Anthrax suspect commits suicide in US

August 2nd, 2008 - 9:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 2 (IANS) A former US Army biological-weapons scientist about to be indicted on murder charges for anthrax attacks that created a sense of siege in an anxious nation soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks has committed suicide. Bruce E. Ivins, 62, who worked at the army’s Fort Detrick biological-weapons lab in Frederick, Maryland, had emerged as the prime suspect in a case that investigators struggled for years to solve, and was to be charged with five counts of murder.

He died Tuesday in a hospital from a prescription-drug overdose.

The case relates to the mailing of deadly disease spores to Congressional offices and the news media that killed five people, sickened 17 and crippled mail delivery for months. The federal investigation for seven years met many dead ends.

Explaining Ivins’ apparent suicide, a family member was reported as saying that he was under tremendous strain in recent weeks as law-enforcement scrutiny intensified and he was hospitalised last month after threatening suicide.

A person calling herself as Ivins’s therapist, in an application for a restraining order filed in Frederick County district court, described him as “homicidal”.

Ivins’ family lawyer, Paul Kemp, told the media that his client was innocent, which would have been established at trial.

“The relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo takes its toll in different ways on different people. In Dr. Ivins’s case, it led to his untimely death.”

The Justice Department said only that “substantial progress has been made in the investigation by bringing to bear new and sophisticated scientific tools”.

Officials chose not to offer further details, having had to earlier retract the name of a suspect in the case, Steven Hatfill, a biowarfare expert, who was eventually paid damages of more than $5 million.

The anthrax attacks in September and October 2001, while targeting lawmakers and the news media, also sickened postal workers, mail-room employees and others who came in contact with the powder-laced letters.

The attacks caused sales of the antibiotic drug Cipro, used to treat anthrax exposure, to soar.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) launched a new, massive investigation in 2006. The task force of dozens of agents, postal inspectors and others conducted 75 searches and more than 9,000 interviews.

Ironically, Ivins was part of a team of Fort Detrick weapons experts the task force relied on to examine evidence and spore samples from postal facilities. He had worked for many years to design a better anthrax vaccine.

He became a suspect when investigators re-examined a 2002 instance of anthrax contamination at the lab that he did not report when it happened, according to an army report on safety lapses.

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