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Search for bombing clinic witness intensifies

Rudolph
Rudolph  

Latest developments:

(CNN) -- The search for an elusive witness in the bombing of an Alabama women's clinic intensified Tuesday as federal agents searched the forests of western North Carolina while his truck was taken to Birmingham for forensic tests.

CNN also learned that the FBI is investigating the possibility that Eric Robert Rudolph, who is wanted as a "material witness" in the bombing, attended an abortion protest at a clinic in Washington, D.C., five days before the bombing in Birmingham.

"This investigation has accelerated tremendously in the last three or four days," said Special Agent Brian Lett of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Lett said investigators have questioned Rudolph's mother, three brothers and a sister, "but we don't have any information right now to lead us to believe they are involved."

Although Rudolph is being sought only as a witness, authorities have cautioned the public not to approach him "due to the violence associated with this crime."

Federal agents used helicopters equipped with heat detectors Tuesday to survey Smoky Mountain forests.

"That is just one of the many things you would use when you are searching a deep, wooded area like that," Lett said. "They show heat sources on the ground."

Search goes nationwide

Lett said the manhunt had expanded beyond the western corner of North Carolina, where Rudolph's truck was discovered over the weekend. "The search to locate Mr. Rudolph is nationwide," he said, adding that Rudolph could be dangerous.

Agents also searched again the mobile home the 31-year-old Rudolph hastily abandoned the day after the January 29 bombing, which killed a policeman and wounded a nurse.

Aerial view/truck
Rudolph's gray Nissan pickup truck  

Armed with automatic weapons and dressed in camouflage and bulletproof vests Tuesday, teams of agents also resumed a house-to-house hunt for Rudolph.

Roadblocks were set up on roads leading from Murphy into the nearby Nantahala National Forest, where Rudolph grew up. He served in the U.S. Army and received survival training.

A check of military records by CNN shows that Rudolph served in the Army as an infantryman from August 4, 1987, to January 25, 1989, and was discharged early for "conduct-related" reasons.

The forest is no stranger to fugitives, said Bob Twomey, a rescue worker in nearby Brevard.

He said those fleeing the law often try to hide there, sometimes surviving for a while on water and vegetation. But he said the forest is no friend to fugitives either.

"Eventually, they all get tired and make bad decisions," Twomey said.

Truck taken to Birmingham

Over the weekend, hunters found Rudolph's gray 1989 Nissan pickup abandoned in bushes in a muddy, wooded area outside Murphy, North Carolina, about five miles from Rudolph's last known residence in Marble.

Federal agents hauled the truck away Monday after obtaining a search warrant and checking it for explosives. It was taken Tuesday morning to Birmingham, where it will be tested at an FBI facility.

Scene of bombing
Birmingham clinic  

Witnesses reported seeing the pickup near the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic in Birmingham around the time a dynamite-charged bomb loaded with nails exploded in front of the building.

Robert Sanderson, 35, an off-duty policeman working there as a security guard, was killed in the blast. Emily Lyons, 41, a nurse, was seriously wounded.

A group calling itself the Army of God claimed responsibility for the bombing in letters mailed to two news organizations. A similar claim of responsibility was made for bombings in early 1997 at a women's clinic in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs and a gay nightclub in Atlanta.

FBI questions anti-abortion protester

Meanwhile, in Annandale, Virginia, an anti-abortion activist named Dave Henderson told CNN that he was interviewed by the FBI last week about an encounter he had with a man at a protest at the Capitol Women's Clinic in Washington on January 24.

Henderson said two FBI agents showed him photos which he identified as the man he spoke with for several minutes just before the start of the picketing and sit-in.

ATF hotline

Henderson said he couldn't remember what he and the man talked about, but he said he identified the photos of Rudolph as "absolutely" being the man he spoke with. The FBI confirmed that Henderson was interviewed and said that he told agents he "thought" the man he spoke with was Rudolph.

Henderson said he was sitting in his van near the clinic before the protest began when the man approached him. The man remained in his own vehicle, Henderson said, rolling down his window to talk.

Henderson couldn't describe the man's vehicle, except to say he thought it was silver and that it was lower than his own large van.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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