Bomb Found at Women's Clinic in Austin

Apr. 27--AUSTIN -- Women's clinics in Austin were put on alert Thursday after authorities discovered and then destroyed a bomb in the parking lot of a facility that provides abortions, officials said.

The explosive device, discovered Wednesday, prompted an evacuation of the surrounding south Austin neighborhood and a brief shutdown of Interstate 35. A team of local and federal police agencies, working under the Joint Terrorism Task Force, is investigating the incident.

"The device that we examined was in fact an explosive device. It was also configured in such a way as to cause serious bodily injury or death," Austin Assistant Police Chief David Carter said. "I want to stress that it was a dangerous device."

Left in what authorities compared to a duffel bag, the bomb was found in the parking lot of the Austin Women's Health Center. The city bomb squad remotely destroyed the device with the aid of an explosives-disarming robot.

Investigators, including representatives of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, would not discuss motives or leads Thursday. But officials did say surveillance video may prove useful. They also said area clinics have been warned to watch out for suspicious activity.

"We are ... making contact with various clinics around town and places that may be thought to be in some kind of jeopardy or perceived to be," Carter said. "A large package or something where it doesn't belong -- those types of things like that are the things we would be looking for."

Officials stressed that the bomb was capable of detonating but were careful not to describe it in detail or say how close it was to the clinic.

Nor would they say what kind of damage it would have caused.

"I think it's fair to say that we are concerned that a device like this can take human life," FBI investigator Ralph Diaz said. "I would hope that reasonable people would understand the seriousness of a comment like that."

On Wednesday afternoon, a clinic employee called 911 and also notified the FBI and ATF about a "suspicious package," police said.

The clinic and surrounding businesses were evacuated while authorities sought to determine whether it was a bomb.

Later, authorities shut down all four southbound lanes of I-35 while the device was destroyed.

Abortion-rights proponents say threats and intimidation against abortion clinics are on the rise. In 2003, abortion protesters in Austin made national headlines by pressuring contractors to quit working at the site of a new Planned Parenthood facility. It delayed but did not stop construction.

Investigators would not speculate on whether the clinic, which is not the one that drew a boycott, was specifically targeted because it provides abortions.

Copyright (c) 2007, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.