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Preliminary Tests Show Anthrax-Contaminated Letter Sent to NBC and Media Company in Florida the Same Strain; Anthrax-Laden Letter Turns Up in Kenya

Aired October 18, 2001 - 07:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Anthrax concerns, is there a link connecting attacks in Washington, New York and Florida? In New York, four convicted terrorists face sentencing for bombing U.S. Embassies in Africa. And President Bush is in Shanghai this hour working on trade and the battle against terrorism.

And good morning. Thanks so much for joining us this morning. It is Thursday, October 18. From New York, I'm Paula Zahn.

We are covering the world as America strikes back this morning. Jonathan Karl is on Capitol Hill with the shutdown of most congressional offices. Susan Candiotti will bring you the latest on suspected links in the anthrax investigation. And our own Christiane Amanpour is in Islamabad with the latest on the attacks in Afghanistan.

First, though, let's check on our latest developments.

Health officials say preliminary tests show the strains of anthrax spores sent to NBC News and to the American Media building in Florida are the same. Overseas, Kenya's health minister says an envelope from the States to a private citizen has tested positive for anthrax. Under tight security in New York this morning, four people convicted of bombing embassies in Kenya and Tanzania will hear their sentences. And just a short time ago, President Bush arrived in Shanghai for an Asian economic forum. He will talk trade, but he's also expected to work on the coalition in the war on terrorism.

Now, back to that anthrax investigation. Federal health officials say preliminary tests show that anthrax contaminated letter sent to NBC News and a media company in Florida had the same strain.

Let's get more on that portion of the investigation from Susan Candiotti, who joins us from Washington this morning again -- good morning, Susan.


We do have preliminary results from that testing. The investigation making headway. A match apparently is made between the anthrax found at American Media offices in Florida, where the first case of anthrax was reported, and the letter sent to NBC in New York. The Centers for Disease Control is now confirming that apparent link.

That would mean both strains are what is called natural, apparently not biologically engineered, good news because the strain is susceptible to antibiotics. It can be treated.

Now, it's too early to say whether there is a link between Miami and New York and the anthrax found in that letter to Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. Investigators are especially intrigued by the anthrax in the letter to Senator Daschle because of its form. Described as pure, it is fine, and that is key because the size of the spores, if they are fine, very, very small, that means they have the ability to hang in the air. That makes them able to lodge in the lungs.

Now, experts say investigators must now try to pin down who would have had the expertise to refine that type of anthrax. Sources say the FBI is now trying to track down where the anthrax could have been produced that was found in that letter. THAT investigators now have the envelope to study could also be a big help.


LARRY JOHNSON, TERRORISM EXPERT: If anybody licked those to seal them, you're going to get a DNA take and the DNA is going to give you some clues. There's probably fingerprints on there.


CANDIOTTI: Attorney General John Ashcroft is not yet prepared to blame the incidents on domestic versus international sources.


JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I believe anyone who sends anthrax in the mail to someone else is a terrorist, although I'm not in a position to link specifically the terrorism of anthrax with the terrorist attacks of September the 11th. But we're certainly not in a position to rule that out. And I'm not in a position to say that there's no linkage between some of the real anthrax and some of the hoax. There -- but there may, in fact, be some linkage. There may be that people would do both.


CANDIOTTI: The anthrax sample is now on its way from a military/biological warfare research lab in Fort Detrick, Maryland to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. We're talking about the Daschle sample here. Testing in Atlanta could determine whether the Daschle sample is a match to the New York and Florida strains -- Paula.

ZAHN: So, Susan, how long might that be before they get the results back from those tests?

CANDIOTTI: Well, it's never quite clear, but probably a few days at the very least, and if they're able to determine a match, that, again, would move the investigation just a little bit farther along and help investigators try to figure out the source of these strains and who might have been able to produce them.

ZAHN: All right, Susan Candiotti, thanks so much for that update.

And we are just getting some new information from Kenya that a letter sent from the United States has tested positive for anthrax.

CNN Nairobi bureau chief Catherine Bond joins us live on the video phone -- Catherine, what can you tell us this morning?

CATHERINE BOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kenya's minister of health has said that the letter posted in Atlanta, Georgia on the 8th of September contained spores of anthrax. It was opened here on the 11th of October by a private Kenyan citizen who they haven't yet identified. Four members of his family have been exposed and they are being watched while the Kenyan ministry of health tries to identify which strain of anthrax it is so that it knows what sort of antibiotic to give to his family members.

