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HUGE DISASTER MAY BE RESULT OF `PUNY' PLOT

The investigation into the Oklahoma City federal building bombing originally cast a wide net that considered international terrorists, foreign drug traffickers and home-grown militias as possible culprits.

In the end, 700 federal agents who pursued thousands of leads constructed a much punier conspiracy: three men linked by Army barracks friendships, a hatred of federal authority and a love of weapons.The indictments brought Thursday against Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier offered more details on how robbery, a string of aliases and scattered storage lockers were used to assemble the bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

The April 19 explosion killed 168 people and injured 500.

The indictments don't mark an end to the probe of the worst act of terrorism on American soil. Leads are still being checked and officials talk of other conspirators.

"The grand jury found probable cause to believe that there are others involved," said lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler. "We will continue the investigation."

Oliver Revell, a former FBI associate deputy director for investigations, said the indictments show authorities believe they have the main players.

However, after months of speculation about darker forces at work behind the bombing, including a noisy debate about government-hating militias, Revell said the public may find it hard to believe a pair of malcontents with few resources could carry out an act of such terrible magnitude.

"People try to match the enormity of the crime with the number of offenders, but there's no balance in these cases," he said.

McVeigh, 27, and Nichols, 40, were charged with 11 counts, including use of weapons of mass destruction, destruction of federal property and killing of federal law enforcement officers. They could get the death penalty if convicted.

Attorneys for both defendants said they would push for separate trials in a venue away from the emotionally charged atmosphere of Oklahoma City.

"Until we can get a fair trial in a fair forum . . . the rest of it is academic," McVeigh's attorney, Stephen Jones, said Friday on CBS "This Morning." Among the alternate sites he listed were Charleston, W.Va., San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and Seattle, saying those places have not had the intense publicity about the case or exposure to "unfortunate leaks."

Fortier, 26, was charged with conspiracy to transport stolen firearms, interstate transport of stolen firearms, lying to FBI agents about prior knowledge of the plot and failing to notify authorities of a crime. He faces up to 23 years in prison.

Fortier has admitted casing the federal building with McVeigh. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charges in exchange for his testimony against the friends he made while serving at Fort Riley, Kan.

He was taken into custody after appearing before U.S. District Judge David Russell, dressed in jeans and a light blue shirt. Asked by the judge if he had prior knowledge of the bombing, he said, "Yes sir, I did."

The indictment does not specify a motive, but prosecutors have alleged that McVeigh was angry at the government over the 1993 Branch Davidian disaster at Waco, Texas. The bombing took place on the two-year anniversary of the assault and fire that ended in the deaths of at least 85 cult members.

The bomb's raw material, 4,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, was purchased under the alias of Mike Havens in Mc-Pher-son, Kan., on Sept. 30 and Oct. 18, 1994, the indictment said.

McVeigh and Nichols allegedly stole explosives needed to detonate the fertilizer-and-fuel oil bomb from a locker in Marion, Kan., on Oct. 1. Nichols worked at a nearby ranch at the time of the robbery.

The explosives were stashed in a locker in Fortier's hometown of Kingman, Ariz., where McVeigh lived for a time. Other lockers were rented in Las Vegas, Council Grove, Kan., and Herington, Kan., where Nichols lived.

The indictment said the two constructed the bomb the day before the explosion at Geary State Park near Herington.

McVeigh allegedly parked outside the federal building during the busy morning hours and "caused the truck bomb to explode."

Aliases were used to rent lockers, purchase a phone card and rent the bomb truck, the indictment said. Nichols allegedly registered in motels as Terry Havens, and rented lockers as Joe Kyle and Ted Parker.

The indictment said McVeigh used the name Shawn Rivers when he rented the Herington locker, and the name Robert Kling on a driver's license used to rent the truck. The license listed his birthday as April 19 - the date of the Waco assault.

The indictment said money to finance their efforts came from the November 1994 robbery of an Arkansas firearms dealer. It also charged McVeigh "attempted to recruit others to assist in the act of violence."

Jones warned against a "rush to judgment" against his client.

"For political reasons, the indictments and prosecutions of a limited number of `drifters' will be passed off to the public as a completely successful investigation resulting in the arrest of all concerned," he said.