Reno de­nies Waco raid was botched

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The burned-out Branch Da­vid­ian cult cen­tre was still too hot for the FBI post-mortem teams to ex­am­ine last night as the ques­tions be­gan, and the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion and Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials be­gan de­fend­ing them­selves from charges of a badly botched oper­a­tion. At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Janet Reno said that fire en­gines had not been on hand be­cause of fear that the 0.5in cal­i­bre anti-tank ri­fles the cult held could have posed a threat to soft­skinned ve­hi­cles. But the first fire en­gines must have been much far­ther away, not ap­pear­ing on the scene for 40 min­utes af­ter the fires be­gan.

The big­gest weak­ness in the au­thor­i­ties’ case so far is the lack of contin­gency plan­ning. The sec­ond is their fail­ure to take se­ri­ously the pos­si­bil­ity of a mass sui­cide. The third ques­tion is Ms Reno’s state­ment that the de­ci­sion was taken to force a de­ci­sion yes­ter­day with the use of gas be­cause hostage res­cue teams needed to be stood down.

“I have ab­so­lutely no doubt at all that the cult mem­bers set the fire,” Ms Reno told a Wash­ing­ton press con­fer­ence. “We were pre­sented with a range of op­tions: to pull back, to build walls, to go in, or to use gas. The plan we chose was the best op­tion. No­body ever ac­cused me of run­ning from a de­ci­sion based on the best in­for­ma­tion I had. Pres­i­dent Clin­ton feels as bad as I do.” The siege ended with the deaths by fire of over 80 peo­ple in the charred tomb with the grimly apt name of Camp Apoc­a­lypse.

Could the FBI have planned for a mass sui­cide at­tempt, and had fire en­gines to hand or blan­keted the com­pound with fire-sup­pres­sant foam? An FBI spokesman, Bob Ricks, said in in­ter­views with cult mem­bers not in­side the com­pound, all agreed a mass sui­cide was not likely. “There had been a plan for the cult leader, David Koresh, to give him­self up on March 2, but to come out wrapped in grenades and blow him­self up as he sur­ren­dered. At the last minute, he chick­ened out,” the FBI spokesman said. “Ev­ery­body knew that was the plan. There had been a meet­ing in the chapel. He kissed all the kids good­bye. We took that into ac­count as we con­sid­ered the prospect of a mass sui­cide.”

The FBI search of the rub­ble was ham­pered by still-ex­plod­ing rounds of am­mu­ni­tion. As dusk fell, few bodies had been found. Mar­tin Walker in Wash­ing­ton

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