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Investigators looking for links in anthrax cases

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Anthrax-contaminated letters sent to NBC and a Senate leader's office. The anthrax death of a photo editor in Florida and the illness of a second employee. The baby of an ABC news producer contracts the skin version of the disease. They are stories of fear and tragedy, and investigators are trying to determine who is responsible for the wave of biological terror that has shaken the United States.

"So far, we have found no direct link to organized terrorism," FBI Director Robert Mueller said Tuesday, although he and Attorney General John Ashcroft would not rule out the possibility that the anthrax cases could be connected to the September 11 attacks.

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In Depth: The anthrax investigation 
 

Mueller said there are similarities between the letter sent to sent to NBC and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office. Both were mailed from Trenton, New Jersey, and the handwriting on both was similar, he said. Senate sources said both letters had a threatening tone.

These sources said the lab tests on the letter sent to Daschle showed that the anthrax found was especially pure and potent.

There is plenty of speculation, but little evidence about the culprit or culprits. Authorities aren't even certain the anthrax cases are connected to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- believed to be the work of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network -- but the Bush administration is certainly suspicious of a link.

"I wouldn't put it past him, but we don't have hard evidence yet," President Bush said of bin Laden.

Intelligence officials in Europe have their doubts about connecting the recent anthrax incidents to al Qaeda. First, they point out that the incidents have been confined to the United States, despite the international coalition aligned against al Qaeda. There have been numerous anthrax scares in Europe, but there has not been one confirmed case of anthrax.

Also, European intelligence officials said the anthrax mailings do not appear to bear the mark of a sophisticated international terrorist group. The mailings, they said, appear to be piecemeal and, at times, crude.

Several European intelligence officials suggested the mailings could be a homegrown act in the United States, the work of one or two individuals.

Daschle said he's "not sure that all of this is related directly to Osama bin Laden." "I wouldn't be surprised if others aren't getting into the act as well," he said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Another theory suggests a link to Iraq, although U.S. officials say they have no evidence the country had a role in the anthrax cases. Richard Butler, the former U.N. weapons inspector, cited Iraq in an interview with CNN on Monday, saying he did not believe terrorist groups themselves could have made the deadly bacteria.

"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 suicide hijackers -- had two meetings with Iraqi intelligence officers in Prague, 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.

-- CNN correspondents Sheila MacVicar and Jonathan Karl, and producer Dana Bash contributed to this report.



 
 
 
 



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