The Avenger

updated 11/06/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/06/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

BOATS GLIDE PAST CAPT. BRUCE Smith's window overlooking the placid Intracoastal Waterway near Daytona Beach, Fla., but his concentration is elsewhere. As on so many of his days off, he is hammering away at his word processor, pounding out letters to senators, newspaper editors, opinionmakers, all with a single heartfelt purpose.

"I despise all terrorists," says Smith, 59, a pilot for Delta Air Lines.

Most people do, of course, but in Smith's case the hatred is personal. His wife, Ingrid, then 31, was one of the 258 passengers who died when Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York was blown to pieces by a bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988. Since then, Smith has waged his own surprisingly effective war on the kind of ruthless fanatics who murdered his wife. "It's what I have to do to have any kind of peace with myself," he explains.

His efforts go way beyond writing letters. In 1990, Smith used Pan Am's $100,000 insurance payout on Ingrid's death to fund his one-man campaign to lobby for large cash rewards to capture people planning or carrying out acts of international terrorism. Thanks largely to his energy, there is now a revolving $4 million Counter-Terrorism Rewards Program, administered by the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service.

And despite initial doubts, the program seems to be working. "It has saved American lives," says the State Department's Brad Smith (no relation), director of the program. "We've got a proven track record of success." In just under six years, the Counter-Terrorism Rewards Program has paid more than $3 million in more than 24 cases. (Informants can collect cash payouts and their identities are kept confidential.) The biggest coup was during the 1990 Gulf War when, following a tip-off, a planned Iraqi attack on American and European airline ticket counters at Bangkok's Don Muang International airport was thwarted. This year a tip led authorities to the alleged mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef. He was arrested in Islamabad, Pakistan, and is due to face trial in New York next year.

Smith's upbringing in Montana and Alaska was comparatively tranquil. The son of Gaylord, a sheet-metal worker, and Luella, a homemaker, he was divorced from first wife Lois some 20 years ago and has five children now aged between 18 and 31. A recreational flier most of his life, he joined Pan Am in 1966 (and left just before its 1991 collapse) and has lived all over the world, including Majorca, Spain. There he met a lovely British tourist named Ingrid Ledgard in 1983. They married a year later. "It was a very good match," says her mother, Hilda, 76. "They were very happy."

In the days after the bombing of Flight 103, Smith "was numb," he says. "I kept saying, 'It can't be true.' " While the relatives of other victims worked for increased airline safety and called for an oil embargo against Libya, Smith obsessed about bringing the bombers to justice. A federal reward program aimed at bagging terrorists had been established in 1984, but the bounty was just $500,000, and there had been little publicity. "It was totally ineffective," says Smith, who spent six months lobbying Congress. Finally, with the help of Brad Smith and Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska, the fund was increased to $2 million in 1989. Smith then wangled another SI million each from the Air Transport Association of America and the Air Line Pilots Association.

Compared with most antiterrorism efforts, the program wages unconventional warfare. Charlton Heston, Charlie Sheen and Charles Bronson have done public service announcements, which have been dubbed in several languages. There's a U.S. hotline, 1-800-HEROES1, and ads for the reward appear in dozens of countries in everything from Pravda to Paris Match. Smith says he even tossed a bunch of flyers over the wall of the Iranian embassy in Turkey to "make sure they know about it."

In between his crusade, Smith has begun making a new life, last year marrying Florence Omoro, 26, a Kenyan native. "Florence has been a marvel at putting up with this," says Smith, who crams fund-raising for the program around his busy flying schedule. "The job's not finished," he adds, gesturing at the wanted posters in his study of Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, whom the U.S. has indicted for the bombing of Flight 103 but Libya refuses to hand over. "I'll be glad," says Smith, "when they pay the reward for those guys."

JANE NICHOLLS
CINDY DAMPIER in Daytona Beach

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