Three suburban Maryland men were arrested yesterday and charged in connection with the bombings of eight facilities used for abortions or so-called "prochoice" activities, the director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reported.
All the attacks took place in Washington, Virginia and Maryland, beginning Feb. 17 in Norfolk. The most recent bombing, at an abortion clinic in the District on Jan. 1, was vehemently denounced by Mayor Marion Barry and was followed by a condemnation by President Reagan of such violence.
The arrests of the three men, identified by ATF director Stephen Higgins as Thomas E. Spinks, 37, and Michael Donald Bray, 32, both of Bowie, and Kenneth William Shields, 34, of Laurel, came as members of the National Organization for Women were holding a weekend of vigils at 27 abortion clinics across the country to protect against further blasts.
ATF spokesmen said that "a large quantity of explosives" was seized during a search at Spinks' residence yesterday. According to the ATF, investigators were led to the suspects by "physical evidence" but they declined to be more specific. One law enforcement source said the evidence was a fingerprint found on a bomb fragment.
Spinks was identified as the owner of a roofing company and a chimney sweep firm. Bray described himself as a house painter, and Shields had recently taken a job in Warrenton as a comptroller with a company there, ATF officials said.
The pastor of a church in Bowie where Bray had been a lay assistant said last night that Bray left that church to form his own congregation, which met at a home.
All three suspects were described by neighbors as friendly, pleasant men.
Higgins said he knew of no connection between the eight incidents in this area and others elsewhere in the nation."We have absolutely no evidence of a national conspiracy," he said.
The men were charged with conspiracy to violate federal explosives and firearms laws and with making and using improvised explosive devices to bomb eight abortion clinics and related facilities, the ATF said.
At a news conference last night ATF spokesmen said arrests have now been made in 20 of 31 attacks made since May 1982 at abortion clinics or "prochoice" facilities around the nation.
According to Phillip C. McGuire, associate director of ATF's office of law enforcement, the eight incidents occurred at:
Hillcrest Women's Clinic in Norfolk, Feb. 17; the National Abortion Federation in Washington, July 4; Planned Parenthood offices in Annapolis, July 7; an American Civil Liberties Union office in Southeast Washington, Nov. 3; the Rockville Planned Parenthood Office and the Metro Medical and Women's Center in Wheaton, Nov. 19; a clinic in Suitland, Dec. 24, and the bombing in Washington a few minutes after midnight on Jan. 1 of the Hillcrest Women's Surgi-Center in Southeast.
While only five of those facilities perform abortions, Planned Parenthood is known for its prochoice position, supporting the 1973 Supremem Court decision that women have a constitutional right to choose abortion. The American Civil Liberties Union has also supported the prochoice position.
The Jan. 1 blast here came after a year in which the attacks on abortion facilities appeared to be escalating. Of the 31 attacks since 1982, more than 25 occurred since last year's anniversary of the Supreme Court decision.
After the New Year's Day explosion, which caused extensive damage to the facility at 3233 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Barry voiced sharp criticism of the handling of the incidents by the Reagan administration.
Two days later the president said that he condemned such violence "in the strongest terms" and ordered an all-out federal effort to find those responsible.
The president, however, stopped short of directing the FBI to assume responsibility for the investigation, as some prochoice advocates had urged. The FBI confines its bombing investigations to selected cases, such as those involving terrorist groups, or explosions at federal facilities, officials said.
At last night's news conference, held at ATF headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, officials of the Treasury Department agency said that investigation of the abortion bombings "was the number one priority," and involved agents drawn from across the nation.
However, noting that this weekend marks the 12th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, ATF's Higgins said "we are concerned and continue to be concerned" about the possibility of future attacks.
The anniversary of the court decision and the escalating violence has been cited by NOW members as motivating their decision to mount vigils at abortion centers this weekend to deter possible bombing attempts. No injuries have been reported in any of the attacks.
Spinks, who lives at 12405 Salem La., was identified by neighbors as a fervent, born-again Christian. He was arrested a few blocks from his home and was being held last night without bond at the Baltimore City jail, officials said.
Bray, listed by the ATF as living at 2927 Tarragon Lane in Bowie, was also arrested near his home, officials said. The last of the three to be arrested, he was being processed late last night. Shields, who had been staying temporarily at a hotel in Warrenton, was arrested in Virginia and held at the Alexandria Jail, officials said.
A reporter's knock at the door of Spinks' home was answered last night by a woman who declined to identify herself, "I don't think he believes in abortion," said the woman, later identified by neighbors as Spinks' wife.
She said she did not believe he had participated in antiabortion activities.
Bray, a member of the Pro-Life Non Violent Action Project, in an interview before his arrest, said he knew Spinks, but not well. He said they had once marched in an antiabortion protest. A reporter contacted Bray in the afternoon because Bray was thought to be familiar with antiabortion activists. Bray said he had never heard of Shields.