President Reagan, who has been criticized for failing to speak out strongly enough against bombings at abortion clinics, said yesterday he condemned such violence "in the strongest terms," and ordered an all-out federal effort to find those responsible for the "violent, anarchist activities."
But Reagan stopped short of directing the FBI to take over the investigation, as some critics have urged.
In his strongest statement to date on the subject, Reagan -- an outspoken opponent of abortion -- vowed to "do all in my power to assure that the guilty are brought to justice."
D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who has criticized the administration's handling of the bombings, praised Reagan for making a "strong statement on the subject," but renewed his call for the FBI to lead the investigation. He argued that the FBI has greater resources and prestige than the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), which is currently handling the bombings.
Barry also said he was told by investigators that Tuesday's bombing at a Southeast Washington abortion clinic appeared to be a "professional job," carried out by a person who had been trained in explosives by the military or another organization. There have been no arrests in the case.
Meanwhile, in a telephone interview from federal prison in Oxford, Wis., Don Benny Anderson, the leader of the Army of God, called on antiabortion forces to halt the bombings in light of Reagan's statement. People identifying themselves as members of the Army of God have claimed responsibility for several recent bombings and fires at abortion clinics, including Tuesday's incident. Federal investigators have discounted the calls, saying that all three known members of the Army of God are in prison.
Anderson, who in a Christmas message invited antiabortion activists to use the group's name in connection with their activities, said he agreed with prochoice groups that bombers were encouraged by the absence of direct condemnations of their activities by Reagan before yesterday's statement.
White House spokesmen have responded to earlier incidents by saying that Reagan deplores violence of any sort, but have declined to speak out specifically against the clinic bombings.
"If the president doesn't condemn attacks upon death chambers then, of course, everybody who is conducting these attacks upon death chambers feels that they have a green light from the president. That's the impression I got," said Anderson, who is serving a 42-year sentence for bombing a Fairfax County gynecological clinic and setting fire to two Florida abortion clinics.
In a brief written statement issued yesterday, Reagan also said he had ordered Attorney General William French Smith to make certain that "all federal agencies with jurisdiction pursue the investigation vigorously."
But deputy White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said that did not mean Reagan was ordering the FBI to take over the case.
The FBI confines its investigations of bombings to select cases, such as those involving terrorist groups or explosions at federal buildings, according to federal oficials.
In a separate statement, Smith said he joined the president in condemning the bombings and had told FBI Director William H. Webster "to take steps to ensure that the FBI is providing all possible assistance in the investigation."
He said that the FBI had already helped ATF with fingerprint checks, criminal record checks, and "psychological profiling of suspects" by FBI behavioral science experts.
Webster said that the FBI was working closely with ATF and that "the present extensive federal effort is showing significant progress."
Earlier in the day, White House spokesman Larry Speakes defended the administration's efforts, saying that ATF "has an excellent record in this area," having solved 12 of 30 incidents at abortion clinics since 1982, and that five individuals have been convicted and are serving time for the attacks. Four others have been arrested in the Christmas Day bombings of abortion clinics in Pensacola, Fla.
He said ATF is the federal government's "lead agency in this . . . because they have the specific statutory authority to investigate incidents of this type" and "extensive expertise" in investigating bombings and arson.
The FBI "is involved to a certain extent in the fact that they are monitoring the investigation, and, I'm sure, lending whatever support that they can that's appropriate," Speakes told reporters.
But Barry said it was essential to bring in the FBI because such a move would reflect the administration's commitment to stopping the violence and because its "greater stature" would allay concerns about violence and deter bombers.
"If we don't stop these dastardly and terroristic acts now, they may escalate with the loss of human lives," Barry warned. "It's ironic the people who purportedly want to save lives may now be putting themselves in a position to take lives."
Roman Catholic Archbishop James A. Hickey of Washington also joined in the outcry against the bombings yesterday, calling the acts "harmful because they shift public attention and concern from the violence against the unborn to the violence against the clinics."
Hickey joined last year with the Maryland Catholic Conference, representing Roman Catholic bishops and archbishops in Maryland, to denounce the Nov. 19 bombings of the Metro Medical and Women's Center in Wheaton and a Planned Parenthood office in Washington.
Prochoice advocates -- who have been critical of Reagan for not speaking out more strongly against the bombings and have charged that his emotional statements on the abortion issue may have helped incite the attacks -- praised Reagan's statement yesterday, but criticized him for not ordering the FBI to take over the investigation.
"We're pleased that the president is finally making a statement," but "that's not enough," said Rosann Wisman, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of Metropolitan Washington, whose office was bombed last year. "We want to make sure that he really follows through in calling upon all forces, any forces, to capture the people that are doing this."
Wisman said she received word of Reagan's statement during a meeting of about 20 representatives from abortion clinics and prochoice groups, called to discuss security precautions they could take on Jan 22, the 12th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision finding that women have a constitutional right to have abortions.
Antiabortion protesters hold a "March for Life" here on that date every year, and prochoice groups are worried that the demonstration will also prompt additional bombings or other violence.
ATF has warned abortion clinics and prochoice groups that Jan. 22 commemorates the Christian martyr, Saint Anastasious, and that a person using the name "Anastasious II" last year sent a letter threatening violence to a prochoice advocate.