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Researcher quizzed again in anthrax probe

From Kevin Bohn and Kelli Arena
CNN Washington Bureau

Justice Department

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- FBI agents investigating the 2001 anthrax attacks have re-interviewed a researcher formerly with the Army bioweapons laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, his lawyer and government sources said Monday.

The attorney for Ayaad Assaad, who now works at the Environmental Protection Agency, said FBI agents assured her that her client is not a suspect.

Assaad was questioned last week, mostly about a letter sent to police in Quantico, Virginia, days before the anthrax mailings.

The letter alleged that Assaad was a potential bioterrorist and was going to wage "war" against the American people, according to attorney Rosemary McDermott.

Investigators have not determined whether the person who sent the letter and the anthrax attacks are linked.

Investigators are trying to determine who mailed four anthrax-laced letters in fall 2001 that resulted in five deaths from anthrax exposure.

The government sources said the interest in Assaad centers on the so-called Quantico letter and the theory that whoever mailed it could have also been involved in sending the anthrax letters.

"It is one of several out there," one source said when asked how accepted that theory is. "No one has been ruled out."

Assaad's attorney said the interview, conducted last Tuesday, came after FBI agents told her and Assaad that other EPA employees also had been questioned about the letter and whether they knew who sent it.

McDermott said Assaad was asked about people he had not been asked about previously regarding the anthrax attacks, but she declined to be specific citing the ongoing investigation.

Assaad was first interviewed in October 2001 about the letter mentioning him.

He has said he had no role in the anthrax mailings and last week produced for the agents his 2001 EPA timesheets to prove where he was when the letters were mailed, McDermott said.

The letters were postmarked Hamilton Township, New Jersey, and were postmarked September 18 and October 9, 2001.

Assaad has alleged that some of his former colleagues at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease at Fort Detrick may harbor negative feelings for him.

He claims he was discriminated against because of his age and because he is Egyptian. Assaad is in his mid-50s.

He was fired from USAMRIID in 1997 and has filed a lawsuit against the government.

Among other places, the anthrax-laced letters were sent to the offices of Democratic Sens. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont and to television network news offices in New York.

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