Federal Agents Light Up Cult Compound in Texas

from Associated Press

Federal agents turned bright lights on a heavily armed cult's compound Sunday night in what a spokeswoman called a tactical maneuver. It wasn't immediately clear if it signaled a break in the two-week-old standoff.

Earlier, members of the Branch Davidians unfurled a banner from their compound's lookout tower saying the FBI had broken off negotiations and they wanted to talk to the news media.

The lights appeared on the compound shortly after dusk. From the news media encampment 2 1/2 miles away, they appeared to be on raised standards and similar to the type used in sports stadiums.

Sharon Wheeler, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, referred questions to the FBI, which wasn't answering its telephone.

"I can't comment on it. That's considered a tactical part of our operation," Wheeler said.

No other activity could be seen from the press lookout. Earlier, FBI officials said negotiations were continuing and that they didn't know what prompted the Branch Davidians to unfurl the bedsheet-sized banner reading: "FBI Broke Negotiations We Want Press."

"We're still maintaining contact with them," FBI agent Al Cruz said. "We're still talking."

Less than an hour before the banner went up, FBI agent Bob Ricks said at least three of the 105 cult members inside the compound had recently asked authorities what charges they would face if they surrendered. He said authorities saw that as an indication there might soon be a break in the standoff, which began Feb. 28 with a bloody shootout between ATF agents and cult members.

"It indicates a very favorable sign when people are talking about what types of charges are going to be filed--'Where will I go? Will I have an attorney appointed for me?'--and so forth," Ricks said at a daily briefing Sunday morning.

Federal agents have surrounded the sect's compound since a gun battle during a government raid attempt left four agents and as many as 10 cult members dead. Sixteen agents and several cult members were wounded.

ATF officers had tried to search the compound 10 miles east of Waco for illegal weapons and arrest leader David Koresh, a doomsday preacher who has claimed to be Jesus Christ.

A woman who left the compound Friday told authorities the cult members refer to themselves as "Koreshians."

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