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Desire for draconian laws fades

Washington - Despite the enduring national grief at the Oklahoma City outrage, a notable political consensus is emerging on the need to avoid hasty and draconian measures to combat terrorism which could bring with them an unacceptable loss of civil liberties, writes Rupert Cornwell.

By yesterday the official count of victims from the bombing of 19 April had risen to 135, and the authorities have given up hope of finding further survivors in the ruins of the Alfred P Murrah federal building - so dangerous in recent days that rescuers were risking their lives.

Instead, heavy equipment will be brought in to remove the rubble, even though, as the Oklahoma Governor, Frank Keating, acknowledged, some corpses will therefore probably never be recovered.

A further 60 individuals are still unaccounted for, meaning that the worst terrorist attack on US soil will ultimately prove to have killed close on 200 people.

But the early thirst for savage new laws to prevent such outrages in future before they happen, has subsided. Despite President Clinton's urgings last week for Congress to stop "quibbling" at his $1.5bn package of proposals, it now looks as though Capitol Hill will take its time before acting.

Some elements of a new law are certain - including more specialist personnel to fight terrorism and the establishment of a command centre to co-ordinate anti-terrorist operations, as well as easier FBI access to suspects' travel and credit records, and special "tagging" to track the sale and use of explosives.

Others though seem increasingly unlikely to pass. Not only civil liberties groups object to secret hearings in which foreigners suspected of links with international terrorism could be deported with no explanation. Another of Mr Clinton's suggestions, that the army be used in crackdowns against domestic and foreign terrorists inside the country, is being rejected on all sides as anti-constitutional.

Meanwhile, yesterday the FBI released a new impression, the third so far, of the second suspect in the case, referred to as "John Doe No 2". He is described as tanned and muscular, and possibly a weightlifter.

But the net around Timothy McVeigh, arrested for the bombing, seems to be tightening. According to the Dallas press, investigators have found a receipt for a ton of ammonium nitrate fertiliser, the explosive presumed mixed with fuel and used in the blast, which carries Mr McVeigh's fingerprints.

The receipt was found at Herington, Kansas, in the home of Terry Nichols, Mr McVeigh's friend and fellow far-rightist. Mr Nichols, who along with his brother James has been charged with making illegal explosives (though not that used in Oklahoma City) is due to testify today before a federal grand jury investigating the bombing.