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Authorities Continue Investigation, Testing in Florida Anthrax Case


In Florida, hundreds of tabloid newspaper employees are being retested for anthrax, as health officials work to contain exposure to the potentially-lethal bacterium. Meanwhile, tantalizing details have emerged in the ongoing anthrax investigation, involving suspects named in the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

The additional anthrax testing follows Saturday's announcement that antibodies to the bacterium had been detected in five more newspaper employees in Boca Raton, Florida. If test results are positive, the new cases would raise the total number of people known to have been exposed to anthrax in Florida to eight, including a photo editor who died earlier this month.

Other cases of exposure have been recorded in New York and Nevada.

Federal officials continue to insist no link has been established between the anthrax incidents and the September 11 terrorist attacks. But on Sunday, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson acknowledged that the intentional spreading of anthrax spores does, in fact, constitute some form of terrorism. "It is terrorism, it is crime," Mr. Thompson said on CNN, "but whether or not it [the case] is connected to al-Qaida, we can not say conclusively. All we know is that it is a terrorist act, because anybody who would do this is trying to create terror, trying to create fear in the American public."

Meanwhile, the wife of an editor at the tabloid newspaper where the anthrax exposure occurred, says she rented apartments to two of the suspected hijackers in the September 11 attacks. The FBI is describing the revelation as "a strange coincidence." Gloria Irish, a real estate agent, says she helped the suspects secure apartments several months ago in Boca Raton. The apartments are located within several miles of the affected newspaper building.

Another circumstance piquing interest is a report by a Boca Raton pharmacist who says one suspect visited his pharmacy in the weeks leading up to the September 11 attacks. Gregg Chatterton says the suspect, identified as Mohammad Atta, came in with hands that were extremely red and inflamed. "I said, 'Do you work with concrete, or tooling or any chemicals, or do you wash your hands a lot?' He said, 'No, I work with computers. My brother is in the computer business.' I talked with him and, all of a sudden he became very evasive and changed the subject," Mr. Chatterton remembers.

Mr. Chatterton says Mohamed Atta did not inquire about any antibiotics that could treat anthrax.

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