Friday, November 16, 2001

A city official from Pennsylvania was scheduled to be questioned yesterday by a federal grand jury, two days after more than two dozen FBI agents and a hazardous-materials squad stormed his home looking for traces of anthrax.

Asif Kazi, 39, the city accountant in Chester, Pa., told reporters he had been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury after agents asked him about anthrax and other biological agents during the Tuesday search of the brick row house he rents.

The Pakistani native said swab tests were made on several items in his home, including a television set and furniture.

He also said agents removed a number of items, including financial records, a computer and medicines.

His wife, Palwasha Jalawam, said agents also seized her prescription for Cipro, an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections including anthrax.

She said she was taking it to treat endometriosis, an immune system problem that causes pelvic pain in women.

But an antibiotic would not be used to treat such a malady, said Mary Lou Ballweg, president and executive director of the Endometriosis Association.

“Endometriosis is not viral nor bacterial,” said Miss Ballweg, who started her organization in 1980. “You would never use an antibiotic for that.”

FBI officials declined to comment on the discrepancy. Mr. Kazi’s grand jury appearance could not be confirmed. Preliminary tests at the house proved negative for anthrax, and additional tests are scheduled.

Another house less than two blocks from the Kazi home also was searched during the Tuesday raid. It belongs to Dr. Irshad Shaikh, 39, the city’s health commissioner. His brother, Masood Shaikh, 40, also lives there. They also are Pakistani natives.

FBI spokeswoman Linda Vizi declined yesterday to comment on any grand jury proceeding. She said all warrants and an FBI affidavit supporting the search had been sealed by the court.

She said “two search warrants have been issued and two places have been searched,” adding that no one had been arrested or detained. She also said agents had determined there was no danger to the public.

Dr. Shaikh has been the Chester city health commissioner since 1994; Masood Shaikh has headed the city’s lead-abatement program since 1998; and Mr. Kazi became the city’s accountant in 1999. Mr. Kazi has said he knew the Shaikh brothers in Pakistan. Mr. Kazi is a U.S. citizen, while Dr. Shaikh said he has a resident green card, and his brother a work visa.

Mr. Kazi told the Philadelphia Daily News, “I haven’t had a parking ticket in my life. I’m shaking.”

He said agents told him he recently was seen dumping a cloudy liquid on the ground behind his home and handing a silver canister to someone outside the house.

He said it was dishwater he was dumping and the canister held food his wife had prepared for a friend.

FBI agents, backed by members of a hazardous-materials team in protective gear and gas masks, spent seven hours in the two houses. The three men were questioned separately for up to four hours.

Calling one of more of the men before the grand jury would put them under oath and give agents an opportunity to verify information they might have volunteered during the earlier interviews, authorities said.

FBI agents stormed the homes with weapons drawn, using battering rams to knock down the doors. The hazardous-material squad set up decontamination tents behind the houses. Investigators carried several green plastic trash bags out of the houses to vans and other FBI vehicles outside.

Chester is located about 50 miles from Hamilton Township, N.J., the site of a post office from which anthrax-laced letters are believed to have been mailed.

Those letters eventually went through a postal facility in Trenton, N.J., and then to NBC News in New York and the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, in Washington. Four persons have died from inhalation anthrax, including two postal workers in Washington who investigators believe were exposed to the Daschle letter.

Dr. Shaikh completed his medical degree in community medicine in Pakistan and is considered an authority in epidemiology and international health. He received a master’s degree in public health and a doctoral degree from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

He also is a part-time teaching assistant at Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health in Montgomery County. In 1999, Dr. Shaikh was investigated by the Delaware County, Pa., grand jury on accusations that he had written prescriptions illegally, but he was not indicted.

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