Military tactics, arms helped rescue Ala. hostage

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Within hours after an armed, angry man shot a school bus driver and kidnapped a 5-year-old boy, workers feverishly unloaded boxes packed with percussive grenades, military C-4 explosives and an array of guns from a windowless DC-9 that had landed just miles from the suspect's isolated compound.

Helmeted officers decked out in tan fatigues, camouflage and body armor, many carrying long guns, rumbled in rented cargo trucks to and from the property in southeastern Alabama where 65-year-old Jim Lee Dykes and his young captive were hunkered down in a roughly 6-by-8-foot hand-dug bunker with only one small hatch for an entryway.

Two Humvees belonging to the Dale County Sheriff's Department and a tan, military-style personnel carrier were parked in a field beside the bunker throughout much of the ordeal, along with sport-utility vehicles. Officers dressed in combat-style gear could be seen watching the bunker from an opening in the roof of the tan personnel vehicle. And as the standoff stretched into days, drones flew large, lazy circles high above the scene at night.

In many ways, the scene resembled more of a war-time situation than a domestic crime scene, as civilian law enforcement relied heavily on military tactics and equipment to end the six-day ordeal.

No military combat personnel were at the scene, according to a law-enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to release the information.

But authorities' decision to rely on every tool at their disposal paid off: Dykes had planted an explosive device in a ventilation pipe he'd told negotiators to use to communicate with him on his property in the rural Alabama community of Midland City, and also placed another explosive device inside the bunker, the FBI said in a statement late Tuesday. Dykes appears to have "reinforced the bunker against any attempted entry by law enforcement," FBI agent Jason Pack said in the statement.

The raid on the bunker was carried out by the FBI's hostage response team, or HRT, which serves as the agency's full-time counterterrorism unit, Agent Pack said Wednesday. Trained in military tactics and outfitted with combat-style gear and weapons, the group was formed 30 years ago in preparation for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Composed of FBI agents, some of whom have prior military experience, the team is deployed quickly to trouble spots and provides assistance to local FBI offices during hostage situations. It has participated in hostage situations more than 800 times in the United States and elsewhere since 1983, the FBI said.

"As an elite counterterrorism tactical team for law enforcement, the HRT is one of the best, if not the best, in the United States," Deputy FBI Director Sean Joyce said in a statement released during the Alabama standoff.

In addition to employing its counterterrorism unit, the FBI brought out a full array of military-style equipment, including armored personnel carriers and combat rifles. Many were visible at the scene during the standoff.

According to a U.S. official, about a dozen active-duty Navy Seabees -- sailors who belong to special naval construction units -- helped law-enforcement authorities build a mock-up of the bunker that was used to plan the FBI assault. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the rescue effort, spoke on condition of anonymity.

"This was a classic, textbook situation," said former FBI negotiator Clint Van Zandt, who worked with the hostage rescue team repeatedly before retiring in 1995. Building a replica of Dykes' bunker, practicing an assault, negotiating Dykes into a sense of security and even sneaking a camera into the shelter are all part of the agency's tools, said Mr. Van Zandt, president of Van Zandt Associates Inc., a Virginia-based firm that profiles and assesses threats for corporate clients.

FBI and other officials said the team exchanged gunfire with Dykes and killed him before rescuing the little boy, whom law enforcement officials have identified only by his first name, Ethan.

As law-enforcement officers continued to sweep the 100-acre property Wednesday for more explosive devices, Dykes' body remained in the bunker, said Dale County Coroner Woodrow Hilboldt. It could take until today, he said, before he will be allowed in to pronounce Dykes dead and take the body to Montgomery for an autopsy at the state forensic laboratory.

Military tactics and clandestine hostage-rescue methods were far from the minds of Midland City's regular folks Wednesday, Ethan's sixth birthday, as they tried desperately to return to normal life.

The boy, who has Asperger's syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was said to be acting like a normal kid, despite his nearly weeklong captivity, after a man police identified as Dykes nabbed him off a school bus Jan. 29 and fatally shot the driver.

nation


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