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Twin Towers Still Closed Because of Blast Damage

Investigation focuses on leading international terrorist groups

By Ron SchererStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 4, 1993



NEW YORk

THE unstable condition of the World Trade Center garage and basement is continuing to stymie investigators trying to reach ground zero of the blast site.

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The head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's New York office, James Fox, says he does not expect investigators to be able to enter the blast area until at least Sunday. Construction workers have to buttress the area where debris continues to fall from the Feb. 26 explosion.

The instability in the area has also caused officials to extend their estimate of when the Twin Towers will be able to open for business again. The executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Stanley Brezenoff, now expects the Towers to reopen within a month. Earlier, the Port Authority, which manages the center, had hoped to reopen the 110-story twin towers within a week. However, the instability of the basement area is causing delays in reaching damaged electrical circuits, fre shwater pipes, and the air-conditioning system.

The delays will make the damage estimate of the blast rise. On Tuesday, New York City Controller Elizabeth Holtzman issued a report that said it would cost the 350 companies and government agencies normally in the towers nearly $700 million if the towers were closed for one week. That figure could increase to $1.07 billion if the buildings were shut for a month. Much of that cost will be borne by insurance companies.

Investigators are continuing to pull vehicles and rubble out of parts of the damaged garage. Experts warn that it could takes months of sifting through the wreckage to find the clues that will lead them to the bombers.

It took years for investigators to track down the bombers of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. However, Mr. Fox does not expect this investigation to take that long, since the World Trade Center debris is one place. In addition, he says, the technology for unraveling bomb damage has improved.

Even before they unearth the forensic evidence, investigators are focusing on some Middle East and Balkan terrorist organizations. The New York City Police Commissioner, Raymond Kelly, says possible suspects include the People's Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and Hamas, a fundamentalist group.

In addition, investigators are looking into the "Serbian Liberation Front," a hitherto unknown organization that claimed responsibility for the blast. According to one report, the FBI is checking the names of all travelers to the US from the former Yugoslavia during the past six months.

While investigators are still trying to figure out who planted the bomb, terrorism experts continue to warn the US to increase its security. Robert Kupperman, a fellow at Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says, "What worries me is we go from apathy to paranoia to apathy. A week from now this will be a page six story, unless there is a new discovery."

LIKE other terrorism experts, Mr. Kupperman expects the terror group to try to strike again in the next two to three weeks. "The message is the target government is impotent to protect the populace," he says.

Kupperman believes the states need to put their National Guards on a heightened alert to protect potential targets, such as natural gas transmission lines, compressors, and key electrical transformers. "If you take out three key transformers on the East Coast, you take most of the East Coast off line for months," Kupperman warns. Currently, the transformers are only protected by chain link fences, sensors, and watchmen.