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Ex-U.N. weapons inspector: Possible Iraq-anthrax link

Butler
Butler  


NEW YORK (CNN) -- Richard Butler, the former U.N. weapons inspector, pointed Monday to a possible Iraq connection to the recent anthrax mailings, saying he did not believe terrorist groups could have made the deadly bacteria.

In an interview with CNN, Butler cautioned that there's been no verification that Iraq had any role in the recent incidents, but he said the country is known to have produced anthrax.

"What we've got to be certain about above all is whether it came from a country supporting these terrorists as a matter of policy, such as Iraq, which we know has made this stuff," Butler said. "And there's a credible report, not fully verified, that they may indeed have given anthrax to exactly the group that did the World Trade Center."

Mohamed Atta -- one of the suspected suicide hijackers -- had two meetings with Iraqi intelligence officers in Prague, Czech Republic, U.S. and Czech officials told CNN.

U.S. officials called the two meetings "interesting" but said they did not prove Iraq's involvement in any terrorist acts. Czech officials said they believed fake identification documents may have changed hands, but they don't have any indication that anything more was involved.

Butler, however, said Egyptian authorities believe that Iraq could have handed some anthrax over to one of the suspected terrorists in the September 11 attacks.

"It's possible that many months ago anthrax, a small quantity of it, was handed over in Prague to Mohamed Atta ... and the person who handed it over in Prague was an Iraqi," Butler said. "If that proves to be true, there's a connection."

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    Nationwide, there have been two confirmed cases of anthrax: a photo editor with The Sun, a tabloid based in Florida, and an NBC News employee in New York who handled a letter containing anthrax that was mailed to the network. The photo editor died of inhalation anthrax. The NBC employee, an assistant to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, is expected to make a full recovery.

    Brokaw said Monday he may have been exposed to anthrax, but he has not shown any symptoms.

    "I actually saw it [the letter], and I think I even picked it up at one point and so I may have been exposed," Brokaw said on the "Today" show. "I'm not sure, but I'm confident about the fact that Cipro [an antibiotic] is going to get me through this, and I have not shown any manifestations."

    Brokaw said another NBC employee also may have been contaminated by the anthrax letter.

    A law enforcement source told CNN that FBI agents have not been able to establish any link between the anthrax incident in Florida and the one in New York.

    The FBI is awaiting lab results from samples taken from American Media Inc. headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida.

    Several other media outlets and businesses have reported receiving suspicious packages, but so far only the NBC letter and one in Nevada have been determined to contain the bacteria. A letter sent from Malaysia to a Microsoft office in Reno, Nevada, tested positive for anthrax spores, according to Gov. Kenny Guinn.

    Postal Service seeks to calm fears

    Meanwhile, a postal inspector in Florida sought to allay concerns among postal workers about possible exposure to anthrax.

    "There's no test that has been performed where a postal employee has been diagnosed with anthrax, which is something good and that's something all our postal employees should keep in mind and the public in general," said Manuel Gonzalez-Latimer.

    But a postal worker in Indianapolis told CNN that employees in the field hadn't received guidance about necessary precautions.

    "We haven't been told anything," said Robert Biro, a postal worker for 27 years. "We haven't had any safety talks."

    Kim Yates, customer relations coordinator for the Postal Service in Indianapolis, said employees had been given safety talks starting late Friday and the talks would continue through the week. Workers, she said, are told to be careful and alert their supervisors to any mail that looks unusual -- for example, something that is stained or has powder on it.

    Latex gloves and masks, she said, will be made available for employees who want them, but she said they are not mandatory.

    Meanwhile, Butler told CNN the public should not be frightened by anthrax reports.

    "Keep it in perspective," he said. "This is so far small. And above all, remember this: In almost all cases, anthrax responds quite well to antibiotics, and it's not an incident where the minute you catch it, you start to die. You've got a good amount of time to have it checked out and get those antibiotics into you and to let them do their job."

    Butler, however, did mention something that would worry him -- an outbreak of smallpox, perhaps caused by a terrorist act.

    "I'd be much more concerned about smallpox ... because it's contagious," Butler said. "And there is reason to think that Iraq, for example, and maybe some others were in the past attempting to bring back smallpox for use as a biological weapon."

    CNN Correspondent Mark Potter in Florida contributed to this report



     
     
     
     


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