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In the teeth of the Unabomber's self-appointed Sept. 24 deadline to hear from The Washington Post and The New York Times or he will kill again, speculation grew that the feds are closing in on the deadly serial bomber.

The anti-technology anarchist has declared that unless the Times or the Post agree to publish his 35,000-word manifesto by the deadline, he will resume a 17-year terrorist campaign aimed at business executives and researchers. His victims include Thomas Mosser, a high-ranking Young & Rubicam executive killed by a mail bomb at his New Jersey home on Dec. 10, 1994.

As Times and Post officials considered the ultimatum, sources close to the FBI say federal investigators were bearing down on a short list of serious suspects.

"The FBI has had several prime suspects under around-the-clock surveillance for several weeks now," a source close to the investigation said. "They have been watching these persons to see who they associate with."

The Unabomber, believed to be operating out of the San Francisco area, has claimed he belongs to a group dubbed F.C. But law enforcement officials and psychologists who have analyzed his writing and behavior are convinced he is a loner.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported late last week the FBI was focused on one individual, last seen in the Bay Area. Columnist Michael Sneed said she had learned "the FBI is contacting late-1960s Berkeley students about a specific man-who may be the Unabomber!"

The Post and the Times were officially mum about their plans. However, a Times insider told Advertising Age: "We are going to continue to work together on this."

George E. Grotz, media representative for the San Francisco office of the FBI and spokesman for the Unabomber Task Force, late last week denied Unabomber investigators had a prime suspect.

"While it is true various names have surfaced from time to time, we do not have a hot lead," he said. "There is no individual to look at over other individuals."

Mr. Grotz added that the FBI had not given any directives to the Post or the Times as to whether the bomber's documents should be published.

"It is the responsibility of the Post and the Times," he said. "While some meetings have occurred in the past between the Post and the Times and the FBI, it is the Post and/or the Times' decision."

Penthouse Publisher Bob Guccione reiterated his pledge to publish the 35,000-word manifesto if the Post or the Times do not. The Unabomber has said if the dailies do not agree to publish the manifesto in full, he will work with Penthouse.

Mr. Guccione also repeated his intention to run a monthly uncensored column by the Unabomber in Penthouse if the serial killer ceases his deadly bomb attacks.

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