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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 May, 2003, 20:45 GMT 21:45 UK
Olympic bomb suspect arrested
Cheroke County Sheriffs Department photos of Eric Robert Rudolph
Rudolph had eluded law enforcement agencies for five years
The man suspected of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing has been arrested after years on the run, US authorities say.

Eric Rudolph, who is one of America's 10 most wanted fugitives, was apprehended by a local police officer in North Carolina in the early hours of Saturday morning while apparently digging through rubbish bins for food.

He was charged in absentia five years ago for the bombing of Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympic Games, in which one woman was killed and more than 100 injured.

Mr Rudolph, said by federal investigators to have links to white supremacist groups, has also been charged with the bombing of an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, in which a police officer was killed and a nurse seriously wounded, a blast at a gay nightclub in Atlanta and another bombing at an office building in the city.

'Efforts rewarded'

The arrest brings to an end one of the nation's largest ever manhunts, during which the FBI had offered a $1m reward for information leading to the arrest of the 36-year-old army veteran.

Bystanders flee an explosion in an Atlanta family planning clinic
The bombings led to fears of domestic terrorism in the US

"American law enforcement's unyielding efforts to capture Eric Robert Rudolph have been rewarded," US Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a statement.

"We will never cease in our efforts to hunt down all terrorists, foreign or domestic, and stop them from harming the innocent."

Mr Rudolph was arrested in the small North Carolina town of Murphy after sheriff's deputies spotted him acting suspiciously by a supermarket, an FBI official said, adding that he appeared to be homeless.

Despite spending years searching the hills and caves around Murphy using bloodhounds, infrared-equipped helicopters and space-age heat and motion detectors, the only traces of the fugitive the authorities had uncovered until now were deserted campsites.

Survivalist background

Mr Rudolph is suspected of hiding a device in a knapsack which he then placed among the crowds at the Centennial Olympic Park on 27 July, 1996.

The fatal blast marred Atlanta's hosting of the Olympic Games and led to fears of domestic terrorism.

For months after the bombing, attention focussed on the security guard who had spotted the knapsack containing the bomb and raised the alarm.

Initially hailed as a hero, Richard Jewell quickly became the chief suspect and endured months of media persecution and FBI surveillance before he was finally cleared.

The focus on Mr Jewell is thought to have detracted from the hunt for other suspects.

Mr Rudolph's background as an outdoorsman and survivalist is thought to have enabled him to have slipped the FBI's clutches for more than five years.

He was finally identified as a suspect in the bombings after a Tennessee couple confirmed him to be the man they had sold a smokeless powder, believed to have been used in the device.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Nick Childs
"The US authorities have been quick to hail this capture as a major success"



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