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Self-Described Terrorist Charged in Chicago - 2002-03-12

Federal officials in Chicago have charged a man from the state of Wisconsin with storing a poisonous chemical in part of the city's subway system. The man had recently been living in the city's subway tunnels.

Officials say 25-year-old Joseph Konopka had taken over a storage room along one of the Chicago Transit Authority's downtown subway lines, changed the locks and stored sodium cyanide and potassium cyanide in the room. The area where the chemical was stored is about two blocks from U.S. government buildings in downtown Chicago, and about three blocks from city and county government offices.

Police say the chemicals are poisonous, but only a small amount was stored in the subway, and was in a less-dangerous powdered form. Officials say the chemicals did not present a serious threat to public safety.

Mr. Konopka and a juvenile were arrested Saturday night by police from the University of Illinois-Chicago. The university is located alongside an opening of the downtown subway tunnels. Police say Mr. Konopka was found in a campus steam tunnel and was carrying a vial of powder that turned out to contain sodium cyanide. The subway's Blue Line was shut down for several hours while police searched the line for damage or anything suspicious.

Mr. Konopka admitted he had the keys to several Chicago Transit Authority facilities in the downtown area, and reportedly also told officials he had been taking photographs of various CTA tunnels and posting them on the Internet.

The FBI says Mr. Konopka was wanted on charges of fleeing to avoid prosecution in his home state of Wisconsin, where he had failed to appear in court on charges of vandalizing utility systems. Mr. Konopka is reportedly the head of a small, self-described domestic terrorist group calling itself "Realms of Chaos."

Officials have not said what Mr. Konopka planned to do with the chemicals.