FBI finds no trace of anthrax among hijackers possessions, believes Florida substance manmade
WASHINGTON (AP) – The FBI believes the strain of anthrax that killed a tabloid newspaper editor in Florida was manmade, and tests of the 19 hijackers’ possessions have found no trace of the deadly bacteria, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.
Investigators so far have found no evidence linking the Florida incident to terrorism, although the manufactured nature of the bacteria suggests criminal activity may be involved, the officials said, speaking only on condition of anonymity.
U.S. officials, meanwhile, said there was evidence that Osama bin Laden sympathizers have been performing surveillance of U.S. buildings overseas. That information and other evidence have prompted continued warnings for Americans overseas to use caution, the officials said.
President Bush was preparing to visit the FBI on Wednesday to announce the creation of a list of most wanted terrorist worldwide. Officials said the initial list would include 19 names, some whom are believed to be connected to Osama bin Laden’s network.
Overseas, anti-terrorist detectives in Ireland arrested three Libyans and an Algerian at their Dublin homes on suspicion of fund raising and providing logistical support to groups linked to bin al-Qaida.
More than $13,000 in cash, documents and financial records were seized, detectives said. They were also investigating the four men’s various bank accounts.
Police refused to identify the detainees, but authorities said they included:
-A 39-year-old Libyan who has directed two Islamic charities in Ireland that detectives suspect have been used to pass funds to al-Qaida members.
-A 26-year-old Algerian who arrived in Ireland illegally two years ago and was previously been suspected of involvement in abortive plans to attack U.S. cities during millennium celebrations.
In Florida, there were growing signs that the appearance of anthrax at a tabloid newspaper office may not have involved terrorism, but would be treated as an isolated criminal act.
Tests so far had not found any other workers at the location who were infected, or additional spores of the bacteria except those found on the computer keyboard of the victim who died last week, officials said.
Robert Stevens, 63, a photo editor at The Sun newspaper, died from an anthrax he inhaled, and high-tech tests were being performed to help determine the origin of the bacteria. He died on Friday, the first such death in the United States since 1976.
Dr. Jean Malecki, director of the Palm Beach County Health Department, said officials could not say whether someone genetically manufactured the bacteria or they occurred naturally because tests weren’t completed.
”We’re open to the possibility of anything,” she said, adding that anthrax tests at Stevens’ home were negative.
But law enforcement officials in Washington said the strain that infected Stevens does not match any known naturally occurring version of the bacterium and was believed to be manmade.
The FBI was still investigating how the anthrax was introduced and no one has been charged.
A sweep of items belonging to suspected hijacker Mohammed Atta, who flew planes near the sight of the anthrax case, and a screening of all the hijackers possessions, cars and hotel rooms turned up no evidence that they came into contact with anthrax or other biochemical agents, the officials added.
A tiny amount of anthrax was found on a keyboard at the newspaper offices, but tests on the building’s air systems and areas frequented by Stevens have turned up no further evidence of the bacteria, the officials said.
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