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US

Police: California men planned to bomb propane tanks

December 4, 1999
Web posted at: 11:05 p.m. EST (0405 GMT)


In this story:

Suspects not charged with terrorist activity

Lawyer: FBI said threat was not credible

Fire chief: Blast could endanger nearby residents

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



SACRAMENTO, California (CNN) -- Federal agents working for a terrorism task force have arrested two men on firearms charges in connection, local authorities said, with an alleged plot to bomb a propane gas storage facility near Sacramento, California.

"The FBI, in its conversations with us, indicated they believed the terrorist was relatively unsophisticated, was aligned with a white supremacist group, and that the investigation was related to Y2K," said John Fletcher, a lawyer representing the Suburban Propane facility in Elk Grove, California.

The alleged plot's connection to the approaching millennium was not immediately clear.

The two men arrested Friday on federal firearms charges were Kevin Ray Patterson, 42, of Camino, California, and Charles Dennis Kiles, 49, of Placerville, California, according to a Justice Department statement.

The statement said additional information is likely to become available at detention hearings for the two men and when the search warrants are unsealed. "Until then, investigators will be unable to provide further information about the ongoing investigation," the Justice Department said.

Suspects not charged with terrorist activity

Neither suspect has been charged with terrorist activity, the Justice Department statement said. Both were scheduled to appear Monday in federal court in Sacramento.

The arrests follow a yearlong investigation into a potential threat against Sacramento-area targets by a joint anti- terrorism task force led by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Also Friday, task force members served federal search warrants related to the investigation at two locations in El Dorado County, California, and one location in Sacramento County, California.

FBI and ATF agents from Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada, served additional, related federal search warrants in Reno and Carson City, Nevada.

Lawyer: FBI said threat was not credible

"The FBI told us the threat was not credible, that the suspect was under 24-hour surveillance," Fletcher said.

When a suspect drove near the plant, a SWAT team responded immediately, he said.

An FBI spokesman would not comment on the investigation.

Fletcher said the plant has increased security recently, by having police continuously on site, and by digging a ditch along the perimeter of the facility for vehicle protection.

Fire chief: Blast could endanger nearby residents

Fire Chief Mark Meaker, of the Elk Grove Fire Department, said that depending on the size of the blast, residents could be endangered by heat from a large fireball, flying projectiles "like portions of tank shells flying through the air," and a pressure wave that would emanate from the blast.

"In close, there would be a high level of destruction," Meaker said.

Propane is liquefied either by being cooled or being stored under pressure. Both methods are used at the Elk Grove facility, where two refrigerated storage tanks each contain 12 million gallons of propane.

Also on site are four pressurized tanks that each hold 48,000 gallons of propane. And one to four rail cars are on the plant's 26-acre property at any given time. Each of the rail cars holds 33,000 gallons of propane.

"If you do the math, you're looking at about 24.5 million gallons of propane in liquid form," Meaker said. That makes it one of the largest above-ground storage facilities in the country, he said.

Office buildings and warehouses stand within 200 yards (182 meters) of the plant. The nearest residential neighborhood, is just 0.6 of a mile (.96 km) from the plant, Meaker said.

At any given time, Meaker estimated 2,000 people are within a mile of the plant.

Fletcher disagreed about the possible effects of an attack on the plant. He said water covering the pressurized tanks would prevent them from blowing up.

The refrigerated tanks are also safe because they are not under pressure, Fletcher said. And if the refrigeration system were to be knocked out, gas would be burned off safely in a flare, he said.



RELATED STORIES:
FAA: International airports, airlines still have Y2K work to do
October 4, 1999
New York City's anti-terrorism efforts go high-tech
June 7, 1999
Lessons learned from domestic terrorism
February 26, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Federal Bureau of Investigation
President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion
Terrorism Research Center
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