That's one, that's the first positive identification. There's two other envelopes which have been posted and received here in Kenya that have also contained a white powdery like substance. The one that was posted contained little bits of cloth, as well, apparently, and it was posted from Atlanta via Miami in Florida, or at least appeared to have been once before it arrived here in Kenya.

And those other two are still under investigation by the Kenyan Medical Institutes of Research -- Paula.

ZAHN: Catherine, I know it's very early to determine this, but we should make note of the fact that four men who have been convicted of the embassy bombings in Africa will be sentenced today. What is the talk there about any potential linkage?

BOND: Early days yet, but I think perhaps Kenyans are less surprised than you might think by news that anthrax appears to have popped up here because they have been exposed to terrorism before. As you say, the bombing of the U.S. Embassy here in Nairobi in August 1998, and the sentencing is due today of the people who were implicated in that bombing. And so people are waiting for that sentencing. It's expected to be a life sentence. But they also could get the death penalty and yes, of course, it would be associated in people's minds -- Paula.

ZAHN: Catherine Bond, thanks so much for that report.

As we just mentioned in New York, four men convicted in embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania go before a federal judge today for sentencing.

Our Deborah Feyerick tells us that there is extremely tight security for the sentencing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A short walk from the ruins of the World Trade Center, four convicted terrorists will almost certainly be sentenced to very long prison terms. The men, Saudi born Mohamed al-'Owhali, Jordanian native Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, Tanzanian Khalfan Khamis Mohamed and Wadih el Hage, an American citizen born in Lebanon.

A jury, both anonymous and unanimous, found all four guilty in May of plotting to kill Americans and destroy U.S. property. Evidence in the trial laid out Osama bin Laden's conspiracy of worldwide terrorism. That conspiracy spawned the car bombings of two U.S. embassies.

In Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 224 people, including 12 Americans, were killed in the near simultaneous explosions three years ago. At the federal courthouse, security very tight, anxiety high, with even more checkpoints. And a side street closed to cars but open to pedestrians now closed entirely.

The courthouse is the same one used to sentence terrorists responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and later to sentence those found guilty of unsuccessfully plotting to blow up New York's bridges, tunnels and the United Nations. The men now being sentenced, Mohamed al-'Owhali. He threw stun grenades at the embassy guards in Kenya, trying to get the bomb truck he was riding in closer to do more damage. Also, Khalfan Mohamed. While renting his house, he ground TNT to make the Tanzanian bomb.

(on camera): Prosecutors had asked for the death penalty for the two men. The jury voted no, choosing a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.

(voice-over): It's the same sentence facing Mohamed Odeh, found guilty of planning the Nairobi attacks. Odeh, along with al-'Owhali and Khalfan Mohamed, trained in al-Qaeda's military camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s.

Odeh admitted being an al Qaeda soldier, but maintained he did not attack the embassy. Only the fourth man, Wadih El-Hage, could receive a somewhat shorter sentence, 30 years to life. More years could be added for lying to the grand jury to cover his role in the conspiracy. Though he was not directly involved in the embassy bombings, prosecutors showed he helped run bin Laden's businesses, thereby enabling the Saudi fugitive to finance his terror campaign.


FEYERICK: Now, two of the convicted terrorists will speak today at the sentencing. One of the men, Wadi al-Haj, the bin Laden businessman, his lawyer says he could speak for as long as 30 minutes. He did waive his right at trial to speak, also to testify. A second man also expected to make a short statement, Mohamed Odeh. He is the bin Laden soldier. Prosecutors will bring forward some 10 victims of both of the embassy bombings. They will make their claim as to why they feel these men should get a very long prison sentence. The prosecutors had asked that these victims all receive some $26 million in total in damages. The judge said perhaps this money could be gotten from some of that frozen assets -- Paula.

ZAHN: Yes, Deborah, once again, I know this is very early to try to get a reaction to this, but as you know, a reporter from Africa just reported that three separate letters laced with anthrax have been sent to various people in Africa. Any reaction there to the news?

FEYERICK: Right now, now. But just to let you know sort of what the mood is down here, everybody is really bracing almost for the worst. And what I mean by that, you've got massive security down here. You've got a lot of federal marshals, bomb sniffing dogs. Areas that were open during the trial now have been shut off so they're not allowing any pedestrians, for example, to go in front of the courthouse. Certain areas of different buildings, all of these blocked off because each of these letters, once they are found, again, that raises the bar. That raises the anxiety a bit.

