February 2, 2012
Anthrax Sent To Pakistani Prime Minister In October 2011
Laboratory tests have revealed that a package sent to the office of Pakistan's prime minister last October contained a tiny amount of anthrax powder, a spokesman announced on Wednesday.
According to Reuters reports, the parcel contained "a small amount" of anthrax spores. It had been mailed from the town of Jamshoro in the southern province of Sindh, and there were no casualties resulting from the contaminant, Akram Shaheedi, a spokesman for Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, told the news agency.
An unidentified female university professor is believed to have sent the package to Gilani's office, Chris Brummitt of the Associated Press (AP) and Rob Crilly of the Telegraph reported. Shaheedi told Brummitt that the motive had not been established, but that the substance was confirmed to be anthrax in tests conducted at the Pakistan Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) laboratories in Islamabad.
While Brummitt said that Shaheedi did not elaborate as to why it took approximately four months to publicly acknowledge the presence of anthrax on the package, Crilly quotes Hakim Kahn, a police officer serving the capital's government district, as saying that they had "just received the lab reports confirming it was anthrax but we cannot say more than that at the moment."
AFP reporter Sajjad Tarakzai noted that it "was not immediately clear" just how toxic the biological agent contained in the package was. Police records obtained by AFP reportedly showed that the case had been officially opened on Tuesday, and that the parcel itself had been received by the prime minister's office on October 18, 2011. Tarakzai added that police refused the news agency access to the lab test results.
"After the laboratory test confirmed that the parcel contained anthrax we registered a case against unknown people," police officer Hakim Khan told Tarakzai, claiming that they had "sent a police team" to Jamshoro " to investigate it and to find the culprits there."
However, law enforcement personnel in Jamshoro said that they had not been notified about the anthrax delivery by Islamabad officials as of early Wednesday morning Eastern time, and had reportedly only learned about the case through local media reports, Tarakzai said.
"We have not yet received any instructions from the government to investigate this matter," a local police official identified as Bashir Ahmed told AFP. "We have asked the local post office protectively to check their records to know about the sender“¦ We can't say how long it will take to complete the investigation. We expect a quick result if the sender's identity is not fake."
According to Crilly, while this is the first time that a Pakistani government official had been targeted by a substance such as anthrax, it was not the first scare involving the agent. He reports that shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., letters laced with anthrax spores had been sent to a newspaper office in Urdu and a computer company in Karachi.
Similar attacks during the same time frame resulted in the death of five Americans.
Image Caption: Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph shows splenic tissue from a monkey with inhalational anthrax; featured are rod-shaped bacilli (yellow) and an erythrocyte (red). Credit: Arthur Friedlander/NIH
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