WASHINGTON – Accused bomber Eric Robert Rudolph (search) was an elusive target for law enforcement, and the loner's arrest by a rookie police officer leaves a string of unanswered questions.
If Rudolph is indeed the killer that police say he is, where did he assemble his explosives? Why did he do it? Where was his hideout? And perhaps most significantly, did he have help in carrying out his acts and remaining a fugitive for the past five years?
He was taken into custody Saturday in the same wilderness region of North Carolina (search) where he long was suspected of living on the lam.
That there was local sympathy for Rudolph is without doubt. Bumper stickers in western North Carolina read "Run Eric Run." But whether sympathy translated to aiding and abetting is unclear. The mayor in Murphy, N.C., where Roberts was captured, says he was certain Rudolph had gotten "no support."
Rudolph is charged in federal indictments in the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta that killed one person and injured more than a hundred; bombings the next year in Atlanta at an abortion clinic and a gay night club; and the 1998 bombing of an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Ala., where a police officer was killed.
In some cases, secondary bombs exploded as soon as rescuers rushed to the scene.
The federal government could decide to seek the death penalty, just as it did in the case of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (search).
Justice Department officials are discussing whether to go to trial first in Alabama or Georgia. There are no state charges.
Growing up in the same area where he was caught, Rudolph and his mother attended a church espousing supremacy of the white race. Federal investigators have said he apparently has been in touch with the Aryan Nation, whose white supremacist adherents in some instances have been linked to violence.
In a criminal investigation with a few highs and many lows, investigators linked the early Atlanta bombings because of similarities of the steel plates in the makeup of two of the bombs.
The search for Rudolph began on Jan. 30, 1998, the day after the Birmingham bombing. A gray 1989 Nissan pickup truck registered in Rudolph's name was seen near the scene following the explosion by a witness who jotted down a license plate number.
Rudolph was tied to the bombings when authorities who searched a storage locker he had rented in Murphy, N.C., matched nails found there to nails in the two abortion clinic bombings, a federal agent told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
A Tennessee gun dealer identified Rudolph as the man who bought 50 pounds of smokeless powder, and a senior law enforcement official connected that powder to the Olympic bomb.
The ensuing manhunt faded out in the immensity of hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness in North Carolina where Rudolph was thought to be lurking.
"It's hard to find someone if you don't do the traditional things that people do, you don't use the phone, you don't have a checking account, you don't have a credit card, you don't drive around, you don't have any friends," said James Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Nashville, Tenn., office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
In the summer of 1998, Rudolph left five $100 bills at the home of a neighbor in a mountain town, taking a six-month supply of food and the man's pickup truck.
One of the low points in the investigation came before investigators even knew Rudolph's name, when Attorney General Janet Reno apologized to Atlanta security guard Richard Jewell because law enforcement investigators had leaked his identity to the news media as a suspect in the Olympic bombing.
Jewell spent 88 days in the glare of publicity after he was named as a suspect. The Justice Department cleared him.
Rudolph has been described over the years as a survivalist, living off the land. But that may not be completely accurate.
The fact that he swiped a six-month food supply in 1998 from a neighbor's home parallels the manner in which he was caught. He apparently was foraging for food under circumstances suggesting he was about to commit a burglary.
"I don't think he was the outdoorsman everyone purported him to be" because "in the end, he's scavenging in a Dumpster," Cavanaugh said. "He was successful enough to elude us ... but what matters is the last battle."