Observers and experts on home-grown terrorism are looking closely at the calendar this week, wondering if there’s a connection between the Boston Marathon bombing that occurred on Patriots Day; the Texas fertilizer plant explosion on the day before the 20th anniversary of the Waco siege of the Branch Davidians; and the 18th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.
The date April 19 has acquired almost mythical status among anti-government groups because it was the day when military action started the American Revolution. In recent years, these home-grown terrorist groups have attached extra significance to the date because on April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh destroyed the Oklahoma federal building, killing 168 people.
And on April 19, 1993, federal agents ended the 51-day Waco standoff by raiding the Branch Davidian compound led by David Koresh, resulting in the deaths of 82 people.
The explosion Wednesday at the West Fertilizer plant near Waco, which killed as many as 15 people and destroyed dozens of homes, has another connection to the Oklahoma City bombing, in addition to the date.
The fertilizer company informed a state agency in February that it was storing up to 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, the highly explosive chemical compound McVeigh used in the terror attack on the federal building.
When the factory exploded, it was with the force of a 2.1-magnitude earthquake, devastating much of the small town of West and sending up a toxic cloud.
Police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton of nearby Waco said “anywhere from five to 15″ people had been confirmed dead, but said he expected that toll to rise. He said area hospitals have treated more than 160 casualties.
Authorities didn’t make clear whether the ammonium nitrate was responsible for the explosion—or if the volunteer firefighters battling a fire at the facility knew of its presence. Texas law requires that hazardous chemicals be disclosed to the community fire department and to the county emergency planning agency just for that purpose.
The news reports on the explosion were focused on tanks of anhydrous ammonia, a less volatile fertilizer.
Most people living in the town of West were evacuated last night as an acrid cloud hung over the area. Texas Governor Rick Perry said local schools would be closed for the remainder of the week.
“Last night was truly a nightmare scenario for that community,” Perry said at a news conference at the state capital Austin. He said he was seeking a federal disaster declaration that would make additional funds available. “This tragedy has most likely hit every family, it has touched practically everyone in that town.”