Tax grudge clue in Reno bomb plot

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The Independent Online


Two neighbours from Gardnerville, Nevada, discovered over a chat on a Sunday morning recently that they had a common dislike: the taxman.

So that day, according to the police, they built a 100lb bomb, placed it inside a plastic drum, drove 45 miles north to the city of Reno and dropped it outside an office of the Inland Revenue Service. The ingredients Ellis Edward Hurst and Joseph Martin Bailie used to make the bomb were fertiliser and fuel, the mixture that blew up a government building in Oklahoma City in April, killing 169 people. But that, police believe, is where the similarity ends.

Because of a faulty fuse, the bomb failed to go off. Nor was it apparently designed to cause loss of life. Had the home-made device detonated, it might have levelled the building. But the likelihood was that none of the 70 tax-office employees would have been hurt, as the bomb was timed to go off on the evening of Sunday, 17 December, when the building was empty.

Mr Hurst allegedly confessed to the crime, implicating his friend, Mr Bailie, after his arrest on Thursday. FBI officials said yesterday they had established no connection between the would-be Reno bombers - one a garbage-disposal worker, the other an odd-job man - and the two suspected right-wing extremists accused of the Oklahoma killings. Neither had they found any evidence to suggest Mr Hurst and Mr Bailie belonged to any organised political faction, such as the far-right "militias" whose members have been linked to a series of bombings of government buildings in Nevada over the past two years.

"We have nothing to indicate this was connected with any other bombings in Nevada or anywhere else in the United States," an FBI agent said at a news conference on Thursday.

However, officials said they were continuing investigations and would not rule out the possibility that the two men, who have been charged and face a maximum prison sentence of 50 years each, might have been part of an anti-tax movement that has been growing in the western US in recent years.

So far the evidence suggests Mr Hurst and Mr Bailie acted on their own initiatives. Federal prosecutors said both men had a troubled history with the IRS. What appears to have upset Mr Bailie is the action the IRS took to oblige him to meet his fiscal obligations. According to police, they wrote to Mr Bailie's employer with instructions to send his month's wages straight to the IRS in lieu of unpaid taxes.