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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 17:09 GMT
FBI demands anthrax lab samples
Anthrax inspectors on Capitol Hill get hosed down
The anthrax clean-up took months
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has ordered America's scientific laboratories to provide samples of anthrax in a bid to find out who sent letters contaminated with the deadly spores.

Officials believe the attacks, which killed five people, made 13 others ill and caused more than 30,000 people to take precautionary antibiotics, were the work of a scientist who had access to the a specific strain of the bacteria - the Ames strain.

It is hoped that thorough genetic analysis of the samples will enable them to discover which laboratory the anthrax came from.

The FBI is also seeking documents detailing how, when and where the laboratories obtained samples of the bacteria and which labs they may have sent additional samples to.

'Technological challenges'

The FBI countered claims that it had taken too long to deliver subpoenas regarding the criminal investigation into the October attacks.

It said the Bureau had to document each transfer of material in case it became evidence in a criminal trial.

The letters caused widespread panic

"Because of the serious health risk and potential for danger, anthrax presents unprecedented evidentiary and technological challenges," said Van Harp, assistant director of the Bureau's Washington office in a statement.

Mr Harp also said the transport of such a dangerous disease to FBI labs for investigators to analyse posed difficulties for the Bureau and required "diligent planning".

Scientists monitored

In January this year Mr Harp had written to the American Society for Microbiology asking for help in identifying the culprit after growing criticism of the way the investigation was being handled.

The FBI still maintains that the attacks were the work of an individual not a specific group.

The Bureau is currently monitoring several scientists who have had access to the bacterium, officials told the Associated Press news agency.

The FBI is offering a $2.5m reward for information leading to the capture of the anthrax killer.

The BBC's Stephen Sackur in Washington
"Years of lax security may have cost America dear"
See also:

05 Feb 02 | Americas
FBI issues anthrax appeal
23 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Anthrax toxin fully exposed
23 Jan 02 | Americas
Anthrax-free Senate building reopens
22 Jan 02 | Americas
Alarm over US lab security
22 Jan 02 | Health
PCs recruited in anthrax fight
19 Dec 01 | Americas
US offers anthrax vaccine
15 Oct 01 | Health
Q&A: Anthrax infection
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