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Two suspects rented from anthrax victim { October 15 2001 }

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From the Chicago Tribune

Editor's wife rented to 2 suspects, FBI says

By Sean D. Hamill
Chicago Tribune staff reporter

October 15, 2001

In a strange twist, the FBI said Sunday that the wife of the editor of the tabloid newspaper where anthrax has been discovered rented apartments in Delray Beach, Fla., to two men suspected of crashing a hijacked jetliner into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

FBI officials said the connection appeared to be a coincidence, and that there was no evidence of a link between the anthrax at The Sun's offices in Boca Raton, Fla., and the terrorists.

"We are not searching the apartment at this time," said FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela. "We are focusing on [The Sun's] building."

Orihuela said Gloria Irish, wife of Sun editor Michael Irish, rented apartments over the summer to suspected hijackers Marwan Al-Shehhi and Hamza Alghamdi.

Both were aboard United Airlines Flight 175, the second jet to strike the World Trade Center in New York.

The Sun is owned by American Media Inc., the company that employed Robert Stevens, a photo editor who died this month from a form of anthrax. Two other employees tested positive for anthrax and five others are being retested after positive initial results.

Gloria Irish, a real estate agent, refused to comment.

The FBI also has questioned a Delray Beach pharmacist who might have sold antibiotics and skin ointments to Al-Shehhi and another suspected hijacker, Mohamed Atta. Pharmacist Gregg Chatterton said he told FBI agents that Atta wanted something to treat skin irritations on his hands, which appeared to have been washed in bleach. Bleach can be used for decontamination after exposure to disease.

The revelations came as the Bush administration announced that it was expanding its arsenal against anthrax by buying enough antibiotics to treat up to 12 million people. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said the White House would request an additional $1.5 billion for the drugs and other bioterrorism programs.

Thousands tested for anthrax

The U.S. currently has enough drugs to treat 2 million people for anthrax for 60 days, Thompson said.

Thousands of people have now been tested for the disease, and investigators responded to numerous reports of mysterious powder found around the world, including the Chicago area, Britain, Brazil, Canada and Belgium. Most of the reports proved to be false alarms.

But the number of people believed to have been exposed to the disease rose Sunday as New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced that three more people who handled an anthrax-tainted letter sent to NBC News had been found to have the bacteria on their bodies.

Nevada officials said four people who may have come in contact with a contaminated letter sent to a branch office of Microsoft Corp. tested negative for inhaled anthrax. They were awaiting test results on two others.

Thompson described anthrax-contaminated mail as bio-terrorism but said it was too early to blame Islamic militant Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks, or his al-Qaida terrorist network.

"It's a biological agent. It's terrorism, it's a crime. ... But whether or not it's connected to al-Qaida, we can't say conclusively," he told CNN's "Late Edition."

"It could be a domestic source. It could be somebody holding a grudge. It could be ... a copycat kind of a situation," he said.

Officials said they still do not have evidence linking the anthrax outbreaks in Florida and New York to terrorists.

"We should consider this potential that it is linked," Attorney General John Ashcroft said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation," Ashcroft vowed to prosecute anyone who sent anthrax or "a threat of anthrax" through the mail "vigorously and aggressively."

The head of the American Public Health Association, Mohammed Akhter, warned on "Face the Nation" that the United States was able to handle the current spate of anthrax cases but did not have precautions in place to deal with a major germ warfare attack.

"There are times that you can't go to sleep because you know the weaknesses in the system," he added.

In New York, Giuliani said a police detective and two city health department laboratory technicians were found to have anthrax spores in their nose or skin, "but this does not mean they have anthrax."

Two employees at NBC in Manhattan's landmark Rockefeller Center building have shown symptoms of skin anthrax exposure after coming into contact with an envelope containing a granular substance.

Three more possible cases

The mayor and health officials said the detective who retrieved the envelope from NBC's headquarters Sept. 18 had spores in his nose, as did a laboratory technician involved in testing it. A second technician had spores on her face.

In a situation mirrored around the country, residents in the Chicago area responded to national warnings to be on the lookout for anything suspicious by making dozens of calls to police and fire departments about mysterious powders and liquids found in mail packages, on door knobs and in cabinets.

In every case, the substances were deemed nontoxic and cleared by hazardous materials teams, fire and police officials and in some cases the FBI.

In Schaumburg, the police department allowed the local library to reopen Sunday after a woman on Saturday said she found a powder on the box of a videotape she had rented there.

In Carpentersville, the post office was cleared to reopen Monday after powder fell out of an envelope that was ripped open by a sorting machine on Saturday.

Chicago dealt with 21 calls of various suspicious powders and substances on Saturday and Sunday, nine of which had full-blown hazardous materials responses. All proved unfounded after on-scene testing, including one in the Logan Square neighborhood of a "green sticky substance" that was determined to be guacamole.

On one call, about 15 police and firefighters responded to the report of a suspicious powder Sunday in the shoe department of Marshall Field's at Water Tower Place.

It was believed to be foot powder, said Chicago Fire Department Battalion Chief Tony Romano.

Chicago Tribune staff reporter Tom McCann and Tribune news services contributed to this report.
Copyright 2004, The Chicago Tribune

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