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Investigation Continues After Anthrax Attacks Suspect Commits Suicide

The U.S. Justice Department is trying to answer questions involving the case of a U.S. Army scientist who killed himself Tuesday. Federal prosecutors had prepared an indictment alleging he mailed letters traced with deadly anthrax in 2001, killing five people and injuring many more with anthrax poisoning. As VOA's Cindy Saine reports, there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered.

For 35 years, Bruce Ivins was one of the U.S. government's leading scientists researching vaccines and cures for exposure to anthrax. His work at the U.S. Army's biochemical laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland earned him the Pentagon's highest honor for civilian employees.

Now, the 62-year-old husband and father of two is dead, committing suicide this week by taking an overdose of Tylenol. He died Tuesday at a Maryland hospital. U.S. officials and prosecutors had been closing in on Ivins as the new prime suspect in the seven-year-old, unresolved anthrax case. The deadly mailings rattled the United States just weeks after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, making many people afraid to open their mailboxes. Officials say they were preparing an indictment against Ivins and planned to seek the death penalty.

Since Ivins is now dead, FBI officials are debating on whether to close the case.

A neighbor of the Ivins, Natalie Duggin, expressed disbelief at his death and his alleged involvement in the anthrax case.

"Well, the FBI's been here for about a year. We knew that they have been here for a long time. I would see them all the time. So, I mean, we weren't sure exactly what was happening but we knew there was something going on on our street, but we never suspected Bruce. I mean we never... you know, and I still don't, you know, look at him unfavorably or anything because he was a really decent guy," she said.

Letters containing the deadly anthrax powder arrived at congressional offices, newrooms and elsewhere. One of the letters was addressed to former South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle, who at the time was Senate Majority Leader.

Speaking on Friday, Daschle said the American people deserve to know a whole lot more about the FBI's investigation of the case.

"We need to know exactly how Mr. Ivins was involved, if he was involved, how this relates to the case and information that so far has been withheld from the American people ought to be provided and I think it should be soon," he said.

Media reports say U.S. prosecutors are working on the theory that Ivins may have sent off the anthrax-filled letters to test the cure he had developed for the toxin. Maryland court documents show that Ivins recently received psychiatric treatment and that he was ordered to stay away from a social worker he was accused of stalking and threatening to kill.

Ivin's attorney has released a statement declaring his client's innocence, and blaming his suicide on what he termed the "relentless pressure of accusation" by government investigators.