The plates in the Atlanta bombs were cut from steel found at a metal-working plant in Franklin, N.C., that employed a friend of Eric Robert Rudolph, according to unidentified federal officials.
The plates apparently were designed to shape the direction of the explosion, the newspaper said.
The Times didn't identify the plant. Jan Unger, an employee at Franklin Machine Co., the only steel fabricator in the town listed in telephone listings, said today that FBI agents had inspected its premises.
"We have cooperated with them fully," Unger said. He referred all other questions to company president F.P. "Bodie" Bodenheimer, who did not immediately return a message.
Meanwhile, an FBI spokesman says he can't confirm whether the suspect in the Alabama abortion clinic bombing is linked to three bombings in Atlanta. The spokesman says any connection between the cases is "still an open question."
Rudolph, 31, is a fugitive charged with planting a bomb that killed a security guard at a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic last month. Agents continue to hunt for him in rural western North Carolina.
The bomb at Centennial Olympic Park in July 1996 killed one person and injured more than 100. Two bombs that blew up in January 1997 at an Atlanta abortion clinic injured seven.
Investigators earlier had hypothesized that the same person or group might have been behind three Atlanta bombings: the abortion clinic, the Olympic Park and a gay nightclub bombed in February 1997.
On Wednesday, a federal agent speaking on the condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that lab analysis of one and one-half inch nails used in the Birmingham bombing matched nails used in the Atlanta abortion clinic bombings. The nails matched those found in a storage shed rented by Rudolph.
The Times also reported that FBI Director Louis Freeh proposed folding the bombing investigations into one inquiry led by agent Terry Turchie, who led the Unabomber probe. The changes were put on hold after investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms complained that they had been pushed aside by the FBI, the newspaper said.
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