Federal investigators said yesterday that terrorism was not the motive behind the attempted bombing Monday of two giant chemical storage tanks in Norfolk.

Although they had made no arrests, authorities said they are pursuing a "more traditional" criminal investigation.

The six pipe bombs attached to the tanks were "the kind of homemade bombs used in scores of criminal bombs in the United States every year," said Jack Killorin, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. He said investigators had turned up nothing indicating "a political motive, a tie to the Persian Gulf or the naval facility," the nearby Norfolk Naval Base.

The bomb scare, which forced the evacuation of thousands of residents, rattled the military center with worries that it may be a prime target for terrorism. It also sparked a flurry of bomb threats this week that closed a highway tunnel, a shopping mall and an elementary school.

"Obviously, it's reassuring to know that we are not dealing with anything related to the Middle East," said Norfolk Mayor Joseph A. Leafe. "It's still serious, but at least it's something local."

Leafe said federal agents have "strong ideas" about the motive for the bombing.

FBI and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officials said they took the unusual step of making the announcement discounting terrorism before their investigation was complete to allay residents' fears. However, the officials would say little more about motives or suspects.

"All I can say is that we are actively pursuing leads relating to a criminal motive," Killorin said.

The update did little to relieve area residents interviewed yesterday or officials at Allied Terminals Inc., where the bombs were planted.

"Whether it's a terrorist or not, a bomb is a bomb," said W. Bruce Law, executive vice president of Allied Marine Industries, the parent company that owns the storage terminal. "Though I guess maybe if it was a terrorist, the bomb probably would have gone off. It would have been more sophisticated."

"There is still someone out there who did this with the intent to hurt people," said Christy Giffrow, of Chesapeake, a clerk at the Holiday Inn in Portsmouth. "I'm worried that this will continue to happen. Even people who are not terrorists will do things like this because they will now get more attention."

Allied officials have said they believe the six pipe bombs were attached to the methanol and sodium sulfide tanks between midnight Sunday and 7:42 a.m. Monday, when they were discovered by an employee during a routine check. Eight employees work at the site on the Elizabeth River.

Jacquelyn King, a cashier at a convenience store in Norfolk, said she still is worried about what is ahead for the port region, which has sent 40,000 of its men and women to Operation Desert Storm.

"We did not have all these threats before the war," King said. "Now, all of a sudden, we get them all the time. I really find it hard to believe that {the pipe bombs} weren't related to the war. They are probably saying that to make us feel better.

"None of these threats are going to be over until the war is. I really want this war to be over."Staff writer Peter Baker contributed to this report.