By: DEBRA GERSH HERNANDEZ
Four letter bombs were delivered to the Washington bureau of Al Hayat, a London-based Arab-language newspaper, and a fifth was intercepted at the post office. The threats to the Al Hayat office on the 11th floor of the National Press Building led to two evacuations on Jan. 2. The first evacuation came in the morning, after the initial two bombs were discovered in the mail and included the 10th, 11th and 12th floors. When two additional bombs were delivered in the mail later that day, the entire building was evacuated.
Three similar envelopes with letter bombs were sent to the “parole office” at the federal prison in Levenworth, Kan. There are no parole offices at federal facilities.
As E&P went to press, published reports said Al Hayat received a call from a group claiming libya was responsible for the bombs, but the Libyan government denied involvement. No official word of suspects or arrests had been made.
Considered a moderate publication that does not shy away from hard-hitting news, Al Hayat is owned by a member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Khalid bin-Sultan who led the Saudi armed forces during the Persian Gulf war.
In a published interview, Al Hayat editor Jihad Khazen said he has written editorials critical of terrorist groups for years, but he could not understand why the paper would be a target now.
“We haven’t picked a fight with anyone,” Khazen told the Washington Post from London. “I honestly don’t know what could have triggered this.”
The envelopes were about 5 1/2 inches by 61/2 inches and bore computer-generated address labels. The bombs, made from the explosive material Semtex, were contained in musical Christmas cards designed to explode when opened. There were no return addresses, although the postmark and stamps indicated they were sent from Alexandria, Egypt.
Each bomb contained enough explosive material to have killed whomever opened it, as well as metal shards and pins to increase its potency.
The Al Hayat employee who was opening the mad that morning around 9 a.m. became suspicious of one of the envelopes for a number of reasons, including its lack of return address, Egyptian stamps and because it felt bumpy.
Slitting open the envelope just enough to see inside, the staffer saw the wires and explosives. He immediately called the authorities, who found a second letter bomb in the office.
The first two envelopes were taken away and safely detonated by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s bomb disposal unit.
Two more envelopes were brought to the Al Hayat office in the regular mail delivery later that day.
Thinking the threat had passed, Detroit News bureau chief Jacqueline Thomas, whose office is on the 11th floor, joked with the mailman that he should get special hazardous duty pay for delivering the mad.
Neither of them knew that the third and fourth bombs were sitting in the mail cart awaiting delivery as the mailman made his way down the hall to Al Hayat.
The second set of bombs also were disposed of by police specialists, and bomb-sniffing dogs were brought in to go through the building’s mailroom and selected floors. Portions of the bombs were preserved as evidence.
When tile first bombs were discovered, authorities suggested that only the offices adjacent to Al Hayat be evacuated, but National Press Building personnel decided to clear the entire 10th, 11th and 12th floors, according to NPB director of building management Jeanette Gavel.
But, as might be expected in a building full of journalists, word of the bomb spread quickly and some tenants on other floors took it upon themselves to leave. Others were mightily displeased that they had not been informed.
Knight-Ridder Newspapers office assistant Diane Denny was downstairs in the building lobby when the first evacuation. began.
She returned to the bureau’s seventh floor office and told the chain’s correspondents about the evacuation and they left
Knight-Ridder Newspapers, however, shares tile seventh floor with the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire service, the Journal of Commerce and Bridge News, formerly Knight-Rider Financial News. …