell for the second day and searched the Atlanta apartment where he lives with his mother, looking for evidence that might show he planted the bomb himself.

"We are treating him as a suspect," an FBI agent said, although Mr Jewell was not under detention.

He could be seen yesterday,sitting on a stairwell outside the apartment with FBI agents while others conducted a detailed search inside.

FBI sources said evidence against Mr Jewell, described by former colleagues as having been "a gung-ho cop with a history of over-zealous policing", was so far only circumstantial. The case against the bomber would hinge on evidence still being studied in FBI laboratories in Washington. That includes fragments of the pipe bomb, a green knapsack it was left in and the nearby pay-phone from which a warning call was made about 20 minutes before the bomb went off.

Mr Jewell, who had gone from talk show to talk show in the first three days after the bomb, appearing as a shy, retiring hero, denied involvement. "Did you do it?" A reporter shouted as he arrived at local FBI offices for questioning. "No, sir, I did not do this," he replied. FBI special agent David Tubbs told a crowd of reporters outside the flat: "This search does not constitute evidence of guilt. [It] is part of an ongoing investigative process. Mr Jewell has been fully co-operative. He has not been charged with any crime."

The news that the would-be hero may have been the bomber stunned Atlanta, still trying to come to terms with the blast that ripped through Centennial Park, the bustling social point of the Olympics, during a concert at 1.30am last Saturday.

Many Atlantans, Olympic officials and athletes expressed relief that a suspect had been found. Many were shocked to realise that a single person may have been responsible for an incident which came close to halting the Games. That the bomber may have been a security guard assigned to protect Centennial Park added to the disbelief.

The FBI came under criticism yesterday for apparently leaking the news that Mr Jewell was a suspect before having enough evidence to detain or charge him.

First Lady Hillary Clinton visited the site of the bomb yesterday and saw what has become a kind of shrine, with hundreds of thousands of visitors leaving flowers, their national flags, and goodwill messages. It was at this site where Mr Jewell gave one of his "shy hero" interviews. When the park was reopened to the public on Tuesday morning, he was interviewed live by Katie Couric of NBC. "You did the right thing," Ms Couric told him as thousands of people cheered.

"If my 15 minutes of fame was finding this package and saving some lives, that will be fine with me," he said in another interview.

Robert Fisk's Essay, page 16