Nobody knows, obviously, where these letters are coming from. But what it does mean in areas especially that are particularly vulnerable, vigilance is even higher.

ZAHN: All right, Deborah Feyerick, thanks so much.

Before we move on, I need to clarify one thing because the reporting isn't crystal clear at the moment. But I guess it is one out of three letters sent to Nairobi, Kenya have tested positive for anthrax and in the two remaining envelopes, tests are currently being done. There were white powdery substances found inside those envelopes. We'll keep you posted on that throughout the morning.

Now, a different kind of scare prompted officials to briefly shut down an airport near a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania last night. Harrisburg International Airport reopened about 1:00 a.m. Eastern time. Federal officials at the nearby Three Mile Island nuclear power plant received what is being called a threat yesterday.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission restricted air space in a 20 mile radius around the airport as a precaution. A spokeswoman for NRC would not discuss the nature of that threat.

Much of Capitol Hill is closed today to give health authorities a chance to track down any more anthrax. The Capitol building itself, in the center of this map, is open. But the buildings to the left, the Senate's Hart, Dirksen and Russell buildings, are closed. Now, on the other side, the House has closed its offices in the Cannon, Longworth and Rayburn Buildings.

Our Jonathan Karl is on Capitol Hill at this hour with more -- good morning, Jonathan.


Well, all those closings that you just mentioned on the Senate side means that virtually all Senate staff will be left without any place at all to work. Their offices are almost all located in those Senate office buildings. And the senators themselves, some of them, many of them have little one room hideaways in the Capitol building, but several senators also will be left with absolutely no place to work.

So that means that although the Senate will be in session, it will be a session unlike any it has ever seen before.


KARL (voice-over): For the first time in history, the House of Representatives is closed for public health reasons.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: We think we owe it to the people who work here, we think we owe it to our staffs that come from all across this country to serve the people of this nation, and quite frankly, we owe it to the members of this country, the people who elect us.

KARL: But in the Senate, the only place where anthrax has been detected, the work goes on.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: And we will not let this stop the work of the Senate.

KARL: In session sort of. The Senate side of the Capitol building will be open, but the Senate's three office buildings, where most of the work is done, are closed until Monday. Senate leaders said the anthrax problem was contained, the offending substance detected in only two places, the office where the letter to Daschle was opened in the Hart Senate Office Building and in the Senate mailroom in the adjacent Dirksen Building.

DR. KENNETH MORITSUGU, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: At this time, there has been no evidence of spores in the ventilation system.

KARL: About 2,000 Senate staffers have taken nose swab tests. So far just over 30 have tested positive, three of them in the office of Senator Russ Feingold, which is adjacent to Daschle's. The rest, staffers and police who had been inside Daschle's office. Some of those may have exposed each other with a simple act of compassion after the initial discovery of the anthrax letter.

DASCHLE: There were some hugs that you'd expect and people were hugging each other, and I think maybe in that effort there could have been the transfer from one person to the next as well.

KARL: So far, officials report only exposure to anthrax, not infection. And if anybody is infected, this strain of the bacteria responds to antibiotics.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R), TENNESSEE: And that's good news and that means this thing is eminently treatable.

KARL: All things considered, there was a remarkable calm on Capitol Hill. A press conference on an aviation security bill went forward even after the House announced a shutdown. And on the base of Capitol Hill, rap star M.C. Hammer joined several members of Congress to film a music video. The video's proceeds will go to the victims of the September 11 attacks.


KARL: One piece of business that the Senate is expected to take up today is directly related to this scare. The Senate Judiciary Committee, the only committee to have a hearing today, because most of the hearing rooms are also in those office buildings, but they will be having a hearing and they will be taking up a bill that would make it possible to have the generic production of the drug Cipro.

Right now Cipro is exclusively produced by the Bayer aspirin -- by the Bayer pharmaceutical company. So that's one piece of business, Paula, that we're expected to see happen here on Capitol Hill.

ZAHN: I don't want to make light of your report, though I have to say that last picture of the music video being filmed captured a great sense of humor here in the studio this morning. Do you think all of our representatives should keep their day jobs?

KARL: Perhaps. But it was remarkable to see them down there doing that after, remember, that was after they had announced they were shutting down the House of Representatives.

ZAHN: Absolutely.

KARL: And they got out there. So, you know, let's hope they get the place open pretty quickly.

ZAHN: All right, Jonathan Karl, thanks so much.




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