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Experts Search for Source of Oklahoma City Bomb

By David Maraniss and Pierre Thomas
The Washington Post

With no breakthroughs in the nationwide hunt for the tattooed suspect known as John Doe No. 2, federal agents investigating the terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City concentrated Monday on evidence related to the manufacture of the bomb. They also drew new connections between Timothy James McVeigh, who has been charged in the bombing, and his friend Terry Lynn Nichols, who has been detained as a material witness.

Forensics experts spent the day examining shards of blue plastic found amid the ruins of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and in the bodies of some victims to see if they matched the plastic in blue containers seized in a cache of possible bomb-making materials at Nichols's home in rural Kansas. "They were finding pieces of blue plastic in victims," said a senior law enforcement source. "That's why they were so excited when we found the blue drums on Nichols's property."

As the crumbling bomb site was made more secure Monday, FBI and Treasury Department bomb experts began sifting through the blast crater in search of additional fragments from the car bomb's point of origin, believed to be a Ryder rental truck. Other agents examined a computer-enhanced videotape taken from a security camera a block from the bomb site on the morning of the blast that appeared to show a Ryder truck and might show its occupants.

McVeigh, the 27-year-old Army veteran being held in a medium-security prison near Oklahoma City, has refused to talk to investigators. He has not been interviewed since his arrest last Friday, according to two lawyers assigned to defend him, who characterized his demeanor as "polite." The lawyers revealed that they have asked to be taken off the case, arguing that they could not defend a man suspected of killing their friends and colleagues.

The Pentagon, which had sealed McVeigh's military file after his arrest, released it Monday, with a spokesman describing it as "a very ordinary, normal file." There were two points of interest nonetheless: McVeigh earned a Bronze Star for his service in Operation Desert Storm, along with several lesser medals. And he joined the service on the same day as Terry Nichols in 1988, went through the same basic training class at Fort Benning, Ga., and later was stationed with him in the same company of the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kan. Nichols received a hardship discharge for undisclosed personal reasons in May 1989. McVeigh served until the last day of 1991.

Nichols and McVeigh spent considerable time together after each left the service, including a several-month period when they lived in Decker, Mich., at the farmhouse of Nichols's brother, James. They shared an interest in guns, explosives and far right militia organizations, and a hatred for federal authorities. In the month before the bombing, McVeigh was seen mostly in the company of another man - the square-jawed, dark-haired, tattooed John Doe No. 2 - but evidence is accumulating that during that same period Terry Nichols and McVeigh were working in concert.

There were three possible lines of evidence Monday in that regard. Federal agents seized a U-Haul trailer that Nichols rented at 7:30 a.m. on April 3 from a Herington, Kan., dealership and returned the next day. The trailer may have hauled fertilizer and other materials that could have been used to make a bomb, agents said. Investigators also took plaster casts of tire marks outside a temporary storage facility that Nichols rented on Route 77 about a mile from his house in Herington.

And investigators searching for possible locations where the bombers may have purchased ammonium nitrate - a common fertilizer used in the bombing - learned that Sunflower Services, a local farm supply store, received at least one recent order for ammonium nitrate in a pure form, without the phosphates it usually contains. "They wanted straight nitrogen," said Jeff Riffell, one of the store's managers. Riffell could not identify who made the order, which he said he found odd.

Feelings were so intense about the Oklahoma City catastrophe that John W. Coyle, the experienced criminal lawyer who had been assigned to defend McVeigh, received death threats and spent Monday with protective federal marshals at his side. After announcing that he wanted to be replaced in the case, he said he thought it impossible for McVeigh to receive a fair trial in the state. "The people of Oklahoma are fair people," he said. "But this is the ultimate test."