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Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 00:11 GMT 01:11 UK
Anthrax investigation stalled
Workers in bio-hazard suits
Bio-hazard suits became a familiar sight last autumn


It is exactly a year since a letter containing highly refined anthrax was opened in the office of the US Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle.

Panic ensued, and for a period the American capital came to standstill.

Five people died. It was the low point of the anthrax attacks which terrorised an already anxious public in the aftermath of 11 September.

But 12 months later the FBI has yet to charge anyone with involvement.

Anthrax anxiety

Eighteen people were infected by the anthrax-laced letters.

The first was mailed on 18 September, and three weeks later, the first of five people died after inhaling the lethal spores.

The attacks targeted news organisations as well as political and government offices across the country.

Boxes of the antibiotic Cipro
There was a run on the antibiotic Cipro by panicked Americans

Some postal depots were closed for de-contamination, and in Washington, the huge Brentwood facility is still sealed off.

Senate offices were closed for weeks, forcing Capitol Hill staffers improvised. Some set up temporary offices in the back of their cars.

Investigators donned bio-hazard suits as they worked to find the source and scope of the contamination.

Hoaxes became almost a daily occurrence, especially in Florida where the first death occurred.

Washington area hospitals dusted off and updated plans to deal with a biological weapons attack.

Mail was irradiated to kill anthrax spores causing delays of days or even weeks in delivery.

In Washington and around the US, there was a rush on Cipro, an antibiotic used to treat victims of the attacks.

Theories

But after a year, authorities in the US appear no closer to identifying those responsible.

The investigation is dominated by a debate over whether the letters were the work of enemies outside or within the US.

Some argue that only Iraq had the expertise to develop the quality anthrax used.

Scientist Stephen Hatfill, one of 30 of the FBI's 'persons of interest'
Stephen Hatfill has asked for a personal apology from John Ashcroft

Others say it is more likely to have been a disgruntled weapons researcher at home.

The FBI has fuelled that view by raiding the apartment of a former worker at the Army's institute for infectious diseases.

But the man implicated, Stephen Hatfill, has vigorously denied any involvement and accused the authorities of conducting a smear campaign against him.

The FBI named Mr Hatfill as one of 30 persons of interest, people who had the expertise, ability and wherewithal to produce the deadly bacteria.

He has said that he plans to sue several individuals and organisations for defamation, and he has called on Attorney General John Ashcroft to personally apologise.

It has left the investigation showing little progress, and a year later questions remain about how best America can protect itself against any future biological attack.

The US Congress approved a 20-fold increase in bio-defence funding.

And a debate is raging as to whether or not to inoculate the public against smallpox or whether the vaccine would prove effective against genetically engineered strains of the virus.


Guide to the disease that is causing panic
See also:

28 Aug 02 | Americas
06 Aug 02 | Americas
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