Investigators piece together bombing mystery

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) New details of Timothy McVeigh's activities in the days before the Oklahoma bombing surfaced yesterday, including the suspect's chilling warning to a friend that ''Something big is going to happen.''

Investigators also were trying to trace McVeigh's movements after the explosion that gutted the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, a source told The Associated Press. One theory was that McVeigh dropped off a still-missing colleague before he was arrested for traffic and weapons violations.

Three witnesses placed McVeigh in front of the federal building moments before the explosion apparently before the truck carrying the bomb arrived, according to the same source.

Revelations of McVeigh's actions in the days before the bombing came in a Wichita, Kan., courtroom as prosecutors sought to take the friend, Terry Nichols, to Oklahoma. The judge granted their request but delayed it until May 5 so Nichols could appeal.

As the investigation advanced, the city and the nation paused to observe a moment of silence at 9:02 a.m. the precise moment of the blast one week ago. Bells rang, tears flowed and heads bowed as searchers stood amid the ruins of the collapsed federal building.

The death toll stood at 98.

In court, U.S. Attorney Randy Rathbun said McVeigh called Nichols from Oklahoma City on April 16 and asked him to pick him up. Nichols, 40, lives in Herington, Kan., about 270 miles north of Oklahoma City.

Rathbun, quoting what Nichols told the FBI after he was taken in, gave this account of what happened next:

Nichols picked McVeigh up, and as the two men drove north, McVeigh told Nichols: ''Something big is going to happen.'' Nichols responded: ''Are you going to rob a bank?'' and McVeigh repeated, ''Something big is going to happen.''

The men reached Junction City, Kan., early in the morning of April 17. The FBI says the Ryder truck used in the bombing was rented in Junction City later that day.

The next day, McVeigh borrowed Nichols' pickup truck and told him, ''If I don't come back in a while, go clean up the storage shed.'' He returned the truck later that day.

Both McVeigh and Nichols had access to a shed outside Herington that was rented under an alias, Rathbun said. Sources have said tire tracks matching the type of truck used in the bombing were found at the shed.

The bomb exploded the next morning in Oklahoma City.

Minutes before the blast, and apparently before the arrival of the truck carrying the 4,800-pound bomb, three witnesses saw McVeigh in front of the federal building, a law enforcement official in Washington told the AP on condition of anonymity.

The truck was in front of the building ''less than 10 or 15 minutes. There was probably a very short-fused timing device on it,'' the official said.

The official also said McVeigh's

1977 yellow Mercury Marquis contained a handwritten notice suggesting car trouble, perhaps part of a plot to guarantee his car wouldn't be towed and he could make a quick getaway.

Investigators have been dispatched along Interstate 35 from Oklahoma City to Perry a 60-mile stretch to interview business proprietors as well as residents to see if anyone saw McVeigh, the still-missing suspect dubbed ''John Doe 2,'' or others, the official said.

McVeigh was stopped by a state trooper for a traffic violation near Perry 75 minutes after the bombing. He was arrested on a weapons charge and was sitting in the county jail for two days before authorities realized the bombing suspect was under their noses.

A crumpled business card, apparently left by McVeigh, was found in the police vehicle that took him to the station in Perry. ''It had a note on it to pick up more explosives, like a reminder note,'' a federal law enforcement official said, demanding anonymity.

The source also said McVeigh has refused to talk. ''He's very stoic and has classified himself as a prisoner of war,'' the official said.

McVeigh was being held in a federal prison in El Reno, Okla., and was to appear at a hearing today on a request to move his case out of Oklahoma City.

McVeigh and Terry Nichols were Army buddies at Fort Riley, Kan., near Junction City. Nichols' brother, James, is also being held as a witness in Michigan; McVeigh listed James Nichols as his next of kin when he was arrested.

The Nichols brothers were charged Tuesday in Michigan with conspiring with McVeigh to manufacture explosives. McVeigh was not charged and the charges did not relate to the Oklahoma bombing.

In Kansas, Rathbun said in court that Nichols admitted buying 100 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer from a Manhattan, Kan., grain elevator last month. Officials believe ammonium nitrate was used to make the bomb.

The FBI confiscated 33 firearms, a 60mm anti-tank rocket and devices that can be used as blasting mechanisms from Nichols' home in Herington, Rathbun said.

U.S. District Judge Monti Belot questioned the defense's contention that the weapons and devices were normal things for a military-surplus dealer like Terry Nichols to possess.

''Mr. Nichols' possession of explosive detonators is not something that gun dealers trade in,'' Belot said. ''Evidence before me suggests Mr. Nichols is associated with various groups that don't like the U.S. government, that they resent the government and apparently are willing to arm themselves and prepare for some type of confrontation with the government.''

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