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Report raises question of anthrax, hijacker link

Report raises question of anthrax, hijacker link

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (CNN) -- A memorandum issued by a prestigious research center concluded that one of the September 11 hijackers might have been infected with cutaneous (skin) anthrax when he sought treatment at a Florida hospital before the attacks.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies' report raised questions about ties between Ahmed al-Haznawit -- who was treated at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale in June, 2001 -- and the spate of anthrax-laced letters sent through the U.S. mail that killed five in October and November.

But a U.S. government source said that six months of painstaking investigation have yielded no evidence that the hijacker, who was treated for a skin lesion, was infected with cutaneous anthrax.

"There's nothing new in this report," the source said. "We don't dismiss it, but we have been unable to make any connection between anthrax and the September 11 hijackers."

Assistant FBI Director John Collingwood also downplayed any possible anthrax connection.

"This was fully investigated and widely vetted among multiple agencies several months ago," he said in a statement. "Exhaustive testing did not support that anthrax was present anywhere the hijackers had been. While we always welcome new information, nothing new has, in fact, developed."een anthrax and the September 11 hijackers."

On June 25, 2001, al-Haznawi was treated for a lesion on his left leg at the hospital, the source said. He came to the emergency room with another September 11 hijacker, Ziad Jarrah.

Al-Haznawi told a doctor that the wound had not healed after he bumped into a suitcase a couple of months before. The doctor cleaned the wound, gave him a prescription for antibiotics and sent him on his way, the source said.

After the September 11 attacks, FBI agents found evidence in one of the hijackers' homes that led them to question the emergency room physician, Dr. Christos Tsonas. Tsonas remembered treating al-Haznawi.

When the doctor was questioned in October, he told authorities that he believed the wound was "consistent with anthrax."

The first indications of anthrax appeared at the offices of a Miami tabloid newspaper, where photo editor Robert Stevens died on October 5 and colleague Ernesto Blanco was hospitalized with inhalation anthrax. A third employee of American Media International contracted cutaneous anthrax.

As the anthrax reports surfaced, agents "did a thorough search" of all the locations where the hijackers had lived, the U.S. source said, looking for any signs of anthrax. Investigators went so far as to empty out vacuum cleaners, the source said, but found no evidence of anthrax.

The CIA, the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were all aware of the Holy Cross doctor's statements, the source said.

The investigation looking for any evidence connecting the hijackers with anthrax has taken officials from the United States to Afghanistan, but so far the search has found no connection.

The source also said the FBI found no evidence that al-Haznawi sought any further treatment for his wound.

Officials said that even if they hijackers had some connection to the anthrax letters, they would have had at least one confederate to post the letters.

While no letters were ever found connected to the Florida anthrax outbreak, letters mailed to news and government agencies in New York and Washington were postmarked September 18 and October 9 from New Jersey -- after the hijackings.




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