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Doctor's Homes Searched in Anthrax Attack Inquiry

FBI agents descend on residences in New York and New Jersey. The physician once predicted a biological strike in the U.S.

August 06, 2004|David G. Savage | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The mystery of who sent deadly anthrax through the mail in the fall of 2001 took a new turn Thursday when federal investigators searched homes belonging to a doctor who founded an anti-terrorism organization and who once predicted an anthrax attack in the United States.

The FBI confirmed that its agents had conducted the searches, but refused to comment on whether the investigation targeted a particular suspect or led to any insights into the anthrax attacks.

In the weeks following Sept. 11, five people died and 17 others became seriously ill after they were exposed to anthrax powder that had been sent through the mail. No one has been charged in the crimes. On Thursday, several dozen agents, some in protective suits, searched for clues.

"The FBI and U.S. postal inspectors are conducting searches at multiple locations in New York and New Jersey," said Joe Parris, a supervisory special agent at FBI headquarters here. "These searches are related to the FBI's ongoing investigation into the origin of the anthrax letters mailed in September and October of 2001."

Agents searched two homes in the upstate New York town of Wellsville that belonged to Dr. Kenneth M. Berry, according to Associated Press. Berry is a former president of the American Academy of Emergency Physicians and in 1997 founded PREEMPT, an anti-terrorism organization.

Berry has spoken often about the dangers of an anthrax attack.

"It's our No. 1 security threat," he said in a 1997 interview. Berry cited experts who said there was "an over 90% probability of having a major attack in a U.S. city in two to five years."

He also urged officials to prepare for a potential anthrax attack by stockpiling the anthrax vaccine. He insisted that terrorists would use the biological weapon. It "is going to happen. It is going to be devastating, and my message is, 'Let's be ready.' "

On Thursday, agents also searched a bungalow on the New Jersey shore with a telephone number listed as belonging to "W. Berry." Neighbors told reporters the agents left carrying several garbage bags filled with bulky contents.

Law enforcement officials said they were not planning arrests, and that the searches were not related to this week's heightened terrorism alerts in New York, Washington and New Jersey.

"There is no present danger to the public health or safety," Parris said.

Envelopes filled with anthrax powder were sent to news organizations in Florida and New York and to the Capitol Hill offices of Sens. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) in the weeks following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Some of the envelopes were traced to a postal box in New Jersey.

In the year afterward, the FBI indicated an interest in Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, a physician and bioterrorism expert who had worked at the U.S. Army's research center on infectious diseases in Frederick, Md. Hatfill asserted his innocence and denounced Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft for having linked him to the investigation.

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