Anthrax killer likely in U.S., a man with grudge, FBI says

Authorities release profile, say culprit not part of Sept. 11

November 10, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The FBI said yesterday that the recent anthrax attacks were likely the work of a single person, a loner inside the United States who was not connected to the terrorist violence on Sept. 11 but who used that event to mask his own identity and agenda.

The culprit is probably a man who has some scientific training, access to laboratory equipment and long-standing grudges that he decided to act on in the aftermath of the devastating Sept. 11 hijackings, investigators said.

Facing criticism that the nearly 2-month-old investigation was moving too slowly, the FBI made public its emerging profile of the person behind the attacks, which have left four people dead and 13 others infected.

And it issued a new plea for the public's help in finding him.

Tom Ridge, the director of homeland security, expressed hope yesterday that the anthrax threat was receding. No new anthrax infections have been reported in more than a week.

But criminal investigators remain baffled by the case. Ridge said, "We're still no closer to identifying specifically the origin of the anthrax or the perpetrators."

The FBI has received hundreds of leads, "but that one magic one, that one we hope will come through, is not there at this time," said a senior investigator who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The first anthrax mail attacks were discovered in late September. In all, three contaminated letters have been found. Noting similarities in all three, the FBI said it is nearly certain that all were written by the same person.

The first two, both postmarked Sept. 18, were mailed to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw and to The New York Post. A third letter, postmarked Oct. 9, was addressed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's Washington offices.

Investigators think that a fourth letter was likely sent to a tabloid newspaper company in Florida, where the first man to die of anthrax infection worked. No tainted letter was ever discovered in Florida or elsewhere in the postal system, though two Washington postal workers also died from inhalation anthrax.

In releasing the behavioral profile of the anthrax perpetrator, senior law enforcement officials drew comparisons to Theodore J. Kaczynski, the Montana recluse who evaded federal agents for 17 years before his brother realized that Kaczynski matched the FBI's Unabomber profile and turned him in.

FBI agents have not ruled out that the anthrax attacks are linked to a foreign terrorist group such as Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network - a possibility that has been repeatedly raised by President Bush and some other top U.S. officials.

But the profile that has emerged, based largely on interviews with convicted serial bombers or mail attackers and a study of the handwriting on the three anthrax-tainted letters, does not seem to match that of a foreign terrorist, investigators said.

Noting that the perpetrator had access to anthrax, the FBI said he might work in a laboratory and "is apparently comfortable working with an extremely hazardous material." Investigators said he might be taking antibiotics to protect himself against infection.

The initial letters to NBC and the New York Post warned, "Take Penacilin[sic] now." But investigators suggested yesterday that the word might have been deliberately misspelled to disguise the sender's understanding of anthrax and what medication would be needed to protect against it.

Investigators said the contents of the letters might also have been designed to divert attention to foreign terrorists. All three letters contained the phrases: "Death to America," "Death to Israel" and "Allah is Great," along with the date "09-11-01."

But the senior investigators who briefed reporters yesterday said the language was inconsistent with what counter-terrorism specialists typically see from foreign terrorists. They suggested that it was someone trying to hide behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

The FBI profile described the culprit as a "non-confrontational person, at least in his public life. He lacks the personal skills necessary to confront others."

It concluded: "He chooses to confront his problems long-distance and not face-to-face."

Though investigators said they do not know where the anthrax mailer lived, they said he is likely familiar with the Trenton, N.J., area where all three letters were mailed.

The FBI has not determined the nationality or ethnicity of the anthrax mailer. Some details of the handwriting suggest that the person might not be from a Western country, investigators said.

Bureau officials said they hoped that someone who knows the culprit will recognize the distinctive use of dashes in the writing of a date, the use of upper-case block-style letters and the downward slant of the names and addresses on the envelopes, and come forward to help solve the case.

Though there have been no new infections reported in recent days, traces of the deadly microbe have surfaced in New Jersey, where postal officials said yesterday that four more postal facilities have tested positive for anthrax, all of them served by a Trenton mail-processing center.

In Maryland, Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry complained to the postmaster general about the planned location of a decontamination center for mail sent to Congress but quarantined since the Daschle letter was discovered.

Curry said the center, in a county shopping mall, could put people at risk and asked that the decontamination work be done elsewhere.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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