[BIOWAR] A Qaida Connection Gains Currency in FBI Anthrax Probe(fwd)
Sat, 20 Oct 2001 21:18:08 +0200 (MET DST)
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Date: Sat, 20 Oct 2001 11:45:40 -0400
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Subject: [BIOWAR] A Qaida Connection Gains Currency in FBI Anthrax Probe
>From The International Herald Tribune,
A Qaida Connection Gains Currency in FBI Anthrax Probe
David Johnston and William J. Broad New York Times Service Saturday,
October 20, 2001
WASHINGTON Investigators pursuing the anthrax exposure cases in New
York, Washington and Florida say they suspect that the rash of
contaminated letters is related to the Sept. 11 suicide attacks and
are investigating a possibility that Qaida confederates of the
hijackers are behind the incidents. Senior government officials said
that they had not settled on any single theory but added that
investigators were focusing on the ability of the hijackers or their
accomplices to obtain highly refined anthrax from a foreign or
Although they have not ruled out a possibility that another criminal
could be behind the anthrax attacks, investigators are intensely
looking at evidentiary threads linking the letters to the hijackers.
Investigators are focusing on Mohamed Atta, a hijacking ringleader,
who was interested in crop-dusting aircraft and once lived near the
offices of American Media in Boca Raton, Florida, where the first
victims worked. Crop-dusting airplanes could be used to spread anthrax
or other toxins. On Thursday, FBI agents also searched the Jersey
City, New Jersey, home of three men who have been in custody since
last month because of a possible connection to the hijackings.
The agents conducted the search after learning that the men kept an
assortment of magazines and news articles about biological warfare in
their apartment. Investigators may have overlooked them in an earlier
Two of the men who lived there, Ayub Ali Khan and Mohammed Jaweed
Azmath, boarded a flight from Newark, New Jersey, to San Antonio,
Texas, the morning of Sept. 11, but the plane was forced to land in
St. Louis, Missouri, after the hijackings of four other flights led to
the grounding of all commercial traffic in the country.
The two were arrested the next day on an Amtrak train in Texas,
carrying $5,000 in cash and box-cutting knives similar to those used
by the terrorists who hijacked the four airliners.
Law enforcement and intelligence officials said they lacked concrete
evidence or intelligence to explain who had sent the anthrax-tainted
letters to news organizations in New York and to the Senate majority
leader, Tom Daschle, in Washington, and whether they all contained the
same type of anthrax.
But one senior government official has said that some investigators
are skeptical of a Qaida connection to the anthrax. The official said
that the evidence amassed so far, like records of credit card
transactions, e-mail messages or cell phone calls, did not tie the
hijackers to any activity clearly related to anthrax.
Federal scientists examining the anthrax used in the Florida and New
York attacks have tentatively concluded that the type is a domestic
strain similar to a highly virulent type known as the Ames strain,
which was discovered in Iowa in 1980.
The Ames strain is now used in labs around the world. The letter sent
to Senator Daschle, and another sent to the NBC television network,
were postmarked Trenton, New Jersey, and officials have said that the
letters were written by the same person. Several hijackers lived in
New Jersey before taking over the United Airlines flight from Newark
Airport that crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania.
Federal investigators said Thursday night that they believed the
letter sent to the NBC-News anchorman Tom Brokaw had been mailed from
West Trenton, a neighborhood in the Trenton suburb of Ewing, and added
that they had narrowed their search for the specific mailbox to a
one-square-mile (2.6-square-kilometer) section of that neighborhood.
A letter carrier who officials said Thursday was infected with anthrax
had been assigned to deliver and collect mail on a route in West
Trenton that covered 250 to 500 homes and businesses. It is that route
that investigators now believe was the source of the letter.
That belief was deepened because the bar coding on the letter to Mr.
Brokaw showed that the letter was taken to the main post office at a
time that matched the carrier's shift.
On Thursday night, investigators were testing for anthrax at several
mail collection spots in the neighborhood.
In Boca Raton, investigators have not determined how anthrax was
delivered to the building occupied by American Media, a
tabloid-newspaper publisher. Some hijackers lived nearby in the months
before the attacks, among them Mr. Atta.
An additional line of inquiry undercuts a competing theory, that a
disgruntled employee of a domestic laboratory that uses anthrax
carried out the attacks. FBI agents checked every American laboratory
that uses anthrax and found that none of them were missing inventory.
In addition, none reported suspicious activity.
The investigation has linked FBI agents and scientists in a race to
find who sent the letters. Federal scientists examining the anthrax
used in the Florida and New York attacks have tentatively concluded
that it is a domestic strain that bears no resemblance to strains that
Russia and Iraq have turned into biological weapons.
The scientists said the emerging evidence decreased the likelihood
that those foreign governments were connected to the anthrax letters.
But they emphasized that the clues in no way ruled out foreign
sponsorship since the identified strain is available overseas.
They said it was conceivable that a foreign government or terrorist
organization might have deliberately chosen a domestic strain to throw
off federal investigators. The clues are merely suggestive, they said.
"There's no indication that it came from the Russian or Iraqi
programs, but you can't rule that out," said a federal scientist
familiar with the investigation.
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