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Friday, 11 May, 2001, 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK
Oklahoma bombing: The background

By BBC News Online's Lucy Walker

It remains the worst peacetime attack on US soil. The Oklahoma bomb killed 168 people, including 19 children, and injured more than 500 others.

Timothy McVeigh, the 33-year old Gulf War veteran convicted of the attack, was sentenced to die by lethal injection at Terre Haute federal prison in Indiana - the first federal execution in 38 years.

US Attorney-General John Ashcroft decreed that about 250 survivors and relatives of those killed in the bombing could watch the execution via closed-circuit television. An earlier appeal to broadcast the event to a wider audience was rejected.

Huge blast

McVeigh's demise comes more than six years after his crime which caused such largescale loss of life and devastation.

A little after 0830 on Wednesday 19 April 1995, Florence Rodgers sat down for a staff meeting with her team at the Credit Union on the third floor of the Oklahoma federal building.

Timothy McVeigh
McVeigh was picked up less than two hours after the blast
At 0902 as she turned to her computer screen to read the agenda for the meeting, a home-made bomb detonated.

"Six floors from up above flew up into the air, then came crashing down, taking all my staff members with me down into a pancake scenario of all those floors", she recalled. "I couldn't image what was happening."

Less than an hour and a half later, an Oklahoma traffic policeman stopped McVeigh for driving without licence plates.

Just as he was about to be released some 48 hours later, McVeigh was identified as a suspect and charged with the bombing.

When McVeigh's former army colleague, Terry Nichols, discovered that he was also wanted for questioning, he surrendered to police in his home town of Herington, Kansas, and was later charged in connection with the bombing.

Home-made bomb

The blast came from a home-made bomb containing 2,200kg of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil packed into a hired van.

Fireman Chris Fields carryies the body of one year old Baylee Almon
Nineteen children were among the dead
It ripped the front from the nine-storey Alfred P Murrah building, sending a pall of smoke and dust into the air.

The next day, front pages the world over were dominated by a single image - that of fireman Chris Fields cradling the lifeless body of Baylee Almon, aged one year and one day.

She was one of 15 children in the building's second-floor nursery who died.

But it took rescuers almost six weeks to recover the bodies of all the victims from the rubble of the bulding.

The testimony of survivors was central to the prosecution when, two years later, McVeigh finally went before a jury.

Trial evidence

The trial was moved to Denver, Colorado, after Judge Richard Matsch ruled that media coverage in Oklahoma had "demonised" the defendants.

Several army colleagues were called to testify to McVeigh's character. They praised his professionalism and dedication to duty.

He was an outstanding soldier who stood above his peers

Jose Rodriguez, Gulf War sergeant

But most admitted that they had had not been in contact with him since at least 1992 and did not know what he had been doing in the months before the bombing.

Some noted an obsession with guns and hinted that there was a more sinister side.

One former army colleague, William Dilly, said under cross examination that McVeigh was always urging him to read the "Turner Diaries", a racist novel which begins with the bombing of a federal building.

Waco motive?

A picture emerged during the trial of a man deeply mistrustful of federal authority.

The motive for the attack was apparently retaliation against the US Government for the bloody end to a siege near Waco, Texas, in which 82 members of the Branch Davidian sect died.

The assault at Waco
McVeigh could not forgive the Waco assault
The Oklahoma bomb exploded exactly two years to the day after the final, deadly federal assault at Waco.

After a trial lasting just two months McVeigh was convicted of the bombing and later sentenced to death by lethal injection.

In December 1997 Nichols was convicted of manslaughter and conspiracy and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in jail after a jury failed to convict him of murder.

He now faces Oklahoma state capital murder charges that could lead to a death penalty.

A third man, Michael Fortier, confessed to knowing in advance about the bombing and was sentenced to 12 years in jail after agreeing to be a key witness for the prosecution.

Oklahoma memorial

The Alfred P Murrah building was never rebuilt.

In 2000 a memorial to the victims was opened by President Clinton at the site of the bombing.

The memorial includes 168 chairs bearing the names of the victims; the "survivor tree," an elm tree that lived through the bombing though badly damaged; a reflecting pool; and bronze gates that symbolically preserve the moment of the explosion, 0902.

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