Oklahoma: man questioned

Passenger held at Heathrow as death toll from bombing continues to rise
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The Independent Online
Global investigations pointed squarely yesterday to a Middle Eastern origin for the devastating car-bomb attack in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, now feared to have killed up to 100 people.

As rescuers searched last night for survivors in the pulverised remains of the nine-storey Federal office building, an Arab-American arrested at Heathrow, London, was returned to the US for questioning by federal officers investigating the attack.

Italian police announced that the man's luggage, intercepted in Rome, contained material useful for making bombs, including: electrical tape, silicone, a hammer, tweezers and a photo album with pictures of missiles and weapons.

The suspect - named by the Italians as Ahbram Abdallah Ammad, a US citizen of Jordanian origin, was detained when he arrived at Heathrow from Chicago yesterday morning, and questioned by the British immigration authorities. He was described by a senior US official as "a witness" to the attack

Three men of Middle Eastern extraction were also held in the US yesterday on immigration charges but were said last night to be under questioning in connection with the bombing. According to CNN television, two men were picked up in Dallas, in the neighbouring state of Texas, and a third in Oklahoma City, on Wednesday evening.

President Bill Clinton spoke to John Major last night and thanked him for Britain's help. He said that the "question of global terrorism had to be discussed as a matter of urgency" at the next G7 summit.

Earlier a grim-faced President Clinton beseeched Americans no to to "jump to conclusions" and seek revenge against the country's Arab-American community. But he left open the possibility of retaliatory action by the US itself - along the lines of the 1986 bombing of Libya - if any foreign government was proved to have been involved. Mr Clinton said the Oklahoma car-bomb - the worst terrorist incident in US history - was "an attack on the US, our way of life and everything we believe in".

As the shock of the tragedy sank in, Oklahoma's mood turned from sorrow to anger. The state's governor, Frank Keating, told reporters that he stopping a firefighter to thank him for all he was doing. The firefighter replied: "You find out whoever did this. All I've found in here are a baby's finger and an American flag."

Hope was fading last night for an unknown number of people buried beneath the rubble of the Alfred Murrah building.The official death toll stood at 36, including 12 children, but officials were certain the figure would rise. At least 100 people are believed to be unaccounted for. More than 400 people were treated in hospital for injuries.

As rescuers continued to pick their way painstakingly through the debris, structural engineers were drafted in to pinpoint pockets in the rubble in which survivors could still be sheltering.

But, according to Oklahoma's fire chief, Gary Marrs, it could take as much as six days to find all the bodies beneath the mound of glass, concrete and twisted metal. No one had been found alive since a 15-year-old girl was brought out at 10.15pm on Wednesday.

According to several reports from the scene, which was sealed off from the media, rescuers have ceased hearing any sounds of life. No one is sure how many people were in the building, which held more than a dozen US federal branch offices, including the Secret Service. Authorities estimated that there could have been 800 people, but said that some 700 had telephoned to say they were safe. But dozens of families were still waiting for news of relatives listed as missing.

Hamas, Hizbollah and other fundamental Islamic organisations disclaimed any responsibility for the attack but informed sources in the Middle East said the bombing bore all the hallmarks of an act of Middle Eastern terrorism. US Justice Department sources said investigators are focusing on Middle Eastern or extreme Islamic groups and hinted that a breakthrough could come quickly. "We are pursuing a number of good solid leads," Carl Stern, the Justice Department spokesman said.

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